I’ve been writing books since I was eleven or so, but the first thing I ever had professionally published in my life was STRANGE PRACTICE, Greta Helsing 1, back in 2017. Which means I’m still eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer this year, along with the Hugos and Nebulas.
2018 has been a dumpster fire of a year in terms of politics but not too shabby for me in terms of publication; my first-ever short story, “The Utmost Bound,” came out in Uncanny issue 20 and Greta Helsing 2, DREADFUL COMPANY, dropped at the end of July. I’m enormously proud of both of them, for quite different reasons.
“The Utmost Bound” is a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I got a good look at the Soviet Venera images (Don P. Mitchell’s website has all the information you could want; see also the stitched-together and colored versions of Venera-13 and -14’s images, giving you a horribly ordinary view of a landscape that is effectively hell). It’s also a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I read M.P. Shiel’s “The Dark Lot of One Saul,” a tale that impressed much-younger me with its enormous crushing inevitability, the narrator’s awareness that they were trapped by vast and implacable natural forces, that escape was utterly impossible, that it was only a matter of time — and, also, of course, a story I’ve been wanting to write ever since I read Sturgeon’s “The Man who Lost the Sea.” That narrator’s dying cry and the imagined last words of my own doomed cosmonaut are vastly disparate, but there is an echo there which I so very much enjoyed exploring.
It was also an opportunity to write the kind of hard SF I particularly love to read, given how many times I’ve read and re-read Carrying the Fire and Liftoff and Last Man on the Moon and Apollo 13; I’m the kind of space nerd who was utterly gleeful at getting to include a reference to the CUVMS described by Michael Collins as “the official NASA-approved procedure for going potty in space.” I just really love the history of spaceflight, and getting to play with that and horror at the same time was a plain and simple joy.
I Here’s the opening of the story:
… and this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.
The check-in chime in his headset: on time, annoyingly on time, as usual, waking him as they came around the curve of Venus. “Aphrodite-1, this is Honolulu, do you read?”
Faint washes of static through the words, three months of interplanetary travel and a scant handful of minutes away by radio wave. Again: “Aphrodite-1, Honolulu, do you read? Over.”
“Hi, Hawaii,” said McBride, pushing the headset mike a little further from his mouth. He was used to the delay by now, the measured pauses in conversation while the signal made its way across twenty-five million miles of nothingness. At first it had been disconcerting; now he barely even noticed. “Weather okay down there?”
“Just dandy, since you ask, Commander, but it’s time for the morning report. How’s Little Buddy doing?”
McBride yawned and keyed up the monitors, one by one, waking them into life: you didn’t waste juice out here on instruments you weren’t actually using. The cabin lights dimmed slightly as the displays came on line. “Little Buddy’s reet and complete at last report,” he said, scanning the data, and typed in the downlink command to send Honolulu everything the rover had been up to since the previous infodump transmission. “There you go. Still trundling west over Lakshmi Planum as we speak. Temperature’s—let’s see—still holding at 469 C, pressure 93, no significant changes in atmospheric makeup. Yellow sky. Ugly as shit.”
Honolulu laughed, a tinny little sound, rasping with distance. “Keep your personal aesthetic impressions out of the record, Commander. Okay. We want you to go north today—there’s a couple of anomalies we’d like to get a closer look at. Stand by for transmission of coordinates.”
The second thing of mine that came out in 2018, DREADFUL COMPANY, was definitely the hardest of the Helsing trilogy to write, and that’s why I’m particularly proud of it: there was a lot of work and despair and horror and excitement and moments of inspiration that went into book two, and what it ended up being is something I am pleased with. The fact that it was so damn hard to write makes the achievement slightly more of a thing, in my mind, than it would have been had it come out smoothly in one go. I got to explore stories and locations I haven’t played with in twenty years: I spent two weeks in Paris at 18 on the student-exchange AP French trip and by the end of that time I was dreaming in French, which was both bizarre and exciting, and I fell desperately in love with the city itself. It was very satisfying to get to revisit the Palais Garnier via Google Street View, a thing 18-year-old me could not possibly have imagined.
You can read the first three chapters of DREADFUL COMPANY on the Orbit website — there are also links to the hard copy, audiobook, and ebook from various retailers.
If you like my stuff, you can nominate me for the Campbell Award for Best New Author, and for Nebula and/or Hugo Awards for “The Utmost Bound” and DREADFUL COMPANY.
Thanks as always for reading, and for your consideration!