T.L. Huchu talks about his new story and how it relates to the morality of taboo acts when done in times of war and the repercussions had on those who commit them when the fighting is long over. Read, “The Mercy of the Sandsea” [july/august issue, on sale now]
Analog Editor: What is the story behind this piece?
T.L. Huchu: I’ve often wondered what happens to people who’ve done unforgivable things as they live out the rest of their days. In an increasingly areligious world where you can’t get absolution via magic wand anymore, how do you live with it? And so I had a genocider as my main character. A man who no longer has the psychological protection of state ideology to justify his actions, because the times have moved on, and his own people now view him as a villain, even though what he did was in their name, under their flag, funded by their taxes. This is a problem we have with our military veterans. We send them out to do hideous things, cheering them on and waving flags. Once they’ve done so and enough time has passed, we turn around and say how despicable they are for having done those very same things we supported. We can change our minds, but they have to live with it. So he blends in and tries to live an ordinary life, until his past catches up with him. The Shona people have a traditional belief in “ngozi”, the avenging spirit. Murder is considered taboo, as with most cultures, but in Shona cosmology, even if you get away with it, the spirit of the victim haunts you until you go crazy. It’s fucked up. But instead of a spirit, I decided to create a mechanized incarnation of this ngozi for my genocider to have a reckoning with.
AE: How did the title for this piece come to you?
TH: The story is set on a desert planet on which tectonic and atmospheric processes cause the dangerous, highly abrasive sand-like substance that’s abundant there to move about in ways that aid transportation. It’s an unforgiving world. If you don’t have a respirator, the stuff’s fine particles solidify in your lungs like cement and you die. The main character was a sandmarine, and their war vessels would surf the sandsea, but if you inadvertently fell overboard you would find yourself at “The Mercy of the Sandsea”. That popped out and became the title. I like it when I can lift the title from within the work.
AE: Is this piece part of a greater universe of stories?
TH: I’ve been working on this project I call “Shonas in Space.” It’s an Africanfuturist sort of thing that started with Njuzu, which is a story set on Ceres about a mother who loses her son in mysterious circumstances and has to deal with traditional beliefs around that. I’ve also published Corialis which deals with traditional beliefs to do with living harmony with nature as applied to space colonization. The whole idea behind this is to explore how Shona culture reacts to advanced technology and space exploration. This process is happening to us right now. A rapidly changing world places all sorts of pressures and introduces contradictions to beliefs that were designed for a largely agrarian society with limited scientific development living in the savannah. This is in no way unique, every culture has to deal with these things, and the question becomes, what do we get to keep and what do we lose in the process? I also have a story that more explicitly deals with these issues, Egoli, which is a slow-paced piece about a rural grandmother in Zimbabwe ruminating on the changes witnessed in her lifetime.
The whole idea behind this is to explore how Shona culture reacts to advanced technology and space exploration. This process is happening to us right now. A rapidly changing world places all sorts of pressures and introduces contradictions to beliefs that were designed for a largely agrarian society with limited scientific development living in the savannah.
AE: How do you deal with writers’ block?
TH: I don’t believe in writer’s block, anymore than I would believe a cabbie if I jumped inside his taxi and he drove me halfway to my destination, then parked on the roadside and said he was experiencing taxi driver’s block, and I should wait an indeterminate period before he felt he could drive again. Try applying this concept to most other professions and it comes across as something utterly ridiculous. However, if the cabbie told me he was unable to proceed because he was experiencing a physical or mental health problem, I would be much more sympathetic. The inability to work in any occupation can come from any number of things, but I view this as being separate to the work itself. I love running, it’s beautifully simple, like writing in many ways. You put one foot after the other until you finish your marathon, in writing you lay one word after the other, one sentence and then the next, until you have your story. There will be days when the running doesn’t go so well, maybe the wind is against you, the day is too hot or two cold, or you aren’t having the right nutrition, or are lethargic for any number of reasons, etc. That’s fine. That’s just life happening. You need to sort yourself out first and then get back to it. The same is true with writing. Sort yourself out and get back to the grind.
AE: What other projects are you currently working on?
TH: I’m working on the third installment of my Edinburgh Nights Series. The first two novels The Library of the Dead (2021) and Our Lady of Mysterious Ailments (2022) are already out, so this one’s scheduled for next summer. It’s all consuming, but I’m hoping to find gaps here and there to work on my short fiction. If I can manage two or three stories this year, I’ll be very happy.
AE: What are you reading right now?
TH: The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi is a brilliant fantasy debut. It’s great to read a slowburn in the genre in which the writer trusts her craft enough to let the story gradually build. You’ve got romance in it, alongside great worldbuilding, and excellent characters. I love it.
AE: Do you have any advice for up-and-coming writers?
TH: There is no substitute for doing the work.
AE: How can our readers follow you and your writing?
TH: Find me @TendaiHuchu via Twitter or Instagram.