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?

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.

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!