Aurora: Earth is a spaceship too

aurora by kim stanley robinsonAurora (Orbit, 2015) by Kim Stanley Robinson is named after a planet on which humanity hopes to found a colony; it’s a long way away, so far it’s a multi-generational voyage in a time without fancy stasis chambers. Instead, the spaceship, simply called ship, is composed of biomes representing different terrain types on Earth, big enough for lakes, glaciers, forests, critters of all kinds. Maintaining the balance of inputs and outputs necessary for agriculture — for life — occupies much of the humans’ time, in cooperation with a quantum computer. Starvation is never far from the horizon. It’s a delicate see-sawing balance, both scientifically and socially.

Things don’t go to plan, of course. And while I can’t reveal too much, it’s not spoiling things to say the colonists have decisions to make about the best way forward — or backward, even.

The first section, detailing the trip and the travails to Tau Ceti, is told in the third person centred on a young girl, Freya. The central story is narrated by the computer, allowing a great deal of info dumping — mostly painless — leavened with humour as the AI grows. It also allows scope for commentary on human foibles, one of the delights of the story. The final scenes are again in our protagonist’s viewpoint, reflecting on Freya’s experience, on the space program, on humanity.

There is a singular moment, a single line of description relating to ship, that defines the power of KSR’s prose, but I can’t repeat it here, because spoiler. It is beautiful, poignant, pragmatic, elegant. It made me love this book.

This is the first KSR book I’ve read — I know, I know — but based on this, it won’t be the last. Note even dubious amounts of repetition in the text can overshadow the deft handling of technical terms and processes; the sheer imagination that manages, mostly, to keep humanity at its centre, even when ship is narrating at some emotional distance.

KSR has something to say, and for the most part he says it well.

For me, Aurora is not just a superbly unromantic story of space colonisation, but also an allegory — would ship agree, I wonder, given its interest in metaphor and the like? Hell, maybe it’s not even — best summed up by this translation of a poem that captures the attention of two characters, talking to how we need to look after this world as man-made climate change threatens to radically change our biome, how we are ‘kleptoparasites’, stealing from our descendants:

‘There’s no new world, my friend, no
New seas, no other planets, nowhere to flee–
You’re tied in a knot you can never undo
When you realise Earth is a starship too.’

  • A review copy of Aurora was provided by the publisher. You can read an excerpt here.
     

  • Aussie Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror announced

    years best australian fantasy and horror 2014Ticonderoga Publications has announced the line-up of its latest Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror28 stories from 2014, curated again by Talie Helene and Liz Grzyb, to wrap your eyes around and fire your imagination. Or something like that.

    I’m thrilled and giddily surprised to find ‘The Preservation Society’, originally published in the first issue of Dimension6, among the selections. Vampires in Cairns, an exploration into one of the minor characters in my novel Blood and Dust. Hell yes, I’m chuffed.

    There’s some great reading in this volume — I’m particularly pleased to see ‘Shedding Skin‘ by Angie Rega in this line-up, one of those yarns that ticked all my boxes. The collection is due out in late October — OOH, HALLOWEEN! — but can be pre-ordered right now.
     

    Sunshine, darkness and the people we meet

    in sunshine bright and darkness deepThis book arrived in the post yesterday. In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep: An Anthology of Australian Horror collects short stories from 14 members of the Australian Horror Writers Association. “If you are unfamiliar with Australian horror, let this book be just the first step on a long voyage of dark discovery,” the blurb says.

    The anthology contains a reprint of my story ‘Triage’, from 2005 — the only reprint in the book. I offered ‘Triage’ because it’s a special story to me, and it had only a limited airing on first printing, in sf-envision, a magazine printed by Fantastic Queensland that came out of the EnVision writers workshop run in 2003 and 2004 in Brisbane.

    It was at this workshop that I largely met the people who would form the Writers on the Edge critique group, who remain good friends even though my departure from Brisbane spelled the ultimate end of the critique meetings. Some of us still share stories online.

    It was also where I got to know the tutors, and these industry contacts have become friends over the years: like minds, generous spirits.

    The message here: go to workshops, improve your craft, never stop learning, meet people. Be kind to one another. Pay it forward.

    sf-envision‘Triage’ is also important because it mined the death of a close friend; it tried to give him, on some ultimately inadequate level, what the story’s hero, Nosplentyn, tries to do for the dying patient: a memorial of the heart and mind. Nosplentyn, a name coined by one of my roleplaying game mates and used with his blessing, is a prototype for the Needle in my Vampires in the Sunshine State books. He has changed much, as have we all.

    We in the Edge Writers have since lost one of our own. Nea has a story in sf-envision, an excerpt of her then work in progress that, sadly, never saw publication. We hold them in our memories, these ageless loves, and the words take us back to them and the times we shared.

    So ‘Triage’ is both sunshine and darkness, a touchstone for bright memories and dark ones. It seemed to fit for the AHWA’s book. Bon voyage.

  • In Sunshine Bright and Darkness Deep is available* from Amazon.
    * ADDENDUM: the book is officially launched 18 September. Its appearance on Amazon beforehand was to allow contributor copies to be sent out. But, y’know, wishlist away!
     

  • Vampires on the radio

    the big smoke by jason nahrungEarlier today I chatted with ABC Ballarat 107.9’s Prue Bentley about Australian vampires, fast cars — and how freakin’ cold it is!

    Producer Gav McGrath has posted a (stammer-free!) summary of the radio broadcast here.

    It’s taking two of the things I love – the Australian landscape, and vampires and the gothic more broadly – and trying to make them fit together

    The Dangerous Bride, by Lee Kofman: sex, love and belonging

    the dangerous bride by lee kofmanThe Dangerous Bride (MUP, 2014), by Lee Kofman, is a memoir of exploration: of relationships, of place, and of self. It’s candid but polite, and the prose shines with description and metaphor.

    It tells Kofman’s story of, as a child of Russian Jews, coming to Australia via Israel. In Tel Aviv, her generation of young people lived life as though there was no tomorrow, because in a land of bombs, that was the case.

    Melbourne was a sanctuary, with its bookshops and cafes and galleries — once she’d got the courage to explore, English not being her native language and the city filled with strangers. (The Dangerous Bride is her first book in English.)

    Overtaken by wonder, I vigorously, like a young horse, clacked my platform shoes upon the wide, friendly sidewalks. The public transport that operated during Shabbat, the cheap sushi, the absence of cockroaches — all these luxuries the locals took for granted filled me with joy. I was amazed at how in Melbourne even police cars drove by quietly. After a while, whenever their sirens did sound, I no longer thought about bombs.

    Kofman’s exploration of Australian society and landscape is a strong vein in this memoir, but the focus is on her sexual identity: is it possible to have a successful non-monogamous relationship? She gets caught up with an Israeli known in the book simply as J, who chases easy money in property and business. Escaping him, Kofman ends up with Noah: they have a loving marriage but one lacking in intimacy.

    Australian women writers challenge 2015Kofman turns to ‘famous dead people’ for inspiration: Anais Nin (the movie Henry and June was a watershed for her), HG Wells, Iris Murdoch. And she travels, to interview swingers, ‘hunters’ (couples who pick up sex partners), polyamorists, open marriages. She’s looking for the key to maintaining a relationship while still satisfying all-round needs of desire, intimacy, identity.

    The book shifts, the chronology of her time in Australia, the changing relationships and eventual second, stable marriage interspersed with flashbacks to relationships past. In particular, the awkward relationship with J takes some unravelling. There is room for rumination on the nature of love and relationships, society’s expectations versus natural impulse. She analyses the non-monogamy of others, looking for the reasons of success or failure, and trying on the templates to see which one best fits her experience. She visits modern social theorists, elements of her academic studies shining through. Arthur Rimbaud’s contention that the poet ‘consumes all the poisons in him’ is a theme.

    The honest self-awareness of Kofman’s voice makes this an engaging journey of exploration, at the end of which Kofman has found a comfortable understanding with her new country and — at least for now — her new love.

  • This review is part of my commitment to the 2015 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
  • Cherry Crow Children: rich pickings

    cherry crow children by deborah kalin
    Cherry Crow Children is the twelfth of the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press, with a thirteenth and final volume to come. This most recent volume, by Deborah Kalin, is well worth the wait.

    Kalin is a fellow Melbourne writer with two fantasy novels and a handful of short fiction to her name; this volume of four stories is a strong addition to her bibliography.

    These stories are of endings, and of secrets, and of quests, each situated in isolated and harsh settings that encourage a certain bloodymindedness and limited vision. To go delving in these locales is to risk much. Discovering can be dangerous, even lethal. Perhaps best not to explore this terrain if one is feeling blue.

    In ‘The Wages of Honey’, a man looks for his cousin in a fractured mountain village; ‘The Briskwater Mare’ has a young woman tied to her fate for the apparent good of a town; ‘The Miseducation of Mara Lys’ tells of clockmakers and the price paid for pursuing their secret workings; and the titular story is one of a forest folk who risk the wilds for a crop of drug flowers.

    Australian women writers challenge 2015The settings are engagingly, succinctly drawn, with customs and seasons and economies adding depth to the worlds as the characters navigate the social currents. One cannot help but rail with Kalin’s protagonists as they are caught in the eddies. The stories draw longer, the worlds deeper and darker; the forest denizens of the eponymous final story are wild and amazing.

    As each story unveils its mysteries, as each protagonist pushes the boundaries and pays the price for their investigation, the assured prose is the measured constant.

    This twelfth of the Twelve is a high point in a consistently high field.

    Get your Aussie vampires here

    alison goodman launches the big smoke by jason nahrung

    Picture courtesy of Alison Goodman

    Home again from the Continuum convention in Melbourne, at which there was much catching up, some learnin’ and some launchin’.

    Always good to reconnect with the clan, and very appreciative indeed of those who were able to make the launch for Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke — my Aussie vampire duology. So great to have them out in the world!

    Alison Goodman did the launch business with aplomb — just look at that hat! Here’s a quote from her speech:

    The Big Smoke is based on the old European vampire lore, but given a new bright Australian slant. These vampires wear a permanent sun squint and a pair of sunglasses. The book pulses with hot weather, hot blood and hot vengeance.

    For more info, or to snaffle a copy for the vampire-lovin’ reader in your family, check out the Clan Destine Press links below! (edit: worth noting the books are also available at Amazon, Booktopia et al)