I’ve long been a fan of postapocalyptic fiction, and there’s just something about humanity on its knees that gives me goosebumps. There was a phase when I consumed naught but postapocalyptic stories, movies and video games like a starving man in a Sizzlers, and you probably don’t want to know how many times I’ve watched Mad Max 2. I still consume the subgenre occasionally, but I think the point where I was voraciously reading the Deathlands books (war-porn postapocalyptic series, the publisher cranks em out every month or so) was when I realised I Had to Give It A Rest.
Still, good fun was had
As far as subgenres go, it’s been on the radar for a long time, notably since the Cold War, when folks were worried that the whole world was going to resemble Fallout 3 on a difficult setting. And according to the wise sages at Wikipedia, this sort of fiction has been around since the beginnings of literature, with the Babylonians and all their mates having a crack at it (and it posits that the Book of Revelations is a solid candidate for postapocalyptic fiction, which amuses me more than it should).
In my own reading adventures, one thing I’ve notably avoided is apocalyptic fiction. Disaster movies and novels, where the breaking of the world is actually taking place, this sort of thing barely keeps my interest. Okay, so the zombies have arisen, the meteors have struck, and the ocean just washed away your house: what happens next?
This is where things get interesting (for me, at least). It’s all about the What Happens Next. When the rules are wiped from the slate, when nothing is left of our society, our civilisation, except the tall tales told by the desperate around timid little campfires, the ruins hinting at what once was, what has been lost. For me, that’s where it’s at.
Which tells me that, despite all of my own tastes in media, and to some extent my own writing, I’m not actually that into the postapocalyptic. In the truest sense of the word, I’m a fan of the interregnum, and like my fiction spiced with a healthy dose of Dark Ages. Interregnum is quite literally “the time between kings”, and in some places it’s been treated as a great background device, the feel of a tragic loss, an ennui that can persist for centuries. I’m thinking of Asimov’s Foundation books, to some extent Star Wars from ep 4 onwards, and some great stuff like Mary Stewart’s King Arthur books, and most recently Stephen Baxter’s novel Coalescents. One of my favourite areas of historical fiction is the fall of Roman influence, the rapid and complete withdrawal of civilisation from the fragile British Isles, and Stewart and Baxter handled this brilliantly in their respective books.
In Fight Club, I was really rooting for Tyler Durden, and the prospect of Project Mayhem had me salivating:
“We wanted to blast the world free of history…. picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the fifteenth green of a forgotten golf course. You’ll hunt elk through the damp canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five degree angle. We’ll paint the skyscrapers with huge totem faces and goblin tikis, and every evening what’s left of mankind will retreat to empty zoos and lock itself in cages as protection against the bears and big cats and wolves that pace and watch us from outside the cage bars at night.”
OH HELL YES. And this, boys and girls, is why I’ve drifted into writing stuff like zombie fiction – not because I give a rats about how an extinction event has happened, I really just want to know, what the hell is humanity going to do now that it’s on its knees?
What happens next?
Wow, these things are rolling out in quick succession! I truly appreciate when folks take the time to give reviews to short fiction, it’s a bugger of a job and a proper review takes quite some time to prepare. In a previous life I did a lot of fiction reviewing for places like Tangent Online, Specusphere, ASIM, and Last Short Story. I have emerged from those places with total respect for those who would wield the critic’s pen (and the affirmed desire to never again wield the same myself – done my time etc.). I sincerely believe that every writer should have a go at reviewing, it’s great to exercise your own critical faculties, as well as a chance to pay it forward to discerning readers and review-gathering authors like moi. Over time it’s helpful to get an oversight of your preferred genre, learn from the mistakes of others and such.
Anyhow, onto the reviews. Firstly, reviewer David Conyers over at Albedo One had this to say about my ASIM #46 story The School Bus:
“Mark Farrugia’s issue 46 of Andromeda Spaceways standout stories were those of the horror genre. Jason Fischer’s “The School Bus” was the best with a post-apocalyptic Australia complete with zombified kangaroos. Told from the point of view of a child, it built its horror slowly so that when the final revelation hit hard, it was the human parents who were the scariest characters to be found anywhere in this dark and disturbing world that Fischer created.”
And once more from Horrorscope, my Aurealis #44 story gunning for a tinkerman gets a look-in. Reviewer Mark Smith-Briggs says:
“Jason Fischer’s Gunning for a Tinkerman uses a blend of character and action in the highly entertaining outback tale of a former preacher hunting a man through a world of giant snakes and witchcraft. An apocalyptic style fantasy, there is a lot of fun to be had with Fischer’s free flowing prose and warped sense of humour.”
It was also nice to see some fellow ink-siblings get recognition for their efforts in ASIM #46, especially Chris Green and Felicity Dowker (and in Chris’s case also for his oztastic “Jumbuck” in Aurealis #44). Andromeda Spaceways got me into short genre fiction, will always hold a special place in my heart, and I’m glad to see that recent issues are getting such positive feedback. Despite its mad pulp-retro beginnings, I really believe ASIM has matured and represents Aussie writers very well indeed.
Over at Horrorscope, reviewer Mark Smith-Briggs has undergone the herculean task of reviewing three issues of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine in one hit! Of my issue #46 story The School Bus, Mark says:
“Jason Fischer’s The School Bus also uses the innocence and naivety of youth to construct a dark examination of an outback society trapped following the outbreak of a zombie virus. A story of layers, Fischer draws you in through the horrors of a zombie hoarde only to reveal a far more sinister underbelly from the town itself. His writing is a brilliant example where saying a little can be far more disturbing than saying too much.”
I am so pleased to hear this, it’s exactly what I was aiming for with this story. The rest of the review can be read here:
(I’m still madly in love with the zombieroo cover)
Fellow Aurealis #44 contributor Adam Ford has posted a blog entry about his long years of subbing to the magazine (he sent in a story to issue #1!) and his long-awaited success in selling them a story. Well done mate, persistence is king.
He’s starting to read the other stories in the issue, and of mine he says:
‘I’ve been loving the stuff I’ve read so far, including Jason Fischer’s batshit insane post-apocalyptic Mad-Max-meets-Gilgamesh “gunning for a tinkerman”.’
BEST QUOTE EVER. This seriously belongs on a t-shirt, made my flipping day that. He’s summed the story up better than I ever could.
EDIT: It sure does belong on a t-shirt, behold.
Much like a gift-giving grizzly bear on meth, Christmas is bearing down on us once more. With that in mind, I’ve got a couple of fiction-related presents coming out to the world. The first one is now official, Christmas Eve will see a brand new story of mine appearing on Chuck McKenzie’s zombie-tastic Necroscope blog. There’s some other goings on as well (including some neat prizes for those who become Necroscope Shamblers) so check it out here:
The 2nd gift, well, you’ll just have to wait a bit longer, won’t you…
So I’ve been around the traps a bit writing wise, and done all sorts of cool things in the past few years. I’ve dabbled in just about everything, and have been a slusher, reviewer, critiquer, general dogsbody, sympathetic ear, and always a writer. Some parts of my writerly adolescence were frustrating, but it was all educational, and overall a whole heap of fun. But one thing I’ve never done is put on the editor hat, something I decided to remedy at last year’s Natcon when I had a natter with fellow scribblers David Conyers and David Kernot.
I’m now one of the co-editors for Midnight Echo, the magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association. We’re slowly putting together issue #6, the themed SF/Horror issue, and submissions are open until Jan 31st next year, so if that’s your bag you’ve still got a bit of time to send something in.
(Firstly I should mention that I’m only speaking as myself, 1/3rd of this hive-mind editor, and these opinions are strictly my own, not necessarily those of the issue #6 collective)
So we’re starting to plough through the subs, and I’m going through the usual grimaces and woes that others have frequently expressed before me. I know there are a few shibboleths that aren’t expressly given out when you decide to write stories, but these are easy enough to find out online. Firstly, always ALWAYS write in standard manuscript format. By itself it won’t get you over the line but you’ve got to give yourself the best chance. Follow this hyperlink, and set up your manuscripts this way.
You are not the exception to this standard, and your two page story in justified alignment with no paragraph breaks (or indeed, no paragraphs) isn’t an edgy stream-of-consciousness thing; it’s migraine fodder and a way to the rejection pile. The font etc of Shunn’s example might not be pretty, but it’s an industry standard and one any new writer would be wise to follow. If you can’t handle looking at it, write it any way you like, then change it to look like this when you’re finished. Also, standard format tweaked in strange ways is just not cool – crazy headers and four-inch margins on either side do not earn any love.
Also, stories that don’t meet the guidelines or the target market? ALWAYS READ THE GUIDELINES. There’s a home for everything, and oodles of other markets on places like duotrope.com that would love to see the definitive were-wombat paranormal romance novella or the essay about your sister’s pony. Just sending your stuff out to any old place proves you’re not paying attention, especially if the target market is drastically different to the type of story you’re telling. It also indicates that you are possibly sending it out as a simultaneous submission (ie to several markets at once) which is often a no-no. This market doesn’t accept this or multiple subs (more than one story at once), being busted doing this sort of thing isn’t the end of the world, but it’s a faux pas and not exactly professional.
These are minor technical quibbles, and it’s not all misery and hair-shirts. There’s been some great stories in the pile, and it’s a buzz to pick these out of the slush and put them in for the 2nd round of reading. It’s early days yet (by all accounts 50% of the slush comes in during the last week of the reading period) but I’m reasonably confident that we can come up with the goods on this one.
One thing that does concern me are the low levels of submissions from female authors. Again, it’s still early days, but to date we’ve only received approximately 29% of our subs from women writers. When I signed up for this gig, one of the things I was very conscious about was trying to do the right thing by everyone. Easy folks, pitchforks away, I’m not talking about setting quotas or any of that other stuff that often revs some people up when gender table-of-contents issues are discussed. Very simply, I would hate for my first foray into (co-)editorship to be an uninclusive sausage-fest. But if women writers don’t send us submissions, we can’t read them!
I guess one of the things that might be putting some people off is the fact that this issue is actively seeking science fiction, and is headed up by three white male writers. But I for one would be just as happy to see the next Marianne De Pierres as much as the next Greg Egan. There are some very talented folks out toiling under the Aussie SF umbrella, and just about every genre writing thing I’ve ever been to has been split roughly down the middle gender-wise. There’s no reason why TOCs can’t turn out similarly, without any special effort expended, simply because a large initial pool of fiction would allow this to happen naturally (and probably unconsciously).
In closing, go on, have a go. You’ve got nothing to lose, and it’s a gorgeous magazine to get a story into. If you have any questions or want to pick my brain about this or anything else, feel free to comment here or I can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to ask something privately.