2016 Snapshot – DK Mok

SnaphotLogo2016

DK Mok is a fantasy and science fiction author whose novels include Squid’s Grief, Hunt for Valamon and The Other Tree. DK has been shortlisted for three Aurealis Awards, a Ditmar, and a Washington Science Fiction Association Small Press Award. DK graduated from UNSW with a degree in Psychology, pursuing her interests in both social justice and scientist humour. DK lives in Sydney, Australia, and her favourite fossil deposit is the Burgess Shale. Connect on Twitter @dk_mok or find out more at www.dkmok.com.

Squid's-Grief-Cover-Sm1. Squid’s Grief is both an excellent title, and features such an amazing main character who is basically having the worst week of her life. Will we get to see more of Squid in the future, and see how things turn out with her pal Grief?

Thanks! I love cephalopods, wordplay and unusual names, so the stars aligned nicely for the title. I drew deeply on stylised noir for this book, particularly from the stories that had an impact on me during my teen years, like Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Mamoru Oshii’s 1995 Ghost in the Shell, and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe detective novels. I’ve always loved the sharp, wry banter, and the intriguing, silty underworlds inhabited by people with names like Bruiser and Kneecaps. Or Squid and Grief.

Ah yes, poor Squid. She has a bit of a tough time in this story, but she also has some pretty amazing moments. Often, it’s in our darkest times that we learn our true nature, and I believe that we’re defined in many ways by the choices we make when between a rock and hard place: whether we stay silent and keep our heads down, or stand up, speak out, and fight for the things that matter to us.

While no one wishes for a troubled life, it’s sometimes the challenges we face that teach us gratitude, empathy and resilience. Yes, it’s a hell of a ride for Squid, but there are moments of beauty and kindness along the way. And jam rolls.

I don’t have any current plans for a sequel to Squid’s Grief – there’s an unruly procession of other stories demanding to be written first. That said, I always have ideas kicking around, so you never know.

 

In-Memory-Cover-Yellow-Sm2. You have a piece titled ‘The Heart of the Labyrinth’ in a tribute anthology to Sir Terry Pratchett. What is your piece about, and what does Pratchett mean to you?

Oh, Sir Terry.

Much of who I am today, as a writer and as a person, is due to the wonderful work of Sir Terry Pratchett. I discovered his books in high school and was swept away by his wildly imaginative worlds and the strange and endearing characters who inhabited them. His books eased me through difficult times, and I found solace in the humour, and sanctuary in the fantasy. And then, of course, there was the rage.

In the foreword to Sir Terry’s collection of essays, A Slip of the Keyboard, Neil Gaiman paints a picture of a man in possession of not only great wit, charm and intelligence, but also great passion and ferocity. He speaks of the rage that fuelled Pratchett’s stories: rage against ignorance, bigotry and corruption. Pratchett’s stories had heart, but his satire had teeth. His fanciful tales of wizards and vampires were also powerful allegories exploring issues of diversity, equality, integrity, and the importance of not remaining silent in the face of injustice. Over the course of twenty years and fifty books, he taught me that you could tell stories that were whimsical and uplifting, but also purposeful and powerful. Ultimately, for me, his stories were about courage and kindness.

In early 2015, Sir Terry passed away from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Like many others, I struggled to imagine a world without his wit and wisdom and generosity, and like many others, I grieved in my own quiet way. Some weeks afterwards, I came across a call for submissions; an anthology was seeking short stories for In Memory: A Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett. All proceeds would go to one of Sir Terry’s favourite charities, Alzheimer’s Research UK.

I had to be in it. I was frantic – the deadline for pitches was only days away; I’d never pitched to an anthology without having a story already written. But I had to be in it. Over the next few days, I desperately rattled my brain. I scribbled and scrunched and fretted and paced, and as I walked brooding circuits of my neighbourhood, my thoughts turned to a podcast I’d listened to once, an episode of Off Track with Ann Jones. In it, she and her guest spoke about walking meditation and told the tale of how the Centennial Park Labyrinth in Sydney came to be. And so, I had the spark of my story.

“The Heart of the Labyrinth” is an epic fantasy adventure about a beast known only as the Devourer. He dwells in an ancient labyrinth, with no recollection of who he is or how he came to be there, although he suspects that long ago he bore another name. He’s sick of eating adventurers, so when a young woman arrives and declares she’s here to rescue him, the Devourer persuades her to join him on a search for his forgotten past.

The originating editor of the anthology, Sorin Suciu, describes In Memory as “a rebellion against the act of mourning”. And, in some respects, this project was a collective act of grief and remembrance. For me, it’s as true now as it was then: there is solace in humour, and sanctuary in fantasy. And there is comfort in sharing your grief with others, and saying, “This. This is what he meant to me.”

And so, my story is about memory, identity and redemption. It’s about humour and rage, courage and kindness.

“The Heart of the Labyrinth” is my way of saying “goodbye” to Sir Terry: a wonderful author and humanist whose legacy lives on in the countless people he touched through his work. All those hearts he helped to heal through laughter. All those minds he helped spark through his conviction.

Sir Terry’s stories inspired me to be braver, kinder and wiser than I was, and this story is my quiet tip of the hat to a man who will be deeply missed.

 

3. What can we expect from you in the near future?

I always have several projects ambling about in various states of development and disassembly. I’m in the early stages of a new epic fantasy trilogy, but it’s turning into a far more complicated project than anticipated. There are pages of family trees, maps, regional glossaries and magical arithmetic swamping my desk at the moment, but I’m excited to see if I can wrestle these into the sprawling story I want to tell.

After that, I have another science fiction novel planned – this time with actual cephalopods in it. I’m very keen to write this one, but the story is still coalescing into shape.

In the meanwhile, I’m usually tinkering with a few short stories. Any excuse to play with pensive robots and enchanted labyrinths.

 

4. What Australian work have you loved recently?

I’m very behind on my TBR list, but having an overabundance of good books to read is a nice problem to have.

Shaun Tan is one of my favourite authors/artists, and I’ve just finished reading his latest book, The Singing Bones (Allen & Unwin). It’s a haunting collection of artworks inspired by the fairy tales of the brothers Grimm. Stylised, hand-crafted figurines of clay and sand and string are photographed in strikingly stark dioramas, and each image perfectly captures both the fanciful and gruesome aspects of the tale it accompanies. As a side note, I’ve mentioned this before, but I’ll continue to say it at every opportunity: Tan’s The Rabbits (written by John Marsden) and The Arrival should be compulsory reading for everyone.

I’ve just started reading Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press), edited by Tsana Dolichva and Holly Kench. This anthology of apocalypse fiction features protagonists with chronic illnesses and disabilities, and it’s great to see more speculative fiction exploring issues of diversity, inclusiveness and accessibility.

I’m looking forward to Mitchell Hogan’s A Shattered Empire, due out later this year from Harper Voyager. It’s the third book in the Sorcery Ascendant Sequence, an epic fantasy, coming-of-age story with a fascinating magic-system. It makes me wish that our world had enchanted origami.

I’ve loved Graeme Base’s picture books ever since I plunged into the intriguing and whimsical worlds of Animalia and The Eleventh Hour as a child. Every new book is still a delight, and his recent release, Eye to Eye (Penguin Australia), is another gorgeously illustrated journey through pristine mountains and luminous seas, full of secretive snow leopards and excitable octopuses.

I’d also like to give a shout-out to my lovely sister, Anne Mok, whose debut novella, Tower of the Ice Lord, came out last year through Dreamspinner Press.

 

 5. Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

He’s not best known for his books, but I’d love the opportunity to chat with Sir David Attenborough. I’ve always adored his documentaries, and in high school, I read as many of his natural history books as I could find: Life on Earth, The Living Planet, The Trials of Life and more. His memoir, Life on Air, is still one of my favourite books. To me, his tales of vibrant jungles and elusive islands were as fantastical as the realms of Narnia or Middle-earth.

I’ve always admired the clarity and accessibility of his writing: a conversational style that brims with intelligence and insight, warmth and wonder. I had the good fortune to hear Sir David speak at the State Theatre in Sydney many years ago and found him to be a masterful storyteller. He captivated the audience with his eloquence, charm and good humour, and his passion for the natural world and all its marvels was absolutely electric.

A great deal of my writing is still informed by my love of science and natural history, and Sir David’s books and documentaries have played a significant role in fuelling those interests. I suspect his charming company and fascinating anecdotes could make a long flight pass by in a blur of lush corals, magnificent quetzals and curious whale sharks.

~

This interview was conducted as part of the 2016 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 August to 14 August and archiving them at our Snapshot headquarters

2016 Snapshot is here!

SnaphotLogo2016The Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot has taken place five times in the past 11 years. In 2005, Ben Peek spent a frantic week interviewing 43 people in the Australian spec fic scene, and since then, it’s grown every time, now taking a team of interviewers working together to accomplish.

From August 1 to August 14 2016, this year’s team of interviewers have their turn. Greg Chapman, Tsana Dolichva, Marisol Dunham, Nick Evans, Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Stephanie Gunn, Ju Landéesse, David McDonald, Belle McQuattie, Matthew Morrison, Alex Pierce, Rivqa Rafael, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Matthew Summers and Tehani Wessely scoured the country (and a bit beyond) to bring you this year’s Snapshot.

You can follow all the action here at the Snapshot site, via Twitter @AustSFSnapshot or on Facebook, and follow our interviewing team to keep up with all the happenings!

You can find the past five Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007, 2010, 2012, 2014.

Katharine’s personal snapshots include (with links to be updated after each are posted:

Review: Insert Title Here edited by Tehani Wessely

InsertTitleHerePublished by: FableCroft Publishing
ISBN 13: 9780992553418
Published: April 2015
Pages: 416
Format reviewed: Proofing copy from Publisher
Site: Publisher Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five
Lists: Recommended

Tehani Wessely reports that this is the darkest anthology she’s put together. Having read most if not all of her anthologies, this certainly caught my attention. On reflection having read this, I would have to agree – here we have an anthology where every single story is heart-breaking or grim or absurdly strange and wonderful, and all are incredibly read-able. A handful demand full novels set in the world using that idea or world-building, and all make me want to look for the author’s other work (if I haven’t already!)

FableCroft are going from strength to strength with each anthology better than the last – which is saying something. This one is due for release in April for Swancon in Perth, and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

2B by Joanne Anderton

I’m slowly turning into Anderton’s biggest fan or something. What a way to start an anthology! This is an incredibly strange, magical and wonderful story of a town where things grow on trees, such as pencils and car tyres. Glass flowers sprout from the security cameras the Councilmen install (which is really beautiful imagery, I love it!) Also, an incredibly peculiar thing happened to the residents of the town which I won’t go into (spoilers, sweetie) but it’s enough to deeply unnerve you, despite what a wonderful miracle it is.

Anderton’s writing is slightly distant and yet very personal, showing us how the main character Chloe appears to others and also her thoughts and views on the world and those she comes into contact with. The world is probably the most interesting part of this strange tale, leaving you wanting more. Who wants a novel using this idea? I know I do!

Oil and Bone by Dan Rabarts

Set in New Zealand, Anaru and Piripi are escorting Englishman Clark through the Southern Alps to make some money on the side of a journey they have to make anyway – to retrieve something that was stolen from them.

This is a piece that involves words of another language other than English (Māori), and it does it well, using them smoothly so the reader knows what the word means at all times, and also adding another depth to this piece, presenting the culture in a welcoming way. The tale itself however isn’t as welcoming, as it’s a tale for searching for things that may be best left where they’ve found themselves. It’s grim and twisted and delightfully dark, full of action and a bit more dark.

Almost Days by DK Mok

‘Gainful employment, on the other hand, only happened to me after I’d died.’

That’s a pretty good way at catching a reader’s attention – with a line like that, one simply must read on to find out what that involves.

This is the kind of tale where the plot needs to be a surprise, which leaves me with less to tell you now – all I can say is that this is a delightful piece that really makes you wish you had a chance at playing in their world for a time (but perhaps not for very long, I think I’d find it stressful having that much responsibility!) and that the characters are delightful. This piece has very beautiful imagery and a very, very satisfying ending.

Collateral Damage by Dirk Flinthart

In a world where military actions have been completely monetised, done strictly by contract, Mariko has now left her previous position of being head of a mercenary company in favour of forming a brokerage with a plan to bring down the now-corrupt brokerage system entirely.

This is quite a fun piece, whilst being technical and deep in the world of war and the complex systems that make it all possible. Though the plot is strong, it’s the characters that drive this one with an incredibly satisfying ending (in a different way from the previous short) as you cheer Mariko along, and the sassy closing line doesn’t hurt matters either.

Her Face Like Lightning by David McDonald

Full disclosure here, David is a mate and lately I get to proofread some of the pieces he completes. That aside, I honestly think he’s getting better each and every piece I get my hands on – now we’re just hanging out for a novel sometime soon, David!

Poor Horatio is minding his own business one night, staggering drunk, when he’s accosted as he leaves an inn. When he comes to he discovers his attacker is a giant, sent by a scary woman who knows exactly who Horatio truly is.

The dialogue in this is sharp and witty, starting to remind me slightly of Scott Lynch’s work. We see the beauty and brutality of Heaven, we see a diverse cast with an intensely developed backstory for a short story, and wow, what an ending.

This is easily one of my favourite pieces in this anthology.

Empty Monuments by Marissa Lingen & Alec Austin

Discovering an entire planet that’s completely devoid of life – bacteria included – is certainly worrying, baffling, thought impossible. Parmesh is driven to distraction by it, but Meleiana, pilot of the Zhang He, seems to think it can all be explained. They and others are there to map solar systems, catalogue lifeforms and match what they find to previous builders so they can try decode who’s responsible for that particular part of space. As they look closer, things appear to be stranger and stranger, and going by how the rest of the anthology has been so far, you start getting a little worried as to what they’re going to discover.

This piece does an excellent job of explaining what they’re all doing to a reader who has little-to-no scientific background and knowledge. It’s also excellent at building up to a whole big something, making it impossible to put down until you discover just what’s going on here. It’s also excellent having a main character who doesn’t know science either – she’s just there to get them there and get them out – and it works marvellously as a window into the plot.

Then wow. This ending? It really packs a punch, and really leaves you thinking. What would we have done if we’d discovered the same thing?

Beyond the Borders of All He Had Been Taught by Alan Baxter

Barran is the Guardian of the Temple of the Relic. Sometimes he protects the temple from people sent by other nations trying to steal the relic, and sometimes it’s people sent by the king to test Barran and make sure he’s still worthy of the title. With this great honour comes a lot of time for thought though, as Barran hasn’t left the temple since he was 19 and confirmed in the service. He understands blind faith and the value in it, however perhaps it isn’t as simple as that.

This is quite an engaging story, though I would have liked to see more of the character Belane. The ending especially works well; this is a well measured short story that delivers well.

Circa by Caitlene Cooke

Circa is a time-traveller – not much more needs to be said to explain why this short is particularly excellent. This piece deals with the balance in the universe, and how two instances of the same person or object cease to exist in the same universe – it causes a seizure, the universe can’t handle it. It also shows what happens if someone is dragged through time – spoiler alert: it’s not pretty.

This piece is packed full of action and quick-thinking, as Circa has to figure out a way to save herself or if not that, make the best of a bad situation. This is complicated and timey-wimey and pretty dang-excellent.

Living in the Light by Sara Larner

Another excellent beginning that makes it impossible not to read on: ‘My child turned into a hummingbird. He was a premature birth, so I expected some complications.’ This also works well to set the tone, as the tale results in a slightly unnerving, magical and incredibly sad piece of literature. As someone who’s seen far too many doctors (though not for anything as severe as poor Clara) I can relate to the mother not wishing to take her child to the doctor, but you can feel her growing panic also, even if you’re not a mother.

This piece is written with a sort of distance, and you get the feel of the mother taking a step back to try to understand what on earth is happening here. You become transfixed by the pace of what becomes normal for her, and then increasing as sometime as simple as a night-light going out spells something much more significant. The ending packs a punch like so many others in this anthology, but for this one my mouth dropped open as it all fell into place. This one is certainly one that’ll last with me.

Always Another Point by Alexis Hunter

Jenna is trapped on a ship, suffering double miseries and on the run. Another piece where the less said about the plot in this review means better reading for you on your first read of this anthology.

You can only read on with sympathy for this one, hoping she gets out okay and gets a chance to heal – from more than one heartache. This piece parallels many issues and discrimination we have in the world today, and is also incredibly sad. However, it also ends in hope. This is a strong piece that needs to be read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Footprints in Venom by Robert Hood

Agul Tana has a job – to save New Uruk by bringing back old King Gilhamesh which shall somehow fix their troubles. Though the new world is suffering the same troubles that ruined our current Earth they’ve long left behind, the founders have looked to ancient religion and mythology for the answers.

This is a complex piece that involves the goddness Ishtar and deals with the surreal. It’s emotive and sensual and certainly contains a lot of big ideas that are worth pondering for a time, even if it means putting down the anthology for a few minutes to do so.

Salvatrix by Marianne de Pierres

Ralph is a shearer, who sometimes works for a place rumoured to lock up the mistress when the Governor is away. Places like this are always good for gossip when you have different tier levels of servants and workers, but Ralph reckons there’s some truth to it – especially when one of the housemaids he’s diddling, Liza, is upgraded to the mistress’ attendant. The mistress is also incredibly beautiful, and Ralph soon finds himself entangled in something he couldn’t dream of walking away from, especially as it turns out Ralph may be connected to her in more ways than a simple shearer.

This is written with an easy hand, capturing the lingo used of the time such as slang for the cigarettes and lifestyle, smoothly weaving this all together into something a bit mystical and fantastic. This makes the outback a little magical, and makes you wonder of the possibility of what could be happening out there in the little towns of ours where there’s few eyes and ears to record what they’ve witnessed.

Ministry of Karma by Ian Creasey

Anthea, pregnant, is looking to the tarot and other mystic signs for knowledge, but it’s only fretting her as every omen seems to be bad and gloomy. Using a dowser she’s come to discover what kind of lives her unborn son has previously experienced, but the news can only be grim when the dowser advises to call her husband back into the room once she’s done, so they can receive the news together.

The idea behind this one is really dang interesting – and quite true of what already happens today, and what could continue happening if the testing they’re speaking of being available does eventually become commonplace. I’d certainly love a novel set in this world, perhaps at the start of Anthea’s working life or when everything started to change. This has got miles and miles to discover through it, and another one of my absolute favourites in an already-strong and fantastic anthology.

Reflections by Tamlyn Dreaver

Hana has lived her whole life on the moon with her mothers, who run research on the atmosphere and why it’s failing. Though she knows she’s being difficult, Hana doesn’t want to leave and this manifests in pouts and whines to no effect – they all have to leave. Then Hana discovers something wonderful.

What I liked about this one was how realistic it was – you’d have to read the end to see what I mean, but I’m glad it didn’t go in the direction I was expecting. This is short and sweet, strong and well written. It’s also good pacing against the previous piece which is quite a bit longer, so they make good juxtaposition against each other.

Sins of Meals Past by Matthew Morrison

Written in second person – which is not common and hard to pull off successfully as it is done here – we are a nurse who’s helping an old man who is slowing dying in his own home rather than a hospital or care facility. He has all the things necessary, and each scene describes in minute detail how every faculty of the nurse is attended to – what order things are done in, where the waste is thrown, how a patient is observed and moved around. This old man we’re attending to however is quite peculiar, and you only get more and more unnerved by it all as we read on.

Like one of the previous pieces in this anthology, here we have a short story that explains something I personally don’t know about – medical terms galore, and uses them so expertly and fluidly that we easily understand what’s going on, and almost feel like we’re almost equipped to do what we’re reading we’re doing. This is a fairly deep story, another that will surely last with me for a long time.

The Final Voyage of Saint Brendan by Tom Dullemond

Captain Brendan is sailing under Fleet captain Plymouth, hunting down and/or chasing down islands. Island hunters, they’re trying to harpoon a small island as their own great island is dying. They’re London’s last hope, and the speech Plymouth gives Brendan surely leaves him something to think about.

This another short piece that packs a good punch, grim and dark but feeling completely right in the actions they take. This reminds me a little of one of the more recent Doctor Who episodes, in the best of ways.

One Who Knows by Darren Goossens

Sara and a few others are stationed on a planet to collect various kinds of data. Sara’s role is to observe and be-friend the local population of region 2138B4, and currently she’s closest to Eng, who is pregnant. With medical training Sara offers her abilities to the group for scratches to precent blood-poisoning and such, but is told she won’t be able to be present for the birth, as this is only for certain, very few and very specific people to attend. This doesn’t stop her from monitoring the huts themselves at the time of the birth though, which means when something goes wrong, she knows about it and makes her way there from the base with haste, and begs to be allowed to help.

This is quite a delicate piece, hitting the heart-strings and showcasing many different characters with quite a lot of depth with such few lines to them each. Deceptively simple, this shows that you don’t need action in a short story when characters drive it so damn well.

The Last Case of Detective Charlemagne by Kathleen Jennings

This one begins with an extract discussing said detective, telling us that they’re a long-running series of pulp crime novels, and it works exceptionally well in wishing they existed! I always love to read about writers and their writing, and this is no exception, with the added bonus of witty dialogue that really adds to the style of pulp crime fiction.

There are multiple layers to this one, leaving the reader to find more to think on after a re-read. It also has such a sad but true line near the end which I won’t spoil by writing here – it really needs to be read through the natural course of the short story in order to pack the punch it gives. This short story will speak miles to those who read voraciously.

The Winter Stream by Daniel Simpson

Another incredibly hard-to-read, sad piece that involves family and the complete and utter sadness that can come from it, as well as the sacrifice for something so utterly worth it, but still – what a life to have. There’s quite a few pieces in this anthology that follow this style – be sure to read this anthology with breaks so you don’t get completely morose over it! (In a good way, it’s such an emotive collection of works.)

This follows a man who has been looking after his very young son, Lucas, for an extraordinarily long time. He’s an old man now and growing increasingly worried for the future – the rest of the family having been unable to cope with the situation, and having left them behind a long time ago. As a reader you’re left wondering what you would have done in their situation – would you have been unable to do anything but what the father has chosen to do, or would you join the side of seemingly everyone else? This also speaks on what it means to be human, and whether such a thing can be counted so simply to the seven signs, as is documented in here. A heartbreaking piece that’s really well written.

The Falcon Races by Thoraiya Dyer

This is the type of short story I could never hope to do justice with for a review. Irrumburri is the first protagonist that we meet, and we see her receive a phone call from her husband to say he’s been unfaithful to her. She calls her sister to talk about how awful he is, even though they “disagree on almost everything in life”. Karima is the second protagonist we follow, Irrumburri’s sister. Then we have Solomon, her son. Together we see a well-rounded view of their family, and what troubles them.

This short story has an incredibly deep blend of cultures in it, some which feel very close to what I see each day, living in this part of Australia. It does culture very well, showing how strong it is in their lives and how it leads their every breath. This is an incredibly well done piece, one I would expect to see used in classrooms up here in future.

The Art of Deception by Stephanie Burgis

Hrabanic used to be the most famous swordsman in the region, but since he was fired by the archduke, he’s turned into almost a nobody. His landlady and love has to go home, soon, to the White Library – and with that, my interest is certainly piqued. He promises to keep her safe which she takes as a promise to go with her to this dreaded library, and from here he has no option but to go with her.

This piece was a whole lot of fun – epic fantasy through and through, another that makes me wish we had a whole novel of these characters and this world. This is one of those character-driven pieces with the added bonus of an excellent magic system which gives us an incredibly strong ending to this anthology, which is strong overall. Sometimes in anthologies you find a short story or three doesn’t manage to capture your interest or you just can’t bring yourself to continue reading it… in this anthology however, each and every single story is as strong as the next, and all were supremely readable. Tehani Wessely has done a stand-out job with this anthology!