Great publishing news!

I had some exciting news a couple of weeks back. Dimension6, an excellent Australian speculative fiction magazine, accepted my novella, The Reclaimers, for publication.

The Reclaimers is a secondary world fantasy, where a magical weapon of mass destruction has left a world impacted by magical waste. The only use of magic now allowed is reclaiming, absorbing the magical waste to allow crops to grow, and people to not get sick. The story revolves around two reclaimers as they make their way around the edges of society where they are still tolerated.

I’ve had this novella kicking around for some time, but could never get it quite right. There also aren’t that many venues that take novellas, especially from little known authors. So, the story languished – sitting on my hard drive, enduring a little tinkering now and then but not really going anywhere.

And then, earlier this year, I decided I might self-publish it. I liked the story but I had got it into my head that no one would publish it. But only I had looked at it – and if I was going to self publish, I needed an external perspective. So, I put a call out for beta-readers and three people answered that call.

Ion “Nuke” Newcombe is the editor of Antipodean SF, who have published some of my flash fiction. Nuke gave some high level comments, and encouraged me to shop the story around before considering self-publishing. I’m very grateful for that friendly push – without it, I probably wouldn’t have made the effort to submit The Reclaimers to Dimension6!

Rhonda Selg also answered the call. Rhonda went through and provided some excellent, thought provoking comments that really helped sharpen the story. Rhonda has recently released her own book, Filigree Rings and other Fae things, which I’d encourage everyone to check out!

And finally, Kathryn Flaherty. Kathryn went above and beyond, and provided some of the most detailed comments anyone ever has for one of my stories. This feedback was invaluable, and really improved the quality of the story. If The Reclaimers is of publishable quality, it is in a large part because of Kathryn’s feedback. Kathryn recently had a flash fiction piece published at Antipodean SF, and also occasionally blogs.

If you eventually read and like The Reclaimers, it will be because of the excellent work of these three beta readers. If you don’t like it, you can definitely still blame me!

The Reclaimers is slated for release in Dimension6 in April 2018. I have nothing but appreciation for the most excellent Keith Stevenson, editor and publisher at Coeur de Lion (the creators of Dimension6) for the faith he has shown in my story.

Rewatching DS9 – Season 2

I’ve continued watching, and enjoying, Star Trek Deep Space 9 over the last few months. A few comments on season 2 follows – if you’re interested you can also go back and read about my initial decision to do a rewatch, and a few comments on season 1.

In season 2, I was really struck by the ongoing commentary on feminism. You’ll be shocked to hear that this wasn’t something I remembered from the first time I watched the show (I was a young bloke in my late teens/early 20s in the 90s – I wasn’t thinking about feminist issues anywhere near as much as I should have been). Looking back now, I can see that the show was influential in  introducing concepts that are now part of the more mainstream conversation on challenging the traditional role of women in society.  I suspect I have a lot to thank DS9 for – by introducing these concepts by “stealth” I think I’m a much better person today than I might have otherwise been.

Some of the commentary was quite explicit – for instance the treatment of Ferengi woman in the episode “Rules of Acquisition”. But the commentary lies throughout the whole season, often highlighted by conversations between the Kira and Dax characters in particular. The season as a whole very definitely passes the Beckdel test!

The individual characters were interesting as well. The Dax character, having been hosted by male and female characters over its lifetime, allowed for interesting contrast points between the genders. The Kira character was a fascinating blend of character traits – fierce and aggressive warrior who embraces her sexuality. Even the minor characters reflected this commentary, for instance the struggles of Keiko O’Brien – a professional scientist who made a career sacrifice, but was miserable doing it.

Another thing that struck me was the lack of neat endings throughout the season. Issues were left not fully resolved, or at least with a less saccharine ending. For instance, in the episode”Cardassians”, a young Cardassian boy who has been raised by Bajorans is sent back to Cardassia rather than being allowed to stay with his adoptive parents. Odo and Kira’s discussion about trust at the end of “Necessary Evil” is another example where a relationship is deepened by not giving the obvious resolution.

And while this season is still quite episodic, there was a three episode storyline! Two “To Be Continued” endings!! At the time, I was amazed. Sustaining a story over three episodes of television seemed incredibly ambitious. Now it is par for the course to see story arcs that last across whole seasons, but back then I was very impressed. It was a hint of things to come, as DS9 started to pioneer longer and longer story arcs in later seasons.

The introduction of the mirror universe in “Crossover” was a lot of fun. The over-the-top acting, the bat-shit crazy Intendant, humanity as second class citizens and slaves – its a wacky rollercoaster ride.

A fantastic season of a fantastic show! What memories do you have? Any other DS9 fans out there?

Dimension6 Issue 12 out now

The latest issue of Dimension6 is out now, a free Australian magazine of speculative fiction. You can get your copy at the Couer de Lion website, or download a copy here.

Issue 12 features:

‘The Curious Child’ by Paul Speller

Cats are not the only things that shouldn’t be too curious.

_________________________________

‘Correlation’ by Paul Stephanus

Perspective is everything, even when it comes to garbage disposal.

_________________________________

‘The Gods of Mwaia’ by Bryce Stephens

Renai just wanted some land for his family; he nearly lost everything.

Rewatching DS9 – Season 1

We all have our favourite Star Trek series, and for me that series was Deep Space 9. I noticed a few months back that all the Star Trek series were available on Netflix. Of course, I have them on DVD, but DVD is so last decade. My laziness has hit a new 21st century high when I feel like the act of changing discs and the effort involved in remembering which disc you are up to has apparently become too much for me.

Oh please. You’ve hit that level of peak laziness too.

There is a lot of good TV around at the moment, and I’m relatively time poor, so seeing them on Netflix wasn’t enough to trigger any kind of rewatch. I’d tried to watch Star Trek the Next Generation again, to introduce my 9 year old daughter to the Star Trek universe. I didn’t last more than an episode or two. It has not dated well.

So I’d given up on old Star Trek rewatches, but then I was listening to a podcast (Galactic Suburbia), and one of the hosts (Alisa if I remember correctly) started talking about rewatching DS9 and I got all nostalgic. It was crunchy! It was a bit darker!! It had great story arcs!!!

Back in the day, I remember being a bit sceptical about the premise – how good could a space station be? Nowhere near as cool as a space ship. They’d be stuck in one place. There would be no spectacular space battles. Hell, the guy in charge wasn’t even a captain.

In my memory, the first couple of seasons were a bit episodic, then as the “ongoing” story took over I liked it more and more. So, I approached it assuming I’d have to grit my teeth and “get through” season 1 (especially remembering my STTNG experience). My daughter had a medium interest level (at best). I finally convinced her to sit down with me and watch the first episode.

It was excellent.

I mean, really excellent. Even though the actors were clearly still going through the “getting to know you” stage of a new series, the episode was fantastic. The story line was interesting. I loved it!

My daughter was less impressed. She wandered off at one point, complaining she didn’t really understand what was going on. Explaining wormhole aliens that don’t have a sense of linear time was a bit challenging for a 9 year old. I waved her away, slightly impatiently.

Over the next couple of weeks I kept watching, and the quality of each individual episode was excellent. Significantly better than I remember. The characters were introduced intelligently and developed over the course of the season with an admirable efficiency. Relationships were created and used to good effect. The world building was tight and to the point. The acting was, for the most part, excellent. Some haminess, but in the best possible way.

Commenting on all the episodes would be tedious for you, but a couple of highlights:

  • In “Emissary” (the pilot episode), as well as everything above I loved the idea of a run down station, with everything broken. Perhaps its the engineer in me, but the lack of clean lines, the general grubbiness of the world really appealed to me.
  • “Captive Pursuit”, where O’Brien befriends an alien from the Gamma Quadrant who is being hunted, really endeared O’Brien to me. I loved his willingness to put everything on the line, and watching him mastermind a gaol-break was fantastic. I love it when engineers go rogue!
  • The episode “Dax” where Jadzia is accused of murder and refuses to defend herself, I found quite moving. She was quiet, she was determined and she was willing to defend the secrets of her previous host to the end. That episode really stuck with me.
  • “In the Hands of the Prophets” (the season finale) introduces then Vedek Winn – one of my favourite baddies in the whole Star Trek universe. She is just so loathsomely evil. Also in this episode was the first time in Star Trek that I noticed them introduce a minor character for a few episodes beforehand, so that when she suddenly played a major role it wasn’t as jarring as it could have been. This “seeding” was the fore-runner of the longer story arcs that came to characterise the show.

Somewhere in the middle of the season, my daughter wandered back in and started paying attention again. She likes Quark. A lot. I’m now not allowed to watch DS9 without her, although she is often doing other things while it is on. That’s OK. I think she’s slowly getting hooked.

Just in time for Star Trek Discovery.

The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair (a story)

A colleague and friend once said to me (in a moment of rare frustration) “You know Mark, you should write a story called ‘The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair’”. I really liked the title, so I decided to oblige.

At their worst, public service performance reviews can feel like being savaged by a pack of wild dogs. This story does not contain a particularly subtle metaphorical treatment of the subject.

It is, I guess, a sequel to ‘In the Service of the Public‘, if flash fiction can have sequels.


The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair

Oh god, performance appraisal time,’ Alison thought as the mauve indicator light flashed in the corner of the screen. It was her supervisor, T’ahmar.

Ever since Earth’s artificial-black-hole-induced implosion, Alison had drifted from job to job throughout the bureaucracies that made up the Interstellar Coalition Public Service. Initial sympathy for her plight had morphed into curiosity, which had then solidified into indifference.

The years danced by. No alien race was willing to take on the burden of the million or so human refugees who happened to be away from home when the accident happened. The reality of it was that governments only allowed proper citizens to take senior positions in their public services.

So Alison, once considered the bright future of the Earth Department of Foreign Affairs, was reduced to menial filing in a backwater colony of the Frusbian Empire — a grand name considering the Frusbians had colonised only three moons and a mining asteroid in their own solar system.

Still, human beggars like Alison couldn’t be choosers. With no place to call their own and so little in the way of aid from the other races, humanity drifted towards the edge of extinction. The Sol system had been evacuated and was still off-limits. Any habitable planets in what had been known as human space were claimed by civilisations with military capability. The few nascent human colonies were relocated, “for their own protection”. Humanity was the new underclass of the civilised worlds.

The indicator flashed again. T’ahmar didn’t like to be kept waiting. Not that her previous supervisor Z’utpok had been lenient, but he had at least recognised that Alison — despite being human — had significant skills to offer. Z’utpok had allowed her to help with issues of policy, and she had been instrumental in getting his bureaucratic pièce de résistance approved by the Frusbian government.

Flushed with success and singing Alison’s praises, Z’utpok immediately retired. Unfortunately, the senior bureaucrat brought in to replace him moved to populate senior posts with former colleagues selected more for loyalty than competence. Before long Alison found herself on the wrong side of her new boss T’ahmar through a combination of her connection to the previous regime, her non-Frusbianness, and her all too human tendency to speak her mind.

Now T’ahmar had insisted on a traditional performance review. While theoretically still legal, the orthodox Frusbian performance review was considered barbaric and tasteless by most modern commentators. Still, if Alison was going to save up enough money to get off this rock she’d have to go through with it.

Alison donned the traditional Frusbian review garb (which looked to her more like a hessian sack) and mentally reviewed what she knew about the D’armen attack dogs that T’ahmar favoured. Once she was as ready as she would ever be, she grabbed her favourite duelling dagger from her desk and headed out towards the Review Arena, trying all the while to think of a better way to earn a living.

THE END


‘The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 171 (September 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

‘Narration Blues’ stars in the AntiSF radio show Abnorba

My recently published flash fiction piece ‘Narration Blues’ was included in the AntiSF radio show this week (the show is codenamed Abnorba).  The editor, Ion ‘Nuke’ Newcombe, runs the radio show out of Nambucca Heads on 2NVR Nambucca Valley Radio. Fortunately for everyone in the rest of the world Nuke provides the radio show as a podcast.

Nuke encourages authors to narrate their own stories, so you get to hear my dulcet tones. I’ll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide whether that is a good thing.

Latest Dimension6 (Issue 11)

The latest Dimension6 is out now (Issue 11). An excellent Australian (free) magazine with great speculative fiction. Well worth checking out. This quarter there are stories by Nathan Burrage, Simon Petrie, Robert Stephenson and J Ashley Smith.

You can find links to the magazine here.

Finishing Discworld

I’ve been a big fan of Terry Pratchett’s work for more years than I care to remember. I still remember coming across The Colour of Magic when I was at high school. It was a revelation – screwball comedy in fantasy done in a way I’d never encountered before. I laughed harder than I felt that a nerd with a taste for the fantastica had any right to. At that point only a few of Pratchett’s Discworld novels had come out, but I was hooked.

Ever since that first encounter, I have hung out for every new release, and each book has taken me back to that feeling I had in high school. When I heard about Pratchett’s alzheimers diagnosis I was sad. To be honest, sadder than I really had a right to be given I never met the man. And his death in 2015 struck me as it did his many, many fans around the world.

I read most of everything that Pratchett wrote, including the excellent Good Omens and more recently his co-authored Long Earth series. But there was one section of his bibliography that I had never ventured into, and that was his young adult novels (both in and out of the Discworld setting).

I’m not 100% sure why. By the time I became aware of them, I’d left the “young” part of young adult far behind. As I’ve got older, I’ve found less and less to empathise with in young adult books generally. These days, when I hear that a book is young adult it tends to drop down my “to be read” pile (so many books to read, it doesn’t take much to have one drop away). But still, this is Terry Pratchett. One of my favourite authors. And in the case of the Tiffany Aching series, they were even set one of my favourite worlds, the Discworld. Yet I put it off and put it off.

Recently, my 8 year old daughter was looking for something to read and I thought of the Tiffany Aching books. I didn’t know much about them, just that they were set in Discworld, involved witches and were for younger readers. So I bought the books on Kindle, and told my daughter I’d read the first one at the same time she did.

Now as it turns out, even the first book is a bit advanced for your average 8 year old and my daughter put it aside after a couple of chapters. I’m sure she’ll come back to them some day. But me, I kept reading. And reading. And reading. And soon I’d read all five books.

This isn’t a review of the series. They are good. If you like Pratchett, they are very good. And I will gentle nudge my daughter back towards them when she is a bit older, because there are some excellent themes for young women. If my daughter grows up wanting to emulate Tiffany Aching, well let’s just say there are much worse role models out there.

But reading them made me a bit sad, because reading them marked the end of a chapter of my reading life. There are no more Discworld novels to look forward to. I will never again feel the anticipation of an impending new release, never more have the satisfaction of settling in to read the opening chapters, never finish reading and feel the sting of having to wait so long until the next release. There are no more new words to be consumed.

Yes, I’ll reread at some point and yes it will be marvellous. But it will never again be new. And that makes me sad.

And so, I’ve written this post in an utterly self indulgent desire to share that sadness, and perhaps through writing come a little more to terms with it. No artist lives forever. But with Pratchett, I wish we’d had a little longer.

The Tiffany Aching series by Terry Pratchett (with links to each book’s Wikipedia page) includes:

New story “Narration Blues” published on AntipodeanSF

One of my flash fiction pieces, titled “Narration Blues”, is in the latest addition of AntipodeanSF, an Australian publication.

It cannot be denied that “Narration Blues” is a silly story. I was listening to the voice over at the start of a fantasy television series, and I thought to myself “gee this is a lot of backstory – lucky they got the right person”. What if the hero died? Didn’t quite finish the quest? Gave up to become a carrot farmer? All that wasted destiny…

“Narration Blues” is the result.

As always, many thanks to Ion “Nuke” Newcombe, the editor of AntipodeanSF, for his support of my work. This is the 11th flash fiction piece that Nuke has published of mine, for which I am very grateful.

Aurealis Award results 2016

Congratulations to everyone who won an Aurealis Award this year. The Aurealis Awards are Australia’s premier judged awards, covering most areas of speculative fiction. The results are reproduced below, and the judges report makes interesting reading for those interested in the Australian scene.

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION

When the Lyrebird Calls, Kim Kane (Allen & Unwin)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK

Negative Space, Ryan K Lindsay (Dark Horse Comics)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY

“Pretty Jennie Greenteeth”, Leife Shallcross (Strange Little Girls, Belladonna Publishing)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY

“Flame Trees”, TR Napper (Asimov’s Science Fiction, April/May 2016)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA

“Burnt Sugar”, Kirstyn McDermott (Dreaming in the Dark, PS Australia)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY

“Where the Pelican Builds Her Nest”, Thoraiya Dyer (In Your Face, FableCroft Publishing)

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA

“Forfeit”, Andrea K Höst (The Towers, the Moon, self-published)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY

“Of Sight, of Mind, of Heart”, Samantha Murray (Clarkesworld #122)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA

“Salto Mortal”, Nick T Chan (Lightspeed #73)

BEST COLLECTION

A Feast of Sorrows, Angela Slatter (Prime Books)

BEST ANTHOLOGY

Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction 2015, Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein (eds.) (Twelfth Planet Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)

BEST HORROR NOVEL

The Grief Hole, Kaaron Warren (IFWG Publishing Australia)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL

Nevernight, Jay Kristoff (Harper Voyager)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL

Gemina: Illuminae Files 2, Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)

THE CONVENORS’ AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE

The Rebirth of Rapunzel: A Mythic Biography of the Maiden in the Tower, Kate Forsyth (FableCroft Publishing)