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The Past | The Previous

Originally published at Ben Peek. You can comment here or there.

Dead Americans cover

I wrote ‘The Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, Not Little Boys’ for Cat Sparks’ last Agog! collection, Agog! Ripping Reads.

Cat’s Agog! Press was one of the children born out of the success of Eidolon, a magazine – or perhaps perodical would better describe it – edited by Jonathan Strahan, Jeremy Byrne and Richard Scriven. Running throughout the 90s, it gave a venue for people like Shaun Tan and Sean Williams to begin their careers, and introduced people to the work of authors like George Turner, Rosaleen Love, Terry Dowling, Lucy Sussex, and more. Alongside Peter McNamara and Margaret Winch’s big anthology Alien Shores, which was a watershed for the local scene in terms of the range of quality and content it presented, Eidolon was one of the most influential venues produced in Australia for local speculative fiction, and its influence on a new wave of artists, headed by Cat Sparks, cannot be ignored. Sparks – who was coming from a photography and graphic artist background – would build upon what the previous generation laid down, and with the rise of the internet and social media, bring a much more media savvy and friendly PR face to her high quality anthologies. Eidolon’s greatest flaw was that it spoke to the very limited audience – the old traditional SF crowd, also known as the Old Boys Club – and Sparks’ easiest advancement on the path they laid down was to break into all the new audiences defined by age and gender. Her four collections would establish a lot of new authors, such as Paul Haines, Deborah Biancotti, Rjurik Davidson, and Kaaron Warren, and would pave the way for a lot of new presses to emerge in variations and advancements of her model. Much of the local scene in terms of their online presence and the physical quality of their product owe a lot to her.

Personally, I always found Cat to be very generous to me, and more often than not, right about what was not working in one of my stories. For example, in my original version of ‘The Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, Not Little Boys’, I had huge slabs of blank text in the letters, meant to signify burnt pages. I have no idea why I thought it was a good idea and Cat was pretty quick in pointing out to me that it was pretty shit. At the time, however, I am fairly sure I sat around and told myself what a genius I was, since that is usually how those things go.

‘The Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, Not Little Boys’ was the second Red Sun story that I wrote. I did not plan to make a world out of it after ‘Under the Red Sun’, but I had enjoyed writing it enough that it just stuck, and I found myself writing this. It was inspired by the wars that I had seen throughout the world, and the growing awareness I had of the huge imbalance that existed between the West and other countries when it came to the West’s capabilities. I found – and still find – it nauseating to read an article that laments the loss of one or two white soldiers while casually listing the number of non-white combatants in the thousands, each a nameless villian to be thrown in a mass grave. I cannot understand the mind that allows such a distinction to be made, and I find it, on all levels, deeply offensive.

The soundtrack today is a double bill. The first is from the comedian Bill Hicks, who died in the 90s, but whose work remains shockingly apt for the world we live in, and the second is ‘God Bless Our Dead Marines’ by A Silver Mt. Zion.

(This is a story note for my collection, Dead Americans and Other Stories, which is available now. The song is part of an illusionary soundtrack that I am putting into each of the posts for amusement, but if you owned the book, you could listen to it in the final moments of the story, if you were so inclined. If you don’t own a copy of Dead Americans and Other Stories and you haven’t read ‘The Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, Not Little Boys’ then you should follow the links and buy a copy. Bill Hicks would completely endorse it – or, you know, send copies to politicians in America as a warning, which you could do as well, if you like.)

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kylaw
Apr. 1st, 2014 02:20 am (UTC)
I still consider this to be one of your best short works and it's certainly a personal favourite. I remember that reading the title alone, on the Agog! contents page, sent a shiver down my spine. The story ah, exacerbated it considerably. I think the effect is due partly to the macabre nature of events, partly to the way the protagonist describes them as the child he was, and partly to their anchoring in an "accepted medical procedure". Requiring an expert, to be sure, but once she arrives, she is neither magician nor saint. For me, it is the overall tone of shocked, bewildered people coping as best they can that makes it. And the birds. You know I like blackbirds.
benpeek
Apr. 1st, 2014 07:35 am (UTC)
well, thank you very much :)

i remember being surprised that a lot of people liked it, to be honest. it probably got one of the strongest responses to the red sun stuff early on.
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