Author: OJ

The Stone Weta

I’ve a new story out! “The Stone Weta” is free to read in this month’s issue of Clarkesworld.

It’s one of my favourites of the stories I’ve written – although, to be fair, the new and shiny ones tend to be my favourite at any given time. But this one is special. Partly because it deals with science denial, which can always exercise me to ranting, and partly because although it started as a short story, it very quickly became apparent to me that this was a short story I could build a novel around. And so I am: my current writing project (one of them, anyway) is a sort of sci-fi thriller set in this world, and around this issue.

“The Stone Weta” is about climate change, and how scientists can work to preserve data that governments want deleted or repressed. It’s a fairly topical subject at the moment, given the pressure put on organisations such as the American EPA and the Australian CSIRO when it comes to climate science. And in this story, an underground network of women scientists are smuggling data, stashing it in different places around the world in case it disappears from where it shouldn’t. And they take the code names of weird natural creatures, these women, because that’s what they study and the lessons of biological survival given by these species are an inspiration for keeping resistance alive…

Hemideina maori

In winter, the mountain stone weta crawls into crevices, into cracks in the stone and it squats there, waiting. It is a creature of summer days and winter strengths, of cryogenic hibernation. When the world freezes about it, becomes a stretch of snow and ice and darkness, the stone weta freezes solid in its bolthole. Eighty-two percent of the water in its body turns to ice; the weta is climate in a single body, it is a continent broken off and geology made flesh.

When the weather warms the weta thaws, resumes its life amidst the stone monuments of the Rock and Pillar range…

Please check it out! And keep an eye on your elected officials, because some of them wouldn’t recognise the scientific method if it fell on them from a great height (or entrapped them in a poisonous circle of gympie gympie).

 

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The War on Space and Time

I have a new story out! “The War on Space and Time” is the July story over at GigaNotoSaurus. And it’s free to read, so why not take a look?

It’s another of my Bletchley Park stories – I’ve been writing a sort of series of weird SFF shorts about the WW2 research at BP because that’s a period of history that genuinely fascinates me. But this story isn’t just about Bletchley – it bounces back and forth between the Park and WW2 Los Alamos. And both the Manhattan Project and breaking the German codes are having strange effects… In New Mexico, the research seems to be stretching the land so that buildings which were once next door to each other are now miles apart, while in Buckinghamshire space is collapsing in on itself… and in both locations, a set of twins is struggling with the war and with each other.

Bletchley Park
Helen woke to a room grown smaller than before. It was no illusion, no result of short sleep and poor light, a head grown soft and malleable under code. Her knees knew before her brain. They barked up against the bed that lay beside her own, the iron of its railings, the thin mattress and the covers all smoothed over.

It had not been a large room to begin with. There were too many men, too many women, and all the billets were taken, all the houses filled. Helen never minded sharing – she’d shared with her sisters all her life, six of them, and sharing a room now with only one of them – and that her twin, the closest of all – was a marvel of quiet and space in comparison. Even if it were only a small room, even if it were only two feet between cots and one of those feet gone now: the walls coming inwards, the beds inching closer together and that was something they had tried before, her and V., cuddling together for warmth and comfort when news of bombs came in, and battles.

But the two beds pushed together made it harder to get through the door, so Helen and V. had pushed them back into place, the little narrow beds, and gone to sleep with their arms stretched across the gap, their hands clasped together in darkness. It wasn’t the same, but it was hard to balance themselves together on a narrow bed and sleep when concentration was required of them in the waking hours, in the shifts before Colossus, in the codes and ciphers and breaking of Bletchley. Now, the beds were somehow shifting towards each other again….

 

Food and Fairy Tales win at the SJV awards!!!

I have had a fantastic weekend. I spent it down in Taupo, at LexiCon – New Zealand’s national SFF convention. I was on two panels: with Seanan McGuire and Meryl Stenhouse on Ecosystems in Science Fiction; and with Meryl again and Cat Langford on Writing Science, Writing Science Fiction. They both seemed to go well, got lots of comments and questions and the people who came up to me afterwards were very complimentary, which was kind of them as I’m not the best public speaker in the world and I’m afraid it showed. But still! I was pleased to make the effort, especially given how well LexiCon went. As a convention it was small but perfectly formed, being exceedingly well organised. Everyone was friendly and excited and happy to be there which is exactly how a convention should be.

But the big news – for me, anyway – happened on the last night, just before the closing ceremony, when the Sir Julius Vogel awards were held. These are our national SFF awards, named after a 19th century Prime Minister who wrote feminist science fiction, and they’re handed out every year. I was nominated in two categories: best novella/novelette for The Convergence of Fairy Tales, and best fan writing for my series of columns on food and horror, both of which were published last year by The Book Smugglers.

I was lucky enough to win both! So I have two lovely new trophies to sit on my bookshelf. (I was also really pleased that A.J. Fitzwater won the best short story category for “Splintr”, which was well deserved.)

I’m super grateful to everyone who voted for me. The competition was very strong, especially in the novella category. I didn’t expect to win, but it seems horror is more popular in the NZ fandom than I thought! So much thanks to my fellow kiwi fans, to the SJV organising team, and to Thea and Ana over at The Book Smugglers for all their support!

The Sharp and Sugar Tooth

I’ve spent the last year thinking a lot about food and horror – how our relationship with food impacts our ideas about consumption, and how that consumption can be made a dark and twisted thing. It’s something I’ve written about in my own stories (for instance “The Mussel Eater”), but it’s also something other people have been writing about. There’s a lot of fantastic stories exploring the dark side of culinary life out there…

I’m pleased to say there will soon be more. I’m editing an anthology for Upper Rubber Boot Books, called The Sharp and Sugar Tooth, to be published late next year. Submissions are open, and you can find the submission call here. Basically what I’m looking for is creepy, beautiful, mouth-watering stories with an element of horror. Stories can be dark fantasy or science fiction or straight horror, but they must be themed around food gathering, food preparation, or the act (and consequences) of consumption. Sex, strong language (and cannibalism!) is fine, but I’m not interested in torture-porn of people or animals even if that’s what gets them onto the plate.

Subversive, diverse stories with a focus on women are appreciated. The Sharp and Sugar Tooth is part of Upper Rubber Boot’s Women Up To No Good series, so authors must identify as female, non-binary, or as a marginalised sex or gender identity.

  • Word count: Up to 5000 words.
  • Payment: six cents per word.
  • Publication history: Original stories only. Reprints may be submitted by invitation only.
  • Multiple submissions: No.
  • Simultaneous submissions: No.
  • Deadline: 31 July 2017. All stories will be replied to by the end of August.
  • To submit: Please send stories in standard manuscript format, attached in .doc or .rtf files, to octaviacade@hotmail.com with the subject line SUGAR TOOTH. Be sure to provide mailing address and a short bio.
  • If the work is a translation, please also provide a statement from the rights holder that you are authorized to translate and submit it (both author and translator will receive full payment).

We encourage and welcome stories from voices underrepresented in speculative fiction, including (but not limited to) writers of colour, LGBTQ writers, writers with disabilities, and writers in translation.

 

The Little Beast

I have a new story out!

“The Little Beast” has just been published in Respectable Horror, the new anthology from Fox Spirit Books. Now I love pretty much all types of horror, but this anthology focuses on stories that try to horrify you without gore or explicitness. Inside you’ll find more Shirley Jackson than Saw.

“The Little Beast” is based around my least favourite fairy tale. I’ve always side-eyed Beauty and the Beast, and it was always Beauty that got my back up. There’s something so untrustworthy about how saccharine she is. I’m not even talking about her willingness to be sold to the Beast as some sort of family sacrifice. In itself that might be understandable – it’s when it follows the whole disgusting rose episode that sacrifice starts to take on more sinister undertones. If I can pinpoint the one moment when I finally realised that I just don’t like Beauty – and why – it’s that bloody bit with the rose; her desperate, needy desire to take up every last bit of her father’s mental space.

A rose is the worst of long-distance presents. It’s a cut flower, it wilts. He’ll have to wrap the stem in wet tissue, to watch it every second so that it doesn’t fall off the cart or get run over, so that it isn’t bumped and bruised by packages or the careless elbows of passers-by. He’ll end up carrying it himself, the whole of the trip home. It’s such a simple request, that made by his youngest daughter. Such a modest desire.

And every night, when he stops at an inn, he’ll have to ask for a vase and fresh water and before he gets it he’ll have to explain why he wants it. He’ll have to tell about his daughter, about her rose. And they’ll coo and congratulate him on having such a loving girl, and none of them will stop to think that she’s asked for a gift that’ll take more time and trouble than her more conventional sisters. No. They’ll be too busy making a fuss for that.

(None of the fuss will be about him.)

But cut flowers die, and no matter what he does, no matter the trouble he’ll go to, by the time he gets back home the thing’s going to be half-dead anyway, all wilted and with the petals falling off.

And the little beast… the little beast will look at her sisters with their expensive, easy requests and her bottom lip will quiver, just minutely, and then she’ll smile anyway and thank him for the present and say that his coming back safe was all she really needed. And all this ridiculous sequence of events will have been set up, by her, for his next line, because there’s only one thing he’ll be able to say at that point, confronted with that brave, martyred little face and that sad little flower.

“You’re such a good girl, Beauty.” (So much better than your sisters.)

Awful girl. Awful. To read the rest, check out the anthology…

Crown of Thorns

I have a new story out!

Crown of Thorns“, about fighting invasive species in the wake of apocalypse, is out in this month’s issue of Clarkesworld. It’s set on the Great Barrier Reef, which is being overrun by a particularly hungry, particularly spiny starfish known as Acanthaster planci, or the Crown of Thorns…

Acanthaster planci.

Home was the poison infestation of starfish, the bleaching acres of coral. Home was vast stretches of warm ocean currents with schools beneath, and colonies.

Home was a laboratory where all the concerns were popular. The Crown of Thorns invasion, their numbers out of control and crowding out the reef systems, the unending march of predation turning an ecology to wasteland, and that ecology already vulnerable.

“We can’t do it anymore.” Apocalypse had left a dozen scientists stranded on a reef laboratory—stranded by choice more than compulsion, because there were boats available, research vessels that could have taken them to the mainland if there had been anything left to go back to. The lab was at least familiar, with the advantage of solar power and fishing equipment. No one would go hungry, but for people defined by their intelligence, by the career choice of science and of conservation, there was more than physical hunger to satisfy.

“We’re outnumbered,” said Mel. “And anyway, there’s no one left to report to.” There’d been nothing but silence from the university for months, and silence in the new world, the world defined by plague and absence, could only mean one thing. “It was only a pilot program anyway.” The desperate attempt to clear and monitor a small patch of ocean, to see if intervention could lead to recovery. Diving again and again, in clear warm water with spikes beneath, with stars, and so focused on seabeds and the possibility of resurrection that the other destruction taking place had seemed a distant thing, unnoticed at first, or at least not taken seriously until the silence began to spread, to became too monstrous to be ignored….

This is my first Clarkesworld story! It’s been on my bucket list of markets to crack for a long time now, and I can honestly say I’ve done my damnedest to crack it. “Crown of Thorns” is the 29th story I’ve sent them. 29th!!! If that isn’t persistence I don’t know what is. Still, if you want to be a writer persistence is necessary – and it does pay off in the end.

Unlike post-apocalypse starfish slaughter.

The Meiosis of Cells and Exile

asimovsI have a new story out!

“The Meiosis of Cells and Exile” is a novelette about the Soviet scientist Lina Stern. It’s just been published in the latest issue of Asimov’s.

I enjoy mixing science history and speculative fiction, and “Meiosis” is an example of this. Lina Stern (1878-1968) was a biochemist and director of the Physiology Unit in the Academy of Sciences. She was also a member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and Stalin was not impressed. Free speech was not something he found to be a priority, and the scientists and writers making up the Committee disagreed – to their very great cost. 15 members of the Committee were arrested and imprisoned for several years before being sentenced to death in a political show trial. Most were executed in 1952 in what came to be known as The Night of the Murdered Poets.

Lina was the only survivor, saved by her scientific talent and sent into exile in Kazakhstan instead. She was in her seventies at the time, and my story tells of her travel into that exile, fuming with what has been done to her and the rest of the Committee.

There’s (kind of) a happy ending to all that horror. Lina, despite her age, survived both Stalin and the miserable torturing bastard who imprisoned her and the rest of the League. She came back out of exile and spent the next 14 years of her very long life working for science, heading up the Physiology Department again at the Biophysics Institute.

It’s an apt story to be out at the moment, I reckon. Have been on Twitter the last few days, watching accounts from the Badlands National Park and NASA go rogue on climate change, tweeting science facts even though they’re under significant pressure not to. Scientists have the responsibility to speak truth to power, and I reckon Lina would have agreed.

(If you’re interested in reading more, Lina Stern also turns up as a supporting character in my short (free!) novel The August Birds.)

Nature as Creative Catalyst

entanglementsI’ve a new book chapter out!

Actually, that implies there was an old book chapter. Nope! There’ve been a handful of papers, but this is is the first academic chapter I’ve had published. It rejoices in the name of “Nature as Creative Catalyst: Building Poetic Environmental Narratives through the Artists in Antarctica Programme”, and it is riveting stuff I tell you.

But if you think that title’s a mouthful, have a look at the collection that it’s in: Ecological Entanglements in the Anthropocene, edited by Nicholas Holm and Sy Taffel. Perhaps it’ll all be a bit clearer when I tell you that the working title of the project, for most of the time I was involved in it, was Working With Nature. Basically, it’s a collection of essays on the many different ways that people interact with their natural environment. Aside from mine, there are chapters on photographing the Australian landscape, suburban landscapes, postcolonial property rights in New Zealand, and more. The focus does tend towards the Antipodean, but it’s not the only setting explored.

My own chapter looks at New Zealand’s Artists in Antarctica programme. Every year, artists are sent down to Scott Base, to live and work with the scientists there. This is done in order for artists to communicate the Antarctic environment to the general public, in different ways than the scientists do. Basically, to give a more well-rounded experience of the continent to said public, who let’s not forget are the ones paying for NZ’s research programmes on the ice. The more invested the public is in Antarctic conservation and science, the better – at least as far as I’m concerned. Selected artists may be writers, film-makers, visual artists, textile artists, musicians, and so on. Being a poet myself, I focused on the visiting poets and how they built environmental narratives of their experiences.

I’m not going to lie, one day I’d love to be part of the Artists in Antarctica programme myself. Still, until that happy day, I can at least appreciate the work of the poets who have been able to go thus far… namely Bill Manhire, Bernadette Hall, Chris Orsman, and Owen Marshall. Lucky, talented bastards.

 

The Convergence of Fairy Tales

convergence2I have a new novella out!

The Convergence of Fairy Tales is a horror story published by The Book Smugglers as the first in their new novella series. It’s really a mash-up of sorts, where five different fairy tale princesses – Sleeping Beauty, the Snow Queen, Snow White, the Frog Princess, and Rapunzel – are facets of the same person. That person wakes, as the original Sleeping Beauty does, with a baby sucking the needle from her finger. How the princesses deal with their rape and forced motherhood – and how they wreak bloody vengeance within the confines of their own stories, aided by poison apples and mirror fragments, by long hair and glass coffins and golden balls – is something I really wanted to explore.

The Sleeping Beauty woke with a heartbeat between her legs. That was what dragged her out of the sticky swamp of enchantment, of curses and nightmare dreams – a red beat, one centred in her cunt and pulsing. It anchored her as fishing line, hooked into her flesh and hauling upwards until she broke the surface of her sleep and woke to a world so much different than before.

Her eyes were sticky-shut, the lashes glued together. It took work to open them and then the sun was so bright, shining through her tower window, that the Sleepy Beauty promptly closed them again to let herself adjust to the light glowing pink through her lids. It was in that moment, floating just above unconsciousness, that she began to feel more than flares and fish-lines.

The sheets were wet. Damp, really, with the sour odour of sweat, especially in the space around her hips where she could feel the liquid pooling, feel the heaviness of the sheets against her skin. She tried to move, to shift out of the damp spot – had she wet herself, had her bleeding come early? – but it hurt to move and there was something between her legs, something soft and wet and spongy. Her lower back felt as if she had been beaten, and there was a tugging at one finger.

And really, look at that cover. It’s by the fabulously talented Kristina Tsenova (who also did the cover for my short story “The Mussel Eater”). How can you not want a book with that cover?

The Convergence of Fairy Tales is available at Amazon and Smashwords.

Eating Science with Ghosts

asimov-s-science-fiction-30I have a new story out! Actually, it’s a novelette. My first novelette, and my first story in Asimov’s Magazine.

“Eating Science with Ghosts” is the story of one very long dinner party, where the main character meets a number of dead scientists linked to weird stories of food and drink. Did you know, for instance, that Marie Curie’s cookbook is so radioactive it has to be kept in a lead box in the National Library in Paris? Or that Thomas Edison used to interview prospective employees by feeding them soup? If they tasted the soup before adding salt they were experimentalists at heart, and if they added the salt automatically (like I would, sorry to say) they assumed too much and were useless to him.

It’s science history as much as science fiction – actually, I’ve been planning to write a pop-sci book around this idea, so this wee novelette is like a proof of concept.

“Eating Science with Ghosts” isn’t available online, but if you can track down the Slightly Spooky October/November issue of Asimov’s it’s in there. Here’s a little taster, to see if it’s your kind of thing:

I’m a little bit drunk before the meal even starts. My guests are late, so that’s some excuse – and a bad joke to boot – but it’s always been easier to see the ghosts when I’m not entirely sober.

I used to try and block them out. But they never went, so eventually I learned to live with it. To live with them. In some ways now they feel like old friends, so when I got my doctorate I planned a celebratory meal. Not the one with family and friends, co-workers from the lab. This is the real celebration, the one that matters… and if those astronauts doesn’t turn up soon I’ll be face down on the table, passed out on one of those lovely little sidewalk cafés that Paris does so well, before I’ve even finished the first course.

I think my tongue is going numb. It’s the vermouth, come in a range of combinations and pretty glasses, nearly all of which are empty. This is a place for vermouth. It was advertised here, back in the early twentieth century: the first neon advertising sign in the world, and naturally it was for alcohol. Cinzano, the word lit up atop a building opposite, lit up in shining white against a brilliant red and blue background. Capital letters, a simple font… it all says Look at me! Buy me!