Tom COVID’s The Division

This piece was originally published as a bonus issue of the Nothing Here newsletter.

It’s easy to see things through the lens of the pandemic. It’s especially easy when you’re talking about a video game set in America, after the nation collapsed following the release of a weaponised flu virus. So here’s me, talking about the Division, and drawing some parallels to the real world. I just hope it makes sense if you’ve not played the game (and haven’t been paying attention to twitter)…


You’ve been wandering these streets for months now, lugging around your assault rifle and marksman rifle, your high-tech gadgets, and your micro-missile launcher, with only the monotone ISAC for company. The streets are mostly empty. Dogs, racoons, foxes, and deer have staked their claim on the urban environment. They seem startled to see you; surprised by the incursion of humanity on their reclaimed space.

The civilians at the Theatre Settlement need help, so you go and see their leader for the details. They have solar generators, food crops growing on the roof, and guards at each entrance – they’re as self-sufficient as one could expect. It all seems like a waste to you. Things will be back to normal soon – with power coming from far-off coal and nuclear generators, food delivered on diesel-engine trucks from distant states, or ferried overseas from distant lands. So much wasted energy; they should be like the rest. They should hole up, scared, and wait for things to return to the way they were.

They’re having trouble with the Hyenas. The Hyenas have taken over the nearby Grand Washington Hotel, and kidnapped someone important to the Settlement. The official SHD documentation calls them “a loosely organized gang of opportunistic raiders,” but you know the truth. They represent organised crime. They are the gangs who emerge in places and times when the official state fails or has no interest in governing. They become a new state, a more honest one in some ways. They demand money and fealty, and they are not shy about the violence they will enact if you do not fall in line. They are the state at its most revealed, its least obscured. They are at least honest in their violence, completely lacking in political subtlety because they don’t have an army, they are the army.

You don’t know what their plan is for the hotel – a new home base, chemical weapon lab, a prison, a brothel, or something else – but you also don’t care. You sneak in through the service entrance and with your finger on the trigger you solve the situation the way you’ve solved countless others before. You save the hostage, you put down the burgeoning criminal state, and you receive your reward for a job well done.

There’s no recourse for dialogue, only the trigger. To understand the motives of these disparate groups you have to take to the internet after a long day of single-handedly policing the entire city. You scroll through politigram, fall down far-right youtube rabbit holes, rapidly flick through mainstream news channels to cut-up the feeds and piece together the truth behind the propaganda, made easier when the proponents of the pre-virus order say the quiet part loud. The economy is all powerful, but every now and then its wheels of progress must be greased with the blood of the poor, the elderly, the precarious, and the immunocompromised. We must return to business as usual so the economy can grow strong again. A hundred thousand people might die, but what is a life worth, truly, when compared to our GDP?

You thought you were on the streets fighting because the deaths had already happened, but they’re still coming. The virus is still spreading. You’re on the streets fighting because it’s only by flattening these minor insurrections that we can get back to business as usual, let the people out of their homes and back to work.

You wonder if you should actually be aligned with the True Sons. They also know that it’s only through bloodshed that the status quo can return. America was built on bloodshed, and with further bloodshed, a new, mightier society will flourish. They listen to the President and the right-wing pundits, and they know they’re on the right side of the government and the right side of history. You’re not politically aligned one way or the other, you’re a tool for the status quo and nothing more.

You go to ViewPoint Museum to put them down, though you feel conflicted about it. Surely they’re just doing what the President wants? The True Sons are simply doing their part, aren’t they? The militia is closing borders into the city, and I imagine it’s only a matter of days until they start scouring the apartment blocks for refugees to deport, criminals to imprison, and poor people to be punished for the most minor of infractions. The weak have to be sacrificed if we want the new American phoenix to be a stronger beast than the one that died at the hands of this pandemic.

Politically aligned or no, the flat robotic voice of ISAC guides you through the museum, and as the True Sons (and daughters, though they don’t receive top billing) die by the dozens. It feels a little like déjà vu: you lift the rifle to your shoulders, you aim down the sight, and you squeeze the trigger. Again and again. How much blood is needed to drown this fledgling moment in its crib so we can return to the time before – return to normalcy?

You leave the museum, spattered with the blood of supposed patriots, but your work isn’t done – it’s never done. You need to squeeze the trigger like you need to breathe. Thankfully the Outcasts have been acting up again.

On your way to the Potomac Events Center, you take a shortcut through an apartment building, and the corridors are abandoned and oddly quiet. For months you thought the population had been evacuated, or otherwise died –denizens of the body bags you occasionally find piled up on the road or in the backs of trucks. You know the truth now though – they aren’t dead, and they haven’t left. They’re indoors, isolating, streaming true crime documentaries on Netflix and broadcasting their cabin fever on Twitter and TikTok. Delivery drivers are ghosts. Keeping the isolated masses supplied, without ever being seen.

You make your way through the Events Center, fighting off the angry horde of yellow-clad leftists, tossing their Molotov cocktails and charging ahead in suicidal rage. A well-placed shot causes a suicide bomber to explode, killing three of his comrades – more leftist infighting. No wonder they’re constantly losing ground. These radicals want to use the pandemic to forge a new, fairer sort of society, but they don’t realise that market capitalism was already perfect. They’re just angry because they’re losers, because they’ll never be the ones with the private jets, luxury yachts, and fancy cars. Sure, the whole system collapsed within weeks of a pandemic striking, but we never could have seen that coming. And all the money we saved cutting funding from pandemic research and preparation went to important parts of the economy – to bailing out banks so they can pay bonuses to their CEOs.

Your rampage through the Events Center comes to an end, but there are still more uprisings to quash. Any minor upset could keep the status quo from returning. This is delicate, surgical work you’re doing down the barrel of your guns.

The Black Tusk show up in the city – Silicon Valley type technocrats, but with heavy firepower and dog drone weapon platforms. They also want to end the lockdown, but they don’t think we should simply re-open the economy. They see the importance in tagging and tracking every citizen – follow the spread of the virus in real-time, gather data, crunch the numbers. There is no job too big or too small for Big Data – just as long as we don’t let anything silly like privacy concerns get in the way.

You aren’t so different from the Black Tusk. They have their robots, their milspec tech, and all their guns; you have your high-tech gadgets, your own guns, but a better fashion sense. They might be on to something, you think. Maybe ISAC would work even better with access to the locations of every single citizen in the entire country. It would be so much easier to police them all by adding another layer to the surveillance state apparatus. But you can’t trust that information to the government. It should be in private hands, where it can do the most good. Private companies are good. Data is good. So masses of data in the hands of private companies must be good.

But still, ISAC tells you to shoot the Black Tusk soldiers in the face, and you’re compelled to listen. No dialogue, only the trigger. You ask ISAC if he’s planning to take the Black Tusk’s plan for himself, but he doesn’t respond. He never does, no matter how many times you try and speak to him. You’ve taken to referring to your turret, your flying drone, and your seeker mines as your children. It’s lonely out there on the streets, but your children are always there, strapped to your back, ready to help.

The mercenaries rush forward in an attempt to flank you. You take aim, you fire. You collect your rewards. Rinse and repeat. Grinding for the status quo.

The Ones Who Stay

I think I first heard about Ursula Le Guin’s short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas on an episode of Chapo Traphouse, which is probably an odd place for a sci-fi writer to discover a seminal short story in the genre, but here we are. If you’ve not read the story you should, it’s short and important, and available to read here.

It’s less a short story and more a thought experiment in fiction form. You may have noticed that the above link comes from a website on utilitarianism, which is a philosophy wherein the most morally good choice is the one that causes the most good for the highest number of people. Omelas, then, is a utilitarian paradise – a perfect society paid for by the suffering of just one citizen. I can imagine a slightly different take on the city, where to be chosen is a blessing, rather than a curse, where people want to sacrifice themselves for the city. Maybe that’s my Christian upbringing speaking – the idea that sacrifice is always good and noble. But perhaps that wouldn’t be enough. Perhaps the city of Omelas can only feed on unwilling victims. For a Christian, if you take yourself to a place where you can fully imagine the pain and suffering that Jesus must have experienced when he was being crucified, then you have to convince yourself that his sacrifice meant something. You have to convince yourself that heaven is real, and your entry was paid for his blood. Otherwise the suffering was all for naught. The same is true for the citizens of Omelas. They know the child is there, and they know that it is suffering just so that they might live in such a perfect society. They probably tell themselves, “I have to live my best life, because otherwise that child suffered for nothing.” It’s utterly selfish logic, but it might free most people of their guilt.

Most, but not all. The story is, after all, called The Ones Who Walk Away…

[Still from Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World.]

Perhaps because of the way I was introduced to the story (and also because of Ursula K. Le Guin’s views on the subject), I assume that Omelas is a metaphor for our society under capitalism. If Omelas is the West, then perhaps the child in the cellar is the Global South – the parts of the world that we will ravage, destroy, and pollute, and whose people we will deny and discard, forcing and coercing them into labour as though they were automatons made of meat and not real people with souls and internal lives as rich as our own. The child in the cellar is the literal slave children of our world farming cocoa beans for our chocolate, coca leaves for our cocaine, coltan for our mobile phones, and granite for our headstones.

But if our society is Omelas, how does one walk away? To be truly severed from capitalism’s logistical networks requires wilderness that capitalism is quickly devouring, and skills that many of us simply do not have. We rely too much on wikihow and youtube when we need to fix, build, or work something, and without the phones in our hands, many of us are just very smart but practically useless primates. Ours is a world of connection now, and that is beautiful, but it also makes it even harder to walk away from Omelas. One cannot stay in Omelas and protest, because it could not be a perfect society if there was protest, and Omelas is perfect (and in the real world we see all too often the ways capitalism co-opts the anti-capitalist, selling our protests back to us, because nothing is stronger than the Almighty Dollar).

If protest is impossible and/or pointless, and we are unable to walk away, then could the solution then be death? The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas by way of Thomas Ligotti’s A Conspiracy Against the Human Race. Our society has evolved to the point where opting out of capitalism is nigh on impossible, but opting out of life is there, always on the cards. For some of us more so than others.

The other week I tweeted:

Gonna write a gritty reboot of/sequel to The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas: SHE WHO RETURNS. On her sixteenth birthday she was taken from her cell beneath the city and dumped outside the city limits; left to die, with no clothes and not even a name she could remember.

After being saved by one of those who walked away, she must process a decade of trauma and learn the sacred arts of assassination if she might ever have a hope of bringing this “perfect city” to justice for it’s cruelty and decadence.

Now, this was a joke, I promise. It was a joke precisely because writing a gritty, violent femsploitation thriller based on Omelas would be ridiculous and would completely miss the point.

My tweets didn’t get much traction (they never do, so that’s ok), but I did have one person respond saying they hoped it meant that she’d obliterate the city and all the selfish bastards that live within it. Now, I’m not sure if this tweeter (twitterer?) was joining me in my ridiculous fantasy where this was not a terribly misguided idea for a story, or if they’d perhaps missed the point of the original. I mean, isn’t hoping my fictional heroine kills all the “selfish bastards” the same thing as hoping that a person, broken and traumatised by mining coltan as a slave, would one day come to your house and murder you for the smart phone you clutch in your hands? Yes, the citizens of Omelas are selfish bastards, but let he who is without ties to the oppressive systems of capitalism cast the first stone. Remember: there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, so be careful what you wish for. We are Omelas, and to be able to function in this society we either pretend we don’t know any better, or we cultivate ignorance so we don’t need to pretend.

Or perhaps we don’t all live in Omelas. If you don’t live a carefree life of plenty and peace, then maybe you are the child. Maybe 99% of us are. Maybe the billionaire elite are the only true residents of Omelas. Our toiling contributes to a global economy that is more and more geared to giving them more money, power, and control. We are building their Omelas on the backs of our own suffering. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? It absolves a lot of us of any guilt. GUILLOTINE GUILLOTINE GUILLOTINE, etc. But we aren’t blameless. We understand about the immense suffering of animals in factory farms, and yet we still eat meat. We know that child slaves pick cocoa beans, and we still eat chocolate, we know that our consumption is slowly destroying the planet, but we keep on consuming. We still choose, or maybe we don’t choose, because carrying on is simpler than considering our actions.

If Omelas is a utilitarian heaven, then our world is a utilitarian hell. Our global imperialist systems of commerce are designed with the suffering of hundreds of millions of people baked in. It’s a feature, not a bug. To paraphrase a popular saying, maybe the true Omelas is the poor, brown people we devoured along the way.

So, Omelas. We want to tell ourselves we’re the child, or we’re one of the ones who walk away, but chances are, we’re not. We are the ones who stay.

I saw someone die tonight

This piece was originally published as a bonus issue of the Nothing Here newsletter.


I was meant to see MY DISCO again tonight. I thought I would have a chance to write another hyperbolic review like last time, but instead I saw someone die.

I didn’t see him fall, I just saw the commotion on the stairs. People stepping over what they assumed was a drunk, until someone paused for long enough to realise something was wrong. I saw the two drunks I’d been getting irritated by swoop down and do their best to help before I even realised what had happened.

I looked down from my spot over the stairs, looked down right into the man’s face. I saw the blood spattered around his head and the sick, rolling tilt of his eyes, unmoored. That image struck me, and it strikes me still. I must have seen something the others didn’t, because they continued to watch as staff called Emergency, and punters administered CPR. Because they leered over the ledge watching as the paramedics tried to asses the situation – a man dying on the stairs, with an audience, with phones and flashlight, and fucking photos.

I saw someone die. It was the simplest accident, a stumble down the steps. Could have happened to anyone (by which I of course mean it could have happened to me. We are, after all driven by thoughts of our own mortality). A tumble down a short flight of stairs, at a small gig, for an obscure band. And now a man is dead.

I didn’t watch him die. We were ushered out the fire escape to stand on the street; hopeful that the man would be whisked away for treatment, that he would be fine and our show would go on. But no. The night was cancelled, the staff told us solemnly. I heard another say “He passed away,” as I walked from the venue, hearing snippets of mistruths and bullshit from the assembled gawkers. How quickly it spreads. “Someone pulled a fire alarm.” “Someone had a heart attack.” Maybe he fell down the stairs because of a heart issue, but that was blood on the floor around his head. I believe the staff member because of the euphemism. Because you can drunkenly half-joke about someone dying inside, but if they’ve “passed away,” that’s serious.

One guy jokingly asked if he’d get a refund, and was almost beaten for the question. It’s not his fault; he was in the “fire alarm” clique of late arrivals. They stood talking loudly about classic guitars and other strands of unfiltered music nerd bullshit while a long line of us stood against the wall, too stunned to do much but wait, hug, and eventually peel away slowly for other venues, other vibes.

And maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is more misinformation. Maybe that guy I saw dying on the stairs is lying in hospital, unaware that a couple of hundred strangers think he died. Dying is so easy. You just have to fall backward down some stairs. Living is the hard part. Living well, hardest of all.

Beautiful and Dangerous

I came across a post via Peter M. BallDying on the Mountain: How Goals will Kill You and How to Focus on the Process, written by Fred Venturini and published at litreactor. In it, Venturini references a couple of different books about positive thinking and goal setting to argue against some common wisdom.

The Power of Positive Thinking is supposedly able to literally change your life, but:

In studies performed by Gabriele Oettigen, visualizing how well things could go actually reduces your motivation, and at a subconscious level, we can confuse visualizing success with having already achieved it. […] Fantasizing about your greatest successes can slow you down, reduce your motivation, and make you feel like you’ve already achieved them.

He also warns against tying your goals into your identity, which is something I’m sure many writers struggle with. For the longest time your goal is to become a published writer, but if (and hopefully when) that happens, you’ve suddenly undermined a part of your identity by achieving your goal and realising that little has changed. You don’t immediately become happy/successful/famous/rich/whatever overnight – not only does publishing move slow, but there’s little chance of riches and fame unless you’re extremely lucky.

And he ends the piece by suggesting that goals can be broken down into processes anyway, and it’s these processes that will help you to achieve whatever it is you’re hoping to achieve with your writing career. Chop wood, carry water, which is something I’ve talked about before.

And these are all great points. I definitely get where Venturini is coming from, and mostly agree with him, but in my mind it’s bumping up against something else.

In an interview with Pagan Dawn Magazine, Alan Moore said:

Your art is as big, as powerful, as beautiful and dangerous as you yourself are able to conceive of it as being.

This is one of the quotes I’ve written onto a post-it note and stuck up in my writing area because it resonates with me. It doesn’t matter how good a writer you are, if you’re only able to conceive of your own work at a shallow level, then all you’ll be able to write is shallow work. Repo Virtual is a cyberpunk AI heist, but I don’t know that I ever would have written it if that’s all I was able to conceive of it as. More important than that basic plot is the philosophical core of the book focusing on the personhood of non-biological intelligences, and the way those intelligences could become our heirs if we ever let them. Yes, there are still multiple heists and shoot-outs, and a car chase through flooded streets, but I wrote the book because there were philosophical concepts I wanted to explore. (One day I hope to write a book that can explore deep ideas without guns, chases, mayhem, and explosions, but I’m not there yet.)

I’ve talked previously about the struggles I’m having with my next book. Frankly, I’m frightened. And the reason I’m frightened is because my conception of what this book could be is huge. In it I want to explore eco-fascism, eco-terrorism, and the various possible (horrifying) outcomes of the stresses that climate change will place on our civilisation, and I want to do that through the lens of truly disturbing sci-fi horror, which is not a genre I’ve written in at great length. The book has the potential to be serious and important, and also successful, and I desperately want it to be all those things. I desperately want it to be big, powerful, beautiful, and dangerous.

But Venturini is right. That’s not a goal I can work towards; you can’t write a book that is all those things, you can only write a book and hope. But Moore is right, because I need to still hold onto my hopes if I want to make this book the best thing I can write here and now.

I need to have my hopes and my dreams for this book so I can strive to do something more and greater than my previous work, but I also need to say “Fuck the results,” and focus on the process so I can actually get it done. I need to find that balance. And I’m almost there. The further along I get with my new and improved outline, the more confident I feel – not that it’ll be everything I want, but that I’ll be able to write it. That I’ll be able to put one word down after another until I have a novel.

The rest will come, I hope. With all the research and planning I’ve done, and with all the writing and editing I will do, I just have to hope it comes together. Maybe it won’t be important, or successful, but it’ll be the best thing I can write right now, and that’s enough. It has to be.

Nothing Here Newsletter

If the updates here on the website are too infrequent for your tastes, then your best bet is to sign up for the Nothing Here newsletter, which I run with some friends of mine. I think of it as something like a podcast in text form – we share a bunch of interesting links and recommendations, with room for a little conversational back and forth.

If you’re here at this website, then you already know who I am, but let me introduce the rest of the nothinghere team:

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REPO VIRTUAL Cover Reveal

Repo Virtual cover - art/design by Christine Foltzer
Repo Virtual cover – art/design by Christine Foltzer

The cover for Repo Virtual was recently revealed over at the B&N Sci-Fi & Fantasy blog. I say a little at the link, and there’s also a blurb for the book (I don’t think it’ll be the back cover blurb, but it’s how I pitched the book to my editor at Tor.com Publishing), so have a look at the link if you want more information.

The book isn’t out until April 2020, but already someone on twitter told me they preordered it, which is fantastic. Soon enough I’m hoping I can talk about a preorder incentive package I’m trying to put together. More details here as soon as I have them.

And a big thank you to Warren Ellis for the fantastic blurb. Not only did he find time to read it in his #1000mphclub schedule, but he got back to me in no time at all – which makes me think that even for a 100k word novel, I’ve written something quick and compelling.

I’m really proud of this book, and can’t wait for it to be out in the world… riding that zeitgeist wave alongside the folk at CDPR.

Supanova, April 2019

Supanova Authors, April 2019
Left to right:Me, Alan Baxter, Jodi McAlister, Paige Belfield, Lynette Noni, Victoria/V.E. Schwab, Rachael Craw, Marlee Jane Ward.

This is the main gang that I had the pleasure of touring with for Supanova in Melbourne and on the Gold Coast.

On the GC, Alan, Lynette, and I also got to share a stage with these two:

Writing Action PanelJames and Marc Lindsay, who I toured with at a previous Supanova, and who are always good value. It was a great panel, talking all about writing action scenes, and I had a great chat to the brothers after the panel too.

I had planned to write more, but some bastard infected me with con crud, and 2.5 weeks later I’m still not feeling 100%. I will however say that Alan Baxter joined us on the Nothing Here newsletter, where he and m1k3y went into some detail about writing martial arts action scenes (Alan being a kung fu instructor as well as a writer of dark tales).

Thanks to Ineke for having me on board! It’s always a great (if tiring) weekend, and I really love nothing more than talking with readers and my fellow writers.

Liminal

I am at something of a loss. I’m in a weird liminal space at the moment – I’m waiting on line edits from Carl on REPO VIRTUAL, and trying to decide what my next big project will be once that’s locked away. I know exactly what that project should be – my CrispSF novel – but I’m hesitating. Honestly, I might just be scared.

The VoidWitch books were really personal, but otherwise “light” in a lot of ways. As in, if you didn’t recognise that I was using the books to explore my depression, self-loathing, lack of self-worth, anger, disappointment and disconnection with family, and feelings of listlessness, then maybe the books would seem fun but shallow. So with Repo Virtual, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something that asked bigger and broader questions beyond my own experiences, I wanted to write about a future that could be just around the corner and/or already here. I wanted to do something more “serious” and more intelligent. I wanted to write something that was in conversation with the cyberpunk canon, and maybe pointing the way forward along a slightly different path. And I think I pulled it off, for the most part. Or at the very least I pulled it off as well as I could have at that moment in time.

So now I’m looking to the next step. I want to up my game again, write a novel that will be even more difficult than Repo Virtual, and in doing so also create a new sci-fi subgenre (because, why not aim high?). But something has given me pause.

In her review of Static Ruin, Tasha Leigh compared the VoidWitch books to Ursula Le Guin or Kij Johnson, and while I don’t think I’ve earned those comparisons yet I can see what she means. There’s a sort of free-wheeling inventiveness in the Saga that might be similar to what Le Guin and Johnson do – weird ideas dropped into place to hint at different sub/cultures in the galaxy, backstories only ever hinted at, and an entire universe of worldbuilding that casts a shadow over the books without ever actually being seen clearly. And so reading that review when I was right near the end of Repo Virtual, I got worried: Was that the best thing about my writing, and had I completely left it out of RV? When I look at RV, all I see are the books, articles, shows, films, and philosophers I’m referencing. I know that isn’t the whole book, it might not even be a big part of it, but I’ve been too deep in it for too long to have any sort of context. In using a near-future setting, did I shoot myself in the foot? Did I lose too much of what makes my writing work? Or will RV work for different reasons? Is it better, worse, or just different?

With the CrispSF novel, I would perhaps be splitting the difference – I can already see all the ways that ‘free-wheeling inventiveness’ will be able to manifest itself in the book, while it will also look at real-world issues, future fears, and a different sort of philosophy than what I explored in RV. But at the same time, it has to be a dark book. It has to be horrifying. And I don’t know if I can pull it off yet.

Hence the twitter poll:

Twitter poll

And I have a good idea of what Parallel Universe Spies will look like, and I think it could be big – in terms of worldbuilding, series size, and in terms of reader response. So I’m struggling. Do I dive into Crispr Heart of Darkness and see if I can pull it off, pushing and challenging myself to do something utterly different and completely new? (Or new to me at least – I’m almost certain there are books out there doing similar things, if only because there are so many books out there.) Do I tackle climate change directly, and the tools we might use to face it and adapt to it? Or do I tackle it tangentially in a series of novellas with PUS (because I don’t think I can not write about it)?

Is my fear about writing Crispr HoD something to be overcome, or is it something instinctual I should listen to? Might the book be important, or is my desire to ‘create a new subgenre’ pure egocentric bullshit?

I think what I’m actually going to do is develop both. Come up with the characters and outlines for each, and see which one I need to write. See which one sets that fire under my arse. It could be that in developing my Crispr book, the fear fades as I see how it could form, or maybe I’ll realise it’s beyond me. Or maybe I need to write a novella, a palate cleanser between big novels.

If I had an agent, maybe this would be an easier decision to make. Instead, I’m writing it all out here, in an effort to make sense of it… More than anything, I just want another project. I want to stop feeling quite so lost.

Static Ruin Shortlisted for an Aurealis Award

Yesterday the Aurealis Award shortlists were announced, with Static Ruin making the shortlist under Best Science Fiction Novella. As both Void Black Shadow and Static Ruin were released in 2018, both were eligible, and I actually thought VBS had a better chance of earning the nomination because it’s darker and more political. But Static Ruin is deeply personal, so I couldn’t be happier to see if shortlisted.

All of the shortlists are below, taken from the Aurealis announcement here. Seeing these lists in the one place is a great reminder of how exciting and thriving a SFFH scene we have here in Australia. Congratulations to all the other shortlisted folk – I’m honoured to be featured alongside you.

2018 Aurealis Awards finalists announced

The Continuum Foundation (ConFound), organisers of the 2018 Aurealis Awards, is delighted to announce the finalists for the Awards.

Winners of the 2018 Aurealis Awards, Sara Douglass Book Series Award, and the Convenors’ Award for Excellence will be announced at the Aurealis Awards ceremony taking place in Melbourne on Saturday May 4, 2019.

2018 Aurealis Awards – Finalists

BEST CHILDREN’S FICTION
– The Relic of the Blue Dragon, Rebecca Lim (Allen & Unwin)
– The Slightly Alarming Tales of the Whispering Wars, Jaclyn Moriarty (Allen & Unwin)
– The Endsister, Penni Russon (Allen & Unwin)
– Secret Guardians, Lian Tanner (Allen & Unwin)
– Ting Ting the Ghosthunter, Gabrielle Wang (Penguin Random House Australia)
– Ottilie Colter and the Narroway Hunt, Rhiannon Williams (Hardie Grant Egmont)

BEST GRAPHIC NOVEL / ILLUSTRATED WORK
– Deathship Jenny, Rob O’Connor (self-published)
– Cicada, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)
– Tales from The Inner City, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)

BEST YOUNG ADULT SHORT STORY
– “A Robot Like Me”, Lee Cope (Mother of Invention, Twelfth Planet Press)
– “The Moon Collector”, D K Mok (Under the Full Moon’s Light, Owl Hollow Press)
– “The Sea-Maker of Darmid Bay”, Shauna O’Meara (Interzone #277, TTA Press)
– “Eight-Step Koan”, Anya Ow (Sword and Sonnet, Ate Bit Bear)
– “For Weirdless Days and Weary Nights”, Deborah Sheldon (Breach #08)

BEST HORROR SHORT STORY
– “The Offering”, Michael Gardner (Aurealis #112)
– “Slither”, Jason Nahrung (Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2, IFWG Publishing Australia)
– “By Kindle Light”, Jessica Nelson-Tyers (Antipodean SF #235)
– “Hit and Rot”, Jessica Nelson-Tyers (Breach #08)
– “Sub-Urban”, Alfie Simpson (Breach #07)
– “The Further Shore”, J Ashley Smith (Bourbon Penn #15)

BEST HORROR NOVELLA
– “Andromeda Ascends”, Matthew R Davis (Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, Things In The Well)
– “Kopura Rising”, David Kuraria (Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud, IFWG Publishing Australia)
– “The Black Sea”, Chris Mason (Beneath the Waves – Tales from the Deep, Things In The Well)
– Triquetra, Kirstyn McDermott (Tor.com)
– “With This Needle I Thee Thread”, Angela Rega (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
– Crisis Apparition, Kaaron Warren (Dark Moon Books)

BEST FANTASY SHORT STORY
– “Crying Demon”, Alan Baxter (Suspended in Dusk 2, Grey Matter Press)
– “Army Men”, Juliet Marillier (Of Gods and Globes, Lancelot Schaubert)
– “The Further Shore”, J Ashley Smith (Bourbon Penn #15)
– “Child of the Emptyness”, Amanda J Spedding (Grimdark Magazine #17)
– “A Moment’s Peace”, Dave Versace (A Hand of Knaves, CSFG Publishing)
– “Heartwood, Sapwood, Spring”, Suzanne J Willis (Sword and Sonnet, Ate Bit Bear)

BEST FANTASY NOVELLA
– “This Side of the Wall”, Michael Gardner (Metaphorosis Magazine, January 2018)
– “Beautiful”, Juliet Marillier (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
– “The Staff in the Stone”, Garth Nix (The Book of Magic, Penguin Random House)
– Merry Happy Valkyrie, Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet Press)
– “The Dressmaker and the Colonel’s Coat”, David Versace (Mnemo’s Memory and Other Fantastic Tales, self-published)
– The Dragon’s Child, Janeen Webb (PS Publishing)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORY
– “The Sixes, The Wisdom and the Wasp”, E J Delaney (Escape Pod)
– “The Fallen”, Pamela Jeffs (Red Hour, Four Ink Press)
– “On the Consequences of Clinically-Inhibited Maturation in the Common Sydney Octopus”, Simon Petrie & Edwina Harvey (A Hand of Knaves, CSFG)
– “A Fair Wind off Baracoa”, Robert Porteous (Hand of Knaves, CSFG)
– “The Astronaut”, Jen White (Aurealis)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVELLA
– “I Almost Went To The Library Last Night”, Joanne Anderton (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
– The Starling Requiem, Jodi Cleghorn (eMergent Publishing)
– Icefall, Stephanie Gunn (Twelfth Planet Press)
– “Pinion”, Stephanie Gunn (Aurum, Ticonderoga Publications)
– “Singles’ Day”, Samantha Murray (Interzone #277, TTA Press)
– Static Ruin, Corey J White (Tor.com)

BEST COLLECTION
– Not Quite the End of the World Just Yet, Peter M Ball (Brain Jar Press)
– Phantom Limbs, Margo Lanagan (PS Publishing)
– Tales from The Inner City, Shaun Tan (Allen & Unwin)
– Exploring Dark Short Fiction #2: A Primer to Kaaron Warren, Kaaron Warren (Dark Moon Books)

BEST ANTHOLOGY
– Sword and Sonnet, Aidan Doyle, Rachael K Jones & E Catherine Tobler (Ate Bit Bear)
– Aurum, Russell B Farr (Ticonderoga Publications)
– Mother of Invention, Rivqa Rafael & Tansy Rayner Roberts (Twelfth Planet Press)
– Infinity’s End, Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)
– The Best Science Fiction & Fantasy of the Year, Jonathan Strahan (Solaris)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
– Small Spaces, Sarah Epstein (Walker Books Australia)
– Lifel1k3, Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
– Catching Teller Crow, Ambelin Kwaymullina & Ezekiel Kwaymullina (Allen & Unwin)
– His Name was Walter, Emily Rodda (HarperCollins Publishers)
– A Curse of Ash and Embers, Jo Spurrier (HarperCollins Publishers)
– Impostors, Scott Westerfeld (Allen & Unwin)

BEST HORROR NOVEL
– The Bus on Thursday, Shirley Barrett (Allen & Unwin)
– Years of the Wolf, Craig Cormick (IFWG Publishing Australia)
– Tide of Stone, Kaaron Warren (Omnium Gatherum)

BEST FANTASY NOVEL
– Devouring Dark, Alan Baxter (Grey Matter Press)
– Lady Helen and the Dark Days Deceit, Alison Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers)
– City of Lies, Sam Hawke (Penguin Random House)
– Lightning Tracks, Alethea Kinsela (Plainspeak Publishing)
– The Witch Who Courted Death, Maria Lewis (Hachette Australia)
– We Ride the Storm, Devin Madson (self-published)

BEST SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL
– Scales of Empire, Kylie Chan (HarperCollins Publishers)
– Obsidio, Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
– Lifel1k3, Jay Kristoff (Allen & Unwin)
– Dyschronia, Jennifer Mills (Picador Australia)
– A Superior Spectre, Angela Meyer (Ventura Press)
– The Second Cure, Margaret Morgan (Penguin Random House)

The Sara Douglass Book Series Award shortlist will be announced at a later date due to the volume of entries under consideration.

2018 Retrospective

It’s the start of a new year, which is as good a time as any to look back at the last one. I know I got a lot of work done, but it doesn’t feel like I did. I edited Static Ruin at the start of the year, and outlined and wrote the first draft of Repo Virtual, then edited and rewrote that draft to get it to a point where I was satisfied with submitting it to my editor. On top of that I wrote one or two short stories, a few essays/articles, and three comics pitches. All while working a part-time job, and doing all the other stuff that we have to do just to live.

But still, I only wrote one novel. That’s what my brain keeps telling me. Only one novel, as though some writers don’t spend years on a novel, as though I didn’t pour my everything into writing that book.

I had it in my mind that I would like to write a novel and a novella per year, so anything less than that feels like failure. I’m trying to cut myself some slack though, but we’ll see how that pans out.

Anyway, I’ve got some really exciting projects lined up for 2019. One is a comic series that Austin and I are currently planning (along with a one-shot that we’ll probably put together as a sort of proof-of-concept RE: the whole comics collaborating thing), one is a novella or short novel that I’m currently planning with another collaborator, and the third is my Crisp novel, which has been slowly growing and evolving in my mind for literally 1 week shy of 2 years. All three of those projects might not come together this year, or at all, particularly as collaborations set up a whole bunch of additional hurdles, but I’m excited about them. If nothing else, I just want to get the first draft of that Crisp novel written, anything more will be gravy.

2018 is also the year that I really focused on reading more non-fiction. I still hugely value fiction because there is plenty more for me to learn in prose writing, and because writing is a conversation, but since Killing Gravity was published I’ve also seen the value in reading things I normally wouldn’t, in reading non-fiction that could feed into my projects, and in actively trying to learn more about the world.

Even though I read plenty of great books, the two that stand out in my mind are Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon, and Brooke Bolander’s The Only Harmless Great Thing. These two books not only grabbed me, like many of the others did (Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck and Omar Robert Hamilton’s The City Always Wins come to mind), but they also taunted me by saying “You’ll never write something this multi-faceted/multi-layered/complex/precise/good/etc.” With three intertwined timelines/stories, The Only Harmless Great Thing is precisely wrought and utterly phenomenal, cramming an awful lot in to such a slim volume. And with it’s nested stories, deep, deep narrative layers, and utterly unique voices, Gnomon is so good that if you’re a writer it will make you kind of hate Nick Harkaway. I still don’t love the ending, but at the same time I see why it was the only way he could have written it. The size of it might put some people off, but it is simply stunning. I really don’t know how Harkaway did it.

So, 2019. In the short-term, it’s going to involve a lot of work editing Repo Virtual, but after that, I’m excited and hopeful about these next three projects. Wish me luck.