Humans as Ecological Actors in Post-Apocalyptic Literature

I have a new paper out! “Humans as Ecological Actors in Post-Apocalyptic Literature” has been published in MOSF Journal of Science Fiction, in their special issue on environmental SF. This is also the first paper I’ve ever co-written, and my fellow author is Meryl Stenhouse. It was a really enjoyable writing experience, so I think we’re going to work together again once we can figure out our next topic!

Post-apocalyptic literature is frequently environmental in nature, or explores significant ecological impacts. These affect the surviving human and nonhuman populations, and are characterised by scale. While some of the apocalypses of science fiction literature are limited to the destruction of a single species – as occurs, for instance, in P.D. James’ The Children of Men – others, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, illustrate an environmental collapse that destroys entire ecosystems.

Human response to apocalypse occurs on both an individual and a communal level, but that response, within the literature, tends to focus more often on social or economic consequences. However, the ability of humans to further shape their natural environment tends to be heightened in environmental apocalypse, as compromised ecologies become ever more vulnerable to human activity. The ability of humans to function as ecological actors, as shapers of surviving ecologies, is therefore not only a fundamental – if frequently underexplored – part of that narrative, but it also indicates potential pathways for real-life response to ecological apocalypse.

Notable, in the post-apocalyptic narratives explored in this paper, is how the impact of human behaviour on environment is dependent on apocalyptic scale. The construction of refugia, the realignment of surviving communities to sustainable practices, and the increasingly destructive human presence on ecologies incapable of reclamation contrasts with, for example, the increasing nonhuman biodiversity that can follow the widespread destruction of the human population.

Confronting the Minotaur

I have a new paper out! “Confronting the Minotaur: Gender, Reconciliation, and the Labyrinth in Fantasy Literature” has been published by BFS Journal.

I love labyrinths, I really do. They pop up a lot in fantasy lit, and I’m always glad to see them. They always seem more exciting in fantasy than in real life, but such is the case for a number of settings, I’m sure. Anyway, over the years I’ve noted a number of variations related to gender: who solves the labyrinth, who’s settled in the middle of it, that sort of thing. One of the archetypal stories is of course that of Theseus, who – with the help of Ariadne – solves the labyrinth to confront the monstrous devouring Minotaur at the centre of it. If we take this as a basic pattern (albeit one that rests primarily on the European tradition of labyrinths, as opposed to those traditions from other parts of the world) we can see how such patterns are repeated in, for example, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Tombs of Atuan and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. Whether the maze is made out of underground tunnels or the dead marshes, the risk of being eaten or otherwise swallowed up is significant. Does this pattern change, however, when the solver of the labyrinth is female? Meredith Ann Pierce’s The Darkangel is an interesting contrast here, where the monstrous devourer exists outside the labyrinth, and the centre is a place of science and safety.

I tinkered with this paper on and off for well over a decade, so I’m glad it’s finally been published. Let me know what you think!

Spring Again

I’ve a new academic chapter out! My paper “Spring Again: The Problem of Evil and the End of Winter in C.S. Lewis’ Narnia” is out in A Shadow Within: Evil in Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Francesca T. Barbini from Luna Press Publishing.

My love of fantasy began with Narnia. The first book I ever really remember reading was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which my parents gave to me on the Christmas following my fourth birthday. I spent Christmas morning tucked in a chair and enraptured, while Mum vacuumed up tinsel around me. I’d finished by lunch, and my parents (untrusting souls that they were) were so disbelieving they actually quizzed me on the contents of the book. I passed, though for the life of me I couldn’t remember that the witch’s knife was made of stone.

As an adult I still enjoy Narnia, problematic though it sometimes is. (The Last Battle, I must admit, is one of my most hated books of all time.) So when I saw the Luna Press call for papers, I thought I’d write about evil in Narnia. Here’s the abstract:

In The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, evil is perceived as directly resulting from personal choice. Each individual is solely responsible for their own moral decisions, and these decisions both impact the continuing ethical development of the self and influence how the individual addresses the problem of evil. This is particularly well illustrated in the case of Edmund Pevensie, and this paper argues that it is his willingness to accept and atone for the evil within himself that directly leads to the end of the enchanted winter imposed on Narnia. In this sense, evil is not only present within the individual, but is externalised in the land that that individual inhabits.

Basically, it sums up as “prophecies are always dodgy”. The Beavers have no logic, poor things.

Award Eligible Stories, 2017

It’s that time of year… when all writers start shilling their stuff for the upcoming awards season! And why not, I reckon.

I had nine eligible stories and one non-fiction book come out last year, but I think that’s genuinely too much to list, so I’m going to stick with a handful of the shorts and the non-fiction book.

The most important story I wrote last year, no question, was “The Stone Weta“, which appeared in Clarkesworld. If you’re considering nominating something of mine, please make it this. The idea for it was essentially ripped from the headlines – climate denialism sponsored by the state, and scientists working to preserve data across borders. Both of these things are happening, and cli-fi is an important tool in bringing climate change into the spotlight.

The best-written story, on the other hand, was “The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science“, which appeared in Shimmer. This is the most literary of the things I had published last year, and continues my effort to write about science with a tinge of speculative fiction about it. If your nomination wants some snob-value to it, this is the story to go for.

On the other hand, if you’re a horror fan, I had two stories out near the end of last year which have both got a bit of positive attention. “The Ouroboros Bakery” from Kaleidotrope (my creepy magic food story) and “The Better Part of Drowning” in The Dark, which does its best to make sure you never eat crabs again.

If you’re looking for something non-fiction to nominate, my collected Food and Horror essays came out from The Book Smugglers at the beginning of December. The columns were actually published individually throughout 2016, mostly, but the collected edition has been substantially expanded, going from 40,000 to 60,000 words. Also, take a look at that gorgeous cover please, by Kristina Tsenova, who could be nominated for art if you’re so inclined.

That’s it! Thanks for your consideration, *cough* stone weta *cough*.

Food and Horror

I have a new book out! It’s my first non-fiction book, my first full length book, and my first available in paperback (before this I’ve just done short stories and a few novellas).

Food and Horror: Essays on Ravenous Souls, Toothsome Monsters, and Vicious Cravings began as a guest post on The Book Smugglers back in 2015. It very quickly became a monthly series, as Ana and Thea were kind enough to let me ramble on about all aspects of food in horror, from Jaws to the gingerbread house. After a year, I was done. It had been a particularly rewarding experience – people were always very kind and interested, and earlier this year I won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for best fan writing for the food and horror series.

Because of the positive response, The Book Smugglers and I thought we’d turn the series into a book. I spent a few busy months writing new material – there’s an extra 20,000 words in there now, looking at zombies and medical horror, Octavia Butler and the tooth fairy, amongst other things. And now there is a book! It’s longer than anything I’ve ever written that isn’t a thesis; I am prodigiously proud of it.

You can find details of where to pick up your own creepy copy here. And who wouldn’t want a book with that gorgeous cover? The artist is the very talented Kristina Tsenova (who did covers for my stories “The Mussel Eater” and The Convergence of Fairy Tales, also from the Smugglers) and she is extraordinarily talented so please keep her in mind in the future when award season rolls around.