Here is the first in a series of interviews and story extracts with the contributors to Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror issue, due for release in November 2011. The first interview off the post is Andrew J. McKiernan, who gave us a creepy Lovecraftian tale set on a comet.
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Midnight Echo: What is your favourite Sci-fi horror novel or short story and why?
Andrew: Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds is probably my favourite. It might not be horror in the traditional sense, but it uses a lot of the tropes to create suspense and a more than sufficient amount of dark imagery. Essentially an almost-hard-sf space opera, Revelation Space also delights in inflicting a bleak and menacing future upon its readers. There is the Nostalgia For Infinity; a centuries old starship more like a rotting Gothic castle than the flashy futuristic sterility of other SF ships. It once carried hundreds and thousands of passengers, but now only a handful of crew members haunt its dark corridors. Not only that, but both the ship and its captain have been infected by the Melding Plague, a virus that attacks humans and machines in equal measure, transforming them into grotesque symbiotes that make it impossible to tell where the machine ends and the human begins. Add into all that the overall series arc (continued in further novels) of a billion year old alien race that has already once wiped out almost all life in the galaxy and is intent on doing it again, and you have some strong Lovecraftian overtones. How can anyone go wrong with a mix like that?
Midnight Echo: Tell us about your story and what your influences are?
Andrew: My story, “The Wanderer In The Darkness” is a quite obvious attempt at moving something of the Lovecraft Mythos into space. I’ve always seen Lovecraft’s main mythos tales as being more SF than Horror; these are aliens we are dealing with, not supernatural demons, and the leap from Lovecraft’s more common setting of early 20th century America to 21st century deep space seemed an easy leap to make as far as story-telling goes. It is a simple story, essentially; a crew on a routine mission finds out that things aren’t at all what they expected them to be. It is a trope that has been used to connect Horror and SF in films so many times in the past - Alien, The Thing, Event Horizon, Pandorum - but not so much that I’ve encountered in literature.
I’d also been reading about our physical exploration of comets via space probes, which first occurred with the Deep Space 1 probe in 2001 and continued on with Deep Impact 1 in 2005 and more recently Stardust in 2011. The orbits of comets through our solar system can take anything from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of years, and some originate from the inside Oort cloud – a place so far away that it may extend almost a full light year out from the sun – and yet even at that distance it is still classed as part of our solar system. Those sort of distances and time-spans are somewhat mind-boggling and fit in so well with the types of things Lovecraft was hinting at. These cold, dark bodies, drifting for aeon’s through unimaginable kilometres of space, returning occasionally to shed light and sometimes destruction upon the planets of our solar system. Harbingers of all sorts of prophesies throughout the history of man. It all seemed so perfect for a tale.
And so, what happens when we are finally able to set foot on one of these objects? What will we find? That’s the essential thrust of my tale and how the influences came together.
Midnight Echo: Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn’t common knowledge?
Andrew: That’s right, always leave the hardest question until last! To be honest, if it isn’t common knowledge I probably have a reason for keeping it that way. Some things, especially about a horror writer, should always remain hidden and mysterious.
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The Wanderer in the Darkness
Andrew J McKiernan
At a distance of just under 3,500 kilometres, the comet should have been visible as an object roughly the size of a full moon seen from earth. Instead, the passengers and crew saw only darkness and a spattering of light-year distant stars.
“It’s still out there, isn’t it?”
The question was from Graham Tully, a young Glacial Geologist on his first trip out of Earth’s gravity well. Three months out of slow-ship stasis and he could still taste the rotten-egg of hydrogen sulphide, still woke up choking on dreams of the hibernation tank’s cramped confines and perfluorocarbon breathing fluid filling his lungs. The transfer from Neptune orbit aboard the *Spiritus Mundi* had been easier; awake all the way under a constant, barely noticeable, 0.01G.
“Yeah, it’s still there,” Captain Haldane answered. “Why’re you here, Tully? You know anything at all about comets?”
“I know about ice. Supposed to be studying the Yasu Sulci ice ridges on Triton but this was too good an opportunity to pass up. So, where is it?”
Dr Susan Maradin, the mission’s astrogeologist, kicked off from a bulkhead towards a bank of display panels. Her fingers flicked across a keyboard and the display panels lit up with a variety of multi-hued blobs centred in blackness. Tully recognised them as spectrographic imagery—infra-red, ultra-violet, chemical emissions, x-ray—and he could see the shape of the comet in their rainbow swirls.
“See, still there,” Dr. Maradin said. “Comets are the least reflective objects in the solar system. They might be mostly ice, but the surface is a tarry crust of organic compounds. It absorbs most of the light that hits it. Probably won’t see anything unaided until we’re right on top of it. Maybe Peregrine Base will have left a light or two on for us?”
The mention of Peregrine Base caused the Captain to shift uncomfortably in his couch. He turned to his Co-pilot and found her already looking his way.
“Still no ping from Peregrine, Lieutenant Garneau?”
“Nothing, Captain. Peregrine’s nav-beacon and communication relays are transmitting identification codes, but no replies to our outgoings. Could be they’re out at a drill site?”
“For over twelve hours? Someone would have stayed back at the base, or they would have taken a radio with them.”
Lieutenant Garneau didn’t answer. She knew this was true. In space you never went anywhere without a radio capable of transmitting a signal, even if it was only an emergency beacon.
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Biography – Andrew J McKiernan
Andrew J McKiernan is an author and illustrator living and working on the Central Coast of NSW. Since 2007 his short stories and novelettes have appeared in Aurealis and Midnight Echomagazines and well as the anthologies Shadow Plays, CSFG’s Masques, In Bad Dreams 2, Scenes From the Second Storey and Macabre: A Journey Through Australia’s Darkest Fears. His stories have been shortlisted twice for both the Aurealis and Australian Shadows awards, as well as Ditmar Awards shorlistings for both his writing and illustration. His short story “The Memory of Water” was recently reprinted in Ticonderoga Publications’ Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2010 and his story “The Desert Song” received an Honorable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year Vol.3 anthology. New stories are forthcoming in Aurealis #46 and Midnight Echo #6, both due for publication in November 2011.