Tag Archives: short story

The Beast that Laid the Crystal Eggs

My short story appears in Aurealis Magazine, edition #103.

Beast

Artwork by Dion Hamill (www.dionhamill.com)

It was inspired by an Instagram post by Australian author, Alan Baxter, in which he had captured a row of large round bales of hay in a paddock at the bottom of a hill. He captioned it with a line about how they were like eggs, speculating on what sort of beast might have laid them there. It was a familiar scene to me, having grown up in rural Victoria, and so my mind set to working. That was some time ago now.

As the story was percolating in my head I was also hearing about my maternal grandmother’s experience. She was a Sydney girl who fell in love with a soldier returned from World War II. My grandfather’s service granted him the opportunity for a settlement on a dusty patch of dirt up by the Murray River, and so my grandmother found herself out on a red-dust vineyard, far from the city, with five children under five and few modern conveniences. I wondered about how that experience had shaped her, and how it had shaped her children, and how the strength of her will had been passed down through generations.

These ideas coalesced around an ambiguous setting, a rural Australia in which a strange beast and a headstrong girl might meet one night in a rain-soaked paddock.

If you’d like to check it out and support Aurealis (a great Australian SFF publication) you can purchase it for a couple of bucks here. It sits alongside a cool debut ‘AirBnB for bodies’ story by Mitchell Salmon and the tale of a brand-aware Superhero by Brian C Baer. You’ll need a (free to register) Smashwords account.

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Review: “Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies” (Short story)

I don’t normally review short stories because I read quite a few and I don’t often get time to reflect on them and write up those reflections here, but I’m making an exception, in part because this is a pretty exceptional story (and in part motivated by a tone-deaf review I read which seemed to miss the point of this story completely. I won’t link to it. If you’re desperate to know, trawl my Twitter feed for my reaction).

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies appears in Uncanny Magazine, Issue 13.

You can read it (or listen to it) here: http://uncannymagazine.com/article/talons-can-crush-galaxies/

issue13coverv2_large
(Cover art by Julie Dillon, www.juliedillonart.com)

I first read Brooke Bolander’s work with her rightfully acclaimed And You Shall Know Her By The Trail of Dead, which was published in Lightspeed Issue 57 (Feb 2015). That story went on to be a finalist for Nebula and Hugo and set a high bar.

And You Shall Know Her by the Trail of Dead - illustration by Galen Dara
(Art by Galen Dara, 2015, which accompanied Bolander’s story in Lightspeed, 57)

Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies is a much different story, and much shorter, but it packs much of the same punch.

Bolander has a talent for an opening. In And You Shall Know Her… that was in a first paragraph with deep hooks in it. Here, she has boiled that down to one sentence:

“This is not the story of how he killed me, thank fuck.”

One of the most remarkable features of this story is how compact it is. It comes in at barely more than 1,000 words, but it’s full to the brim. It’s as lean and muscular as a prizefighter, not a word wasted.

Bolander’s opening paragraph makes the thematic purpose clear. For all the otherworldly elements, (copper feathers, wing stubs, immortality, multiple realities, black holes and parallel universes, to name but a few), this is a story about our world: a world in which the victims of violence become anonymised and the perpetrators become celebrities, where women’s brutalised bodies are ignored at best, displayed as warnings or entertainment at worst, and where excuses are found for nice boys from good families.

But while the reader can make connections between this story and the Stanford rapist, the Steubenville rapists, the likes of Ted Bundy, this is not a story about them. It’s a story which deliberately and explicitly ignores any temptation to sympathise with, or even to explain or understand, guys like that. It doesn’t want to tell their tale. This is someone else’s story; not theirs.

With theme established, Bolander delivers the main narrative in sparse but descriptive detail. Each piece of information is a bullet-point on a list, and we as readers must bring these discrete facts together. We co-create the narrative. I’m not always convinced by this as a story-telling form, but this proves that the technique–done well–carries power.

The final paragraphs bring it all back together, and broaden the scope from the gritty detail to the epic scale suggested by the title.

This is an excellent short story. A galaxy full of stars for it, from me, provided it is a small galaxy with 5 stars in it (or a crushed galaxy, perhaps, wherein 5 stars remain).

 

 


‘Enfolded’ in Aurealis #78

Great news!

My short story, ‘Enfolded’, features in the latest (78th) edition of Australia’s longest running Fantasy and Science-Fiction magazine, Aurealis.

Aurealis-#78-cover-purple-sky-dragon_1

It’s a “bracing neo-noir” about a guy with a special power who thinks he has left his criminal past behind, only to find himself dragged back by fraternal loyalty.

It has been a goal of mine for some time to have my fiction grace these (electronic) pages. Aurealis has a great reputation for quality and is a well established part of the Australian spec-fic marketplace. In addition to new fiction, they provide great non-fiction material for readers and writers within the genre and beyond, and have thoughtful reviews of Australian and international work.

The 78th edition is available for download in a range of formats, including epub and mobi for ereaders. At only $3 Australian and less than $20 for a subscription, it’s great value.

https://aurealis.com.au/aurealis-78-is-here/

 


In the Supermarket (2014)

In the supermarket things are getting restless.

People shuffle in the queue for the self-scan machines, glaring passively, harrumphing at no one in particular, but pointedly and with feeling.

At the self-scan machines things are little better. Toes are tapped at tardy assistants. Red lights blink. Calm mechanical voices ask for items to be added or removed from the bagging area. Shrill human voices imprecate.

There is a man – short and sullen, overladen with fruit – who cannot pay for his rockmelon. An assistant finds it for him. It is under M, because it is a melon.

‘I have complained about this before. It is a rockmelon. It belongs under R.’

‘Not much I can do about it sorry.’

‘There is. You can record my complaint. I want to make an official complaint.’

Together they look to the complaints counter. It is oppressed by the crowd that has gathered there. Its defenders are inadequate, soon to be overwhelmed.

The assistant shrugs.

The sullen vegetarian snarls, his teeth clacking and his eyes all a-spark.

‘I’ve complained about this before. It’s not good enough. It’s a waste of your time and mine.’

The assistant shrugs.

The vegetarian’s eyes bulge. Veins rise on his neck, at his temples.

‘Excuse me,’ says a tall woman. Her body is a work of art, and a canvas. Lean and pretty. Coloured inks on her arms, her thigh, her décolletage. ‘There’s three machines not working.’

Red lights are blinking over the three machines.

‘Just a minute,’ the assistant says.

From somewhere in aisle three there’s a predatory howl.

The queue for the machines surges.

A display of produce crashes to the ground, shattering glass and spilling preserves and spreads marked down for quick sale.

At check-out number seven there’s a young girl’s scream.

At the complaints counter the splintering of wood and a panicked cry.

A fist in thrown.

Teeth spill, skipping across the polished floor.

A head strikes a counter with a wet crack.

There’s the smell of blood and violence in the air.

The vegetarian leaps upon the assistant, bears him to the ground where others rush in with boots and stomping feet for them both.

Someone tries to climb the bread aisle, to safety, but the whole thing topples and they fall into the surging mob.

Men are vaulting the complaints counter, clawing at their victims, bursting throats between their teeth.

I take my receipt and the goods I’ve purchased. I step away, through the automatic doors, past the buskers splintering their guitars against each other, past the collisions and chaos of the car park, to my car.

Best to get home. The kids will be wanting their dinner.


A Gordian Knot

Today I finished a short story that I started maybe two years ago and which I’ve been wrestling with on-and-off occasionally ever since. I had reached a sticking point, and I feel I may have solved the problem today.

When I write a short story it often starts with a character, or a scene. I have plenty of scratchings and notes of this sort which may never become short stories of their own. Some of them might be chiseled and shaped, or molded into new things and added to or inserted within another project or a different story.   Many of them remain as notes or scenes or character descriptions for characters who will never be given a story. Hopefully I’ll come back to some occasionally and expand on them.

This short story started out with two characters, young boys, our protagonist and his only friend. As I wrote it I reached a point where the two characters were, I feel, well developed and the relationship between them was well-defined with a few nuances. The lesser characters with whom they interacted were shallow, as is often required in a short story where an economy of words is essential, but I was overall happy with the characterisation.

The setting was part of the world I created for my novel “Exile”, so it was well developed. If anything it was perhaps over-developed for the needs of the short story. As with “The Green Monkeys” and “A Choice of Kings”, also set in this fictional world (“The Green Monkeys” also set in ‘Talamh’), there was a challenge in leaving out some of the irrelevant detail I had developed. This is sometimes a problem for Fantasy writers and authors. Once someone has created a highly-detailed alternative world there is a compulsion to tell your readership all about it. In detail. Too much detail. George RR Martin has spoken of how important it is to use only the details of the setting that are relevant to the plot, and invented only a few words of Valyrian or Dothraki (only those that the text required to demonstrate how the languages were different and foreign). Joe Abercrombie has spoken of his distaste for maps and his novels always reference their setting with a deliberately lack of specificity. Tolkein on the other hand created a meticulous history and several languages for Middle Earth. In truth the stories of Middle Earth, “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” were by-products. Tolkein was a professional philologist and his central concern was to develop languages, from these he created Middle Earth so that people could speak his languages; the narratives that resulted were never his intended goal, and while in many instances the detail of Tolkein’s setting is what set him apart and spawned his legion imitators really few people complained when the film adaptation cut whole chapters of Tom Bombadil out. It didn’t detract from the narrative at all.

The plot I also had mapped out. I don’t usually map a plot too early in my process. As I said the story will start as a scene or a character, I’ll build on that, hopefully develop a conflict and some complications and at that point sit down to map them out. In this instance I had an initiating circumstance, a conflict, rising complications, a conclusion, and a resolution. I knew what would happen, how each event would lead to the next, and how the story would end.

In short I had everything I needed: characters, setting, plot. And yet one scene was holding me up. I knew what needed to happen in the scene. I knew who was involved. I knew where in the narrative the scene belonged. I knew what brought the characters together at that point. I knew where they had to go after that scene… I just couldn’t write it. I tried. Several times. It always sounded naff. Not terrible. Kinda ‘passable’ but just… not good enough.

It was frustrating.

So today I took a different path. No more chiseling at the edges, no more gentle molding, no more sanding back or polishing, no more pulling at threads hoping the knot would unravel. I took the sword to it. I cut it right back, made the dialogue do a lot more of the heavy lifting, took out some unnecessary details and…

And I think it’s worked. Maybe I wake up in the morning and post a retraction. Maybe it was horrible and needs to be re-written, but for the first time I am confident that at least structurally it’s right. The drafting and revising process isn’t finished, but it’s close, and the story actually looks like a story now. There’s not a great big chunk missing out of the middle like there had been.

It’s called “To the Iron Hills”, and it’ll be between 7,500 and 8,000 words complete. I’ll post a couple of thousand words as an excerpt here soon, but I’m keeping most of this one up my sleeve for now and I’ll definitely be submitting it to some publication markets when it’s ready. I reckon this one’s a good one.