Wednesday Writers – Greg Mellor

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of being asked to be one of the interviewers for the 2012 Aussie Snapshot. Not only did I get to work with some of my favourite people in Aussie Spec Fic, it also gave me the opportunity to meet a whole heap of new people (and an excuse to email them lol) who were all doing exciting things and having a big impact on the scene.

One of those people was Greg Mellor, and there is no doubt that he is a writer to watch. Not only is he a regular contributor to markets of the calibre of Cosmos, with an impressive list of overseas sales, he is also one of the most qualified science fiction writers going around! It is not always the case that people who are talented writers of science fiction have such a background, or that people with this academic pedigree are any good at writing quality fiction. Greg has that rare combination of both, and there is no doubt this a big part of why he is one of the rising stars of Aussie Spec Fic.

Science (and Philosophy) in Science Fiction

I think one of the major challenges for science fiction writers is getting the right blend of ideas and entertainment in each story. Hopefully this should result in a narrative that provokes the reader to ask questions about what is going on and why, but also presents the reader with a narrative that has an enjoyable kinesis leading to a satisfying conclusion. I think another major challenge is achieving the right mix of science and humanity. Too much science, and the story may as well be a thesis; too much humanity, and it’s just not science fiction.

As I continued to produce more short stories for Wild Chrome during 2010 and 2011, I found that the cross roads of ideas, entertainment, science and humanity is also the stomping ground for reflection and a little philosophy. I don’t claim to do the philosophy very well, but damn it, I like having a go.

For example, terraforming is a well worn scientific idea involving modifications of extra-terrestrial atmosphere, surface and ecology to achieve Earth-like conditions. I like the idea but I can’t help but think it’s a little arrogant. Do we really think we could replicate a biosphere that has emerged over billions of years of deep time? Hmm, still, imagine if we could use some form of technology to create an Earth-like environment. Now imagine if we quickly followed this up and took our supply-chain economics out there to feed the hungry colonies.

To me this represents the intersection of two seemingly mutually exclusive ideas: could we go to the extremes of creating something as beautiful as a habitable biosphere and ruin it with supply chain madness? We’re doing it with our evolved world because we don’t know any better right now. But will we ever know any better? If I were the terraformer I’d be livid, wouldn’t you? Or would you still hold out hope for humanity? Maybe there’s a chance we would get it right on some planets. It’s not just an ethical dilemma; it’s a deeply philosophical one that goes to the heart of our humanity.

When I wrote “Terra Q” I thought these ideas and the science alone would make for an interesting thesis, but it wouldn’t be fiction. Then I put myself in the shoes of the terraformer. That would probably give me an angry thesis. Then I thought: what if I interviewed the terraformer? How do you feel, dude? How did you get into this gig? How the hell does this technology work? Why are half your planets being ruined? Why do you keep building new ones? That might give me a thought provoking narrative, hopefully entertaining, with science and humanity all mixed in. And no, I didn’t resolve the philosophical dilemma!

My writing also tackles traditional intersections of science and philosophy. For example, I like the theme of technology and death. There are very few stones unturned in the SF genre, so rather than tinker at the bleeding edge, I try to produce stories with heart, even if the protagonist has a black heart. In my Urban Decay series, I wrote about a world after decades of GFCs and climate change, where the middle and lower class are disavowed into the badlands or “mulch” surrounding the shining cities. The really rich people – the ones running business and government – live in orbitals.

In this setting, the protagonist in “Beyond Winter’s Shadow” is a humble store owner who helps a homeless kid reconstruct his dead mum’s persona using an app that responds to external stimuli, but in the process finds some kind of personal enlightenment after the years of service to the community. In “Hollow Places” a desperate mum tries to save her brain-dead son by rebuilding aspects of his personality through a virtual interface, but still struggles to reconcile her own selfishness. I think technology can give us the sense (delusion) that we have some control over the uncontrollable. In these stories it is control over the inevitability of death. We never give up, we’re always, and I mean always trying to avert the course of fate or nature. Are we saving others, seeking our own salvation, or a little bit of both? I suppose there’s also an element of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” in this struggle to recreate life. I think future technologies will give us more options and thus more hope, so taking us to even more extreme “solutions” – just find it in the cloud!

I think the antithesis of this is the use of technology to extend the experience of death and decay. In “Time Capture” a deranged father prolongs his own pleasure and despair through a bizarre virtual interface with his murdered daughter. Publishers Weekly said “Time Capture” is “truly disturbing”. I never quite set out for it to be like that, but the protagonist took me on a nasty journey. I imagine that an imbalanced killer with advanced technology at his disposal would seek to fuel his own perversions.

I venture further along the science and philosophy path in several post-human stories in Wild Chrome where society is either on the cusp of, or just beyond the technology singularity. In “Autumn Leaves Falling” the protagonist struggles with the idea that uploading his mind is tantamount to suicide. He wonders whether it is really okay to hope for a richer experience in an uploaded collective, even if it means sacrificing his corporeal body.

In “Heaven and Earth” the very rich families have created the singularity and taken their secrets with them into the galaxy. The story follows a human woman trying to reconnect with her post-human lover. The post-human collective has retained the bigotry of a regular society. As the protagonist evolves, she dares to speak out and be one voice in a billion seeking change. It’s hard enough these days standing out from the crowd, never mind in a collective consciousness where all your hopes and fears are known by others.

In “Fragments”, the Earth has suffered a botched technology singularity, leaving many people in a kind of half-uploaded limbo. The protagonist is a guy left behind looking for the fragmented remains of his wife in the ruins, living in hope that something of her can be salvaged. I think hope drives many of my characters. There is true despair in the singularity event, but there is also hope borne from sacrifice and darkness.

In “Ethos Anthropoi Daimon” the post-human world is dystopian, a reflection of the dark nature of men. The gothic bad guy called Spain lives in hope of something more than the drudgery of dystopia, but in the end it is the character of men that has created his world – character is fate. Try as he may, Spain struggles to escape his own flawed character.

Finally, the theme of morality plays out in several stories of alien contact. “Alien Intent” is set in a colony world on Sirius where the humans have slaughtered the indigenous species. “The Trouble with Memes” is set in the near future Earth where humanity has made contact with an interstellar network of post-corporeal societies. The stories ask, in different ways, whether we are worthy of the responsibility of being an interstellar species, but from the POV of the aliens. In both cases we come up short. The aliens can see us for what we really are, but we struggle to achieve any level of introspection and therefore conscience until the situation forces us to. It seems we are wired to evolve like this, but not yet advanced enough to make the collective choice necessary to lift ourselves out of the “red in tooth and claw” evolution and make moral choices about our future and the well-being of the species around us.

I delve into this theme a little more, but in a sardonic way, in “Ravenous”. Again, I took the alien POV on a world where humans are simply out of control – an interstellar blight. It’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but there’s some gallows comedy and therefore some dark truth in it. The story basically suggests that we are what we are, and we’ll always be oblivious to this fact. The alien civilisations out there shall accept and suffer us, until the day one of them decides to fight back.

So, in conclusion, I enjoy injecting the philosophical stuff into my science fiction. Of course, it’s not all deep and meaningful in Wild Chrome, and there are stories that are purely action and entertainment, or stories that are purely about one person’s journey.

Producing the book has certainly been a hell of a journey for me and I don’t regret a minute of it. I hope you find it entertaining reading – be it intriguing, funny, gritty, heartfelt or all of the above!

 

Greg Mellor is a Canberra-based writer of science fiction, and occasional writer of horror, paranormal, romance, erotica, fantasy and any combination thereof.  He is also a totally awesome husband and dad – well, at least that’s what he tells everyone. Ask his wife if you want to find out the “home truth”.

Greg has worked and studied in and around Canberra all his life, with a ten year residency in the UK somewhere in the middle. For some reason he felt compelled to do an Honours Degree in Astrophysics, and as if that wasn’t enough punishment, he also completed an MBA in Technology Management. He has worked in professional service firms for the last 15 years and will continue to do so for a while yet to ensure he leaves enough inter-generational debt for his son and future grandchildren. There’s a long, puzzling journey from astrophysics to consulting, involving shelf-packing, builder’s labourer and general dog’s body, technical drawing, business reporting, IT systems trainer, electrical power-line maintenance, four wheel driving, writing science articles and . . . you get the gist. Don’t ask him “how” or “why”, suffice to say there were many “sliding doors”.

He is a regular contributor to Cosmos Magazine with “Defence of the Realm”, “Autumn Leaves Falling” and “Day Break”. His work has also appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, Aurealis, AntipodeanSF and Daily Science Fiction, plus several Aus and US small press anthologies including “Winds of Change”, “Flesh & Bone”, “Hit Men”, “Novus Creatura” and others. Greg reached the finals of the 2009 Aurealis Awards, Best Short SF category. His stories regularly receive mentions (honourable and otherwise) and tend to crop up on recommended reading lists around the internet.

In his spare time (is there such a thing?) he reads about consciousness, philosophy, psychology, physics, astronomy, history and evolution. This is usually followed by a self-help book so that he can still feel good about the world. Occasionally he’ll flick through the books of Paul Davies, one of his professors at uni  . . . spot the name drop. Then he’ll follow this up with the odd fiction book or two, referencing Keats for soulful quotes and Wilde for the brutal truth about human nature. Then, when he can’t cram any more in, he will occasionally get back to his writing in the hope that the collage of ideas makes more sense on paper than it does in his head.

Greg was delighted when Ticonderoga Publications accepted his debut collection, “Wild Chrome”. Now he faces the daunting prospect of the SF novel.

He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG), and the ACT Writers’ Centre.

Visit www.gregmellor.com to see pictures of his cat.

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