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.

Papers, Science, SFF

Microbiology and Microcosms

I have a new paper out! It’s in Surreal Entanglements: Essays on Jeff VanderMeer’s Fiction, edited by Louise Economides and Laura Shackelford, published by Routledge. The paper’s called “Microbiology and Microcosms: Ecosystem and the Body in Shriek: An Afterword.” Which is a fancy way of saying that I’m talking about the human microbiome, the plethora of different species that live in and on the human body. Most of my academic work seems to sit in the intersection between science and speculative fiction, and this is another example of that.

Shriek: An Afterword is one of the Ambergris books; a series in which VanderMeer explores the city of Ambergris, which is the home of both humans and a fungal species called the gray caps. Fungus contaminates in Ambergris, and Duncan Shriek, one of the primary characters of the book, is slowly turning to fungus himself. Which made me think of the human microbiome, and how we are already host to fungal organisms – you and I and everyone have fungi living inside us as a matter of course, and so Shriek’s transformation is a sort of speculative extension of existing biology. It causes him – and everyone around him – to reassess his identity, and that reassessment is something that the human microbiome is prompting as well. We so often think of a human as being a singular organism, when we really are not. In reality, that apparently singular organism is more of a colony than anything else! How this impacts on the way that we think about ourselves is something I find just fascinating, and it’s that which prompted the essay.

SFF, Short stories

The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels

I have a new story out! Actually, it’s a novelette, which is nice. It’s got a fairly long title to go with it’s lengthy self as well: the full title is “The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels, And How World Trees Are Not A Substitute.” It’s in the latest issue of Fusion Fragment, and I love them for taking this gargantuan mash-up of a story, I really do. The story is science history and climate fiction and mythology and compromise layered over and over each other, so you see “fusion” is really the best word for it.

“The Women Who Didn’t Win Nobels” focuses on three women who, indeed, did not win Nobel prizes for their work in science: Lise Meitner, Rosalind Franklin, and Chien-Shiung Wu. All of them arguably should have won in their respective fields, but the main storyline here is them spending their afterlives at the World Tree, being interviewed by another woman, another scientist, who is considerably less talented than they are and who has a decision to make. She is looking for advice, essentially, or perhaps she is looking for confirmation. Science comes with compromise, and the decision on where to make that compromise, and the decision on if it should be made at all, is a fundamental one… especially in a world which in which climate change may increase the potential for conflicts. And these three women who, in alternate realities would have received more credit for their work, were all touched in some ways by war and/or conflict, and they have ideas about how such should be navigated.

It’s a story that I’m particularly attached to, so I’m glad it’s finally out there in the world!