David Stevens

Posts Tagged ‘art’

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.”

Mormon boys

In Uncategorized on March 4, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Lonely Mormons

far from home

wandering through the great apostasy.

Tempted by Coca Cola,

shunning coffee and other like beverages,

is your truth too good for me?

You all rush to share it

with the pretty Asian girls.

Was there nothing on

those buried gold plates

Elohim wanted you

to share with me?

I’ll just have to cross my own desert.

Not for the first time.


Those Mormon boys were hanging around Chinatown in Sydney, and no matter how many times I walked past, ready to talk to them about Joseph Smith, they were too busy sharing their truth* with pretty girls.

*In the words of Vyvyan#, “I’ve never heard it called that before”.

#When some pompous old bloke said he wanted to “protect” Felicity Kendall.%

%”Felicity, you fill me with electricity” – Rik


Lost in Venus

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2017 at 11:57 am

Sniff of chlorophyl

whiff of ether

Look down

fronds part and unfurl


leafy embrace

cool breeze

tugs you in

sinking the green

moss is velvet

plant yourself

lean in and

skin unfurls to mask you

the perfect kiss

inside out

you are draped

try to make sense

of distant calls

lose yourself in

the wind blowing

through her branches

are you dead

or are you

loving the alien?



lost on venus

lost on mars

press up against

foreign atmosphere

do you lose yourself

if you love the alien?


Old school anime

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2017 at 10:18 pm


You need your gadgets boy,

and how cool they are:

rocket propeller shoes

electric boomerang

oxy gum.

But you will never fit in.

Everything underwater will always be blurry before your eyes

obscuring the truth

that the mermaid is never taking you home to meet her parents.

You are a fish out of water, boy

Always just one stick of gum away from death.

That’s no way to live.

Secret of the Ninja

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2017 at 9:33 am

Ninjas can’t dance

Ninjas can’t dance

if the music ain’t disco

That is their secret limitation,

a truth that is a threat to their dignity.

It ain’t much.

They can still kill

and fly and turn invisible

and such.

Just don’t expect them to bust a move,

if it ain’t disco.

Bangs and whimpers

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2017 at 7:53 am


Cancer too is a prize

You don’t have to queue at the newsagent’s

to buy a ticket

They slip it in with the teddy bear,

the beatrix potter china setting,

the first photograph album,


The final draw may be foreshadowed

in the missed stitch in the booties

grandma made

put aside, only used at your Baptism.

(“It was her last pair.  Do you think she knew?”)

Unlike the contents of your bowels

or your most recent projectile vomit,

it is not discussed in polite company.

It may stick its head around the corner at 3.30am,

pop into Dad’s thoughts as he tries to settle you

and sees his own mortality as he pictures his own father

rocking him 30 years ago,

and his grandfather walking the floor twenty years before that.

A link in the chain between first and last

Somewhere between the savannah and the heat death of the universe.

You can buy more tickets later on,

or be the lucky recipient of a random allocation.

Just like a five million dollar lottery.

You say you’ll keep working,

but you’ll find that you can’t.

Your colleagues no longer look at you,

well, not the same way.

Early retirement either way.

And lots of time to think.

Sralya Day

In Uncategorized on January 25, 2017 at 6:02 am

Here’s some culture for Australia Day – get it inta ya.

Sralya Day, now its a thing. Not just some dusty public holiday at the fag end of the summer holidays, an extra long weekend for free just to make returning to school easier for Mum and Dad. A thing. With concerts and stuff. Sam the former red Wiggle still needs to make a living. Hey, Sneaky Sound System are on at Liverpool, but nobody believes me.



It was Flag Day

so we wrapped ourselves in flags

and went to the pub.

Funny, eh!

Everybody else had the same idea, but.

And all the flags were the same

because we are all Flaglanders.

It would have been nice to wrap myself

in the flag of difference

but I was too scared.

Everyone looked the same.

The fun idea had become

A Sad Party Thing.

It doesn’t matter.

The flag unites us.

Our fear of looking different unites us.

All eyes are wary on Flag Day.

Everyone smiles with their mouths

as they lift their beers,

but all those eyes are looking about.

And those eyes are quick.

You don’t want to stand out.

Not on Flag Day.

There are no excuses.

It is not “I pay my taxes” day.

It is not “I am a human being, I have rights” day.

It is fucking Flag Day.


You sad party thing.

I had a dream

In Uncategorized on January 24, 2017 at 9:28 pm

I dreamed of moneylenders slicing flesh from shinbones with machetes, and people being rolled up and crucified, so they would fit more readily on a wall. Couldn’t find the explanation in my dream book.

Comfortable Man

In Uncategorized on January 12, 2017 at 8:25 pm

My daughter, reading an internet quiz to me: “What super power would you like to have?”

I responded, “The power to turn red into green at traffic lights”.

The next day, walking to the bus stop, thinking about work, it came to me. My secret desire. What I have wanted my whole life.

To be at ease.

Simply, just to be at ease.

Can you get that by being blasted by gamma rays?


In Uncategorized on January 9, 2017 at 2:24 pm

My good friend Stephen suffered a great loss recently, and there is little I can do for him, other than let him know that I am thinking of him. It is not my place to share that loss. I have written a bit here about my dear friend, and how much he shapes what is inside my head, to put some meat on those bones, to show how and that I am indeed thinking of him.

My thoughts of Stephen lead me many places. He was one of the first and greatest influences on me in many ways, who came from outside my family. He came from a family that read. I read, randomly and voraciously, but my lack of direction is probably clear from the fact that any list of my all time favourite fiction would still include the 70s and 80s bestsellers I was devouring at that time. Senior English class, he is speaking with Mr Coombes about how nothing of interest was happening at that moment that was of great interest to them at the time, referring to some writers, and I pipe up with something like “Len Deighton’s pretty good”. I was specifically thinking about SS-GB – I mean for goodness sake, a book about Nazi’s ruling England. Imagination, good plotting and pacing, interesting ideas. Nazis. Mr C, who I liked very much, paused, thought and said, “But we’re talking about literature”. I can still remember my brain clunking into gear, I still remember being a little embarrassed and becoming defensive. Of course I read literature. That’s what they taught at school, and I was good at it, top of my class, able to tell lies with the best of them about an author’s purpose and the symbols they littered their books with. But literature did not come in the yellow-jacketed Gollancz volumes at Chester Hill library, so how could I distinguish it from other books, other than if it was on my school curriculum?

His family was Labor and union, and of course we could bond over that. He followed Wests where I followed Canterbury, but it was all working class rugby league. Books, politics, music (Devo!), WW2, but lets stick to books – he introduced me to Kafka and Orwell and Huxley, and we discovered we both liked Philip K Dick. I still have a favourite memory of us both aged 17, our last ever high school exam finished (German), our futures in front of us, the great feeling of relied the HSC was over, and we are sitting on a gutter at Sefton, outside the milk bar, me eating a steak sandwich with chips (because I liked it better and because it was fancier than a hamburger), I don’t know what he is eating (a Danish salami and cheese sandwich perhaps) but I can pretty well guarantee he is drinking a can of creaming soda, talking about the things we were going to write together (including the great radio politico-comedy-tragedy, “Hercules Fontopolos and Socrates Dassaklis in The Great Teenage Proletariat Revolution”), before taking our coins into the why was it there, how did it survive all those years? second hand bookshop at Sefton Railway station to scab around for sf books and other like stuff. (1)

We did write. We had a weekly radio show at university. We wrote comedy sketches together, and sold some to Doug Mulray at 2MMM-FM, and this led to a comedy sketch show staged at that pub in Glebe where they had comedy sketch shows (Harold Park!, he belatedly remembers), and it played every Thursday for a month, with proper actors. And we definitely weren’t cool. (2) (I won’t mention the bad films we made on weekends with our friend The Great Auteur, Rat.) And then life happened, the Soviet Union surprised us by collapsing, two women surprised us by agreeing to marry us, family surprised us by happening, careers replaced university, and time disappeared.

It is fun to remember, and there is no time for the-could-have-beens etc, I am very happy with the what-did’s, the children and careers and experiences. I want to let Stephen know that I think of him all the time, that he influenced the course of my life and the course of my thoughts. Like this. Stephen introduced me to Kafka and Orwell and Aldous Huxley, as I said.

More recently, Stephen introduced me to Adam Roberts, and that’s pretty good company to be in, so Adam Roberts should be happy (you will start to notice why the heading above is ‘Presumption’). (And the company is larger, because part of our friendship is about discovering new (to us) stuff and introducing it to each other – what, other people have friendships like that too? I thought it was just us … 😦  – but we don’t need to worry about Robert Sheckley and Neal Stephenson and Talking Heads and Tolkien and Marx and Eno and punk and Aldiss and Charles Fort and Harlan Ellison and all those other characters just now.) So I read some of the AR (3) back catalogue, and read his new stuff as it comes out, and enjoy it. I don’t write reviews or blog about it because unlike AR I don’t have the training, skills or language to do it justice. Eg, I could not write a review like this of AR’s ‘The Thing Itself’, by Kevin Powers.(4) But in idle moments, one of the many things I sometimes do which can be traced back to my friend Stephen’s influence, is read about the author’s we share, which led me to look at ARs webpage.

So here is me thinking about chatting with my mate Stephen. Here is the link to the bit I am going to focus on here. It is about failure, and it is useful to read, and to remember that ultimately, everybody is a failure. Failure is the sort of thing we’d like to chat about. (6) And AR acknowledges that there are levels to this success/failure thing, and the whole piece is littered with appropriate caveats that I don’t cavil with at all. It is just that I realised that I sort of simultaneously did and did not understand the post, which is exactly what I would discuss with my friend Stephen next time we sat down to lunch at the food court at Market City in Sydney, if only I wasn’t so far away.

The first time I read it, I thought I was reading of the failure of The Adam Roberts’ Project, though AR would not have called it that, I am sure. This followed the apparent lack of success in the SF world of his 16th novel, The Thing Itself, a work into which he had poured hear, soul, guts, craft. And so instead of reading it properly, I thought what TARP might look like. PKD is the sf writer I place above all others (7) – what was The PKD Project? Writing way too much – trying to pay the bills – trying as hard as hell to be accepted by the literary mainstream, and failing – marrying a bit too often – taking too many drugs and hanging out with the wrong people and living a strange and probably miserable life? Ultimately, I suppose, thinking the thoughts and writing the works. Probably not a good example. In his lifetime, he won one Hugo award, one John W Campbell award, had one movie deal go through. Someone might aspire to have a body of work like Dick’s, but I don’t know if anyone would want to be him or live like him. (8)

What was The Brian Aldiss Project? To make a living from being a full-time writer. But all the other things he did: establishing societies, supporting magazines, his involvement in international SF, producing anthologies, producing criticism, etc. (9) All things that I am sure AR does. But I don’t think Aldiss spoke of it in terms of failure. Now, if AR was to join us at Market City – I like the Vietnamese lamb chops, the chicken katsu-don is not as good as it used to be, we suspect they are just using some frozen supermarket chicken schnitzel –  well, hmm. I think we’d have trouble with small talk for a start, he is a stranger after all. But we’d get around to giving him useful tips about his Project. I mean, no one person can start a huge cultural movement, not on their own – I’m thinking of things like New Wave Science Fiction, or, say, the Enlightenment.  (9b) What School do you belong to? Who are similar writers with similar aims with whom you can band together? Have you thought of starting your own magazine? Editing anthologies? Writing something like Trillion Year Spree? Oh, we would be full of the most useful tips. Adam, you should be like Michael Moorcock with New Worlds. Adam, you have to fully commit – give up The Day Job and live the life science fictional. Hey Adam, we’ve both done project managing (sounds better than we’ve both managed projects) – what are your goals, where are your time lines, where’s the management buy in? How do you define deliverability? (10)

Or maybe we’d go therapeutic on his arse. Especially as on re-reading the post, I saw that I had not understood it, that it was about not having made it, not having entered the inner-circle of science fiction – the big awards, big sales, big status. Smoking my metaphorical pipe – now Adam, have you read CS Lewis on the Inner Ring? (11) No matter how far you penetrate, there is always a more inner ring, a deeper circle. (12) We’d point out, but you are an insider. You are in Strange Horizons. And the good reviews outside SF, PKD and others craved those. You’re in The Guardian. But yeah, we know what you mean. There is always more, always further, and you don’t have to suffer from Impostor Syndrome (13) to feel you don’t belong. People with delusions of grandeur don’t declare they haven’t made it. We’d ask, who has made it, give us some examples. And then we’d pour buckets of shit on each example. Them? Who’d want to be them? They write crap.

And you know what? AR wouldn’t have to be there. Other people are Monday morning coaches – well, we can comment on the football, and politicians as well, but better than that, we don’t need any sf writer, hell, any writer, bugger that, any artist, to be there to work out how they can improve their writing/art/lives/body of work/marketing/image whatever. We give that advice out free all the time. Though of course, nobody listens.

This is not a piss take. This is not envy. This is not, oh, first world problems. I read the AR post and it stayed with me for days. And I have been thinking about my friend and his loss since it occurred. And I thought of the conversations we used to have when we were young, and the fewer conversations we have now. And how we would talk about this. And the more important conversations we should have, and don’t, and that’s just the way it is. Stephen wrote a sketch once, about disasters and reporters asking the family of victims, “how do you feel?”, and the responses included something like “how the fuck do you think I feel, fuckwit?”. So I can’t keep just asking how he is, and I have no profound words so that he feels better. We feel bad because we should feel bad, it is entirely appropriate. But I can write something down to show I am thinking of him, and how grateful I am for all the music and writing and comedy and fun he introduced to me, and how he even shapes what I think about, the things that fill the ongoing conversation inside my head. (14)


(1) Not that time, but a while later, I can remember buying Black Easter and Day after Judgement by James Blish at a smelly 2nd hand place in Sydney at Stephen’s urging. I also picked up Death Hunter by Ian Watson, another one of those writers we introduced to each other. And because of Stephen I just spent time re-reading Watson’s account of working with/for Kubrick here (and I wonder why he and Brian Aldiss were/are enemies). And as I am about to write something about Adam Roberts, I think of the connection between Watson’s Miracle Visitors and Roberts’ Yellow Blue Tibia. And in all that I think of how I used to greet anyone introduced to me as Todd with “ah, from the German for death”, and how I used to say Ya liublu peva to Russian girls.

(2) I just read Jonathan Lethem describing how he and his soon to be junkie mate saw Tim Burton’s Batman after taking mushrooms. (The Disappointment Artist, p.6.) Lord, the most Stephen and I ever took together at that time was a pint of Guinness, practising for our trip to Ireland. We saw Batman, and the only thing weird we did was walk home from Parramatta (no, autocorrect, I did not mean Taramasalata) afterwards instead of catching the train, talking about the film and our upcoming trip to Europe.  We moved on to include various lagers, ales and so on as we grew older.

(3) Speaking of presumption! And my original blog heading was something like ‘How presumptuous of me! The (not-the-Alan-Parsons) Project’. Because I thought that sounded presumptuous. And Adam Roberts and Alan Parsons start and end with the same letters, and have the same number of letters (how relieved was I when I checked and confirmed Parsons does not have a double ‘l’ in his Alan!). And then, just before publishing this blog post, I discovered The Adam Roberts Project. So I can just fuck off.

(4) in fact, reading the review, which is very good and illuminating, I feel stupid and under-educated and not very well read at all. Which is probably accurate, but I don’t like feeling that way, so I’m going to run off and read a detective novel. How very Bertrand Russell of me! (5)

(5) I’m not stupid. I saw Arrival. I understood bits of it. And I didn’t just go for Amy Adams. Honest!

(6) Fortunately in areas of our greatest interest, we are both happy failures, or else one of us would have to write one of those I hate my fucking famous friend things. This is not one of those. (I really like the one in Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, where she just dumps her famous friend, who kept calling to brag.)

(7) acknowledging all that Thomas Disch included in his introduction to  volume 5 of Dick’s collected short stories: “What more can we ask of art? Well, the answer is obvious: polish, execution, economy of means, and other esthetic niceties”. But loyalty, a dog of a virtue, is of immense importance to me, and Dick claimed me early, when I yearned for novelty, ideas, strangeness, and lots of it. As Disch also said, “Reading a story by Dick… (is)  like becoming involved in a conversation”, conversations I could have with few people around me apart from Stephen.

(8) Am I being too first world? Is PKD’s life aspirational, with his suicidal tendencies and drug use and early death and so on, to someone living in a hell hole? I confess to my bourgeois tendencies.

(9) All the stuff he talks about in Bury My Heart at W. H. Smith’s: A Writing Life.

(9b) Or this.

(10) Do not suppose for a moment that we would allow facts, including especially known facts, to get in the way of giving this advice. It could include items such as, have you ever thought of publishing 16 sf novels? Also, how do you define deliverability?

(11) And this would be me, not Stephen, there is no way that he is going to read or quote CS Lewis, except maybe that Young Ones episode where Vivyan smashes through the back of the wardrobe and meets the Ice Queen, and instead of wanting Turkish Delight, asks for a kebab. I remember Stephen pissing himself laughing trying to describe Vivyan’s body searching for his head after it was knocked off by a train, and Vivyan even needs to insult his own body.

(12) My memory of that was that it was simply better not to bother, recalling the certificate Stephen gave me many, many years ago for my birthday, bestowing me “UN Observer status on life”. Re-reading Lewis right now, I see it is more on the inevitability of such rings and circles, but that they are ultimately unsatisfying and like most things, can lead to great evil through insinuation and seduction. (see loyalty at (7) above) And reading the end of that speech, I think of my dear friend again: “And if in your spare time you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside: that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that the secrecy is accidental, and its exclusiveness a by-product, and no one was led thither by the lure of the esoteric: for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things that they like. This is friendship. Aristotle placed it among the virtues.”

(13) We do, we do!

(14) Dear Mr Roberts, I enjoyed The Thing Itself, the writing, the ideas, how it made me think while I was reading, how some parts genuinely scared me, how it made me think and feel about the prospects of such an experiment being carried out. It is a good book. I was sad to read “2016: The story so far”. It is presumptuous of me to think I could have words in response. However, I don’t think that you should let your crisis of confidence lead you to write what you might think of as lesser works, or less ambitious books. You are right not to focus on “next year will be better”. No amount of so-called positive thinking will achieve that. What is important is the body of work. You have no control over how it is received. You do have control over what you produce. Aim high. Not that you want to show them all, but given your reference to Randian responses, I prefer “well then, look at this one! And this one! And my next one…”, to “the fools don’t understand/appreciate/love me enough” (which isn’t what you are saying, I know). Isn’t the pleasure in producing this good thing you wanted to make? Life is short, so should not that be the goal? Be more ambitious (I say selfishly, for my own reading pleasure).