Short stories

Year’s Best Aotearoa SF&F 2019

I have a new story out! Well, it’s an old story actually. “We Feed the Bears of Fire and Ice” was originally published by Strange Horizons last year, and its creepy creepy bears have shot to the top of my own personal favourite stories.

So when Marie Hodgkinson of New Zealand’s Paper Road Press decided that she was going to put together the very first volume of Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy I knew precisely which story I was going to send in. Given that New Zealand is hosting WorldCon next year, the time has come for an anthology series of this sort – it’s a great idea to showcase local talent to our soon-to-be visitors! And I knew with Marie publishing it the result would be outstanding. Though I say that with bias – Marie and Paper Road have published my stuff before, namely my SJV award-winning novella The Ghost of Matter, about famous Kiwi scientist Ernest Rutherford.

Fittingly for my creepy bears, the first volume of YBANZSF&F was launched on Halloween, and I was down in Wellington for the event. Even did a reading, so that was exciting (in a nerve-wracking sort of way). Being launched at the same time was a novella from a mate of mine, Andi C. Buchanan. Their book is called From a Shadow Grave, and it is outstanding. Andi also has a story in the Year’s Best  anthology, as do a number of other fantastic Kiwi writers, including A.J. Fitzwater, Mark English, J.C. Hart, Sean Monaghan, M. Darusha Wehm and more! And just look at that gorgeous cover by Emma Weakley…

Inside the Body of Relatives

I have a new story out! “Inside the Body of Relatives” is in the November/December 2019 issue of Asimov’s Magazine. It’s the fourth story I’ve had in Asimov’s, and the first which is actually a short story. Everything else I’ve had published there has been a novelette, so it’s good to have sold them something different. It’s a short story because it’s only a little idea, and sometimes you just don’t need to pad out a good idea with extra words. That idea – and I don’t want to spoil it, exactly – is something that came to me one night when I was lying in bed, tucked up under the duvet and listening to rain on the roof. And it was such a simple idea, and it seemed so obvious…

It’s also a story that features that staple of the science fiction narrative: artificial intelligence. Specifically, an AI dwelling. There’s a reason this is a trope (often a horrifying trope) but I wanted something not-horrifying for this. It’s a quiet little story about aging and loneliness and evolutionary biology, so there seemed no reason to go all overwrought with it. Anyway, here’s a teaser of it:

There’s a reason I don’t have a lot of guests – or worse, a tenant, for all the rent would round out my super. I like my house quiet.

“Quiet as the toooomb,” says the house, in response. It gets sarcastic when it’s worried. “I don’t like to think about you getting depressed,” it says.

“I’m not depressed.”

“Loneliness can be a trigger for depression,” says the house. “You are lonely, and I am not a substitute…”

 

Year’s Best SF&F 2019

I have a new story out! Except technically not really new – it’s a reprint. Now I’ve had reprints published before, and it’s always very exciting. (It’s amazing enough when a story sells once, let alone again.) This reprint, though… this one is special.

The first reason it’s special is because it’s the first time I’ve managed to crack this particular market. Getting a story into The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy has been on my writing bucket list for a long time. And of course there’s never any guarantee that an author will sell to any particular market, but let’s face it: there were a lot of absolutely excellent short speculative stories published last year. Choosing what would get into a single anthology must have been enormously difficult, so I was delighted when Rich Horton selected “The Temporary Suicides of Goldfish” for inclusion here. That story, by the way, was originally published by Kaleidotrope.

The second reason it’s special is because of who else is in the anthology. I was lucky enough to attend Clarion West 2016, and one of my classmates, Cadwell Turnbull, also has a story in here. Very happy to be sharing a table of contents with him! We were both very excited… and even more so because in that table of contents was none other than Ursula Le Guin. Reader, I had to take a moment. There is Ursula Le Guin with her final story, published I believe in the Paris Review of all places, and here’s me, in the same book, wittering on about reincarnated goldfish, in what must be one of the most frivolous stories known to man.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m amazed and grateful… but I also had to pinch myself. A lot.

The Feather Wall

I’ve a new story out! “The Feather Wall” is in Reckoning 3, which is free to read on their website. You can also buy the full anthology rather than waiting to read all the rest of their wonderful 2019 stories as they come out if you would prefer!

Anyway, “The Feather Wall” is about kakapo conservation after the apocalypse. Kakapo, if you don’t know of them, are an extremely endangered flightless parrot from New Zealand. They were getting along fine until humans came, but they’re a bit dopey and hopeless and were easily caught and eaten – not just by humans, but by the cats and ferrets and dogs and so on that humans brought with them. There are only a couple of hundred kakapo remaining, at time of writing, in their predator-free island sanctuaries. Fortunately their numbers are actually going up, thanks to the kakapo conservation programme run by NZ’s Department of Conservation (DOC). If you think about it, the world we live in today is actually post-apocalyptic from the perspective of the kakapo!

Be that as it may, “The Feather Wall” takes place in a time where plague has killed off most people on the planet. Martin, a DOC ranger on Resolution Island, is left trying to preserve his tiny population of kakapo, knowing as he does that when he dies they’ll likely be overrun by the predators he keeps away. It’s a hopeless task, he thinks, but he can’t make himself stop.

I love post-apocalyptic stories, but I’m really fed up with a) their insistence on humans falling into horrible brutish violent behaviour, and b) the rate of sexual assault that’s supposedly justified in the name of preserving the species. Here, the obsession with breeding after apocalypse is directed in a wholly positive way, in ensuring the continuation of the kakapo, and the people who survive the plague have no time for viciousness when there’s conservation to be done! Anyway, here’s a short taster, and please consider buying the antho. It’s full of environmentally-flavoured fiction, and is well worth reading.

“No, I’ll not leave you,” he said, stroking one of the big soft heads. “Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.” They were as good as quarantine, were kakapo. It was as if Resolution had a wall around it of feathers and expectation, a thin wall and a flexible one but one that kept him in regardless. And there was nowhere else for him to be, really. His biology had been ecology and conservation more than anything, his university experience a series of field trips punctuated by lectures, and if there was anyone left out there looking for a cure for plague he’d be pretty bloody useless. Better to stay with the birds and hope that Resolution was isolated enough to keep him healthy, hope that if he caught sick anyway the species barrier would protect them.

They were still, he thought, the more precious population.

 

The Sharp and Sugar Tooth

I’ve a new book out!

The Sharp and Sugar Tooth is a speculative fiction anthology of food and horror stories, edited by me and published by Upper Rubber Boot Books. Part of their Women Up To No Good series, it focuses on women’s experience with food and feeding. Because food is a necessity, something we can’t live without, there’s power in the managing of it, and power in the enjoyment of that management. Sometimes that’s a frightening thing, both for the women who cook and for the women who feed… but sometimes food needs to be frightening. There’s so much in it of temptation and of threat, and implicit in many forms of consumption is the tension between taking life from some so that others can live. This is fertile ground for a horror anthology, and the 22 stories in The Sharp and Sugar Tooth explore what that tension means for individuals, communities, and ecosystems.

The Sharp and Sugar Tooth features stories by Kathleen Alcalá, Betsy Aoki, Joyce Chng, Katharine Duckett, Anahita Eftekhari, Chikodili Emelumadu, Amelia Gorman, Jasmyne J. Harris, A.R. Henle, Crystal Lynn Hilbert, Erin Horáková, Kathryn McMahon, H. Pueyo, D.A. Xiaolin Spires, Rachael Sterling, Penny Stirling, Catherynne M. Valente, Sabrina Vourvoulias, Damien Angelica Walters, Rem Wigmore, Alyssa Wong, and Caroline M. Yoachim.

You can buy print and electronic copies at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Indiebound, and Wordery.

 

The Little Beast

I’ve a new story out!

Well, it isn’t really new. “The Little Beast” was originally published back in 2017, in the anthology Respectable Horror from Fox Spirit Books. It was a great anthology to be a part of, but I’m happy to say that the story has been reprinted in this month’s issue of The Dark, making it free to read online for the first time.

“The Little Beast” is inspired by my least favourite fairy tale. Come at me, all you Beauty and Beast fans, but Beauty creeps me out. She always has. There’s something so unrelentingly good about her. Now I’ve nothing against good characters usually, in fact I tend to like and admire them. But sometimes goodness is so ostentatious you start to wonder if it’s a put on – like a politician kissing babies – and not to be trusted.

It’s the rose bit that always made me suspicious. “Oh, I just want a rose, Daddy!” At which point I bet the poor man cringed in himself, because over long distances a rose is the worst of presents. Can you imagine trying to keep a cut flower in good condition after several days of an overland trip, taken on a horse and cart most likely? It doesn’t bear thinking about. And there’s Beauty, smirking in the background like butter wouldn’t melt, getting all the credit for wanting this simple little gift that ensures her poor bloody father has to think about her every single second of that trip back, lest that simple little rose gets bruised or dry or the petals start to fall…

Horrible girl. There’s something extremely disturbing about her.

Nation Building and Baptism

I have a new story out! “Nation Building and Baptism” is in the new issue of Capricious, available here. It’s part of a series of stories I’ve written about future post-apocalypse New Zealand, rebuilding itself after global ecological collapse.

I love post-apocalyptic fiction, mostly because I really enjoy seeing how communities choose to reinvent themselves afterwards. Do they fall back into the same old patterns? Do they do worse than that, building dystopia out of destruction? Or, what I’m more interested in, do they do better? Apocalypse is a dreadful thing, but it’s also a chance to improve, to look at the ashes of life around you and say “Right. Let’s not do this again” and go on.

It’s not that I don’t like dystopias. I do! But I think we’re over-heavy on the miserable response to apocalypse. Of course there’s going to be misery, there’s no getting round that, and hard choices. But I wanted to do a series of stories where choices were about how best to help, how to support the environment and each other. How apocalypse can be repurposed as an opportunity for the creation of a better way of living. “Nation Building and Baptism” is set in a world where conservation and ecological protection has been made a central concern – as it would have to be, after ecosystem collapse. And that has a whole lot of consequences, such as what to do with refugees, for instance, people from places where the environment lacks viability enough to support them. That’s what this story is about – valuing desperate people as people, and giving the them chance to be a part of a safe and stable community again. If you’re interested, pop over to Capricious and take a look!

Sugar Ricochets to Other Forms

I’ve a new story out! “Sugar Ricochets to Other Forms” is in the Mother of Invention anthology that’s just come out from Twelfth Planet Press. As soon as I saw the call for submissions I knew I had to send a story in. A feminist anthology focused on gender and artificial intelligence? Who could resist.

Luckily for me, I had a story idea in the wings ready to go. (This is why it’s so useful to jot down ideas when you have them, even if you’ve not got time to write them immediately.) I’d read, some time back, a book on the history of robotics, and it happened to mention a 17th century text called the Pentamerone, by Giambattista Basile. In this book was the story of Bertha, who built herself a boyfriend out of sapphires, scented water, almond meal, pearls, and sugar. And I thought at the time I read it how delightful it was, and how suited it would be for an updated version.

What it is not is the basis for a science fiction story. Luckily, Twelfth Planet Press wasn’t limiting themselves to sci-fi interpretations of the theme, so I used inspiration and theme to whip up what is probably the only sexbot story I will ever write. I’m not really a fan of that particular trope, but it turns out that if you can build a man out of almonds and sugar you can probably build one out of cake… and cake improves everything.

Here’s a little appetiser for you… if you want to read more, go pick up the awesome anthology!

She filled his skull with honey.

Honey made him thick and sweet, perfect for love. It also looked better if things went wrong. Once she’d filled his head with cherry jam, a thin sweet-sour mix that gave him a measure of tartness in bed, but the woman who rented him became over-excited, smashed the back of the sugar skull against the bedhead and the jam had started to ooze from eye sockets.

She’d brought him back with half his face eaten off. “I couldn’t help it,” she said, red-cheeked and unable to meet Berta’s eyes. “He was just so delicious. I’ll pay for damages, of course.”

It was a good thing she’d kept the moulds. It made it much easier to bake a replacement cheekbone, cover over the exposed and splintered sugar teeth with thin layers of almond icing. But from then on it was honey in the skull, which if it leaked at least had the appearance of scented tears, and bloodless….

The Backward Lens of Compromise

I’ve a new story out! “The Backward Lens of Compromise” is the third novelette of mine to appear in Asimov’s, and I’m really happy for it to be there. Like the other two, “Backward Lens” is about science history – this time, the history of telescopes and the astronomers who look through them. Interwoven with this is a modern day story of science education.

As a science communicator, I’m all for science ed. But science can be expensive to teach – it needs labs and equipment for hands-on work – and in impoverished communities, with underfunded public schools, it’s easy to cut. And in this story that’s what’s happening, except it’s going further than the classroom. An old observatory is being shut down, one that works with schools to teach students about the stars. The observatory doesn’t make money, and the kids from this disadvantaged community are deemed to be no-hopers anyway, so why throw good money after bad in getting them a proper education? Needless to say, the observatory’s astronomer has no truck with this… and neither do the kids themselves. And the observatory is changing around them, all magic and seeing and comprehension, and it turns out that what these no-hoper kids have already been taught about science and science history is an empowering thing…

Because it is. Because critical thought and objective methodology, the ability to discover new things, is a crucial aspect of education. Kids who lack it become citizens who lack it, and that’s what leads to poor schools in the first place.

Sharp and Sugar Tooth Kickstarter

So, the anthology that I’m editing for Upper Rubber Boot Books, The Sharp and Sugar Tooth, is getting closer! There’s a kickstarter on for it right now, so if you like short stories and horror and food, and feminism in your fiction, please take a look. There are all sorts of levels and rewards, including copies of Sugar Tooth and the other speculative anthologies in URB’s Women Up To No Good series, so it’s totally worth your while!

The anthology had its early genesis in the food and horror essays I did for The Book Smugglers a couple of years back. Once I’d finished that non-fiction collection, I was still interested in the food horror theme, and when I saw that URB was looking for new anthology pitches I thought I’d give it a go. The pitch was accepted, and last year I read through a heap of tasty slush, looking for the creepiest and most empowering horror stories I could find. There was a wide, wide range and it was really difficult to pick the best, as so many wonderful stories were submitted. But pick I did, and there are 22 fantastic stories from 22 wonderful, food-loving authors!

From Chikodili Emelumadu to Alyssa Wong and Catherynne M. Valente, as well as newer authors like Jasmyne J. Harris, H. Pueyo, and D.A. Xiaolin Spires, come stories of the sweet and the savoury and the scary, of apples and confectionary and strong meat, of little Wonderland cakes and post-apocalyptic nature preserves, of honey bees and hungry daughters and organ-eating. Please come back us, you won’t regret it!