my short story, “The Night Train”, was published in June 2010 at Strange Horizons. It’s recently been picked up for two Year’s Bests anthologies: Jonathan Strahan’s The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 5 (Nightshade Books) and Gardner Dozois’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty Eighth Annual Collection (St. Martin’s Press).
Gardner Dozois also picked a second story of mine, The Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String, from Fantasy Magazine, for his year’s best anthology.
In addition, “The Night Train” has been picked up by SF audio podcast Escape Pod, and will be available there in the new year.
So it’s been a good year for The Night Train – but I wanted to talk a little about where the story came from – with pictures!
The Night Train
I wrote this story while living in Vientiane, Laos (The Spontaneous Knotting of an Agitated String was both written and set in Vientiane). It’s a quiet town, though not without its charms, and so one of the highlights for us was an occasional trip abroad – to Thailand, which was just beyond the Mekong, on the other side of the river, but more specifically to Bangkok, which is quite a long distance away. To get to Bangkok, you could fly – or you could cross the border into Thailand, into the small town of Nong Khai, and catch the night train from there to Bangkok.
The thing is, I love trains. I travel by train whenever I can – whether it’s across the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, from Bucharest to Brasov (still one of the most beautiful train rides I’ve ever been on), or from Cape Town to Johannesburg (one of the most surreal train rides I ever had, for various reasons!), or, indeed, on the biggest ride of them all, the Trans-Siberian route from Moscow to Beijing (which took, on and off, about 2 months to complete).
And I loved the Nong Khai-Bangkok night train.
There are many things to love about that train ride. I sleep very well on trains, and this is a sleeper ride. There’s a proper dining car slash drinking car (as can be seen from the following picture!):
But, best of all, it starts and ends in Bangkok – specifically, in that wonderful old-world train station called Hua Lamphong, right by Bangkok’s China Town.
Couple of random backpackers there. Even better, for people flying into Bangkok, you get to see the hyper-modern airport and ride into town. But arriving by train, one goes through the tenements, the backs of houses, through mounds of garbage and rough sleepers and people waking up for the work day. And I can’t remember which trip it was but, as we were getting ready to go back, waiting for the train to pull out of the station, back to Nong Khai, I looked around at the station, a monk cadging a smoke from a passerby, the belch of steam and people milling about and the attendants getting ready to heat up food and open up beers, and I knew I had to write a story about it.
What I ended up with was The Night Train – a story of a special sort of body guard, an underworld boss, and an assassin – as well as artificial intelligence, bio-engineering, gender-reassignment surgery and a nice cup of tea. It’s a story that corresponds explicitly with American SF, while taking place in the same near-future South East Asia of some of my other stories (such as Spider’s Moon at Futurismic, The Shangri-La Affair and Aphrodisia at Strange Horizons). I’m glad it was well-received, so far – and glad I took that night ride…