Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Bad Blood (Flash fiction to see in the New Year!)

The boy sat on the edge of his bed, curtains drawn back to let the cool night in.  Before him the Milky-Way arced across the inky sky filling his view with infinite possibilities.  He would try and pick out the star clusters he’d seen in Nav class, the ones with habitable systems, but more often than not his eyes would land on a forbidden zone, a system of the barbarians.  He’d find himself staring intently at the regions he knew sat at the extremities of the spiral arm far beyond the reach of the Unified Worlds Alliance.  

The arc of starlight ended abruptly as the sparkling sky was swallowed by the glowering dark of the nearby mountains.  He sat with his legs dangling off the edge of his bed, arms by his sides each hand gripping the bedcovers too tight.  Still pondering what lay beyond the UWA his attention was drawn to a shooting star, that was behaving rather oddly.  The star he realised, was a small ship’s lights.  They had grown steadily and moved with unnatural speed to the mountains, then stood out in stark relief to the impossible blackness behind.  His heart skipped a beat as the unmistakably angry form of a Traphelen scout ship came to rest by the edge of the clearing at the end of his garden.  He watched as the ship went dark and a broad silhouette emerged and moved towards the house.  What could she possibly want? He thought, his heart racing, sweat trickling down his back.

Since the treaty of Europa they couldn’t eat humans anymore.  But that didn’t make a Traphelen any better company.  Not only did the older ones frequently speak about how delicious human blood was but they didn’t seem to understand social convention.  A Traphelen would frequently butt in mid conversation, speak over you or worst of all, stand too close.  Their deep cavernous mouths all teeth and salivation, assaulting your senses with hot and putrid breath, was too much for some people to handle.  Despite their own contempt for human civility the Traphelen were an acutely sensitive species.  So letting one know of your disgust was a dangerous move, cases to compensate for the loss of human life and Traphelen pride clogged UWA courts.  Had the species not become so completely mutually dependant the tenuous relationship could not have survived.

The boy stared hard into the darkness.  Star shadows cast by the long flexible umbilicals that connected his little home to the ship high above, swayed across the lawn. Shadows from the iridescent sky above refused to betray the Traphelen he knew was there, making her way slowly, inexorably towards his home.  Not risking a glance, he contemplated hitting the emergency evac button.  But curiosity prevented the sensible choice of return to the ship skimming the dense atmosphere to which he was being conditioned.  Instead his desire to know why she was there, drowned out the screaming inner voice to be winched to safety.  

Too late anyway, he thought as the unmistakable sound to suckers and tentacles scaling the wall drew nearer, until finally the head of the sanguinivorous creature peered over the window sill, and froze.  The boy gasped, then checked himself, remembering the lessons of inter-species etiquette at the academy.  Imagining himself in his future role as a space-liner captain he stood and straightened his pyjama top, before stepping back to the other side of his room and motioning politely for the alien to enter.  He was happy to have the bed between them and the door within a step behind.

Cautiously the Traphelen entered, she heaved her thick upper body through the window using her six sucker tipped tentacles.  Her slug like lower body followed, squeezing through the opening and thumping down onto the floor.  Four saucer sized, black eyes shone towards the boy.  Her massive dome of a head tilted to the side, the broad base hung open revealing a serrated series of fangs behind which a thick pink tongue salivated.  Drool splattered to the floor from her mouth and moisture began to trickle from the holes beneath her eyes - her equivalent of a nose, the boy observed -  struggling with the dry atmosphere of the human planet.  Two stubby vestigial arms flapped by her sides and she carefully extended a tentacle toward to boy.  Every fibre of his body screamed run, ancient instincts writhed within as horror boiled just beneath the surface. But he kept his breathing slow, projecting calm towards the huge black scaly monster in his bedroom.

“Welcome to my home.” the boy began carefully, “what can I do for you?”  Thankfully the reaching tentacle stopped just shy of the boys face.  He remembered his lessons and held his hand up, just in front of the sucker which began to pulsate sending a gentle waft of air onto his palm.  He then gave the necessary but odd reply of a vigorous wave wafting air gently back onto the sucker. 
“I have come to set you free.”  She replied, her giant slimy foot inching towards him, the bed being pushed to the side.
“What does that mean?”  he began, failing to hide his fear.  He stepped back, hand on the door, poised to push it to the side and run.
“Don’t be afraid,” the Traphalen continued as she approached, coiling two tentacles behind the boy, two more at his sides, two more just above his head.  He pressed the door hard to the side, it slid open but too late!  He tried to run and the Traphelen pounced, gripping him tightly.
“Let me go! You can’t do this!” he screamed as he felt the needles shoot from the centre of the suckers and pierce his skin.  The anaesthetic secretion that followed made him fall limp.  Supported only by the Traphelen’s tentacles, he hung lifeless like a marionette in the grasp of a grotesque puppeteer.

The boy awoke some hours later, as the first flames of dawn struck the upper slopes of the mountains.  He lay on his floor, and found a new sense of purpose and vigour coursed through him.  He took off his top and had a good look at himself in the mirror.  Two large bruises decorated his head, one at each temple, and four on his body.  Two on each side of his waist and two on his back, one on each shoulder.  They were perfectly circular with an angry weeping boil in the centre.  There was no sign of the Traphalen.

He surveyed his surroundings, the small room he called a bedroom no longer felt comfortable or safe.  The garden even looked shabby and sparse.  Beyond the clearing hundreds of identical little modular homes had appeared.  Each was connected to the sky via a thick swaying umbilical, and each consisted of a bedroom upstairs, a schoolroom with its glowing screens, below.  Had they always been there?  He shook his head trying to focus, his memories were shadows lost in thick fog.  But slowly the world began to take shape in stark, inhuman reality.  

It was as though a veil had been lifted and he saw his home for what it was, spartan, functional, a prison cell.  He looked again at himself in the mirror, not a boy but a young man stared back, muscular and scarred.  A landscape of old wounds told of a violent past that was slowly coming back to him as the effects of the bad blood lifted.  She had set his mind free but to what end?  His thoughts took some time to coalesce into a true reflection of his new reality, and soon he realised, there was a way out, but the road would be long.  The UWA or whatever they really were needed human pilots, and he was going be a damned good one.  He dressed for school, Nav class awaited.  Somewhere in those charts, deep in the forbidden zone, lay a planet of barbarians that one day he knew, he would once again call home.

                                             ~~~~ ############## ~~~~~

Thank you for reading.  If you enjoyed this, you might want to check out my full length novel.  DRYAD - a dystopian novel set in a future Earth, ravaged by climate disaster and ruled by tyrannical corporations.  A sinister force however, is pulling the strings - with an agenda darker and more twisted than anyone could possibly imagine....  

Amazon US:

Saturday, December 21, 2019

The Children of Oya (Flash fiction, ~1000 words in 1 hour max!)

Given the sheer cosmic vastness it was amazing we made it so long.  It was an evening like any other, the sun set and the night began its usual routine of hooting, whooping and shrieking.  My jungled valley echoed with the cacophony of nightfall, then fell silent.  Oya hit, all ten thousand billion tonnes of her, slammed into the dusty savannah of east Africa.  The great rift valley cleaved open, tsunamis of unfathomable scale swept across the Indian Ocean, vast plumes of dust filled the atmosphere and I felt a quake the like of which I’ll never forget.  
It was probably because of where she hit that humanity was so complacent.  When the scientists did their calculations we breathed a collective sigh of relief that Oya wasn’t going to destroy a great city, or the heart of some so called ‘civilised’ nation.  How stupid.  How quickly we unravelled and humanities’ inner darkness was laid bare.
I’m one of the lucky ones I suppose, being from one of those expendable, ‘uncivilised’ countries.  I’ve escaped the notice of the new regime.  So far.  Finally we have achieved a grand unification of all Earths’ peoples, just a shame its under the yoke of the worst dictator the world has ever seen.  He and his party, The Children of Oya.  They scour the lands, reaching out into the vast dark winter taking what they want from whomever they find.  I know this because I saw it.  Years back, when I was young and stupid.  I trekked for days, far to the north in search of something, someone, anything.  All I found was misery, endless gloom and freezing death.  A world abandoned, I cried for the echoes of the past.  Once lush and green the lands of Central America were lifeless and barren.  
Then one day I heard them.  A band of jolly travellers I assumed, how naive.  I was ready to greet them but paused when I heard the screams.  Blood curdling sounds of horrified women and children filled the air.  I cursed myself for cowardice as I hid, hunkered low in the dark beneath a rotting tree.  I’m ashamed I did nothing but wait for the misery to end.  
I skulked back home to the south, to my valley.  And here I have been since and would remain forever but for the news.  Two boys from the village have gone missing, two more said they saw them being taken.  The Children of Oya are coming.  What we have is meagre, but so far has sustained us.  Our small collective has survived on good will and good fortune but now a threat looms before us, both are in short supply.  Last night my spare blanket was stolen, I heard the intruder but did nothing, I was warm enough and assumed a fellow villager was cold.  But instead of a twig or a stone to symbolise who had borrowed it, there was nothing.  Inevitable I suppose, we must fend for ourselves.
As I survey the morning, the enfeebled sun illuminates the world to the point just beyond monochrome. Feint colours betray the line of people clanking and shuffling away to the south.  I see my red blanket pulled tight around a pair of shoulders.  Good luck to them, they are sensible and unwilling to risk the approaching hoard.  I however, have nothing left to lose, I lost my own family to the quake, my dignity and spirit that night I hid in the dark and now I suppose I will lose my life.  I’m not sure I really care either, which is odd but…
How can they be here already?  A group of men dressed in various versions of military uniforms from the time before burst into the village square.  Among them I see Enrique and Tobias, the missing boys, frightened and tired.  
“You there, which hut is your store?”  A huge man with a red beard and piercing blue eyes demands.
I motion to the store, a hut on the opposite of the square to mine.  Enrique looks up at me, his bloodshot eyes pleading.  I risk a look to the south where seconds before my red blanked stood out bright against the bleak greyness of the world.  Gone, thank god.  I need to make sure I stall the men long enough for them to get away.  The men thankfully miss my glance.  Sharp Enrique does not, he looks ready to burst but catches my slight shake of the head.  Not yet boy.  I will him to hear my thoughts, he’s a clever one and holds himself back.  Tobias looks ready to collapse, I catch his eye and force a smile that I hope looks comforting.  He grimaces bravely in reply.
“Where’s everyone?”  The large bearded man asks, yellow teeth flash and saliva sprays onto my face.  I flinch, men laugh.
“There is no one.” I say, willing Enrique and Tobias not to speak “There hasn’t been for some time.” 
“Liar! The boys are from here.” He strikes me hard across the face, I do not falter.
“Not here, somewhere else.”  This really angers him and I am hit so hard I fall backwards, thankfully towards my hut.  I just have to reach inside and I can get my knife.
“Where are you going old man?”  A boot follows and my ribs burn.  But I get purchase and my knife feels good in my hand,  I roll over and stand.  The boys look at me, faces contorted in surprise and concern.
“Last chance.”
I draw in a deep breath, fix Enrique with a hard stare, the boy clasps Tobias’ hand.  In a flash I strike and bury my knife to the hilt in the mans neck.  Hot sickly blood engulfs my hand, I yank the knife free and whirl to strike the next man.  The last thing I see is the boys racing across the square, I hear rather than feel my bones crack as my last breath wheezes from my body.

                                         ~~~~ ############## ~~~~~

Thank you for reading.  If you enjoyed this, you might want to check out my full length novel.  DRYAD - a dystopian novel set in a future Earth, ravaged by climate disaster and ruled by tyrannical corporations.  A sinister force however, is pulling the strings - with an agenda darker and more twisted than anyone could possibly imagine....  

Amazon US:

Thursday, December 5, 2019

There's Hope...

"There is hope for humanity!" I exclaimed to my mate (JB), whose patience is proving to be remarkably resilient as I bang on and on about Dryad, kindle stats, Goodreads, the next book, more ideas I have.. on.. and on... poor thing!  I was very excited though because he told me a comment had been added to the amazon review.  I checked it out and saw a stranger had come to my aid.  My new hero is the anonymous "Kindle Customer" who took the time to call-out the knee-jerk one star reviewer's political comment.  Whoever you are, thank you very much!  I heart Kindle Customer!

Needless to say it's been another roller coaster few days, I had a four star review on Goodreads! The comment left was amazing, and there are a few people who have marked Dryad as 'to read', or 'reading' I'm delighted!  To be honest delighted doesn't do how I felt justice, validated perhaps, maybe even worthy?  I'm definitely not getting carried away though, downloads have tailed off and I won't know how many prime downloads there have been or paperbacks have sold until the end of the month.  But it's wonderful to have had some positivity and provoke discussion! Makes me feel all authory... which is nice.. and worthy of a beardy chin stroke to try and look wise...

And that's the point I guess isn't it?  Putting positivity out there (not beards - although I am enjoying mine).  I feel humbled by the positive comments, goodwill and nice messages.  Also people seem to be genuinely impressed.  Which makes me weirdly uncomfortable.  Dryad has been part of my life, part of me, for the last three years and I always knew I'd publish it, one way or another.  Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful but I think I know the book so well, I know its not ever going to be considered as a great one, or classic SciFi.  I couldn't get away from the aspect of world building and setting up the story for the next two books.  Which btw, I am ridiculously excited about.  I'd like it to be considered as a good book though, because that's what I believe it is.  A good, solid story with plenty of action and a good message with a few hidden 'easter-egg' type things in there for the keen eyed reader (anyone been keen-eyed enough to spot the hidden woman staring up to the stars on the cover?).

It does work though, the positivity I mean.  What I have received has made me feel great but the knock on effect is I've been making more of an effort to put positivity out there too.  I've taken time to message a few people on the FB writing group I'm a member of to contribute to their journey, share ideas and lend support.... there is definitely hope, and not least of all for JB's ears as maybe one day soon I'll let him get a word in!

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Lone Star

What a roller coaster of a day!  I was probably the least productive I've ever been at work yesterday as I obsessively watched the download-o-meter tick over.  Dryad downloads were around 60 when I went to sleep on Thursday and I was jolly pleased with that.  But I leapt out of bed like an electrocuted cat when I woke up on Friday morning and saw downloads hit 600!  After a few minutes I had calculated how much that would have made me if I wasn't giving it away for free, extrapolated forwards, factoring in ten more books with a marginal percentage growth on each one - assuming I garnered a loyal fan base - and declared proudly that, this was most definitely "It"!  I could extricate myself from the oft degrading drudgery of the daily grind much sooner than previously hoped.  I skipped off to work a very happy man indeed.

The day continued on its upwards trajectory, downloads hit 800!  My extrapolation ballooned until in my imagined world I was off to buy a big house with a massive pool and commence snoozing in the afternoon shade.  So imagine how I felt when the ticker clicked over 1000 downloads.  Over a thousand in just five days.  I quickly googled "average downloads/sales for a book in a year" and began to feel nauseous with delight.  Not only had I just taken ownership of my actual dream and published my book, but I had done something sufficiently interesting to pique the interest of over a thousand people!

I had just started to think "all I need now are some reviews" when one came in.... my head began to spin, the floor began to wobble and my over inflated optimism went all Hindenburg on me.  A one-star review! To quote my gentle and articulate sister - "Whoever that was is a bell end!" - brilliant, couldn't agree more.  My instant reaction, who is this person? Why one-star? I read the review and it was blindingly obvious they had not read the book, and a quick look at their profile revealed they have a clear agenda.  So next logical step? I must destroy this person.... but then I paused, took a breath and realised something.  I liked the review!  I really wish there were a few 5-star's on there to redress the balance but I can't control that.

The review was basically a throw away remark that my book is Liberal and left wing... BRILLIANT!  The book is first and foremost a science fiction story.  It's also a projection into the future which is based on my opinion of the current state of the world.   It doesn't paint a very positive picture of our future, run away climate change, capitalism and cruel authoritarian conservatism on steroids are the backdrop to the story.  So I guess the reviewer has focussed on the setting as opposed to the story, the writing, or the emotion.... However, what budding hobbyist writer would not want to be put in the same bucket as some of the greatest Sci-Fi authors, indeed some of the greatest authors there have ever been and ever will be?!  Ursula K. Le Guin, George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley.. have written books considered to be liberal and/or left wing.  I am in no way comparing myself or my writing to them, but I feel utterly delighted that my book could possibly be considered through the same political lens.

I believe good literature should carry a message and that the value comes from provoking conversations and discussion.  Also in my opinion no other genre has more power to go deep into the world of "otherness" than science fiction, so by definition isn't science fiction inherently liberal?  If we act on instinct alone and remain afraid of everything and everyone who is different then what are we?  Isn't exploring how we interact with otherness, and talking about it what being human, liberal or otherwise is all about?   I think so, and am taking the review as a wonderful compliment.  It gives me credibility as a man with a message and that message is a good one.  I shall wear my lone star with pride, like a sheriff....  only less authoritarian of course....

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Stupid lens!

"Is it normal to feel petrified at this stage??" is the question I asked a friend of mine who had left a nice comment on my facebook post about my book. She has recently published an amazing children's book so she's well placed to know. Her single word answer, "absolutely" made me smile, abject fear is normal. What a relief. But it got me thinking, why feel this fear? I guess it's about not wanting your work to fail, but deeper than that it comes from feeling exposed. Writing a book has to have some personal elements to it as we all look at the world through our own lens. So by putting it out there you are letting the world in, to see parts of the world the way you do.

I was reflecting on this as I lay in the sunshine during my lunch break today. What is my lens? How much of my world view and subsequent writing is blurred by it? I think I look at the world through the combined lenses of pessimism and justice. I see the worst case of potential outcomes and frequently perceive injustice. Stupid lens! This gives me plenty of fodder for writing about post apocalyptic dystopia, but is not especially helpful in daily life!

This point of reflection has given me pause, I shall endeavour to focus on positives, and extrapolate to a good outcome and will not presume to be the arbiter of what's fair. I wonder if this will make me write about jolly nice people being jolly nice to each other, instead of badass heroines & heroes taking on dark insidious baddies in a corrupt unjust world,... oh no I'm already back in my happy place of misery laden darkness… stupid lens!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Opted Out!

Well that was weird, after thinking about the traditional publishing route for so long I decided to look more closely into self publishing on Amazon.  And I am very glad I did.  Its such an unfathomably easy process that before I really realised what had happened I had published my book!

I feel liberated! I have control over the realisation of my dream.  It is no longer being cast to the whim of an anonymous agent who can at the flick of a finger either accept the kind offer of 20% of all income in perpetuity or reject it without explanation. I am breathing a huge sigh of relief. After all I am under no illusions, I don't for one minute think I am the next Arthur C. Clarke (but I'd love to be, he was the best!).  I am a hobbyist author who has a full time job, two kids and a massive running problem.  So by self publishing online I have taken back control of my hobby and it is wonderful!  All of a sudden the purpose of it makes sense again.

I've been asking myself why do this, why write, where does the need come from?  Why agonise over having my story published?  I guess in all honesty it's not for me at all.  I feel like it's about legacy. Something that can exist forever for my children to really get to know me.  They can read my stories and understand my deepest thoughts, the innermost workings of my mind and wonderings.  And to top it all off I can look them in the eye when I tell them. - "Chase that dream and live it".  Having a dream is the most important thing, but you have to act to make it a reality.

All it took for me to realise I'm in control was to take that step to opt-out.  Opting out of the conventional, normal, expected approach feels great.  But perhaps I've opted-in?  Opted in to making it happen, and literally seizing the day?

Once the adrenaline has eased off and I stop obsessing over who has liked my facebook post, I will really have to figure out the rest of social media and how to reach sci-fi fans!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Query + Rejection = Misery

The misery of rejection, seems to be a skirted issue online.  Perhaps authors are worried that if they are too open about how miserable the process is, then their goal of getting their work traditionally published will be doomed forever.

It is however, a particularly odd emotion.  To have worked on crafting a book for many years, you have poured your heart and soul into it, suffered the crippling waves of self doubt niggling thoughts you're wasting your time.  You have finally finished, had great feedback, built up the excitement that your dream may be on the cusp of becoming a reality.  So you search for, find and research agents, learn and follow their unique and in some cases bizarre requirements for submitting, finally hit send and .... and... wait.  For a nauseatingly high percentage of submissions that's it.. you wait, and nothing.  Just a lingering worry that you've missed the reply in your junk folder, or haven't waited long enough before  going through the process again.  I'd describe the feeling as hopeful demoralisation.  You have to be ever hopeful or else you've given up on your dream, but you feel perpetually demoralised that you're still plugging away at something that seems increasingly impossible.  You become a very suspicious person, with an uneasy sense you're deluding yourself.

Like a great many people it seems, I have written a novel.  Its sufficiently good to have earned high praise from my editor, and family members (but I worry that those I have paid or am related to are not being completely honest) but not "good" (commercial) enough to have earned more than a polite "not for me, no thank-you" form email from a depressingly low percentage of queried agents.

So what's next?  I guess self publishing awaits, if I can scrape my wounded soul up off the floor for long enough to realise I know nothing of online marketing and am a mere fart in a hurricane on social media...

Bad Blood (Flash fiction to see in the New Year!)

The boy sat on the edge of his bed, curtains drawn back to let the cool night in.  Before him the Milky-Way arced across the inky sky ...