Papers, Science, SFF

Tardigrades and Star Trek

I have a new paper out! “Ethics, Experimentalism, and Hybrid Purpose: Navigating Science and the Military in Star Trek: Discovery” is out in the latest issue of Interdisciplinary Literary Studies. Sometime last year I saw their call for papers for a special issue on hybridity in Star Trek, and as I’m on a mission to eventually write papers on all my beloved books and media, I knew I had to submit to it. And the I remembered the tardigrade storyline of Discovery’s first season. I remembered, as well, the Manhattan Project, a period of science history that I find endlessly fascinating, and I knew how I could lump the two together.

The Manhattan Project had an interesting organisational structure, with two effective heads: General Groves, who represented the military, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, who represented the scientists. This structure was something that could be clearly mapped onto the tardigrade storyline, hence the following abstract:

In “Context Is for Kings,” “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” and “Choose Your Pain,” three season one episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, the hybrid nature of Starfleet becomes apparent when its scientists come into conflict with its soldiers. The order to treat a potentially sentient tardigrade-like creature as a military resource, subject to what is essentially slavery and vivisection, makes scientific ethics subject to strategic value. In each episode, a separate pairing between scientist and soldier develops, which both critiques the competing philosophies and acts as a metaphor for historical conflicts of this kind.

SFF, Short stories

Metamorphosis

I have a new story out! And it’s basically a love letter to insects. You can find “Metamorphosis” in the latest anthology from Parsec Ink, Triangulation: Habitats. When I saw their call for stories themed around sustainable housing, I knew it was an anthology that I wanted to submit to.

Sustainable housing, you say. Where do insects come into that? Well, “Metamorphosis” is about green roofs, which can increase biodiversity by increasing habitats for insects, among other organisms. But “Metamorphosis” isn’t just about green roofs. It’s about cockroaches and transformation. The title has probably given you a clue. If you’ve read Kafka’s story of the same name, about a man who turns into a cockroach, you’ll have found the connection. In my story, Gregor’s sister Grete, who couldn’t stand her brother when he was a cockroach, is now a primary school teacher in New Zealand. (Gregor gets to be a cockroach. Grete gets to be immortal. She has the better deal.) Anyway, Grete’s teaching kids about green roofs and how good they are for insects, which means that she has to grapple with the fact that her relationship with cockroaches is… difficult.

Sometimes you have to learn appreciation for revolting things. I was surprised to find, when researching Kafka’s original story, that Gregor was never specifically a cockroach. The insect he turned into was left unnamed, but so widespread is the revulsion for cockroaches that readers just assumed that was what he was. Which is both funny and tragic, because it’s not the fault of the cockroaches that, like Grete, I find them so viscerally disgusting.

Maybe habitat building can improve them.

 

Novels, SFF

The Stone Wētā wins SJV

I’m happy to say The Stone Wētā has won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for best novel! The SJVs are Aotearoa New Zealand’s annual awards for achievement in speculative fiction, so I’m very thankful to everyone who voted for it. Climate fiction is an increasingly notable part of science fiction, and it’s fantastic to have it be represented like this, as climate change is, I feel very strongly, the defining issue of this century.

I’d like to mention, too, some of the other work that was celebrated. To start with, of course, congratulations should go to the other writers who were also nominated for best novel. They were Drew Bryenton for Gad’s Army, B.T. Keaton for Transference, A.J. Lancaster for The Court of Mortals, and Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray for Blood of the Sun. What a fantastic field to be a part of! The other SJV categories were equally well represented, but special mention should go to A.J. Fitzwater for winning both best novella (for No Man’s Land) and best collection (for The Voyages of Cinrak the Dapper) and Casey Lucas, who took out the best short story award for the incredible “For Want of Human Parts.” Finally, I was pleased to see Cassie Hart awarded for her Services to Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.

The Aotearoa New Zealand speculative community is small but wonderfully talented, and it’s fantastic to have such a pool of supportive and creative people to share pages with. Thank you all! Thank you, especially, to publisher Marie Hodgkinson at Paper Road Press, and the amazing cover artist Emma Weakley, for all their work on the book.

 

Papers, SFF

Worldbuilding in Ursula K. Le Guin

I have a new paper out! “Environmental Change as a Catalyst for Worldbuilding in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Always Coming Home” has just been published. You can find it in Worlds Apart: Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, edited by Francesca T. Barbini for Luna Press Publishing.

I have to admit, Always Coming Home is not my favourite Le Guin book. It’s actually quite far from my favourite. (That will forever be The Tombs of Atuan.) And if I’m being absolutely, perfectly honest, I find Always Coming Home to be over-detailed for my tastes. However, it is an absolutely excellent example of worldbuilding, and one that stems from cataclysmic environmental change. It’s part purported history, part thought experiment, part possible future, and what I find compelling amidst all that welter of detail is just how far the worldbuilding spreads. I mean, I know that in some corners of speculative fiction, writers will rabbit on forever and fucking ever about extraneous bits of encyclopaedia that are only marginally masked as story, but rarely is the focus so broad. Environmental change, in Le Guin, changes everything. Economics, family life, art, science… it’s all affected.

As an academic, that fascinates me. I’m interested in how speculative fiction deals with environmental change, and Always Coming Home is a deeply considered example of it written by someone much cleverer than me. Now, if only it had that creepy labyrinth…

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.