Saturday, June 18, 2005

"Reflexes" - the story behind the story

I want to tell you the story behind a story of mine. The story is called “Reflexes” and I think it is one of the best things I’ve written yet it has taken me two years to find a home for it.

“Reflexes” tells the story of a mixed race Australian couple caught up in a near-future war in the Pacific. It’s an emotional read that isn’t always comfortable. It contains sex and violence and politics but it is about love and loss and the choice we face between forgiveness and revenge. The title alludes to the fact that so many of our actions are not choices but reflexes.

I think part of the reason it took so long to find a homes was that it doesn’t fit easily into a genre – it has sex in it but it’s not erotica – it’s sf but the sex is a little too graphic for some of those sites (hopefully the success of Richard Morgan’s books will make the SF press re-think some of their attitude to sex).

But I think part of the reason I couldn’t place it is that the cynically named “Patriot Act” and the Orwellian wet dream of “Homeland Security” together with the rising number of dead in Iraq have created the perception that it is risky to publish a story like this. It’s ok – even trendy – to publish thoughtful erotica or speculative fiction that deals with difficult issues on far distant worlds but something like “Reflexes” is too close to the here and now and too “un-American” for most websites to handle.

“Reflexes” now has a home at Sedona’s Attic

Sedona’s Attic provides the perfect venue, focused as it is on sex and politics and religion.

Writing “Reflexes” was a strange experience. It met a need in me that just wouldn't leave me alone.

It was 2003 and the war in Iraq was just underway. The Americans, with the mandatory appeal to motherhood and apple pie, called it “Operation Iraqi Freedom", the British, with their usual obscurity, called it “Operation Telic” (which, when you look it up – and I think most people had to - means “Directed or tending toward a goal or purpose; purposeful.”) and the Australians, with a dash of romance or a nod to sports called it “Operation Falconer”.

Together with a lot of folks in Europe, I was depressed by the ease with which European powers slid into America’s wake and another war was started. Living outside the UK and with easy access to the French and German press, it was startling to see the tenuous links being made to weapons of mass destruction and operational support for Bin Laden. When Bush gave Hussein 48 hours to get out of Dodge, it seemed incredible to me that any one could see this as something other than a war driven by Bush’s personal agenda.

It wasn’t America’s involvement I was angry it – it was the countries that followed them, including my own, who, it seemed to me, were either cynically currying favour with Bush or had lost themselves to a rhetoric that could only produce more and more dead bodies. I felt they should have known better and behaved better. I believed that they should have listened to the wishes of their own citizens.

Then I was sent to Australia on business. It was my first time in the country and I’d been looking forward to the trip. I’ve always enjoyed working with Australians back in Europe. I tended to get on well with them – we got each other’s humour and shared a fairly straightforward view of how to get things done – what I think of as the Oz version of Nike’s slogan, “Just Fucking Do It”. And I was staying in Sydney at the Four Seasons Hotel, right in the middle of downtown.

I went to Australia expecting to slide into the place and the culture with only a minimal amount of effort. Maybe it was the timezone difference (which meant I was awake in the middle of the night) or the fact that I was in the uncomfortable role of being the “bloody Pom from headoffice” who had been sent to Sydney to “kick some Ozzy arse”, but I had a difficult time.

In those circumstances, small things grow out of perspective and I became over-sensitive to how white Australia is. I’d just come through India and Thailand and ended up in country that felt more white than the UK (in fact the numbers are about the same).

So I found myself sitting up at night, thinking about the war and researching Australian politics on the web. I realised that part of my reaction to the war had been driven by the exposure I’d had to multinational teams. I’d travelled widely and made friends (and enemies) in many countries and it seemed to me that the war just ignored the humanity of the people on the receiving end. Then I realised that that was too simple – the war ignored or discounted the impact on the soldiers who went to war and on their families.

In the isolation of my hotel room I analysed what I felt and I realised that it was partly anger at politicians who choose to lead through creating fear and hatred, partly contempt for those who let themselves be lead, but mostly sadness for how ordinary and predictable and “normal” it all was. It had happened before. It will happen again.

I used “Reflexes” to discharge some of that emotion: to free myself from a sense of helplessness; to ground myself back in individual human reactions to “regime change” and “pacification”.

I don’t mean this to be a political rant. The whole point of what I have to say is that politics are not the driver here. I wanted to focus on the decisions of individuals in difficult circumstances.

Please take the time to read “Reflexes” and let me know what you think.


T. Lamai said...

I liked the story when I read it; I still do. It's insightful without being stupidly didactic. Living in the US lately is like having a nightmare that you can't wake up from. I think the sheer absurdity of it is meant to wear you down to nothing. I hope to see more writing like this.

Anonymous said...

It is a good story. It is an uncomfortable story, one that cuts very close to the bone. I wouldn't call it erotica at all. I don't find it to be about people, or intimacy, or any of the things one normally associates with erotica. It is about politics, and it takes an unequivocal anti-war, anti-Bush line. Forgive me, but I can't help but wonder if that is, in its own way, a reflex as well?

Keziah Hill said...

Hi Mike
It depresses but does not surprise me that you picked up on issues to do with race when you were in Australia. While we like to think of ourselves as laid back and not suffering from the same racial problems as other western countries (which is true in a way), race is the nevertheless the elephant in the corner in Australian society. White settlement resulted in the dispossession of the land from Aboriginal people and the consequent damage to their lives and cultures. The Stolen Generation and our conservative governments refusal to apologise for past unjustice is an example of how we won't deal with the past to create a better future. And our obession with the 'alien other' has resulted in savage immigration policies that lock children and their famililies into detention facilities regardless of their circumstances. When I was a child in the sixties, it was common for the nuns to tell us the godless yellow communists from asia would invade and kill us. While such a view is crude it has unfortunately informed much Australian foreign to this day. And don't get me started on our sycophantic need to fight other people's wars. Sorry. Rant over.