Today is the final day of 2013. I always return to Thomas Hardy’s The Darkling Thrush on days like today–the wind is howling over a landscape of sandpaper snow, and I am listening to its misery by a warm fire. Hardy called it the “century’s corpse,” and perhaps it is. A liminal space, neither here nor there, a day when all are anxious to begin but no one begins anything–a place between living and dying. It seems, therefore, wonderfully appropriate to end the blog year with a guest post for a story collection aptly titled: Impossible Spaces. But keep reading! We end today with fond wishes and promises of things to come…
Sometimes the rules can change. Sometimes things aren’t how they appear. Sometimes you can just slip through the cracks and end up… somewhere else. What else is there? Is there somewhere else, right beside you, if you could only reach out and touch it? Or is it waiting to reach out and touch you?
Don’t trust what you see. Don’t trust what you hear. Don’t trust what you remember. It isn’t what you think.
Impossible Spaces is a new collection of twenty-one dark, unsettling and weird short stories that explore the spaces at the edge of possibility, edited by Hannah Kate and featuring tales from Ramsey Campbell, Simon Bestwick, Douglas Thompson, Keris McDonald, amongst others.
For more information, visit the publisher’s website. In the remainder of this post, four of the authors talk about the inspirations behind their own ‘impossible spaces’…
Margrét Helgadóttir – author of ‘Shadow’
The idea for the plot in the story ‘Shadow’ grew from a memory of a huge glass building where I once worked, located next to railway tracks in downtown Oslo. I often worked until very late, and in the cold Norwegian winter nights, it was a spooky building to be in and to leave. The building was new, but there was no mobile phone signal inside the lifts. After the lift actually broke down a few times, I began to picture a scary scenario: on a Friday evening, the lift would fail and I’d be trapped inside for the whole weekend, unable to call anyone for help. The city in ‘Shadow’ is very influenced by different areas in downtown Oslo.
My other strong thought before I started to write was an image of a woman scarred by her past, very fragile, yet very strong. I pictured her as someone who had hidden from the world, too scared to pop her head up, for a long time, and I also played with ideas of how an outsider would react if suddenly almost all the people were gone and she had no society to avoid. Would this encourage the person to take up more space in the world, and no longer fear being visible?
Rachel Yelding – author of ‘I’d Lock it With a Zipper’
Back at film school I wanted to write ‘real’ stories about ‘real’ people like everyone else did, so I set my stories in Lewisham and based them on working class people… and they turned out to feel as real as a vegan cheeseburger. I had to accept that my reality was different to everyone else’s. I come from (and still live in) deepest, darkest Kent and my reality is fields of corn, poppies, lavender and grazing livestock that stretch as far as the eye can see. I especially love lavender. I suffer from insomnia and am generally more nervous than most people so can appreciate its calming qualities. Many of my happiest and saddest times have been spent either lying under the lavender bush in my garden or exploring the lavender fields at Shoreham.
I think when you’re aware that you see the world differently to those around you, you have a tendency to feel completely alien from the whole world. My attempt at writing ‘real’ stories was just one of many failed attempts at being ‘normal’. Realising that being different was actually okay and didn’t mean instant ostracism was one of the best days of my life. Deep down I know that however strange I am I’ll always have people who love me; however, sometimes I still slip and remember how it felt when I believed I was completely alone.
Identity is a big theme for me and appears in nearly all my writing including ‘I’d Lock it With a Zipper’. Ideas such as robots and magic clocks are not real like gang culture or living on the poverty line; however, I think they are just as capable of conveying real feelings like loneliness and isolation. I think out of all the things that exist in the world emotions are the most real. Emotions transcend genre and I honestly feel sorry for people who think less of genre and speculative writing because they haven’t realised this yet. Above all I am inspired by emotion. That is what inspired me to write my impossible space.
Douglas Thompson – author of ‘Multiplicity’
My story in Impossible Spaces is called ‘Multiplicity’ and is about all the weird things that start happening inside a large space-going vehicle that enters the sphere of influence of a black hole. Or is it? I’m not sure if I can say what inspired it, because I devised this story from first principles, designed it like a piece of architecture in a way, to convey the issues I wanted to tackle. The main protagonist, Vanessa Kandinsky, gets replicated into multiple versions of herself which all start ageing at different rates and vectors (I mean forward or back in time). She also has her DNA blended against her will with some of her fellow crew members. The purpose of this in the story is to make the reader see with fresh eyes some very miraculous things about ourselves that we take for granted from one day to the next because we are so used to them. Namely: giving birth, dying, having sex and conceiving children. If we ever meet alien life, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will do any of these things at all, or that if they do them they will do so in ways remotely like us. Snails, for instance, change sex depending on who they meet, and toads leave thousands of spawn in ponds after a grand orgy… most of whom hatch and get trod on by dog-walkers.
Picasso said that painting must regain the eyes of innocence, and I’d say speculative fiction should have much the same function. Having children really is playing roulette with your own genes, and giving birth or dying are horrific, astounding, but necessary miracles for us. Most importantly of all, seen in a different way, from a distance and en masse, in an accelerated timescale: can’t all these things been seen as not the activity of billions of humans, but as the struggle of one single life form to perfect itself, to rise up and become aware of itself, and grow into something new and better? Could the human race be like a hedge? A group of trees who continually grow and die as individuals but who as a group entity are to all intents and purposes immortal? At the very least, to see ourselves in this way, a new secular spirituality without religion, might liberate us from the many primitivisms that hold us back, and open the door to a new era of achievement and progress.
Laura Brown – author of ‘Skin’
‘Skin’, my contribution to the Impossible Spaces anthology, started out in much the same way a lot of my works do – inspired by some random visual stimuli. I have a lot of different ideas, inspirations and influences of course, and in this sort of case, I see some sort of colour, aesthetic or some such thing that just gets lots of strange ideas forming in my head. In this particular instance, it was seeing the contrasts of different fashion outlets in London’s Camden. I was taken by the contrast between the popular cyberpunk, synthetic type fashions, and the more earthier, tribal-punk look that favoured a more organic feel. This was the beginning of the Ganyx, the Fetyx and ‘Skin’.
It wasn’t the only influence by far. Only shortly before this flash of inspiration, I had been particularly taken with last summer’s blockbuster film, Prometheus. I was intrigued by the Engineers, and the way that the suits they wore almost seemed to fuse to their skin. As this fuelled the idea for the Fetyx’s biomechanical suits, I turned to another, slightly different source of inspiration.
At the end of the secondary school, I became enamoured with a graphic novel series called Fathom by Michael Turner. Fathom was a beautifully drawn comic novel, featuring humanoids living beneath the ocean that could merge with water. Their strange, organic-looking armour had a particularly unusual look to it, and I found the style of drawing intriguing. Michael Turner’s work would later go onto inspire me as an artist, so it was quite a nice thing to go back to this media, from over ten years ago, and allow it to give me a new influence and direction in a different creative path.
Michael Turner was also the creator of Witchblade, another graphic novel, which this time featured a magical living armour that engulfs the body of its wearer. This particular angle was slightly more relevant to my planning for ‘Skin’, as the Witchblade is sometimes viewed as heavy burden and also lives with its host. The style once again was very helpful in my planning sketches (which I am considering sharing on my blog at some point), but also helped me to consider the deeper, personal consequences to a Fetyx person burdened with spending their entire life within a suit.
Fiction Reboot 2013
I hope these and other stories featured here have warmed you–and as we close the book on another year, may you find your own inspiration, light your own fires, cross your own bridges, and bring joy to those nearest and dearest to you.
And to all writers, researchers, rogue scholars, fans, creative thinkers, and intrepid souls: Keep watch. We will feature more stories on the Reboot and the Dose (for medical humanities) in the New Year. Perhaps one of them will be yours??