Some Stories from 2020 for Your Consideration

Ahead of the close of Hugo nominations, I thought it might be nice to write up a quick reminder about the two novelettes which I published in 2020. Both are pieces I published in Interzone and both are eligible for nomination this year if you are interested in doing so!

First up is ‘Cofiwch Aberystwyth’ (Interzone #286, March-April 2020) which is a near-future post-apocalyptic tale of three young urban explorers – Mila, Sigrid, and Annabel – visiting the town of Aberystwyth (where I teach!) years after a nuclear attack on the west coast of Wales. Over on Twitter, Avila Books called it a “perfect companion story” to Manon Steffan Klopp’s Llyfr Glas Nebo.

Though one or two readers have pointed out that the piece’s deserted streets have taken on a different relevance during the pandemic lockdowns of the past twelve months, ‘Cofiwch Aberystwyth’ began life as, in many way, a post-Brexit story:

How had lively Aberystwyth, a centre of culture and literature, become this ruined shell? The simple answer was that it suffered a terrorist attack. But of course the perpetrators were not the brown-skinned mullahs or disaffected dishwashers targeted by the “Go Home” vans of the Home Office or the “Hostile Environment” policy of the government at large. Instead they were the cream of Eton and Oxford and the Royal Navy College in Dartmouth. They were skilled technicians who’d had their politics distorted pint by pint. They were mutineers. 

While politics are the backdrop to that piece, the state of the world for the past four years is much more to the forefront of my anti-fascist novelette ‘Make America Great Again’ (Interzone #287, May-June 2020), which follows a Detroit reporter named Jefferson Dodds as he travels to rural Michigan to investigate stories of a returned alien abductee against a backdrop of contemporary far-right violence. Reviewer Des Lewis called it “a heartfelt and powerful work. It needs to be read by everyone”.

I think it’s fair to say that this is an angrier story than ‘Cofiwch Aberystwyth’, one which originally began with the question ‘How the Hell do we still have Nazis?” and grew from there:

Jefferson sat in ZeeZee’s that evening scrolling through social media. He saw the usual gloating and outrange trending across all the expected hashtags and accounts. He saw Alt-Right fan-fiction masquerading as history. He saw elected representatives gaslighting their constituents. He saw women sharing stories of abuse only to be mocked or belittled. He saw people crowdfunding for insulin and surgeries. He saw tone-policing from the most spiteful and vulgar corners of the internet. He saw hate speech masquerading as free speech. He saw videos of flooded cities and photographs of storm-flattened towns. He saw ideologues becoming yes-men and yes-men becoming ideologues. He saw how violent rhetoric against critics of the government had escalated to physical assaults. He saw homegrown terrorists radicalized by the supposed leader of the free world. He saw the administration scaremongering about caravans of – Jefferson laughed darkly – ‘aliens’ as they trudged through swamps a thousand miles away. Again and again he saw lies uttered without any consequence. Again and again he saw the media denounced as traitors.

Both of these novelettes were longlisted for the British Science Fiction Association awards in 2020!

‘Cyberstar’ Published in Interzone


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).


Other posts you may be interested in…

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.


Other posts you may be interested in…

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.



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.


Other posts you may be interested in…

‘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).


Other posts you may be interested in…

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.


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.


Other posts you may find of interest:

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.


Other posts you may find of interest:

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.


Other posts you may find of interest:

Now Available: The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume Eight

Year's Best Science Fiction and Fantasy - Vol 8I’m pleased to say that Johnathan Strahan’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year (volume eight) has just been published by Solaris. The anthology includes my story ‘The Irish Astronaut’ (shortlisted for this year’s Sturgeon award) along with work from K J Parker, Neil Gaiman, Yoon Ha Lee, Joe Abercrombie, Sofia Samatar, Greg Egan, E Lily Yu, Geoff Ryman, M Bennardo, Ted Chiang, Ramez Naam, Priya Sharma, M John Harrison, Richard Parks, Lavie Tidhar, Thomas Olde Heuvelt,  James Patrick Kelly, Benjanun Sriduangkaew, Eleanor Arnason, Ian R Macleod,  Charlie Jane Anders, An Owomoyela, Karin Tidbeck, Madeline Ashby, Caitlín R Kiernan, Robert Reed, and Ian Mcdonald (I have previously blogged a more complete breakdown of the contents here).

To quote the cover: “From the inner realms of humanity to the far reaches of space, these are the science fiction and fantasy tales that are shaping the genre and the way we think about the future. Multi-award winning editor Jonathan Strahan continues to shine a light on the very best writing, featuring both established authors and exciting new talents. Within you will find twenty-eight incredible tales, showing the ever growing depth and diversity that science fiction and fantasy continues to enjoy. These are the brightest stars in our firmament, lighting the way to a future filled with astonishing stories about the way we are, and the way we could be.

You can order a copy from Solaris online here or pick one up at all good bookshops.


Other posts you may find of interest:

‘Diving into the Wreck’ published in Interzone

The relevant pages of Interzone #252

Two relevant pages from Interzone #252

I’m happy to say that my story ‘Diving into the Wreck’ has just been published in the current (May 2014)  issue of Interzone (#252) accompanied by a beautiful painting by Wayne Haag.

This is a near-future story about an exo-archaeologist searching for the remains of the Eagle module on the Moon, the actual capsule in which Armstrong and Aldrin travelled to and from the lunar surface (no, we don’t know where its ascent stage is). In the process he is forced to confront his feelings about the death and legacy of his wife, an historian of the Space Age who believed that some things should remain mysteries.

There’s a lot of me in ‘Diving into the Wreck’. The settings range from the hills of west Limerick above where I grew up, to the University of California at San Diego where I was part of the Clarion Writers’ Workshop, to an apartment overlooking the shores of Galway Bay where I lived while writing the story. And the moon, of course; the same moon that watches over all those places and has for so long fueled my interest in astronauts and their adventures.

The story’s title is borrowed from the well-known Adrienne Rich poem about the past, about the power and importance of our personal narratives, and about ‘the wreck of obsolete myths,’ in Margaret Atwood’s words (The New York Times Book Review, 1973). It seemed a good fit for a story about recollection and the value of modern myths in the era of space exploration, especially given the characters’ belief in the necessity of understanding ‘the old stories before embarking on a journey to change them’ (as Judith McDaniel has written of Rich’s poem; Reconstituting the World, 1978).

Interzone #252 also contains stories by Neil Williamson, Katharine E.K. Duckett, Oliver Buckram, Claire Humphrey, and Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, along with Andy Hedgecock’s interview with Williamson and 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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