Sunburst

Yesterday the Sunburst Society released the shortlist for their 2016 awards. It’s the first year they’ve included short fiction, though they’ve had categories for adult and YA fiction for a while now. The formal title– Sunburst Award for Canadian Literature of the Fantastic—is an appealingly broad category that celebrates work from magic realism to hard SF, which is one of the reasons I like the award– there’s room for Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk, and Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and Thomas King’s The Back of the Turtle.

I’m pleased to say “The Glad Hosts” is on the list along with these other remarkable stories:

Charlotte Ashley’s “La Héron” in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Mike Donoghue’s “Stuck in the Past” in Abyss and Apex.

Catherine McLeod’s “Hide and Seek” in Playground of Lost Toys

Kelly Robson’s “Two Year Man” in Asimov’s Science Fiction.

Peter Wendt’s “Get the Message” in Second Contacts

When I saw the list I ran through a series of peculiar sensations, from yay! to this is probably a mistake, I bet they update the website soon with the right names to Second Contacts looks like a fantastic anthology and Damn, Kelly Robson is on fire and I’m so glad Lackington’s published that story. The next day I’m no longer sure about the “it being a mistake” part, but the rest stands. I’m also glad Lackington’s got the nod by way of “The Glad Hosts,” considering what an excellent editor Ranylt is, and how much work it is to launch a magazine.

sunburst+book

I love this era in SF book design & illustration.

The award is named after Phyllis Gotlieb’s Sunburst (1964), a compelling piece of Cold War SF & nuclear anxiety. I have this additional, sideways joy in the name, because I used the novel in the last section of my dissertation, which was about the Cold War, with references to civil defence, the DEWline, spy novels, and Camp X, so Gotlieb’s novel fit in nicely between my creative & critical ambitions. Unfortunately the footnote got snipped at the very end, along with reflections on Graham Greene’s spy fiction, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (sad truth: my footnotes were wayyyy better than the body of my dissertation– all the cool stuff was in the footnotes)

Oh– and I wrote “The Glad Hosts” with the help of an Ontario Arts Council grant, so I’m additionally pleased to give the OAC their money’s worth. I mean, at least on that story…

A Story About Shapeshifters & Fantasy Art

New story called “The Journey and the Jewel” up over at Sockdolager (an excellent magazine published by Alison Wilgus and Paul Starr).  I am always surprised by how consistent (not to say “repetitive!”) my stories are thematically, and this one covers a lot of familiar concerns. Forests. Grief. Families. Beaches. That’s pretty much my territory.

“The Journey and the Jewel” is also about that peculiar genre of the early 80s: the “armchair treasure hunt” book, something that reminds me of an ARG, an idea that arrived a little early, and that would have benefited from contemporary communications tech. The paintings in these books always remind me of Celestial Seasonings tea and the fantasy-and-science fiction section of the secondhand bookstore I used to visit in Duncan, BC when I was a kid. Unsettling high realism, sometimes, and dreamlike landscapes more strange than comforting.

This picture still makes me uncomfortable.

This picture still makes me uncomfortable.

Kit Williams seems to have originated the genre with Masquerade in 1979. We had a copy when I was little. I don’t know where it came from, but there were a few pages I found terrifying (I was just that kind of kid– I had to leave E.T. early because it was too scary). There was this one painting of the sun, a character in the story, who had been turned into a puppet and dropped on a beach at sunset, his limbs all twisted. I really didn’t like that picture. Because I was a bit of a scaredy-cat, the book ended up living in the top of the linen cupboard for most of my childhood.

It’s an interesting genre, though, and I can see why some of the other, unsolved examples have found a place online, where people can collaborate on their interpretations & theories. Over at the The Secret wiki people are trying to find ten jewels whose locations have been hidden (since 1982!) in paintings that remind me a lot of Kit Williams. I can see why they’re looking– an unsolved riddle, a still-lost treasure is appealing because the story remains unfinished, the end deferred. It’s made to be solved, right? So what happens to the story if it isn’t? “The Journey and the Jewel” is a kind of answer to the question.

Water Logic

Capricious published “Water Logic” back in December, in their second issue, but it’s now available for free. I hope that if you like it you’ll consider subscribing because it’s an interesting venture.

This is the second SF story I wrote, after “Lilacs and Daffodils,” when I was trying to relearn short fiction as a genre. It’s a bit painful to re-read because it’s so deeply embedded in the isolating obsessions of grad school. I have a friend who loves MR James because of the way he writes the pleasure of research, though his characters are often damned by their desire to know. I’m trying to get a little of that feel here: the way one can be seduced by research, or the possibility of really, truly understanding that complex, inaccessible thing that one has been pursuing through all those years of study:

Gabe had cultivated the monomaniacal perspective of the basement-dwelling graduate student, so it was easy to imagine a hydrospheric world-computer as vast as the index he had imagined. He reasoned that Dr Leukos had already begun it in the walls of the very building in which he sat, in the substance which he had drunk, and eliminated, and flushed away; in the city’s systems, its flora, the tender roots of grass, and the deep roots of black walnut and red oak, the nodes, the connections, the reservoirs in winter-dormant perennials, the memory of trees. His mind rushed outward through campus greenspace and city parks, the culverts and storm drains, the ravines.

It’s also about water integrators. Because those are pretty cool. And a poem I made up called “Arethusa.”  And those summer rain-storms in Toronto, the kind of that flood the streets in a couple of minutes and are as warm as bathwater.

I Just Think It Will Happen, Soon

A new story came out last week, this one up at Interfictions Online: A Journal of the Interstitial Arts, produced by the Interstitial Arts Foundation. It’s an organization that’s doing intriguing critical and creative work that explores the gaps between genres and forms.

The story is called “I Just Think It Will Happen, Soon.” It began as the “other half” to one that appeared in Interzone 250 last year, called “Lilacs and Daffodils.” That story is about a synthetic consciousness with inexplicable memories of a biological childhood that obsess it, even when it knows they can’t be true. This story is about human beings who seem to share the same synthetic memories, and are both burdened and entranced by them.

They don’t need to be read together, but I like to remember their connection.

There’s a lot of other great work in the Interfictions 6. The formal flexibility of Debbie Urbanski’s “A Primer on Separation”  and the historical texture of Amy Parker’s “Kingdom by the Sea” stood out for me, but I’m also pleased to see some experimental criticism. And “Old Ghosts” by Nneoma Ike-Njoku is an aboslute pleasure to read out loud.

 

“I Just Think It Will Happen, Soon” was written with the support of a grant from the Ontario Arts Council.

Unearthly Landscape by a Lady

A new story of mine is in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #184, called “Unearthly Landscape by a Lady.” It’s about a wealthy Victorian lady named Flora who does ladylike things like paint china teacups. It’s creepier than it sounds, since it’s a dark fantasy about empire: Flora’s paintings– her unearthly landscapes–may be conventional on the surface, but there’s violence in their depths.

This idea of a Victorian woman doing something unsettling with parlour crafts came came to me after re-reading Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. There’s a scene where Rochester quizzes his new employee about the paintings in her portfolio, which are full of corpses, shipwrecks, icebergs, and the aurora. He suggests she couldn’t possibly have dreamed up these unsettling images on her own:

“Where did you get your copies?”

“Out of my head.”

“That head I see now on your shoulders?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Has it other furniture of the same kind within?”

“I should think it may have: I should hope—better.”

Jane confides in us– her readers– regarding the pictures’ origins:

The subjects had, indeed, risen vividly on my mind. As I saw them with the spiritual eye, before I attempted to embody them, they were striking; but my hand would not second my fancy, and in each case it had wrought out but a pale portrait of the thing I had conceived.

“Unearthly Landscape by a Lady” started when I read that passage and imagined what might arise in the “spiritual eye” of a woman who seems conventional, but contains something terrifying.

 

ETA: For those who like to listen, the story is now up in the BCS Podcast!

 

 

“Unearthly Landscape by a Lady” was written with the support of a grant from the Ontario Arts Council.

Sometimes There Are Even Readers

Lackington’s published a story of mine in their last issue. It’s called “The Glad Hosts” and is one of several stories and images Ranylt Richildis selected to explore “Skins” as a theme. It is, according to readers, a piece of parasite body-horror.

I say “according to readers” because while I wrote the story because I’m curious about parasites, I did not consider it body horror until I saw the responses. Yes, it describes the transformation of a woman’s bodies in multiple ways, but horror?

After the issue went live, a friend of mine posted a link to a metafilter discussion which included a series of insightful and amusing responses that indicated yes, I had written a horror story while I thought I was writing a story about transformation and distance and family.

(I particularly liked this one: “Are there parasites around that will remove this story from my brain because it was horrifying?” from jeather)

Since then other people have responded in equally interesting ways. At Marooned Off Vesta there’s an extensive and considered discussion about free indirect narration and what it does to storytelling, as well as some good points about the challenges of authorial self-consciousness. Charlotte Ashley over at Apex makes some interesting observations about what the story says about subjectivity. There are similar points over at Susan Hated Literature, which suggest it’s a story about the limits of such subjectivity, and where (exactly) we locate the self.

This is all less about “The Glad Hosts” than it is a reminder to me that while my writing life is spent mostly alone doing work that is invisible and unread, there are actually people out there who might catch a story at the right moment and read it and respond. This makes me very happy because it makes me part of a conversation. And it leaves me feeling lucky, too, that Lackington’s exists as a place for us to meet up.

Sarah and the Body: A Sad (and maybe gross) Story About A Cyborg

Sarah and the Body” just went live in Scigentasy # 3.

It’s a sad story, so I feel like I should put a trigger warning on it– for body horror, for medical violence, and for the ravages of degenerative neurological disorders.

It’s about a cyborg, but it’s not what you’d call “hard” science fiction, and doesn’t present realist possibilities for bio-medical enhancement. When I was thinking about cyborgs, I was more interested in the physicality and the intimacy of their relationship with technology, which is a little different than our own, but only because it’s more obvious.  That blurred line– that interface– between what’s “us” and what’s “not-us” seems particularly relevant to me, now, with my enormous external & collaborative memory (you know, google), and my dependence on the products of industrialization. I mean, we’re all entwined with our machinery, all extend our perceptions and our abilities with pharmaceuticals and eyeglasses, bicycles and pacemakers and smartphones. The Cyborg just wears those enhancements where we can see them, and maybe has lost the opportunity to withdraw– or escape?– from her relationship with technology.