Chikodili Emelumadu

Short Stories and Transformation

apexmag11_largeFOOD AND HORROR, PART SIX

This is the sixth in a series of columns on Food and Horror that I’m writing for Ana and Thea over at The Book Smugglers. It first appeared on their site a few months back.

 

I’m a short fiction writer. I like the discipline of it, the concision. I like that it demands things from both readers and writers – that there’s no room to spoon-feed, that all the connections are implicit. They’re also, I think, more responsive to the world around us. There’s not the same expectation of economic return as there is in a novel, so there’s more room to experiment, to go for different setting and subjects, different cultures, different contexts. In this short stories are a very experimental form – and often a very aware one.

This awareness is present in food and horror shorts, as it is in the rest of sci-fi and fantasy. Writers know the consumption narrative, know it instinctively because food and horror has been around a long time, in any number of ways – natural and supernatural and textual, and with a history like that it’s easy to become referential.

In the first of these columns I talked about Hansel and Gretel, about the gingerbread house in the woods: dangerous temptation, peril spun about with sugar and marzipan, consumption within consumption for what is all this gingerbread for if not to plump up the witch’s next meal? Come stuffer the little children, so that the hungry owner of that house can stuff herself. It’s a well known story, and a well loved one.

What it is not is a static story. Damien Angelica Waters takes it on in her short “A Lie You Give, And Thus I Take”. Hansel doesn’t exist in this story, and the Gretel equivalent is a grown woman, the witch an abusive partner who feeds her up on sugar and marshmallow and tiramisu, measuring her hips and frowning, trying to feed up his girlfriend into the image of the house. Because the Gretel figure here is the house, in her way – tied to the domestic sphere with chores and expectation, “scrubbing meringue from the linoleum”. Taking to the house with a pastry knife, she believes it to be a reflection of her partner (“I’d know your handwriting anywhere”) but it’s not just the house he’s covering up with fondant. It’s the sugar-construction of both woman and home that links them together.

This is a story of linkages.

She thinks she’s in a different story sometimes, does this Gretel figure: Cinderella come into the house of gingerbread, but “All the stories are the same” says her feeder, when what he really means is all outcomes are predetermined, including yours. This is consumption of a different kind, a nibbling into shape, a cookie cutter gingerbread woman there to be consumed when she’s done with the scrubbing, when she’s placated the jealousy of accusations of infidelity. “You were with the dwarves, weren’t you?” he says, wanting to eat her up, and even though she wasn’t the suspicion was enough for punishment, for little bites of flesh (“…that night, you bite a little too hard, a little too many times, leaving me with a set of oddly-shaped, half-moon bruises”).

“I can’t remember ever being this hungry before”, states the Gretel figure, but what she’s really hungry for isn’t taffy or chocolate or raspberry preserves. It isn’t even chicken or soup or cubes of beef stock, the objects of her lonely fantasies. It’s the ability to break out of stories, to end the ongoing narrative of her consumption. The Gretel who shoved a witch into the stove to save her brother isn’t this aware – she’s too juvenile for awareness, for the comparisons of other stories and the undercurrents of gender and power. Her power is all on the surface, all adults and ovens. There’s little temptation there past the obvious, and certainly sex never comes into it. The witch may have bitten her all to pieces after her brother but the biting wouldn’t have been in bed, that’s for sure.

But if consumption narratives can be forcibly terminated, sometimes you’ve just got to see them through to the end. I’ve talked about Chikodili Emelumadu’s “Candy Girl” in this series before – it’s one of my absolute favourite short stories ever, so why not – and it has consumption and transformation winding round each other like a double helix. Waters has her Gretel figure putting a stop to her own consumption (to the endless swallowing of sugar, to the consumption of her sexual self) but Muna, the protagonist of “Candy Girl”, has to give herself up to consumption in order to force transformation.

Turning into chocolate at the behest of an idiot ex, who tried a love potion and got it wrong, his bastardised adoption of another culture failing under the shallowness of his understanding, Muna visits a wise woman to find out how to break the spell, to turn her from Bounty bar back into flesh. “Turns out he has to eat her,” says Ozulu. The sickly slide of flesh into sticky sugar can’t be stopped, but matter and energy both are transformative. As the act of eating recycles food into flesh, so Muna, become food, can change her state through that same consumption.

Paul, the dimwitted ex, is delighted. It’s what he’s always wanted: to eat her up, to have her culture inside him, a way to become the other, to transform himself from Whiteboy into Igbo. It was why Muna dumped him in the first place, the realisation that she’d become a fetish object to him, wanted not for herself but what she represented. “He wanted to belong and it didn’t matter whom he needed to fixate on to get in.” Then a spell goes wrong and suddenly there she is, in perfect consumable form, and he can barely contain his glee. He’s on her straight off, guzzling down every last part of her and he’s got permission to do it, no-one can blame him, it’s all so perfect!

When he reaches for my breasts Ginika wallops him but Ozulu puts a hand out to stop her.

“He must eat all of her to keep all of her. You don’t want some of her faculties gone, do you?”

Paul smiles the smile of a triumphant child that doesn’t realise it is in trouble. He suckles on a breast which stretches high, high, high before breaking off. It wobbles in his mouth, gleaming a dull red.

“Turkish delight!” Paul claps. He attacks the other one with gusto.

Paul, you might have noticed, is a fucking creep. But if modern short stories are good at anything they are good at subversion, and if Waters’ Gretel figure takes herself, with deliberation, out of the story then Muna clings onto it, shaping what she cannot stop. Because you are what you eat, and this is something else that Paul doesn’t understand, and when Muna is inside him, becoming flesh again, starting from a lump in his treacherous testicle, she can push him out of his own body, take it over as he took hers, and the only trace left of him at the end of this second transformation, of this second consumption, is a fragment of foot than can easily be hidden by a sock.

Waters looked at story and gender, but Emelumadu looks at colonialism and gender, the place and power of ownership. These are subversive stories, stories of temptation and threat and how to deal with each, but most of all they are stories of transformation. Of the assumption of personal power, of reclaiming what has been stolen.

But because consumption and transformation are so linked with the idea of power the stories of this power can also provide a mirror to subversion, as well as the potential to pull back from it. Alyssa Wong’s “Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers” initially presents consumption in terms of flipped gender assumptions. The Gretel figure is abused and Muna is exploited but Jen only assumes the role of victim in order to procure her own.

On a date with the obnoxious Harvey, whose thoughts “glisten with ancient grudges and carry an entitled, Ivy League stink”, Jen sifts through his thoughts and finds them full of violence, of murder and degradation – hers. For Harvey is a killer, another of the horrifying multitude that feels entitled to a woman’s body in whatever form he chooses to consume her.

She’s got perfect tits,” he thinks, “lil’ handfuls just waiting to be squeezed.”

I can’t wait to cut her up,” he thinks.

She’ll look so good spread out over the floor,” he thinks.

I’m going to take her home and split her all the way from top to bottom. Like a fucking fruit tart,” he thinks, drunk on dreams of wallowing in screams and blood.

Jen, all too aware of the entitlement behind the impulse, just smiles sweetly and goes along, all the while thinking “They’re never as strong as they think they are”. Gretel leaves the story, Muna goes along gracefully until she can use that going along to stage a take-over, but Jen fights from the get go, prowling in a way that Harvey could never dream of or even appreciate. And why not? This is the golden age of short fiction, after all, with women and minorities and the weight of diversity piling up, and the Harveys of the world (and the Pauls) had better look out.

But he doesn’t look out, does Harvey, so sure in the idea of his own consumption that he misses what’s coming at him for Jen is as hungry as he is.

I launch myself at him, fingers digging sharp into his body, and bite down hard on his mouth. He tries to shout, but I swallow the sound and shove my tongue inside. There, just behind his teeth, is what I’m looking for: ugly thoughts, viscous as boiled tendon. I suck them howling and fighting into my throat as Harvey’s body shudders, little mewling noises escaping from his nose.

The transformation from victim to predator is mirrored in the detail that, after her consumption, Jen briefly takes on the form of her victim. Harvey’s abandoned next to a dumpster, naked, in the kind of pose and setting we usually find female victims in, if every crime show I’ve ever turned into is believed, of course. And this transformation is key to the text.

Wong subverts the typical predator/prey gender dynamic, but by clothing Jen in the appearance and power of her selected victim she also transfers the potential for relevant flaws. It’s “you are what you eat” again, and the consumption of power corrupts, turns power relationships on their edges and makes other people victims. Jen, gorged on a killer of young women, finds herself drooling over sweet friendly Aiko, a girl who’s so appealing that Jen just wants to eat her.

It makes it hard to build a relationship, but that’s what food is, and horror: temptation and the transformation of the flesh, of the connections between flesh. Even if those connections are on a small scale, and domestic.

There’s a difference in the scale of transformation, however. Gretel might transform through sugar, through gingerbread, into an independent woman, a killer of witches, but food can also be used for more obvious transformations – and for more subtle ones. Food can turn a body into a monstrous thing, can make of it a monster, can be used to feed monsters, and to breed them. But how far can this go? Can food change a universe?

Yes, if the universe is a single person. If I’m bitten by a vampire and turn into a creature who needs to drink blood to live, then my universe is certainly different. It may even be upturned entirely, if that universe is one where vampires are creatures of fiction only… until I find out the hard way that they’re not.

But can objectivity be so undermined? Does food have the power to change a universe for everyone as well as for the individual, as well as for the moment? It does in Kelly Jennings’ story “Dream House”. Here the consumption of a cake changes worlds. A demoted corporal who has lost his wife (whether to death or divorce) eats for change, but change is not limited to his body – or even his understanding of the universe. Everything changes for him, the universe reshaping around him to a better life, one with wife and daughters and an admittedly unhappy death that is at least better than it could have been.

What’s notable about this very short story is what it doesn’t say. The horror lies in the cracks, in the unanswered questions. My interpretation of it – an interpretation which could very well be wrong – is that the universal change of the dream cake is universally subjective only. I think that the new decades of his better life are a dream, and one that in real time lasts only very briefly. The Corporal leaves his credit chip behind and Ella, the baker of the dream cake, “knew from experience that for at least an hour, maybe even two, after the change, it would still be functional”. She promptly empties the balance into her own account – after all, the Corporal won’t need it where he’s going.

Is it euthanasia, is it murder? Either way it comes with pastry, with coconut milk and spices, with sweet smells that speak of a life beyond the station. A temptation, yes, and not so very different than the gingerbread house. “We can live here and be happy,” say Hansel and Gretel, not knowing that as soon as they’re start to suck on butterscotch that their lives are running out.

Does the Corporal know? I expect so, but still – one shudders to think. “Now your dream is the world,” says Ella, but the world can be a circumscribed thing and it’s no coincidence that the Captain of the post-dream, the demoted Corporal who was, dies in orbital decay, clutching to a photo of the family he wanted but never had/wanted and got.

(All the stories are the same.)

But it’s not enough in horror for food to be (potentially) deadly. It can be dehumanising as well. Often this occurs when the human element of the equation is the prey animal, but it can also be seen in stories where humans are treated the same way as food as treated, while not being food themselves. Obviously this doesn’t mean planting them in soil, or hanging from the hooks of a slaughterhouse, but comes from the changing definition of “human” to something more closely resembling “resource”. Look at, for example, Victor Fernando R. Ocampo’s story “Blessed are the Hungry”. Here, on a generational interstellar voyage where food is limited to mushroom plots and biodegradable plastics, the treatment of the colonists is creepily similar to that of their crops. Genetic diversity is key, and so reproduction is strictly regulated – and strictly encouraged, with each household expected to have a minimum of eight people.

There isn’t food enough to support this burgeoning population, however. Rations are cut and cut again, and anyone who protests against this or the reproductive strategy is shoved out an airlock. This leave a society crammed in the (frequently literal) dark, absolutely disposable and of no more individual account than the mushrooms. “Why can’t we keep them all hale and healthy?” asks a priest who’s doomed to spacing, “instead of constantly creating, discarding, and replacing?”

Because genetic control is only a part of it. Social control is the real goal, the diminution of human dignity to factory farmed spores remarkable only for their reproductive capacity. Individual elements are to be weeded out in service of the whole. In a sense, the mushrooms are afforded more consideration.

It’s the brutal overthrow of this ideology, the social desire to change human status from resource/mushroom analogue to something with a little bit of self-determination and dignity, that’s the drive of the story. Because even crammed like fungi into tiny rooms, controlled by food and especially by its absence, the people of the spaceship can see themselves becoming more than they are.

It’s a form of knowledge, this power, because transformation comes with comprehension, or at least the experience of different states, of how it feels to move between them. And sometimes that movement, when sparked by consumption, is physical and sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes what food brings is understanding. Such is the case in “Mother of Giants” by Kirsty Logan. In times of famine, infants disappear out of cradles, taken by the witch in the woods for her dinner. A little girl wakes sobbing from nightmares, and the local mothers tell their stories quietly, so as not to scare her further. But there are others stories they tell, and these the little girl does hear: The Mother of Giants, and how she takes hungry babies and fosters them, feeds them until they’re fat and happy, saves them from starvation and suffering.

The stories are images of each other (all stories are the same!) and the girl sees one younger brother born, and then another. This youngest child is taken away soon after birth, taken by the witch or rescued by the Mother, and the little girl, believing in the stories, sneaks out into the woods and brings the witch back with her:

When I shut my eyes, she was there. She had filthy matted hair and shining gold eyes and long, sharp fingers like a bird’s talons. She rushed towards me and her mouth opened so wide that it split her head open to show her black bloody teeth.

Food is transformative, and I’ve talked in previous columns about how the lack of food can also usher in transformation (it certainly does in Ocampo’s story). But lack of food can also impede transformation: it can fix a body in place and keep it tethered to childhood, to the time before understanding. But then the famine ends and the girl, growing round and full of roast pork, of milk, transforms from child to fertile woman to mother, and it’s when she has her own children and the famine comes again that she understands the true relationship between killing witch and kind Mother. The infants born into hunger, to women too starved to lactate, can die slowly of hunger… or they can be taken out into the woods and left in the snow, a quick and painless death that’s covered up with stories when stories can give no comfort. “There was a woman who loved her baby. But love is not food…”

Love is, however, knowledge – and so is lack. Hunger transforms, and the resulting horror is tinged with practicality and compassion. It doesn’t come with easy answers, though – good horror rarely does. It does come with connection.

And that’s, I think, one of the things I’m seeing from creepy, contemporary short stories themed around food and consumption. Their treatment of transformation is aware. It’s subversive and diverse. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn’t focus on the permanence or the strength of the change; it doesn’t draw a hard line between. Instead the primary concern is the similarity between pre- and post-transformative bodies: colonisation before and after chocolate, the mirror-selves of witch and mother, the dual expansion of genetics and ideology, the place of women in stories, and the eating up of dreams.

 

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The Consequences of Consumption

The Mussel EaterWHEN WHAT WE EAT COMES BACK TO BITE US

This is the first in a series of columns on Food & Horror that I’m writing for Ana and Thea over at The Book Smugglers. It first appeared a month ago, in their 2015 Halloween week.

 

I sold a short story last year, perhaps the best-received of the small handful of stories I’ve written thus far. “The Mussel Eater” told of a sea-maiden and temptation, the bribery of shellfish, an attempt to lure a wild creature into a human environment with human food. But wild creatures eat wildly. They’re red in their appetites, and when the time comes to bite down they prefer those who cook mussels to the mussels themselves.

The Mussel Eater got eaten, in other words.

This is not unusual in horror. I’m not talking about carnivorism or even cannibalism here, though these have their special places in the literature of terror and misery. No. I’m speaking of food in general. Horror comes best from small things – from things we can’t avoid. If we could avoid them they wouldn’t be scary. That’s what real horror is for me: the other side of ordinary, the bloody banquet, through the dinner plate darkly.

Food fits well in horror because it’s an imagery that crosses borders. We all know bread. We all know meat and maize and mead, or their local variations. We know what it means to take them into our bodies. We know what it means to live without them.

But we can’t live without them for very long, and that is I think the genesis of the food-as-horror trope. It’s a power relationship and power comes with need and strings, all tied up like a joint of beef about to go in the oven.

It starts off innocently enough: food as a tool, a means of getting things done. In the real world, that tool is a means of sating hunger, providing fuel, but even in the fairy tales it’s more sinister than that. It’s a tool of temptation, it’s bait… something that appeals to greed and indulgence, a lack of self-control. It’s Edmund gorging on Turkish Delight, not realising that by tasting her food he’s sold his agency to the White Witch (and if you think Lewis didn’t mean this to be scary, think again. The ordinary child, said Lewis, “wants to be a little frightened”).

But horrifying sweeties were around long before Lewis. Hansel and Gretel, abandoned in the woods and having thrown away their bread for the birds, would never have run up to gnaw on an ordinary witch’s house, covered over with cobwebs and with paint peeling on the shutters. No, they’re licking at the windowsills and trying to gobble down the doorknob because it’s sugar, that house – sugar and marzipan and toffee, all dressed up in a little forest glade like an angler fish ready to bite. It’s the saccharine, saving light in a dark and scary place, and that cottage hides teeth. It’s a drawcard, a tool to lure little children towards a creature much more interested in carnivorism than confectionary. And off they go, like rockets. Hansel and Gretel don’t stop to think or wonder. They don’t care about property damage. The story presents them as good children, victims of an evil stepmother and a weak father, and good children wouldn’t throw stones at the glass windows of their neighbours… but when the windows are made from wafer thin sheets of caramel then all bets are off. There’s a little lamp of gingerbread shining ahead of them in the darkness and they lose their heads entirely.

Then, of course, they lose their freedom.

It’s the power relationship again, come at from different angles. The witch has the power given to her by food used as a tool. The children lose their power because they can’t control themselves around that tool. It’s no use expecting mortification of the flesh from most people, let alone kids, but gluttony is a sin that stems from loss of control – of self-control, of power over the self – and there’s a cultural history of wanting to see that punished.

(Sing together now: “Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop! That great big greedy nincompoop!” About to be turned into fudge, as I recall…)

Strange how these old ideas survive, bleeding into story and reality and ideology and then back again. Just look at the apple: knowledge and expulsion and cynicism, the Songs of Experience. Poison and crystal coffins and cyanide, Alan Turing and Snow White all bound together by Blake. It’s a heavy load of metaphors to lay on a piece of fruit – except it isn’t just a piece of fruit, is it?

Food is transformative. What we eat becomes part of us. It seeps through flesh and bone and blood and that’s a fairly horrifying image in itself, depending on what you’re eating. Are we lamb or calf or rabbit? Are we vegetables grown under the ground, are we fish that swim in the sea, what happens if we swallow an egg? What do we grow into with that inside of us? There’s one answer in a biology textbook, and another lying under the surface.

Sara Saab takes this to even greater lengths in her story “Hani’s: Purveyor of Rusks, Biscuits, and Sweet Tea”. Here the village children are delighted with the local confectioner, an elderly man who spoils and cossets them, who periodically chooses a child to take quietly away for a few hours and load up with sweeties. Because dark fantasy and horror fans are a suspicious bunch, there’s the immediate guess that something is dodgy in the back of the shop, and it’s true that this sweet old man is fiddling with the kiddies… but not in a way that anyone expects. He’s replacing their organs with spun sugar and bonbons, with the things they like most to eat. We’ve all heard the saying, that first principle of consumption: you are what you eat.

Bad enough… except in horror, there’s always a counterweight. You are what others eat.

We’re used to being top of the food chain. Accidents happen, yes – there are shark attacks and lion attacks and occasionally someone actually does exit stage left having been pursued by a bear. But on a species level this is not the norm. There’s a number of what Timothy Findley calls “expendable animals” and we aren’t them. Findley, who wrote a horrifying retelling of Noah’s Ark, Not Wanted on the Voyage, was brutally clear in his depiction of misuse of (often sentient) beasts. In one scene he rapes the betrothed of his son Japeth with a unicorn horn. The horn is still attached to the animal at the time, an innocent loving creature about the size of a dog, and if young Emma survives the experience the unicorn does not. “There was blood all over its face, as well as its horn, and its horn had almost been torn from its brow. Some of the blood was its own – and it was bleeding to death on the table”. It’s a terrible scene, but Noah is unmoved. The animal is there to be used, to be consumed, and that he can toss it away so easily is no surprise, given that the expendable animals of the ark exist to be fed to the carnivores. Those carnivores include (naturally) Noah and his preferred family members. They’re the alpha organism, the mouth through which all animals can go, and they no longer need to hide behind the use of food as tool to demonstrate their power.

It discomforts to have a world where this isn’t the reality. You are what others eat, but there’s another inversion of the first principle that goes hand in sticky hand with that: you are what you eat, except when you aren’t.

James Herbert’s giant killer rats stay stubbornly inhuman, no matter how many people they swarm and guzzle. Werewolves rip a character to shreds and the fact that they’re gorging on gentleman instead of goat makes not the tiniest shred of difference. Even the more science-fictional horror removes humanity from human-eaters. In John Wyndham’s stranded spacecraft story “Survival”, salvage workers eventually come onboard the lost ship to retrieve the expected number of bodies, only to find two survivors: an infant and its mother. The child is healthy, but Alice, who has eaten the rest of the crew, is found skeletal with starvation (that crew has long since been consumed) and quite insane, singing to her baby. She lives in antigravity, ghostlike, and when she lets go of the child to attack the salvage crew (“Food! Lovely food…”) it hangs in the air as she does. Alice might be a cannibal but she’s not human any longer. She’s become a ghoul, an insubstantial thing that floats in dark places and waits for prey. She can be rescued and fed bean soup and buttered toast for the rest of her life but she’s not coming back from that.

You are what you eat, except when you aren’t.

No-one likes the idea of being eaten. It puts us on the wrong side of a power relationship. A sarlacc doesn’t care that you’ve got opposable thumbs and are good at calculus. It’s going to be a long slow digestion regardless, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Of course some of us are more used to consumption than others. Vampires in particular have a history of biting down on toothsome young women dressed in sheer nighties, and ten to one if there’s someone to sacrifice to the dragon it’s going to be a woman. Similarly, if you skip back to Findley’s Noah you’ll see he feels as entitled to Emma’s body as he does the unicorn. It’s something to be eaten up, to be consumed (albeit this time metaphorically). The lower you are on the social hierarchy, the more likely you are to get chomped.

This is a particularly enjoyable trope to see subverted, as Chikodili Emelumadu does with some of her short stories. In “Candy Girl” the heroine is turned slowly into chocolate after an ex-boyfriend doses her with a magic spell. (“Please say you forgive me,” Paul blubs. He kisses my hand many, many times. He pauses, licks his lips. “You taste like Bounty.”) But bounty or not, this transformation comes with a nasty, ricocheting price. In “Tunbi”, pus from a boil slipped into the food of a lascivious uncle slowly rots his penis, studding it with pustules until it swells up “big as a toddler’s arm”. And in “Soup”, a sentient catfish about to be stewed in the cooking pot encourages young Akwaugo, on the cusp of being sold off into marriage, to hack her father and skeevy betrothed to death with a machete. “We’re both in the same pot of soup” says the catfish, reasonably, and neither is in much of a mood to be consumed.

It’s eat or be eaten, in other words. Food is transformative: it changes not only you, but what you can do. And what you can do can be pretty bloody dark, because consumption comes not only with eating food, but with making it. And with making the things that eat it.

One can create via cookery or witchery with good intent. Recycling the bodies of the dead into nutritious rations might be horrifying, but it’s also an ecologically responsible way of feeding the population, whatever that population might think about it. They don’t know, of course. Soylent Green is supposed to be plankton; the population’s all just in the throes of blind consumption. But as they might say, intent isn’t enough.

Sometimes these things take on a life of their own. Maurice Gee explores blind consumption in his young adult trilogy Salt, and in the first, titular volume the consumption seems, as it is in Soylent Green, directed. The population is used to retrieve radioactive minerals from below ground, slave labour to a cruel government. (“You will die in Deep Salt,” hissed the clerk. “Salt worms will eat you. Your soul will be sucked down into the dark.”) The mines are eventually destroyed, but in the subsequent volume the callousness and cruelty that allowed them to exist are made manifest in the Gool, amorphous creatures that, like the Nothing in The NeverEnding Story, slowly consume all in their path. A Gool is “a gaping mouth, a blank disc-like eye, a straining bulk, bear-sized but jellyfish grey” and what it does is feed – on people, on animals and plants and rock, until everything is eaten.

Humans aren’t even special prey to a Gool like they are to a vampire. They get eaten simply because they’re there – in the same way that fruit is there, or granite, or dirt. Against that hunger they are perfectly insignificant, and that is perhaps the most horrifying monster of all.

So have fun this Halloween, with your candy and your toffee apples and your costumes in the dark. You’re taking part in a lovely tradition, and what it’s doing to your insides… well. That’s your business. But remember: Soylent Green is people. Your blood is warm and tasty, the gingerbread house has teeth, and there are always wolves to eat you up.

The Best of Luna Station Quarterly…

Last year, my short story “The Absence of Feathers” was published in Issue 17 of Luna Station Quarterly. And that was cool! But now, LSQ has put out an anthology: The Best of Luna Station Quarterly: The First Five Years. And happily, “The Absence of Feathers” is included, available for the first time in print.

Of course, it’s not just me. Fellow Kiwi authors A.J. Fitzwater (“The Woman With Flowers in Her Hair”) and A.C. Buchanan (“Built in a Day”) are also included. As are two of my favourite short story authors, Chikodili Emelumadu (“Tunbi”) and Penny Stirling (“Tanith’s Sky”). Stirling, by the way, is the author of one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read (“Love Over Glass, Skin Under Glass”, published in Aurealis if you’re interested, and you should be. You really should be.).

So if you’re interested in a whole lot of fantastic short speculative fiction by women, this might be the anthology for you! You can check it out here.