It’s quite short – one of my Laos-based stories – and strangely enough, based mostly on a real event, a night spent hanging out with a hunchback tuk-tuk driver in the garment factory district of Vientiane. I have a thing for tuk-tuk drivers, as anyone reading my Laos stories can probably tell… and which is a bit weird, I suppose!
The rest of the story is equal parts Samuel Delany (an obvious reference to his classic “Aye, and Gomorrah…”) and equal parts Richard Calder (though it’s somewhat strange, since I think I only read Calder a couple of years later). And a bit of Gibson thrown in for good measure – which are probably a few too many referents for a story this length.
Still, mostly it’s the true story of one night in Vientiane – as filtered through some futuristic hard-sf goggles and too much vintage science fiction. The excesses of cyberpunk are essentially romantic, I think – which is something I’ve not thought about until now, but seems to me to hold some truth.
In any case, if you’d like to check it out, it’s available as both audio and text at Escape Pod.
Glad to say my latest story to be up at Escape Pod is The Insurance Agent, first published in Interzone. It is read by Christian Brady.
The bar was packed and everyone was watching the Nixon-Reagan match. The fighters were reflected off the bar’s grainy wood countertop and the tables’ gleaming surfaces and seemed to melt as they flickered down the legs of the scattered chairs. The bar was called the Godhead, which had a lot to do with why I was there. It was a bit of an unfair fight as Reagan was young, pre-presidency, circa-World War Two, while Nixon was heavy-set, older: people were exchanging odds and betting with the bar’s internal gaming system and the general opinion seemed to be that though Reagan was in better shape Nixon was meaner.
I wasn’t there for the match.
The Godhead was on Pulau Sepanggar, one of the satellite islands off Borneo, hence nominally under Malaysian federal authority but in practice in a free zone that had stronger ties to the Brunei Sultanate. It was a convenient place to meet, providing easy access to the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and, of course, Singapore, which resented the island’s role as a growing business centre yet found it useful at the same time.
She wore a smart business suit and a smart communication system that looked like what it was, which was a custom-made gold bracelet on her left arm. She wore smart shades and I was taking a bet that she wasn’t watching the fight. She was drinking a generic Cola but there was nothing generic about her. I slid into a chair beside her and waited for her shades to turn transparent and notice me.
‘Drink, Mr. Turner?’
I liked the name Turner. It was Anglo-Saxon generic, a mid-level executive’s name, white as beige. ‘Call me James,’ I said. I liked James too. You could tell what a James Turner did just by hearing his name. The rest of me was tailor-made for the name, had been for some time: I had the kind of tan that suggested I had been East for just long enough to have acquired it, black hair that was short but not too short and had a decent but not overly-expensive cut, pale blue eyes behind shades that cost a lot of money to look like a knock-off.
There was a suggestion of a smile in the corners of her mouth and she said, ‘I don’t think I will.’
‘Mr. Turner, then,’ I said. ‘One name’s good as another.’ – continue reading, or listen in audio!
I’ve written a few stories that have LGBT characters or themes though not, when I look at it, an exceptionally large number. It just occured to me it could be interesting (for me, if no one else) to go over my short stories database and extract some common themes or group stories together, of which this is a first post.
A lot of the time, my reasoning is that, if there is a romance in the story, it might as well be a same-sex romance – girl-meets-girl or boy-meets-boy instead of boy-meets-girl, to reduce it to a plot component. Other times I’m interested in exploring sexual themes explicitly – most predominantly in the Gorel stories (of which more later). I’ve been particularly interested in Kathoey (Thai/Lao transgender, or “third sex”) as they’re very much a part of everyday life in Laos, with, it seems to me, far more acceptance than ever in the “enlightened” West, and they tend to crop up in stories.
I have no idea if I’m doing a particularly good job or not. My guiding principle is fairly simple though – people are people, and sexual identity is one part of a person. I can well imagine some characters who are consumed by sexual orientation/gender identity to the extent it overshadows everything else, but I’d imagine that’s quite rare, and can apply equally whether you’re gay or straight. Anyhow, here is a handful of stories with LGBT themes.
High Windows – Strange Horizons 2006 – an alienated teenage boy travels across the future solar system, trying to find his place in the world. One reader comment said it was “basically internet porn, given a veneer of respectability … thinly imagined, flaccidly written and altogether unstimulating. ” Another wrote: “This story is truly a work of sick self indulgent porn.”
“High Windows” obviously (I think) corresponds with some of Samuel Delany’s fiction as well as with Philip Larkin’s poem ”High Windows”. It also includes a line about transitioning that both I and the editors thought would be problematic, though it hadn’t been commented on.
It is interesting that the readers above equate “sexually explicit” with “porn”, though I have no problem with it. I did write a couple of stories that deal specifically with pornography and that you might want to check out – 304, Adolf Hitler Strasse on Clarkesworld and “The Love-Craft” in Postscripts (not online).
Covenant - Apex Digest 2008 (but reprinted online in Basement Stories) – a story about religion and aliens which features a lesbian couple. If “High Windows” was a story about alienation and sex, here the romance is simply another part of the story.
“How To Make Paper Airplanes” – published in the special Mundane SF issue of Interzone, 2008, edited by Geoff Ryman, and not online, alas – deals more explicitly with a gay relationship in a culture (Vanuatu) where it is both socially unacceptable and illegal, though again this is one aspect of the story, about four men stranded on a desert island and the meeting of alien (yet human) civilizations.
The Night Train – Strange Horizons, 2010 – well, this little beasty is somehow a Theodore Sturgeon Award nominee, has two reprints in Year’s Bests anthologies, and is available in audio at Escape Pod. I have to admit I mostly wrote the story because I love the night train from Bangkok to Nong Khai, and I love the Hua Lamphong train station. I found the various comments on how the story “exoticises” strange, as for me it was writing about everyday life (admittedly in a somewhat weird future). The main character is a kathoey, the story adopts and corresponds with American cyberpunk tropes and ends, I thought quite appropriately, with a cup of tea.
There are other stories, I think, but those are the more prominent ones. The other stories I wanted to mention are the Gorel of Goliris stories, of which the first one to be published is the novella Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God (PS Publishing 2011).
Two more Gorel stories will be published in PS Publishing’s Postscripts anthology series – “Black Gods Kiss” and “Buried Eyes”, and a small collection of Gorel stories (probably titled Black Gods Kiss) will be published by PS next year.
The obvious inspiration for Gorel has been C.L. Moore, with her Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith stories, though with Gorel it was obvious to me from early on that it would be more explicit, almost to the point of the gratuitous. I did want to write something that had plenty of sex and violence – my guiding line for Gorel early on was that he’d “kill anything and sleep with anyone”, though in the course of Pot-Bellied God he enters a fairly stable menage a trois relationship (at least for a while!) and also, I suspect, falls in love. I’m looking forward to finding out what Gorel gets up to next!
My story “The Night Train”, originally published in Strange Horizons (and additionally reprinted in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 5 and The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty Eighth Annual Collection), is now available in audio at Escape Pod!
Got back from a nice week in the desert to find my laptop giving me a blue screen of death… which I managed to fix last night. Sigh of relief all around.
Also came back to a full post box, including copies of the American edition of The Bookman, my copies of the US edition of An Occupation of Angels (of which some news, soon!), and copies of my graphic short story, “Mr. Spellman’s Last Dance” in the comics anthology Grave Conditions.
There’s a new review of An Occupation of Angels, reading, partly:
An Occupation of Angels is exhausting, but in a good way. Tidhar delivers a supernatural spy novella that gallops along at a break-neck pace. True to his usual form, Tidhar drops you into the middle of the action, only feeding you pieces of information as they naturally come up in the story. The result is that you’re endlessly intrigued, both by what’s happening, and where and when it’s happening. Tidhar never falls into the trap of standing back and admiring the alternative history he’s created. Rather, he uses it, with all its richness and mystery, as an effective backdrop to a cinematic thriller, and the reader is left hungry for more.
Also news that The Night Train will be published in audio at Escape Pod (and I’ll have more news about that story, too, soon).
I have a lot of fun having podcasted stories. Both Escape Pod and Pseudopod have run stories from me in the past, and I love that they reach so many people, and that they have very active message boards where people discuss the stories.
When Revolution Time was published on Escape Pod, the message board thread ran to six pages, with off-shoot threads. My latest story on Pseudopod, meanwhile – that would be Set Down This, which first appeared in Sean Wallace and Paul Tremblay’s anthology, Phantom - has generated a four page discussion. They’re both fun to follow, diverging quite quickly from the story itself into discussions on politics and art. It’s fun to write stories that do that!
My story “The Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is now live as a podcast at Escape Pod, read by Stephen Eley.
It was afternoon, after school has ended for the day. Sash has been working in the hydroponics gardens, helping the adults with the delicate work of picking the buds. It was flowering time, and the ganja plants were at the end of their cycle.
It was then, with her hands sticky with resin and her skin tingling pleasantly from the work and the heat, with Mama Kingston’s deep, melodious voice saying ‘a good harvest, child, a good harvest’ with a throaty chuckle, when Sash felt about herself the presence of Jah in everything she did and was profoundly happy: it was then that Sash discovered, for the first time, the existence of the Secret. - click to listen to the story!
Had a nice e-mail from Jason Sanford saying he’d put forward my story, The Shangri-La Affair for a Nebula award. I have no expectations of being nominated (it needs, I think, 8-10 recommendations to get on the ballot) but it’s the thought that counts.
Meanwhile, I sold another story to Escape Pod – “The Secret Protocols of the Elders of Zion” – a story of deep space, networks, politics and, well, weed – should be up there some time in the future.