Horror, Papers, Science, SFF

Inoculation and Contagion

I have a new paper out! Something very appropriate for the times, too, in that it deals with infection and disease. The paper’s called “Inoculation and Contagion: The Absence of Vaccination in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and it’s free to read at Supernatural Studies. If you go to the table of contents for the issue you can also download a free pdf of the paper, which is great.

I love Dracula. I really do. It’s one of the great horror stories of all time, and yet when I reread it again a couple of years back, I began to wonder. Why is there no mention of vaccination in it? Two of the main characters are doctors. They treat vampirism as a contagious disease, and vaccination was, at the time of Stoker’s writing (and at the time the novel was set) an accepted medical practice. It was even a compulsory practice when it came to smallpox. And yet… nary a mention. Not even to say that it wouldn’t work so no use trying. Now, Stoker is long dead and so can’t be asked, but still… can a bit of research find a reason for this curious omission? It just might, I thought, and it has. Without verification from Stoker we can’t be sure if it’s the right reason, of course, but it’s certainly a plausible one.

And honestly, for me, plausibility is enough. My curiosity is satisfied. I would say, however, that just because you can’t vaccinate yourself against vampirism doesn’t mean you can’t vaccinate yourself against a number of other diseases. You can, and you should.

Horror, SFF, Short stories

YBHH: Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead

I have a new (old) story out! “Otto Hahn Speaks to the Dead” has been reprinted in the Year’s Best Hardcore Horror, volume 6, from Red Room Press. The story was originally published in The Dark.

This is the second time I’ve had a story in YBHH, and I’m grateful to the editors Randy Chandler and Cheryl Mullenax; I remember them making it plain that people shouldn’t overthink whether their story is “hardcore” or not before submitting. It’s what encourages me to send stuff into them, because honestly? “Otto Hahn” is a very dark and deeply grim little story, but if I had to think of a single word to describe it, I’m not sure that “hardcore” would make the top of the list. It probably wouldn’t even make the top ten. If I had to pick a single word, it would probably be “tragic.” The story deals with an episode in the history of chemical warfare. There’s a lot of terrible things in that history, but this, about the suicide of chemist Clara Immerwahr, may be one of the saddest.

“Otto Hahn” is a story about grief and regret, and in some ways it is a story about the utter uselessness of doing better, because when you have chosen to involve yourself in something so monstrous, well. Is atonement even possible?

I don’t know, but I suspect not.

Horror, Short stories

Worm Blood

I have a new story out! It’s called “Worm Blood,” and it’s free to read in issue 71 of The Dark Magazine. I’ve had several stories in that magazine now, and they’re one of my favourite markets.

As you can probably tell from the title, worms play a big part here. It’s a squirmy rural horror story where something terrible has gone wrong on the farm. I can’t honestly say it’s my usual sort of horror story, but I like to try new things and so disgusting creatures that crawl out of holes in the back paddocks fit the bill. For me, though, there’s got to be more than disgusting creatures in a horror story. After all, I’m a biologist at heart, so even supernatural worms must have something about them that’s interesting or appealing if they’re going to be the real centre of the story. These don’t, so they aren’t. What’s more important to me is why they’re there, disturbing the locals and destroying crops, and just what those locals are going to do about it.

I should say at this point that apparently, over in Australia, exist giant Gippsland earthworms that can apparently grow to over three metres long and a couple of centimetres thick, and if you think seeing these delightful creatures is not on my bucket list, you probably don’t know me very well yet. (Though I will say the Gippsland earthworms are much less horrific than the worms of my story, who have no redeeming features whatsoever… )

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.

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.