David Stevens

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Bardo Booker

In Uncategorized on October 18, 2017 at 4:58 am

I have not read the Booker prize winning Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders, but why should that stop me … from commenting on another book completely, The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson. The main connection between him and the Booker which springs to mind is that blurbs on books by Adam Roberts tend to quote Dr Robinson declaring “Adam Roberts should have won the 2009 Booker Prize”. Which I am happy to  accept as an assertion if it is a reference to Roberts’ “Yellow Blu Tibia” but not if it is in relation to “I am Scrooge: A Zombie story for Christmas”. Not because I do not like zombies, I do not share the Clarkesworld bias against the coming inheritors of the earth. (In fact, I wrote a sort of zombie story.)(1) I really liked “Yellow Blue Tibia”. And “Wolf Hall” actually won the prize, so, yes. (2)

I’m not a huge Dr Robinson (3) fan. Perhaps I was biased from an early age by what I recall as the dismissive discussion of some of his earlier works in Trillion Year Spree. I recall speed-reading Red Mars and more recently, Aurora. But I really enjoyed The Years of Rice and Salt, an alternative history where most of the population of Europe was killed by the Black Death, leaving room for Asia and the East to develop in a world absent European colonialism and so on. The divergence we see in our own history, the Triumph of the West (for now), technological differences and so on, are removed by the expedient device of removing all the westerners. I enjoy a lot of alternative history, and for someone who was then (and still is) reading various popular attempts at reasoning through the divergence, it was great fun to enter into Dr Robinson’s imaginings of other possibilities. Mongol hordes, massed Chinese fleets, a rise of Islam, a first world war that lasts for decades.Coupled with that was an interesting conceit – the novel takes us through a period extending beyond any human lifetime, and is populated by characters who continue to enter re-enter history after their deaths, with interluding episodes of them catching up together in the interim between incarnations, in the bardo. Hence the connection.

The chair of judges of the Booker remarked of Saunders’ novel that (and I am stealing from The Guardian here) “The challenge is actually part of its uniqueness. It is almost saying, ‘I dare you to engage with this kind of story, in this kind of way.’ It is incredibly rewarding. For us, it really stood out because of its innovation, its very different styling, the way it, almost paradoxically, brought to life these almost dead souls in this other world”.

Makes me want to read Lincoln in the Bardo. If reading it has led you to a desire to explore the bardo; if you are interested in challenges and uniqueness and innovation and, indeed dead souls, as well as live ones, well then, perhaps you might like to read The Years of Rice and Salt.

***

When I was about twelve, my grandmother bought a winning lottery ticket. It was exciting of course, and not only for the cash, it caused various conspiracy theorists in my family to reconsider, if only for a moment, that the lottery was a government con job. They resumed their theory, perhaps not incorrectly, in a slightly more sophisticated form which admitted that the money could be won by actual human beings, not pretend people or paid actors, like the ones who are now busy being employed as the victims of pretend gun massacres in the States. (If you did not detect any sarcasm there, my apologies.)

Nana gave me a gift of $20, which I thought was marvellous. At school, I thought other kids would think that not-so-generous, so I qualified it as “only”. To my chagrin, they judged me ungrateful.

So as not to date myself too successfully, I won’t tell you the music I bought (though it was cassettes, rather than CDs). More importantly, I bought both volumes of Damon Knight’s 100 Years of Science Fiction. I still have it today, and I am shocked (I shouldn’t be) that the most recent story in it is itself over 50 years old. book Two was a particular delight, including “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C Clarke, with its brilliant concluding line, and “The Voices of Time” by JG Ballard. (Sometimes I wondered whether I ended up studying economics – amongst other things – as a result of reading “Business as Usual, During Alterations” by Ralph Williams.) I read and re-read these stories so many times that they became part of my mental furniture, and part of my assumption about anyone’s science fictional literacy.

A few years back I enjoyed Claire North’s “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August” with its high concept Groundhog Day repetitive incarnation. It reminded me of Replay by Ken Grimwood, but with a much different tone and a different set of implications. Last year I noticed her “The Sudden Appearance of Hope”, and its story of a girl who rapidly fades from memory, so much that as a teenager her parents continue to forget her existence.  Again, I haven’t read it. What excited me most was that it reminded me of the Algis Budrys story, “Nobody Bothers Gus”, included in the Knight collection, so that I went back and read it. Gus, an evolutionary adaptation of humanity, also quickly forgotten, keeps track of record breaking athletes ignored by the public, grows his garden, and receives no mail. He can also control reality. But as a protection bestowed upon him by nature, nobody remembers him, and no one is ever curious about him. I thought about that story a lot as a boy, especially at lonely times. So, if you enjoyed “The Sudden Appearance of Hope”, you may want to read about lonely, frustrated Gus. And if you come across Damon Knight’s 100 Years of Science Fiction in a second hand bookshop, it is worth a look. No idea what it might cost these days, but at $1.95 per book, it was money well spent for me in those long ago times

 

 

 

(1) Clarkesworld rejected my zombie story. But they also rejected all my other stories, so that’s ok. But I am beginning to detect a kind of vibe going on here …

(2) I’m not a fan of respectability usually, and having taught on and about Thomas More makes it difficult for me to be revisionist on that subject.

(3) You earn your Ph.D on the novels of Philip K Dick, I call you doctor. Respect.

 

Advertisements

Read it for sex, and not the other thing

In Uncategorized on October 16, 2017 at 12:16 am

There’s sex and too much religion. This one is hard to judge as it’s hard to “get”.

Thank you ABC Australia for your ever so incisive assessment of Emily Fridlund’s “History of Wolves”*. There’s “sex”, is there? That’s unusual. Some “sex” in a modern novel, hmmm. But not too much, apparently. Nor not enough. Just “sex”. Unlike “religion”. What are some of those things we might look for in literary fiction? Taking us out of our comfort zone? Showing us lives that are not ours, and different world views too? Some challenge? Perhaps not.

Haven’t read the book, so I suppose I should not comment. I might read it now, though. Just for “sex”, mind you – the exact right amount.

*Full disclosure – I lie. I am terribly unfair. I admit it. The piece is an assessment of chances of winning the Booker, it is not a book review. And it concludes its comments on this novel with “it has all the edges that suggest it’s worth tussling with”. So my remarks regarding “comfort zone” and “challenge” are dishonest. Very. Despite the fact that I had a good breakfast. Bad dog, David. Does it make it all ok if I confess down here in the fine print? Does it matter that the fine print is longer than the not so fine print? Perhaps I should just say nothing. Still though – language and all that. (How’s that for a sentence?) It struck a nerve of incongruity with me, especially compared to the assessments of the other shortlisted books, and the concluding sentence has a taste of “I might be wrong, and what if it wins?”. 

 

His “Dutch” Period

In Uncategorized on September 10, 2017 at 8:56 pm

In centuries to come, when literary experts comment upon my oeuvre, as they no doubt shall, they will remark of my Dutch period that my characters spend much of their time climbing up or down stairs, and complaining about aches in their legs. In the words of Dr Zachary Smith, the pain, the pain …

(As opposed to my Australian period, where characters spent their time in the bodies of goannas, having sex with each other.)

Notes to writers what I do not Know

In Uncategorized on August 12, 2017 at 5:32 pm

Dear Mr Kim Newman,

I am very glad at all the Anno Dracula books, even though years ago I had to work hard to track down the original so now I have two, and I keep telling myself no, you don’t have to have the paperback of Johnny Alucard to go with the others just because the hardback doesn’t fit in. But how come I keep thinking of you each morning at breakfast?

IMG_20170812_175204 (1)

…..

Dear Mr Jonathan l Howard,

Is Carter and Lovecraft ever going to be released in paperback, please, so I will buy it?

…..

Dear Ms Emma Cline,

Re: The Girls,

No there is no review here because – well, you don’t need it, but plus, I stopped reading. Not because it is bad, but because it hurt. You reach a certain age and you are trying out your coffin for size, and you think you have left things far behind. Not that I was ever a teenage girl, or an American, or a member of a Manson type cult, but my goodness, your descriptions of adolescence – the longing, the not understanding, trying to fit in, the ugliness, the smells, the skin, the rawness, the whole chemical bath your brain is swimming in – the description hurt bad. Flashbacks. Thoughts best left buried. Triggers. I’ll be coming back to it, but just for now Ms Cline I am sorry but I have to give The Girls a rest.

…..

Dear Mr HG Wells,

How are you? Here’s an admission. Until recently, I had never read you. Don’t get me wrong, I thought you were very good as Malcolm McDowell in Time after Time, and I read John Christopher’s Tripods books when I was a boy (which I thought of as the sequel to War of the Worlds once the Martians raided a pharmacy and popped some penicillin), but I had never read The War of the Worlds. Just read it, and loved it. You created a great retro feel (much better than Cowboys & Aliens. I mean, James Bond, really, what were you thinking? Not even one chest burster!). OK, I knew the ending, but so what, how many endings are surprises these days? I loved the country scenes, the connectedness to nature, and then the move to urban horror as the enemy advanced on London. The essay attached to the Penguin edition harped on about light and sunsets, but it was the clinical imagery that I was most intrigued with. All these sf classics still unread, when I should be being measured for my shroud. Perhaps not yet.

…..

Dear Mr Don Winslow,

Thanks, just got around to reading The Cartel, so glad I did. I think the first book of yours I read was The Winter of Frankie Machine, then The Power of the Dog, leading me to your back catalogue. Such different styles and different approaches, a great range from humour to horror and back again. I found The Cartel very powerful and horrifying, the savagery (yes, read Savages as well) unleashed by the uncontrollable desire of North Americans for recreational drugs. You worked me up, Mr Winslow, especially with the inevitable end of one character – his screams and cries and attempts at oblivion did not take away from his courage one bit.

……

Yours most sincerely,

Your obedient servant,

David Stevens

 

 

 

 

 

Fly like a Vogel …

In Uncategorized on June 4, 2017 at 2:35 pm

Great news – At the Edge, a wonderful anthology of speculative fiction by New Zealand (New Zealandian?) and Australian writers, won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Collected Work. And you will immediately see my self interest at work when I congratulate editors Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts for their win, and thank them for including my story, Crop Rotation, in the collection. More details over at David Versace’s blog.

… thinks:  … must buy … At The Edge … NOW…! …

Stuff I am doing or more accurately, stuff I did

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2017 at 6:35 pm

Watched: The Dressmaker – how had I not seen it before? It was compulsory viewing for all Australians, but I must have been on shrimp-tossing duties that day. It made me want Kate Winslet to love me, the way she automatically and effortlessly fell in love with Liam Hemsworth. A bonus was that I have now collected all three Hemsworth’s, and one was by accident, I did not know that Stubbs in Westworld was Luke Hemsworth. But I have to be honest, the only Hemsworth performance I am concerned about is Thor: Ragnarok, because, fair dinkum, Taika Waititi meets Marvel is something to look forward to, and why didn’t I do better in life, why didn’t I do that – sorry. It is odd, I bet the people who watched and loved The Dressmaker back home were not the sort of people who normally watch cartoons, an by jingo, weren’t there a lot of cartoon characters in that film. Barry Otto was probably not born a cartoon character, but he has certainly evolved into one, and well done to him. Plus the film gave the extra survivalist knowledge of the relative virtues of diving into a silo of wheat, versus diving into a silo of sorghum. I did not know that fact, but I will not spoil it for you. But even the guy from House Husbands apparently knew. I still have no idea what a 41 year old and a 27 year old were doing going to school together, and Liam Hemsworth’s character must have been two when the defining incident of the film occurred, yet he was able to remember the activity in the playground vividly. Oh well, suspension of disbelief, and Judy Davis was bloody fantastic, yes she was.

Read: The Nightmare Stacks by Charles Stross, (well, that’s as good a link as any) and I have been tricked, but I knew it. Far out, I am an easy target. Years of watching the Paranormal Romance shelves spread and spread and spread in Galaxy Bookshop in Sydney, and complaining loudly about it (oh, look at that, there’s paranormal romance everywhere, its reproducing paranormally, oh, I’m hilarious), and here I am reading the stuff. BECAUSE IT IS. I mean, its not just that, but Alex and the Elf Princess, it sucked me in just like certain women of my vintage get sucked in by Mills and Boon, because, he is a nerd with no saving graces and no social skills, but because of inherent strength that only the exotic Elf Princess can see, he gets the girl anyway. And Tor says “Stross is clever in representing Alex’s helpless, under-socialized terror of women without giving the audience the sense that Alex is in the right about his weirdness”, and I say, fuck off Tor, that’s me, and just about every nerdy bloke I knew, knowing someone special had to be out there who would see the good inside underneath the hopelessly unsocialised exterior (hello Mrs Stevens – not you, Mum, the other one). And so why does it still warm my heart, why do I still need the nerdy guy to get the impossible girl – you know why, the same reason you have nightmares that you have to go back and sit that final maths exam again, because every single achievement since high school is a dream, you IMPOSTOR … sorry. I also like the shooting bits and the dragon bits and other bits. And this is why I do not do book reviews. (I like that there is a character who is a vicar, very generous and indeed diverse of the author, but I do not believe the bit at all where he does not pray because he does not want God to know what he is doing.)

Drunk: Hoegaarden Grand Cru: a lov – er – ly drop. Plus, what they say, at the link there.  Lov-er-ly. Available exclusively in Belgium, but the occasional bottle finds its way into the Netherlands … and into my heart.

Writing: Yes I am. And bad things are about to happen to Grandma. Meanwhile, while I am working on that, have a look here.

Well played, straight bat and a fine century

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2017 at 5:22 am

Aurealis, a much loved and very entertaining science fiction and fantasy magazine that also happens to be Australian*, has released its 100th edition. In the world of genre periodicals, this is an excellent achievement. Congratulations to all involved, well played!

 

*And just happened once upon a time, way back in edition #68, to include my sf-horror story ‘Avoiding Gagarin’. 

Anticipation

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2017 at 10:33 am

Of course, anticipation is usually sweeter, but it remains that (not unexpectedly, but wouldn’t it have been noice, yes, noice!) “Eat, Pray, Wait” by yours truly shall not grace the pages of the next edition of Year’s Best Weird Fiction. However, it is available here for your reading pleasure, sandwiched with other morsels between the covers of john Benson’s “Not One of Us”. Of course, I recommend YBWF and Michael Kelly’s Undertow publications (especially Shadows and Tall Trees) to you for your edification (cos that’s what we are all about, the edification). And while at it, why not read something else I have written, so that my living will have been worthwhile? (Insert smiley face here, but shade it grey and make it faint, that’s a noice touch.)

Attack of the Spider Woman

In Uncategorized on May 13, 2017 at 12:59 pm

I awoke the other morning from uneasy dreams to find that, lying in my bed, I had been transformed into a giant insect. In the unearthly morning light, the remnants of a purple mist could be seen, passing through walls and windows.  Not again.

There was nothing for it.  Lying on my hard, as it were armour plated, back, I knew I had to wait it out.  What about sleeping a little longer and forgetting all this nonsense, I thought, the klaxon lighted sky making me feel melancholy.

But then I thought some more.  Realising no one else was about (for I share my fortified compound with no-one), I dangled first one leg, then the next, then another, from the bed, until my centre of gravity shifted and I tumbled to the floor.  I shook my segments, set my bearings with my multi-faceted eyes, and set off to explore the room.  Before I knew it, I was walking up the wall, and on the ceiling.  I felt my wings begin to quiver, and was almost overcome by a desire to set sail across the air.

I explored my home as though a stranger, which I suppose I was.  I knew I should not be doing this.  The accepted etiquette is to simply wait until one is one’s self again.  We are in possession of our faculties.  We know better.  As I set off, I felt naughty, then more than that.  I felt great.

 

I opened the door (yes, I was a giant insect and did not have opposable thumbs, however I retained a human brain and it was my door after all), and nearly fainted with the overload of my senses, with all the signals of death and decay.  A whole universe of half broken down organisms to be clambered through and consumed.

Shaking a little, I danced with joy.  Liberation.  A secret indulgence.  How often does one get to experience the pleasures of another creature, to live in the body of another?  Even if it was the body of a giant cockroach.

Then I noticed the stillness.  Something was wrong.  From a corner of the garden, it ran at me.

Before I knew what I was doing, I realised that I too was running as fast as my six legs could take me.  Purely from instinct, I jinked and changed direction.  One of my compound lenses revealed what was in pursuit.  A giant spider was coming at me at terrifying speed.  This was outrageous.  It was nothing natural.  A creature of that size could only be another person, transformed for the moment by this morning’s toxic discharge.  I tried to gather who it must be.  It could only be the woman from across the road.  She always seemed a little wrong headed.  She knew she was supposed to stay in her own place.  I cursed myself for my stupidity,  no matter how high my walls, they were no match for a giant arachnid.

I turned again, having the advantage of knowledge of the layout of my fortified compound.  Fool.  I was running where she was driving me.  Just when I thought I was about to reach the safety of the house, I stopped.  The more I struggled, the more I was stopped.  Web!

I turned and looked at her.  There was something disturbingly Freudian about the way she was manically manipulating her pincers.  I tried to reason with her, but only a whole lot of roach gibberish came out.  Though afraid, my anger dropped away: she was only doing the same as me, experiencing the alien.

Then it stopped.  The rigidity of the armour passed away, and there I was, flesh bodied and human again.  The same for the woman, although she continued to run oddly for a few steps after her body had returned.  At least she had the courtesy to help unwrap the web from me.  It was only afterwards that I reflected how odd it was to be standing there naked in that situation.

Abandoned chunk from a work in progress

In Uncategorized on April 20, 2017 at 9:04 pm

Fucken hungry.  He could murder a cold one too, a dozen, but he knows he could drink a sea and  it wouldn’t fill him with what he needs.

He’s just taking a breather.  No one could deny he’s been digging away down here in the dark.  Working hard.  Its only when he looks up that he realises there’s a kid down here.

Thinking about it, he supposes there are dead kids. Has to be.  Plenty of them. Not much use though, are they, your dead kid.  Not in a mine, he thinks, forgetting how old he was when he started this caper, like he’s forgotten everything, except how to dig. And that he’s dead. He knows that.

Its not a smoko, cos he doesn’t have any smokes.  Can’t, not down a mine.  More a breather.  Not that he’s sure he’s really breathing.  Dead, and he still wants a smoke.  Some habits die hard.  And its not as though he’s just dead.  When he realised he was here, when he woke up working, he didn’ t have any legs left, that’s how dead he was.

The kid’s not on a track, not on rails. Neither is he, now that his legs have grown back, but you know what I mean. He’s not official like. The kid’s not working. He’s on a lark, just wandering about.  Gets on his wick.

The kid sees him. He’s got a lamp stuck on his head, like he’s a miner. He’s a bludger, more like. Shit scared now, not wandering about so aimlessly now. So he should be, bludger.  He wouldn’t bludge down here.  Who knows what they’d do?  If they can bring you back to life, what other shit can they do?  He’s never liked bludgers and he’s never liked wankers.  Remembers that.  Bludgers, wankers, thieves.  Blinks.  A feeling rises, and he remembers it before he can name it.  Shame.  That’s it.  Thieves.  He’s been eating some of the rocks he’s been digging.  Just some little ones.  Surely no one will miss them.  Fucken hungry.

Smell the kid’s fear. Didn’t know he could do that. Bet that’s new.  Scent condenses on his tongue, and saliva flows. He changes inside. Its like feelings he gave up on a long time ago. Longings.

So fucken hungry he could eat his own arse.

But he doesn’t have to.

He’d laugh if he had a voice.   Oh yes.  The kid’s face turns weird, he’s running.  Why?  He realised that he had been walking, without knowing it.  Just a passenger being carried along by legs and hunger.  I see.  The kid’s running away from me.  The kid fumbles in his back pack, loses a bit of the distance between them, pulls out a bit of tinfoil.  That knife won’t help, kid. You gonna murder me?  I’m already dead.

He hops down from the track, into the rubble of what they’ve been digging. Coal. Utility pipes. Dirt. Small trees pulled down through the earth by their roots. Form and complexity. Information and structure. Bits of it lying around down there.

Watcha got in that bag kid? A monster gun? Shambling over, stretching stiff joints. Something wriggling about in there.

Whatever it is, the kid brings the knife down into the centre of it, and it doesn’t like it.  Its jumping around.  The kid sticks the knife into its guts, and it spurts.

O!  The smell. He still can’t remember his name, but flavours flood back, and the drool pours out over his chin.  He can recall crumbed lambs brains and cream and mushrooms and wine – the bitter of the first beer after work on a summer’s day – burning his fingers snatching at hot chips with vinegar, the sun already down and steam pouring from their mouths as they broke battered fish into bits – onion as he licked at his wife’s fingers – stolen honey – other, private tastes…

The thing whatever it was was in his face and he sucked it empty, breathed it down, a wonderful throat-full of blood or motor oil or whatever it was inside, bloody beautiful, and chewing down on the carcass, swallowing it into him, wiping his mouth with his arm then licking the arm clean, the misery in his stomach abated for a moment, letting out a moan like he’s breaking.

The creaking of an ancient unoiled engine returning to life, his voice returned. “Thanks kid.” Clouds were lifting and he stepped out of a haze. “I’m George?” he groaned with the intonation of an unsure teenage girl.  “Yes, I’m George. What the fuck are you doing down here?”

“Looking for someone.”

“Are they dead?”

“Hope not.”