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abandonedcampsiteA post-apocalyptic tale, rejected (narrowly) from an anthology. So you get it! Something of a dry-run for a setting for a forthcoming survival game.

Days run a little differently now than they used to.

It used to be I would get up, kiss my wife good morning, wake up the kids and head into the shower. Breakfast was a cereal bar and a cup of coffee on the way out of the door to the car. I drove eight miles to town, parked my car, walked to my office and sat in front of a computer from nine in the morning until five in the evening fielding people’s problems with their computers. Then I’d go home for an evening of forcing my kids to eat their peas and watching boxed sets on Netflix in bed with the missus.

A dull, boring, ordinary life. Days ticking by on my phone calendar. Nothing special, the same kind of thing that millions upon millions of people did every day, day in, day out, without changing or straying from the norm.

Now, things are a little different.

I get up when the sun rises, and I let everyone else sleep. I peel back the tarp and climb down the ladder – slippery with morning dew – to the forest floor. There’s no breakfast, we eat once a day, in the evening. I walk the trails through the woods and check the snares as well as the fish hooks we leave dangling in the rivulet – though the water drops every day. If I find any fallen wood, I bring it back to the hide to dry out for the evening’s fire, but that’s getting scarce too. We’ll have to start cutting them down soon, and that will make our presence easier to detect. Then I walk back to the hide, and I sit in the cover under the hide and tinker with the radio, just for something to do. It’s unfixable since the pulse, like everything else, but it keeps me busy.

I don’t know how anyone else lives now, but if they’re surviving it must be something like this.

Somehow we survived the pulse, the chaos that came after it. The plague and the looters, the rioters and murderers. All of us, my whole family.

There’s me, my wife (Ellie) my father (Gramps), and my kids, Tony and Amy.

Tony’s doing alright; he was a scout before everything went to hell and while he doesn’t enjoy camping anymore, he can cope with it.

Amy’s broken, though, and there’s nothing we can do about it. She hasn’t talked since we escaped town and she has her little den she’s dug in the woods away from the rest of us. She only comes close to us when we make food, so at least we know she’s eating. We keep hoping she’ll snap out of it, but she hasn’t yet.

My wife was a fiercely independent woman before all this happened, the one who did everything made more money than me doing bank work in the city, organised and ran our lives. Now she’s lost, traumatised, just doing what she has to and crying over everything we’ve lost.

Gramps is old, sick, but he struggles on and helps me as best he can. He’s a tough old dog, my father but we all notice the cough. Sick as he is I’ll dread it when he’s finally gone. He’s used to a simpler world than we were. He’s practical; he knows how to fix things, how to skin rabbits and gut pheasants, skills which have become literal lifesavers. I’ve learned more from him in this past year than in the forty preceding it. I used to be the one to teach him things like using the internet or setting the video to record. It’s strange how things turn out.

We lost track of time in all the chaos but so far as we can tell it’s late summer now, maybe the end of August. We’re hoping we can find and preserve a lot of autumn fruit and nuts, somehow, once they start to appear. We can’t get meat to smoke or dry properly, we’ve tried we have no salt or vinegar or even alcohol to pickle or preserve with, and we daren’t go back to town to look for supplies that probably aren’t there.

It’s a worry.

This morning was the first in quite some time that there had been a chill in the air and mist clinging to trees. It was getting towards the autumn, and that weighed heavy on my mind.

We had a rabbit in a snare, so that was a good haul for the morning or at least better than nothing. The hazelnuts weren’t ripe yet, by any stretch, so that was a bust, and the blackberries weren’t ripe yet. I still had some gloves and a good knife, so I cut a big bushel of stinging nettles – they come out a bit like spinach when you boil them. We’re all utterly bored of them, though, we lived off nettles and rice too many days before we got the snares right. Just as well that they did, because we ran out of rice. I read once you can’t live off of rabbit, but that’s been almost all we’ve been eating this month other than the nettles. Another thing to worry about.

When I get back on this day, everyone’s up and awake. My grubby little family of dirty survivors. No sign of Amy though, at least not yet, no food for her to eat I suppose. My wife’s hanging up the blankets to try and dry and air them in the sun – it hardly works even in the summer, you just can’t get dry living outside. Gramps is fiddling on that bow of his again – bailing twine and hazel sticks don’t make for the best or most accurate hunting weapon, but he perseveres. Tony’s tending the fire; that has become his singular obsession. He keeps it going through the day from the embers of the previous night. He’s gotten pretty good at it, though we don’t dare have a massive fire. Someone might see.

The day passes, somehow. Boredom is something we all constantly experience now, boredom punctuated by terror at the noises coming from the woods. We’ve not seen another person in months, just deer and the occasional fox sniffing around. We still remember what it was like getting out of town. People were – and probably still are – terrible. Desperation does that to people. It has done it to me; there is blood on my hands as much as anyone.

When the sun starts to set, we build the fire up, boil the river water in our fire-blackened pot and put in the rabbit and the nettles. It’s not much, but its something, or will be when it’s cooked.

Tomorrow, maybe, we’ll have some better luck.

Only we don’t get to tomorrow uninterrupted. There’s a loud cracking sound from the edge of our little clearing, our home, and then a voice raised, calling out to us. A new voice, one we haven’t heard before, cracked and husky with a lack of practice at speaking.

“Can you spare a little of that?”

***

He looked a state, but then we all did. He’d made an effort to trim his beard, which I hadn’t, but he was still as grubby and tired looking as the rest of us. Layered with muck and sweat, the sort of thing you only ever used to see on homeless people. He had a huge backpack, one of those army ones called ‘Bergens’ I think, and a gun, something I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was a battered looking double-barrel, and he had a half-empty bandolier of shells hung around his neck. It was pointing down, but he was almost as cautious as we were, frozen in place around our dinner with only gramps and his stupid bow and arrow to defend ourselves.

“I’ve got salt, pepper, some spice. Just nothing to put it with, can we make a trade?” He took a cautious, half-step forward, holding the gun one handed, raising the other, palm towards us.

Just the thought of salt had me salivating, let alone anything else. My stomach yawned at the mere mention. Less food, but with flavour? That would be a good trade at this point and someone who’d been out there might know something. News and flavour. I stepped forward and waved gramps to lower his bow – for all the good it could do in the first place.

“If you put the gun down and show us what you have, maybe we can find a place for you tonight and a bit of food. It’s just rabbit and nettles, though. Nothing fancy.” I moved, slowly, between him and my family. If things went wrong, perhaps I could still protect them.

He set the gun down on a stump with the shells and unslung his pack, keeping one hand up as he rummaged in the side pocket. He showed us salt, pepper and – Lord have mercy – garlic granules.

“Alright, come on closer but leave the gun there,” I gestured to him to approach, and he set his pack behind and came forward.

He stank worse than we did, or we’d just gotten used to our smell perhaps. We could wash – occasionally – in the rivulet, but he smelled like he hadn’t washed at all in the year since the pulse. He was greasy with it. Shiny-headed in the firelight and the fading sun, and I could hear his stomach growling as loud as mine was. He handed over the condiments, and I gave them to Ellie. She added them to the stew pot with shaking, quivering hands.

“It won’t be ready for a while. Why don’t you sit with us and sing for your supper?”

He winced a little at the suggestion, but he did sit, on one of the mossy logs we’d dragged here to use as seats and after a deep sigh he told us his tale, constantly glancing towards the pot and the promise of food to come, as though reassuring himself it was real.

“What do you want to know?” He asked, his voice low, almost lost in the crackling of the fire.

“Your name,” I sat, opposite him and everyone else crowded closer. “Everything you know. What’s been going on out there, how did you survive?”

He tongued his lips and took a sip of water from his canteen, and then he began to talk, a practised tale he must have told many times before. Too many people.

“My name’s Alan. I was a delivery driver. My watch didn’t work; my phone didn’t work, the van didn’t work. Nothing worked. I waited for other cars but after an hour all there was, was a young couple whose own car had broken down. That seemed like a bit too much of a coincidence to me, but I stayed with the van. Like an idiot.

He shook his head and plucked a few leaves off his boots before he went on. “Wasn’t until a policeman on a bike – of all things – came by that I clicked something bigger was going on. His suggestion was to find a pub or something to stay at, but I didn’t. I stuck with the van. I thought it might all get fixed I suppose. Two days later and nothing but a few people trudging down the road. Got to the point where I started breaking into the packages to look for food and drink, but eventually, I had to lock up the van and get going again.”

“We were in town when it happened. It was worse in a lot of ways, though people were looking out for each other at the beginning.”

“Then the sickness hit,” he sighed again, deeper. “As I’m sure you know.”

“We didn’t see much of it; we decided to leave town after a couple of days.”

“You were lucky then. I walked through a couple of villages before I got to a town and by the time I got there, the sickness was in full force. Pale people, white as sheets, barely able to move for how weak they were. Easy prey for the people who were still fit and were looking to loot and pillage. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to catch it. I stayed long enough to get some supplies and then got the same idea you did, to get out.”

I nodded along with him as we shared a moment of understanding. It had been horrible, and it had felt like there was no choice but to get away. We’d seen the writing on the wall the same way he had. Still, leaving people to die was haunting.

“I tried a couple of camping sites, but the sickness or bandits, or worse, always came along. Things broke down or just stopped working – whatever machines were left that is. The amount of people around got fewer and more sparse and spread out the more time went on. I just kept on moving. You’re the first people I’ve even seen a sign of in a few weeks.”

“Worse?” that worried me, I thought we’d seen the worst this new world had to offer.

“Ah, forget it. Don’t worry. Just being dramatic I suppose. I’ve just stayed on the road; there is still food and supplies out there if you’re not too fussy. Dog food will keep you going in a pinch. There’s hunting if you’re a decent shot, but I’m not,” he laughed, a little bitterly. “You seem to be doing alright, though. I’ve been watching you since this morning. You and your family have it pretty good.”

“It doesn’t feel like it most days,” I turned and looked to Ellie as she hovered over the pot. She nodded.

We had plastic bowls from an old picnic set, enough for everyone, though they were no longer the cleanest. The stew was thin and sloppy, but with the salt, pepper, and garlic it was the grandest feast we’d had in some time, considering a single rabbit don’t go so far between so many people.

After a mouthful of boiled rabbit and soggy nettle, Alan stopped abruptly, eyes wide and white in his grubby face. He swallowed, hard, and jabbed one dirty finger at the bowl we’ve filled for Amy. “Why are there six bowls?” He sounded panicked, scared, terrified. We didn’t understand why, but the fear was infectious.

“My daughter. Amy. She’s not well. She hides in the woods, but she comes back for meals. What’s wrong?”

“No, no, no!” He’s clutched his head like it was about to split, set down his bowl and stood, casting about and then walking towards his gun with quick strides.

“Wait no!” I spilled my bowl as I got up. “Don’t hurt us!”

He snatched up the gun and the shells and looked back at me. “I’m not going to, but six people is too many. I didn’t know about the girl. It always goes bad when there’s more than five. Always. Always.”

There’s a subtle change in the air as he says it. His fear is genuine, and it does feel like something has changed, shifted, a chill, a sense of being watched. I can’t explain it.

***

Alan kept staring into the woods, clutching that shotgun of his, white-knuckled and panicked but nothing was happening. My family huddled together in the dark except Amy who had scuttled back into the woods to hide. Slowly the tension began to evaporate from the terror he’d induced in us, and I stepped away from the others to try and talk some sense into him.

“Alan, please, you’ve scared everyone. Nothing’s happening.”

“It will,” he looked back at me with wild, feral eyes. “It’s coming.”

Something about the way he spoke made me still believe he meant what he was saying; I swallowed to wet my throat and ease my voice. “I’ll climb up into the hide and see if I can see anything.” He nodded to me and kept staring out into the trees.

I moved away from him, with a glance towards my family for mutual assurance, and then I stepped to the ladder. When I set my hands on it, it felt strange, dusty under my fingers and when I placed my weight on the bottom rung, it simply snapped, rusted through. That was absurd. It was steel; it had held firm as long as we had been here and showed no sign of breaking or damage. I just stared down at the fragments at my feet, uncomprehending. “Rust?”

“Rust?” Alan twisted around to look at me. “Get clear!” He shouted, stabbing a finger to point up at the hide.

My family moved the moment he barked; I didn’t. I was frozen, staring at the ladder, the patina of rust spreading across it like a time-lapse image of mould running across fruit. I looked aside to the great wooden beams that held the hide up above the forest floor and there too the metal bolts that ran through it and held it all together was turning red-brown and crumbling before my eyes. As I looked up in terrified wonder, the hide gave a loud groan, shuddered and slewed drunkenly sideways.

Our home, everything we had scraped, preserved and recovered was smashed to pieces in a deafening, splintering crash as it toppled into the woods and threw up clouds of dirt and leaves in all directions, blowing our meagre fire across the forest as embers that quickly vanished in the dark.

My ears were ringing. My lungs were burning as I coughed up leaf mold and ash. I stared into the crater around the broken stumps of the support columns as the clouds settled and thinned and saw something even stranger. The ground was writhing, twisting, heaving with worms, one atop the other in an enormous tangle right where the hide had stood. I’d never seen anything quite like it. The rust, the worms, none of it made any sense. At all.

“Alan! What the hell is this?” I screamed at him over my deafness, and I staggered to check on my family. They were horrified, staring at what remained of our meagre life, backed against a grand, old tree.

“This is what I meant by worse,” he yelled back. “Come together, help each other, and the world turns against you. I thought we were safe! I didn’t know about the girl!” The despair in his voice made my spine quiver.

I held Ellie tight though there was nothing I could offer to calm her, no platitude that would serve in this situation. Every last little thing we’d scraped together, this hardscrabble desperate life we’d forged, ruined in an instant.

Tony stepped apart from us, peeling away from the family huddle, clinging with one hand to my ragged shirt and staring into the night. Suddenly pointed out, with his free hand, past Alan, out into a gap in the trees to the blue-black night sky and the distant stars. “Dad! Look!”

I looked where he was pointing, and through the gap in the trees, the sky abruptly turned completely black. With sudden ferocity a torrent of croaking, shrieking feathers came pouring through the trees like a tidal wave. A pecking, screaming mass of crows that scratched, flapped and snapped at us as they flew around and over us and circled back through the trees and into the sky to fly back at us again.

I was bleeding from dozens of cuts and scratches, as was everyone else. Blood ran from a gash in my brow, down into my eye, half blinding me as the birds wheeled and whirled through the trees, screeching and cawing, massing for a second attack. It was incredible, it was impossible, it was terrifying, but there was no time to think about it. As they swept back I grabbed for my wife and son and hit the ground, scrambling under what remained of the tarp as Alan’s shotgun barked deafeningly, and flashes of light lit through the plastic.

Ears ringing I could barely hear the bodies of the crows tumbling around us, some still twitching and squawking in pain, crippled or killed by a shot, others tearing at the tarp with their claws and beaks to try and get at us. There were sickening crunches, something smacked into my leg and bruised it to the bone, but most of the crowing stopped. We screamed as the tarp was thrown back.

It was Alan, bloodied, blinded in one eye, a ragged hole where it should have been. The crows that remained perched angrily in the trees; the ground was littered with their corpses. Blood and spittle dripped down his chin as he opened the gun and thrust in the last shell. “It’ll be people next I think. Bandits. It won’t stop. It won’t ever stop so long as we’re together.”

I struggled to stand, the bruised leg almost giving way under me. “We’ll run, there’s nothing to stay here for anyway. Come with us. We’ll make it together. Don’t be stupid.” I reached my hand towards him, bloodied and scratched, fingers stretched out to take his hand.

He just shook his head and looked at me with one working eye and one ruined one, blood running down his face. “No. It won’t work. No more than five people. Never more than five. There’re no antibiotics anyway. I’m done. Thanks for the rabbit. I should have seen the girl.” Tears mingled with the blood.

Before I could stop him, he twisted the gun and fired. The flash was so close it singed my eyebrows and blinded me for a moment as his mostly headless body fell back with a wet, boneless thump amongst the dead crows.

We stood, I don’t know how long, in shock. When we recovered our senses, and our muscles answered our appeals to move the surviving crows had left, and it was quiet again. The air had changed, back, to the way it was before, without that tension, without that sensation of being watched. A new peace settled over our shattered camp and then, after a time, as we had so many times before, we set about picking up the pieces of our shattered lives.

***

We’re back on the road now. All five of us. Amy came back out of hiding after Alan died though she still hasn’t spoken and never leaves her mother’s side. We have Alan’s supplies and his empty gun. We have a tiny bit of food, the last gasp of the snares and fishing lines, but autumn is coming now, and there’ll be nuts and berries and whatever has survived in people’s abandoned gardens for a while.

We’ll look for supplies in some of the forest villages and then try to find somewhere remote and sheltered where we can rest up for the winter. All five of us. Just the five of us. Wherever we go, I’m going to leave this information, no more than five. Maybe it’ll keep some other people alive, but it means we’re alone, and we have to stay alone if we’re going to live. It means there’s never going to be any more help. No civilisation. Nobody to ride to the rescue or to rebuild.

It’s just us now.

Just family.

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bd2d44e15229844cc03c8ea95360b3c8The moment he awoke he gently began to sob. This wasn’t supposed to happen. He wasn’t supposed to wake up. He was supposed to be dead. Instead he found himself in a painfully white, antiseptic-stinking clinical bed in a tiny room under the migraine-inducing flicker of strip lights.

Nothing hurt though, at least right now, and he felt that it should hurt. It was like the pain was there – his mouth, throat and belly felt ‘wrong’ – but , at a distance.

A hand touched his shoulder in a perfunctory display of affection, a mechanical pat and he realised that he wasn’t alone.

“Jake? I’m Doctor Eich. They told me you’d be awake soon. Do you need a moment or can we talk?”

The little man perched on the bed was a gargoyle of a figure, peering with interest from behind thick, old fashioned glasses. His body odour made its presence felt even over the antiseptic and he was disheveled and unkempt for a doctor, right down to his dirty nails.

“Oh. I’m not that kind of doctor,” he said, noticing the looks. “I simply have a proposition for you, if you’re interested?”

Jake tried to speak, but all that really came out was a croak, a rasping sound like some comic-book supervillain, a wheeze that took a moment to form a “Yes.”

Eich smiled, though the expression did not look like it was used to being on his face and soon sidled off again in embarrassment when it realised it didn’t belong.

“I work for the government on military projects. I’m a neuroscientist, a psychologist and a pharmacologist. I’m working on forms of… ah… weaponised psychiatiry.”

Jake nodded slightly, taking in the rest of the room. As his eyes adjusted to the light it didn’t seem quite so bright or clinical. There was a coffee – or at least a coffee coloured – stain on the wall and an ancient television set into a folding mechanical arm. The ‘out of order’ sign was so dusty and faded he suspected the last thing on that screen had been Top of the Pops.

“If I may be blunt, and I shall be anyway… well, Jake you’re suicidal. You have no family. No parents. No children. You’re in hospital because you were doing shots of Toilet Duck in an attempt to end your life. If you see no value in your life, might I suggest that we do? We need human subjects you see and they need to be ‘disposable’. If you’re that keen on ending your life I can assure you that that’s a distinct possibility. Sound good?”

Jake just nodded, shifting to try and sit up – which made him feel pain even through the morphine haze.

“Excellent,” Eich thrust a sheaf of papers and a pen towards Jake. “Sign these.”

Once that was done Eich gave Jake a too-firm handshake, tucked the notes under his arm and headed for the door.

“Thank you Jake, Mr Bell here will keep an eye on you until you can be transferred.” He hovered a moment by the door, half in, half out. “There’s just one last thing. If we’re going to be working together you should know that I am what a layman might call a sociopath. I hope it won’t put a dampener on our relationship.”

With that, he was gone, only to be replaced by Mr Bell who had the body of a rhinoceros and the face of an elderly fetishists freshly flogged buttocks.

Jake, half wondering if this were a dream, closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

***

It hadn’t been a dream and now here he was, scant weeks later in another room. This one with all the minimalism of a Japanese hotel room and the charm of a late-period George Lucas film. This bed had straps, which was worrying.

Eich was doing something complicated with a computer terminal, centrifuge and a hypodermic while Jake sat, in crinkly paper pyjamas, waiting to hear his fate.

“Doctor, what even is this experiment?”

Eich babbled away while he worked, measuring and combining in a manner that suggested even he might be capable of happiness. “It’s an emotional inhibitor. A complex series of drugs working in tandem to alter your perception. To make your perception more objective without compromising your moral and ethical processes. We’ve had some very limited success but everyone so far seems to go mad for some reason. Not to worry, we’ve made adjustments.”

Jake fidgeted, playing idly with the buckles on the bed straps.

“Why would they go mad?

“Most people,” Eich mumbled, decanting the mixed fluids into the hypodermic “live their lives in a glorious state of delusion. Everyone has degrees of pre-existing bias and many of these are very important to them. Strip away their subjectivity and – I suspect – the world no longer makes sense to them.”

“And why would you want to do such a thing?” Jake swabbed his own arm where it was dotted with marker pen, ready for the injection.

“Can you imagine?” Eich wrapped a rubber tube around his arm and held the needle ready. “Truly objective scientists, truly objective diplomats, millitary advisors. Even soldiers? Police who could make truly rational choices about when to shoot and when not to? The advances in science alone would be enormous and whole fields would have to be excised or rewritten. Sociology for a start.”

The doctor sniffed arrogantly and plunged the needle into Jake’s arm.

“There, much of these molecules are chemically similar to opioids, so you should be fully ‘in state’ in about two hours. Let me just strap you down and I’ll come back then.”

Seeing little reason to fight, Jake lay back, closed his eyes and waited for the drug to take effect.

***

The bright lights, he supposed, as he opened his eyes, were meant to simulate the sun. There were no windows in this block so the light must be important. It could have psychological and health effects so if they wanted a baseline it made sense to reduce such stresses.

The straps were not right, one was tighter than the others and now his hand was sore, to go with the throbbing ache in his throat and stomach that never really went away.

“How do we feel?”

Eich looked terrible. Jake was aware, instantly, of every imperfection in his face. Every line, every wrinkle. He’d known Eich was psychotic but he could see it now, immediately, dead eyes, a mouth that could approximate a smile but never mean it.

“This is interesting Doctor. Very interesting. You look terrible by the way. I suppose I had built up a certain image of you these past few weeks but I see you now. You’re just here for the job, it doesn’t really mean much to you. Nothing does.”

Eich frowned a little uneasily.

“I see every pore Eich, every line, every wrinkle,” Jake pulled slightly at his straps, staring at them left and right with curious intensity to take in the stitching and fastenings before he leaned back again into the pillows. “I feel every thread in these sheets. Every imperfection. It’s like I can see everything as it really is. No beauty, no blindness. Everything is filth and bacteria. Everything is slowly dying. All that stuff we deliberately forget every day to get through our lives.”

Eich bent down and scribbled his notes with a biro on his note pad.

“The ball in that nib has a slight imperfection, the variation in sound is unbearable. That paper’s recycled, rough, it’s like sandpaper on my ears. None of this matters, but it’s unignorable and I don’t feel the need to stay quiet about it.”

Eich made another feverish note and opened his mouth to speak. Breath wheezed in ageing lungs, lips cracked, spittle stretched disgustingly, his meaty tongue twisted behind his yellowing, crooked teeth.

Jake interrupted. “The other test subjects killed themselves. Didn’t they,” it wasn’t a question.

Eich’s mouth flopped shut like a partially deflated paddling pool, teeth clicking. Then contorted his face into a jiggling noise box.

“Yes. They all did. The straps make it obvious I suppose.”

“That and if I wasn’t already at that point, I would want to. I know how insignificant we are. I know how pointless this all is. I know what you are really trying to do here and I know what’s pointless too. It’s not going to work Eich.”

Eich frowned and leant close, cheese wafting on his breath, his pulse audible as his heart sluggishly pumped that rancid stew he called blood around his veins. “What do you mean?”

“Objective soldiers? That was never your plan. Objective scientists? Perhaps. What you really want this for is governance. To control government, to make the best choices. It won’t work.”

Eich leaned further forward, there was a thumbprint on his glasses, each viscous, oily line looming in Jake’s vision like an oil-soaked cormorant. “Why not? Tell me!”

Jake turned his head away is disgust, but the faintly laundered smell of the pillow was little better.

“How do you think the ministers will react when you wheel out the Amazing Objective Man? To begin with they won’t believe you. If I live long enough to be right they’ll get spooked. Each ideology will celebrate when I agree with them and ignore me when I don’t. Nothing will change except we’ll have some certainty that if we’d only done things differently we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in.”

“Surely we can convince them man! Think of the good we can do!” Eich was almost apopleptic, and he was lying.

“You don’t care about the good Eich. You’re a sociopath, remember? You’re into it for the fame. You think this is your ticket to history and a justification for your inhumanity. You’re not objective Eich, you’re unfeeling and you haven’t thought this through.”

Eich stepped away from the bed, twisting this way and that, chubby, filthy little meat-tentacle clenched into nascently arthritic fists. “There must be a way…”

“Eich. The poor vote against their own interests. Governments ruin their nations in pursuit of ideological purity and cling to beliefs long after they’re proven wrong. Rationalists and pragmatists have always been ignored. Why would I be any different? Why would you be any different? They’ll kill me as a threat and then kill you. You know it. This is a miraculous dead end. It would be like being the only sober person in the car when nobody else will let you drive. It would be heartbreaking. Even for you.”

Eich’s shoulders slumped and his head hung low.

“You know what this drug does. You know I’m right. The only way out for us is if the drug fails. You’ll have to kill me. Humanity will just have to muddle through. Let them have their illusions and delusions and hope for the best. If you know they’re wrong, utterly, completely, it will only bring despair.”

Eich shuffled back to the bench and drew air into an empty hypodermic.

“You’re right. Of course.”

“Of course.”

There was nothing else to say.

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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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Please see disclaimer*

Flush with success after rooting out thought-crime recidivist Jonathan ‘Paltrow-Fucker’ Ross and stringing him from the gallows the Committee for the Unification of Narrative Tropes has begun turning its eye on other problematic areas, such as ancient myth.

Committee chair Zutana Alors explained the committees priorities thus:

“For millennia now classical myth has exerted a strong, exclusionary and problematic influence over multiple cultures and has cast a long shadow over all fiction. By attacking the root cause of these particular tropes we hope to eliminate a great deal more problems before they start. Much of ‘science’ fiction and ‘fantasy’ takes its cues from these sorts of stories and changing them should eliminate a great deal of offensive material.”

Pressed for further details the committee released a preliminary report on the changes they’ve decided to make, specifically to Greek mythology.

  • Race is an issue, all the characters are Greek. To fix this people of all ethnicities will be introduced into the mythology, over-represented compared to contemporary demographics to compensate for millennia of literary oppression. The only remaining Greek character is Hades, who will double as a symbol of hegemonic white oppression over that period.
  • As a symbol of beauty Aphrodite creates unrealistic expectations and hence body issues in many young women. As such she is to be replaced by a genderfluid, pre-op, plus-size, disabled transwoman with special needs. This will demonstrate that anyone can be sexy and that everyone is deserving of love.
  • Ares is a phallocentric glorifier of violence and destruction. He creates a problematic template for toxic masculinity. Changed slightly, Ares will make an excellent figure of fun and a cautionary tale to be avoided. As such he is now a buffoon with a giant cardboard sword and is to be renamed ‘Dudebro’.
  • Theseus and the Minotaur has been deemed to be prejudiced and triggering towards Otherkin (those who identify as having animal souls) and will be rewritten into a peaceful encounter wherein Theseus and the Minotaur engage in a long debate. After the debate Theseus will check his human privilege and come to an understanding of his innate, subconscious prejudice to the non-human community.
  • Zeus is also a deeply problematic figure as a womaniser and serial rapist. As a model the committee has looked at how to correct the story of Leda and the Swan. In the new version Zeus approaches Leda respectfully with no obvious intent of seduction or physical intimacy until she expresses a possible interest. They undertake a journey to visit Eunomia, goddess of law and justice, where they draw up a contract of consent before their coupling. Leda changes her mind and says no, Zeus respects that and returns to Olympus. This has required excising Helen of Troy from the canon, but as – like Aphrodite – she presented an unrealistic, platonic ideal of female beauty – this saved even more bother.

The committee was asked by a member of the Culte de la Raison who attended the open meeting why they were devoting so much time to rewriting fictions and where the harm was in what were obviously just stories. He was informed that words hurt before being dragged outside by the Revolutionary Guard, all the while protesting the need for empirical evidence. He was then beaten to death with typewriters to make the point more emphatically.

*Definitions of liberty and equality may vary, fraternity includes sororalty and all points in between. One liberty per customer – to be determined by the committee. Some are more equal than others. Dictionary definitions not accepted. Semantic arguments not accepted. Allegory, metaphor and problematic characterisation or situations not covered. May cause ideological fanaticism. Side effects may include loss of humour, ‘triggering’, excusing bigotry from traditionally oppressed groups and emotional blackmail.

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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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I think my next project, once my brain sorts itself out, will be a collection of short genre-erotica. The idea’s been teasing at me and I intend to do the same sort of format that I did for the pulp stories. That is, approximately 6k stories with approximately 1.5k word ‘episodes’ in four parts forming the story as a whole. I don’t know if I’ll post the pre-edited versions here as I did before, but I might.

The current plan, subject to change, would be:

  1. The Other Woman – An espionage story about a female agent of particular talent and deadly ability.
  2. Tiger Bone – An adventure story about tourists running afoul of tiger poachers.
  3. The Lady in the Castle – A fantasy story about a spoiled brat of a maid waiting in her tower for her prince to come.
  4. Cold Hands – A horror story or ‘paranormal romance’ in which a woman takes a vampire for her lover but things don’t turn out sparkles and rainbows.
  5. No Refuge – A ‘grande guignol’ mystery in which an adulterous lover is betrayed by his unconscious mind.
  6. Heart of Glass – A detective story in which our detective tries to track down a gang of jewel thieves known for using sex as a weapon.
  7. Have a Heart – A science fiction story about a jealous robot.
  8. Conqueror of the Clouds – A steampunk story of an amazing airship and its unconventional captain.
  9. Iron in the Fire – A western story about an ambitious saloon girl dealing with her competition.
  10. Debt before Dishonour – A fantasy story in which a sell-sword finds himself on the slave blocks of Khem.
  11. The Ambassador – A science fiction story about the obsequiousness of humanity in serving a more advanced race.
  12. The Suitor – A horror story about a very persistent suitor.

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I completed a set of short stories and my first novel this year. Not all of them are up for sale yet but some are and they might make good stocking-stuffers for people you know with kindles, tablets and all that mularky.

Perfect for reading on the train, at lunch or anywhere else you can grab a few spare minutes to plunge into the imagination.

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51klgn%2BocCL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgAce Slamm: Space Bastard

Years after World War 2 was interrupted by a space invasion, rocket pilot Ace Slamm finds himself approached by three strange individuals. They want to buy a ride on his ship to Dyzan, the counter-Earth. The scientist, the feisty beauty and the sportsman are hell bent on getting to that blasted planet, but their steps are being dogged my a mysterious man in a shining metal mask.

Amazon

https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51wdzMkL18L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgMimsy Burogrove: Psychedelic Detective

In swinging London, consulting for the police on strange cases, Mimsy operates out of her trendy flat. A heady concoction of mysticism, psi and LSD gives her access to the psycheverse, a spirit-dimension There are things in the psycheverse that long to gain access to the real world as well and Mimsy may well find herself a conduit for evil spirits like Mean Mr Mustard.

Amazon

https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51GWRKQ7oqL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-58,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgThe Black Rat

The 1970s are a grim time in Britain. Power outages, the three-day-week and rife with police corruption and right wing violence. The Black Rat, a sort of ‘working class Batman’ takes to the streets to try and bring a little vigilante justice and payback for those the police have wronged.

Amazon

https://i0.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51crqHB5aZL.Image._.jpgDoc Osmium: Synchronius Maximus

Two-fisted genetic superman, Doc Osmium, finds himself inexorably drawn into a series of inexplicable and seemingly unconnected events. There’s more to it though and he and his new companion must find a way to navigate the strands of fate and probability and to overcome the odds.

Amazon

https://i1.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51NP%2BajE0NL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-59,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_.jpgTessa Coyle: The Obsolete Prometheus

After the atom wars there were few places left where there was true civilisation. Science City is one and it depends on its bleeding edge technology to survive. This super-science transcends ethics, physics and even reality and can only be constrained by The Science Police. When experiments start going wrong, electropunk heroine Tessa and her companion Robur are on the case.

Amazon

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