Over at Aqueduct – the pleasures of reading, watching and listening

MV5BMTUzNjQ2MTY5NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTAzNTQxNDM@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Here’s a happy New Year and a heads-up for my contribution to the Aqueduct Press blog about favourites of the year. This is an annual Aqueduct tradition, so I’m pleased to be on board with a publisher that encourages an online community among its far-flung writers.

51r1Mdpv4FL._SX318_BO1,204,203,200_The invitation to contribute took me by (pleasant) surprise, so my spiel is  weighted towards my most recent outings – these include Netflix’s ten-episode Teutonic time travelling epic Dark, books by Zadie Smith, Nina Allan and Colson Whitehead, and a film about the Slits.

61SY37C4a0L._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Naturally, as soon as I posted my copy I started to remember great stuff from earlier in the year. A couple of weeks ago a friend on Facebook had just got around to seeing Trainspotting 2 and that reminded me how much I enjoyed that film  – among other things, I loved the way that Irvine Welsh’s viewpoint character turned out to be Spud rather than Renton. So that was one highlight that I left out.

Another remarkable book I read over the year was Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. It fact it inspired one of the the panel discussions I participated in at the Helsinki World Con last summer –  Fantasies of Free MovementMV5BMGU4YzdhY2UtMDMxMS00YjNhLTlhYzItZGU5NWY2MzhiNzJjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDAwMTQ1Ng@@._V1_UY268_CR9,0,182,268_AL_, where we talked about borders and the dissolution of borders in fantastic fiction.

Many writers also have a sum-up of their own work over the year. So here it goes for me… I’ve had two stories published – “In Scarlet Town” in Murder Ballads and “All That is Solid” in The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray. The good folks at Aqueduct Press released a US edition of Helen’s Story in the summer and I’ve been putting together my first collection Resonance & Revolt.  This will be released downloadat the beginning of 2018 and it’s available for pre-order from Eibonvale Press.

As for resolutions… In the coming year I hope to get back to my novel Heretics. “Bells of Harelle”, which originally appeared in Tales from the Vatican Vaults, was a kind of prequel to Heretics. This story will also be reprinted in Resonance & Revolt. 

32622470And to get back to the past year’s pleasurable reading, listening and viewing – I didn’t even begin to explore the listening part. At a recent gig I saw a band called Gutfull, which I’ll  definitely want to see again. Kind of riot grrrlish – the singer even looked a little like Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna – but they have their own style and they’re totally of this century. I’ve posted a catchy little number called “Arsehole” below.

I also listened to some older music that I missed the first time around, so I’ll post a song from the Screaming Blue Messiahs (1990s vintage) that I discovered at the beginning of 2017. Dedicate it to Donald Trump and wall-of-shame builders around the world.

 

 

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Guest post by Simon Bestwick: Masada in Yorkshire

I’ve known Simon Bestwick since 2010, when we both appeared in the same anthology – Never Again: Weird Fiction Against Racism and Fascism. Since then, his sharp and scathing Facebook posts have enlivened many a grey morning. And now he’s here on the second stop of his blog tour, writing about a post-apocalyptic tale that enthralled him as a teenager and continues to influence his work.
Simon is the author of Tide Of Souls, The Faceless and Black Mountain. His short fiction has appeared in Black Static and Best Horror Of The Year, and been collected in A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Pictures Of The Dark, Let’s Drink To The Dead and The Condemned. His new novel, Hell’s Ditch, is out now.

Brother in the landWritten in the 1980s, Robert Swindells’ Brother In The Land is set in the fictional Yorkshire town of Skipley in the aftermath of a nuclear attack

It’s told through the eyes of Danny Lodge, a teenage boy. His mother is killed in the attack, but his father, and his younger brother, Ben, have survived. There’s no sign of the authorities, and new subcultures are already emerging: the traumatised, near-catatonic Spacers; the ‘Badgers’ hiding in their fallout shelters; and the deranged cannibals called the Purples. When the authorities do show up, help is the last thing they provide.

The local Commissioner and his soldiers are establishing a feudal society: their HQ serves as their castle, the rest of the population as their serfs. Opposition arises in the form of a local smallholder, Sam Branwell, and MASADA, the Movement to Arm Skipley Against Dictatorial Authority. When Danny’s father is killed, Danny, Ben and Kim, a girl Danny’s own age, join him. Branwell is a kind and humane man; his second-in-command, however, is Keith Rhodes, Danny’s hated Games teacher from school, whose ruthlessness, and contempt for those he sees as weak, serve as both an asset and a liability.

MASADA overthrow the Commissioner, establishing a more just communitarian settlement. Crops are planted; Kim’s elder sister, Maureen, becomes pregnant, her child hailed as ‘the first of many’. For a while, there is hope.

But when international aid arrives in the form of the Swiss, they see only a Communist organisation and deprive them of weapons and transport, leaving the community isolated and defenceless in the face of the coming winter. Further blows come in rapid succession. Radioactive contamination causes their crops to fail. Rhodes and his men set off, ostensibly to search for supplies, but never return. The community begins to fall apart. Maureen gives birth; her child is born without a mouth, and dies almost immediately. Branwell dies the same night.

Danny remembers Holy Island, off the coast; clinging to the hope they can survive there, he sets off with Kim and Ben. He runs afoul of Rhodes; the former teacher prepares to kill him, but is shot down by Kim. Soon after, Ben dies of radiation sickness.

Brother In The Land is a bleak novel; it isn’t quite as in-your-face horrific as films like Threads (is anything as horrific as Threads?) or adult novels such as James Herbert’s Domain, but it’s more than harrowing enough.

However, unlike much post-apocalyptic fiction that takes pains to emphasise the appalling consequences of nuclear war, Brother In The Land isn’t content to simply leave its characters to suffer and struggle for survival, but asks instead what kind of a society we should strive to create. The social order which, according to conventional wisdom, should be the default in this kind of ‘survival situation’ – the authoritarian, militaristic one of the Commissioner and his men, where democracy and personal freedom are sacrificed in the name of security – is identified as pernicious and malign. Branwell’s community, democratic and consensual, is not only a viable alternative, but the only sane one.

In a film of the Mad Max variety, Branwell would be portrayed as well-intentioned but hopelessly idealistic, unable to realise his outdated Utopian ideals in the harsh realities of a fallen world; here, instead, he’s a wise, principled figure, a man of peace and reason who’s nonetheless clear-eyed about the need to overthrow the Commissioner. Swindells was an active member of the CND at the time, and continues to campaign on behalf of the Green Party; how much of him may have been in Branwell is hard to determine, but neither translate opposition to nuclear weapons into an unworkable pacifism. Instead they reluctantly accept revolution as a necessary tool in the absence of a peaceful alternative. What ultimately defeats him is the nature of the post-apocalyptic world itself: the crops would have failed whoever was in charge.

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Out now: discount this week at the Snowbooks website 

It’s a remarkable read for young people, and an extraordinary book that left a lasting impression on me. Its brutally honest depiction both of life in the aftermath and of the struggle to try and build a better society in the ruins is yet another of the influences on my new book, Hell’s Ditch.

The original novel – the one I read in my teens – ends with Danny leaving behind his account of what’s happened before setting off with Kim on what’s probably a doomed and futile quest for sanctuary. Swindells later added an additional, more optimistic final chapter, in which they reach Holy Island, find a community run along similar lines to Branwell’s, and manage to survive; by the end, Kim is pregnant, and the child, if it’s a boy, will be named for Ben. Both versions conclude with the same line: ‘…for little Ben, my brother. In the land.’

Simon Bestwick