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Beyond the Aquila Rift by Alastair Reynolds (2016) 779 p.

This was a rare one for me – an impulse purchase from a bookstore shelf! Well, not really an impulse purchase, since Reynolds is an author I like a lot and this brick-sized collection of the highlights of his short fiction promised to be a good read. I was also pleased that even though I’ve read quite a bit of his short fiction, I’d only read four of the eighteen stories within: Great Wall of Mars, Weather and The Star Surgeon’s Apprentice, which I think were all published in Galactic North, plus the 100-page novella Diamond Dogs.

Other than those four, standouts included:

Beyond the Aquila Rift, about a cargo crew who make a lightspeed jump and find themselves drastically off course, the main character stuck in a remote space station outpost with his two crewmates trapped in malfunctioning cryo pods, but reunited with an old flame who also happens to be stuck out the back of beyond with him. This is a really, really good sci-fi story that builds up a great sense of tension as the protagonist begins to suspect something is being hidden from him, and the twist at the end is fantastic. It bears mentioning that along with the more mediocre story Zima Blue, this was adapted as one of the flagship episodes of the Netflix anthology series Love, Death + Robots. I went ahead and watched this one purely on the strength of this story, and it’s not bad, but I do think it made one critical mistake, which I’ll try to express without spoilering: while the TV show captures the horror and revulsion of the final twist, it doesn’t capture the more complicated idea that behind that base-level revulsion is actually benevolence, rather than malevolence – which, I think, is a much more interesting ending. Anyway, this is a brilliant short story and there’s a reason it lends its name to the title of the book.

Minla’s Flowers is about a wandering starfarer, perhaps not dissimilar to the shatterlings of House of Suns, whose damaged ship alights upon a forgotten planet where two different societies are engaged in a perpetual war with each other. As he goes in and out of cryo-sleep, the starfarer attempts to limit his engagement with their more primitive development while also trying to protect them from an upcoming disaster, and the story is ultimately about his inability to remain truly neutral.

Fury follows the robotic servant and bodyguard of a galactic emperor who is no longer remotely human, travelling across worlds to unravel the conspiracy against a failed assassination attempt on his master, and in doing so uncovering the secrets of his own history and the emperor’s dark past.

Thousandth Night is set in the same universe, and indeed with the same protagonists, as House of Suns; and since House of Suns is one of the best things Reynolds ever wrote and one of the best sci-fi novels of the past twenty years, this story is just as great.

Those are the standouts, but most of the stories in here are pretty good – and in fact I skipped over the ones I’d already read but still found myself skim reading huge chunks of Diamond Dogs because that one’s a classic. Reynolds is a potboiler sci-fi writer of the highest order: his stories are always good, always engaging, always page-turning, while also being generally smart and well-written. He’s probably not about to win the Booker any time soon, but it’s criminal he’s never won a Hugo or Nebula. His works are solidly reliable reading, and I strongly recommend this collection to anybody who enjoys sci-fi.

the wayfarer

What with the Christmas period and my recent ticking-clock househunt that saw my sanity reduced to a whimpering dormouse, I haven’t been paying much attention to my writing. But here we go, two new stories published to kick off the new year!

At Kasma SF I have The Survivors of the Wayfarer, set on a desolate in a far future Earth, and illustrated very beautifully by Jose Baetas. (It’s legitimately weird and humbling to see somebody draw or paint a scene that I only brought into being from my imagination.)

And over at old stalwart Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction, edition 53 has the seventh instalment of my Black Swan serial, Restitution – in which the consequences of the sixth story spill over. Enjoy!

what manner of creature sebyth

My short story “What Manner of Creature?”, a horror story taking place on a British navy ship in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century, has been published in the fifth volume of Canadian magazine Postscripts to Darkness. “What Manner of Creature” is a horror story which take place on a British navy vessel in the Pacific Ocean in the early 19th century, and is accompanied nicely by the above illustration by Sebyth.

PstD is a pay-only magazine, but it comes in a very tasteful bundle with lots of other tales of the weird and uncanny. You can visit the PstD store to order a hard-copy for $18 Canadian, including shipping, or buy a $5 PDF.

“What Manner of Creature” is a specific type of horror story which I tried to disguise. I felt I made it a little too obvious, in the end, but had a number of early readers who didn’t twig at all, and were nonplussed by the ending. So in the event that anyone actually reads this and then reads the story, let me know if it was too obvious or not obvious enough.

My short story West Gate, which was first published in January 2013 in Allegory Magazine, has been recorded in audio for the horror podcast Pseudopod. You can listen to it for free here, and can also download it onto your iPod or Samsung or whatever the kids are doing these days.

I think West Gate is one of the better stories I’ve written, along with one called What Manner of Creature. I wrote them both way back in early 2012, but the latter took longer to find a home, and is coming out shortly in Postscripts to Darkness. So it’s nice to see that others like it too. I’m not particularly knowledgeable when it comes to audio fiction but I think the reader (writer and poet Ron Jon) does a sterling job bringing the story to life, and it was a nice touch by Pseudopod to ensure an Australian story was read by an Australian. I was actually going to compliment Ron on doing a very convincing Australian accent for the characters (since it’s a hard accent for foreigners to imitate well) before realising he is in fact Australian, and that upon listening a second time his narrating voice is also clearly Australian, even though I thought it was Received Pronunciation the first time around. Clearly I’ve been away from home for too long. Or possibly not long enough.

Extra fun story: I’m flat broke at the moment and was delighted when I realised this had gone live because I assumed I’d be getting a nice injection to my PayPal account. Then I realised the Pseudopod staff are good eggs, and actually paid me as soon as the contract was signed, which was about six months ago. Damn Pseudopod for being good eggs!

My short fantasy story “The Shipwreck of Andalus the Hero” has been published in the latest edition of Schlock Magazine. It’s only about 1,000 words long and you can read it free online.

This is the first story I’ve published that’s been illustrated, in the nice piece of art you can see above, by Thom Cuschieri. Thanks Thom!

Good afternoon! Australian speculative fiction magazine SQ Mag has released its “best of” edition for 2012, which includes my short story Nullus, as it appeared way back in March 2012 in the magazine’s inaugural edition. You can read all the stories in here online at SQ Mag, but isn’t it nice to have them all picked out for you in an attractive $2.99 Kindle package? Besides, as the editor said to us, “depending on sales, we may accrue sufficient revenue to attract royalties for you.” Hooray! So head on over to Amazon and support the independent arts, and by extension my drinking habit.

Happy New Year! As of January 1, I have two more short stories published and freely available to read online. The first, West Gate, can be found in Allegory. The second, Cottesloe Beach, is in The Waterhouse Review.

These two stories are the first I’ve ever been paid for, even if it is a small amount, and I’m very grateful to editors Ty Drago and Gavin Broom for finding my work good enough to compensate with legal tender. It’s a nice way to begin 2013, and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll find myself higher in the Google rankings than the South Carolina sex offender who shares my name.

Removed for publication – you can read the story, now renamed “Flight,” in Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction #43.

Hello, faithful reader! My short story “The City” is being published in the Autumn 2011 edition of online fiction magazine The Battered Suitcase. You can read it here for free online, or shell out a few dollars to download it to Kindle or iPad or whatever the kids are doing these days, or spend a few dollars more to order a print copy. Naturally this volume contains not just my own tale of amazement and delight, but those of many other writers.

This is the first short story I’ve had published in any kind of official capacity, which is a significant milestone for any writer. Unfortunately it’s also the last issue of the magazine, which can be traced directly back to you for not supporting the independent arts scene in the past. Shame, shame, shame.

I first started writing “The City” when I was living in Seoul, which was more than two years ago. It was accepted for publication in November 2010, which was nearly a year ago. I think I need to either start writing more stories, or ignore simultaneous submission prohibitions.

(Removed for publication)

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October 2022