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The howls of the gore-hounds filled the night air. Vanda stopped to catch her breath. Sounds echoed off the trees, throwing noises at her from odd angles. Her pursuers were close. When they caught her it would be the end.
She peeped at the precious cargo she carried, strapped across her chest in the sling she’d fashioned from an old shawl. The night was dark – of course – but there was just enough starlight to see Abha’s tiny face peeping out, wide-eyed in wonder, oblivious to what was happening. Vanda envied the baby. Abha had no idea that the gore-hounds, if they caught up, would rip her to pieces like a rabbit.
Vanda set off again, ignoring the stomach cramps tearing at her. The ground was rising. She’d heard the Chronicler lived in a ramshackle hut on a hill in a wood. That was all she had to go off. It was entirely possible the whole thing was no more than a story. When it came to the Chronicler, the lines between truth and tale weren’t always clear.
She glimpsed a light through the shifting boughs: a single yellow candle shining from a cottage window. In one of his tales it would have been placed there as a beacon for the desperate. She raced into the clearing and rapped on the door, gaze darting around. She expected the hounds, black as night and red of eye, to lope from the woods at any moment. Away over the treetops the thinnest of crescent moons sliced through the night sky. As it always did.
The door creaked open. An old man’s face peeped through the gap, regarding her over the top of his half-moon spectacles. His wrinkled, veined skin might have been the map of an imaginary land. A red birth-mark, a blotch like the shape of some island, adorned his cheek. He didn’t look surprised to see her.
What the Darkness Is – Simon Kewin
Renewal – Michael Gardner
The Lost Languages of Exiles – Laura E. Price
A Conversion of Crows – B. Morris Allen
Q: What’s your favorite non-SFF book?
A: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. It’s beautifully written, and strange and compelling. Auster puts himself in the stories. Literally. Paul Auster is a character. Another character pretends to be Paul Auster. Yet, these meta-references never detract from the three stories. To me, Auster wants you to be aware that the characters you are reading about are simply reflections of his mind, and yet, despite being conscious of this throughout the book, I was still caught up in the twisting, confusing narratives, the uncertainty between fact and fiction, the ambiguity of the language, and the sense of obsession and loss of identity.
On the off chance someone thinks I’m cheating by calling something as strange as the New York Trilogy a pure, non-SFF book, then my back up would be Brighton Rock by Graham Greene. On the surface, it’s an excellent gangster novel. But dig a bit deeper and you also find these great musings on the juxtaposition between religion and atheism, between good and evil, and right and wrong.
Simon Kewin is the author of over 100 published short stories. His works have appeared in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, and many more. He lives in England with his wife and their daughters. His cyberpunk novel The Genehunter and his Cloven Land fantasy trilogy were recently published. Find him at simonkewin.co.uk.
Q: Why do you write speculative rather than realistic fiction?
A: The very first time I was ever asked this question, it was as part of a workshop during my final semester of college, posed to the entire class by our professor, in a tone of voice one usually associates with the exhausted parents of unruly teenagers. It boiled down to, “this story is good, why is it science fiction?”
The story was mine, by the way. I didn’t really take the complimentary part to heart at all. I did take the other half of it more to heart than I should have. I spent a good chunk of my graduate school years and beyond writing realistic fiction and feeling really, really defensive any time I wrote anything even a little speculative. “It’s literary!” “It’s magical realism!” “It’s outsized reality!”
Around ten years ago–right around the time I had my son, so maybe the sleep-deprivation helped lower my inhibitions–I stopped writing any realistic fiction. I started writing things because I wondered if I could–can I write steampunk? Epistolary steampunk? How about a superhero story? Sea monsters? Giant fight scenes and a homunculus? Love story complicated by time dilation? I don’t know–let’s find out!
And I realized something that is, ultimately, the answer to the question posed above. I write speculative fiction because it’s cooler, and it’s way more fun.