On the Road Again…

Last month I was back on the road with Supanova, doing both the Melbourne and Gold Coast shows.

This time around the big literary draw of the tour was Terry Brooks, author of the Shannara Chronicles, and one of the biggest-selling living fantasy authors. That last bit I got from wikipedia, and it’s italicised because I would not have known, because when you talk to the man himself, he is not the sort of braggart who’d talk about that sort of thing. Instead he was kind, good-humoured, sharp, and pretty bloody cheeky when he wanted to be (if he was Aussie, no doubt we’d call him a larrikin).

I have this thing where I never bother to go out of my way to talk to famous people. Partly this is self-deprecating (“Why would they want to talk to me?”) and partly it’s because I’m not really fussed by the whole celebrity thing. So, whilst I was happy to share a table with Terry and his wonderful wife Judine, I wasn’t going to bother them, because they’re busy people, probably worn out from all the travel and signing and all the rest. But, well, I’m glad Terry was having none of that, because some of the best times I had over those two weekends was simply chatting to him and Judine about books, movies, writing, and whatever else came up.

And beyond how great it was chatting to them personally, it’s also great to meet an elder statesman of SFF and find out that he’s just a really warm and friendly person, who seems genuinely interested in his readers, and in those writers who are still up and coming. (Similarly, everyone knows George R.R. Martin thanks to Game of Thrones, but it wasn’t until I travelled to Worldcon in 2016 that I realise how generous he is with his time [and money]. He’s a champion of diversity in SFF and genuinely cares about the field and where it’s going.)

Speaking of up-and-coming, also on the tour were Maria Lewis and Lynette Noni, who are both doing great things in fantasy. Maria is a fierce proponent for diversity (even when that means making it harder to shop around the rights for her own book), and shit, she’s just fierce in general. I feel like Lynette is going to be a really big deal in fantasy one day – and that’s simply based off the sheer number of fans she has already when her first book only came out at the start of 2015.

Also on the tour were Keri Arthur and Ian Irvine, who I also had the pleasure of Supanova-ing with last November. They’re both titans of Australian fantasy… who you may never have heard of before because that’s kind of the way it works here in Aus. Write 20 or 30 or 40 books, become a New York Times Bestseller, but if you’re writing in the genre ghetto, the Australian scene simply doesn’t care. Anyway, they were both fantastic to chat with, just like last time (and I’m seriously jealous of Ian’s deft way with naming books).

 

And I got to catch up with Marc and James Lindsay on the Gold Coast, who were selling their Perigord and Plato Wyngard books. They’ll be at Sydney Supanova, so be sure to swing by and say hello.

Anyway, I had a great time on tour. Really thankful to Supanova for getting us genre authors involved (and inviting me along), huge thanks to the volunteers who help us out all weekend, and thanks also to the QBD staff who do a great job of keeping our books in stock and visible.

 

The Long Walk

Recently the kind folks over at the Tor.com blog asked me to write about a classic piece of science-fiction that I’d discovered only recently. My first pick was Samuel Delaney’s Dhalgren, but after I read William Gibson’s brilliant foreword for a recent edition of the book, I didn’t know what else I could possibly say.

I ended up writing about Stephen King’s The Long Walk – written under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. I don’t quite know how I avoided reading any of King’s books before I reached my 30s, but I did. But after I cracked open The Long Walk, it didn’t take me long to see what all the fuss was about.

Read the full post here.

Dedication

Dedications can be difficult to write. Acknowledgements aren’t exactly easy either, but you can ramble on there if you need to, but a dedication needs to be succinct. One or two names, maybe an extra couple of words.

I can’t remember where it was that I heard this, but when I was thinking about the dedication for Void Black Shadow someone, somewhere, said that if you’re struggling to think of who to dedicate your book to, think of the person who that book wouldn’t have been possible without. This stuck with me, partly because it’s exactly what I did with Killing Gravity. Killing Gravity is dedicated to Ella, my cat, because without her Mars never would have had Seven, and if Mars didn’t have Seven, it could have been a very different book… maybe a book that no one would have wanted to publish. She’s sitting on my lap right now as I write this – a fiercely independent (ish), apex (ish) predator who may, on occasion, choose to bless you with her presence. I think that’s why we love cats so much (those of us that do, anyway) – they make it very apparent that they don’t need you, so any attention or affection they give you feels earned…

With Void Black Shadow though, it took me a little while to realise who it should be dedicated to. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that part of the book is set in a prison, and I kind of went back and forth on what sort of prison it should be. A part of me wanted to make it Prisoner-esque, but that simply wasn’t going to work for the sort of universe I’d created. Slowly it occurred to me that there were some modern, real-life concerns that I wanted to touch on in the book.

There’s a large section in the middle of the book that took direct inspiration from Gregory Whitehead’s audio piece titled On The Shore Dimly Seen. I can’t recommend it highly enough, though be warned – it’s based on the leaked documents pertaining to the “no-touch” torture techniques used at Guantanamo Bay, and as such, it’s not easy listening.

You may be wondering then, why I didn’t dedicate the book to Gregory Whitehead. Well, there would be no On The Shore Dimly Seen without the documents that Chelsea Manning leaked, at grave personal risk. As haunted and affected by OTSDS as I was, Whitehead didn’t risk everything to create it. He didn’t spend time in prison for it. He didn’t have to endure the court of public opinion whilst going through what must surely be one of the hardest parts of a person’s life.

I don’t know that Chelsea Manning is necessarily a hero, and I certainly don’t think she’s perfect (or that she should be vehemently condemned by The Left* for any imperfections), but I do think she held a mirror up to us in the West and showed us for the disgusting, hateful, inhuman beasts we can be. That we are. That takes strength. That takes honour.

So, Void Black Shadow is dedicated to Chelsea Manning. Though with everything she must have gone through before her sentence was commuted, I hope she never reads it.

 

*I’m a total left-wing pinko, but sometimes we seem to eagerly inhabit the stereotype that others constructed about us.

Real Life

I can’t remember where I came across Real Life Magazine. I’ve searched through my email inbox, but it’s not exactly a distinctive name now, is it? Let’s just say that I had a fever dream one night in January 2018 about a website publishing thematically-linked articles each week featuring interesting pieces by a wide variety of authors. Authors who manage to write work that remains compelling, even if you aren’t necessarily interested in the topic at hand.

In my dream these shapes formed over my head like a cascading, oozing monstrosity from the fifth dimension:

 

 

R̸ͤ̆ͩ̓҉̱͇̮̳͖̻̫̭͓̕ ̷̸͍͈̺̾ͦ̿̍̽̓̌͌̀ͣ͂̏̅ͤE̴̢̘̺͇̤̖̭̫͎͖͒ͥͯͭͪͭ̓̾ͮ̄͆ͤ̉ͧ̃ͨ͟͝͡ ̶̡̯̰̜͍͚̟͔̯̙͔̉̓ͨ̓ͫ͗ͪ̑̚A͚͇͇͈̤̜̥͍̝̩̥͎̭ͪͯ͌̒̎̚̕͞ͅ ̷̨̩̜̙ͪͮͪ̍̄ͣ̍͛́͘Ļ̸͙̲̘͎͕̮͎̭̮͇͑̐ͫ̎̿̓ͬ̑͟͢ ̷ͫ͌͊̀̐͜҉͉̩̞͕̝̠͙̮̫̞̤̣͉L̨̞̲̜̩̖̯̟̘̳ͦ̂̍͛̿̆͊ͥͯ̎̑ͣͫ͑ͥͮ́̕͡ ̶̡̠̪̲͇͖̖͈̜̱̭̰̮͒͐̃̍͊̂̆͜ͅI͓̺̠͍̹͕͌ͤ́̎͌͑ͥͮ̓͛̄̓́͟ ̵̰̫͇̯̺̥̱̗̙̯̘̩͇̇͋̊͂͞ͅFͩ͊̑̿̌ͥ̀͑̐̉̿̒́̀̚͜҉̼̯̩̱͈̘̣̗̬̻̪̦͍͉͕̘͕̲ͅ ͛ͬ̋ͦ͗̅̂ͩ̉̄ͯͬ͑͛ͬ̀҉͍̥̫̰̩̳̼̟̜͉̫ͅẼ̶̬͙͇̟͎̗̗͍̳̙͚̩̮̥̰͕ͤͭͣ̾̋͆̓͐͟ ̶͓̭͉̘̯̟͎̰͙̩̱̥͆̋̂ͥ̋͒ͪ͒͘M̷̮̻͉̬̻̀̂ͩ̒͌̂͊̃̎̀ͩ̂̅ͨ͘ ̡̗͎̪̻̠̳̙͙͔͔͓̹͚̪̫̬̍̓̈́̌́͢͠A̛͉͕͔͔͈̱ͧ̓͗͒̌̊̾͊͠ ̻͓͚̗̭͔̜̞̤̩͚̻͙̝͎͖̘̪̖̄̉ͫͭͤ̃ͦ͛͐ͮ͗̎́͂͗̇͊̀͡͡G̵̢̪͓̖͍̺̟̜̰̭̖̲͎̜̗̘̀͛̈ͫ͗́ͯ̑̊̿͂ͫ̇̄̒̐ͬ̚͘

 

 

Risking my sanity I decoded the hidden message and punched these enigmatic runes into my web browser… and LO, my dream was reality. As I wiped the sweat from my fever-hot brow, I pored over these tomes of timely wisdom, risking my very sanity to bring them to you, dear reader!

Or, y’know, I just came across it via the Republic of Newsletters, and it has consistently been one of the most interesting things appearing in my inbox ever since.

 

Here are some recent highlights:

In an attempt to counteract the narrative in which the slain black man is remembered as a “thug” (recall the protest to the New York Times calling Michael Brown “no angel” in 2014), Stephon Clark, who was shot at 20 times and murdered by Sacramento police in March, is being remembered as a father: candidly sleeping on the couch holding his children or in a formal family portrait his children and their mother. You shouldn’t have to be a “family man” in order to avoid getting slaughtered by the U.S. militia, also known as the cops. The collective shuffle of self-representation of the black family attests to the general attempt to recover the humanity and subjectivity of the desecrated, murdered, and neglected black figure.

In Move on Up, Tiana Reid looks at the idea of the black family, and the ways it has been attacked by everything from President Reagan to pornography, and how this helps to reinforce white supremacist notions that lead to police murdering black people and not only getting away with it, but being aided and abetted by a racist media.

 —
What’s more, the current glorification of the youth activist fortifies the idea that being daring, politically engaged and passionate is a young person’s game. As such, teenagers represent an effort-free do-over for adults. In them, we wistfully imagine our own (best) past selves and enjoy a vicarious thrill in our ability to recognize their heroism, while absolving ourselves of the responsibility to participate. Close to half of Americans don’t show up to vote: the bare minimum of political engagement in a democracy and an action that could have a profound effect on everything from environmental protections to gun control.

In Children’s Crusade, Rachel Giese writes about the recent mass protests led by American youth, and the narrative that seems to dominate traditional and social media – “The kids will save us” – and how it’s a reductive generalisation that serves little purpose other than othering the youth and giving anyone not in that particular ‘generation’ an excuse for their own lack of political action.

The car has become the opposite of liberating: a dangerous and expensive hassle that has reshaped the landscape in its image, creating isolation and dependency for everyone, with or without one. Families must maintain a fleet of vehicles to complete ordinary tasks within a suburban landscape designed to keep everyone marooned in individualized convenience.
[…]
Cars themselves are no longer portals to the unknown, to be customized at the owner’s discretion; they are festooned with elaborate electronics that preclude the possibility of home repair, let alone modification, and they are equipped with monitoring devices that make them fully trackable (and susceptible to being hacked). When young adults get to drive the family car, they are still under the parental thumb, having their speed governed and their location monitored remotely.

I found the beginning and end of Uber Alles, by David A. Banks, to be really interesting, but your mileage may vary on the middle bit. For me it was a re-tread of ideas I’d kinda dived into recently thanks to the (so disappointing that I never bothered to finish it) second season of True Detective, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (still holds up extremely well after all these years). It talks about the corruption that went into dismantling the American street car systems in order to replace them with buses and cars, and then to demonise bus patrons in an effort to minimise their use and encourage more car ownership because, y’know, capitalism won’t stop until it kills us all, or we kill it.

Anyway, it’s about “our” (Read: the West’s) relationship to cars, the way they changed the landscape, and the way they – and our landscape – may change further with self-driving cars, and Uber, Lyft, etc trying to kill public transport in the coming years.

Cyberpunk’s Not Dead, But Maybe It Should Be

The below is a quick and dirty manifesto I put together for a writing prompt over at Ganzeer’s Restricted Academy forum. I love a good manifesto – filled with pomp and self-importance, (naive?) idealism, and moral absolutism. I think they rarely stand up to scrutiny, but they’re not meant to, they’re meant to grab people’s attention and put a fire under their arses. It’s meant to get people to think.

So here’s my manifesto titled Cyberpunk’s Not Dead, But Maybe It Should Be. A little half-baked, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about recently. It also ties into one of the books I’m planning – with it, I hope to develop the language and themes of a new SF sub-genre, the same way William Gibson did with Neuromancer and cyberpunk (because, hey, why not aim for the moon, right?). With that background established, here it is:

//

Cyberpunk promised us a corporate-controlled future where, despite advancements in tech, average people would struggle to survive while the rich hid away in opulence. That’s the future we got, but we deserve better.

Inspired by the potentials inherent in CRISPR gene-editing, CRISP SF isn’t post-cyberpunk, it isn’t ecopunk, solarpunk, or cli-fi. It’s a new type of fiction that strives to discard anthropocentric perspectives and replace them with something, anything, else. CRISP SF is about change – it’s about climate change caused by human intervention, it’s about changing humanity into human-animal hybrids to survive radical climate change. It’s about what it means to be human if destructive ideas about “dominion over nature” are finally done away with. It’s about what it means to be human if we consider ourselves simply one part of the hyperobject called Earth. It’s about what it means to be human if we treat the animals, plants, and microbes as our peers instead of as our servants, our food, our raw materials waiting to be packaged, branded, and sold.

CRISP SF is post-capitalist. CRISP SF is post-anthropocentric. CRISP SF is the future.

CRISP SF is about changing our perspective as we change our DNA. CRISP SF is about considering the personhood of non-human animals in an effort to stop the Great Extinction Event we have wrought.

Because we can do better. Because the world deserves better from us.

Terminal Knowledge

Fellow citizens of the Republic of Newsletters – if you haven’t already discovered Max Anton Brewer’s SCIOPS newsletter, I highly recommend it. He claims the newsletter is cyberpunk weirdness, but I feel as though that is far too reductive for the breadth of topics covered. There’s surveillance, tech, politics, religion, and all those other things we talk about at the dinner table despite being taught otherwise.

The latest one spoke to me as a former churchgoer who has lost three of his (religious) grandparents in the past few years. Here’s an excerpt:

Nietzsche called Christianity a slave religion. It was the fervent hope of a better life, one that would reward all the suffering and punishment of this world, that kept the many generations of Christians from violent revolt in their own lifetimes. The doctrines of pacifism, obedience, and patience combine to form a lifestyle suitable for serfs. The better you are at subjugating yourself before your Lord (note the feudal flavor here), the more you will be rewarded. But not in this life, and not by this Lord. Count on the invisible entity to kick down the prizes in the next lifetime. In this one, shut up and turn the other cheek and work.

Of course, Nietzsche was a showboating syphilitic with a bad attitude. But he wasn’t wrong. Christianity is a form of terminal knowledge: a dead-end of thought, a self-reinforcing mental trap.

Terminal knowledge, once acquired, is impossible to be rid of. Like a retrovirus in DNA, it lurks inside the mind, taking every opportunity to replicate its own structure. If you accept one of the memetic hooks, such as “there is life after death”, you invite the entire belief system to infest your mind. It’s all self-referential and internally consistent. If there’s life after death, then of course your soul must go somewhere else. It’s clearly not in your body anymore, after all. If it goes somewhere, is that place better or worse than this one? What makes a person go to a better place or a worse one? Better check the Special Book…

Previous letters don’t appear to be archived online, but if you subscribe now, at least you can be sure to get the next one…

Three Years

Today it has been three years since Marlee Jane Ward and I started dating. But I’m not going to go into how we met, our first kiss, or any gross stuff like that, instead I just want to acknowledge how big an influence Marlee’s brilliant Welcome to Orphancorp was on Killing Gravity.

I’ve talked before about my musical influences for the book, and I believe I’ve mentioned in an interview that Akira was also an influence, specifically this scene:

But I haven’t really talked before about Welcome to Orphancorp. When I was studying writing at University, I’d been reading a fair bit of Chuck Palahniuk and writing mostly in the first person. So ten-ish years later when I decided to get serious about writing science-fiction I felt as though first-person was too juvenile* because it was the form I had used when I was writing… well, juvenile shit. But then I read Marlee’s Welcome to Orphancorp and realised exactly how powerful first-person can be. I mean, just look at the excerpt at this link and try not to be lost instantly in that world and in Mirii’s perspective.

When I had a loose outline for Killing Gravity, I still hadn’t decided on a POV, but it was Orphancorp that convinced me I should go with first person (that, and a scene right in the middle of the book that I knew would work best in first), and I’ll forever be grateful to Marlee for that. Without Orphancorp, Killing Gravity wouldn’t have been the same book, and maybe it wouldn’t have been a good enough book to get picked up.

So if you haven’t read it, you really should.

*There tends to be a bias against first-person perspective among a lot of readers and writers. I’m not sure why that is. It could be that it’s often used in YA, so people who deem YA to be beneath them lash out against it, or it could be that people think it’s cheating because the reader can see everything that’s going on inside the character’s head. I think it’s a tool, and like any tool it has its purposes – and if you write it off as either a reader or a writer, I think you’re going to miss out on some great opportunities.

Twin Hometowns

In April this year I’ll be doing Supanova again, this time in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast.

At these 2 shows I’ll be launching VOID BLACK SHADOW, part 2 of the VoidWitch Saga. I’m calling this a Twin Hometown Book Launch because both Melbourne and the Gold Coast are close to my heart.

My family moved from the outer Western suburbs of Sydney up to the Gold Coast when I was around 12 years old. It’s where I went to high school and university, it’s where I made plenty of incredible friends over the years, and it’s where my family still lives. I moved to Melbourne at 30, and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. For one thing it has a real winter (unlike Queensland), but it’s also a city filled with great pubs and cafes, vibrant street art, music, culture, and a great writing scene.

I want to do something special for readers who make it out to the convention and say hello, so I’ve come up with the following GIVEAWAY.

The first three people at each convention to come up to me with both KILLING GRAVITY and VOID BLACK SHADOW (either that you already own, or purchased at the show), who tell me they need that third book will get a free copy of The VoidWitch Saga part 3 (I know the title, but I’m not telling yet) signed, stamped, and posted to them just as soon as I can get my own copies.

Again, in dot-point form:

  • Find me at Supanova.
  • Show me KILLING GRAVITY and VOID BLACK SHADOW.
  • Tell me you want that third book.
  • Give me your email address (I’ll be getting postal addresses just prior to posting in case people move house).
  • Wait patiently for me to get in touch (possibly October, maybe November).

Three copies to giveaway in each city for a total of six. I’m also hoping to have at least one short story done up as a zine to give to anyone and everyone who passes the table, so please swing by!