SFF, Short stories

Older

I have a new story out! “Older” is free to read in issue 17 of The Deadlands. It’s my first time appearing in that market, but hopefully not the last.

It’s only a very short story, barely more than a flash, but it was still interesting to write (and, I hope, to read). As can probably be guessed from the title, The Deadlands is particularly interested in stories about death, which gives a lot of narrative possibilities. “Older” interprets this theme through ghosts and extinction, as the narrator is confronted with her own Neanderthal ancestry. How do you engage with the dead, when they exist, still, in your own body? Admittedly, we see this every day, as people lose their parents or grandparents, and look into the mirror and see the pieces of themselves that they shared with them.

I suppose it’s not really that different: having your mother’s eyes, having your great-how-ever-many-mother’s DNA. Because the Neanderthals are not entirely gone… they interbred with early modern humans and that genetic inheritance can still be found in many of us.

It seemed like a fascinating idea for a story!

Papers, SFF

SA After Apocalypse

I have a new paper out! It’s only the second time I’ve co-written a paper, but this was a particularly easy experience, writing it as I was with Ryn Yee, who is currently a grad student at the Centre for Science Communication at Otago University, which is where I got my PhD. Ryn and I are both big speculative fiction fans, and when we saw that the SFRA Review had a call for papers for a special symposium on sexual violence and science fiction… well, to be honest, I noped out of that one pretty quickly. It’s not a subject matter I was particularly interested in exploring.

But then Ryn and I got chatting, which quickly became ranting, about a shared hatred of that worst of science fiction tropes: repopulating the world after apocalypse. Rarely have I seen this trope handled in an appealing way. More often, it’s used as a narrative “justification” (and I use the term very loosely) to excuse a constant assault on women and girls.

I hate these storylines. Ryn hates them too. If the subject matter didn’t initially inspire us, spite and the opportunity to rip this stupid trope to shreds had us writing a paper that was, I’m happy to say, accepted. The paper, “Sexual Assault After Apocalypse: The Limited Logic of Natural Selection” is free to read with the rest of the symposium articles here. Please read with care, as it’s a horrible topic.

I shall probably never write about it again. Once was enough. I’d happily co-author another paper with Ryn, though, because they were excellent to work with. Thanks, Ryn!

Papers, SFF

Erewhon: 150th Anniversary Edition

I have a new book out! At least, I have part of a book out. Erewhon Press has just put out the 150th Anniversary Edition of Samuel Butler’s classic utopian text Erewhon, and they very kindly asked me to write the introduction.

Butler came to New Zealand as a young man, and stayed for several years, working on a sheep station and writing articles for the local newspaper, some of which were the germs of what would become Erewhon. Even though he didn’t stay here, the book is very firmly located in the history of New Zealand utopias. Growing up here as I did, and with a long-held love for science fiction, I was aware as a child, albeit dimly, that New Zealand was a place of utopian dreams. (Thank John Wyndham for that. The children of The Chrysalids escaped their fundamentalist community, in the aftermath of atomic war, to come here.)

A lot of the utopian imagery surrounding this country is a product of colonialism. Actually, pretty much all of it is. New Zealand was actively marketed, in earlier times, as a perfect place for British settlers to make a new life. Even over the past few years, as we navigated our way through pandemic, New Zealand was held up as some utopian example of community togetherness.

That utopian perception has always been deeply flawed. We are not a paradise, and we have our own problems, and the creation of a settler utopia bulldozed any Indigenous idea of the same. However, what utopian literature such as Erewhon can do is to critique the idea of paradise. Who is it for? Who is it not for? What issues are there to be overcome? Butler, who was deeply concerned with the idea of a war between humans and machines – and he was at the forefront of genre writing there – decided to explore this. Erewhon was the result, and it is simultaneously confronting and (often) flat-out strange. Some of his ideas are mad. Some are terrible. But they’re worth grappling with, and I’m super pleased to have contributed what I hope is a generally academic, but still readable, introduction.

SFF, Short stories

Border Run

I have a new story out! It came out last month, actually, but I’m still playing catch-up with the blog, so better late than never. “Border Run” is free to read in the September issue of Clarkesworld.

It’s one of a very loosely linked set of stories of mine about life in a world after the ocean ecosystem has almost entirely collapsed. Consequently New Zealand, down at the bottom of the world, has reinvented itself as a place where conservation, particularly marine conservation, is the primary national ethos, and the stories go from there. It’s technically post-apocalypse, I suppose, in that the world these stories take place in is solidly set after global environmental disaster has taken place on an apocalyptic scale, but I wanted it to be an optimistic, cooperative response to apocalypse more than anything else.

That’s less evident in this story, admittedly, as it deals with overfishing. Even now, foreign fishing vessels occasionally turn up in our waters when they shouldn’t, but in a hypothetical world that’s starving due to ecological collapse, such incursions may well be more common. This isn’t a happy story, particularly, but I’m going for thoughtful and nuanced (alongside the killer mermaids) so hopefully that’s worked out to some extent.

SFF, Short stories

Pollen and Salt

I have a new story out! Well, it came out a couple of months back, but I’m playing catch-up here. “Pollen and Salt” is available in the July/August issue of Asimov’s. I’ve had a few people contact me to say nice things about it, which is lovely, as it’s something of an experiment on my part.

The story, you see, doesn’t have much of a plot. It’s more a mood piece, set in the near-distant future, where a scientist is studying pollen at the edge of a rising ocean – pollen in salt marshes, mud flats, littoral spaces and so forth. The pollen is a record of past vegetation, and as they work the scientist is mourning their partner, who has recently died. It’s a meditation on change, more than anything else, and I was trying to create a story that was sad and quiet and still very aware of the beauty and potential of that new world, even when the parts of it that were loved are gone. Also, there’s a goose.

So, something of an experiment on my part! I don’t know that I’ll write a lot more stories like this in the future, but I worked on this one for several years, and I’m genuinely pleased with the result. If you can, please take a look!