Articles, Science

Strigops habroptilus

I have a new article out! “Strigops habroptilus – Kākāpō” is in Becoming Feral, a bestiary project from Object-a Creative Studio, supported by The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the University of Wisconsin-Madison; and the University of California, Santa Cruz. If you’ve ever met me and been foolish enough to enter into the topic of academic publishing, you’ll know that I have opinions, so when I saw this project, which is a strange (but hopefully accessible) attempt at producing specifically creative research, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it.

Becoming Feral is an exploration of ferality as it relates to the interactions between humans and nonhuman animals. Participants had to pick an animal and create a bestiary entry for them that fulfilled that brief. A lot of those entries – including mine – are primarily written, but there are also some multimedia entries that you can take a look at for free online.

I chose to write a short article on the kākāpō, a flightless parrot endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand. It’s very endangered here; at the time I wrote this post there were only 201 left alive. Unfortunately, in 2019 (the year before COVID-19 came to NZ) the kākāpō had their own pandemic. Nearly five percent of the entire kākāpō population died; many had to be isolated from the disease in order to survive. Some had to undergo nebuliser treatment to support their respiration, as contagious spores were attacking their lungs, and the only nebulisers small enough were ones designed for kids. The crossover in pandemic experience, then, was something I found really interesting – what was the feral organism here? The kākāpō, who by the end were helping to weigh themselves in the quarantine facilities provided for them, or the spores that were killing them?

SFF, Short stories

Indicator Species

I’ve a new story out! It’s only a wee thing, because the brief was to produce stories that were about a page and a half long. I find writing flash fiction really difficult, which is why every so often I give it another go, on the grounds that practice might make it easier.

“Indicator Species” can be read for free online in the “Oceans” section of Stories from 2050, which is a project funded by the EU to produce a collection of flash fiction about ecology in 2050. There’s a documented link between spending time in nature and improved mental health, so my story looks at how restoring urban ecology is good for both human and nonhuman life. This is a connection that I’m increasingly focused on in my ecofiction, so it’s been good to branch out in a more hopeful direction there.

Stories from 2050 has been a really fascinating project to be part of. I came to it quite late, so I didn’t get to spend much time in the collaborative workshops where people explored potential variations on the different ecological themes, but I’ve been reading along with interest.

Horror, SFF, Short stories

Tidemarks

I have a new story out! “Tidemarks” is available to read in Professor Charlatan Bardot’s Travel Anthology to the Most (Fictional) Haunted Buildings in the Weird, Wild World, edited by Eric J. Guignard from Dark Moon Books.

When Eric contacted me to ask if I were interested in writing a ghost story for the anthology, there were only two restrictions. First, whatever building was being haunted, it couldn’t be a house. Secondly, it couldn’t take place in any real building. I’m embarrassed to say that I forgot the second condition twice, and my haunted aquarium ended up being dumped further along the Otago peninsula coastline than any similar building which may or may not have inspired the story.

My sole defence is that I was so excited at the prospect of writing a story about ghost penguins that I promptly forgot anything else. Yes, penguins. There was nothing in the brief that said my story had to be about human ghosts so I went straight to the ecological uncanny. Anyway, there are penguins on the Otago peninsula and I would like for them to stay there, so this is a future-set ghost story in which red tides have taken the place of penguins, and those poor extinct birds reappear late at night, suffocating under algal bloom. (Yes, ghost penguins of tragedy, don’t read this for a happy ending to hauntings.)

But still. Ghost penguins!!!

Horror, SFF, Short stories

Seedling

After seven years of submissions, I’m delighted to say that I finally, finally, have a story in Fantasy & Science Fiction. It has taken a long time, and some of the stories I sent there were very good and were published in other markets, but F&SF is one of those bucket list magazines for speculative writers, and they get a heap of excellent stories every single day, so it’s no surprise that it takes persistence to succeed there. Well, persistence I have.

The story that finally got me there was a flash piece about fairy tales and cake. “Seedling” was inspired by the Hansel and Gretel story, which has the dubious distinction of being one of the fairy tales that has typically interested me the least, as well as being the fairy tale that most inspired every childhood birthday cake. My parents had the old birthday cake book from Women’s Weekly that every New Zealand family had at one point, I’m sure, and there are a lot of delightful cakes in there but, as a kid, nearly every year I picked the gingerbread cottage because it had a roof covered in Pebbles and the whole thing was just marvelous. That’s about the only thing I care about in the Hansel and Gretel story: that cottage made of cake, like a sugary angler fish in the middle of the forest.

Except in this story, it’s not the cottage that’s made of cake. Because if you’re trying to camouflage predation in a forest, surely a better option is baumkuchen…

I never had baumkuchen for a birthday cake. It’s on my baking bucket list, though.

Papers, Science, SFF

Tardigrades and Star Trek

I have a new paper out! “Ethics, Experimentalism, and Hybrid Purpose: Navigating Science and the Military in Star Trek: Discovery” is out in the latest issue of Interdisciplinary Literary Studies. Sometime last year I saw their call for papers for a special issue on hybridity in Star Trek, and as I’m on a mission to eventually write papers on all my beloved books and media, I knew I had to submit to it. And the I remembered the tardigrade storyline of Discovery’s first season. I remembered, as well, the Manhattan Project, a period of science history that I find endlessly fascinating, and I knew how I could lump the two together.

The Manhattan Project had an interesting organisational structure, with two effective heads: General Groves, who represented the military, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, who represented the scientists. This structure was something that could be clearly mapped onto the tardigrade storyline, hence the following abstract:

In “Context Is for Kings,” “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” and “Choose Your Pain,” three season one episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, the hybrid nature of Starfleet becomes apparent when its scientists come into conflict with its soldiers. The order to treat a potentially sentient tardigrade-like creature as a military resource, subject to what is essentially slavery and vivisection, makes scientific ethics subject to strategic value. In each episode, a separate pairing between scientist and soldier develops, which both critiques the competing philosophies and acts as a metaphor for historical conflicts of this kind.