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.

Sacrifice in Susan Cooper’s “The Dark Is Rising” Sequence

I’ve a new paper out! And it’s on a book series that is close to my heart: The Dark Is Rising series by Susan Cooper, which was the fantasy staple of my childhood. I don’t know how many times I read The Grey King as a kid, but it was a lot. I think as an adult it’s been replaced by The Dark Is Rising volume as my favourite of the series, but it’s a close thing. I still read through all five books at least once a year, generally around Christmas, and I always get something new out of them.

You can imagine, then, just how thrilled I am to have a paper out on it. Cooper’s got some really interesting examples of sacrifice that pop up over and over again in the series, all of them quite distinct from the others, and that’s what I look at in my paper. “Sacrifice in Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising Sequence” is out in issue #19 of BFS Journal. It focuses on what exactly makes a sacrifice: how knowledge and intent work together (or don’t) to form different types of sacrifice, and how the sacrifices made differ between mortal and immortal figures.

We’re used to seeing grand sacrifices in fantasy literature, but so much of the story Cooper tells hinges on the small quiet choices of characters like Jane Drew and John Rowlands, and for me these are often more compelling. These two characters are particularly small and mortal compared to the more supernatural, the more mythological, figures in the text, and it stands to reason that their actions are comparatively small and human, but they’re no less effective – and no less crucial – for all that.

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.