I have a new short story collection coming out! It’s untitled as yet, but it contains stories about climate and ecology, and will be out in 2024 from Stelliform Press, who published my recent cli-fi novella The Impossible Resurrection of Grief. There’s even a little teaser video for it…
I have another story out! “Happiness” is a choose-your-own-ending novelette that’s free to read in the April issue of Clarkesworld. It’s a bit of an experimental piece, as I’ve never done something of this format before – and it’s deeply, horribly cynical. It may be one of the most cynical things I’ve ever written, and that includes the bears story that was in Strange Horizons a while back.
When it comes to writing about climate, I admit that I bounce between flat-out dystopia and more optimistic stories. I think the optimistic ones may have more value, but there are times when I just can’t resist the former. This is one of those times. “Happiness” is a misnomer. Every ending you choose, you die. You also die happy. Yes, every time. That happy ending tends to be earned, and not in a good way. The unnamed protagonist – and this is a novelette told entirely in the second person, another experimental departure for me! – is honestly not the brightest. Their total lack of awareness, and sometimes even of empathy, means that they never quite realise what’s happening to them, and how their choices, choices that they’re completely certain of, seal their stupid fate. They’re basically a walking Darwin Award, and they never know it. And because they never know it, they die happy, still in the illusion that they’re doing the right thing.
I quite like the choose-your-own-ending format, which is a throwback to when I used to read those types of books as a kid. I think I’d like to try it again one day, but maybe not immediately. Still, it’s good to try new things, creatively, and I’m super grateful that Clarkesworld was willing to let me experiment in their pages.
I’ve got a new story out! “In(con)solation” is free to read over at Lightspeed. It’s barely more than a flash piece, but it’s also the first story I’ve managed to sell to them – not for want of trying! – so I’m pretty pleased about that.
The title, I’m sorry to say, is something of a pun. I was interested in the effect that sunlight (insolation) has on mental health, and what happens if you’re deprived of it. There’s all sorts of high latitude examples where people don’t see sunlight for seasons at a time, but because this is science fiction they’re all living underground in the aftermath of nuclear apocalypse. The downside to that – one of many, I’m sure – is that one of the possible consequences of exposure to high levels of radiation is cataracts… so what happens when staying in the dark makes you depressed, and the consolation of sunlight makes you blind?
It’s not a cheerful story, as you can imagine, but when I was writing it I found the layered imagery interesting, and it’s always a challenge to write a story that short.
I have a new story out! “Ernestine” is in the March/April issue of Asimov’s; it’s wonderful to have a story in there again. They’re one of my favourite markets.
I actually wrote an early draft of the story back in 2020, when I was an artist in residence at the Christchurch Arts Centre. They were kind enough to give me a place there because the Arts Centre houses a museum about Ernest Rutherford, one of my scientific heroes. The Centre actually used to be of the city university, until many decades ago it got too big for the site and moved. When Rutherford was there as a student, however, he commandeered a tiny subterranean cloakroom known as The Den for his experiments, on the grounds that it was one of the only available spaces with a concrete floor, and therefore less vulnerable to the vibrations of passing trams. That mean his delicate equipment was disturbed less, and so he was left to get on with it. It’s a tiny, dim little space, and I suspect he might have hit his head more than once on the overhead pipes, but nonetheless: I was riveted. More than once I took my laptop down to that cramped little room to write.
“Ernestine” is a standalone piece that’s part of a longer work (still in progress!). The title character is a little girl left alone in a post-apocalyptic environment. She takes refuge in The Den and starts communicating with the ghost of Ernest Rutherford, who is rather more concerned with the practicalities of survival than he is in recreating old experiments. Ernestine, however, needs more than potatoes to survive, and the Great Hall of the Arts Centre is converted, via string and office supplies, to a facsimile of Rutherford’s Gold Leaf Experiment. Science, she finds, can make you friends, and in a post-apocalyptic world, friends are nearly as important as food.
I’m hoping to finally finish the novel version this year, but I’m happy to have this little teaser piece out in the world.
The Meiosis of Cells and Exile
I have a new reprint out! My story “The Meiosis of Cells and Exile,” originally published in Asimov’s, is out in the January issue of Fusion Fragment, which is dedicated to novelettes. I love novelettes, and I’m increasingly writing more of them. They’re a great length for when you want to explore something in a little more depth than a short story would generally allow, but still don’t want to waffle on forever and ask your readers for an hour or more of attention.
“Cells and Exile” is about the Soviet biochemist Lina Stern, who was sent, after a show trial and the execution of her colleagues for anti-fascist activities, into exile. She was in her seventies at the time, so you’d be forgiven for thinking that this whole traumatic, violent experience would have, not to put too fine a point on it, killed her off. Not so. Lina was tough as old boots, and she survived her imprisonment and exile. She even outlived both Stalin and the brutal torturer who jailed her before her exile, and after both their deaths she came back from banishment and went right back to work at the Academy of Sciences, no doubt both deeply grateful and extremely (if quietly) smug.
I’m so glad that this story has seen the light of day again! One day it’ll end up in another collection of mine, one themed around historical scientists, but until that day you can read about Lina in Fusion Fragment, along with the other fantastic novelettes published there.
The Impoverished Landscape
I have a new paper out! My first 2023 paper, and it’s called “The Impoverished Landscape: Navigating Absence and Ecological Resilience in Speculative Fiction.” You can find it in issue 33 of Hélice: Critical Thinking on Speculative Fiction, which is a special issue on speculative landscapes.
I focus on two texts in the paper: Locust Girl: A Lovesong by Merlinda Bobis, and Sweet Fruit, Sour Land by Rebecca Ley. Both books are set in what are increasingly impoverished landscapes, as ongoing biodiversity loss produces an environment that is ever more difficult for humans to survive in. As texts, they are both extremely different. Sweet Fruit is a dystopian realistic piece set in the near-future UK, whereas Locust Girl is a dreamy, magical realist fantasy that is no country in particular, being set in an ambiguous and unrecognisable location that is mostly wasteland. They both, however, engage with landscape in complex and interesting ways, and it’s often interesting to approach the same element from very different directions.
Impoverished landscapes like these often can’t provide sufficient resources for the people living in them to have sustainable and reliable food supplies, for instance. The distribution and allocation of these resources is controlled in unfair and exploitative ways, and the landscapes are often associated, therefore, with deprivation. My paper argues that they can also be interpreted as sites of resistance, and of re-imagined relationships between the human and the non-human.
If you’re not very interested in the paper, or in academic writing, please consider reading the books. They’re fantastic!