Book review: This All Come Back Now, edited by Mykaela Saunders

A mixtape of Un-Australian First Nations futurism from the collective campfire.

This ground-breaking collection showcases the humour and creativity of First Nations writers across so-called Australia. It aims to redress the plethora of cliched novels released by non-Indigenous speculative fiction writers that use First Nations characters, sacred sites and cosmology as plot devices for ‘their own colonial Dreamtime fantasies.’  

Mykaela Saunders, a Koori and Lebanese writer, teacher and Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize winner put this kaleidoscope of speculative fiction together to show the power of First Nations storytelling. As Saunders puts it, ‘time travel isn’t such a big deal when you belong to a culture that experiences all-times simultaneously, not in a progressive straight line like Western cultures do.’ 

Speculative fiction is an expansive genre, encompassing the supernatural, dystopian fiction, gothic horror, science fiction and fantasy. This All Come Back Now features an explosive array of all of it, written in styles that sometimes jut up unexpectedly against each other. 

Some are new, while many others were republished from novels, poetry collections and literary journals like Overland. One stand-out piece is a reprint of an excerpt of Samuel William Watson’s 1990 novel The Kadaitcha Sung, which explores the violence of settler colonialism in Australia within the framework of First Nations spiritual knowledge. 

Some of the most memorable pieces written specifically for the collection imagine different visions of the apocalypse. John Morrissey’s ‘Five Minutes’ is a meta take on a government department responding to an invasion of gigantic centipedes while Timmah Bell’s experimental piece ‘An Invitation’ tackles the phenomena of disappearing buildings. 

Like all anthologies, some will resonate more strongly than others for different readers. I found many enjoyable, others perplexing. Those who love funny stories will find a lot of laughs in Adam Thompson’s Centrelink satire ‘Your Own Aborigine’ and Merryana Salem’s spoof about time-travelling filmmakers capturing footage of frontier warfare in ‘When From’. Loki Liddle’s ‘Snake of Light’, an other-worldly fantasy story set in a small-town pub was another memorable piece.

Many more feature challenging conceptual propositions and some are straight-up scary. The fast-approaching climate disaster is never far from the surface, nor the intergenerational psychic pain wrought by the horrors of genocide. So many of these short stories will haunt you long after you’ve put the book down.  

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This All Come Back Now is a wild romp through different universes and timelines, all wrapped up in the book cover of the year designed by Nungala Creative. So many of these stories would make amazing films; it’s a must-read for all Australian screenwriter talent scouts.

This All Come Back Now: An anthology of First Nations speculative fiction, edited by by Mykaela Saunders
Publisher: UQP 
ISBN: 9780702265662 
Format: Paperback
Pages: 360 pp
RRP: $32.99
Publication Date: 2 May 2022

Sam Elkin (he/him) is a writer and radio maker. Born in England and raised on Noongar land, Sam now lives on unceded Wurundjeri land. Sam's essays have been published in the Griffith Review, Overland and Kill Your Darlings. He is the host of the 3RRR radio show Queer View Mirror and is currently co-editing Nothing to Hide: Voices of Trans and Gender Diverse Australia, which will be published in 2022.