1. What is your favorite Sci-fi horror novel or short story?
To throw a curve ball, my main sci-fi horror influences have been films. I don’t read enough novels, let alone sci-fi novels, to easily cite an influence. Having said that, I don’t know if there are that many truly awe-inspiring sci-fi horror novelists out there (excluding the thriving Cthulhu Mythos mob – guys like Cody Goodfellow and our own David Conyers have produced some exceptionally imaginative Mythos work that blends SF with horror).
I love a dark, gritty story set in outer space, a trillion trillion kilometres from home, which is why films such as Event Horizon and Alien really appeal to me. Perhaps it was my stage in life and the circumstances that particular evening, but Event Horizon scared the bejeezus out of me when I first saw it at the cinema. That combination of the extreme isolation of space, the claustrophobia of a derelict ship, and the threat of the supernatural really resonates with me. I feel that people find comfort in technology, and these kind of films touch on this as the protagonists often rely on advanced equipment and weaponry, and as a result, they enter situations with way too much confidence (the Colonial Marines on LV-426 in Aliens, anyone?). I love that moment when the characters’ belief in advanced technology fails and they need to rely on neglected, almost antiquated skills to survive (such as good old fashioned human ingenuity). I particularly enjoy clashes of technology and the supernatural. An intriguing, if a little cheesy, take on this occurred in Jason X (the tenth Friday the 13th film, set aboard a starship).
2. Tell us about your story and what your influences are?
Directly, you can blame the band Filter for “Graveyard Orbit”. I sometimes like writing to music, and when a particular song matches the words well, melds into the background, and no longer intrudes on the creative process, I put it on endless loop until the story is finished. It’s a bit Asperger’s, I know, but I have those tendencies. In the case of “Graveyard Orbit”, it was a song titled “The 4th" by Filter. There are no words (discernible ones anyway, as a phrase is repeated in reverse and then buried under a creepy, atmospheric tune) but the song really helped me bring the story to life.
Indirectly, you can blame David Conyers. I’d always wanted to write a Cthulhu Mythos story, and when David invited me to contribute to the Call of Cthulhu fiction anthology Cthulhu’s Dark Cults (Chaosium, 2010), he sparked my imagination. The resulting contribution, “Requiem for the Burning God”, became a novella (and was later published as a standalone ebook) and the first in what I call the ‘Ravenous Gods’ cycle of stories. “Graveyard Orbit” is the second story in the ‘Ravenous Gods’ cycle, although chronologically, it will probably be the fourth or fifth (once I write the intervening stories). Without revealing spoilers, even though the two stories are set roughly 500 years apart, they have a character in common.
I believe that a big idea should be at the heart of every story, which is why my stories are getting longer and longer. In “Graveyard Orbit”, I hint at an explanation for why there are holes in the universe’s dark matter structure. There is an underlying Mythos-inspired supernatural explanation for the structure of the universe, and while this story doesn’t explicitly offer explanations, it lays clues for what could be revealed in future ‘Ravenous Gods’ stories. And it wouldn’t be a Mythos-inspired story without a brush with the alien, the bizarre, the unknowable, and that is exactly what you will find in orbit around the planet Osiris II.
3. Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn't common knowledge?
I have years of experience as a journo, and I find writing news or non-fiction easier than writing fiction (although the mechanics of journalism – interviewing people and transcribing quotes – is a lot more exhausting), but ultimately, I feel more intense satisfaction from completing a work of fiction.
Now for something completely new – as a person (not just a writer), I possess a bizarre ‘superpower’: I am invisible to birds. Whether I’m in my car or walking, my fine feathered friends simply can’t see me. It’s a completely useless and only mildly inconvenient power. The worst of it is when I’m driving and trying to avoid birds on the road or when I need to walk through a large flock of birds (pigeons are a delight – I’m almost guaranteed to have a stray wing smack me in the side of the head, and given that I’m now used to the unexpected brush of feathers, the bird is usually more surprised than I am!). I first discovered this dubious ability when as a teenager I was sitting in a park in Sydney and a particularly imposing ibis spotted the chips I was eating and methodically stalked its way towards them, stepping over my legs and completely ignoring my warding arm. It nabbed one of the chips, but it must have been disturbed when (to its eyes) the rest of the chips levitated away as I left the park in annoyance. My experiences with birds will make great fodder for a story in the future!
Shane Jiraiya Cummings
System: HD 209458 (designation: Osiris).
Distance from Earth: 150.4 light years (Pegasus Constellation).
“What in hell is that?” Walker pointed to the brown-yellow smudge on the central viewscreen.
Lost to his interface with the ship, Peng took a few moments to answer, “What?”
“You mean, ‘what, Captain’,” Walker said with distraction. He’d spent the entire three month journey reminding his subordinates of his position, and correcting them had become an automatic response.
“Uh, yeah, what, Captain?” Peng said, although he remained interfaced with the ship and didn’t bother to turn to address him.
Peng’s crewmate—and the Wellington’s first officer—Huang was also interfaced, but he appeared to quiver slightly. Although his back was to Walker, he was sure Huang was suppressing laughter.
“Enough, you two,” Walker chided. “I want a full spectrum analysis on that planet. Thermal, radiation, gravity density mapping, atmospheric composition, the works.”
“Sure, Captain.” Huang swivelled in his chair to face Walker. “Although if you just interface... oh, very sorry, I forgot, you’re not enhanced.” The wireless pods embedded in Huang’s temples pulsed with lights. The magnetically insulated strips that ran up the sides of his neck and disappeared into his hairline strobed in a lightning-fast sequence of flashes.
Walker grimaced. The instant information Huang was accessing from the *Wellington’s* telemetry arrays was more of a slap in the face than his words—and Huang knew it. It wasn’t the first time his subordinates had mocked him for his humanity. Mundanes such as Walker were fast becoming obsolete. If he hadn’t owned the *Wellington*, he’d be unable to pick up work in interstellar exploration.
“Just show me what you have, Huang.” Walker sighed. “Main screen.”
The image was still grainy. Walker rubbed his eyes. The advanced telemetry of the *Wellington’s* equipment should have been able to display the visual with crystal clarity. Even with Huang’s tweaking, the image refused to resolve itself.
“Serious ionisation,” Peng muttered.
“Speak up, Peng,” Walker said.
Peng muttered something inaudible, lost as he was to the interface with the ship. Huang, too, was silent as he absorbed the data.
Walker thumped the arm of his chair. “Come on, guys! Don’t drift on me. I need answers!”
Peng straightened in his chair but took a few seconds to disengage from the data stream. “Osiris II has an atmosphere of approximately six hundred klicks. Apart from the ionisation, I’m getting no readings at all.”
“Something wrong with the equipment?” Walker asked.
“No,” Huang answered after a pause. “I ran a diagnostic and the arrays are in working order.”
Walker glanced at the planet on the main screen again. “Strange. It looks like pollution haze. Reminds me of home.”
Although his vision was unenhanced, Walker pressed his face to the nearest viewport. Until today, Osiris II had been an unclassifiable planet, identified only as a gravity distortion by telescopes in far orbit in the Sol System. Walker’s best guess was that it was akin to Venus, a rocky planet covered in a thick layer of gasses, but he needed a closer look.
“Move us into low orbit.” Walker commanded as he returned to his chair. “I want to pierce the veil.”
Within moments, the ship lurched to the right, and Walker’s stomach with it. The planet loomed in the viewport larger by the second.
As their approach vector changed, Walker spotted something.
“Stop the ship!” he called to the crew. Within seconds, the ship slowed and stopped. Walker’s stomach lurched a second time from the deceleration. He was forced to grip his chair tight to avoid being dumped on the floor.
“See that debris? What is that?” Walker asked.
Biography – Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Shane Jiraiya Cummings has been acknowledged as “one of Australia’s leading voices in dark fantasy”. He is the author of Shards, Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, The Smoke Dragon, Requiem for the Burning God, the four volumes of the Apocrypha Sequence, and the forthcoming collection The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After. More on Shane can be found at www.jiraiya.com.au. “Graveyard Orbit” is part of Shane’s ‘Ravenous Gods’ cycle of Cthulhu Mythos-inspired stories.