For Nevermore – Furious Fiction September 2020

Hi again – that’s right, two shorts in one day! After my *ahem* hilarious (?) attempt last month, this time it got a little dark again. The prompt was a visual (image looking off the back of a boat), with a requirement to start the first word with SHO, and include the words score, slice, sprinkle, stamp, and switch. And. . . I managed to get longlisted again! Huzzah!

Also, as a content warning, this does have a few references to DV and attempted suicide. Not fun topics.

For Nevermore

Should anyone ask, tell them I died. Tell them you tried to save me, tell them I finally gave up. Tell them whatever the hell you want. I don’t care. Or I wish I didn’t, and hope someday I’ll stop grieving for the boy I knew before. Back before the fear of you slowly crept in, before the horror of realising, you were proud of what you did. That you enjoyed it. You called me weak, mocking my sliced flesh, the laughter cutting far deeper than any razor.

Neither of us are laughing now though. Some dolphins swam by earlier, scores of them leaping ahead of the bow, and I smiled for a moment. I almost laughed too, but as I wiped the ocean spray from my face, the smile went with it. It reminds me that I’m free, and that you no longer have any part of my life. I want to be happy with that, but you have dictated every part of my best decades. Or rather, what should have been my best. I grieve to lose you, the switch my grief towards lost years by your side. Everyone else seemed to know you, yet with me . . .every cruel word, every spiteful act was sprinkled with just enough hope to make me stay. After all, I was the problem, wasn’t I? That’s why no-one else would have me.

But still, I do miss you. I wish you could hear the silence of the night sea, taste the salt in the air, and marvel at the pink-orange sunsets. Even on the rough days there is a raw beauty to it all. As though the ocean is reminding us that thousands of years of technological advances mean nothing if she’s in a mood.

In part, I wish you were here. It sickens me that I feel that way, but that was the whole point, wasn’t it? Stamp such authority on my life that I needed it. Make you feel like . . .I don’t know. Like you were the man your father was? Like you were in control of something? I never worked it out. I don’t even know if there was a reason, or you are just like that. Was I a plaything, some kind of entertainment?

Whatever I was, I don’t care anymore. And I don’t care how much of that is a lie, I will tell myself the same thing until I believe it, regardless of the reality. Anything can be true for a given value of truth, can’t it?

And my new life will be mine, regardless of how painful the process is. It’s the pain of a new life coming into the world. Without you. Without the old me.

So should anyone ask, tell them I died. Because the truth – for a given value thereof – is that I have. The man you knew no longer exists. He has died an unremarkable death at your ‘loving’ hands.

Yours for nevermore,

Harold.

Just a joke – Furious Fiction August 2020

Hi all, its been a while. I’ve been deep in the rabbit hole of my dissertation, writing and rewriting. Looking forward to getting it done and getting some rest. . .or maybe signing myself up for another course. Because apparently I don’t like having any spare time.

Just kidding. Not about signing up for a course, I definitely did that, but I’m super excited to be part of the next 6-month AWC Write Your Novel course, and looking forward to developing the creative part of my dissertation into a full-blown novel.

But on the topic of ‘Just kidding’, I haven’t shared a Furious Fiction entry for the last couple of months either, so this one is a little late. I don’t recall too many of the conditions apart from the ‘humourous’ requirement. Those who have read my work before know that humour isn’t really my thing. It isn’t that I don’t like it, its that humour is HARD! So I interpreted a little this month and made it about concepts of humour instead. Its only a short piece, but I wanted to capture one of my pet hates – when someone tried to defend an action or statement with, ‘It was just a joke, I was just kidding!’ So I focussed on that. Hope you enjoy!

A blast of cold water shot out of an exotic, plastic flower on the driver’s jacket as Jake stared at the bright red nose and wig. This had to be a setup. It couldn’t be his Uber. Yet checking the car details – a pale green Volkswagen, personalised plates of ‘M.A.’ – it all seemed to match.

‘Good to go?’ The clown took a drag of his cigarette.

Jake shoved the remainder of a sandwich – a quick snack before tonight’s party – in his mouth and nodded.

‘So who booked you? Who’s the prankster?’ The driver shrugged, flicking the cigarette butt before waddling towards in the car in his oversized shoes.

‘Was it Steve?’

‘Keith.’

‘Keith?’

‘Keith.’

Did he know a Keith? A vague memory of a quiet kid from school surfaced, but Jake hadn’t heard of him for years. Didn’t he die or something?

A shock exploded up Jake’s arm as he grabbed the door.

‘Clown car, whaddya expect. All good, buzzer’s off now’ The driver coughed, spitting a wad of phlegm onto the road. Jake reached gingerly for the door, opening it to a miasma of cigarette smoke. This ‘Keith’ guy must have a twisted sense of humour.

‘You know this Keith?’ the driver asked as the car spluttered to life and Jake tried to make himself comfortable on the lumpy seat.

‘Nope.’

‘Said he went to school with ya. Funny bugger, loves a punchline.’

‘I mean, yeah, there was a Keith, I think. Weird guy, never had much to do with him.’

Keith… if it was the same one, why hire the clown now?

‘Hey, you’re meant to turn left here!’ Pulling his phone out, Jake turned to show the driver the route.

‘See? Its – ‘ A white mass smashed into his face, a sickly, chemical sweetness seeping into the corners of his mouth and cutting him off. A tiny fringe of darkness curled at the edges of his vision, pausing momentarily as though to allow Jake to appreciate the terror of the situation, before taking him entirely.

Jake woke, still dizzy, facing to a tombstone.

Keith Geoffrey Harris, 1998-2016

‘Remember him now?’

Memories flashed of a small, weedy kid. Pushed around, teased a little… but nothing serious. It was all in fun. Just a joke, right?

Jake tried to run. His legs, his arms though… nothing was responding. Shit

‘Calm down, I ain’t gonna kill ya.’ The clown lit another cigarette, opening the boot with nicotine-stained gloves. Jake’s eyes widened – staring back from the Volkswagen were multitudes of faces, far too many than should ever fit, all sobbing and wailing, pleading for release.

‘Clown car,’ coughed the driver, ‘Fits hundreds in there.’

Tears streamed down Jake’s face. He barely remembered Keith. He hadn’t exactly been kind, but it was just kids joking around, right?

‘You know the funniest aspect of a joke?’ The clown lifted Jake as he spoke, throwing him into the boot with the myriad of moaning faces. ‘Funniest thing, is who gets the last laugh.’ 

WordCon Day 5 – The Glorious End

For previous days, links below.

WorldCon Day 4 – and the, er. . .Hugos

WorldCon Day 3 – and Brisbane 2025

WorldCon Day 2 – The Socialising. . .kind of

WorldCon Day 1 – The Rambling

After Saturday’s post though, I want to make something clear – for the vast majority of the Con, I had an absolute blast. One thing I really appreciated is that the con ended how it began for me – with a bunch of fascinating panels with engaging panelists and attendees that held refine and inform my own writing.

That said, I woke still pretty deflated from the Hugos. Some people have suggested anger is a more appropriate response, but me and anger are not a great combination, so I prefer to celebrate the strong lists, the amazing winners, and the speeches. Other aspects need to be learnt from, and analysis of those elements is on a repeat loop in my head. It might be selfish, but I want to keep helping with the Hugos, and I never want to be attached to the kinds of things that were said outside of the winners’ speeches. To that end, I will try to learn from the horrific, but focus on the positives. The Hugos should be about the fans, and the winners are included in that category. Toastmaster is a service to those fans. That service might be meant as an honour, but it comes with obligations and responsibilities, not self-indulgent rights.

So that’s all I’ll say about that – the rest of my focus will be listening and improving to ensure as much as I can, I will be able to push the focus towards the fans in future ceremonies.

With all that going through my head, I missed the first panel of the day. But good news, its all available for another week, so I can still chase that up.

The first panel I did make was Screenwriting 101. I’m not a screenwriter, but its an area I’ve always wanted to get into. The idea of doing an anthology of shorts is absolutely on my bucket list, and now seems to be a better time than any to start learning how to get that done. Key take aways were that, ‘You’re a genius’ is Hollywood for ‘Hello’, and to register all scripts with WGA for protection. Slightly concerning takeaways, but still, useful. There were others as well – a few tips on how to stand out, how to find a niche, and challenge (that I’m sure wasn’t intended) to write a weird horror RomCom.

Challenge accepted.*

The second panel I attended was Military SF with Joe Haldeman. This was a particularly personal one for me, and it did a great job of discussing what matters in military science fiction. The idea that we write it from the context of our own – such as fleets fighting a Naval force in space, and by extension cloaked battles were submarine battles in space.

One thing that really stood out though was the humility and respect with which Joe spoke. Maybe it was because it was in contrast to others of a similar demographic over the con, but Joe was willing to contribute from his own experience and past, while openly acknowledging he was (in his own words) a ‘historical relic’. Now, I’m not sure that’s the case; much of the advice he was giving on the focus of relationships and growing a critical mindset as part of the soldier’s character development.

While I don’t think the ‘historical relic’ is completely accurate, I do appreciate that he seemed to be subtly pushing people to looking at the future of writing and the future of science fiction. Also, Kin-Ming Looi’s Babylon Five setup was amazing.

The next panel was one that focussed on the technical side of virtual cons. It was interesting, and very helpful in looking at the Aus 2025 bid, but much of the technical side probably isn’t that relevant to the con. What I will say is that a key take away for me was the pivotal requirement for integration of a number of different systems. Also, regarding those systems – sometimes some budgetary pain for the sake of a professional frees up many volunteers and efforts for other elements. More expensive, but less stressful and a less resource heavy.

My final session is one that was probably one of the best ways to end the con – a two hour documentary on the legacy of Ursula K. Le Guin.

The doco is apparently available on Amazon Prime (which I can’t check because I don’t have it anymore), and I thoroughly recommend it. From her childhood, to her education, family, and works. It interviews Le Guin herself, in which she admits to the fear of accepting awards and delivering scathing acceptance speeches, she discusses what she did wrong and how she grew in her writing, and beautiful recitals of her own poetry.

It also left me with one question that has played at the back of my mind ever since the Astounding award was given its name last year – why is there no Urusla K. Le Guin award, scholarship, or other formal recognition within the industry? She won I think seven Hugos, six Nebulas, the World Fantasy Award, a bunch of Locus awards, and a bunch of formal literary accolades – yet there is a scholarship with Oregon University and that is all. She has arguably redefined the way we look at science fiction and fantasy, enabling a more accessible genre, and forced people to take it seriously (though this is an ongoing battle). Maybe its just the fan in me planting a whole bunch of bias, or maybe I’ talking in ignorance and something dies exist out there. But if it doesn’t, I think that we, as a community, need to be able to recognise her contribution in some kind of perpetual way. Maybe it isn’t the time, or maybe there are others from more marginalised communities we need to recognise first. I don’t know. But she stands out as a giant of talent, bravery, and change to me. I think that should be recognised somewhere.

But anyway, on following this I did what is appropriate at the end of a Con. I went and got a comfortable chair, a glass of Dubliners, and hung out in the virtual bar for a bit. It was a bit quiet to start with, but soon a bunch of local Kiwis appeared which resulted in a nice, quiet, decompression from the week.

In the end, there were some great experiences and I met some fantastic people. Yes, there was a horrific butchering of a role by an actual historical relic, but to focus on the winners, the future of SFF looks fantastic. Learning and networking alike were far more exhausting and successful than I ever expected and the technical execution was not flawless, but ridiculously well done as the first virtual WordCon. For New Zealand, I hope this is their legacy. For me, I’m just glad that overall, I got to enjoy my first ever WorldCon, even if it was from the comfort of my own home.

Onward to Washington – likely also from the comfort of my own home.

~Nathan

*Challenge pitch:

‘All Kraken wants is a breeding partner – they didn’t mean to find love. Now they must try to reveal their true form to their lover, without the lover freaking out – or worse, attracting the attention of their lover’s tentacle obsessed younger sibling. Octodad meets The Little Mermaid

WorldCon Day 4 – and the, er. . .Hugos

Hey, so this is coming out a bit earlier than usual because I am absolutely exhausted and probably won’t have the capacity to do this later.

Also, because I think its important to address my first ever Hugos, one in which I was able to participate in behind the scenes.

For those that didn’t see it, Arkady Markady’s speech really summed it up in her acceptance speech for Best Novel. To wildly paraphrase, she described the night as a contrast between a simplified, nostalgic past and a complex, difficult, and exciting present and future. There wasn’t anything malicious in the ceremony, but the throwbacks to the 1950’s and 1970’s award ceremonies was. . . problematic. Let me make this clear – I hold a lot of privilege, and am pretty hard to unnerve. But even I felt uncomfortable in much of it, and felt that it would probably have made plenty of others even more uncomfortable, upset, or worse.

But there was an up side. Speeches like that of R.F. Kuang calling out the problems in entering the writing world as a woman and a marginalised community – the harassment, pigeon-holing, and racim – and that of Jeanette Ng (who by all rights needs to be nominated for a 2021 Related Work Hugo for her acceptance speech) were amazing. Ng’s speech might not ripple into another name change for an award as her 2019 speech did, but it was just as powerful. And as is becoming tradition (twice is tradition, right?) she ended with an awesome hat.

In that sense, it really was a Hugo in two parts. George’s stories were clearly dear memories to him, but talking so highly of people who are known to have massively damaged diversity in SFF was (to put it mildly) a failure to really understand the modern SFF community.

This isn’t meant to be a criticism of George, but if we take out the diversity in the award winners of 2020 (link here), we can list maybe three or four winners. The classic gatekeepers kept out the voices of so many literary masters who will now never be known. They were Georges idols and peers. They are probably great memories and stories for him. But they are a reminder of damaging people in a damaging time that continues to impact modern works.

As someone who was involved in the show, and someone who both attended and contributed for the first time, it was an eyeopening experience. It might be a little bias of me, but I don’t want to put any hate on the volunteer team either. Having seen the work that went in behind the scenes, I felt genuinely bad for some of the people who had their work represented this way. I don’t know what opportunities or skills they had to change what was the final show, but I do hope that for Washington 2021, Chicago 2022, and WorldCons in the foreseeable future learn to look forward, rather than relish a selective past in the way they organise future ceremonies.

~Nathan

Links to previous days:

WorldCon Day 1 – The Rambling

WorldCon Day 2 – The Socialising. . .kind of

WorldCon Day 3 – and Brisbane 2025

WorldCon Day 3 – and Brisbane 2025

Evening all!

Another day, another early morning with tech and script checks for the Hugos. Really keen to see these done for real tomorrow, and REALLY hoping we can pull off the first digital-only ceremony with minimal hitches!

Regarding the day’s events though, I had the pleasure of hearing local Canberra author Sam Hawke read part of her Ghost Novel – the unpublished manuscript that was meant to follow City of Lies, before another path was taken.

City
Image: samhawkewrites.com

Before that though was a group for networking, which while I thought it would be a session on networking, it was actually one better – the practical experience. A room full of like-minded writers, publishers and editors all looking to connect, which like the bars last night, was something I thought I would miss out on at a digital con. The other advantage was that when I had to leave for ‘How to Create Believable Characters in Unbelievable Situations’ with Charlie Jane Anders. The take away from this was all about the experiences, relationships, and traumas of a character. No matter how weird, wacky, or wonderful we make someone, these things give them grounding and enables at least some kind of relating to and understanding of the character.

This is where the day went a bit pear shaped – things happened, everyone is ok, but I had to put the Con aside for a bit. I managed a bit of the Fairy Tale Contract Law (in which we determined Fairies want the eldest for the inheritance, the youngest always completes the quest because once they’re done there’s no need for more kids, and that the Fairy Mafia is run by the Goosefather).

But the BIG thing that happened was the evolving of a discussion that had begun on day one.

In short, I made a comment about Canberra running for WorldCon 83 as Yes We CanCon 2025. Apparently someone else – in fact a few other people – had a similar idea, and a mutual friend put us and a bunch of others in a room to discuss the idea seriously. While Canberra unfortunately doesn’t have the capacity just yet, Brisbane does. So it’s official – we’ve started the wheels turning for Aus2025 in Brisbane.

Now, much of this discussion happened over the bar, which may have inspired my bid for a logo:

Huggles

Thankfully, the far more talented Kat Clay came up with a better temporary logo – there are a few other elements we want to incorporate, but they need to be done properly. That said, I think Kat’s design is a pretty darn good. So without any further rambling from me, go find it, go support it, and lets get behind the first Aussie WorldCon since 2010!

 

Bris Twitter

 

WorldCon Day 2 – The Socialising. . .kind of

Evening all!

Good news: The day 2 recap is a little more organised than Day 1.

Bad news: . . . I did a bunch less stuff because I was hanging out in the chats, doing the whole socialising thing.

But anyway, onto the day!

First of all was a slightly different experience – rehearsing the Hugos. I originally signed up as a volunteer because as it’s my first WorldCon, I figured it’s a good way to throw myself into the convention. Turns out, it still is, albeit among a more technical crowd. Its certainly been an eye opening experience to what goes on behind the scenes, and I’m keen to see the final result (while REALLY hoping I don’t screw anything up).

Three sessions I went to were readings; Joe Haldeman, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Becky Chambers, and intermingled with the panels and Retro Hugo ceremony. I’ve read the first two, but it was a bit of a new experience to listen to them read. For the Becky Chambers reading, it was my first introduction to her work, and it’s now pretty clear why she draws such a crowd. I won’t discuss these too much as these are pretty straight forward.

Regarding the Retro Hugos, this year for 1945, unfortunately I couldn’t really get the stream to work. But I’ve heard it was great, and get the opportunity to check out the video later. For the results, they are recorded here.

What I did get to was modern criticisms on Science Fiction, with Canberra’s own Cat Sparks. Locus Magazine was well represented on the panel, and gave some great advice on professional critique vs reviews.

I also went to the Democratisation of Access to Space course. I’ve just started putting together a non-fic article on the question of a modern Space Race, and there were some really good stats that came out of it. The G8+China owning 89% of new space organisations, and 88% of the world’s space budget. The analysis of democratic index applied to science fiction worlds of the future, from Start Trek, to the The Expanse, to Elysium, was fascinating.  The rest didn’t quite go the direction I was hoping for, but was interesting nonetheless, and I’m looking forward to reading the paper that goes alongside it.

What To Do Until Your Ship Comes In was fantastic, made in no small part better by the first six minutes threatening to turn into Proud Dad Hour by Sean McMullen talking about fellow panelist Catherine S McMullen. What I really liked about this though was the different avenues panelists took to their path – throwing themselves into the world in which they wanted to work, taking work that gave them the space to think, or just taking ones that gave them control over hours – meant there were many paths for people to follow. Importantly though, were the points that none were perfect. Sacrifices were made, and if you’re happy to make them, fine, but it can be damaging to ignore them. Oh, and don’t expect your ship will come in. Work for it, but don’t rely on it.

Next was yet another favourite – Asian Women of Horror: The Experience of Perpetual “Otherness” Through the Lens of Dark Fiction. This might not be one that would immediately seem to appeal to me, or even be targeted at my demographic, but anything that looks through the lens of dark fiction or discussed the Other is immediately on my list. And this had both. Not only that, but it featured Prema Arasu, who is fast becoming an academic I have the highest respect for. Her perspectives on the monstrous being expressed in specific ways, and the idea of negotiating otherness as one who is in a small diaspora were not only enlightening, but also play directly into my own studies. If these topics interest you as well, look for her PhD to be completed in a couple of years. Should be a good one.

Now, at this point a few things happened. First of all, I started making a curry only to discover the past is meant to sit overnight. Then I discovered I that I had forgotten to eat all day, but my amazing wife who always takes care of me had already ordered me dinner. Then we had another delivery – a vacuum chamber and pump that I can use to make better dice! Yay!

Something else happened here as well though that was much more con-like, and I really appreciated more than I thought I would. I went to the virtual bar, and started chatting, only to find some great conversation among fans and writers alike.

I’ve really enjoyed the virtual concept so far, but I miss meeting new people. I didn’t think it would be possible to wander into a Discord and start talking to strangers, but it was fun, meaningless conversation that really gave the feel of an in-person con. It also lead me to the next two events – a book launch of Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume 2 and another for Sally McLellan’s Somewhere Else.

In all, it was a smaller, slower day. But the result of that was that it was far less hectic, led to some great socialisation, and now I have s batch of curry paste, just waiting to be thrown over something tomorrow.

~Nathan