Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’


This is a golden age for reading. Book lovers have access to masses of stories in multiple formats at excellent prices, instantly available upon purchase more often than not.

Is it a great time to be a writer though? There are those who say it is, and there are those who say that it is certainly not. As I’ve said before, the truth of it is somewhere in the middle –  easier than ever to become a writer, harder once you are to be successful. In real terms I don’t suppose the odds have changed much.

A common conception is that once you have that publishing deal, that’s that. Win! A Malibu beachhouse awaits! In reality it’s just the beginning. The hard part is getting noticed, and that is where I’ve been struggling. My original fiction has not sold satisfactorily, despite being well received. Is it my name, which is all at once weak sounding, all vowels and soft consonants, too masculine (Guy) but also confusingly feminine (Haley)? Do I choose subjects that don’t appeal? Are the plots too complex, too simple, too dull? Are the covers bad? Are the books indeed just rubbish? This latter tortures many a writer in the night, believe me.

I have a sneaking hunch it might have something to do with the fact that in the course of one month dozens of genre books are published in English alone. Your precious novel is an ant in a giant tsunami of ants bearing down on a solitary aardvark who has only recently eaten.

I try not to dwell on this too negatively, but examine what meagre information I have to plot how I can do better. That is, after all, the only way to succeed. To that end I’d like to draw your attention to the reissue of Champion of Mars, out on Kindle with a brand new cover shamelessly designed to appeal to fans of The Martian, and I have no problem with that. The unsuccessful John Carter of Mars movie probably didn’t help this book, perhaps the surefire hit The Martian will?

Better than the cover is the price, for Champion of Mars is currently available for a mere 99p, or equivalent, from Amazon (UK, US and others). If you’ve not read my original fiction Champion of Mars gives good flavour of it. I like to think it’s a pretty good novel, and I offer these reviews on Goodreads in support of my claim. There’s more about the book on this page.

If you do enjoy it, do me a favour, tell your friends and rate it online. Word of mouth remains the single best way to get noticed. If you don’t like it, I invite you to do the same. Fair’s fair.

In the grim darkness of the 31st Millennium, there is even more war than in the grim darkness of the 41st Millennium, ain’t that a fact? I’ve been lucky enough to write a piece set in this period of galactic-scale civil war, and it is published today! Friday the 14th will forever be remembered by me as a day of firsts. Strike and Fade,  my first Horus Heresy piece and my first audio drama, is story fourteen on the Black Library’s advent calendar, a war-packed countdown to Christmas penned by the brightest and best in BL’s firmament of writerly stars (and, er,  me).

There have been some fantastic pieces this year. Each story is around 1000 words long, with the occasional audio, like Strike and Fade, salted in for extra spice. This is short Warhammer and 40k fiction at its most exciting; pithily told and as sweetsome as a Christmas chocolate, and boy, are there are plenty of nice chocolates in that tin. Go and check it out!

This is the latest in a string of Black Library stories and novels you’ll be seeing from me over the coming year, some of which I have revealed earlier on this blog, others are hush-hush, top-secret, so don’t ask. The pace is picking up, and stories will be arriving thicker and faster as we go into spring.  2013 is going to be an exciting year, and I hope some of you feel inclined to join me there.

And yet, spring is a ways away, so if Strike and Fade whets your appetite, you can always try my Blood Drinkers story,  The Rite of Holos in Hammer and Bolter 24. Or perhaps I could tempt you with some of my non-BL fiction? Freebies on the drop-down “Fiction” menu at top of the site, and details of my novels down the side to the left.

This is one of my earliest surviving short stories. I have always wanted to be a writer, but I can pinpoint two phases that set me on the path to being one – when I became serious about it in 2000, and when I became really serious about it in 2005.

This story dates from that second, super-serious time, when I decided that as well as trying to write novels, I should also write short stories alongside them. I thought they’d prove a valuable training ground, which is pretty much what everyone says, and they’re right, mostly because you can actually finish a short story in something less than a lifetime, and if it sucks, it’s not too disheartening. “She Said” is an early effort and fairly clunky because of it, so I hope you’ll forgive it its inadequacies.

The story itself was inspired by the Outer Hebrides, particularly the Isle of Lewis where I spent several booze-soaked holidays in the 2000s , fishing and pissing about in boats.

You can buy more of my short fiction at the Robot Trading Company.

She Said

“Let’s go,” he had said one day. “We have to, now. Please. You know we’ll be safe there.”

She had dreaded the moment, knowing what it meant. He’d always wanted to go away from their jobs, their friends, their families; away from civilisation, away from all she knew and loved. He’d bought the cottage years ago. He’d always dreamed of living there, but had never done it, because of her. But now it was his turn. He had an excuse, a real reason to go, and she had no choice but to follow; she was scared.

They sold everything, and left. Far, far north they went, as far away as it was possible to get before the land ran out for good and the cold ocean went on forever. Twelve hours by car, three by boat, another hour again by car. To the isles that fan out from the mainland, far from the sun, far from the warmth; far from everything. Their house was miles from town, high above a sea loch whose steep sides sheered through heather and grey stone to plunge nearly vertically into the cold and ravenous sea.

He was happy there. He loved the solitude, the quiet. He loved the mist rising from the water in the morning, he loved fishing for his own food from his own boat. He enjoyed not working in an office, loved the feel of the open air on his face, no matter what the weather. He enjoyed wresting enough hay from the ground to feed their herd of animals over the first long winter. He loved the never-ending days of summer, the clear skies at night, the changing face of the sea.

She hated the bleakness of the land, the nudity of the earth, the surly, mealy-mouthed locals who were watching their way of life be usurped through the amber tint of a whisky bottle. She hated their prying, their hypocrisy, their lassitude. She hated the frequent rain, the constant wind, the way the temperature rarely broke into double figures. She hated what it did to her body. She hated the silence, the biting insects, the endless nights of winter. She hated the ugly clothes she had to wear and the way they were never dry. She missed the noise. She missed her freedom.

“This is the way to live,” he’d say, his smile broad and satisfied as they ate. She’d rarely respond for fear he’d see the lie. She never had the appetite for the fish before her. Soon she stopped replying altogether, he was blind to her suffering.

But still she stayed. She never went back to the city. She knew he was right. The crackling picture on the television brought the news of slow defeat. The broadcasts were optimistic, but he could see the patterns, and so could she, she didn’t need him to point them out anymore. Things were coming undone.

Two years passed, years that brought summers of baking heat and winters of endless rain to the south, though the lives of her friends went on as normal despite the little hardships which multiplied, unchecked, like cockroaches. It was not to last.

In the spring of the third year, in Africa, the bird sickness finally took hold, thwarting the measures that had contained it for a decade. Quickly, it blossomed from a seed to a deadly harvest, laying low millions already ravaged by AIDS and TB. And the disease changed, the bodies of the dying incubators for a hundred subtle new strains. One was unstoppable. The healthy began to die. All who were infected died. A state of emergency was declared. Troops panicked, thousands were killed. The UN descended upon the continent. For a time the sickness was contained once more, but not by vaccination or screening. Ruthlessness became the norm. Villages filled up with the dead, towns became ghost-towns, cities became villages.

Travel was circumscribed. Trade faltered, the world economy wavered. Fuel became unaffordable. War broke out in the middle-east, a surgical strike that became inflamed to engulf a region. Half a continent was under arms. America’s empire grew unwillingly, blood being traded like for like with oil.

The weather worsened. Famine exacerbated the sickness. The sea was rising, coastal communities were torn and scattered by storms whose uncommon ferocity became commonplace. New Orleans was inundated, never to rise again. Hong Kong was swamped, Shanghai began to sink. The monsoons failed in India.

Life became harder on the islands, they began to grow much of their own food, where it would grow; they had no money to buy the goods in the shops. The winds grew stronger, the seasons more erratic. Still he came in from the fields and sea so happy, proven, secure. He began to work together with others, some new like them, fleeing before the crisis; many others who were returning. The withered stumps of ancient family trees flowered again as families from the mainland crammed into the long, grey houses of neglected relatives. She had friends now, of a kind, but she could not engage with their flinty pragmatism, their grim joy.

The economy of the world reeled. Martial law was declared in China, flocks of birds were gassed, whole cities razed at the first sign of the sickness, the gun became the only arbiter of any argument, and all arguments concerned infection. In Russia, impoverished citizens fell by the score. Europe braced itself, Asia suffered. Africa died.

A wave of millennial madness washed the island; on Sundays, the churches were full.

It had come at last, the ’flu, crossing the English Channel eighteen months after she had followed him to the islands; just as the scientists had predicted it eventually would, just as the politicians had said it wouldn’t. It spread from the east, breaking in waves of death over the few barriers the governments of Europe could muster. New and potent vaccinations were hastily concocted, only to fail within weeks as the virus changed again and again. Sometimes it was quicker than at others, sometimes slower, but almost always fatal. Society began to break down. A third of the world’s people had perished. Isolation was the only real defence.

The trips to the supermarket in town stopped altogether, there was little point, its shelves were empty. If they went anywhere, they went by boat under sail and oar. The electricity supply became intermittent, to finally cease a few weeks after the television went off air. Elsewhere, anarchy reigned.

“We’re stockpiling refrigerators at the school, we’ll use that as a food distribution centre, there’s enough energy for that,” he explained happily. “In a few years we’ll be able to rig up more wind turbines. We’ll just have to make do with oil lamps until then.” It was his latest project, power. He was active in the islands’ ruling council.

All their food now had to be torn from the infertile earth or the fickle waves of the sea. Sometimes they went hungry, but not often. The ancient ways of the islanders had almost gone, but not quite. Old techniques were recalled, old ways re-mastered. It was a hard life, but they were alive. Only the ugly scenes at the docksides and on the waves as refugees were turned away marred their triumphs. Sometimes they were not turned away, though they did not set foot on the shore.

But it worked, that and the culling of birds. The sickness did not come.

“I was right, love. I was right, and we are safe,” he said to her, holding her tight in the cold night. “When this is over, we can make a new world, love, a purer world. A better one.”

He slept soundly, his warm arms clasped tightly about her. She lay there, eyes open, unblinking, listening to the wind howl in from the sea to screech unimpeded over the hard stone and sodden peat of the island. The ancient zinc roof rattled. Sleep did not come, it never did.

She awoke early after a few hours of snatched, grey rest. It was late summer, she knew, though she herself had stopped counting the days long ago, for the room was full of light, the island’s harsh light that pressed down mercilessly through the flat sky for twenty hours of every day. She looked at her husband’s face: bearded now, craggy, all softness burnt from it by the wind and sun. The city worker he had once been was long gone. His cracked hands curled a little, and he smiled as he slept. He looked like a stranger to her. A dull pain passed through her heart.

She rose quietly and went outside. The sun was coming up, low in the east, breaking over the cloddish mountains of the island’s interior. Below pink clouds the sun’s rays coloured the newly ordered fields a subtle copper, and the long, pale grasses of the moors danced like light reflected off gold. The sun struck off the loch, turning the surface of the water into a sheet of hammered silver. Sometimes, like this, she almost found it beautiful.

She squinted against the sun. Upon the mirrored water was a dark shape; a boat. It was coming in to land. Slowly, she picked her way down the steep hillside and then onto the road, walking along crumbling tarmac towards the loch’s small and awkward harbour.

By the time she arrived, the boat was hard to the concrete jetty, built years before for long-gone fish farms. It towered incongruously over the stone piers beside it, their construction identical, only their various states of disrepair hinting that some were centuries older than the others.

The boat was large, almost a ship. How the crew had got the fuel to bring it here she could only guess. Hollow-eyed men cast desperate glances about as they tied up. They knew that they would be driven off if seen. They shook with exhaustion as they spoke to her. They had come from The Netherlands, they said, their voices thick with foreign sounds and unspoken fear. Much of the country wasn’t there anymore. A week-long gale had battered the coast, a storm surge had flooded old lakes and inland seas; a second had followed within months. There were not enough healthy people to rebuild the dykes, all were dead, or fled, to perish elsewhere.

She looked at their faces, pale with stress, dark with stubble. They were too weak and haggard to be a threat, though they would be judged one. They pleaded with her, begging. They could make a life here, contribute. They had skills the islands could use. This one here, an engineer, another, him, a fisherman. Just feed them, if only a little, and they would be strong and productive.

She should raise the alarm, she replied. She should have them chased away, they were afflicted with more than tiredness. She could see that, others would see that. One of the Dutchmen began to cough violently, barking almost, his mouth biting at the air for breath. A concerned man held him up; it could have been his brother, they all could have been his brothers. Dirt and desperation had made them all the same.

It fell silent, but for the lapping of the water and the wind in the heather. A small wave broke over the foundation stones of a new pier. It was difficult work, it had been washed away once by a ferocious squall, but the men were confident it would be done by the winter. They laughed about it.

A cloud passed over the sun. Cold shivered up her spine, it was threatening rain again. She would have to work quickly today; and the next. The work was never done. She looked at her hands, they were filthy, her nails cracked. They had been elegant once.

Somewhere out in the loch, a seal splashed.

She thought of the man she’d seen hanged a week ago, for stealing a sack of oats.

It was almost beautiful there.

“Come in,” she said. “Come in.”

Hi there folks. Short post today, in the latest Morpheus Tales Supplement, Reality 36 gets a glowing review. They even call me a visionary! I don’t think that’s ever happened before. It should have, dammit.  When 800-foot high statues topped by  my beaming face adorn golden palace-churches the world over, this moment will be remembered with solemn respect.

Sorry. A touch of 2012 megalomania there. I will flagellate myself into a humbler state of mind while you download the magazine for free from here. (The review of Reality 36 is  in issue #15, which is the one at the top).

As promised a few days ago, here is a sample of Champion of Mars. I throw it onto your tender mercies at no charge.

Perhaps a little background to the book is in order. Although Champion of Mars is coming out from Solaris, it is set in the same universe as Reality 36. One third of the book is set in 2107, 22 years before the events of Reality 36, at a time when AIs are still commodities to be owned, the Five Crisis is still a raw memory, and the Class Seven has yet to be built. Click on the image to the left for the publisher’s lowdown on the story. You certainly do not need to read Reality 36 to enjoy Champion of Mars. There are none of the same characters in it, and it’s set on a different planet. But if you did read and enjoy Reality 36, there’s some special treats in here for you, including a little more information on the Five Crisis, and some other things that I will keep to myself for now.

The story has a somewhat unusual structure, as it begins as two stories – one set in the near future, the other in the far future – bridged by a series of short stories. What relevance the shorts have on the main plots will become clear as you read the book (at least, I fervently bloody hope so, or I’ve stuffed it up), but the idea is to  give you a rich reading experience covering tens of thousands of years of future Martian history.

As you can guess, the book is inspired to a degree by Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. Other ingredients in the stew are HP Lovercraft, William Hope Hodgson, H Rider Haggard, and of course, Michael Moorcock, whose work stands over mine like the Colossus of Rhodes. There’s no escaping that.

There’s a lot I want to say about this story, but perhaps we’ll save that for nearer the release date, which is, incidentally, 10th May 2012.

As a taster, here are the first two chapters as a simple word file. Fittingly, the first introduces the titular Champion, Yoechakenon Val Mora and his lover the spirit Kaibeli. In the second you will meet Dr John Holland, an exobiologist on the run from his past, and our hero in the near future segments.

Please bear in mind that as I post these chapters I am still writing the book (indeed, I have yet to write the finale). I have redrafted these chapters four times now, but there’ll doubtless be another pass. Furthermore, as yet they’ve had no editorial input, and no proofing. This means any errors are mine and mine alone, but also that, putting it concisely, the finished product may differ from that seen at this early outing.

Anyway, please let me know what you think! There are comment boards and everything here. Use them with abandon.

Champion of Mars free sample.

This piece is from Death Ray 14. Only a few of these left now, these old Deep Thoughts, I shall have to write something new soon, perish the thought.

Magic science really does wind me up. Except in Doctor Who, I can forgive the Doctor. There are innumerable examples of it – I don’t mention The Core, The Day After Tomorrow or 2012 below, for example. And although I freely own sometimes it is necessary to make a plot point (or create a parable, as below), a lot of the time it is lazy and, dare I say it, extremely rubbish. Bad science enshittens SF as much as bad writing. That’s right, enshittens.

The Magic of… Science!

Genes that can turn the evolutionary clock back! Radiation that gives you superpowers rather than cancer! Chemical rockets that can fly to a distant star system before everyone dies of old age! SF is rammed full of such magic science, and by golly, it gets on my goat.

Science fiction does precisely what the name says, it is fiction, with some science (though if we’re talking about the likes of Greg Egan, it is science, with some fiction). Except when it doesn’t.

The fiction part means we should expect reality to be bent, or broken, especially if the author wants to explore an intriguing concept or put forward a metaphor exploring one aspect of the human condition or another. This humanist side of SF is essentially fantasy, concerned almost solely with the soul, so it’s excusable. I doubt Stan Lee really believed that Peter Parker would turn into Spider-man when bitten by a radioactive spider, or that Richard Matheson thought a man could actually shrink, but these stories are not about those concepts, the concepts are only plot devices to help the authors get to what they really wanted to talk about: dealing with power, and dealing with losing it. Such things are the giants and the magic swords of modern-day parablists, and we can forgive them that.

But SF is not just the inheritor of yesteryear’s fantasticalities, it is more than Jonathan Swift with rocket boots. Some ‘scientist’ SF deliberately sets itself up a soothsayer for modern times. And this is good. Sure, people like Arthur C Clarke got it wrong a lot (a prime example would be his lunar dust seas in A Fall of Moondust) but at least such things are genuine ‘What ifs?’; solid speculation built on the theories of the time, and, do you know, they are occasionally right.

‘Magic Science’ then, is where the story insists it is doing the latter, does not have the insight of the former, and ends up peddling technobabble nonsense in place of both. Magic SF is not as clever as the scientist variety, or as wise as the humanist. Its tricks are neither the fantastical or the logical, but manufactured from ideas spun off the real or almost real, often giving us something that we know already to be rubbish. Mostly to provide some kind of backdrop to ongoing, inter-character wranglings. SF soap, with spangly lights of fake science.

TV SF is the biggest criminal here. Take Star Trek for example, if only because, until the late series at least, one week we’d get a solid, full on SF concept, like the Borg, the next, giant flying viruses (ST: Voyager ‘Macrocosm’, season 3). Now, forgive me, but aren’t viruses weeny, simple little things, and, um don’t possess things like stingers and mouths?

The very small components of biology were the source of much sinning until fairly recently. Take another Star Trek episode, ‘Genesis’ (season 7 TNG), where another virus (made of T-cells, big stuff at the time, and the inspiration for the Resident Evil franchise’s T Virus) interacts with ‘introns’ in people’s DNA to devolve them into creatures from their evolutionary past. Interesting. Hang on though, Lieutenant Barclay turns into a spider. I don’t recall the arachnid part of the human lineage, but never mind, because after a few doses of space medicine, everyone is just fine, with no after effects whatsover. This rapid there-and-back-again of total body transmogrification is a firm favourite of 90s SF, and it is, patently, nonsense.

All SF is a product of its time, and serves as an interesting historical footnote to the holders of hindsight. By which we mean, if a certain field is hot news, then it’ll crop up time and again in SF. It’s a trend thing.

Rapid advancements in biology brought genes to the fore, replacing a fear of the power of the atom, which in turn replaced a belief in it. So prevalent was the magic atom in the 50s and 60s that Matheson turned the ambiguous fog that starts the shrinking process in The Shrinking Man radioactive for its ‘Incredible’ film outing. Time marches on, and magic genes have begun to be replaced by magic quantum physics. I’d say nanotech, like that in the new Bionic Woman is also a contender, but though claims made for this are pretty crazy, their capabilities belong to some unpredictable Vingean futurity, so I’m going to let it off the hook.

Quantum shit, however, man that’s some spooky juju. Perhaps through quantum physics we will create Arthur C Clarke’s advanced, seemingly sorcerous technology. But then, confident assertions about the nature of the world to come are usually wrong. Ford made a mock-up nuclear car, after all (its proposed reactor sat waaaay behind the passenger compartment), and I don’t see those in the Tesco car park.

Once more, we have only fallen upon the quantum as it is newish and exciting, and, um very difficult to define.

SF reflects our fears and concerns in a mirror of current science, and in this case, it is the impact of each and every one of us on the world. Quantum physics says observe the world and affect it, our fear says our presence is harmful to the planet. Like Them!‘s radioactive ants standing in for fear of a nuclear apocalypse, blend quantum with green and societal fears and Donnie Darko, Butterfly Effect, The Fountain, The Prestige and even Back to the Future, are revealed as a kind of electric environmentalism, with misplaced humans rerouting their social ecology, sometimes consciously removing their worthless selves from existence.

This is scary science, science that can unravel the fabric of the universe. Though employed intelligently in the above films, quantum SF has the capability to be used in an even more magical way than the most outrageous DNA jiggery pokery. The sciences with the loosest parameters are the easiest to magic up, aren’t they?

Expect it on a small screen near you… now actually: Charlie Jade, Journeyman, Flash Gordon feature this in one cast or another.  All cancelled, interestingly. Perhaps high-end physics just isn’t sexy. (Yeah yeah, Quantum Leap, Sliders, Land of the Giants… They’ve all the alternate reality/ time-hopping thing before, but that doesn’t invalidate my comment that right now it is trendy).

Yes, all SF is speculation, some of it knowingly wrong, and it is entirely partisan of me to imply that magic science is only bad when used as a tool in bad fiction. But this is my patch, my rules. The futuremen will laugh up the sleeves of their togas whatever we dream anyway, saying it never happened like that, just as we smirk at the Victorian proponents of steam-powered velocipedes.

Then again, I’ve never said SF was actually about the future, have I?