Monday 30 April 2012

101 anxieties

Every writer has their worries.... And I'm about to become an editor, of sorts, too...

It's not long till 101 fiction opens for submissions. Tomorrow, in fact. No doubt for a lot of people reading this submissions will have already opened.

I've never done anything like it before; it's dipping my toes into the sea, testing the waters. And this is one big, turbulent, unpredictable ocean. And with it comes a whole bunch of contradictory anxieties.

My two biggest worries:
That I will get too few submissions.
That I will get too many submissions.

You see... ;)

And then there is the whole business of possibly having to say no to writers I consider friends. To be the one sending the dreaded rejection letter...

Then, and this one's a little way off, I'm worrying about scheduling. I want to post two a week, one by me and one by someone else. I would like to carry on posting mine on a Wednesday, but I don't want my 101s to be the focus, to hog time at the top.

Let me lay this out, and any advice would be more than welcome...
If the 'guest' post is on a Monday, then it's only up two days before mine goes on top. But it's there at the beginning of the week. Fresh.

If the 'guest' post is on a Friday, then it hits the weekend, but would need re-promoting on Monday. I get the impression people look at more things during the week, either in breaks, or at work (naughty ;) ), and less on weekends (lovely, lazy outdoorsy weekends).

I think I'm drifting towards the Friday post and the double promotion (or extended promotion, if you like).

And then... there is the question of sustaining interest in the site. Will I keep getting submissions? Will people keep reading?

AND... there's more.

I'm worrying about the anthology of work I want to put out. I wanted to release it for my birthday, June 15, but I don't know if that will happen. It's behind. It's still a possibility, but I think it's better to be sure it's 100% right, than rushed and on time. So, you know, starting to accept and read submissions for another website was obviously the most sensible thing to do at this point...

(and because I love a good metaphor... if the writing world is an ocean, than I hope 101 Fiction will be a shimmering rockpool on the shore. Not one of the seven seas, or even a great lake, but still worth visiting, full of tiny wonders and cool stuff. ^_^ )

Addendum: 101 Fiction is open for submissions now!
For guidelines and submissions:

Friday 27 April 2012

Flash Fiction: Zugzwang

Abel Shanshi was sat at his usual table, carving a chess piece from bone. An ancient Maple Tree, planted when the first settlers had arrived from Earth, kept the hot, red sun off him.

Since the war he had carved three hundred and thirty three pawns. Always pawns. It was hard to tell what shape lay within a bone until he started work, but he was tired of carving the same lowly piece.

A disturbance in the afternoon’s calm approached and leant on the table, palms down, arms straight, breathing heavily.

“Hero Shanshi.”

Shanshi’s attention did not waver. After two more precise strokes he pursed his lips and blew on the piece. He held it away, scrutinizing it, then carefully put it down, sighed, and looked up at the young man.

“Hero Shanshi,” he repeated. “Help me, please.”

“My name is Abel. Heroes are for wartime, and the war is long past.”

The man huffed. “Hero, please. My daughter is missing. The Gublins have taken her.”

“Ask the fishermen. Maybe one of them will help.”

“I don’t need old men. I need you.”

“I am an old man. Go ask the fishermen.”

“What help will they be? They just sit there, catching nothing, arguing over the moons.”

“Do you think I fought the war by myself? Those old men are heroes too, every one.”

The young man shook his head in disgust.

“You are right not to call yourself Hero anymore.”

He pushed himself up with such force that the table rocked and the unfinished chess piece fell over. As he stormed away the piece rolled in a curve that took it off the table’s edge and into Abel’s waiting hand.

“I never called myself Hero,” he said, to no one.

He watched the man go to the fishermen and move along the bank from one to the next, gesturing back towards him with agitated movements. He could not hear the conversation, but he saw the fishermen reply, then return to their rods and their river.

There were no fish in the river, Abel knew. Just as he knew the Gublins would never take a child.

The Gublins had been the original settlers’ automated assistants. Their programs had degraded over the years and they lived harmless lives in the nearby cave network, endlessly repeating tasks that had long ago lost any meaning, passing time till their bodies simply stopped.

Abel began carving again. This one was no pawn, he was sure.

Several parched minutes passed, and he could feel the shape of the piece now. He looked up. The fishermen stood in a semi-circle just beyond the shadow of his tree. He felt the weight of their judgement, saw the crimson glint of the sun from their knives.

“A child, Shanshi? You have gone too far.”

An old wind rustled through the dry leaves above them. Bone dust drifted from the table with a whisper.

“Not a child,” Shanshi answered. “A queen.”

Friday 20 April 2012


You'll have to excuse me for this slightly self-indulgent flash, but it seemed right to post it as the first #fridayflash on the redesigned Xeroverse. Enjoy. =)

“He’s so young.”

The hospital bed was innocuous enough: tubular metal, crisp white sheets, comatose boy. He looked about fourteen, thin but not undernourished, soft features at peace, short blonde hair. He was hooked up to various machines and drips that plipped and blipped and hummed conversationally to each other.

The young woman who had spoken, Karen, had shoulder length ginger hair and a light smattering of freckles that broke across her slender nose. She had a thin black barcode tattooed on her right cheek; below that was a thin red barcode.

The doctor who had shown her into the room had a similar black barcode, it referenced his identity, DNA, details and qualifications, all stored on the Global Database. He did not have a red barcode. The red barcode identified the woman as a registered Twist; to a person with the right clearance it would reference her power type and level on the Twist Database, and possibly her secret identity.

Karen didn’t have a secret identity, she was one of many everyday, working Twists. They used to be called Supers, but after the riots they had been renamed. They weren’t better, just different.

The doctor conducted a brief manual check of the readouts, in case his cerebral feed had been hacked. It had never happened, but they couldn’t take any risks. He turned back to Karen, who was still looking at the boy, concern evident on her face.

The doctor put a hand on her shoulder, “He’s not young, you know. He’s been in the coma over thirty years. And we don’t know how long he was alive before that.”

“But... How? What happened?”

“He’s practically immortal, as far as we can tell.”

“That’s... Who did this?”

Doctor Clarke considered her for a moment. He didn’t have the clearance to access the Twist Database but he knew she was a powerful telepath and she must have passed several stringent security tests to be allowed to attend the boy. He couldn’t help but think of him as a boy, still, despite his true age.

“You show considerable restraint, Karen. If you had tried taking the information from my brain you would have suffered a feedback spike that might have rendered you unconscious.”

She looked taken aback. “I take my work very seriously, Doctor Clarke. It would be against my contract to pry while in the facility, not to mention unethical.”

“That doesn’t always stop people from trying, sometimes even trained psychics can’t help instinctively reaching, before they reign themselves in.”

“So who is he? You still haven’t answered my questions.”

“And those questions are stacking up, aren’t they?” He smiled at her and raised his eyebrows, then relented, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, the secrecy of this place, necessary of course, gets to me sometimes.

“He was before your time, obviously, but you will have heard of him. What you have to realise is that what appeared in public arenas, in the press, was not the whole story. This boy was, is, The Angel Xero.”

He saw the familiar wide-eyed wonder on Karen’s face. Her mouth opened and closed as she framed several questions without knowing which to ask first. Her eyes flicked between the doctor and the boy and her brow creased as she tried to think through the details she knew.

He didn’t need her to speak to know the questions she was trying to phrase.

“The Angel was the greatest Super the world knew, in a time when it wasn’t afraid of powers. There has never been another of his power level, and we all know the good he did. Now, it’s important to understand that he was inherently good, but the full extent of his powers was never really known, nor the psychological implications.

“We all saw the wonders he worked. But amongst his power set was multiplication and shape-shifting. He would play out desires and roles. We think he wasn’t always fully aware of his own actions, we think his hyper-intelligence led to a kind of mega-schizophrenia. Several other Supers of that era were him. And several villains.”

“Villains? Who?”

“We don’t know for sure. We think he was some of his own nemeses. He did confess full responsibility for the Moscow incident.”

“Moscow, but, millions died, there were hundreds of Supers involved.”

“Apparently not. Now, you should know that he did this to himself, put himself in this state. Something made him realise what was happening, he turned his powers inwards and, well, this is where we are now.”

“That’s... a lot to take in. So why am I here?”

“You have to grasp the true extent of his twists. In order to contain himself and his powers he created a multiverse within his own mind. It is no illusion; as far as we can tell it is as real as our own. There are peoples, worlds, stars, whole universes in there.

“Your job is simply to monitor what we call the Xeroverse. Walk the worlds in his mind, observe the people, record what you see. We will never know more than a paltry fraction of what is going on in there, but it will help us monitor the stability of his state and we may just learn something from the stories you bring back.”

Reommended reading:
Second Chance by Jack K Holt
A tiny but brilliant little slice of sci-fi flash.

And a 140 character fiction feed you should check out on Twitter: Nanoism

Tuesday 17 April 2012

Big Change

This isn't flash fiction! What's going on?

OK... you may have noticed that the Xeroverse looks a little different. It's all part of the change...

At the beginning of the year I resolved to put more effort into maintaining my blogs (2 non-fiction blogs, 2 flash fiction blogs and a collaborative fiction blog). That's a lot of blogs. Realistically, that's not happening, but the best approach is not to give up, or make excuses, it's to look at things and adapt.

I've had a plan for Xeroverse: 101 for a while now, and obviously Xeroverse: Missing Pieces is the most updated. So the big change is this:

1) To consolidate all my blogging and longer flash fiction to one place. Here. Drop the 'Missing Pieces' and just call the place Xeroverse, which ties in nicely with my Twitter handle. Here I will blog about whatever takes my fancy (and lets face it, that's gonna be writing, science fiction and fantasy, books, movies and games, for the most part).

2) and here's the real biggie. Xeroverse: 101 will drop the 'Xeroverse' and become 101 Fiction.

Check it out.

I'll still post my 101s there once a week but it will be opening for submissions. Yeah, you read that right. I really hope other people will want to have a go at writing 101s, that I'll have enough good material submitted that I can post one piece a week from other people as well.

The plan is to open for submissions on May 1st. And start posting sometime in July/ August.

101Fiction has its own Twitter too: @101Fiction

So those are the big changes. You can still catch a flash fiction a week here as part of season 4: Small Change.

Thanks for reading. I'm pretty excited by all this. ^_^

Friday 13 April 2012

F is for Freedom

The sky was green, again. Alya said that when they built the world the sky was always blue, and bright. Now, she said, it was broken and didn’t always do what it was supposed to.

Wilm lay on his back, watching a patch of darker green glitch and stutter across the sky. He thought it looked a bit like the LP logo tattooed on his inner wrist. He held his arm up and compared the two. There was a certain similarity, like a person on all fours. Alya said it was something that used to exist in the world outside.

Wilm had never paid much thought to the world outside, he was happy with this world. He rolled over a little and pulled a tuft of sweet, red grass from the ground, stuffed it into his mouth and chewed as he pondered.

Alya said the world outside was broken too, like the sky. She was the oldest person he knew, and she never seemed happy. She was a B, he was an F, but the number beneath their tattoos was the same so they shared a crib. It wasn’t common to share, and it was cramped, but neither of them minded.

Wilm rolled round and upright, into a sitting position, he wondered where Alya was. He could see his fellow Fs lying around him, gazing upwards, occasionally stretching for a handful of grass. Further away a small group of Gs were gathered.

Alya didn’t come out to the fields a whole lot, she didn’t eat much. Wilm thought this was probably why she was sad a lot of the time.

He struggled to his feet. That was one advantage Alya had in being thin, it was never this difficult for her to stand up. He ambled towards the main building. He ought to spend some time with her before they took him to the world outside. The Fs in the cribs next to theirs had gone last week. And they were moving Gs into the lower numbers already. They would come for him soon.

He was happy here, but this world was just preparation. Looking at the new Gs he saw why, they were unsteady, unthinking. He plucked a bunch of yellow leaves from a bush and munched on them as he made his way back. He was ready for the world outside.

There were thin men at the cribs. Outside men in white coats. They were gabbling to each other in their outside language and pointing at the glowing slates in their hands. Two of them noticed him and came down the path towards him. Wilm smiled at them and held his tattooed wrist out.

They looked at his outstretched arm and then at each other with raised eyebrows. One shook his head and the other gabbled something they both laughed at. They checked his tattoo and consulted their slate, then nodded and led him back up the path towards their vehicles. The backs of the vehicles were wide open and there were ramps leading to large empty spaces, white-walled and smooth like a wider version of their cribs.

He told them he just needed to see Alya to say goodbye and turned towards the cribs as they passed, but they seemed to understand him as little as he understood them. Strange to think he would be living in their world soon.

He gestured, trying to make them understand. But the more he tried to move away, the rougher they got, shoving and pulling him towards the vehicle. One of the men poked him in the side with something that sent a spike of pain through him, like nothing he had experienced before, making him spasm and almost fall over.

The thin men laughed.

It was no good, they were determined and he was all bulk, no strength. As they manoeuvred him up the ramp he looked back and saw Alya at the cribs. She looked so sad. One of the men was patting her affectionately and talking at her.

Wilm smiled and yelled at her to let her know that he was OK and everything would be fine. She wouldn’t be alone, they would probably move a G into their crib soon so she would have more company. Then one of the thin men jabbed something sharp into his neck and the world washed away to nothing.

Friday 6 April 2012


Jeremy peered out from behind his father, trying to catch a glimpse of the planet in the cupboard.

The engineer didn’t leave the door open for long, but Jeremy saw it, and it was amazing, awesome, glorious.


It was like a shimmering blue and green marble, but bigger, medicine ball sized, turning slowly and wreathed in white puffs of cloud like cotton wool or misted breath. Exactly like misted breath, he thought, it was all water vapour. He’d learnt that on the science feed.

As the engineer sealed the chamber Jeremy played back his eyeFeed, cut the two seconds where he could see the planet and fed it to his friends. Billy Carmichael would be so jealous.

“Well,” Jeremy’s father squinted at the Engineer’s badge, “Colin, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing wrong, Mr. Harcourt, the society is just entering an energy conservation phase.”

“Isn’t that bad? Won’t that mean less energy for us?”

Jeremy rolled his eyes, “it’s perfectly normal, dad, it was all on the school feed.”

The engineer, Colin, looked round the room at the old-fashioned LCD walls. His eyeFeed told him that each was being run on its own outdated processor. With the kind of heat output they must be generating he guessed the house must need the air conditioning on chill even in the middle of winter.

“Your boy’s right, it’s expected. Most people wouldn’t notice it, but I can see you have higher energy needs than some households.”

“It’s the kids, you know, they gotta have the latest tech.” He tousled Jeremy’s hair and gave the engineer a knowing look.

“Daa-ad.” Jeremy wriggled out from under his hand.

Colin nodded back agreeably. Except that the latest tech, the mePCs and eyeFeeds, were very energy-efficient. The walls could be blank and the kids probably wouldn’t notice, in fact, most people left them blank and just let their eyeFeed fill in the details. But it was easier to just smile and nod than try to correct Mr. Harcourt’s type.

“It’s not going to be an ongoing problem is it?”

“No, no problem. Energy conservation is expected, it means they’ll be actively pushing for some new source, and they should discover some form of renewable infinenergy, like zero point or cold fusion, or even World Boxes.”

“Like us, Dad. We were in a conservation phase when Professor Eagleman invented our World Boxes.”

“Hey, that’s a real smart kid you’ve got, Mr. Harcourt.”

Jeremy’s chest swelled with pride. “I’m gonna be an engineer like you when I grow up.”

Now Mr. Harcourt rolled his eyes.

Colin laughed, “Keep at it, kid.”

At the front door he shook Mr. Harcourt’s hand.

“There’s a tiny chance they’ll go terminal if they don’t find a new energy source, blow themselves up in a fight for dwindling resources, but that’s rare.” He saw the look on the man’s face, “And it’s covered by your warrantee. We’ll replace the planet free of charge. Otherwise I’ll be back for a check-up in a fortnight.”

The engineer, whose real name was Voth, not Colin, drove away. He waved at Jeremy while Mr. Harcourt tried to usher the excited boy back inside their house, then he found a secluded spot down the road and activated the dimensional engines.

With a bright flash and crackle the van was suddenly empty, smoking a little where the engines had, deliberately, burnt themselves out. The van rocked on its suspension.

*** ***

Jemeth peered out from behind his beta-father, trying to catch a glimpse of the planet in the cupboard.

“Well, Voth?” Jemeth’s beta-father’s fronds twitched impatiently.

Voth waved at Jemeth with his lower tentacle. The squidlett was standing so close behind his father that his young eyestalks were working overtime to keep from being flicked by the agitated fronds.

“It’s matured nicely, as we thought, shouldn’t be any problems now. They’ve come through the conservation phase and discovered an infinenergy source. Planet-tech, actually, like us.”

“Planet-tech’s really rare, dad,” Jemeth piped. “That’s brilliant!”

One of his beta-father’s eyes turned to glare at Jemeth, but Voth smiled with both mouths.

“He’s right. Hey, that’s a real smart squidlett you’ve got, mr. Harcth.”

Jemeth was too young to smile properly, but Voth could tell he was trying.

“I’m going to be a technician like you when I grow up!”