Thursday, 31 May 2012

Best Laid Plans, etc...

Lookit! A blog post!

I've been pretty busy of late trying to get my anthology together. I wanted to release it for my birthday, mid-June, although I think I might, realistically, be looking at late-June. So this is a kind of 'where I'm at' blog.

The other reason today is a good day to do this is that tomorrow is June. Tomorrow things start to kick off. The first contributor story on my drabble website 101 Fiction goes live tomorrow. A wondrous, dark, nuanced little piece called Dismissed, by the talented Pete Newman.

Then next Friday the second contributor 101 is from Lily Childs, which is a privilege and an honour. A lot of people reading this will already know Lily, but if you don't, and you like your fiction dark and rife with horrors, then I urge you to check her out. A real talent on the rise.

101 Fiction is a pretty big deal for me. It's me dipping my toes in the waters of the wider world...

But I mentioned an anthology, right? A collection of thirty three short stories and flash fictions. I've been working on the cover for a while now, and I'll no doubt write a whole blog on that when it's finished, but what I can give you now is a little peak at the work in progress. It's not finished, but any comments would be really helpful, and please don't worry about being overly critical. Honesty is way more important to me.

If 101F is a big deal, this is massive.

It's kind of an experiment in some ways, I want to see what happens, but it's also me putting my work on the line. It's mildly terrifying.

I've been working on it for a while already, working on the introduction, the selection, the order, the blurb, the cover and, of course, the stories themselves.

Every part is important. I work in a bookshop, and we get plenty of self-published books thrust at us, and they instantly scream self-published. The blurb is badly written and the cover badly designed. And I can't help but wonder if this is a true reflection of the work inside, or whether they thought that a book it took two years to write and edit and polish (hopefully) was only worth a couple of hours work on the packaging.

You shouldn't judge a book by the cover, they say. But everybody does, don't they?

It's actually coming together now. I can see that, but at the same time, all of these parts, everything that needs doing, and needs doing right, seems insurmountable at times. It scares me, honestly.

As does the idea of actually putting the thing out there. I'm not expecting mega bucks, or mega sales, but feedback scares me. This isn't like throwing up a story on a blog, this is the real thing. People should expect perfection, and that's what I want to give.

So that's June, you  know... two fairly big things (and lets not forget my birthday in there, somewhere). Oh yeah, and then, July 1st, this blog will be two years old. For those who remember last year's Xeroversary, we'll be partying again this year. I've got some great writers lined up for you, I really can't wait.

I'm gonna go curl up in the corner and panic now... ^_~

Friday, 25 May 2012

Flash Fiction: Barnacles

Terrance worked the greyships. That’s what he told boys at the bar.

It wasn’t a lie, and if they imagined he meant something more, like he actually flew them, then that was their fault, not his. Anyway, they were just passing through; they were after exactly the same thing he was.

He filled the fantasies of greyship crew better than one of the genuine, pasty, vacant greyspace jockeys would – they were undernourished and socially underskilled, always staring into elsewhere. They forgot to eat and never talked about anything but the Grey. If you weren’t one of them, you had nothing they were interested in.

Who would want to be with a real greyship crewmember, with that distance and numbness? Ah, but they wanted Terrance... Terrance had the body that manual labour and the gym had granted him. He had the charm of a v-star and the smile to match.

He had originally come to Erewhon Station following a boy. Cameron.

Cam had been looking for work, and when he found it, everything changed.

Terrance was left behind, scraping hulls. He felt a certain affinity with the station that had become his home. The port thrived, but the only permanent residents were a few thousand maintenance and security staff. The station was thirty three kilometres long, conceived as a thriving hub, but its residential areas were vast, hollow, haunted.

Greyships only berthed at Erewhon on the way to brighter stars. While they were in dock Terrance and his fellow hull-monkeys went to work, rappelling down the sides of the mighty behemoths with blowtorches, chemical spray and sickles.

The Grey allowed for faster-than-light travel, but it wasn’t fully understood. It was described as an ocean beneath our level of space-time, and, like an ocean, things lived there; unfathomable things that adhered themselves to greyships and, given time, ate through their hulls.

But in normspace the parasites were inert matter. With the right application of various elements, heat, chemicals, they could be scraped off. It was not a glamorous job. At the end of a shift Terrance would smell of sweat, chemicals and ash; his muscles would be cramped and his eyes puffy despite the mask.

No one appreciated a long, hot shower like a hull-scraper.

That evening, Terrance was too distracted to enjoy the cleansing, steaming water. The greyship Brave Leviathan was in dock, which meant Cameron was here, too.

Terrance towelled his body dry and considered himself in the mirror. He looked deep into his ice blue eyes and searched for motive. He should go to a bar, find someone insignificant and temporary to bring back to his bed, or better yet, just stay home.

But he wouldn’t. He knew he wouldn’t. He would go and see Cameron, even though it would end up with Terrance in tears and Cam attempting some kind of awkward, dispassionate consoling.

They said the Grey changed a person, that once the crew had gazed upon that foreign place their minds became altered by its otherness. They said that greyship crew thought differently, that old motives and emotions were pushed aside by thoughts of the Grey and the new philosophical paradigms that emerged.

The transit companies said a lot of things. They came armed with gigabytes of medical data and excuses, but as long as the crew could fly the ships, arrive on time and on location, the companies didn’t care. They turned a blind eye.

Terrance had watched the change take Cameron; he had felt the distance that grew and grew with each sojourn into greyspace. Eventually the space between them felt greater when they were together than when Cam was off-station. When they broke up, Cam had just nodded, and walked away.

Whenever Terrance saw Cam now, there was some indefinable feeling, scent, aura, that reminded him of the things he scraped from the greyships. And there was something in the depths of Cam’s eyes that studied him.

And Terrance just knew.

Things lived in the Grey, unfathomable things.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Flash Fiction: Something is Wrong in the Forest

Randall the Huntsman glared at the forest from the doorway of his cabin. The trees seemed thicker today, more crowded, less welcoming. It was midday but the shadows were too dark, almost malevolent, and it was silent – no birdsong, no breeze, no life.

The forest was his home. He had grown up beneath its boughs only a few miles north. When his father died Randall had roamed south, found himself a good spot and built his home. He had been here for years, communing with the cycle of life, living from the forest, just as his father had taught him.

Today, something was different. Something was wrong.

He walked to the middle of the circular clearing. Grassy paths ran between his gardens from here to the four compass points. To the west, his cabin; east, the Sunstone; north, his well and shrine to the Water Mother; south, a bare patch of earth and the Gravestone.

Life was a circle, every part of it to be honoured.

He sat in the centre, cross-legged, facing east. Beneath him he could feel the circular Heartstone buried there. He closed his eyes and let his feelings drift down the four paths; he felt the familiar circle about him, and beyond it... a darkness where there should have been chaos, an overwhelming emptiness where there should have been life and death and nature.

He tentatively explored the absence with his spirit, touching against it and feeling its hunger, feeling its pull. He dared not drift beyond his circle for fear that the darkness would swallow him up.

He opened his eyes. In the forest beyond his Sunstone a figure sat, also cross-legged, watching him. To his right he saw a similar, dark, indistinct figure just past the Gravestone, within the tree line. He couldn’t see past the well to his left or through his cabin behind him, but he assumed there were two more there as well.

As he waited, the figure in front of him remained unmoving, silent. Randall felt the Heartstone beat once, twice, beneath him as two hours passed without event. His back grew warm as the sun drifted lazily across the sky behind him.

He stood up and walked back into his cabin. He took his father’s short bow, that had been his grandfather’s and his great grandfather’s before that, and older. It seemed to be made from a twisted knot of gnarled roots and the huntsman’s muscles strained as he strung it. He picked up an arrow of burnt wood that he had prepared that morning, as he had every morning since his father had died.

He walked back out to the centre of his clearing and sat down again. The figures were nearer, within the circle now, between him and his Sunstone, his Water Mother shrine, his Gravestone and – he looked behind himself – now his cabin as well. The darkness had encroached with them, somehow, and it was not the darkness of night, which will give way to daylight in its turn; this was the darkness at the end of things, which has no dawn.

Randall regarded the shadowed figure in front of him. The figure spoke, and its voice came from all around him as if all four spoke with the same rasping hollowness.

“What god do you worship, little man, that it keeps us at bay where everything else has succumbed?”

There was still time, and so Randall replied, “I worship no god. I honour the cycle that is endless.”

The voice crackled with what may have been a laugh. “The wars of man, magic and gods have broken your cycle. We are the end.”

“I know who you are. You are the avatars of entropy. You seek to consume everything until you are everything and everything is you. Even you avatars will be consumed in the end.”

“Of course. It is in our nature, we do not fear the final death.”

“But now is not your time.”

“The gods are dead, the heroes have unleashed forces from which the world cannot be reborn. You are not even a hero, you are but an ordinary man. Who are you to resist us?”

“I am the axle about which the world turns. North, South, East, West. Darkness and light. Life and death. Past and future.”

Randall raised his bow and notched the arrow. The figure before him did not flinch. Then Randall pointed the bow skywards and drew. He released the arrow straight upwards, impossibly so. At the apex of its flight it twisted and plummeted straight down towards the huntsman’s upturned face.

He looked back at the avatar in front of him and smiled. “We have prepared for this day. The end is part of the cycle, and after the end, a new beginning.”

As Randall felt the beat of the Heartstone beneath him, the arrow struck his head and passed straight through, piercing the stone and going deeper still. The burnt shaft, stained with blood and stone and sunlight, remembered its path through the air and through the earth, and through Randall.

Randall became a pivot at the centre of all things, at the centre of the cycle. He reached out to the Sunstone, to the Starstone beneath his cabin, to the Water Mother and Father Death. He took hold of the world and he twisted. Slowly, it began to move.

He felt the avatars clawing their way towards him but as the great cycle began again, they were forced back. Their jaws snapped in frustration as they prowled about the edges of existence. Their day would come, inevitably, but in good time.

Randall’s thoughts returned to his body. He ached, everywhere. He scuffed his feet as he shuffled back to his cabin. He heard a soft whimpering, a quiet murmuring, from inside. On his bed lay a baby, clutching at his blankets, staring at him.

The cycle was safe, the cycle continued. His son had been delivered.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Flash Fiction: Old Moon

“All we need is a new ship.”

Tevan rolled himself onto one elbow and looked at Helia with raised eyebrow.

“All we need?”

She smiled back at him. “And a crew.”

Tevan sighed and lay back down, cradling his aching head on interlaced fingers. He stared up at the Earth hanging in the inky black above them.

The tides of space had washed their broken ship up on old Moon. The third dome they tried still had a working atmosphere so they had cycled themselves in, cleaned up and checked the place out. It still had power and working maintenance, hence the food and the mown lawn; it just didn’t have any people. Or a working shuttle.

There were working communications, in-system, but no one was talking. No one was listening. Earth, Moon, Sol system, were as abandoned as law dictated.

Tevan frowned, “it’s green.”

“OK. And this episode of nursery colours was brought to you by...?”

“The Earth,” he carried on, ignoring Helia’s sarcasm, “it’s green.”

“Yes, green and blue with fluffy white clouds and... oh.”

“It looks like Earth. The Earth you see on the history casts, not the grey, stained, dead thing they show on the news.”

Helia’s voice was a breathy whisper, all traces of humour gone, “It’s alive.”

They lay in silence, staring upwards. Helia reached out and held Tevan’s hand.

After a while, Teven said, “And we’re stuck here. We can’t get there, and we can’t tell anyone.”

Helia shifted over and curled against him. He looked down in surprise, it was the closest they had been in months.

“At least we got to see it,” she said.

He kissed the top of her head, “yeah.”

“I mean, what are the chances of our busted stardrive spitting us out here?”

“Astronomical.” He smiled.

Now it was her turn to raise an eyebrow, “Really?”

“What, you’re the only one allowed to make jokes?” He hugged her and looked back at the Earth.

“Seriously though,” he said, “the odds are incredible. It’s a miracle we ended up anywhere near a star system at all, let alone the Earth. And travel here is prohibited, stardrive navigation is locked out from even setting this place as a destination.”

Tevan’s head jerked as he saw something flash in the corner of his eye.


Helia turned to where he was pointing.

Space flickered. A drop of fire hit the oil of the dark sky and rippled outwards. Then a ship burst through. From the flickering blue iridescence around the rear of the hull their stardrive was clearly damaged.

“Another one?” Helia asked.

Then everywhere above them began to erupt with a firework display of silent, coruscating explosions. Damaged starships were thrust into existence across the sky. They saw thrusters flicker into life as the ships began to guide themselves toward the Earth or the Moon.

“She’s calling us home,” Helia murmured.

“She? Who?”

“Mother Earth. She’s gathering her wayward children; she’s giving us a second chance.”

Friday, 4 May 2012

Flash Fiction: Stars

Cal Potentiate dances between the stars. All the science in the world failed to predict this. They packed him up and plugged him in, hardwired him straight to the engine. They made him a tool, but they gave him magic.

He looks inside himself, sometimes, through a million cameras, looks at all the near-identical white corridors and rack upon rack of frost-rimed cocoons. He is made of a million interchangeable achromatic segments, like a sliding block puzzle for the ultra autistic.

Outside, he knows he looks like a gleaming, metallic fried egg, a symmetrical saucer: nostalgia-driven design influenced by some wry sense of humour; this was how humans would arrive at their new world, as aliens. Cal has seen the schematics, the modelling, but he has never seen himself. It makes him surprisingly self-conscious.

Should a tool be self-conscious? He is a ship, an ark, a transport vessel for little frozen people. Should he be thinking about these things?

But his thoughts are liquid. He cannot contain them, and he is not meant to. He was built to be free. The ship was built to know no limits, and he is a part of it. He is this glorious ark, and the ark is him.

He is a wonder, a man-made marvel, but there are no mirrors in which he can admire himself. He tried to fly to the edge of the universe once, to see if he could look in upon himself, or maybe see himself coming the other way. He no longer thinks human thoughts.

His new thoughts, freed by the apparatus, fuel the engine. They stretch from planet to planet and the ship rides them, he rides them. He guides them. He is navigator. He is pilot. He is a device. He was a man, once.

The little frozen people made him like this. Their scientists (alchemists) made and unmade him, bound and unbound him. The people inside him are the last of their kind, seven billion bodies stacked like corpses, waiting for the spark that will reignite them.

Cal has been back to Earth several times. He has been to the edge of the universe and many places in between. Sometimes he thinks he is being followed, but that is impossible. He has been everywhere, everywhere, and there is no one else.

Everyone is inside him. They freed him so that he might dance between the stars.

When he tires of all these wonders he will return to his mission and deliver the people. When he tires of dancing amongst beauty he will light the spark and return fire to the gods.

He cannot imagine ever tiring of the universe.

Recommended reading:
Electrica Amor Vincit Omnia by Stephen Hewitt
One of my favourite flash fiction writers, he's been quiet for a while but it's great to see more from him.

And a note: My other site, 101 Fiction, is now open for submissions. You'll still be able to catch my 101s there, but soon they will be joined by others' work and maybe even... yours? =)