Monday, 23 September 2013

What's Been Happening to Poor, Hapless James

1. I have been writing!

Some of these will not make it onto this site (too long, too crap or simply being shopped out to markets), but there have been the following stories produced. I'm even very proud of some of these for now:

A rewrite of “The Last Street Samurai” (from 1000 to 1500 words)
A rewrite of the story “Tribunal” (from 1000 words to 5000)
A story for the Clarkesworld cyborg anothology (in progress)
A crowdsourced story for my writing group (5000 words)
A short story competition for the writing group again (8000 words)
A bit of ongoing work on my novel idea.
A short story called “After the End” for the BSFA competition (5000 words, missed submission)

Some of these will find themselves on here in due course and I'm sure more flash fiction will follow.

2. I have been recording!

I am part of a podcast with some of my fellow writing group members and chaired ably by Michaela the organiser of the Cola Factory, which you can find here:

I'm not saying I'm magically charming and knowledgeable, but I like to think that the discussions are quite fun and relaxed. If you have any comments about anything I've said, just let me know; I'm always happy for a chat and enjoy the chance to talk about genre fiction.

So far we have discussed movies, books and the relative hardness of science fiction and the apparent absence of hard sci-fi. Also coming soon is a series of episodes featuring the Glasgow genre fiction scene and this chap and the prevalence or otherwise of zombies in fiction and, slightly differently, good zombie fiction.

3. Been reading!

Lots of stuff, but a (very) recent favourite was Deadpool, The Complete Collection, Vol. 1; made me laugh out loud several times this morning and, if you have a suitably absurdist sense of humour, is something I heartily recommend!

Also, I've been enjoying a bit of Stross, retreading over the Honor Harrington series by Weber, listening to Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan and finishing off the Vorkosigan saga. Very enjoyable and now dovetailing into a series of nonfiction titles.

PS. Listening to Morgan now and the reader is doing a purely comic delivery for a sex scene – been giggling for the last three minutes.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

The Hustler - Flash Fiction Challenge

Here's another flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig's Terribleminds. The aim was to write a 100 words...

And voila!

The Hustler - 100 words

“It was a pleasure, boys...” crooned the huckster, his smile gleaming white. He was sure of his victory, raking the chips back towards himself.

“BANG!” shouted the gun that Tyson pulled, his face a snarl in red and livid white. He was sure no oily huckster was going to fiddle him at cards.

One-Eye's knife said nothing as it sang its quiet song, coming to rest on Tyson's mottled throat. He wasn't sure about anything; still, he had the money he needed, the prisoner he wanted and the cheat's corpse at his feet.

Now, time for a drink.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Body - A Flash Fiction Challenge

A little while ago Chuck Wendig created a writing challenge to do with hiding the body. The challenge was called The Body (arrestingly enough) and I have tried to write it. As always, any thoughts are much appreciated.

This is well over 1000 words, but it feels like the right length, behold:

The Body

They called him The Watcher in the gallery because every day he would come and sit in front of the new reproduction of The Raft of the Medusa. This started at the opening of the exhibition on a Monday in autumn and lasted for many a long week, each day the gentleman showing up at the same time with a carton of juice and a small package of wrapped sandwiches.

Sometimes art students would come and sit next to him and regard the painting as he did, pencils scritching and sliding across heavy, creamy paper as they sketched a small part of a figure, or roughed out a detail of swirling sea and soaked, broken timbers.

Every now and then, he would lean over, look at the book and nod, smiling if he saw a figure from the scene rendered well, with the subtle vibrancy that Gericault had captured. For himself, he never drew the painting, just sat and regarded it, his legs crossed and his demeanour one of repose at a perfect ease.

In the same way as he sat and watched, he would stand every day, ten minutes before the gallery closed and walk over to the painting, looking in what was obviously plain admiration at the rendering of grey flesh on the drowned man in the lower left hand corner of the painting, the corpse depicted draped over the battered timber of the raft. He would then leave, and in leaving, pass the coffee stand as it closed up, politely and quietly asking for a fresh latte before he paid and took the drink out with him into the early evening air.


It had been a long two months for Livia, her heart still heavy from the brutal uncertainty of mourning in front of an empty coffin with her family. As she opened up her satchel and saw her drawing box, she felt tears sting her eyes, dashing them away with the backs of her hands as she sat, on a bench in the middle of the gallery.

Her tutors had been understanding, but she had to compile extensive sketches of this painting and write up her report before the end of the semester in order to avoid having to resit or do summer study. With the cost of the flights home for the funeral, she needed to be able to work all summer long to pay for the next semester anyway and now that Mario was gone, she would probably be glad of the company.

There was nothing to do but to work hard and aim for the best grades she could.


Turning to a new page in her sketchbook, she pulled out her conte crayons and got to work, her mind slowly clearing and emptying of all other things as she sketched and sketched, her mind away and quiescent as she let her hands find the shapes of the figures.

A guilty part of her knew that part of this escape was from thoughts of her brother, missing now for months, the subject of a manhunt that had briefly captured the imagination of the city before fading into the foetid wallpaper of urban life, his existence reduced to a few desperate flyers pinned to lampposts asking for information.

Still, she worked, sketching out the structures on the canvas, the famed triangular composition of hope and death and despair, the romantic loucheness of these naked figures, sprawled in mockeries of sybaritic repose, limbs tangled artfully and morbidly in the accidental embraces of death and suffering.

She smiled wanly and absently as her neighbour leaned over her sketchbook and nodded, smiling at the drawings pencilled there.

As he stood and made his way over to the painting, studying the figure lying drowned in the bottom left, she sighed and leaned back, rubbing her neck and taking a breather. She would carry on drawing the handsome corpse when he moved out of the way.


The tape was stretched across the gallery entrance as she walked up the steps, her brow creased in confusion as the police milled around in the foyer, their eyes dark and haunted as a black bodybag was pulled out of the building on a gurney. Beside her stood the gentleman from the bench in front of the painting, the carton of juice unopened and sticking out of a dark blazer pocket.

She paid him little mind as he sighed quietly and brushed past her, gently strolling across the grounds and out of sight as she tried to get the attention of an officer.

“Uh, can you tell me when the gallery is going to be open again? I don't want to sound heartless, but my degree is riding on this...”

The man she had asked demurred and shrugged helplessly, saying something about proper procedure and prints and evidence. She felt like she had been kicked. It could not get any worse.

She felt a hand on her shoulder and looked into the grey eyes of the detective her family had been talking to those months ago. He looked older now and unhappy, but still resolutely courteous as ever.

“You'll have to come with us, Ms. D'Angelo.”


She sat outside the precint, her face in her hands, and wept in deep ragged sobs, her sketchbook lying closed in her lap and anointed with the splashes of fresh tears.

The detective had explained in great depth but it was like a nightmare: the body had been found in the attics, lit carefully and arranged in the same repose as the figure in the painting. The flesh of the body had been dehydrated and plastinated, preserving it in mannequin like death, the skin tinted with balms and dyes to mimic the original image.

They had only found this out when the prism mounted to the back of the reproduction canvas had come unglued, leaving a dark hole where the drowned man should have been. Where Mario's corpse had stood in for so long, eyes closed and patient under the distant scrutiny of his younger sister.

As she blew her nose, she tucked the used tissue into her jacket pocket and felt a card in there, the plain rectangle of business card stock.

Pulling it out she stared at the neat, even type on the card, seeing the marks where it had been embossed, looking at it, but not understanding it.

“You drew him so well.”

Her screams brought policemen racing out of the precinct, their hands on their guns and panic in their eyes.

When they saw her, they could only marvel that the grey paleness born from the depth of her terror made her look like she had simply stepped out of the painting and into the world; drowned, but still breathing.

Why I haven't posted any stories for a while

So there. Dammit.

Monday, 24 September 2012


Well, in a weekend of mixed fortunes, I had a great time and got robbed.

I had been working on a story for the Terribleminds challenge and I'm not going to lie: I wasn't winning. I had to write about a Paranormal Romance/Dragon/Paris 1944. Well, I had an idea; I think it was a good one.

An older couple, entering their fifties, with a lot of history between them, not all of it good. It would be atmospheric, poignant, a bit different to most paranormal romance (handsome 20-somethings face banging in the rain or equivalent) and quietly charming. I'd write it from the position of the woman for a change.

Well, I must have a stunted imagination because I couldn't make it work; it didn't flow and on redraft five, I was resigned to the fact that I would miss the challenge deadline. But I thought I was getting there on that fifth draft. I was very close to the rhythm, to the gesture, the tension that I wanted.

Then, the house I was staying in with friends over the weekend was burgled. Ipod, gone. Camera, gone. Prescription sunglasses, gone.

Notebook... gone.


Anyway, I made peace with myself and went about the business of buying, in a truly extravagant shopping trip, most of what I had lost (sans glasses and camera).

I was desolate. Not because I needed the book to remember what I had to write, but because it kind of wounds the soul when something that personal disappears into the hands of cretins.

I haven't written much at all since. Not really sulking, but just jolted out of the tracks (and Chuck's challenge for this week holds no interest for me either) so I will wait for a day or two for my mojo to come back and then head out and find it if I don't.

On a happier note, the first half of the weekend was pure gold to be honest; well worth it. Also, just got a phone call suggesting that they may have found the notebook dumped by the side of the road a bit away from the house, so I may be able to get it posted back to me.

All is not well, but getting better.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Last Street Samurai

This one is a response to Chuck Wendig's challenge "A Game of Aspects"

I didn't do the random number generator thing as I wanted at least a chance of doing a complete entry by the deadline date.

Anyway, coming in at 1053 words, this is a story which incorporates Dystopian/Serial Killer/Fated to Die (not super original, but I love these tropes).

I hope you enjoy the entry - after my ramblings about punk this week, I'm backing myself to not look like a fool. Comments are more than welcome.

The Last Street Samurai

Glancing up through his sun-roof at the looming mirrored glass monolith, Poke shuddered and pulled his coat tight, the oppressive monsoon heat an increasingly distant sensation. The Blaze neurostim was kicking in as the precious seconds crawled past.

In the glare of night time city lights, the sharp profile of the ChrysTech building looked ominous as usual, poised to fall on city like the sword of Damocles. From the stuff in the files he had put together, this wasn't too far from the truth.

With shaking hands, he pulled out a baccstick, and put it to his lips Mixing drugs be damned, he needed to be sharp.

It was difficult to resist slamming the gas pedal down and powering away. They were running late and it was a slow torture to have to sit and wait; each heartbeat was a moment they weren't making distance, getting a lead.

The tension was shattered by a headless body fired through a fifth storey window in a shower of glass and blood. A second, similar figure was thrown out after the first and followed by a vision of menace in gold and carbon fibre. There was a vivid slash of glittering orange against the black night sky.

A spray of gore, five stories up and falling, signified end of mission phase one.


A parked FlightLimo four spaces ahead erupted into a fountain of blood, metal and glass as the falling trio slammed into it at speed.

Swallowing, coughing on nicotine smoke, Poke kicked the accelerator and his ride snaked it's way out of the parking bay. He pulled up to the impact site with a screech of rubber and listened to the rain of vehicle parts pinging off his new paint job.

Rolling down the window he saw the two ChrysTech security corpses were twisted in a gory confusion of car and flesh, a slender figure in a tattered haori and hakama straightening up amidst all of this and turning to face him, cybernetic limbs still shining beneath the layers of grime and ichor.

“You get the cores, Serial?” Poke asked.

His partner nodded and calmly made his way over to the car, stepping out of the wreckage and replying, “Acquired.”

There was a pause before Serial added, “We lost Honey to hostile action.”


Poke cursed and threw away his baccstick, eyes watering with a Blaze-enhanced rush of emotion that threatened to break him. He barely registered as Serial handed him a small bag full of military grade cores, the roughly excised jacks of their unfortunate operators attached, often still with a ragged ring of gelid, cooling flesh left on.

Poke held down his gorge and concentrated on getting the valuable cargo into the shockpod he'd had installed in the back seat, squeamishly prodding all the trailing leads into the container and getting it secure. He shot a dark glance at his partner, Serial Killer, as the hermetic seal hissed and beeped as the lock engaged.

All of the cybered set new that no-one did counter-intel like Serial, but few realised how apt this guy's name really was sometimes. He wondered what Honey's loss would do to the cyborg.

Sighing, Poke pressed another button and the passenger door hissed open, but Serial made no move to get in the vehicle. He seemed detached as he flicked the blade, the flakes of scorched blood fluttering out into the air; he seemed to be waiting. Poke wished he knew what this guy was thinking, but the ocular implants obliterated his expression and even the part of his face showing offered no clues.

Impassive and deadly, Serial looked every inch the grey operative, the tech mercenary, the hitman...

The swordsman.


“Get in, you crazy bastard!” Serial gave a little hissing grunt at Poke's wired, panicked tone, “We've got to get these out before they can get mercs of their own on the case!”

The swordsman paused then, suddenly poised like a hunter, and pointed to the comms scanner he wore, “Armoured reinforcements,” he offered casually.

“Come on!” Poke wailed, moving to open his door and remonstrate with Serial, “We've got to-”

He was cut off as a cold, metal hand forced the door shut against all his efforts. Serial was looking down at him, that creepily direct stare of someone looking through artificial optics. The swordsman seemed to almost hum with suppressed emotion, but turned away to look down the road, letting the sword rest by his side, ready.

“You will go, Poke. I have finished my part of the contract,” Serial seemed to weigh his sword in his hand for a second, before lifting his chin, “I must now seek to satisfy the demands of my honour.”

“Honey left something with you, I believe.” Serial said, not turning to face his partner.

Poke was white, sweating and at a total loss as he activated a hidden compartment, the pocket within holding only a tanto blade, sheathed in ebony and mother of pearl. He turned awkwardly and presented the weapon to Serial through the window.

His partner took it with a nod and a small, sad smile. Far down the road the lights and growling engines of the ChrysTech rapid response team began to stain the surreal quiet of this moment. To Poke, the smile was the most terrible thing he had ever seen on a mission; it was alien and strange on the usually impassive face of his partner.

“I shall buy you some time,” Serial said finally, sliding the tanto into his obi, tucking it beneath the mounting of his katana, making them both, again, a matched pair.


In Poke's rear view mirror, he could see the dwindling figure of Serial Killer silhouetted against the bright halogens of the pursuit vehicles. He watched the street samurai walk away from him and into legend, until he couldn't bear to watch any longer.

In his imagination, the roar of the engine sounded mournful as the car ate up the night, flying through the sleeping streets and open roads. It was a long, lonely journey to the rendezvous and the coming dawn, but he didn't hear the sounds of pursuit.

No one but Poke had made it down that road.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Steampunk and Other "Punks"

I've spent a few minutes over the last few days thinking about being a punk, or how being a punk might affect your life. This is mostly to do with how we tend to use the word punk nowadays and how the usage of the word within the genre fiction community is moving away from a sense of political comment and towards an emptier sentiment of the "cool-sounding descriptor".

To unpack that last sentence a bit, I think formulations that add the -punk suffix are turning into the same phenomena of describing weird things as "like [uncontroverisal thing], but on acid!" It's a hyperbole that no-one who took acid would see the same way as a credulous member of the public. Everyone would sort of know what you meant, but not many people would appreciate what that would actually be like.

For the sake of full disclosure, I'd like to point out that I don't have any problem with steam-powered swashbuckling adventure or whimsical clockwork flights of fancy or any of the wonderful and interesting tropes that Steampunk, Dieselpunk or Clockpunk bring to the party. I'd also like to admit to not being much of a punk at all; I just think that when you use a term as powerful and meaningful as "punk", you need to respect it.

So let's walk the line of nPunk, some words that have been punk-ified:

The Inkpunks - This is a group of authors, editors and creatives that features Sandra Wickham and numerous other likeable individuals. I can even see why there is some kind of overlap in terms of DIY type activity (crochet, craft and artistic projects). I have the least amount of problems with this kind of thing in the context of the above comments; it just seems like a snappy name, not a manifesto choice. (Feel free to tell me otherwise!)

Cyberpunk - This is punk, extrapolated. It was born in a time where a popular punk movement was being developed and propagated in wider social awareness; the themes of nihilism, political involvement, direct action, the opposition to oppressive forms of commercial and government activity, anarchism and the pursuit of an alternate lifestyle all seem to feature in the literature. It's not high philosophy, but has an authentic and believable attitude to issues the authors believe will proliferate and worsen over time.

The best addition to the genre, over and above the issues that were contemporary to punks at the time, was the question of humanity and where one drew the line between human and machine. I may be absolutely derivative and write acres of dreck whenever I try and address the subject, but it's still captivating.

Steampunk (and Clockpunk and Teslapunk and etc.) - Now here, I have a problem. I think it's best to chop the issue into bits:

1) I know it was a kind of joke name for a genre; I'm fine with people having a sense of humour about this stuff and I like a lot of the more swashbuckling adventures and other related fiction I have seen. This much is OK.

2) I don't know what Steampunk is anymore. That's not some kind of existential wail, it's just difficult to put it all into context. Is it a fashion and DIY-based movement with an aesthetic and a catchy name? Is it a genre of alternate histories around a common theme of the use of steam that tends to feature Victorian social mores and a basis in pulp novels and penny dreadfuls? Or is it actually capable of addressing serious social issues, bringing to light some of the political upheavals in the Victorian period and judging them against our own progress (or lack of it)?

3) Am I reading the right stuff? Am I just missing all the interesting works where serious issues are being addressed? I've enjoyed the Diamond Age, ripped through Retribution Falls and the Black Lung Captain at a ferocious pace, enjoyed The Native Star and have purchased the sequel and generally found the books to be good fun. I just can't remember any really serious examinations of race and class and gender; they all just seem to ultimately fall into the background of Victoriana; I can't remember reading Steampunk that had a punk sensibility.

4) Here's the root of it; why call something punk and then not treat it like the wonderful portmanteau of ideas it is? Many of the institutions the punks of the 70s and 80s were disaffected by (in the UK at least) were relics of Imperial reign; from the Queen, to the Parliament, to favouritism and the old-boy network, all were historical anachronisms. Do we say that we are the punks that write about steam, or do we let the iconoclasts of these fictional worlds have their say?

It's not an easy problem to solve and I'm not trying to denigrate a genre that many people are very fond of, but surely there must be elements that I'm either missing (so, please feel free to recommend something for me to read if you have any suggestions) or that have been overlooked in the pursuit of swash and buckle and high adventure.

Would you agree with the sentiment that letting the punk back into Steampunk can only enrich a genre which is in danger of becoming a description of the window dressing rather than the strange view into weirdly familiar and exciting territories that it could be?