2020 SF Snapshot

Chris McMahon is a novelist and short story writer based in Brisbane, writing everything from heroic fantasy and urban fantasy to hard SF. He is also an engineer, and blogs regularly about space science and exploration, and the growing catalogue of fascinating new exoplanet discoveries. The heroic journey is central to his fantasy fiction, while his SF is driven more by the exploration of scientific possibilities. Chris’ SF novel The Tau Ceti Diversion was published by Lanedd Press in 2018, following on from his three-book heroic fantasy series, The Jakirian Cycle, in 2013. Chris has been short-listed for the Aurealis Awards twice, and has won the One Book, Many Brisbanes competition twice. McMahon’s website can be found at chrismcmahon.net .

Interview by Tehani Croft

Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

For well over a decade I’ve been focussed on novel length fiction, so its no surprise that the next big thing to see the light of day is a novel.

Trying to maintain my writing career with a full time PhD in engineering has been quiet a challenge, but I’m very excited about the upcoming launch of my urban fantasy novel Warriors of the Blessed Realms, on September 4 this year.

Critique partners from Vision in Brisbane may remember early chapters from this work, which I initially completed in 2001. The work has enabled me to inject quite a deal of my own experience of growing up in Brisbane into a novel (plus magic of course!).

Warriors is an epic tale, spanning multiple worlds and multiple genres. It has both traditional fantasy settings in the alternate worlds of the Blessed Realms and the Vaults of Sheol, as well as urban fantasy set in Brisbane and Sydney. It also has strong elements of SF and horror. Readers can expect unique worlds, and a central premise that will see magic and high technology go head to head.

That’s quite a landscape, and a lot to balance, but you can expect one hell of a ride.

At its heart, Warriors is heroic fantasy, for which the works of David Gemmell gave me a life-long love.

I had initially planned both an online ebook launch, and a live event for the print book, but with COVID-19 still looming large, I’ve postponed the live event until the new year.

What has been the best publishing experience of your career so far?

Although my three-book heroic fantasy series was such a significant milestone for me, probably the most satisfying, and gruelling, publishing experience would have to be getting my SF novel The Tau Ceti Diversion out into the world.

I had never worked so intensely with an editor before, and Marius Hancu not only shared my vision for the story, but also drove me to improve and focus the work from beginning to end.

This novel was my first full-length SF story, and I was able to tap into my own engineering background, as well as my avid interest in space science, to create near-future SF that had a solid foundation. When it comes to technology and the mechanics of world building, I can bring an obsessive thoroughness that pays dividends in the depth and texture of the worlds I create, but this was another level entirely.

When wrote the first draft of The Tau Ceti Diversion, there was not a single identified exoplanet (planet located outside our solar system). Hell — not even Google existed!. Facing a rework decades later, I had to make my initial vision stand up against actual data — there were planets now identified in that system, and much more was known about Tau Ceti itself.

I worked the numbers on the Tau Ceti system, everything from the likely gravity of its known planets, to potential propulsion systems to get my protagonists there, spaceship design, composition of the target planet’s atmosphere, and of course . . . the feasibility of my core ideas. So much work went into that, which remains below the surface of the narrative, but was all ultimately satisfying. It was a piece of SF I was proud of on both scientific and artistic levels.

I was thrilling to have Marianne de Pierres launch the book here in Brisbane. Marianne had known the book for much of its tortuous progress across the decades, from the early Vision meetings, to the later enVision Workshop, and until its emergence in its final form.

Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge?

One of the great things about the SF Snapshot is reading the recommendations from other writers. It makes me realise just how many great books I have not read. I must read a novel a week, even at my slowest, but there are just so many great books out there I have not managed to find. I will certainly have a much, much longer list once I’ve read through this year’s snapshot.

There is no way my own recommendations can do justice to the local genre scene, and, as always, these are coming through the filter of my own quirky tastes, which are strangely polarised between heroic fantasy and hard SF.

If you are looking for inventive fantasy, Mitchell Hogan provides an entertaining ride. Hogan is one of those excellent writers who work really hard to get out of their own way. He has a clear, easy to read style that allows you to flow effortlessly through the pages. Hogan has three different series: The Infernal Guardian, The Tainted Cabal, and the latest — The Necromancer’s Key — the first of which, Incursion, has just been published . . . I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it!

Flipping to the other side of my writing spectrum, Keith Stevenson’s novel Horizon is the sort of near-future hard SF I truly enjoy. This was a great read, with a thoughtful exploration of an interesting central premise.