Fiction in 2019 #5 – The Glassblower’s Peace

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Tomaso da Guda chose to remember only one thing about his father: he had too many sons. The proper amount was three. With three able-bodied men, a man could plant his seed into the most important areas of Venetian life. The eldest would be trained to go into government. The next would receive some patronage from a rich merchant and be given a berth on his most profitable ship. The youngest would be given to the clergy; it was important to have a direct route into Heaven. Tomaso da Guda knew all this because his father told him these simple truths on his deathbed. Tomaso was his fourth son. He was left to float rudderless through the canals of the city.

From this inheritance, Tomaso chose the most strictly regulated routine he could think of: the army. No one pointed out to him that in times of perpetual peace, the army wasn’t particularly well-drilled. Being a soldier mostly meant spending your afternoons moving from bar to bar, trading illusions and downing alcohol to fuel the next round of more outrageous stories. Tomaso didn’t care much for the storytelling, instead choosing the quiet, dark corners that existed in every establishment. Still, he was paid well for his drinking. It gave him a modest house and the potential to spin modesty into respectability.

At the very least, he was doing better than his older brothers. The eldest had disappeared into the bowels of some prison after seeking to ban the use of magic within the city’s borders. The youngest had drowned. Even in a city like Venice, priests never learned to swim. The deepest cut was his second brother vanishing somewhere north of Egypt, along with the rest of his crew mates. As children, the two of them had banded together against the world and ran through so many cobblestoned streets that they went through shoes twice as fast as anyone else. Now Tomaso was alone, his parents dead, his brothers gone. There was no aunt or uncle to offer an understanding nod and laugh through tales of family joy, no cousin to lend a sympathetic ear. There was no one. In a way, his father was right. He had too many sons and the spare was left to soldier on alone.

***

‘The Glassblower’s Peace’ was originally published in 2018 in Issue #114 of Aurealis and is possibly one of my best stories so far. I know it’s possibly my wife’s favourite. It ventures into the heart of an alternative history, where Venice enjoys a prosperous peace under the protection of a magical glassblower. Now, though, cracks are emerging and a young private of the Venetian army might be the only to save the floating city from invasion. If you enjoyed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell then I would hope you’d find a lot to like in ‘The Glassblower’s Peace’.

The reason why it’s appearing in this list of 2019 stories is that it was picked to join an incredible line-up of short stories written by New Zealand writers in Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I. While I obviously have a vested interest in this book, I think what Paper Road Press and editor, Marie Hodgkinson, are doing with the Year’s Best series (Vol 2 due next year) is fantastic. The short fiction world is a disjointed old one. You get work published in various different places, with little overlap, and often stories can get lost in the churn. However, with Year’s Best, some stories have been salvaged from this fate and given an opportunity to extend their moment in the sun.

I’m thrilled that ‘The Glassblower’s Peace’ is one of those stories. It is fantastic to actually have this story out there in paperback as well.

So, I highly recommend that if you’re interested in what New Zealand speculative fiction writers have been creating recently, you check out Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I. There’s a lot of great work in this collection, book ended by two incredible stories from Octavia Cade and Andi Buchanan. Find out more, or simply just buy a copy straight away, here:

Year’s Best Aotearoa New Zealand Science Fiction & Fantasy: Volume I

Fiction in 2019 #4 – A Parcel a Day

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Let’s hit pause here. If we’re being honest, most people don’t know what a parcel is. Oh, they might hear it on the news. Some anchor might say ‘stock prices fell today as the government rejected BT’s bid for three hundred parcels’. But you don’t know what that means. Don’t sweat about it. Neither does the anchor. The words pass through one vessel of incomprehension to another. Most news is like this if we’re honest: war, politics, science. Magical trading is no different. You don’t care how magic is really divvied up. You don’t bid each year, taking your slice of the government’s contracts with a dozen faerie realms. You don’t hire Lichfield & Moore to negotiate deals, to fight for your position. That’s just not how the world works for you. Instead, you queue at the Office of Magical Allocation and wait for some grad straight out of university to stamp your application form. What you might be allowed wouldn’t even be one tenth of a parcel. Still, it lets you grow vegetables in amusing shapes, or curse your son’s sandwiches so they scream embarrassing stories out of his bag until he eats them.

So, what’s a parcel then? All around the world, countries have agreements with faerie realms. The British government works with seventeen fae courts. That’s a lot of magic, but not as much as one hundred years ago when every otherworldly prince and duke wanted to do business with us. So, the government needs to ration it. They package it into parcels. There’s meant to be some sort of symbolism here. We, Brits, love our postal service. We make cartoons about it; we have a mythology of the postman. Every child once wanted to be one. When a parcel lands on your door, it could be anything. It could be a case of gold, or a horse’s head. Like magic, the parcel is limitless. It’s probably a book, though. The French government refers to parcels as tranches instead. I like that word better.

As an aside, the Spanish market deals in huevos. That’s Spanish for eggs. I’ll never eat an omelette in Madrid again.

***

When we want to describe stories, we tend to rely on other stories to do the heavy lifting of the description. That’s why Marlon James’s Black Leopard Red Wolf was described as an “African Game of Thrones”. It’s a shortcut. A way to avoid having to condense down the dense world that James created. This way of describing things often goes astray. After all, Black Leopard Red Wolf isn’t really anything like A Game of Thrones. So, I always try to avoid such easy explanations of my work.

Despite all this, ‘A Parcel a Day’ in Issue 76 of Andromeda Spaceways is basically The Big Short but with magic. The tone, the setting, all of it was inspired by The Big Short, a great film about the 07 financial crisis. The only difference, and it is a big one, is that these stockbrokers are dealing with magic, not money.

I could say more than this, but honestly, sometimes the easiest way to describe a story is the best way. So, if you want to read about a team closing out a once-in-a-lifetime magical deal, then check out ‘A Parcel a Day’ here:

ASM #76