Robin C.M. Duncan is joining us today to talk about his story in the anthology Distant Gardens, edited by J.S. Fields and Heather Tracy. Here’s the publisher’s description:
Rules were made to be broken.
From terraformed outposts to magical realms, journey to worlds where deadly plants, rampant biodiversity, or failed terraforming have created irresistible opportunities for those brave enough to seize them.
New worlds, found family, mystical secrets, and deadly science weave together in this lesbian-centric anthology focusing on a very different kind of first time—a first encounter with a world, or being, entirely unlike our own.
What’s Robin’s favorite bit?
The RE-education of Robin C.M. Duncan
I don’t remember when I started writing. I think I was 16—a white, cis male with nothing but a superficial knowledge of diversity. In fact, the term was not even in use at that time. Little did I know the educational journey on which I was embarking.
I figured I could write because, after all, other people did it. I’d read tons of books: I would just emulate my favourite authors (Jack Vance, David Gemmell, Tolkien, Niven, and Gibson). The result was a 160,000-word secondary world fantasy with no magic, no fantastical creatures, and only ‘default’ races. Over 20 years it became a 225,000-word novel with all the same issues.
After a decade away in various garage bands, I returned to writing in 2012. This time, I was serious, and that meant actually learning about what I was trying to do. Coincidentally, I was reading The Wheel of Time, which led me to Brandon Sanderson, who led to the excellent Writing Excuses podcast, which led to 17th Shard, which led to Reading Excuses.
Reading Excuses (RE), a writing group hosted on Brandon’s official fansite, is open to new members on request, and has seen hundreds come and go over its 11-year life. A core of long-term members has emerged (which I’m honoured to count myself amongst), and with it the group’s diversity has increased steadily, particularly along the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. There is now a healthy variety of gender and sexuality at RE’s heart, making it a safe(r) space for a wide variety of writers. Within Reading Excuses, members find sensitive and honest critique, and are able to rely on unwavering support in the face of any ‘inappropriate’ feedback. (In my eight years, two members have been shown the door.)
What I found in RE was a group of understanding, knowledgeable and insightful authors to grow alongside, who took time and expended patience to talk me through all my issues of unconscious bias; male gaze; gender & race defaulting; fridging; lamp-shading; tokenism; etc. The core group has grown closer and closer, cementing lasting friendship at Dublin Worldcon 2019 when we met for the first time. Together, we have embraced a direct critique style, because frank, forthright, honest and constructive is by far the most valuable form of feedback, and I would argue the only kind worth its salt.
Perhaps the ultimate expression of this friendship and intellectual bond, and of my own journey over eight years, was the formation of Reading Excuses Advanced (or READ), and the publication by Space Wizard Science Fantasy of Distant Gardens, an anthology of sapphic-centric stories around found family, new worlds, first contact, and deadly science, focusing on a very different kind of first time—a first encounter with a world entirely unlike our own.
I feel privileged to be involved in such an eclectic, exciting and—at times—downright bonkers anthology, and to contribute my stories of exploding goblins (Dew Diligence) and environmental skullduggery (The Bibliothek Betrayal). The lesbian focus of the anthology is all important, as it reflects the values of the group, as does the presence of non-binary characters in many of the stories, areas that I never could have contemplated ‘stepping into’ before I discovered Reading Excuses. For one thing, I don’t think I could have written this opening from The Bibliothek Betrayal, and received +10 experience points in Ice Queen from my editor.
Cassie sipped her eiskaffee, the dusting of bitter cocoa matching her mood perfectly. Beyond the AutoCafé’s plass window, snow fell thickly on Brümmerstrasse, but made no impact on the road’s heated techmac. Customers chattered, spoons and forks clinked, handys pinged, the café charging each patron as they served themselves. And Karla was gone, leaving Cassie feeling desperate, hollow.
Her teaching assistants, sitting around the table, regarded her, expectant. Fearing one of Professor Streich’s infamous outbursts, no doubt. She scowled. It would be a long few days, traveling around Europe, ‘collecting’ seminal volumes of feminist literature. One volume was bought and paid for, others would be less legitimately acquired from four European libraries. Texts once considered heretical for championing alternatives to the pale, male establishment, now destined for a place of honor at Berlin Freie Universität’s new Department of Human Realities. Her department. Her work. Collecting them all might even get her tenure, if it didn’t get her arrested.
‘My favourite bit’ of this journey, without doubt, is that I find myself within this particular group of writers, sharing this exciting project with trusted and respected friends. This is down to how well our personalities mesh, all the hard work we have done, and to the dedication and patience of J.S. Fields, William Tracy, Sara Codair, and N.L. Bates in beginning my education in ways of this diverse community. And, I must mention Katie Cordy, the newest member of READ, whose illustrative talents also are on display in the Distant Gardens anthology.
Reading Excuses continues to flourish (another two new members this week), and READ has shown its true strength as a group of writers who see only friends and collaborators, and honor the differences between us. More projects beckon in the future but, in the meantime, the Distant Gardens anthology is available on Amazon and Audible (links below), with details and discussion on Goodreads.
Robin Duncan is a Scot born and living in Glasgow. A Civil Engineer by profession, he has been writing for decades, but seriously only for the last ten years. In addition to being a member of READ, and a senior member of Reading Excuses, he belongs to the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers’ Circle (GSFWC). His claim to ‘fame’ before the publication of Distant Gardens was the long-listing of his story The NEU Oblivion for the 2019 James White Award.