2020 Snapshot: Aaron Compton

Image courtesy of Cat Brown Photography

Aaron is a writer of fiction and poetry. He’s worked in various parts of the cultural sector, including many years as an educator in Tairawhiti Museum and Te Papa Tongarewa | Museum of New Zealand. Aaron also worked in theatre, galleries, and had some memorable times as an artist assistant. His degree in digital film making never gets used– it was only the screen writing aspect which interested him anyway. His teaching qualifications haven’t been dusted off for a while, either. Aaron lives with his family in Aotearoa/New Zealand.

1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

I have a couple of projects on the go. I’m in a group called Tairāwhiti Writers’ Hub. Last year a few of us got a wee grant to put together an anthology of NZ East Coast writing. We’ve had a heap of submissions— mostly short fiction, poetry, and memoir. Editors are allowed to contribute (’cause we made the rules) and I wanted to write something specifically for the anthology, something actually East Coast. There’s been a lot of talk recently about the Hikurangi fault-line that runs along the seafloor here, parallel to the coast, and the “slow slips” that are happening in it. If I understand it correctly, slow slips are earthquakes where the energy is released over months, rather than a few seconds, so the earth is moving but no-one except the seismologists notice. I had this vague idea of a story titled “Slow Slip”, just because I like the sound of it, it’s like the earthquake equivalent of gentle love-making. A lazy fuck on tectonic scale. I decided to write a short story set in a world I had already created for a first-draft novella series called Songbirds of Zealandia. The setting is a future Aotearoa where nanotech/biohacked “Synthetic Intellects” have immense power, but are still in thrall to humans. They’ve assumed the aspects of Māori atua, which are kinda like gods. In this short, the atua for seismic activity has part of his distributed mind deep in the oceanic trench and communicates to his “Prophets” at the surface via subroutines of himself inside their heads. Up on land it’s a human story, it opens with a young apprentice to an old traditional tool maker, grinding and shaping a piece of pounamu/greenstone on a block of sandstone. So there’s a clash between the old and the new but the two worlds are connected, and it’s a story so stuff goes wrong. I’m happy with how it turned out and the other editors said very nice things about it.

My current buzz though, the thing that has me excited, is a historical fantasy set in my own alt-version of the Kermadec Islands during the late Victorian era. The main character works in the museum and finds a very odd thing which leads her to a crypto-zoological discovery which saves her island from ecological catastrophe wrought by capitalist mongrels. There’s a mythical beast that turns out to be real, ocean-going waka/canoes, ants the size of your hand, hallucinogenic venom that lets you see ghosts. Possibly moa, too, because all my stories seem to be wish-fulfillment fantasies where moa aren’t extinct. Fun stuff. I started writing it during lockdown. I heard about Radish and Tapas, and services like that where people read chapters that are more like TV episodes, on their phone when they’re on the train or whatever. The idea of writing super hooky little episodes appeals to my ADHD brain. I hope it’s a good way to write a novel.

2. What has been the best publishing or SF community experience of your career so far?

I’m not sure you could call what I do a career, yet. I’m still trying to kickstart that, to publish more stuff. Having said that, the best part of my publishing “career,” so far, was as co-editor on an anthology called Te Korero Ahi Ka/To Speak of the Home Fires Burning. It’s a collection of Kiwi speculative fiction and has some amazing stories. Grace Bridges and Lee Murray were my mentor editors, they are so lovely and kind– and great at what they do — the book won a Sir Julius Vogel award in 2018. The whole process was eye-opening for a noob like me, I learned a lot. Plus another of my own shorts got published alongside work from all these very cool writers.

3. Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge?

International folk interested in expanding their antipodean spec fic knowledge should obviously get their hands on Te Korero Ahi Ka. Also check out Paul Mannering’s Engines of Empathy. It’s part one of a trilogy where machines are powered by human emotions. It’s got great humour and is just… ingenious. The protagonist is called Charlotte Pudding but she kinda gets up-staged by an amazing character called Drakeforth. Just talking about it makes me think I should read it again.

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