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?

Thursday, 6 September 2012

SciFi/Fantasy Challenge

So, here's my entry to Mr. Wendig's writing challenge for this week, the theme being an open ended sci-fi/fantasy kind of thing.

I'll admit that this is a draft really, with a few bits to hammer out, but let's see how it goes.

The reason: I did the too big for my boots thing and ended up trying to write a sci-fi meets fantasy thing. It was going very well, until I realised that I needed about 5000 words for any of it to make sense, or at least 2500.

This was something quick that I was able to knock together and I still found myself putting in loads of exposition... it's just difficult for me to avoid world building even when I'm very limited in word count.


Their footsteps seemed to multiply as they made their way down the corridor, the walls and floors and ceilings heavily accreted with the technological detritus of the Confederation; the whole place seemed to smell of alkali and the scent of flesh. Their progress was a cacophony, three figures walking in a procession down the corridor, each very different from the other.

Only Tribune Gold was not going to be able to leave though.

Ahead of her, the hulking form of Tribune Blue was marching with a sombre, leaden rhythm, his archaic, inscribed battlesuit nearly filling the passage, the gravsword Justice strapped to his back like he bore his own personal cross, the gleaming tip bobbing inches above the metal grate floor as he proceeded. Until four hours ago, Gold had looked very similar, her own aged battlesuit pitted and scarred with the souvenirs of ancient wars.

She, like he, had been Tribune; lawgiver, guarantor, leader... and ultimate sanction. A one woman army that could quell planets.

The party came to a junction place, a womb of steel and arcane circuitry, greeted only with the whine of high energy machinery as scanning laser fields enveloped the group. Blue's Ident Code came up, the Tribune Seal stamped by his name, venerable, ancient and respected.

Gold's details flicked up onto the screen a second after, the proofs of her identity erased now, her name reverted back to Police Lieutenant Lupe Vasquez, and her personnel assignment to ConFedBio now.

It was a mockery, a betrayal. She had given every day of her life from her twenty-fifth birthday to the Tribune Order, sharing the fellowship of her brother and sister Tribunes, facing danger and death in ancient, mysterious fighting machines and serving her star nation.

The last file to pop up was White, the author of this little charade. A traitor in the ranks.


Gold was considered a senior Tribune now, after more than a century of service, her background in policing and her administrative talents seeing her spend more time in her office in the Eyrie than out in the vastness of space. She had seen the writing on the wall when the Kinsey Group moved in on the military contracting, enlisting huge numbers of hopefuls for a vanishingly few Tribune positions, pulling strings to get political push behind their recommendations, running roughshod over the traditions of her brothers and sisters.

White was one of the new breed, a hungry probationary clique who sought only the first opportunity to claim a vacant Suit and carve their name in the stars. She was the kind of person Gold would have never let in the Order if she had her way. There was no other route to appease the worried Council though; no means of convincing them that the Tribunes, despite their strength, were not a threat to the Confederation.

Her hands were tied until they moved against her Order, until they finally broke the Oath of centuries.

It was ironic that even with the Oath broken, her hands were still bound, literally this time. Gold's lips quirked in a grim smile as she tested her shackles, her tall, heavily muscled physique straining and causing the metal of the restraints to creak.

White stepped back in shock and spat out a curse at Gold, the woman's tall, slender body dwarfed by the Tribune's enhanced biology. Gold could feel the fear radiate from the younger woman and enjoyed the sight of her betrayer reaching for her suppression stick in a classic panic reaction. She met White's gaze and bared her teeth in a grimace..

Only Blue's armoured hand on her shoulder made her look away and proceed further into the bowels of the complex.


Gold found herself in a surprisingly small chamber, made smaller still by the biological containment unit that occupied the centre of the room. Blue took up a position behind her, his massive armoured bulk stopping any chance of escape.

White had already crossed over to the control panel and seemed pleased with herself as the glass front to the oversized containment chamber slowly pivoted downwards. She was enjoying the chance to assert herself again as she sneered at Gold, looking up slightly at the bigger woman.

“You know, Gold, I thought you were supposed to be the smart one,” the blonde waved her had through the air mockingly, like she was describing a grand banner, her voice going wryly grandiloquent, “TRIBUNE GOLD! HERO OF THE CONFEDERATION!”

White's chuckle was ugly as she slapped a hand on the containment chamber, “Well, it's time for your well earned retirement... put out to pasture at last!”

A command brought up an armature studded with phallic shapes and entwined with skeins of cable and pipes.

“When I suggested to the ConFedBio archivists that they needed a live test sample to retro-engineer the effects of the Suits on a human body, they just snapped it up.” With a wave of her hand, White set the armature's protrusions to a slow, steady pistoning action.

“You're going to be their test bed, their plaything and their surrogate womb for the next hundred years Gold. By the time you're let loose, if you ever are, I'll have been Gold for too long for anyone else to remember otherwise.”


There was a bare shiver of movement behind Gold and she saw White stiffen in response to Blue's obvious discomfort.

White quickly tapped a command into the control pad and a synthesised voice filled the room, “Tribune Blue, dismissed. Please report to Eyrie command for debrief. Protection, service and honour, Tribune.”

White didn't even look up as she prepped the chamber, not seeing the reassuring squeeze of the arm Blue gave Gold.

“Protection, Justice and honour, Tribune,” Blue repeated, the voice from the suit speakers deep and rich with meaning, before he turned and left the room with a dull thud of a burden removed, his step noticeably lighter to her keen hearing.

Gold rolled her shoulders and smiled wolfishly at White's back as she waited for the penny to drop.

“Protection and... Justice?” White asked as she turned.

Tribune Gold was hefting Blue's massive blade in a two-handed grip, barely hampered by her shackles as she replied, “No, girl. Only Justice.”