The Dread Machine, Duality, and Dark Cheer

I was notified that I’ve sold a story to The Dread Machine (I absolutely love this magazine’s title, along with the thought-provoking work appearing in its pages). The sale is for their Darkness Blooms issue, and will feature tales of identity, security, and community. My contribution is “Legacies in Light and Dark”. Set on a tidally-locked world, a colony exists in the narrow habitable zone sandwiched between extreme polarities of fire and frost. This duality extends beyond the physical setting and into the hearts and minds of the people struggling to survive there.

Duality is a recurring theme in my work. To be more precise, duality as seen and experienced by an outsider: the one(s) who live sandwiched between polarities.

This describes Gethin Bryce from Ten Thousand Thunders. He was born in London of a millennium from now. His city is one of of radical divisions, as the “haves” exist in the technological utopia of Upper London while the “have nots” suffer the slums of alower city. It’s a microcosm of the larger world: the economic and cultural divide is prevalent everywhere, and taken to such an extent that the “haves” are ageless demigods, while the other half ekes out a pathetic half-life in the battered wastes. And where specifically was Gethin born?

In the stalks. That is, inside the massive pylons separating Upper and Lower London. Caught between two worlds. An outcast amid polarities.

This theme is present in the sequel (to be published next year) War Hero. We follow a new character during a civil war on Mars. Us against Them. Patriots versus “traitors”. Our main character is Harris Alexander Pope (who has already appeared in print in “A Thousand Deaths Through Flesh and Stone” and 2019’s Reader’s Choice Award winner “Crash-Site”). He’s also caught between sides and identities, though in a more disturbing way than Gethin. The irony is that the world around these characters is not divided into simplistic camps. There are factions within factions. It’s factions all the way down. This isn’t Empire versus Rebellion. The universe is complex, and those who fail to understand that complexity — those who paint the world with a broad binary brushstroke — are unable to see what’s really going on.

This is even a feature in the alternate history novel I’m wrapping up (of which next month’s headlining story in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction offers a taste.)

I’ve always distrusted polarities. As I write this, the 20-year anniversary of 9-11 is a fortnight away. The Taliban is back in power. The people of Afghanistan are about to descend once more into a brutal and sadistic theocracy. Here at home, my own country’s obsession with partisan politics has become so extreme that we’re no longer capable of understanding our world: liberals and conservatives trying in vain to to map dualistic ideologies onto complex landscapes. The baptismal font of 9-11-01 kicked this off, I’d argue. People are either “patriots” or “traitors”, “victims” or “Nazis”, “warmongers” or “peaceniks”. It all becomes an asylum of special pleading, logical fallacies, and hypocrisy. In short, we citizens of the year 2021 no longer see (or want to see) facts: we desire narratives to fuel a duality of political priesthoods, each with their own dogmas and passphrases and secret handshakes. Discussing a complicated situation like Afghanistan, or the pandemic, or GMOs, or anything in such an atmosphere is only possible within the most juvenile of framing. We don’t need virtual reality: it’s already here, no headset required.

(Ironically, I write this in the aftermath of an antithesis: at a graduation party for a good friend, my circle engaged in some spirited and astoundingly non-partisan discourse on what’s happening in Afghanistan. So to quote Ethan Hawke from Gattaca: “I’m here to tell you that it is possible.”)


My second sale this month was “Love Song of the Wendigo,” a dark comedy for the upcoming Dark Cheer: Cryptids Emerging anthology. This story has been bubbling in my imagination since I was a teenager, and will join a collection of other folkloric beings in early 2022.

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