My guest today at Guild of Dreams is the inimitable Mike Berry, a fabulous Indie sci-fi/horror author from across the pond (that means “In England”, for those of you not down with the latest hip lingo). I met Mike on Twitter about a year back, and was immediately blown away by his debut novel “Xenoform“. Now with his latest release, “Macao Sation”, Mike has raised the bar on Awesome. I’m completely infatuated with this novel, and I wanted to drag Mike over here to tell you all about it.
So, without further ado…
MIKE BERRY: MACAO STATION AND THE CALL OF THE DARK
Hi! My name is Mike Berry and I’m both a reader and author of dark speculative fiction. I’m happy to say that I’ve been invited here today to tell you a little bit about my latest dark sci-fi, Macao Station. First, here’s the official blurb from the book:
Macao Station is a crumbling mining outpost at the far fringe of human space, plagued by underfunding and equipment failure, all but forgotten by its parent corporation. Life on board is hard, but mutual dependence and friendship knit the crew together as tightly as any family.
But that family is about to be shattered by a horrifying series of events.
Evil is stalking the decaying corridors of Macao. A shadow stirs in the asteroid belt, a whispering voice that calls to its emissary, demanding that its will be done. But is this sinister entity a real, living being, or simply a delusion born in the mind of a madman?
And more importantly, can it be stopped?
My first book, Xenoform (dark cyberpunk with a modern twist), did pretty well in my native UK, surprising nobody more than me. It’s early days for Macao, but I have to say I’m even more proud of this book than my first one. It represents something of a return to simpler, stripped-down storytelling and also a further descent into darkness. It is, I’m afraid, the darkness that calls to me. This time, I answered loud and clear. It’s fair to say that Macao has edged further into the realms of horror than Xenoform ever did.
I’m a big fan of horror and other forms of dark fiction, and take inspiration from many sources. I particularly enjoy dark sci-fi movies like Blade Runner, Event Horizon and the Alien series. I think the first Alien managed to do a hell of a lot with only a little. A lot of the fear that it induced came from the long periods of tense waiting. For me the scariest parts were those in which the crew were wandering round that immense, dark, lonely ship, usually alone. The setting itself was enough to induce a sense of fear and tension. And that’s an atmosphere that I certainly tried to recreate in my book.
Macao Station itself is a relic of the long-abandoned corporate space race. It marks one of the furthest boundaries of explored space, the point at which the economic value of expansion was finally outweighed by the cost. After centuries of warfare, the deep space corps finally disbanded their private armies and threw in the collective towel. They had lost nine billion soldiers and achieved a state of eternal conflict without apparent purpose. The universe, it seemed, was big enough for everyone. Macao Station, which had originally been planted in the Soros system to stake a claim as much as anything, became a mining facility.
Now the outpost just about pays to keep itself running by extracting metals from the asteroids of the belt – a dangerous occupation at best. Its parent corporation, based in the neighbouring Platini system, is almost waiting for an excuse to shut the station down and mothball it. The miners who live and work on this distant frontier are a necessarily hardy bunch. They make-do and mend, and have learnt to rely on themselves. But their resources are limited at best. They have little headroom for contingencies. And if something goes wrong, they’re on their own . . .
I put a lot of effort into the background and the science behind Macao Station (I’m afraid I took a few minor artistic liberties with physics, but then, physics takes liberties with me every time I trip over something or drop something on my toe, so I reckon that’s fair). I know how the ships’ drive systems work; I know the composition of the asteroid belt; I laboriously worked out the physics behind the rotating space station; I know where its inhabitants get their raw materials from; I understand the economics behind the station’s existence. That might not be obvious from the text, but trust me, it’s in there. My calculator worked harder than I did at times. And I never wanted the science to actually intrude on the story, merely to serve as a backdrop for it, so I did my best to keep it mainly hidden.
Despite the sci-fi setting, the basics of horror remain the same as always: dark forces against which we are helpless; monsters (some of the monsters are, naturally, people); the unknown; bad things happening to those we care about; beings that creep and whisper and long to defile the flesh; evil without purpose, which cannot be understood or reasoned with. These are the staple foods of horror, although of course they come in many flavours (and I’m sure that there are others). I’d like to think that the isolated space station of my novel, with its twisting corridors of rusty steel and its slowly-failing systems, serves as a good stage on which my version of the nightmare plays out. That isolation is itself a powerful engine of fear. In space, no one can hear you scream, as Alien famously taught us. Perhaps the only thing worse than being alone at the fringe of space is discovering that you aren’t alone out there after all . . .
Maybe all dark fiction writers are inherently sick. But I prefer to think that the darkness serves to shine a light on the human condition, and as such can even be a positive thing. It tests us – tests our characters – and the struggle against it can reveal the good in people. People rise to the challenge. They act with surprising altruism. They fight to defend those whom they love. Or, of course, they fail. Some people buckle and go bad when tested. And who isn’t afraid of that? Either way, our responses to adversity define us as humans, and come in interesting shades of grey rather than the strict, biblical black and white.
I think that dark fiction can cause us to question our own strength, and that is where its virtue lies. When reality cracks and something awful seeps through; when your child or your partner is threatened; when personal risk is the only hope for salvation; what will you do?
Find Macao Station here:
And Mike Berry’s own site.