Articles, Science

Milk Teeth

I have a new essay out! Most of what I put up on this blog is short stories or academic papers or books, and it’s only very rarely that I write a nonfiction, non-academic piece. But I’d like to start doing more of them, so this is one of the first.

It’s also the first piece I’ve ever managed to sell to Uncanny Magazine, which is one thing crossed off my writing bucket list. It’s an amazing magazine, and I’m so pleased to finally be in it. My essay, “Milk Teeth,” is free to read at the link.

It’s about New Zealand ecology. Mostly the moa (a giant and sadly extinct bird) and the horoeka (a plant which is happily still very much alive). The horoeka’s an odd-looking plant, and one of the theories as to why it looks and grows the way that it does is because the moa used to graze on it, and the plant adapted accordingly.

If this is true – and it seems a reasonable explanation – then this plant is still growing away, doing it’s odd spiky thing, completely oblivious to the fact that the reason for said spikiness is long dead and likely won’t be coming back. (I say “likely” because I live in hope that the thing can be resurrected, like a big feathery Jurassic Park creature that is rather less violently carnivorous. The probability of this resurrection is not high.)

And to me, that’s such an interesting relationship… one built, now, entirely around absence, and one that’s very much worth exploring.

Articles, Horror, Science, SFF, Short stories

The Past and Future Lives of Test Subjects

I have a new story out! And it’s fucking terrible. I don’t say that lightly. The story itself is well-written and decently constructed, don’t get me wrong. I’m not fishing for affirmation of my writing ability. But the subject is monstrous. It’s also, unfortunately, drawn entirely from fact. “The Past and Future Lives of Test Subjects”, available in issue 1 of Dark Matter Magazine, is about the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments.

Those experiments, should you be so fortunate to have never heard of them, comprised a 40 year study in which the United States Public Health Service oversaw the “treatment” of syphilis in a study group of Black men. I say “treatment,” because although these men were told they were receiving medical care they really weren’t. The purpose of the study was to monitor the progression of untreated syphilis in the human body, and of course there’s no-one alive who would volunteer to the be the subject of that experiment, but the Public Health Service decided to go ahead and experiment anyway and not bother with any of those nasty consent issues.

This is the darkest story I’ve ever written. The people who ran this study were deeply, violently racist, and they clearly had absolutely no ethics at all, so be warned if you choose to read. You may prefer the accompanying essay, which I’m pleased to say Dark Matter also chose to publish in the same issue. “The Past and Future Lives of Scientists” goes into greater detail of the experiments in question, and places them within the ethical context of past failure and future necessity.

SFF, Short stories

Come Water, Be One of Us

I have a new story out! My last story of the year. It’s called “Come Water, Be One of Us,” and it’s free to read at Strange Horizons, just click on the link.

This is a story inspired by true events. As the wee paragraph at the beginning says, back in 2017, the New Zealand Parliament recognised the Whanganui River as a legal person. You might think that sounds strange, but I’ve long been irritated by the legal fiction that corporations are people when they clearly fucking aren’t. Making rivers legal people as well redresses the balance – and takes into account indigenous beliefs about the personhood of the river in question. And this isn’t just a Kiwi thing. Not long after the NZ Parliament did its bit, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India, and the Rio Atrato in Colombia were also made legal people by the respective governments of those countries. (And it’s not just rivers. At least one mountain here in NZ has been accorded the same status.)

I like the idea of making ecosystems legal people. It gives another layer of protection, and if you know anything about the state of rivers in NZ, you know they need all the protection they can get. But it’s also, in its way, a potential pushback against the ridiculous idea that corporations have the same legal protections as you and me. Those fucking things are not alive. I don’t care how much you love Amazon. It is not an ecosystem like the South American river, and Apple didn’t grow on any bloody tree. They are not alive.

It really annoys me. So I used the idea of rivers, fighting back against the corporations, because what is a person, really? I’m so glad that Strange Horizons bought this story. I had a feeling it was right up their alley – occasionally, when you write a story, you just know it’s a good fit for a particular market. And they got Galen Dara to illustrate it. Galen Dara!!! Author achievement unlocked right there, I tell you. Just look at it. Isn’t it beautiful?

Horror, Short stories

Imago

I have a new story out! And I blame Animal Planet. It’s entirely their fault. There I was, blamelessly flicking through channels on the telly, and there was a documentary on cicadas. And not just any cicadas – if I wanted just any cicadas, I could see lots of them in the back garden. (I’ve admired their split skins since I was a kid.) No, this was about periodical cicadas. Apparently, over in the US, there’s a type of cicada that swarms every 13 or 17 years. The next swarm, all those years later, is laid by the previous swarm, and all I could think as I watched this programme was “I could make a great horror story out of this!”

So, there you have it. Blame Animal Planet. This weird, gross, insect-filled body horror was inspired by them. Poor things, they probably thought they were sharing scientific and educational information, real learning opportunities. Little did they know, across the other side of world a horror writer was trawling for bait.

I kind of disgusted myself with it, apparently. I certainly made a couple of writer colleagues who were kind enough to read an early draft retch. Apparently they dislike the egg part. Ha.

Anyway, “Imago” is free to read at Three-Lobed Burning Eye. If your stomach’s strong enough, that is.

Articles, Horror, Nonfiction

The Haunted Boundaries of House and Body

This… isn’t quite a story, but it’s new and more importantly it’s in Nightmare, which is a market I’ve been trying to crack for years. Have finally managed it with this essay about stories. Horror stories, to be precise. Nightmare has a regular column called “The H Word” that does short essays about various things within the genre, and this piece of mine is about haunted houses. “The Haunted Boundaries of House and Body” is an extract from a longer piece that I’m working on, about how haunted houses are frequently gendered as female.

It’s basically an excuse for me to read my way through the horror canon under the guise of scholarship.

Anyway, the story referred to in the essay is one of mine that’s not available online. That story, “The Knife Orchard,” about a piece of family history, is one of the original stories collected in my recently published collection The Mythology of Salt and Other Stories. It’s apples and sharp edges and haunting, and ultimately about turning away from haunting, which is a piece of good sense I am determined to appreciate. Anyway, you can read the essay at the link, so let me know what you think!