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.

Science, SFF

Artist in Residence

I’m currently the Square Edge/Massey University artist in residence! It’s a three month position, with a visual artist coming in after me. I’ve just completed my first week, and things are very exciting but also a little surreal. The residency is based in Palmerston North, a place I’ve only ever passed through before, and while it appears to be a lovely city the truth is I’m seeing very little of it right now as New Zealand is in lockdown due to COVID-19, so no sightseeing for me.

On the bright side, this gives me lots of time to work on my residency project. I applied to come here a year or two back, with a project called The Stone Wētā, but that particular book was completed some time ago (I was offered the 2020 residency instead of the 2019 one) so I had to come up with something new. That new project, and what I’ll be working on for the next three months, is a mix of fiction and non-fiction, exploring the ways in which science, nature, extinction, and experimentation come together in unusual ways.

I’m looking forward to it!

 

Science, SFF

Pre-order: The Stone Wētā

I have a new book coming out! The Stone Wētā, from Paper Road Press, is due out on April 22. That’s Earth Day, which is deeply appropriate for a novel about climate change and how it can affect us and our planet. The Stone Wētā is based on the short story of mine, of the same name, which was published a couple of years back in Clarkesworld.

We talk about the tyranny of distance a lot in this country. That distance will not save us.

With governments denying climate science, scientists from affected countries and organisations are forced to traffic data to ensure the preservation of research that could in turn preserve the world. From Antarctica, to the Chihuahuan Desert, to the International Space Station, a fragile network forms. A web of knowledge. Secret. But not secret enough.

When the cold war of data preservation turns bloody – and then explosive – an underground network of scientists, all working in isolation, must decide how much they are willing to risk for the truth. For themselves, their colleagues, and their future.

Murder on Antarctic ice. A university lecturer’s car, found abandoned on a desert road. And the first crewed mission to colonise Mars, isolated and vulnerable in the depths of space.

How far would you go to save the world?

You can pre-order hard copies of The Stone Wētā at the Paper Road Press site. E-copies are also available to pre-order at Amazon, Kobo, Apple, and Barnes & Noble.

Science, SFF, Short stories

The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science

I’ve a new story out! And it’s a Shimmer story! AT LAST AT LAST I HAVE A SHIMMER STORY.

Right. You see, Shimmer has long been on my list of “bucket markets” – by which I mean markets I want to get a story into before I get hit by a bus and die. I have tried for years to get a story into Shimmer. It is a very hard thing to do. Why? Because Shimmer is a consistently excellent speculative fiction market, and so it gets a lot of submissions. I think they were commenting on Twitter that they got 5000 stories a year sent to them? Of which they publish maybe 24. So you can see the odds are stacked against.

This story of mine, “The Atomic Hallows and the Body of Science” (free to read at the link there), is the 28th story I have sent them. 28!!! It took that much work before they bought a story from me. I’ve been pretty open about this on Twitter – and now here – because I know from experience how discouraging constant rejection can be if you’re a writer. And it is discouraging – but it’s also part of the business, so you need to learn to not take it personally and keep trying. Editors want you to succeed, they want to buy an awesome story from you. The Shimmer editing staff, in particular, are lovely, and they were just as excited as I was to break that rejection streak I think.

I mean, if I can do it so can you. So don’t give up! And here’s a little snippet from the story to inspire you:

Lise Meitner
Co-Discoverer of Nuclear Fission

A spear breaks its blade upon ribs and punctures hearts. It shines with ice-coated needles in the salt air, over breakfast.

“I’ve had a letter,” says Lise to her nephew. He’d come to visit for the holidays so she wouldn’t be alone in the cold country of her exile. “I’ve had a letter and I don’t know what to make of it.”

She thinks she might be worried.

They walk across a frozen river, across the flood plain and into snowy woods—at least Lise walks, while her nephew glides on skis beside her, under crisp, frosted trees that smell of sap and pine and holiday gifts. Her fingers tingle in the cold, and their tips shine oddly in sunlight…