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Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy’

Hypione’s shop squats in a tangle of alleys on the edge of The Briers – an abandoned area where the streets went sour many years ago. The rent is cheap, The Baron often overlooks taxes, and it has the vibrancy of many a poor district in the Infinite City. All this despite its proximity to the poison, horrors and byblows of streets lost to the darkness.

It’s an odd little place, her shop: a schizophrenic space that is neither one thing nor the other.

In the one half of the grubby little storefront, there is a menagerie of creatures — nothing anyone would want as a pet, perhaps. There are insects, rats, mangy curs and battle-scarred cats from the alleys, the occasional lice-infested pigeon. Well cared for, considering, but caged.

On the other side of the store, there is gleaming gold and brass, shining silver. It sounds out with a cacophony of tick-tocking that creates a background hum like the thrum of a cockchafer’s wings. This half is neat and ordered, the smell of oil stronger than the smell of piss, dung and musk from the animals.

It’s not the sort of place you’d necessarily expect to draw children, but there they are every day. The honey-cakes and sweetmeats of the other shops are beyond the street children’s meagre earnings; the other shops are esoteric, obscure, dull or ‘grown-up’. Hypione’s menagerie, and the gilt contents of her glass cases, on the other hand, are endlessly fascinating.

For her part, Hypione welcomes the interruptions, recruits the urchins who genuinely seem to care to feed and help care for the animals. Her few, well-paying, customers are not much company, and the children remind her of her sons, one killed by road-pirates as a child himself, one long gone to find his fortune in the far districts. She more that tolerates them, she loves her little visitors, though she never shows it. She also tolerates their shenanigans, or at least most of them.

Hypione is sat upon her high stool one morning, behind her countertop. She swaps her spectacle lenses back and forth, increasing magnification and clarity. She tinkers with the fine-tooled device in a near-trance. Her tools are even more delicate than the brass-and-silver thing held in the clamp, almost microscopic. All the while, she resolutely ignores the street children as they chase and play about the store.

Then Hox, one of her regular visitors, does something that even she, old and blithe as she is, cannot stand for.

A spider, fat and glossy and beautiful, barely the size of her little fingernail, descends from the ceiling on a fine gossamer thread. She alights on the counter, where Hox notices her. She preens with her forelegs and Hypione is momentarily distracted. In the magnification of the lenses, the little creature is more beautiful, not less, and for a moment she is lost in the predatory perfection of eyes, jaws and carapace.

Then Hox snatches up the tiny seamstress. “Ew!”, and before Hypione can react, he has plucked off one of the spider’s delicate little legs.

“You little fucking beast!” Hypione cries out. “Let that spider go this very instant and get out of my shop!”

Hox jumps almost out of his skin, dropping the spider and fleeing from the store, in shock that Hypione should swear, which she never does. The other children follow in a frenzied train, all flapping rags and chattering.

Hypione picks up the delicate little spider; her legs all curled in against her body. She takes a moment to shut the door and flip the sign before she gives her little sister a closer look.

Her little sister’s carapace is cracked. She leaks a tiny amount of fluid. One of her legs is gone, another has been snapped and is dangling. In the magnification of the spectacles, Hypione cannot fool herself that this tiny creature is meaningless, that it isn’t suffering, that it is just a pest to be stomped or swatted.

“This shall not do little sister. Your weaving keeps the flies from my food and the silverfish from my stores. I apologise for the way my house guest has treated you.”

She carries her little sister back into her workshop and, moving swiftly, immerses the tiny creature in a vat of sparkling, glutinous fluid.

The spider’s carapace begins to melt away, but she is not dissolving. Not completely. As the chitin, muscle and lymph dissipates into the fluid, what remains is replaced. A delicate filigree, as fine as any web she had ever spun, a sapphire net of her ganglia, nerves and brain.

While her little sister is stripped back to her most vital essence in the fluid, Hypione finds an empty shell. A clockwork spider carapace, no bigger than her thumb. Chip-emerald eyes, a body of platinum, palladium with jaws and toe-tips of tungsten.

She unscrews and opens it up with a deft and precise hand. She cleans it, oils it, winds the mechanism until it begins to tick – the only winding it will ever need. She swabs it with a delicate touch, a thin sheen of alcohol removing the oil from her fingers and evaporating into the air, leaving her wanting a nip. Not yet, though.

Tweezers lift the sapphire net from the tub, a squirt of water strips the gel from what remains. She holds her breath as she sets the spider-net on her bench and teases out the hardening sapphire thread to replace the missing and broken legs.

A pair of rubber-tipped, minuscule tweezers lift the little sapphire and nestle it into its body. The faintest dab of glue on the tip of a needle fixes the glittering blue weave in place.

A few twists of the screwdriver and the case is closed shut. Then the switch is clicked into place. The silvery spider flexes its legs and twists over onto its front with a twist and a kick.

She stands there a moment, staring up at Hypione, though there is no way such a little thing can know gratitude.

Tick-tick-tick.

“Gods speed your way, little sister.”

Then the ticker-tack of tungsten feet on hardwood, and she is gone. Scurrying away into the darkness of the workshop.

Hypione heaves herself out of her stool and pauses a moment, running her hand across the front of a much larger tank of the glittering goo.

The size of a child

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flotsamjetsam

“Mine!”

Alice found herself suddenly awake, with someone or something pulling at her leg.

“Mine!”

“I most certainly am not!” Said Alice, sitting up quite abruptly.

The thing that had a hold of her was the most peculiar creature. It had pipe-cleaner arms and spidery hands, a body that was a knot of hair, and feet made of tiny pieces of soap. Its face, if you could call it that, was an old penny. The Queen’s face moved whenever it spoke in a way that struck Alice as positively disrespectful.

“I found you, you’re mine. Those are the rules, and if we don’t have rules, then everything just falls apart.”

“I’m my own!” Alice protested, kicking at the thing’s spidery little fingers, one of which snapped like kindling. It made the creature let go of her though and gave her a chance to scramble back up onto her feet. “Sorry about that.”

“Happens all the time,” said the penny-face, and took another spidery little finger from a bag around its waist and plugged it into its hand.

“Are you broken though? Most everything that ends up down here is broken, and broken things belong to whoever finds them. I found you; therefore you belong to me. It’s simple mathematics, d’you see?”

Alice squeezed water from her wet hair and combed it through with her fingers, picking out little pieces of muck from between the strands. “I’m fairly certain that’s law, or philosophy, rather than mathematics, but we don’t study that at school. As to whether I’m broken I’m not, I think something might have been left behind when I came through the grinder, but I suppose it’s washed far away by now.”

“Then you’re broken, and you’re mine, and I get to keep you. A piece of trash that walks and talks before it has been made, and even went to school! Perfect. Come along,” it gestured and waved her on after it as it walked away from the water.

Alice didn’t feel like she had much choice really, she didn’t want to climb back into the water – which didn’t seem to be going anywhere further, and following this strange creature seemed as good a thing to do as any.

“Might the missing piece of me have been washed up here?”

“Could be.”

“Well if I find it and put it back, then I won’t be broken, will I?”

“Everything’s broken,” said penny-face and with his ungainly stride, crested the top of the muck pile. “Everything’s broken somehow.”

Alice hitched up her skirts, though they were already ruined, and hopped along after him, blinking in surprise as she saw what lay beyond. “Oh my!”

Laid out before her was a whole town, made up entirely of rubbish and grot. There were high piles of fat and congealed oil being tended by creatures like penny-face, sorting and straightening with broken combs and the discarded ends of snapped spoons.

There was a disgusting pile of toenails and fingernails, one of the few white things there was to be seen and everywhere else, rising into the distance, the town was a mass of sardine tins, matchboxes and old shoes. At the very furthest point, rising above the town, was a towering mass of shiny foil and chocolate wrappers, culminating at its very tippy-top in a bright gold ring with a massive diamond.

“My aunt’s ring!” Alice exclaimed, but her voice was drowned out by a fanfare, blown through the empty shells of snails.

A gaggle of the junk creatures was approaching, gabbling, talking, in a constant uproar. Penny-face moved between Alice and the mob, protectively or possessively – she wasn’t sure – and she had to peek around him to see.

It was hard to tell where one junk person began and another ended. They were a grey-brown blur of detritus, hard to pick out as individuals. All save one. An old cotton reel was being spun out, and unwinding from it an old red-brown bandage. It served – it seemed – as a red carpet, for what followed.

Carried and pulled, pushed and moved along by great dint of effort, was a fat blob of a creature. Pearl buttons for eyes, a pouting little mouth carved out from the vibrant orange fat that was its body. It was dressed in an ill-fitting suit of purple chocolate foil and atop its head was a hairy spider, trying very hard to hold still.

The bandage unravelled to its end, and the big round butterball arrived at its end. Scurrying creatures moved to set up a matchbox podium, and the fat blob set itself up behind it.

“Great job, just the best. You’re the greatest scavenger there is. I’ve always said it,” the blob smiled, its button eyes twinkling in the dim light. “However, as Prime Minister, I have first dibs, that’s the law.” The crowd applauded wildly.

Penny-face shook his head and moved his arm, pushing Alice back with one soapy hand. “I believe the law you passed was ‘finders keepers’, and as the finder, I lay claim to her.

“You’re terrible, worst scavenger I’ve ever known. I’ve always said so. Bring forth and read the book of the law to settle this.”
“Do I get a say at all?” Alice asked, stepping gently around penny-face and curtsying, as you probably should do when you meet a Prime Minister.

“No!” They said, in unison, to more wild applause and cheering.

A little man, made of discarded twist-ties and pieces of broken glass pushed his way to the front, adjusted his bottle-bottom glasses and scanned through a dense, filthy book, full of tiny letters.

“According to the law, set down by the Prime Minister some four months ago, finders are, indeed, keepers. As settled in the ‘I didn’t know it was so shiny’ case, as you may recall Sir.”

“Hmm, but I set out the laws don’t I?” The Prime Minister quivered as he spoke and adjusted his spider toupee with one comically tiny hand.

“Indeed Sir.”

“Well then, take down a new law. The Prime Ministers may call ‘dibs’ on all good salvage.”

The little bottle-twist man flipped through the book until he found a blank page, where he squiggled down the Prime Minister’s words with a practised flourish.

“There’s a conflict between the two laws Sir, we’ll need to consult the judiciary to determine how to proceed.

“Oh, how tiresome,” the Prime Minister grumbled, hands on his hips.

Then Alice saw the most horrible and disgusting sight she thought she had ever seen. The Prime Minister’s orange, flabby bulk began to split down the middle with a sound like enormous, smacking lips. In a couple of breaths, he had completely split in half, two smaller versions of himself standing side by side, one with that ridiculous spider on his head, the other hurriedly donning a judge’s wig of soiled cotton wool.

“I agree with the Prime Minister,” said the judge. “The Prime Minister’s new ‘dibs’ law takes precedence over the older ‘Finders Keepers’ law. The Prime Minister will take possession of the salvage’s beautiful, luscious, verdant golden hair with immediate effect.”

“My hair?” Alice, who had become quite bored with all the arguing to-and-fro and whose legs were beginning to ache from standing still, was suddenly paying attention. “You can’t cut off my hair!”

“I can do anything I like!” said the Prime Minister, reaching for his judicial counterpart to glom back together.

“I… um… appeal!” Alice said, stepping around Penny-Face and feeling rather exposed. “I mean, if it’s not too much trouble, Sir,” she added another curtsy just to be sure.

“To the legislature?” the judge asked, while the Prime Minister made wild, silencing gestures with his pudgy little hands.

“Yes?” Alice wasn’t sure, this was all a bit beyond her, but she knew she was supposed to be polite around such august personages as judges and Prime Ministers, even when they were made of fat and rubbish.

“Very well, let’s put it before the legislature,” both the Prime Minister and the judge began to split off portions of themselves and to slap them together like clay, forming a third while an attendant scurried to tie a bow time – made of sooty string – around this third version’s neck.

Then the Prime Minister began to argue amongst himselves about who was in the right, it was all a show really. Since he was ‘arguing’ with himself, it seemed obvious how it was all going to turn out, and it looked like it was theatre for the cheering bits and bobs than anything meaningful.

Alice’s stomach grumbled, loudly. She realised she hadn’t eaten anything in quite some time and that she was starting to feel somewhat faint from it. Thankfully with all the arguing nobody had noticed and, given it was so filthy down here she didn’t want to eat a thing. It was far easier to be hungry.

Her mind began to wander. The Prime Minister looked so much like butter that she couldn’t help but think about it, that led her to bread and butter and thence to sandwiches. In that funny way the mind has of connecting one thing to another she ended up recalling an argument she had had with her friend Emily about sandwiches.

When you cut a sandwich in half, you get two sandwiches, not half a sandwich. Emily thought this was the most wondrous thing imaginable, while it bothered Alice a lot. If you cut anything else in half, you got halves, not doubles and the Prime Minister was cheating by doing the exact same thing. Cut those halves in half, and there are four sandwiches, not a quarter sandwich, cut those in half diagonally, and you got finger sandwiches, not eighths.

Alice was no fan of geometry or fractions, but it seemed to her that you might as well just have one big sandwich and eat it, rather than going to all the trouble of fiddling about with all those smaller sandwiches. She also supposed that eventually you would just run out of sandwich and have nothing but crumbs if even that and that you couldn’t possibly keep dividing things into infinity. Emily disagreed, and Alice hadn’t been invited to take tea with her for weeks afterwards.

“You’re a sandwich!” Alice shouted, interrupting the pretend negotiations the Prime Minister was having with himself, causing some consternation.

“And you’re a baguette, a stinking, foreign baguette!” Shouted the Prime Minister, petulantly.

“I’m sorry, Sir, I mean rather that I should like to take my appeal directly to the people!”

The Prime Minister, the judge and the legislature huddled together, whispering and when they split apart again, agreed.

“Very well. Your appeal shall be put to the people, and let that be an end to it!”

Almost immediately the Prime Minister – in all his forms – began to split apart into many, many little pea-sized blobs, scattering around him and lining up to vote to take Alice’s hair. She was heartened, however, to see that many of the subjects of this little kingdom were lining up to vote in her favour – just not enough of them.

“You can do what he does!” She called out, desperately, and saw a few of them take her advice, breaking down and remaking each other into smaller and smaller versions until all of them, the whole cheering crowd, were so reduced in size that Alice towered above them like an Amazonian giantess.

While they continued to fight and argue and to organise themselves to vote, Alice took one giant stride over them, delicately trying not to crush them, and made her way toward the tin foil tower and its glittering ring.

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2018promptlist

poisonbullywug

A poison-arrow bullywug

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Curated from @JeffNoon on Twitter.

  • A while back I wrote a sort of manifesto for science fiction. I’ve just updated it. I’ll present it here. 26 ideas and images…
  • Science Fiction infects and transforms. It questions, supports and replicates, firing off clichés and wonders at equal rates.
  • Science Fiction moves at the pace of life, accelerated or slow-motion. It walks the borderlines of mainstream culture, enamoured of edges.
  • Science Fiction is an emergent system. It exists both in the reality of the present day and the equally valid reality of tomorrow’s dreams.
  • Science Fiction conducts experiments upon Form and Content, inventing new techniques, new processes, new kinds of narrative expression.
  • Science Fiction evolves through small variations and wild mutations. It is designed to examine, distrust, perfect and dismantle itself.
  • Science Fiction enflames, enrivers, begulfs, undertugs, sidetwists and interslips. It befogs, englows, transplodes and intraflows.
  • Science Fiction is modified by its users over time. It revels in having loose screws and wires. It can so easily catch fire.
    Science Fiction is unashamed to fly on sentimental wings over lands populated by werebeasts, elves, vampires, androids, aliens and unicorns.
  • Science Fiction is trying to understand itself. It never will. It’s not that kind of genre. It’s diseased. The disease is its power source.
  • Science Fiction is the undercurrent, a visceral urge towards life. It worships weirdness and tradition, and will fuse the two to make anew.
  • Science Fiction is a magical sword forged in that ultimate of all fantasy realms: the human mind.
    Well-mannered literature is scared of pulp, of popular art. And of the avant-garde. And by this act it severs a deep vein of the life blood.
  • Science Fiction revels in elements from both pulp and avant-garde, and frequently mixes the two to create avant-pulp dreams and realities.
  • How fruitful this world is, when pulp fuses with the avant-garde. What strange, conjoined creatures are born. How the twin suns shine.
  • Science Fiction is a four-dimensional object (at the very least). It has more edges and borderlines than all other genres put together.
  • Science Fiction will create new ways of reaching the public. Words will flow from root to stem to flower to seed to air to earth to root…
  • Science Fiction does not have an operator’s manual. The operators are the manual.
  • Science Fiction is a journey of words through time. It says Down with perfection! Welcome to corrupted signals, glitches and fused wires.
  • To read, write or add new engine parts to Science Fiction is to partake in a grand, bizarre, dangerous, clumsy, vital, unique experiment.
  • Science Fiction embraces clichés. It can read through the clichés, explore clichés, dismantle clichés. It knows that wonders lie ahead.
  • Science Fiction moves along well-travelled paths, and yet, at the dusty end of the road, it desires to go further, out into the wastelands.
  • Science Fiction seeks out realms where no signposts or maps point the way. It crosses borders illegally under cover of night, in disguise.
  • Science Fiction celebrates hybrid creatures: monsters of the Id, machines of flesh, women who turn into fish, and floating men of fire.
  • At the liquid edge, Science Fiction leaves mainstream, middlebrow culture far behind. It travels beyond, into fog, into darkness.
  • Let us go now. Open all channels, connect to everything. Here we are gathered, lost in the flow of words. There is a strange light ahead…

Its an inspiring manifesto, but to me it embodies the ideals of the New Wave. Modern science-fiction is relatively insipid, timid, safe, inoffensive. Yet convinces itself it is radical.

Maybe we can change that.

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A compilation of my existing pulp stories in one volume, with the added bonus of an extra story ‘One Man McCann’ – a war story of British pluck and heroism against the evils of Nazi wonder weapons, all on the eve of D-Day!

Other stories include:

Cichol’s Children: Genealogy can take one to strange places indeed as is about to be discovered. A ‘mythos’ tale in homage to HP Lovecraft.
Stain: As with hard boiled eggs, hard boiled detectives can go off as well. Stane is a washed up detective who no longer cares, the perfect patsy for a case that nobody wants.
Shanks: An English gentleman walks the dusty trails of the old west, but do not mistake a gentleman for a sissy and don’t think grit is enough to deal with an Englishman when his dander’s up.
The Black Rat: The 1970s, a time a plaid, three day weeks, power outages and only three television channels. Dark times that call for a dark vigilante who sets his sights on police corruption and violence.
The Dastard: Howard’s Conan started out as a thief, The Dastard starts as one and remains as one. A viciously selfish antihero, cast out of paradise and making do in the barbaric world far from his home. One big score might buy him the luxury he seeks.
Wild: The jungles of Africa, the Amazon and Australia still hold mysteries to be discovered, amongst them a strange woman, white as snow, deadly as a panther and a holder of ancient African secrets.
Rink Rash: After the world comes to an end, a sport remains. Rollerbrawl.
Mimsy Burogrove: Expand your consciousness and solve mysteries with the world’s only psychedelic detective.
Doc Osmium: Two-fisted man of science, Doc Osmium teaches physics with pugilism.
Tessa Coyle: In a future world, a fever dream from the 1940s, the Science Police act as a board of ethical oversight – with extreme prejudice.
Ace Slamm: The world of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, but through a distorted lens. After interplanetary war Ace tries to find a way to drink himself to death in peace, but the old war keeps coming back to haunt him.You can get the ebook at:

Drivethrufiction

Smashwords

Lulu

You can also snag a PoD hardcopy HERE.

 

 

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Gaiman’s latest is a bit of a puzzler. It was intended to be a short story originally and then ended up being a novel but, in the process of becoming a novel it has ended up feeling a bit stretched and threadbare.  It might have worked better, in my humble opinion, as something of more moderate size but I imagine it’s harder to sell smaller books – even for Mr G.

The story follows the misadventures of a young boy (in what seems to be the 1960s) in rural England. He’s drawn into things beyond his understanding, a victim of circumstance and curiosity and the strangeness that follows it.

For those of us brought up in rural England (in the 70s and before) – and on a diet of weird Children’s television that the BBC sought to fuck us all up with – the book is rather nostalgic. Filled with little familiarities. Neil’s a little older than me though and not all of it quite jibes, though there’s a bit of a feeling that it’s a Famous Five book that’s been given an heroic dose of mescalin.

It’s weird, strange, unusual – even for Neil – otherworldly and trippy but somehow also unsatisfying. There’s an adventure, but it’s a memory and the protagonist is largely a helpless pawn in the affairs of other, incomprehensible things. There’s touches of Lovecraft as well as Blyton, hints of science, allusions to the confusing world of quantum mechanics, a subtle reference to the triple-goddess. It’s a lot of things.

The naive, child’s viewpoint cushions the blow a little – because to a child a great many things are incomprehensible but it can’t save the feeling, by the end of the book, that everything in it might as well not have happened.

I’m glad I read it, but it’s a bit personal feeling and a bit self-indulgent.

Also something nasty happens to a cat early on, and I love cats.

So apologies to Mr Gaiman, but I didn’t like this one that much.

Style: 4
Substance: 2
Overall: 3

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