Midnight Echo 6 Editors’ Interview
An interview with the editors, David Conyers, David Kernot and Jason Fischer
By Greg Chapman
1. Give us a rundown on your issue.
Very simply, issue 6 is a science fiction horror special. We have some excellent stories set in the far future on alien worlds and the depth of space where extra-terrestrial horrors lurk. Those stories that really captured the theme of what we were looking for were penned by notable Australian dark fiction authors Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Joanne Anderton, Alan Baxter and Andrew J McKiernan, along with our fabulous opening piece by the extremely talented U.S. weird fiction author, Cody Goodfellow. Stephen Dedman, Mark Farrugia, Helen Stubbs, Jenny Blackford and Cat Sparks provided us with science fiction stories we weren’t expecting, but great reads nonetheless in their own twisted, peculiar ways.
We’ve got two interviews, one with Hugo Award winning Lovecraftian and hard science fiction author, Charles Stross, and the other one of the most talented science fiction illustrators working today, Chris Moore. The cover illustration is by rising star, Paul Drummond, who has perfectly captured the theme of our issue with his illustration “Strange Behaviour” and will be well known to readers of Interzone magazine. Lastly, we have reprinted the winning entries for the 2011 Australian Horror Writers Association’s Flash Fiction and Short Story Award.
We wanted to bring well-written and thrilling science fiction back to the Australian speculative fiction small press market. There are very few opportunities to get good, riveting, pacey, sense-of-wonder science fiction short stories published this country. Hopefully we achieved this, even if in only one issue.
2. The three of you have previously stated that sci-fi rarely makes a sojourn into horror territory and you wanted to bring it back as a theme in this issue – is there a perception in the literary world that sci-fi and horror should be distinct?
A lot of Australian speculative fiction writers don’t really understand the science fiction genre, so they stick with the genres and tropes they understand, i.e. fantasy. Good science fiction is hard to write. It requires a really good understanding of how the world works, otherwise it just ends up being science fantasy, like a Star Trek episode, and off-putting for anyone who loves the genre. It is distinct because many writers don’t understand the genre’s subtleties, and so shy away from it, or dismiss it.
However, some of the best science fiction ever written is very scary, because it is set in our universe. Even if that is a future or alternate universe, it is not a fantasy world, and so all the more scary because it is ‘possible’!
Alastair Reynold’s Revelation Space series created a universe were human existence is as fragile as it has ever been, pitted against a galaxy spanning alien foe far more advanced than us and determined to exterminate our species. Brian Aldiss created some pretty bleak futures in his classics such as Hothouse and Non-Stop. One cannot look past John Wyndham and his seminal novels such as The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos that will always be classics in the science fiction horror genre. Philip K. Dick made both the world and the human mind frightening in classics such as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Bladerunner) and A Scanner Darkly. H.P. Lovecraft created the ultimate science fiction monster with shoggoths in At the Mountains of Madness. The list goes on.
Science fiction and horror have always been a great match. There are certainly science fiction stories that are not horror, and vice versa, but the subgenre has been alive since the genre began. H.G. Well’s The Island of Doctor Moreau and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein are amongst the earliest examples of this cross-genre.
3. Hard core sci-fi fans are usually set in their ways when it comes to what they read, how will this issue appeal to them?
Hopefully it will draw them to Australian speculative fiction. For the last decade, the best short form speculative fiction writing in Australian small press has been produced in the horror genre. That is where we are seeing the really interesting stories and ideas, and that is where we’d like to see the international market be drawn too.
4. Do you think ME#6 could see a re-emergence or revival of sci-fi horror as a sub-genre?
It would be nice. Across the three speculative fiction genres (horror, science fiction and fantasy), we are seeing a trend for more literary, character-based storytelling, but this has generally been at the expense of pacey stories, cool ideas and a sense of wonder, which is what the old masters were writing. I think the next trend we will see will be authors who can combine all these elements, a sense of wonder and good characters. Then we think things will get really exciting.
5. As authors and readers the three of you would have different tastes, likes and dislikes, has that made it a challenge as co-editors in putting this issue together? Did any editor need to be convinced of a story’s worthiness/unworthiness?
The original concept was by David Conyers, which he approached the then President of the Australian Horror Writers Association, Marty Young, with. Marty liked it a lot and gave it the green light. David then approached David Kernot when he produced a very impressive issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (issue 43) to help him out. David Conyers asked Jason Fischer to join the team after reading some of Jason’s short fiction, which was just so wacky, weird and disturbing he felt Jason had exactly what this issue needed. When we got together and brainstormed what we wanted in Issue #6, we released we had the right mix between us to make it work.
Yes, there were disagreements, but some stories, such as Cody Goodfellow, Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Joanne Anderton, Andrew J McKeirnan and Alan Baxter stood out as favourites for all of us, because they all really hit the mark for the kinds of stories we wanted, far future space tales with very dark twists.
In the end, however, finally selection was made on each of us voting for three stories each. It was the simplest method and worked well in making us all really think about what were the really good submissions. Jason picked the poem by Jenny Blackford because the other two editors don’t read poetry. The two competition stories were no ours to select, and neither of them were science fiction, even though the short story winner, “Winds of Nzambi” was penned by two of the editors, David Kernot and David Conyers.
6. Was it a bit of a coup to secure Charles Stross for an interview?
Yes, of course. Charles Stross is at the top of his game, and one of the most respected and best known authors writing in the field of science fiction today.
Early on, we decided that Midnight Echo really need to be kicked up a notch in content to achieve a wider, international readership. We felt this could be achieved through an interview with top authors and artists working in the genre today, as they, more than any story we could secure, are often the draw cards to speculative fiction magazines.
David Conyers had previous interviewed Greg Egan for Ireland’s speculative fiction magazine, Albedo One, where David has been a contributing editor since 2007. That interview was extremely well received, so we decided that he should try again, and we came up with the idea of approaching Charles Stross who writes both horror and science fiction. Although the interview was conducted in brief snatches in between Stross’ very busy writing schedule, he still managed to give us an in-depth and insightful peephole into his work and his ideas. There is no doubt Stross is an ideas factory operating beyond burst point, and you will no doubt see examples of this in his interview, and why he is so good.
We also decided that why have one high-profile interview when you can have two. We were lucky enough for David to also secure Chris Moore for an interview, thanks to an introduction made for us via cover artist Paul Drummond. Chris gave us a very frank and personal account of his near four decades of producing some of the most striking illustrations you’ll ever see on a science fiction book cover. He was even generous enough to allow us to reproduce some of his most fabulous illustrations for classic books such as Philip K Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep? and Frederick Pohl’s Man Plus.
7. And finally, Issue 6 sees a changing of the guard in the art/production team. Did you guys have any input on the new look?
Art direction kind of happened by accident. The changing of the guard in the art production team left us editors without any direction as to who was taking over as Art Director, so David Conyers picked up the role for this issue. We are extremely pleased that Paul Drummond graciously allowed us to reproduce his image “Strange Behaviour” for the cover. When each of us saw his illustration for the first time, each of us independently thought it was ‘perfect’. We all expect him to go very far.
We also attracted some extremely talented international horror illustrators. David Lee Ingersoll provided the story start, end and section dividers reminiscent of the Alien movies, again perfectly capturing the feel and theme we set out to create from the onset. David Lee Ingersoll, along with Steve Gilberts, Olivia Kernot and Nathan Wyckoff all provided us some fabulous full-page interior illustrations, while Kym-Maree Walley did an excellent job of pulling it altogether.
David will only be doing Art Direction for issue 6, with the new art production team coming on in full force with issue 7. We’re not sure, like the editors, who they will be just yet.