‘That Which Stands Tends Toward Free Fall’ is now up at Clarkesworld. This is, in honesty, a story that I thought I might have to self-publish. Nothing wrong with self-publishing per se (it is thus validated), but I’m used to selling them. Not that I had no faith in this story either; rather the opposite. But it’s a particularly important story to me and an act of reclamation, about which one is ever the most anxious. I’m really happy that Clarkesworld gave this a home.
It’s a story about two soldiers in a complicated relationship, about running away from war, and AI children.
What was once Ayutthaya is now a handful of households, a municipal office, some essentials: hospital, market. Most of the ruins are uninhabitable, and the remaining power-water grid can service only a tiny population: two thousand in cityscape meant for fifty times that. It is testament to the war that a place this close to Krungthep has been so reduced, burned and drowned and burned again. But safe, for now, under Phiksunee’s protection.
So much depends on that construct of code and modified flesh, that child of scintillant minds and burning ambition.
The rehabilitation project has brought transplanted trees, grafted to flower and fruit impossibly: a branch extends rose apples over the roof of a clinic, another pours ratchaphruek in yellow cascades over a wrecked school. Color everywhere, to infuse life into the peeling facades and cracked streets. Overgrowth presses close, barely under control, water striders and green ponds and crooning frogs. Stumps draped in moss and spotted fern, orange patches and red stripes and golden freckles.
(If she falls in love it would be with the land, this land, this ruin. She has lost, somewhere along the way, the capacity for romance with another person.)
‘That Which Stands’ was inspired partly by a book I was reading, aesthetically. The substance is all me, though Ghost in the Shell has always had a presence in my fiction and more recently Psycho-Pass. There’s explicit lesbian sex on-page, if that matters.
Geopolitically, I wanted to be as comprehensive as possible within the scope of a short story, an overview of what the map is like in this future which is both far enough and near enough Credit to David (@atonal440) and, er, David (@abaddondave) for input with regards to the fate of continental Europe since unlike in ‘The Occidental Bride’ I decided not to simply sink the whole thing. I like to think I have extrapolated decently in making Russia and India major players, and China a superpower. I didn’t get the chance to get into what happened to, say, South America but I expect in this landscape Brazil and Mexico (to name two) would be surviving just fine. If anyone has suggestions as to what might be going on in South America or Africa, or any other region I haven’t thought about, feel free to let me know – speculative geopolitics are fun, and I have huge blind spots.
To the best of my knowledge, there are three Thai writers actively producing speculative fiction in English: Pear Nuallak, a writer who’ll have a piece in Apex Magazine, and me. SP Somtow, as far as I know, isn’t currently writing. Three is really very few, and it’s unfortunate. While I don’t think this places special burden on me or any other Thai writer, I hope our number can only grow.
For more on this last point, I expanded in an essay to accompany this story, ‘To Fall Free: Overcoming Cultural Cringe.’
Like ‘That Which Stands’, ‘The Beast at the End of Time’ concerns itself with artificial intelligence and their makers, and the impact of technology on life. The fact they come out on the same day is pure coincidence; I wrote and sold them months (many months!) apart. Such is fate, to channel Garnet.
As the world marches toward the guillotine of its finale, the sleeping beast shakes loose the slats of its painted unthought and licks the tang of dénouement from its fangs. It stirs upright on trembling ligaments, clad in starvation and rust.
“You are not here,” a calm voice which mimics the beast’s speaks in its skull. “You died a long time ago.” An existentialist voice, it thinks as it tests the strength of its sinews, the curve and length of its legs.
“You’ll understand nothing,” the voice goes on. “This is not your place and you will die again, returning to sand and grass.”
Other than that basic concept, though, I like to think they are tremendously different stories – in tone, content, even style. This is far future, baroque, set in an impossible and impossibly shifting landscape. It is also (quite unintentionally) what I end up describing as ‘lesbian Beauty and the Beast plus Jekyll/Hyde circa nanomachine apocalypse’. More intentionally, I drew some inspiration from Shoujou Kakumei Utena, the idea and aesthetic of the world as a locked and suffocating garden. It’s a much darker story than ‘That Which Stands’, less realist. It is also a story which shifts from third to first person then back again – I like to think it achieves what I want with good effect.
I first read Benjanun Sriduangkaew’s short fiction in a Clockwork Phoenix anthology, and it was love at first read. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was reading something new, a fresh writing style that no one else was doing. Although peppered with futuristic sounding words, reading “The Bees Her Heart, the Hive Her Belly” it was like getting immersed in the smell and memories of my favorite comfort foods. Unapologetic and avant-garde, her writing blends lustrous beauty and edgy technology, in environs that can be dreamlike, militant, and intimate; and often all of them at the same time. It’s happened a few times now, that I’ve thought about purchasing an anthology, and only decided to buy the book because her name was in the table of contents. If you’ve enjoyed novels from N.K. Jemisin or Kameron Hurley, Benjanun Sriduangkaew is right up your alley.
Andrea Johnson interviewed me about this story and writing in general. It’s a real privilege (seriously; ask any writer) to be interviewed by someone so lovely and generous and engaged. :D