Posts Tagged ‘science fiction’

As promised, here is the first in a series of posts in which I tell the stories behind the stories that make up my new collection “Drive, She Said”.  First up – Breaking Windows.

When I was fourteen years old (a long, long time ago), I attended a friend’s birthday sleepover party. Her parents were divorced, her father wealthy by 1980s small town New Zealand’s standards, and the party was held at his home on the rural outskirts of town. It was perfect for a teenage party – he had a tennis court, a spa pool, and a VHS player with a modest collection of personally owned movies (the technology being so new that video rental stores weren’t yet a thing).

I don’t know whose idea it was for half a dozen fourteen-year-old girls to watch The Exorcist. I don’t remember much of the details of the movie. But I still remember the terror. It was inevitable that demonic possession would make its way into my fiction at some point (and I’m probably not finished with it yet).


In Breaking Windows, I took a few horror themes – demonic possession, zombie apocalypse-type pandemics, and creepy unpleasantness involving eyes – and smooshed them all together to see what I would get. I knew I had something decent when I took it to my writers’ crit group who gave only a couple of minor suggestions for improvement; a tiny yet significant tweak to the ending, and a recommendation to change the acronym for the special police squad, because the original was “really, really dreadful”.

The final product was published in Aurealis magazine in 2015 and shortlisted for an Aurealis Award.


Loren Rhoads bw2

Today’s guest post comes from Loren Rhoads, the author of the In the Wake of the Templars trilogy, published by Night Shade Books. The Dangerous Type is out now, followed by Kill By Numbers on September 1 and the conclusion, No More Heroes, on November 3.

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When Publishers Weekly reviewed my novel The Dangerous Type, they accused me of trying to bring the style of grimdark fantasy to space opera. I wasn’t familiar with the term grimdark — and even though I liked the sound of it, I wasn’t sure it was meant as a compliment — so I emailed my gaming friend Seth. He wrote, “Grimdark can mean different things to different people, but for me at least, if I saw a review like that, I’d immediately be interested in reading the book.” He equated grimdark fantasy with betrayals, hopelessness, and, often, social commentary. Seemed like the shoe fit…

The phrase grimdark comes from the game Warhammer 40K, whose tagline is “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” So grimdark started out as science fiction, got applied to fantasy (think Game of Thrones), and now is wrapping a tentacle around space opera.

In The Dangerous Type, the Human-Templar War ended while Raena Zacari spent 20 years in prison, but the struggle is far from over. The Templars are dead, wiped out by a human-engineered plague. The human empire that conceived and disseminated the plague — and imprisoned Raena — has been dismantled. Humans are spread thin across the galaxy, refugees and survivors of the tribunals after the War. Still, the galaxy pays lip service to the fiction that “even humans have rights.”

Of the humans who survive, the Thallian clan epitomizes grimdark. Jonan Thallian served the empire as a nominal diplomat, capturing and torturing humans who stood against the Empire’s expansionist dreams. Blackmailed over his relationship with Raena into spreading the plague, Thallian saw his family nearly wiped out at the end of the War. The remnants hid in the depths of their home ocean, while their planet was executed in their stead, bombed into perpetual winter.

In the years after the War ended, Jonan has cloned himself sons. He’s trained the boys as human shields, cannon fodder who will throw themselves between danger and their father. Maybe that’s grim enough to earn the label. I was inspired by the stories of the child soldiers in Africa, stolen in the middle of the night and told to fight or else. When you’re a child, you do what you have to in order to survive. If they praise you for it, you learn to like it.

In an essay about “The Appeal of Grimdark,” ( C.T. Phipps, the author of Esoterrorism, boils grimdark down to two questions: “Is the situation screwed up beyond all repair? Do your heroes fight anyway?” Which is exactly what I’m aiming for: Raena knows as soon as she walks out of her tomb that if Thallian survived the War, he will hunt her down. She knows he will exhaust every resource, expend every minion, until he gets her back.
She’s prepared to give up and choose death until Doc tells her it’s time to take the fight to Thallian. From that point on, Raena is obsessed with training, getting her strength back, and preparing to do the job. She doesn’t expect to survive the confrontation, but as Doc says, Raena is the last person left in the galaxy who knows how Thallian thinks. She’s the only person who can bring him down.

Raena is fairly clear-eyed about her role. Thallian trained her as a killer. She’s going to kill everyone who gets between her and her former commander. As recognizes, “she does show a few small acts of mercy (and some that even she knows only remain a mercy in the short term).” She’s avenging the Templars because she’s the only one who can. Still, she doesn’t see herself as a hero, only as an agent of fate.

If that’s grimdark, that I accept the designation with glee.

DangerousType cover lo-res

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1421404339208“I inhale sharply, hear my booming heart,

Imagine it’s one of Vox’s Hearts pumping

Light across the city and within me,

Bringing with it a rushing ecstasy.

I forget that my name is Virgil Yorke.

I forget that I am not a city,

That I am not Vox. I become the streets,

The sky and everything else in between.”

Aquila. Corvus. Cancer. Three Hearts substitute for a sun that burns black, bringing power to the eternally light-deprived citizens of the city of Vox. Ghosts haunt the street, clawing at headlights. Prometheus, liquid light, is the drug of choice. The body of young Vivian North, shining brightly with unnatural light, has no place on the streets. And when Cancer is stolen, it falls to ‘hero’ cop Virgil Yorke to investigate.

But Virgil has had a long cycle and he doesn’t feel like a hero. With his last case burned into his mind’s eye, he senses a connection between the glowing girl and the stolen Heart. Aided by his partner, Dante, Virgil begins to shed light on the dark city’s even darker secrets.

Haunted by ghosts and chased by his addictions, which will crack first, Virgil or the case?

Dark Star is hardboiled science fantasy of the finest kind, immediately compelling. It is an epic poem about a flawed cop fighting against the darkness. Rich and atmospheric, it is a story you’ll never forget.

About the author:

Oliver Langmead was born in Edinburgh and now lives in Dundee. He has an LLB in Law, and an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study, with a distinction. He is also part of industrial electronica outfit, Surgyn, recently back from their US tour. In his own words, he is ‘occasionally seen behind a midi keyboard or shouting into a microphone, but mostly behind a regular household keyboard, agonising over word order.’

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(Disclosure: I received an electronic ARC from the publisher for review purposes.)

Let’s talk first about Langmead’s audacious decision to write his debut novel in the form of an epic poem. I have to confess to being unfamiliar with the form, and my potential appreciation was further hampered by the fact that I read the novel on my Kindle using an over-large font (all the better to not have to get out my reading glasses, my dear), which messed with the way the verses are intended to appear on the page. Still, it didn’t slow me down in the slightest. One might argue that the use of an epic poem form was unneccessary, as the story would flow just as easily in verses or in conventional prose form; but then, one could also argue that Langmead’s achievement both satisfies starved poetry fans and demonstrates an astonishing facility with words and storytelling.

Either way, it’s a kick-ass story.Think Bladerunner (I wonder if the character of Rachel is a nod to the aforementioned movie), only much, much bleaker. In this world, light is currency, light is a drug, light is treasured and elusive. The darkness is both metaphorical and real (this story is noir in all senses of the word), all-pervasive and claustrophobic. The thought and detail that goes into realizing this perpetually black world – print books are an extravagance when most “writing” is in braille, there are no days but only ‘cycles’, and even the cattle have evolved into strange, blind, albino creatures – is razor sharp. Langmead makes no secret of his influences in naming two main characters Virgil and Dante, and indeed the hellish atmosphere is almost palpable, leaving me breathing deeply and turning on all the lights by the time I got to the end.

This is the third title I have reviewed from Unsung Stories, the first two being the outstanding The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley and Déjà  Vu by Ian Hocking. With the addition of Dark Star, Unsung Stories is cementing its burgeoning reputation as a publisher of intelligent and provocative speculative fiction.

If you like poetry (especially epic poetry) – you need to read this. If you like classic noir detective stories – you need to read this. If you like imaginative science fiction/fantasy – you need to read this.

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