Simon Petrie is a Canberra-based scientist and short story writer whose fiction has appeared in ASIM, Aurealis (upcoming), Ticon4, Sybil’s Garage, and possibly the Journal of Physical Chemistry. Sales from his upcoming short-fiction collection will be used to fight extradition to Edinburgh, where he faces charges over the uniquely Scottish crime of upkilting.
1. Please tell us about what you’ve published recently, and what we can expect from your forthcoming collection.
For a given value of ‘recently’… my most recent publication would be ‘The Day of the Carrot’, which as I type this appeared only yesterday on the Ticon4 website, and which I urge people to check out, because I think it’s one of my best. Moving further back in time, last year saw ‘Downdraft’ in Sybil’s Garage, a story with a 52-word title (which I’ll abbreviate here to ‘Postosuchus kirkpatricki’) in Murky Depths, ‘Single Handed’ in Kaleidotrope, ‘The Fall Guy’ in the CSFG Masques anthology, ‘Talking with Taniwha’ in Borderlands, ‘Sixes, Sevens’ in Escape Velocity, and a few others. These are a mix of comic pieces and more serious efforts, which in some respects surprised me a bit. By which I mean that I’d cottoned on fairly quickly to the idea that I could successfully write comic speculative fiction – I had a rush of early acceptances, from ASIM and a few other places – which encouraged me no end; but I was unsure whether I’d be able to cut it in the field of serious SF. Now I’m starting to think that maybe I can: there are the Rousseau stories (‘Downdraft’ and ‘Taniwha’) which seem to have been received quite well, and a couple of stories in upcoming Aurealis issues, and another which will be in the Destination: Future anthology (in a table of contents which also includes Elizabeth Bear, Mike Resnick, Sara Genge and several other notables – I’m still finding that a bit giddying).
The collection (which I should mention is called Rare Unsigned Copy: tales of Rocketry, Ineptitude, and Giant Mutant Vegetables, published by Peggy Bright Books, and due out in March) is a mixture of light and shade, or at least I hope so. People who are pun-averse should possibly steer clear of the three Gordon Mamon murder mysteries (‘Murder on the Zenith Express’, ‘Single Handed’, and ‘The Fall Guy’), but there’s also quite a bit of situational black comedy in stories like ‘Three-Horned Dilemma’, ‘To Arms’, and ‘Haystacks, Needles, Large Extinct Marine Reptiles’, a previously-unpublished tale of plesiosaurs, time travel, and a disastrously misplaced ham sandwich. And there are more serious, sometimes sombre stories such as ‘Downdraft’, ‘Surrogacy’, and ‘Trajectory’. All of these are interspersed with some of my flash fiction (about which I’m unapologetic: I like flash, and there are ideas for which it’s the natural word-length. Plus I still think ‘Tsiligup’, ‘Working Girl’, and ‘Highway Patroller’ are among the best things I’ve written). One of the things that really excites me about the collection is that it presents not only a fair proportion of previously-unpublished material, but also a group of stories which have previously appeared only in offshore small-press magazines and which are therefore likely to be new to most Australian spec-fic readers. All up, it’s been a lot of fun assembling it, and I hope people enjoy it. (And, as a small-press short story collection, I reckon ‘Rare Unsigned Copy’ is the ideal name for it…)
2. Tell us a little about your experience working with the Andromeda Spaceways Publishing Co-operative – what have you learned about the Aussie scene from your time with ASIM?
The Aussie scene? It’s tight-knit, energetic, diverse, and very talented. I’ve been a member of the ASIM co-op for about three years now, and it’s been an excellent apprenticeship in the sense of offering experience across the gamut of small-press publishing tasks. There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing the way that people work together to produce something they believe in, something which doesn’t offer any direct material reward but which does involve a very definite sense of accomplishment. ASIM is, I think, something which is bigger than the sum of its constituents: the founding members from 2001 are now in the minority, there’s a healthy number of talented newcomers, but the Andromeda Spaceways ethos, whatever it might be, is largely unchanged.
It’s been very rewarding to have had the opportunity to edit two issues myself, but in a sense the rewards of seeing newer co-op members pick up new and useful skills are even greater. Because ASIM isn’t just about providing an outlet for excellent spec-fic, it’s also about maintaining a resource. Writers, publishers, and readers coexist in a symbiotic relationship: I’d say that most of the ASIM co-op members got into writing because they’re passionate about reading, and then got into publishing because they’re passionate about writing. ASIM is, of course, not the only Aussie fish in the small-press sea, but it is I think a fairly important one. People need to be able to see that local genre magazines, like ASIM and like Aurealis, can persist for 40+ issues, and can continue to play their part in uncovering new talent.
It hasn’t been just the co-op which has got me to this point: I’ve also learnt a lot from my involvement with the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (and lately from the fledgling SpecFicNZ group), from the minor organisational role I’ve played in Conflux for the past three years, and from my experience on Aurealis Award judging panels. But I think it’s reasonable to say that I still identify most strongly with ASIM, and it’s the organisation (if such a body can ever be described as ‘organised’) which has influenced my perspective the most.
3. So what’s next for Simon Petrie? Where do you see yourself in five years time?
Next? I’ve got a cluster of stalled half-written short stories, from which I’ll try to rescue the redeemable from the still-born. And sometime within the coming year I think I really need to decide whether I have a novel or two in me. It’s been three and a half years since I started writing seriously (this time around; I won’t count the false starts in decades past), and I’ve yet to write any stories that have topped the 10,000 word mark. I very much enjoy the freedom of the short-story form, and I don’t intend to stop writing short fiction as long as the ideas continue, but there’s a feeling that I should try my hand at a novel. Which is where I’ve perhaps made a rod for my own back: most of my published work so far has been comic, but the novel ideas I have (or at least, the ideas that feel as though they might possibly turn into something novel-length) tend to be more serious, and so might constitute a betrayal of expectations. But I’d like to do a novel set on Titan; I’d also like to explore the world of Rousseau in more detail, and both of those would be fairly straight-up serious stories, in each case following on from short stories I’ve already written in those settings. When I look at which of my comic stories might lend themselves to providing a novelistic starting-point, it’s more difficult. I don’t think Gordon Mamon has enough depth of character to carry a novel, though he could just possibly sustain a novella. But a Jelika Karlyle novel (and here I’ll need to direct you to the story ‘To Arms’, in Rare Unsigned Copy) would, I think, be a lot of fun.
Five years’ time? I’d like to be able to walk into a bookstore and have a fighting chance of finding something of mine on the shelf, whether it be a serious SF novel, a comic SF novel, or my second short-story collection (which, at this point, is likely to be called These Aren’t the Telephone Sanitisers You’re Looking For). I’d hope to be putting the finishing editorial touches to ASIM issue 70-odd, and maybe trying to find a publisher interested in bringing out a themed anthology I’d like to assemble. And I hope I’ll still be enjoying this writing lark as much as I am now.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year?
Gosh. I’m not keen on picking favourites, because there’s more worthwhile stuff than would ever fit on the list. But, if you insist (and I can sense that you do):
For novella, I think Paul Haines’ ‘Wives’ certainly deserves to be there. In the short-story field, Ian McHugh’s ‘Once a Month, on a Sunday’ is a wonderful story (and, as ASIM 40’s editor, I was over the moon that it tied for the Fantasy Short Story category in the Aurealis Awards); I’d also thoroughly recommend Kathleen Jennings’ ‘The Splendour Falls’, from ASIM 41, and Cat Sparks’ ‘Seventeen’ from Masques. Sean Williams’ The Grand Conjunction should be at least an outside chance in the novel category. For anthology, I’d spruik Jonathan Strahan’s Eclipse 3 as well as Krasnostein & Wessely’s New Ceres Nights. And I also think Edwina Harvey’s ‘SF Bullsheet’ deserves a guernsey in the fan-publication category.
There are other names I think should be up there, too. Margo Lanagan. Jason Fischer. Felicity Dowker. Peter M. Ball. Jo Anderton. Stephen Dedman. Geoff Maloney. Lee Battersby. Thoraiya Dyer. Et cetera.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
Yes, I will be at Aussiecon 4. It’ll be my first con outside of Canberra (I’ve been to Conflux 4, 5, and 6), so I really don’t know what to expect. But I’m hoping for the chance to meet a few overseas writers, publishers, and editors who’ve impressed me, as well as some locals that I haven’t encountered yet. Hoping, also, to introduce ASIM and Rare Unsigned Copy to a few new faces…