‘Cyberstar’ Published in Interzone

cyberstar

In addition to recent publications in Science Fiction Studies and the ‘Futures’ page of Nature, I’m very happy that my story ‘Cyberstar’ has recently appeared in the February-March issue (#280) of Interzone. It’s a creepy tale of a space monk dismembered by his fellow solar cultists and transformed into a cybernetic missionary whom they launch into the Sun to meet God. It’s been getting some great reactions (for example here and here) and is beautifully illustrated by Richard Wagner. ‘Cyberstar’ is my third publication in Interzone and takes place in the same universe as my previous story for the magazine, ‘Freedom of Navigation’. I hope you enjoy it!

‘Cyberstar’ is perhaps not the most obviously Irish of my stories, but the fingerprints are certainly there. The story’s space monastery, a pair of spinning asteroids linked by a tether and named the Skelligs, are for instance a sci-fi take on the monastic islands by that name which lie off the coast of County Kerry (you may recognise them as a filming location from Star War: The Last Jedi). Equally, the illuminated manuscript carried by the Abbot in the story draws on a long Irish history of ornate and symbolic medieval gospels, the best known example being the Book of Kells.

Interzone #280 also contains stories by Maria Haskins, Nicholas Kaufmann, Sarah Brooks, and Shauna O’Meara, along with the usual book, cinema, and DVD reviews. The issue can be purchased via TTA Press (and they, in turn, can be followed via Twitter).

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New Story: ‘Reach Out and Touch Someone’ on the Futures page of Nature

Reach out and Touch Someone

Illustration by Jacey

It was something of a Valentine’s Day treat last month to have my story ‘Reach Out and Touch Someone’ published on the ‘Futures’ page of the science journal Nature (my second piece here). The story follows an evolved human race as they spread throughout the Universe in the far future, transforming themselves both physically and culturally as they fly free in space. You can read it for free at this link.

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Two New Comedy Stories…

I’m very pleased to have had a pair of new comedy stories published in the last month or so, one a space opera, one a piece of Brexit satire…

‘Old School: An Oral History of Captain Dick Chase’:

UFO7Published in Unidentified Funny Objects #7, ‘Old School’ is a far-future comedy about how the science fiction genre has changed over time. The story’s protagonist is (to paraphrase Wilson Tucker) the proverbial ‘hacky, grinding, stinking, outworn, spaceship pilot’ of old, an insensitive Captain Kirk-ish figure who is revived from hibernation by a diverse and inclusive group of contemporary space opera characters who reflect modern readers and writers. Together they confront an existential threat to humanity and, in the process, our hero (I use the term loosely) finds a way to work with those he previously disregarded (elements of the story are inspired by contemporary debates within the SFF community). ‘Old School’ is presented as an oral history to play up the absurdity of Dick Chase’s behaviour in mockumentary fashion. It was a whole lot of fun to write. It’s got puns, it’s got SFF references galore, and it’s got a bit of commentary on the state of the field. I hope you enjoy it!

Pick up a physical or ebook copy of Unidentified Funny Objects #7 here (scroll down for volume 7!) or via Amazon.

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‘Corkxit’:

The IncubatorMy Brexit satire ‘Corkxit’ was November’s featured story on The Incubator. It depicts the aftermath of a fictional referendum in which County Cork votes to secede from the Irish Republic. Though the vote was advisory, #CorkxitMeansCorkxit and now the real capital’s finest minds must figure out what to do about it. Beyond the obvious inspiration of contemporary politics, ‘Corkxit’ arises from discussions with my students about the use of second person narration and my realisation that I hadn’t tried that in a long time. People seem to have been enjoying it. Maybe you will too?

You can read ‘Corkxit’ online here at The Incubator.

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‘Freedom of Navigation’ published in Interzone

freedom-of-navigationI’m delighted that my story ‘Freedom of Navigation’ has recently been published in the January 2017 issue of Interzone (#268) accompanied by a striking illustration by Richard Wagner (I’m massively impressed by how much of the story he managed to capture). It is my second story published in Interzone.

‘Freedom of Navigation’ follows a cybernetic interplanetary fighter pilot dispatched with her drone escorts to enforce a territorial claim in the asteroid belt. It should be a routine mission but space is a dangerous place and when things go wrong the pilot finds herself outgunned over enemy territory…

The story’s origins lie in my curiosity about the widening gap between crewed and autonomous aircraft. The drones of the stories – the ‘Centaurs’ – are inspired by contemporary research on ‘human-machine teaming’. The term originally comes from chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, who described human players using chess software as an adviser, but ultimately making the final decision, as ‘centaur chess’. ‘Freedom of Navigation’ offers one possible outcome of such a marriage between computational speed and human judgement.

Interzone #266 also contains stories by Julie C. Day, Christien Gholson, Michael Reid, Mel Kassel, and T.R. Napper, along with the usual book, cinema, and DVD reviews. The issue can be purchased via TTA Press (and they, in turn, can be followed via Twitter here).

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Milford Writers’ Conference 2015

Last month I attended the week-long Milford Writers’ Conference for Science Fiction and Fantasy writers in beautiful north Wales. I was asked to write a reflection on it for the Milford website which I’m reposting here…

Milford Group, September 2015 L - R: Kari Sperring; Ben Jeapes, Jacey Bedford, Liz Williams, Dave Clements, David Turnbull, Val Nolan, Jackie Hatton, Tiffani Angus, Chris Butler, Sue Oke, Matt Colborn, Pauline Morgan (writing as Pauline Dungate), Heather Lindsley, Gus Smith.

Milford Group, September 2015 L – R: Kari Sperring; Ben Jeapes, Jacey Bedford, Liz Williams, Dave Clements, David Turnbull, Val Nolan, Jackie Hatton, Tiffani Angus, Chris Butler, Sue Oke, Matt Colborn, Pauline Morgan (writing as Pauline Dungate), Heather Lindsley, Gus Smith.

I gave serious thought to withdrawing from the Milford Writers’ Conference this year. I had, only ten days or so before the workshop was to begin, been appointed to a new job as lecturer in Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. Thus I was in the middle of organising my move across the Irish Sea, wrapping-up prior commitments back in Ireland, and getting to grips with the requirements and responsibilities which the new position entailed. I thought that perhaps a week at Milford would be too much considering everything else that was going on but, standing outside the Trigonos centre after the first day, watching satellites and meteors crisscross the north Welsh sky and already feeling the benefits of the intensive critiquing sessions, I knew I had made the correct decision to attend.

Some of this year’s participants I knew well (Tiffani Angus and I attended the Clarion Writers’ Workshop together in 2009; Heather Lindsley and I have knew each other through conventions for several years) while other such as Jacey Bedford and Susan Oke I had met briefly at cons and so forth. The majority of participants were new to me but, regardless, everyone here shared the experience of being a published Science Fiction or Fantasy writer, as well as the desire to further hone their creative practice via peer feedback and constructive criticism. No surprise so that friendships and professional contacts were quickly made during our week workshopping each other’s writing, dining together on the wonderful Trigonos food (yes, its reputation is well deserved!), and sharing a few drinks in the library each evening.

I am therefore pleased to report that my first Milford experience lived up to the conference’s reputation. Participants were not just excellent writers but highly perceptive readers of the work of others. The group functioned as a microcosm of our potential audience and was often illustrative of the different kinds of readers which one’s work will ultimately encounter (particular distinctions were evident between, say, those who want overt connections made for them in a story and those wishing to piece things together themselves, or those who prioritise scientific realism over poetic licence and vice versa). Many of the observations made have stayed with me in the weeks since the conference concluded. For instance, when our discussion wasn’t orbiting lagrangian points (which appeared in three stories, including mine; and luckily Dave Clements was on hand to address issues of physics) we often found ourselves on the topic of trees and their symbolism for writers of Fantasy and Science Fiction. As Kari Sperring put it, in what is perhaps my favourite remark from Milford 2015: “Trees bind time together. They run between the past and the future”.

For indeed, just as important as the critiquing workshops were these kinds of meandering group conversations over lunch or dinner. On any given day there was intellectual stimulation to be found in everything from the histories of Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism (thanks, Matt Colborn) to the fact that “cows got really, really big in the 1700s” (that one was Tiffani, fresh off four years of horticultural and agricultural research for her PhD). The informal stretches of Milford thus offered opportunities for the knowledge (and, for that matter, the particular nerdishness) of individual participants to shine through and, in many cases, spark ideas in others. Among the new-to-me information unspooled over the course of the week was an explanation of the mechanism whereby cannibalism basically leads to the same problems as BSE and the fact that the machine for making Pringles was invented by author Gene Wolfe.

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While I missed the Wednesday sessions (on account of a staff meeting at my new job some two hours down the coast), I was back in time for the Milford AGM that evening. I found this to be a mature and meaningful discussion of just how the conference intends to go forward, how it aims to attract participants from a wider range of backgrounds, and how the organisers take care to ensure that the event always ring-fences slots for new attendees.

Equally, the “Marketing Evening” – a discussion of what venues the participants thought the pieces workshopped throughout the week might be best submitted to – served to underline one of the great selling points of Milford: the pooling of knowledge and experience from a variety of published authors at various stages of their careers. The discussion of agents and editors was frank and beneficial, as was our discourse about both the “hot new markets” and the shifting moods of more established publications. The Marketing Evening was followed the next day by a group field trip to nearby Portmeirion, famous (as I’m sure you all know!) as the setting for the classic 1960s TV seriesThe Prisoner. This was a delight (I’ve always wanted to visit) even if it wasn’t strictly part of the workshop (!).

Of course Milford is not for everybody (I’m thinking of the kind of author – and we all know one – who reacts poorly to, for instance, a bad review; which is to say the unprofessional author). While robust Milford critiques are softened with an apologetic offering of sorts (a so-called “chocolate review”) they are also to be expected because the point of the exercise is to dismantle stories and make them better. If Milford was nothing more than a dozen people telling you that you are already great then it would be worthless. Instead it is a serious undertaking for authors who wish to improve their craft. As a writer and, for that matter, as a third level writing instructor, I found it an extremely valuable experience (and, if nothing else, it introduced me to the term “anti-ditto” which I have already begun using in my own workshops!).

I will definitely go back to Milford. Hopefully I will be more prepared for the heavy reading load on the next occasion (you know, by virtue of not moving my entire life to another country at the same time!) but, for now, I have returned with a wealth of meaningful feedback to fuel the revision of my submitted story. I imagine my fellow participants are all hunkered down in similar rewrites at present. I can’t wait to see where the work which they shared eventually appears in print.

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Two Recent Anthologies…

I’m delighted that a pair of fine volumes featuring work by yours truly have recently arrived on my desk.

Best of Electric VelocipedeFirst off, my Sturgeon nominated story ‘The Irish Astronaut’ comes home in The Best of Electric Velocipede, edited by John Klima, a retrospective collection from the much-missed journal which originally published the piece. ‘The Irish Astronaut’ follows an American pilot on a visit to the moon-like hills of Country Clare in the aftermath of a crash which has placed doubts over the future of the manned space programme.

The story finds itself in some really wonderful company here, with the Best of collecting thirty-four pieces of fiction and poetry from across the twelve years during which Electric Velocipede was published. Those familiar with EV will recognise the great verve and willingness to take risks which defined the magazine in this selection. This breadth of material renders the Best of eclectic in terms of style, however what never varies here is the quality of the work. A few of the pieces which stick with me the most include ‘Indicating the Awareness of Persons Buried Alive’, by Liz Williams, ‘∞o’ by Darin Bradley, and ‘The Beasts We Want to Be’ by Sam J. Miller, but there are also stories by Catherynne M. Valente, Ken Liu, Liz Williams, and many others. It’s a treat of a book… which I’d be saying even if I hadn’t contributed to it (honestly!).

You're Not AloneThe second anthology is You’re Not Alone: Thirty Science Fiction Stories from Cosmos Magazine, edited by Damien Broderick. This volume reprints ‘All the Wrong Places’, a comic story I wrote about the search for the Higgs Boson particle for the Australian popular science publication Cosmos. ‘All the Wrong Places’ was only my second story sale back in 2010 and I’m glad to see it back in circulation. Though of course, as the editor says in his introduction, the piece is ‘a jape which risked being undone by the march of science after its first publication’. While that’s just a risk of the sci-fi field (!), I’m confident that this particular wild particle chase still has something to offer even in light of CERN’s discoveries.

You’re Not Alone features contributions from Australia, New Zealand, England, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States. Many of the pieces are shorter than those in the Electric Velocipede collection, however the result is a no less varied or intriguing selection which ranges from Hard SF to more philosophical offerings. Standouts for me include Pamela Sargent’s ‘Not Alone’ from which the anthology takes its title, Mary Robinette Kowal’s ‘For Solo Cello, op.12’, and Liz Heldmann’s ‘Echoes’. But there are also stories from Joe Haldeman, Cat Sparks, the late Jay Lake, and a whole crop of newcomers. In that way, You’re Not Alone is a great read, yes, but also a measure of short science-fiction’s evolving identity and continuing vitality at the start of the twenty-first century.

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Year’s Best Science Fiction, Thirty-First Annual Collection

Year's Best Science FictionThis week sees the publication of Gardner Dozois’s thirty-first annual anthology The Year’s Best Science Fiction (St. Martin’s Press). I’m honoured to say that this year’s selection includes my Sturgeon-nominated story ‘The Irish Astronaut’ alongside work from the likes of Ian R. MacLeod, Sunny Moraine, the late Jay Lake, Geoff Ryman, Karl Bunker, Carrie Vaughn, Greg Egan, Allen M. Steele, Aliette de Bodard, Nancy Kress, Ken Liu, Martin L. Shoemaker, Jake Kerr, Sandra McDonald, Michael Swanwick, Stephen Baxter, Alexander Jablokov, Neal Asher, Lavie Tidhar, Sean McMullen, Ian McDonald, Melissa Scott, Brendan DuBois, and James Patrick Kelly (I’ve previously blogged a full breakdown of the contents here).

From the blurb: ‘The world of science fiction has long been a porthole into the realities of tomorrow, blurring the line between life and art. Now, in The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-First Annual Collection the very best SF authors explore ideas of a new world in the year’s best short stories. This venerable collection brings together award winning authors and masters of the field such as Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds, Damien Broderick, Elizabeth Bear, Paul McAuley and John Barnes. And with an extensive recommended reading guide and a summation of the year in science fiction, this annual compilation has become the definitive must-read anthology for all science fiction fans.’

Weighing in at 750 pages, The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty First Annual Collection can be purchased at all good bookshops or direct from the publisher here.

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