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.
I chatted to Patrick Hester recently for the SF Signal podcast, which is now online. We talk about steampunk, cover art, Going to the Moon, The Apex Book of World SF and lots of other stuff. Warning: quite a lot of bitching about steampunk follows!
And, for no particular reason, a picture – it’s funny because it’s true!
Photo’s from a pad thai place in Vientiane’s Talat Sao, or Morning Market
There were several eccentric second hand bookshops in Vientiane, and in one of them I picked up something truly magical: Life After Liberation, a tiny chapbook about the history of the Christian Church in Laos, which includes this somewhat unique prayer on the cover:
SUNDAY Pray for the spiritual life of the church. Pray that the church in Laos will bring glory to God, that it would be characterized by unity, love and joy.
MONDAY Pray for the nation, led by Prime Minister Kaysone Phomvihane, and the 13-member Plotiburo.
TUESDAY Pray for the church leaders. Most are laymen with no formal Bible training. Pray that they would be men of the Word.
WEDNESDAY Pray for the youth as they grow up in a Communist-Buddhist society.
THURSDAY Pray for the evangelization of Laos. The task facing the church is that of reaching 3.6 million people who speak more than 60 different languages and dialects.
FRIDAY Pray that radio broadcasts would be a source of encouragement and instruction to the Christians. Pray for clear reception.
SATURDAY Pray for translation and revision work being done on both the Lao and Khmu scriptures. Pray that more people will want to read the bible.
Pray for better reception, indeed!
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…
I am sitting in a typical Lao Internet cafe – that is to say, a baby is crying somewhere, construction workers are drilling into the walls, and someone’s eating a fried chicken. I’m here to put the finishing touches to the new website/blog on wordpress – what do you think?
The masthead is a picture of a Vanua Lava snake dance, Vanua Lava being the island I lived on for a year in the Republic of Vanuatu. Not too many people get to see those…
I’m hoping to blog more with this new site, as well as offer more up-to-date information on forthcoming books and stories and everything else. I have a lot coming out in the next couple of years! Not all of which I can mention yet.
In January 2010 – just around the corner – my first novel is coming out from Angry Robot. The Bookman is my love letter to steampunk, and the first in a series for AR. It will be followed by Camera Obscura later in 2010, which I am busy finishing at the moment, and which is even more fun to write!
There is one other novel coming out in 2010, and two novellas, more short stories and at least a couple of comic strips. And 2011 is looking to be equally busy…
So, having more or less finished the site (for now), and written this short introductory post, I will shortly be heading off to the Mekong, to watch the sunset and drink beer. Sometimes it’s not too bad, being a writer!