Diabolical, I say! Diabolical!

I’m “And Others…” :)

I’m “And Others…” :)

Publication day again! This one’s been a long, long time in the works. In fact, I first wrote this two years ago for a Codex story competition - it took a long time to sell it after that, and once it was sold it was scheduled more than a year into the future. So I’m happy to see it emerge at last! Although it’s already been available as part of the DP Year Four collection, along with everything else scheduled for this year - click on the cover for more details! Or here, even!

The Coal Remembers What It Was has been described by someone with more sense than me as “Melancholy coal town working-class spec fic”, and by the editor of DP as being about “family, memory, and living fossils”. Which all makes it sound a bit depressing, but I promise you this: there are gigantic coal-based kaiju involved. In Yorkshire!

(It’s still a bit on the sad side. But kaiju!!!)


Last year, a short story of mine was published in Unidentified Funny Objects anthology No. 5. I must have been doing something right, because I've been published again in anthology No. 6!

The Breakdown of the Parasite/Human Relationship is an SF comedy about two people in a flatshare. Well, not exactly a flatshare. More a bodyshare. A human being has rented out his body to a an alien parasite so it can function as an engineer on a starship, but they don't see eye to eye. And the arguments aren't going to be about who does the washing up...

Unidentified Funny Objects 6 also features stories from a number of other very fine writers, most of whom are far more accomplished than me. There's Alan Dean Foster, for a start. Mike Resnick from Galaxy's Edge. Esther Friesner, Ken Liu, Jody Lynn Nye, Jim C Hines, Jack Campbell, Laura Resnick, Gini Koch, and more... oooh, there's lots of good stuff in there!

(I know because I read the proofs, and many guffaws were had by me)

Meanwhile, there will be news shortly about my story from last year. Stay tuned!

BUY UFO vol 6!

AMAZON US (print & ebook) - AMAZON UK (ebook only)

Or purchase this and other silly tomes from the publisher!


Perihelion: An Undiplomatic Incident

Perihelion LogoGosh, I've gone and done that thing again. That thing where I accidentally persuade someone to publish one of my stories! This one is at Perihelion SF, edited by the redoubtable Sam Bellotto Jr. It's called An Undiplomatic Incident and recounts the story of humanity's first test in interstellar diplomacy: figuring out what the aliens with the fronds of eyes are trying to say before someone makes a mistake and gets eaten. It's... a bit silly. So if you're interested in some humourous SF about humans and aliens trying to come to a peaceful understanding and negotiate a trade deal that doesn't involve a full and frank exchange of limbs, go and give it a read. It's free! (although if you like it or any of the other stories this month, please do feel free to donate!) Meanwhile, I'm still slowly recovering from heart surgery and feeling rubbish. But I'm almost used to the ticking noise from my new valve. Except possibly during those moments when my heart skips a beat, when I have a half-second panic while I wait for the ticking to start up again. Fun times! :)

Me and My Implant

On-X Aortic Valve I have one of these inside me. I can assure you that I didn't do it for fun. I did it because the alternative would have been a long, slow death. This was referred to as 'elective' surgery: I could elect to live or I could elect to die. I elected to live.

So why exactly did I need it? Well, my aortic valve wasn't working very well. You know what the aortic valve is, right? No, okay, but you've heard of the aorta?


If you're a human being, then you almost certainly have one, because you have a heart which pumps blood round your body. That journey starts with a single tube leading up from the heart: the aorta. It heads up because the hardest place to get blood to is the head, but that (and blood pressure) creates a problem: as soon as it's been pumped up, it wants to come back down again. That's why you also need a valve. Otherwise, blood rushes back, which makes pumping it out in the first place rather pointless.

So the aortic valve closes after every heartbeat to make sure that when the heart gets the blood on its way, it stays on its way. Some people develop problems with the valve. Sometimes it stops being able to close completely, so that blood squirts back into the heart. As time goes by, this gets worse.  You get out of breath. You don't have the energy you used to. You have dull aches in your chest and then sharp stabbing pains. You become more and more limited in everything you do. Eventually the heart fails.

So you need a new valve. And that's exactly what I have! But enough of all this medical science: what does it feel like?

Painful: because I only had the surgery a week and a half ago. This is open heart surgery, so the sternum has to be cracked open. Right now that's healing up and it both hurts and itches. There's a pill for the former. Not so much for the latter. (argh, mustn't scratch, mustn't scratch...) The wound will heal in time, and the chest pains are already receding. It's not an instant fix; the heart takes time to get back to normal. But I should be completely free of symptoms in a few months.

Big: because the tissue around it is still swollen. There's a lump at the base of my throat that's rather tender, and the implant is in there somewhere. It's pressing on my oesophagus and making it a little difficult to swallow some foods. Either that or my throat is still sore from the tube they put down it during surgery. Anyway, I've been eating a lot of soft, gloopy things recently. But the swelling will go down in time.

Noisy: because it ticks.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

The valve is made of a special smooth carbon rather than cartilage or flesh. So it clicks when it shuts. It does this with every heartbeat. It doesn't sound like something high tech: it sounds like an old wristwatch, ticking away inside me with every heartbeat.

It's not just me that hears it. Anyone with good enough hearing can detect it if the room is quiet enough. This is what it sounds like from the outside:

For me, it's a much brighter sound, like a tiny clockwork escapement ticking away at the base of my throat. It makes it hard to sleep. You can ignore it during the day, but there's no escaping it in the dead of night. I've been playing woodland relaxation sounds in my earbuds to give me some white noise as a distraction; that seems to work. As time goes by, my brain will probably get better and better at ignoring the noise; I'm told that some people find it to be very reassuring.

Because after all, it means your heart is still beating. And I'd like to keep that happening for a good long while yet.

Many thanks to the NHS and University Hospital Coventry for the diagnosis, surgery and care. Valve by On-X Life Technologies of Austin, TX.


Unidentified But Hilarious

dang alien varmints ain't goin take over mah town, dagnabbit So a funny thing happened recently. I wrote a short story, sent if off and it was... accepted! For a humorous SF/F anthology called Unidentified Funny Objects 5. Woo hoo!

It's on sale now, or at least the Kindle version is. The print version is out next week, and I have my author copy clutched in my hot little hands as I type (yes, I'm a contortionist). It does look rather nice.

Many more people than me are in it, of course. There's David Gerrold (The Trouble with Tribbles) and Shaenon Garrity (Skin Horse and Narbonic), just to begin with. Huge, huge thanks go to the editor, Alex Shvartsman, who saw fit to pluck my story from the slush pile and add it to the collection.

My contribution is Customer Service Hobgoblin, in which Robin Goodfellow - hobgoblin, trickster, Shakespeare-botherer and general pain-in-the-backside - has as much fun as his manager will allow while working in a rather unusual call centre.

So if you're moved to spend a fancy-coffee's-worth of cash on something that will make you much happier for far longer, here are the links:

US Kindle - UK Kindle - Barnes & Noble - Kobo



Much To My Surprise, I Am Not Dead Yet

Bleurgh...but one or two of you might have thought I was. So this is an apology, most especially to anyone who was reading Twenty Years Ago Today, which I put on hiatus after two instalments and have regretfully decided not to return to. Life got in the way, I'm afraid. Right now, I am officially Not At All Well. I'll be having heart surgery sometime in the next few months. But I should survive the experience and return to something like normality next year.

In the meantime, though, I've been busy! Something new will be coming out in the next few weeks, and for once it's not something I'm publishing myself. More on that when it happens!

That's it for now. See you soon!

The Inevitable Apocalyptic Consequence of Time Travel

TIACOTT Cover 200x320 It's time for another one of these things! Because time travel is a lot more dangerous than most SF has led you to believe. Four people stumble on the secret of time travel at four different points in history, and immediately begin to use it against their enemies - then swiftly discover that their enemies are just as willing to use it on them. The final escalation is inevitable... Now all I need to do is invent time travel myself so I can get these things written faster. This one took long enough that I'm going to delay the next one for a bit, until I've made some substantial progress on Twenty Years Ago Today. That's the thing about apocalypses: they tend to be a lot more complex than you first assume...

The Last Tour of Kelwort Castle

TLTOKC Cover 320x200Blimey. I've done something else new. And it's something short! Well, okay, it was meant to be a short story and it ended up being a novella (just), but that's what happens when you apply the historical lessons of castle sieges to survival techniques in a post-apocalyptic environment: it gets interesting! The Last Tour of Kelwort Castle is an archaeological reconstruction of a tour group, taken largely from the video they recorded of the tour guide giving them useful lessons in the history of the castle. Nuclear war then interrupts the tour, and we discover what happened to them afterwards in a series of reports made by the archaeologists. Did they learn the lessons on how to survive in a castle? Or did they just end up repeating history?

Long-time readers will be happy to hear that it's set in the multiverse of The Last Man on Earth Club (where else am I going to get interdimensional archaeologists?), though this isn't relevant for much of the story and you don't need to read anything else to understand what's going on.

This is also the first (well, second, really) in a series of shorter pieces about apocalypses called Apocalyptic Tales. Moment of Extinction has been rebadged under this title, just because it fits. I'll be adding new ones every month or so in an attempt to keep my name popping up in connection with my preferred genre, as well as building up material for an eventual collection.

All of which means I should really get back to working on Twenty Years Ago Today. Worlds don't end all by themselves, you know...



Twenty Years Ago It's Still Today

After many long months of toil, here it is at last! Part Two of this ongoing serialised novel depicting the mounting disaster that happens after one man's dying wish comes true for the whole world: to go back in time by twenty years. It's $1.99 or the equivalent, higher than Part One because it ended up with a high enough word count to be classed as novel-length (62k in the end). Still pretty cheap, though. It can be found at the usual places: Amazon UK, Amazon US, Smashwords, Kobo and a few more still to come.

Also new is the cover! It took many long hours figuring out how not to embarrass myself in Blender, but in the end it seems to have come out pretty well. Part One has a similar update, and I hope to be able to use the same style throughout the rest of the series. Unless I have any more brilliant ideas along the way :-)

Part Three is now in the works, but will probably take as long as Part Two did. All that research takes time! Not to mention the editing. Argh, the editing...

In the meantime, I'll be using some of my time to get on with a series of short stories about all the wonderful ways in which the world can end, to appear once a month. Yeah, I know, this slows things down, but it's all to do with the way ebook publishing works: each new book falls off the radar after about a month, so you need to get stuff out as regularly as possible to give people a chance to find your work. More on this when I get the first one done in early January!

Still Writing

Yep. And I'm not dead! It may feel like it sometimes, but life is still stirring, and part 2 of Twenty Years Ago Today has finished its first draft at 56k words. It's somewhat longer than I expected, but with rather more rioting and refugees and nooses hung from lamp-posts outside BBC Television Centre than I originally thought possible. So I think it'll be worth the wait. Right. Best get back to it. Lots to do...

Twenty Years Ago Today

Ebook Cover 1.1 var kobosizeIf you're reading this, then you can be grateful that the events in Part One of my new novel have not come to pass. The world has not been sent back twenty years to May the 10th, 1994, and the attendant chaos has not been visited on you and everyone you know. On the other hand, you can now buy Part One and find out for yourself what would happen if the favourite wish of the middle-aged ever came true for everyone. Going back twenty years wouldn't be nearly as much fun as people assume it would be. Unless, of course, you like watching an apocalypse unfold...

(Sadly, I wasn't able to continue my daily series of blog posts about events in 1994. Depressing life events got in the way, and I had to prioritise finishing the actual book instead. Sorry about that).

Part One is 99c if you're in the US, and roughly equivalent amounts if you're somewhere else. You can buy it at the following stores (with more to be added later):  Amazon UK - Amazon US - Smashwords - Kobo

Part Two will follow just as soon as I can get it done. I'm not sure when that will be, so if you'd like to be told when it happens, sign up for the newsletter and I'll send you an email when it's available.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Nyarubuye

nyarubuyeTwenty years ago today, the genocidaires of Rwanda were learning their trade with a sickening efficiency. They'd realised that going house to house was a slow way to kill people. But if you could get all your victims in one place and trap them there, then you could deal with hundreds or thousands all at once. That's exactly what was happening, all over the country: Tutsis and moderate Hutus fled their homes and went to a place they hoped would be safe, only to be betrayed, penned in, and then massacred by the Interahamwe, working their way through screaming crowds with clubs, machetes, hoes, or whatever else came to hand. At Nyarubuye, it happened in a church.

This was far from unusual. In fact, it was common. There were houses of worship all over Rwanda to which people fled, and where the priests often betrayed them to the killers. Nyarubuye is just one where we know a reasonable amount about what happened, thanks to a handful of survivors who fell under the bodies of their family members while they were being hacked to bits by their friends and neighbours.

Their money was taken from them first. Then grenades were thrown as the killers shouted that snakes must have their heads chopped off. Children and infants had their heads smashed in with stones and hammers. Pregnant women were hacked open so their unborn children could be finished off. It began at 3 in the afternoon, and went on until the next day.

The survivors were battered and wounded, and did not dare leave the church for weeks on end, even as the bodies of their loved ones rotted around them. They drank rainwater and helped the weaker ones to survive with what little food they had. Wild dogs came to feed on the corpses, and were made to leave by thrown stones. Eventually, they were rescued, and some even survived the infections in their wounds. Other survivors were less fortunate. Some women were taken away to be used as sex slaves and raped hundreds of times, enduring unwanted pregnancies and AIDS infections - if they weren't killed later during the genocide.

Nyarubuye church still stands. The corpses have been removed to a mass grave. The buildings are used as a memorial and museum for those who perished: 1,500 victims who died in terror and agony.

Twenty Years Ago Today: The Presidential Debate

FW-de-Klerk-and-Nelson-Ma-001Twenty years ago today, two political titans clashed live on television. In the grand tradition of pre-election debates across the world, the two main candidates for the role of President of South Africa traded verbal blows and challenged each other's policies, all so that voters could get a sense of what these two people were offering the nation should they take charge of the country. Except that everyone already knew who was going to win. The next president would be Nelson Mandela. His rival, F.W. de Klerk, stood absolutely no chance. It was widely presumed that he would be offered a senior position in a coalition government following the election. So why even bother with the debate?

Because this was going to be a free and fair election, and having a debate is one of those things commonly done in a free and fair election. The fact that the outcome was already known was simply a function of just how popular Mandela was at that moment, now that the whole population was going to get a chance to vote. Mandela and de Klerk weren't really rivals; they'd been partners ever since Mandela walked free in 1990, working together to build the post-apartheid South Africa. It didn't make for the most enthralling of debates, although it swiftly became clearly that de Klerk had the greater skill, which he'd presumably honed during the 27 years that Mandela had been locked in a prison cell. It's doubtful that anyone changed their mind as a result of the debate - but the simple fact that it was happening was an achievement in and of itself.

However, there was still one major problem, which you could spot from the list of parties that ran up the screen at the end. The list was meant to include every single group participating in the elections, but one was missing: the Inkatha Freedom Party, which was still clashing violently with the ANC and refusing to take part in the elections. One of Mandela and de Klerk's more interesting clashes during the debate came as a result of this, as Mandela reminded his rival that Inkatha's fighters had been trained and funded by the police in order to create divisions within the black population of South Africa.

Despite everything, the story of the first free elections in South Africa were not over yet; with Inkatha still refusing to take part, there was still a chance that it could all go horribly wrong.

Here's a video of the debate if you'd like to watch.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Kigali in the Firing Line

rpf_buergerkrieg_ruanda_1994Twenty years ago today, RPF troops were consolidating their gains around the Rwandan capital of Kigali, even as killings of civilians outside their territory went on. The capital was not so very far from the territory in which the RPF was contained before the genocide began, and 600 of their soldiers had been trapped there in their barracks - but now they were breaking out and linking up with their comrades as key positions around the edge of the city were taken. The government, meanwhile, were busy fleeing to Gitarama, understanding that it was hopeless to try and defend the capital. Even as the government fled, the killings of Tutsi civilians continued, and would only end when the RPF established themselves there. It would not be long before Kigali fell - but taking the whole nation would not be so easy. It would be July before the RPF was in control of the country and the genocide could be said to be over. Rwanda may be one of the smallest nations in Africa, but it still took time to conquer.

Even so, it begs the question: how did the instigators of the genocide think they could get away with it? Did they think the RPF could be easily beaten back? Did they want to exterminate the bulk of the Tutsis so that they would always be a tiny minority, even if the RPF took the country? Did they simply ignore the threat from the RPF? They certainly spent some time planning to neutralise the UN forces in the country, and provoke nations like Belgium into withdrawing their forces - why didn't they take the same kind of trouble with the RPF?

As much as their actions were brutal beyond imagining, the Hutu leadership were not fools. They ran rings around the UN without too much trouble. The genocide itself was not a random, unplanned free-for-all of violence. There was a tactical and political approach to it that ensured that every member of the Hutu community would be implicated and unwilling to oppose it. Areas were sealed off with roadblocks first, and Hutus were sent in to search for Tutsis to kill. Rwanda had a tradition of obedience to authority, and most acquiesced. If they didn't, then they too would be killed. It was diabolical but effective: until the RPF stormed through an area, local opposition to the genocide was all but impossible. And it was also swift: despite using only guns, grenades, machetes and clubs, the rate of killing was higher even than during the Nazi holocaust. This was not an act of brutal stupidity. This was the application of intelligence to brutality. So why did this intelligence fail when assessing the force that would end the genocide?

Maybe the Hutu leaders really didn't think that the RPF would be able to stop them. Maybe their arrogance went so far as to assume that the RPF would be brushed aside if they made any attempt at rescue. I can't find any sources that really explain how on earth they thought they could get away with the genocide. They don't seem stupid enough to commit such a crime when there was an army already within their territory that could do nothing else but oppose them. But maybe, just maybe, they were blinded by their hatred - and maybe we can hope that all those who hate will be just as blind to the cause of their downfall.

Twenty Years Ago Today: Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

SpamScreenShotTwenty years ago today a potent force for evil was unleashed across the world. It was not the truly serious and horrifying evil of genocide, nor the manic theatrical evil of a moustache-twirling madman, but the humble, everyday evil that we all contend with on a daily basis. Today was the day that the nightmare of spam was set free to torment the inboxes, comment sections and newsgroups of the world. It began on Usenet, the sprawling web of newsgroups that defined the communities of the internet before the World Wide Web. The newsgroups were essentially single-topic message boards like those on Reddit, arranged according to hierarchies. So the groups in Rec.* were all about recreation, Rec.Arts.* newsgroups were for arts, Rec.Arts.Movies.* were all for films, and Rec.Arts.Movies.Reviews was where you could find people pontificating on the latest cinema releases. Well, mostly a guy called James Berardinelli, but there were a few others. (There must have been. Surely?)

Twenty years ago, readers of 6,000 such groups witnessed a wildly off-topic posting: an advert, LARGELY IN ALL CAPS, that informed immigrants to the US that they could avail themselves of the attorneys Laurence Canter and Martha Siegel in their search for a green card. Heads were scratched and eyebrows raised, but it was not to be the last posting from the husband and wife team.

Strictly speaking, this was not the first piece of spam in the world: that title was won on the 18th of January by a post entitled 'Global Alert for All: Jesus is Coming Soon'. It was soon joined by an automated screed on the Armenian genocide. But spam found its true calling with Canter and Siegel: marketing. While the two were wildly vilified for their actions (and Canter was even disbarred), the technology behind it was simple enough that we now need more technology to prevent it from overwhelming us. Even on such a little-seen blog as this, there are 4,472 spam comments caught in the filter as of the moment I write these words, and the vast majority of all email consists of unwanted messages.

Why should this be so? Because the cost of spam is so incredibly low. All it takes is a few suckers to click on the wrong link, and the spammers can make back their investment with ease. No matter how advanced our technology grows, there will always be humans gullible enough to fall for the spam.

Meanwhile, the nice people who make the tinned meat known as SPAM are not amused. But they do have a nice little museum you can visit! There's even a Monty Python section...