Out of Compton
When people come to the end of their lives their brains are resurrected and preserved in bottles, in Gisborne writer Aaron Compton’s story Moa Love.
The story, in which the bottled brains rely on people in the real world for sensory experience, is Compton’s contribution to speculative fiction anthology, Te Korero Ahi Ka (to speak of the home fires burning).
The very New Zealand collection includes a zombie story written in colloquial Kiwi (“I eat heaps of burgers, so I’m slow as,” says the living narrator. “Now I have to be hardout cunning.”), a tale of madness and a taniwha, and another about pigs with AK-47s. Then there is Compton’s story about ancestors’ bottled brains who maintain their sanity by living vicariously through full-bodied people’s sensory experience.
“When it comes to love and lust things get complicated,” says Compton.
We’ll leave it at that for now; stories in the anthology are Kiwi-as, wildly original and well-written — as you’ll find out for yourself when you read them.
All contributors are members of SpecFicNZ, a society of writers with a love of horror, fantasy and science fiction. Along with downbeat New Zealand humour, the rouched landscape and the threads of Maori and Pacific Island culture, there is the wilderness in this country that can change a person forever, says historical-fantasy writer Juliet Marillier in the foreword.
“There’s history and there’s what lies far deeper than history: the bones and blood of the land; the heart and spirit of the story.”
Compton loves science fiction and fantasy so he was a good match for the society.
“There is a community of these writers who a lot of people wouldn’t know exist,” he says.
As a SpecFicNZ member he also took up the opportunity to volunteer as a mentee editor to work on shaping the anthology and to extend his own skills.
“When a lot of new writers’ work gets edited they think ‘leave my art alone’ but the few changes editors make can make a huge difference to any story.”
The editors read all submissions.
“Then we made a pass over the final stories. Some of that was just proofreading to check for consistency. We had a spreadsheet to put our thoughts on.”
Because the anthology was a community project, the editors gave written feedback to all contributors. This included those who did not make the final cut - a rare thing in a climate now in which most publishing houses do not even tell an author if their work has been rejected.
Writers whose work was selected for the anthology include 14 literary award-winners.
“The collection is really diverse,” says Compton.
“There’s a lot of fun stuff, then there’s really dark stuff and everything in between.”
Compton has wanted to write since he was a child. Two or three years ago he embarked on an ambitious writing project that involved a series of novels.
“I got up at four or five in the morning to write, before my two daughters woke up. I built a rich world to base these stories on then I started writing those books.”
About 60,000 words in though he realised the epic wasn’t working.
“That was disappointing but it was good to know I had the dedication and the stamina.”
To sharpen his writing skills he turned to short story writing — and has started on another novel.
Te Korero Ahi Ka (to speak of the home fires burning) is available now at Amazon, $11.99. Ebook version $3.88