Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Return To Mars

What did I do last year? Amongst other things, published two novellas. 'Gravesend, or, Everyday Life in the Anthropocene', appeared in the March/April edition of Asimov's SF Magazine. And 'Blade and Bone', set on Mars, in the Quiet War universe, was published in the November/December 2023 edition of Asimov's. It was recently included on Locus magazine's Recomended Reading List, and Asimov's has put up a free version, along with other RRL nominees it published last year.

Here's something I wrote about it for Asimov's blog:

Where do writers get their ideas?

Four years ago, I re-visited one of my favourite places in America: the high Californian desert, and what is now Joshua Tree National Park. The location for some of Hollywood’s classic Westerns, it’s unlike any European landscape. ‘An aridity that drives out the artificial scruples of culture, a silence that exists nowhere else,’ as Jean Baudrillard observed in America. Almost Martian, in its inhuman sublime. 

I’ve visited Mars before, too, in novels and stories. First, in the science fantasy mode, in Red Dust, and some years later, closer to realism, in middle part of The Secret of Life, where characters follow actual waypoints on maps got up from orbital images. ‘Blade and Bone’ combines the two modes. Several of the places mentioned are actual Martian locations, as in The Secret of Life, although the terrain has been altered by the impact of spent cores of comets used to aid the terraforming of the red planet. And just as cowboys ride herd on yaks across ancient Martian sea beds in Red Dust, ‘Blade and Bone’ references the kind of Westerns, like Bud Boetticher’s Comanche Station and Scott Cooper’s Hostiles, in which a hard-bitten, flawed hero guides people through landscapes haunted by hostile inhabitants or, as Kelly Reichardt’s Meek’s Cutoff, by their own delusions. The story’s landscapes are similarly hostile, haunted by old wars and unspent grudges of a thousand years of contested history that are dwarfed by the vast uncaring Martian sublime. 

‘Blade and Bone’ is also a Quiet War story, sharing the same future time line as four novels and a fistful of stories. The series ranges across much of the solar system, but apart from a couple of pieces of flash fiction, this is the first long-form Quiet War story I’ve set Mars. It features one of the series’ signature tropes, artificial vacuum organisms which somewhat resemble giant lichens, and like lichens can grow and utilise native resources in hostile habitats, and also enlarges an idea raised in Evening’s Empires, the fourth and last Quiet War novel: if current or near future billionaires can extend their lives by downloading simulations of their minds, what role might they play in the further reaches of the future? Finally, it borrows from one of the pieces of flash fiction the Samurai-like Knights of Cydonia: the bone and blade which are the story’s contested prize have been stolen from one of their tombs. The roots of its story, as its protagonists discover, go way back.


Blogger Brian said...

Thank you for the update, Paul! Looking forward to reading both of these stories.
What's brewing for the future?

February 14, 2024 8:46 pm  
Blogger Philip said...

Glad to see you're blogging again! I enjoyed both stories, particularly 'Blade and Bone'. Do we have any new novels to look forward to, and do you think you'll be returning to the Quiet War or the Jackaroo universes in a longer format?

February 14, 2024 11:47 pm  

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