SpecFic

The Better Part of Drowning

I’ve a new story out!

The Better Part of Drowning” is free to read in this month’s issue of The Dark Magazine. It’s been a while since I’ve had a story in The Dark (back in 2014, with “Tommy Flowers and the Glass Bells of Bletchley”) so it’s great to be back in there again.

“The Better Part of Drowning” is all giant, creepy, child-eating crabs, and what it’s like to have to live with them – to prey on them, and to be preyed on by them. Believe it or not, it’s set in the same world (on the same street!) as my recent story “The Ouroboros Bakery”, for all that they’re very different stories. It’s a world I plan to spend a lot more time in, with a series of interlinking shorts. Two more of these stories are in the pipeline – the crabs make a reappearance in my upcoming story “Sugar Ricochets to Other Forms” (in the Mother of Invention anthology), and the Lady of Scales is the subject of “The Temporary Suicides of Goldfish”, soon to appear in Kaleidotrope.

But, to the crabs…

Alix was never sure what kept the groaning rickety-spider of a dock up, unless it was the mussels that swarmed over the piles, turning them to hazards that could slice a swimmer open. The divers were all over scars from waves and mussels, always being pushed into shell sharp as knives and leaving their blood to scent the water.

“You kids be careful you don’t draw the crabs!” If she heard that once a day she heard it fifty times, and each time she had to smile over the slicing pain and wave up, because coins weren’t thrown to kids who wailed. Wailing made her choke if she tried to dive anyway, and there were always kids enough to squabble over coins so tears did nothing but anchor her to surface and starvation and blind her to the sudden scuttle of predation.

Don’t draw the crabs, they always said, and smiled as they said it, because it was entertaining to see kids dive in crab beds, and entertaining to see the bloodshed when they were slow enough for catching. Alix didn’t blame them for that. She’d never been able to look away either, no matter how much bile rose in her throat, the metal taste of panic.

Crabmeat, crabmeat. It was their own little circle of carnivorism, the smallest crabs providing one and the smaller kids the other. Not that the biggest of the scuttlers couldn’t take a man full-grown, but usually the bigger you got the more sense you had, and the more the habit of watching claws kept them away from bone…

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The Ouroboros Bakery

I’ve a new story out!

The Ouroboros Bakery” can be read for free in this month’s issues of Kaleidotrope.

Whenever I’m not writing about science I seem to be writing about food – particularly about food and horror, and “The Ouroboros Bakery” is a dark fantasy story about pie and immortality. There’s a fair bit of cake in there as well, and while writing this story I came across a cake that was entirely new to me. Baumkuchen, which is basically cake on a spit. Layers and layers are brushed on as the spit turns, and when the whole thing is finished and you cut into it there’s the effect of tree rings. Naturally this is something I have to try!

It’s certainly more likely to be tasty than the blood pie of the magic bakery here, which – if you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to get it – grants eternal life. But it seems that no matter how willing the customers are to guzzle down longevity, the reality of it never quite lives up to expectations…

“Please take it back,” he says. “Please.”

It’s not the most urgent plea Oksana has ever heard. This one is still mostly sane. He can still look her in the eye, and if his hands are tight-clasped together so that the knuckles show white, his voice has very little waver in it.

A strong man, then, but even strong men cannot fight on two fronts.

He does not touch his tea. Oksana serves it steaming hot, dark and tannic in the pot and her tea cups are the finest porcelain, translucent in afternoon sun. She has always been able to tell a lot from how her visitors drink her tea. Some sip as she does, their mouths unscalded and their cup dainty in their hands. Others are clumsier, aware of the cost of breakage, and these hold their cup in both hands. The polite do it before the tea cools, preferring to be burnt upon their palms than to risk cracks and recompense. And some refuse to drink altogether, whether out of preference or distraction, for Oksana serves her tea with sweet shortbread, with sponges and cream and tuile biscuits still warm from the oven.

Her visitor does not drink. It is not out of rudeness, and he would not eat again from her bakery unless it cost him his life, and there is nothing about Oksana’s afternoon tea that could do that. She finishes her slice of sponge, scrapes the last of the strawberry jam from her plate, the sweet tartness of it vivid against a background of tannin. His knuckles are paler than cream – they are as pale as icing sugar, and were he to try and take her cup in his hands, then all the tea would spill out…

You can read the rest over at Kaleidotrope!

RITUAL MEALS 1: FOOD AS ANCHOR, FOOD AS HARBOUR

FOOD AND HORROR, PART EIGHT

This is the eighth in a series of columns on Food and Horror that I wrote for Ana and Thea over at The Book Smugglers. It first appeared on their site last year.

It’s pretty undeniable that food has ritualistic elements. Of course some days you’re lucky to be able to more than eat and run, or eat on the run, and there are some who don’t get to eat at all. But most of us have our traditions, come from family or people or nation, from religion or history.

One of the reasons that short stories are so good at exploring horror through ritualistic food elements is that shorts are, by necessity, condensed information. Novels that focus heavily on the practise of rituals can seem leaden and repetitive, whilst a short can focus on a single element without beating that element into the ground. Furthermore, when that ritualism focuses on something as common as food, as laden with association as food, it does not need to spend too long underlining the effect. Readers recognise, from their own experiences, the meaning and importance of food rituals in general, and they can translate that into the story environment. Food can then be used as a sort of ritual pivot around which the story rotates.

This gives an author extraordinary freedom to use ritual in a number of ways. Used as many of us are to traditional, often historic food rituals, there is still place for those that are more modern than others. Naomi Kritzer’s “So Much Cooking” isn’t a horror story on the face of it (the ending’s a little too happy for horror) but it’s certainly the story of a woman in a horrific situation and trying to carry on as best as normal. Natalie is quarantined with her husband and an increasing number of children as a bird flu epidemic sweeps the country. With a 32% mortality rate the disease is a real threat, and Natalie’s nurse sister-in-law is one of the dead, infected as she tries to provide medical care for others.

Despite the growing death toll, however, Natalie’s food blog continues unabated. She continues to share the recipes from her increasingly bizarre meals – supplies become ever more limited, and substitutions have to be made. (As someone who bakes a lot myself, I’ve never considered using mayonnaise as a substitute for eggs before, and frankly I never want to again. I clearly don’t have what it takes to survive pandemic via experimental gastronomy.) But no matter how restricted the meals, their preparation and sharing (both in person and online) is a point of continuity.

“I don’t know about you, but I deal with anxiety by cooking,” says Natalie. I’ve talked before in these columns about how horror is primarily a genre of destabilisation, of taking the things that we’re sure of and inverting them for hideous effect. One way of doing this is by turning food itself into an expression of horror – for example chopping up a stepchild for stew, as in The Juniper Tree fairy tale. But if food can be weaponised in service of instability, it can also be used as a weapon against instability. Natalie, trapped in an increasingly claustrophobic environment in the middle of pandemic, uses food as a normalising influence. The world might be falling apart around her, but if she can put food on the table and conjure up a child’s birthday cake from pancake mix and butterscotch pudding then all is not lost. “This is no longer a food blog,” she says, reaching out for the connections of a life before. “This is a boredom and isolation blog. Also a stress management blog.” Hobby has become ritual, a way of holding steady in a stressful environment. The desire to cook – and to then describe that cooking – is a desire that, when expressed, anchors Natalie to her new and unpleasant reality. Grieving children, their mother lost to plague, abandoned children, a husband sinking into illness himself… these can all be contained with (and within) a food blog, the unstable world being reshaped into manageable, recognisable frames of reference.

But to whom do those frames of reference belong?

Natalie’s trying to keep things normal for the kids, or at least as normal as they can be. But the blog posts, the recording and reaching out and experimentation, the interaction with her readers… these little ritual processes are for her benefit alone. As she comments, her food blog is there for stress relief, to help keep herself collected and sane in the midst of infection. It is, primarily, a way to stabilise her world.

Yet what happens when the world that needs stabilising belongs to someone else? The birthday cake manoeuvre, as it were. Cooking a special treat for someone else, something that grounds them instead of yourself, is generally easy enough. Almost too easy for horror, even if there are challenges of substitution and sourcing.

Horror is a balancing act of stabilisation. Most characters try to deal with the undermining of their world view by trying to find a place of sense in madness, somewhere to stand where meaning can start to be rebuilt. But meaning changes from person to person. For instance, my own worldview is based very heavily in science. If I were confronted with a frightening instance of the paranormal, say a malevolent ghost, my reaction would be very different to that of a person who accepted the existence of ghosts as a normal part of existence. We might both be terrified, but our strategies for dealing with the subsequent upheaval would be different.

Such is the case with food. Natalie comes from an environment where birthday cakes are normal, expected items. It might give her some trouble to come up with one in a world of limited resources, but she doesn’t further destabilise her own worldview by trying to do so. What happens when one can only combat another’s destabilisation by undermining one’s own sane perspectives? How much of another’s horror can reasonably be taken on?

Caroline M. Yoachim explores this idea in her story “The Carnival Was Eaten, All Except the Clown”. The carnival in this story is a candy creation for children’s parties, and all the little figurines – the gingerbread daredevil, the juggler – are sentient. At the centre of the carnival is the clown, a perfect three inch sugar structure who, like Cinderella, is kept back from the party but for reasons more sinister than housework. The clown is the seed of the carnival, and after all her companions are sent off to be eaten by (comparatively) giant kiddies, the clown is melted down in a cauldron and, from her diluted remains, the carnival is reformed by the magician in charge of all this near-cannibalism. The daredevil and juggler and monkey, all the little sheep of the carnival, never remember from one incarnation to the other. They’re reborn as total innocents, and only the clown remembers all of her lives, all of her meltings down.

And the clown is perfectly happy, because she is perfectly ignorant. More used to sentience than her reborn companions, she helps to orient them, telling them of the wonderful future ahead of them.

As each of the sugar creations woke, the clown was there to welcome them to the world and tell them of their destiny.  “You will be adored by children,” she told the cotton candy sheep, stroking the wisps of their baby blue wool.  “You will delight them with your tumbling,” she told the flexible bubblegum acrobats.   And, “You will amaze them with your daring stunts,” she told the gingerbread daredevil.  She smiled at everyone, but she smiled her prettiest smile for the daredevil, because she was a little bit in love with him.

As she woke the carnival, and told them tales of children with bright smiling faces, she always added, “in the end you will be eaten, for that is your destiny.”

The clown doesn’t know what being eaten means, but thinks it full of positive connotations. Until the day she decides to sneak along to the party herself, and witnesses everyone she loves being consumed in great, greedy bites.

Newly awakened to a reality of more than sugar, the clown objects – understandably and strenuously – to being used as seed again, but sentient or not, she is three bare inches of sugar and is forcibly melted down in order to provide the next generation of candy victims. The whole horrible charade keeps going, over and over, the spells and the sugar spinning, the indoctrination, and nothing the clown says – to the magician, to his creations – makes any difference. Their destination is to be eaten, and they are. Repeatedly.

The whole magician’s process of saccharine castings is not only ritualized creation and consumption, the sacrifice of sentience in the rebirth of (doomed) innocence, but it is all the clown knows. It’s normal for her, accepted, until she finds out the horrifying truth and that normality destabilizes around her, reforms in different and threatening ways. And the clown is faced with a choice: she can continue as seed, stabilizing the world that everyone else is used to instead of causing trouble and conflict, or she can run away and refuse to be party to it. What she can’t do is simultaneously support both worlds. Ritual isn’t sufficient to bridge the gap between them, and the break between the magician’s carnival and the clown has to be absolute. It’s significant that the clown doesn’t reject ritual altogether, though. She goes on to create her own carnival, using the same magical process of regeneration. Instead of clinging to ritual, as Natalie does, the clown first rejects and then subverts it, mirroring the original stabilising force in order to stabilize a new world of her own creation.

If ritual is meant to preserve some semblance of the normal order of things, there are necessarily times that these rituals fail, or succeed in unexpected ways. The subversion of, and often-ambiguity of, ritual is illustrated in “Soup of Soul Bones” by Crystal Lynn Hilbert. The story begins with ritual, with the finding of bones and the resurrection of the related sprit. Adrienne, sacrificing a goose to tether the ghostly soul of Jacoben Stoyan to her kitchen, is in search of information only the dead can provide. Jacoben, however, is decidedly not cooperative, so the story begins with failed ritual and continues in the same vein.

Jacoben’s only interest appears to be cooking. He takes over the kitchen: baking, roasting, making sausage, and very nearly entirely ignoring Adrienne. She tries to catch his attention with bits and pieces that usually work well with summoned spirits – mirrors, bronze, lamb’s wool – but nothing works… at least not until she starts with another goose, and goes on sacrificing. The interaction between necromancer and ghost starts small, and it’s all culinary-based. The rituals Adrienne tries have magic in them, spells and enchantments and history, but it’s the food element that brings them together, that gives her the opportunity to try tease out what’s gone wrong with this very unusual resurrection.

Adrienne sacrificed a pig. Jacoben braised ribs.

She mixed honey-wine and milk—an offering of melikraton the old Greek ghosts preferred. Jacoben browned sugar in a copper pot.

She offered him fresh sturgeon, glossy-eyed, still dreaming of oceans. She offered him rabbits, snared in a new moon. She draped her table in grape-leaves, in radishes, in carrots. She left him wine and beer, champagne and mead.

Adrienne offered him entire markets. Jacoben baked peaches.

The house smelt of caramel and onion, garlic and spent-spells.

And Adrienne watched. She studied every pan, every plate. She filled notebooks counting spoon-strokes and knife-falls, but nothing made sense. She gained five pounds trying to discern what he meant by this parade of roasts and sweets, but in the end, what could be learned from fennel pie, from truffles soaked in wine?

Opportunity doesn’t always equal victory, though. Adrienne’s continued failure, her inability to learn from previously successful rituals, only stops when the ghost starts cooking himself. Adrienne raised him from his bones so there they are, “butcher-bare”, and he’s hacking up his own femurs for the cooking pot.

That’s how she gets her information, in the end. Through food and ritual and a type of bare resurrection as Jacoben subverts her spells by inserting himself into the ingredient list. Adrienne eats him up in any number of ways – she was on the right track, after all, using goose and incantation and sacrifice to draw him back to her. The ritual only needed tweaking – tweaking by its subject/object – in order to restore order to the world that was so disarranged when the necromancer’s original ritual spell didn’t work correctly.

But if ritual provides a way to cling to perceived normality through practical action in a world suddenly become abnormal, it can also provide touchstones by evoking memory. And that’s what I’ll be looking at next month: memory-meals, and how rituals use them to underline and subvert horror.

 

The Stone Weta

I’ve a new story out! “The Stone Weta” is free to read in this month’s issue of Clarkesworld.

It’s one of my favourites of the stories I’ve written – although, to be fair, the new and shiny ones tend to be my favourite at any given time. But this one is special. Partly because it deals with science denial, which can always exercise me to ranting, and partly because although it started as a short story, it very quickly became apparent to me that this was a short story I could build a novel around. And so I am: my current writing project (one of them, anyway) is a sort of sci-fi thriller set in this world, and around this issue.

“The Stone Weta” is about climate change, and how scientists can work to preserve data that governments want deleted or repressed. It’s a fairly topical subject at the moment, given the pressure put on organisations such as the American EPA and the Australian CSIRO when it comes to climate science. And in this story, an underground network of women scientists are smuggling data, stashing it in different places around the world in case it disappears from where it shouldn’t. And they take the code names of weird natural creatures, these women, because that’s what they study and the lessons of biological survival given by these species are an inspiration for keeping resistance alive…

Hemideina maori

In winter, the mountain stone weta crawls into crevices, into cracks in the stone and it squats there, waiting. It is a creature of summer days and winter strengths, of cryogenic hibernation. When the world freezes about it, becomes a stretch of snow and ice and darkness, the stone weta freezes solid in its bolthole. Eighty-two percent of the water in its body turns to ice; the weta is climate in a single body, it is a continent broken off and geology made flesh.

When the weather warms the weta thaws, resumes its life amidst the stone monuments of the Rock and Pillar range…

Please check it out! And keep an eye on your elected officials, because some of them wouldn’t recognise the scientific method if it fell on them from a great height (or entrapped them in a poisonous circle of gympie gympie).

 

The War on Space and Time

I have a new story out! “The War on Space and Time” is the July story over at GigaNotoSaurus. And it’s free to read, so why not take a look?

It’s another of my Bletchley Park stories – I’ve been writing a sort of series of weird SFF shorts about the WW2 research at BP because that’s a period of history that genuinely fascinates me. But this story isn’t just about Bletchley – it bounces back and forth between the Park and WW2 Los Alamos. And both the Manhattan Project and breaking the German codes are having strange effects… In New Mexico, the research seems to be stretching the land so that buildings which were once next door to each other are now miles apart, while in Buckinghamshire space is collapsing in on itself… and in both locations, a set of twins is struggling with the war and with each other.

Bletchley Park
Helen woke to a room grown smaller than before. It was no illusion, no result of short sleep and poor light, a head grown soft and malleable under code. Her knees knew before her brain. They barked up against the bed that lay beside her own, the iron of its railings, the thin mattress and the covers all smoothed over.

It had not been a large room to begin with. There were too many men, too many women, and all the billets were taken, all the houses filled. Helen never minded sharing – she’d shared with her sisters all her life, six of them, and sharing a room now with only one of them – and that her twin, the closest of all – was a marvel of quiet and space in comparison. Even if it were only a small room, even if it were only two feet between cots and one of those feet gone now: the walls coming inwards, the beds inching closer together and that was something they had tried before, her and V., cuddling together for warmth and comfort when news of bombs came in, and battles.

But the two beds pushed together made it harder to get through the door, so Helen and V. had pushed them back into place, the little narrow beds, and gone to sleep with their arms stretched across the gap, their hands clasped together in darkness. It wasn’t the same, but it was hard to balance themselves together on a narrow bed and sleep when concentration was required of them in the waking hours, in the shifts before Colossus, in the codes and ciphers and breaking of Bletchley. Now, the beds were somehow shifting towards each other again….

 

The Sharp and Sugar Tooth

I’ve spent the last year thinking a lot about food and horror – how our relationship with food impacts our ideas about consumption, and how that consumption can be made a dark and twisted thing. It’s something I’ve written about in my own stories (for instance “The Mussel Eater”), but it’s also something other people have been writing about. There’s a lot of fantastic stories exploring the dark side of culinary life out there…

I’m pleased to say there will soon be more. I’m editing an anthology for Upper Rubber Boot Books, called The Sharp and Sugar Tooth, to be published late next year. Submissions are open, and you can find the submission call here. Basically what I’m looking for is creepy, beautiful, mouth-watering stories with an element of horror. Stories can be dark fantasy or science fiction or straight horror, but they must be themed around food gathering, food preparation, or the act (and consequences) of consumption. Sex, strong language (and cannibalism!) is fine, but I’m not interested in torture-porn of people or animals even if that’s what gets them onto the plate.

Subversive, diverse stories with a focus on women are appreciated. The Sharp and Sugar Tooth is part of Upper Rubber Boot’s Women Up To No Good series, so authors must identify as female, non-binary, or as a marginalised sex or gender identity.

  • Word count: Up to 5000 words.
  • Payment: six cents per word.
  • Publication history: Original stories only. Reprints may be submitted by invitation only.
  • Multiple submissions: No.
  • Simultaneous submissions: No.
  • Deadline: 31 July 2017. All stories will be replied to by the end of August.
  • To submit: Please send stories in standard manuscript format, attached in .doc or .rtf files, to octaviacade@hotmail.com with the subject line SUGAR TOOTH. Be sure to provide mailing address and a short bio.
  • If the work is a translation, please also provide a statement from the rights holder that you are authorized to translate and submit it (both author and translator will receive full payment).

We encourage and welcome stories from voices underrepresented in speculative fiction, including (but not limited to) writers of colour, LGBTQ writers, writers with disabilities, and writers in translation.

 

The Little Beast

I have a new story out!

“The Little Beast” has just been published in Respectable Horror, the new anthology from Fox Spirit Books. Now I love pretty much all types of horror, but this anthology focuses on stories that try to horrify you without gore or explicitness. Inside you’ll find more Shirley Jackson than Saw.

“The Little Beast” is based around my least favourite fairy tale. I’ve always side-eyed Beauty and the Beast, and it was always Beauty that got my back up. There’s something so untrustworthy about how saccharine she is. I’m not even talking about her willingness to be sold to the Beast as some sort of family sacrifice. In itself that might be understandable – it’s when it follows the whole disgusting rose episode that sacrifice starts to take on more sinister undertones. If I can pinpoint the one moment when I finally realised that I just don’t like Beauty – and why – it’s that bloody bit with the rose; her desperate, needy desire to take up every last bit of her father’s mental space.

A rose is the worst of long-distance presents. It’s a cut flower, it wilts. He’ll have to wrap the stem in wet tissue, to watch it every second so that it doesn’t fall off the cart or get run over, so that it isn’t bumped and bruised by packages or the careless elbows of passers-by. He’ll end up carrying it himself, the whole of the trip home. It’s such a simple request, that made by his youngest daughter. Such a modest desire.

And every night, when he stops at an inn, he’ll have to ask for a vase and fresh water and before he gets it he’ll have to explain why he wants it. He’ll have to tell about his daughter, about her rose. And they’ll coo and congratulate him on having such a loving girl, and none of them will stop to think that she’s asked for a gift that’ll take more time and trouble than her more conventional sisters. No. They’ll be too busy making a fuss for that.

(None of the fuss will be about him.)

But cut flowers die, and no matter what he does, no matter the trouble he’ll go to, by the time he gets back home the thing’s going to be half-dead anyway, all wilted and with the petals falling off.

And the little beast… the little beast will look at her sisters with their expensive, easy requests and her bottom lip will quiver, just minutely, and then she’ll smile anyway and thank him for the present and say that his coming back safe was all she really needed. And all this ridiculous sequence of events will have been set up, by her, for his next line, because there’s only one thing he’ll be able to say at that point, confronted with that brave, martyred little face and that sad little flower.

“You’re such a good girl, Beauty.” (So much better than your sisters.)

Awful girl. Awful. To read the rest, check out the anthology…

Crown of Thorns

I have a new story out!

Crown of Thorns“, about fighting invasive species in the wake of apocalypse, is out in this month’s issue of Clarkesworld. It’s set on the Great Barrier Reef, which is being overrun by a particularly hungry, particularly spiny starfish known as Acanthaster planci, or the Crown of Thorns…

Acanthaster planci.

Home was the poison infestation of starfish, the bleaching acres of coral. Home was vast stretches of warm ocean currents with schools beneath, and colonies.

Home was a laboratory where all the concerns were popular. The Crown of Thorns invasion, their numbers out of control and crowding out the reef systems, the unending march of predation turning an ecology to wasteland, and that ecology already vulnerable.

“We can’t do it anymore.” Apocalypse had left a dozen scientists stranded on a reef laboratory—stranded by choice more than compulsion, because there were boats available, research vessels that could have taken them to the mainland if there had been anything left to go back to. The lab was at least familiar, with the advantage of solar power and fishing equipment. No one would go hungry, but for people defined by their intelligence, by the career choice of science and of conservation, there was more than physical hunger to satisfy.

“We’re outnumbered,” said Mel. “And anyway, there’s no one left to report to.” There’d been nothing but silence from the university for months, and silence in the new world, the world defined by plague and absence, could only mean one thing. “It was only a pilot program anyway.” The desperate attempt to clear and monitor a small patch of ocean, to see if intervention could lead to recovery. Diving again and again, in clear warm water with spikes beneath, with stars, and so focused on seabeds and the possibility of resurrection that the other destruction taking place had seemed a distant thing, unnoticed at first, or at least not taken seriously until the silence began to spread, to became too monstrous to be ignored….

This is my first Clarkesworld story! It’s been on my bucket list of markets to crack for a long time now, and I can honestly say I’ve done my damnedest to crack it. “Crown of Thorns” is the 29th story I’ve sent them. 29th!!! If that isn’t persistence I don’t know what is. Still, if you want to be a writer persistence is necessary – and it does pay off in the end.

Unlike post-apocalypse starfish slaughter.

The Meiosis of Cells and Exile

asimovsI have a new story out!

“The Meiosis of Cells and Exile” is a novelette about the Soviet scientist Lina Stern. It’s just been published in the latest issue of Asimov’s.

I enjoy mixing science history and speculative fiction, and “Meiosis” is an example of this. Lina Stern (1878-1968) was a biochemist and director of the Physiology Unit in the Academy of Sciences. She was also a member of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and Stalin was not impressed. Free speech was not something he found to be a priority, and the scientists and writers making up the Committee disagreed – to their very great cost. 15 members of the Committee were arrested and imprisoned for several years before being sentenced to death in a political show trial. Most were executed in 1952 in what came to be known as The Night of the Murdered Poets.

Lina was the only survivor, saved by her scientific talent and sent into exile in Kazakhstan instead. She was in her seventies at the time, and my story tells of her travel into that exile, fuming with what has been done to her and the rest of the Committee.

There’s (kind of) a happy ending to all that horror. Lina, despite her age, survived both Stalin and the miserable torturing bastard who imprisoned her and the rest of the League. She came back out of exile and spent the next 14 years of her very long life working for science, heading up the Physiology Department again at the Biophysics Institute.

It’s an apt story to be out at the moment, I reckon. Have been on Twitter the last few days, watching accounts from the Badlands National Park and NASA go rogue on climate change, tweeting science facts even though they’re under significant pressure not to. Scientists have the responsibility to speak truth to power, and I reckon Lina would have agreed.

(If you’re interested in reading more, Lina Stern also turns up as a supporting character in my short (free!) novel The August Birds.)

Eating Science with Ghosts

asimov-s-science-fiction-30I have a new story out! Actually, it’s a novelette. My first novelette, and my first story in Asimov’s Magazine.

“Eating Science with Ghosts” is the story of one very long dinner party, where the main character meets a number of dead scientists linked to weird stories of food and drink. Did you know, for instance, that Marie Curie’s cookbook is so radioactive it has to be kept in a lead box in the National Library in Paris? Or that Thomas Edison used to interview prospective employees by feeding them soup? If they tasted the soup before adding salt they were experimentalists at heart, and if they added the salt automatically (like I would, sorry to say) they assumed too much and were useless to him.

It’s science history as much as science fiction – actually, I’ve been planning to write a pop-sci book around this idea, so this wee novelette is like a proof of concept.

“Eating Science with Ghosts” isn’t available online, but if you can track down the Slightly Spooky October/November issue of Asimov’s it’s in there. Here’s a little taster, to see if it’s your kind of thing:

I’m a little bit drunk before the meal even starts. My guests are late, so that’s some excuse – and a bad joke to boot – but it’s always been easier to see the ghosts when I’m not entirely sober.

I used to try and block them out. But they never went, so eventually I learned to live with it. To live with them. In some ways now they feel like old friends, so when I got my doctorate I planned a celebratory meal. Not the one with family and friends, co-workers from the lab. This is the real celebration, the one that matters… and if those astronauts doesn’t turn up soon I’ll be face down on the table, passed out on one of those lovely little sidewalk cafés that Paris does so well, before I’ve even finished the first course.

I think my tongue is going numb. It’s the vermouth, come in a range of combinations and pretty glasses, nearly all of which are empty. This is a place for vermouth. It was advertised here, back in the early twentieth century: the first neon advertising sign in the world, and naturally it was for alcohol. Cinzano, the word lit up atop a building opposite, lit up in shining white against a brilliant red and blue background. Capital letters, a simple font… it all says Look at me! Buy me!