Story number three in my anthology of the mind, and it comes from one of my long-time writer buds, the inimitable Mr Chuck McKenzie.
2002 was an odd year. I was struggling and failing to come to terms with the death of my wife, I was struggling and failing to raise an infant daughter on my own, I was struggling and failing to return to work in a meaningful way after months of bereavement leave. And while all that was happening I experienced my first interstate convention and was flown to LA for a week to take part in the Writers of the Future workshops I’d won as part of my prize for the 2001 competition. ‘Highs and lows’ is not an adequate description.
The interstate convention was ConVergence, in Melbourne. I met, for the first time, a whole bushel of people who would remain important to me over the course of the next 11 years– drunken escapades with Claire McKenna; book signing chatter with Kate Eltham and Rob Hoge; post-panel coffee with Dave Luckett. And then there was Chuck: the Monkey God hisself; the King Louie of Australian SF. And, once I’d sorted through the 18 kilograms of books I sent back from the con, author of the story that had me lying on my bed, wrapped around the anthology of allegedly comic SF stories in which it appeared, crying my eyes out.
The book Confessions of a Pod Person first appeared in was called AustrAlien Absurdities, and make no mistake, it is a funny story. Chuck’s a superb joketeller, able to shift gears from absurdity to satire and back again without breaking stride or catching breath. And this ability is in full swing in this tale of classic 50s B-movie monsters suffering through a perfect “Next morning, Cinderella woke up…” scenario. But there’s a double level to this story: it’s unbearably sad underneath the surface glamour, a tale of loss and the slow, inevitable strangulation of identity that resonates as deeply with me today as it did back then. It’s a stunning achievement: richly layered, subtly nuanced, and ever, ever so good.
This was my introduction to the science fiction written by my peers. It has rarely been bettered.