As the release date for Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue is this week, we though we would introduce you to Joanne Anderton, who wrote one of the most original and bizarre stories in the line-up, “Out Hunting for Teeth”. Joanne’s writing strength is demonstrated by her recent novel publication, Debris, out from Angry Robot.
Pre-order your copy of the limited print edition now for only $10 + postage.
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Midnight Echo: What is your favorite Sci-fi horror novel or short story and why?
Joanne: I’m really no good at playing favourites. I do, however, have a soft spot for Ghost Beyond Earth by G. M. Hague. I read this book many years ago (when I was but a young thing…) and it left such an impression on me. Twisted, creepy supernatural horror mixed with space-station claustrophobia and good old fashioned madness, all with an Australian setting and tone. There’s just something about space and horror that goes together so well, and I think the same things applies to horror set in Australia. So much of the horror in sci-fi comes from the isolation, and the fact that you just can’t escape because there’s nowhere for you to go. How much is that like the Australian outback? No one can hear you scream on an isolated cattle station either…
Midnight Echo: Tell us about your story and what your influences are?
Joanne: The main character in my story, “Out Hunting for Teeth”, is Wype — a W-type Scavenger-Class android. He’s part dead boy, part machine, and he hunts humans through the insides of a crippled starship, so he can extract their useful material, such as skeletons and neural networks. He was built by the Witch, a giant and grotesque creature born from the ship’s core. He mostly ignores the whispers from his dead boy’s brain and listens to his programming instead, until he finds the body of a man hanged by his own people. What he discovers on the dead man’s networks will change everything.
“Out Hunting for Teeth” was inspired by Goya’s etching of the same name, which depicts a witch stealing teeth from the body of a hanged man. As soon as I saw it, I just knew I wanted to write about it, but I also knew I wanted to do something… different. This story is the result. My husband described it as a cross between Wall-E and Genocyber and I still think that’s the best description!
Midnight Echo: Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn’t common knowledge?
Joanne: There’s common knowledge about me? Now I’m worried. Well, hmmm, how about: I love writing horror, but I’m a complete chicken when it comes to reading it or watching it. A truly scary movie will give me many sleepless nights before I convince myself that no, the *insert horrific supernatural creature here* isn’t real. Got to be supernatural though. Serial killers just bore me.
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Out Hunting for Teeth
The colony in the sunside hydroponics chamber had strung the man up in the access corridor like an offering. He swung from the ceiling’s naked beams on a noose of optical fibre and copper wire, and his hands were tied in front of him. His face was expressionless and grey, his mouth hung open, and the nodes drilled into his teeth were misfiring desperate, panicking signals.
W-type Scavenger-Class—nicknamed Wype by his mistress in her cruel glee—had never seen anything like it.
His sensors told him the man was already dead, no need to chase and kill this one himself, which reduced the chance he would damage the man’s spinal enhancements and neural networks. That was good. The Witch was vicious when she was displeased. So it made sense to cut the man down, slice him into manageable parts and drag the useful ones back to her as quickly as possible.
But Wype was more than sensors and circuitry. He was a Witch’s spell, a complex blend of dead human parts and recycled machine parts, given life and a task by his mistress. He shared a brain, and most of his body, with a dead boy. And his boy told him something wasn’t right. Humans were too few and they considered themselves too precious to kill each other indiscriminately. There had to be a reason for this man’s death. Perhaps he was contaminated. If Wype brought a virus—biological or digital—into the Witch’s lair, she would eject him into airless space.
So Wype and his boy decided this required more investigation.
Wype swung himself down from the ducting. His boy leg jarred at the impact. He pumped a fresh round of painkillers into the degenerating muscle, and shuffled awkwardly forward. He was designed for climbing through the hollow bones and rotting guts of the derelict ship, not walking in a straight line. His metallic leg was longer than his human leg, segmented, and hooked at the tip. His one human hand was encased in reinforced ceramic tiles stolen from the ship’s breached hull. He had two mechanical arms. One ended in a hook like his leg, the second was a multi-tool of cables, a light, a soldering iron and a photon-beam blade.
The sensors protruding from Wype’s neck scanned for heat signals, electronic pulses, and neural firings. He detected nothing but the panic emanating from the man’s teeth. He cut the man’s leg, wiped a thin drop of blood directly on the powerful lenses of his mechanical eye, and ran as many scans as he was programmed with. As far as Wype could tell there was nothing wrong with his flesh, other than the rigors of death. That only left his networks.
Wype hauled himself up the wall, extended his blade and cut the man down. Then he dropped back to the floor, and pried open the dead man’s mouth. It took a little drilling with the sharpened tip of his blade to expose enough ports to link himself with the neural network.
Human networks were basically designed for maintenance: they monitored blood pressure, muscle function, and oxygen uptake. But the dead man’s was doing none of those things. Instead, it was flooded with data, a nonsense of figures and formulas, instructions and feedback that didn’t feel human at all. It felt, if anything, like a machine. A jumbled, failing machine.
“Who are you?”
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Biography – Joanne Anderton
Joanne Anderton lives in Sydney with her husband and too many pets. By day she is a mild-mannered marketing coordinator for an Australian book distributor. By night, weekends and lunchtimes she writes dark fantasy and horror. Her short fiction has recently appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and Worlds Next Door. She was shortlisted for the 2009 Aurealis Award for best young adult short story. Her debut novel, Debris (Book One the Veiled Worlds Series) will be published by Angry Robot Books in 2011, followed by Suited in 2012.