Tag Archive: Short story


I occasionally get the chance to review early copies of books and magazines, and usually jump at the chance.  This has backfired once or twice – one author sent me a 350-page pile of steaming dung that I gave up on, only to be stuck on his mailing list and receiving endless self promotion despite numerous entreaties and threats – but often I get a real treat.

I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Morpheus Tales‘ special Apocalypse issue.  There are a number of special issues floating around from this publisher but this one caught my eye, not least because my novel “Half Discovered Wings” was a good stab at my own brand of what I call “apocalypsia” fiction.  I was interested in seeing what other writers came up with.

 

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This fantastically pulpy cover houses 12 stories.  There’s probably a surfeit of material here as there are more than a few uninspiring duds.  Thankfully the rest of the magazine is made up of some crackers which, if they don’t get you thinking, will at the very least give you a good dose of end-of-the-world fun to perfectly suit a dreary March afternoon.

I’ll skip some of the less original flops but, with the good stuff in sight, will open with “Long Cold Night” by Richard Farren Barber.  Apocalypsia relies on a decent concept that will be the foundation of the story.  In Stephen King’s “The Stand”, we can believe that a killer virus wiped out a helluva lot of people.  That’s what viruses do.  In Barber’s story here, we’re led to believe that oil running out sooner than expected causes the end of civilization.  People are roaming the countryside for food.  I don’t quite buy how this is possible and despite some credible writing, the story fails before it really begins.  We’re told that green energies weren’t enough, but aren’t told why.  I’m pretty sure that the governments of the world can figure something out with solar panels and nuclear energy, which currently supplies something like 15% of the world’s electricity.  Are we forgetting that we got by for thousands of years before Edison pinged his first bulb…?

A sad failure, but hopefully one that makes a point.  I get tired of harping on about it, but originality should be the cornerstone of every single story you write.  “Long Cold Night” takes an idea that hasn’t really been closely examined (I seem to remember the inspid sci-fi family fungus that was Matt LeBlanc’s “Lost in Space” mentioning it, but little else since), which is commendable.  But it smacks of lack of research, and worse than this, fails even to take a poor concept and make it believable, if not plausible.

Just keeping things plausible doesn’t mean you’re automatically onto a winner though, nor is the other way around true.  A series of immense sinkholes follows the inexplicable draining of the oceans in the sweet little story “Songs of Goodbye” by Dev Jarrett.  Do I believe that 326 million trillion gallons of water (I’m trusting Google there) can just drain into the Earth’s crust?  Not really.  But did I care when I watched a father and daughter share a moment together?  Nope!  Dev exhibits fine prose and great descriptive talent.  The writer’s similies are flawless and keep the narrative jumping until the characters take over.  This is probably my pick of the stories.

A creepy little number called “Thunder Bay” is another highlight.  This brief tale by Robin Wyatt Dunn gives us a glimpse into the un-life of a cannibalistic reanimated corpse.  It’s like “Omega Man” got X-rated.  First person with snappy narrative, this is writing as opposed to just telling a story, and stands out a mile amidst the the rest of this month’s Morpheus Tales.

Whereas these two personal faves represent the magazine’s total stock of literary goodness, it’s probably fair to say that you don’t pick up an “Apocalypse Special” expecting talent worthy of critical acclaim.  Other writers have done it – I’m thinking “The Road” and “The Drowned World” here – but it’s also a genre for some good old fun…

“Generation Sorrow” by J. B. Ronan.  Either this story is tongue-in-cheek ironic or just plain silly (I prefer to think the former) but this story of porcine genetic modification gone wrong is an enjoyable read, suitably dark and vivid, and has an interesting premise for the decline of modern society.  The special gets another short jolt of dark humour with “My Pretty Pony” by Alan Loewen.  This amusing piece gives readers a little giggle and Hasbro a cause to sue.  A welcome tonic from the dreariness of the rest of the mag.

Even though Matt Brolly’s “Yellow” is yet another take on the “virus ends everything” trope, it still rings truer than many other stories of its type.  The special’s final story is a cracker (even if it does contain the dumb line “the suicides are too dangerous to live”) and is worth special attention with a cup of tea by the window with the wind blowing outside.  His prose isn’t up to J. G. Ballard’s standard but it hums along fine; it’s the moments of insights into his characters that keep this moving along, maybe remind us on the way of “The Happening” or the flashback scenes from “I Am Legend“.

Is the mag worth picking up?  At a temporary special price of £4, I’d say yes, especially as you can have it beamed straight to your smartphone or ebook.  Hunker down, ignore the clouds outside and let the world end.

—db

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The Morpheus Tales Apocalypse Special Issue is available from Lulu.com here.

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Have anything to say?  Please leave a comment!

 

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I walk through town, I think about things.

I think about how quickly a city can fill with people.  I wonder what it would be like to live in the city centre, with all these people.

I buy freshly baked warm bread and sit on a stone bench.  Although the sun is out, the centre is always in shade except around noon: the buildings have crisscrossing shadows that mean it is always cold in the morning.  Sitting on the stone bench for too long eventually gets painful.

I eat my bread and throw crumbs at the pigeons.  I wonder if it’s really illegal to feed pigeons in Sheffield city centre.  I imagine that this is because some arse at City Hall got fed up of having his car shat on, and for no other reason.  There is a simple pleasure that comes with providing food for another living thing.

I like about fiction.

My story KASHKEI AND THE FIREBIRD, AT PEACE, one of the thirty stories I wrote during my 2010 November Challenge, was this month published by Mirror Dance magazine, a prestigious publication I’ve wanted to get into for a while.

Another story, THE TRANSDIMENTIONALIST, was picked up by Estronomicon to be printed some time this month or next.  This is a kind of successor to BLEACH, printed in Aphelion back in 2008.

Sitting on the bench, I realise that I’ve neglected to update the website with these.  This is now corrected.

I think, ‘What if I had my own fiction magazine?  Could I edit it?  Would I have the time?  Would people want to read it?  Would I be able to get enough people to contribute to it?  What kind of fiction would it showcase?  What kind of writers?  Would it have illustrations?  Would I showcase artists?  Who would make awesome covers for me?  How do you go about publishing an e-zine?  How much would it cost?  Would I be able to advertise so that I could pay my writers?’

I think I’ll give it a go.

If you’re a writer, reviewer of literature or artist, get in touch.

–db

Thirsty

I’ve explained in an earlier post about the chronic spates of creative thirst I suffer from. Non-work (“work” being creative stuff I do at home, rather than the template-driven box-ticking administration of work in the office) is just a period where you don’t realise you haven’t had a glass of water for a fortnight until you’re pretty much dead – and then there is, to destroy the analogy, the sudden desire to write something, immediately and excessively, almost to the extent of recording the minutae of a character’s actions, of his or her thoughts and feelings, of his outward appearance and expressions, that take place in a single minute of his life; and then his interactions with the hundred other characters that must be included, who all inhabit a world with its own minutae to document, fervently.

Clearly I’m saturated by this weird neurosis as I write this (not something I suffered from until maybe three years ago, already in my twenties, and for no apparent reason), being at my wordiest and thoughtlessly speediest – so forgive the redundancies, or denseness, or typing errors, or absurdity of the lot.

But at the edge of the desert where you see the buildings glinting, all you can imagine is the silver plumbing inside and the water it must be full of. You imagine yourself swimming in it and gulping it down. In my desert, this ceaseless focusing on the desired future comes in the form of planning, planning for the next thing to be written, almost always a novel (in the desert, you don’t imagine only an eggcup of water), and all the intricate note-taking and research and frantic scribblings this requires. Sometimes the ideas come so fast your handwriting turns to indecypherable Arabic, and knowing this you draw a picture instead (“X = 1k wds”) because you’ll be damned if you’re going to lose the five other ideas you need to write down just because you were thinking of how best to describe that one cinematic moment you imagined.

I had a similar outbreak, let’s call it, a month ago, inspired by my completion of a dreadful book called “Sandworms of Dune“, being one of two sequels to the great Dune science-fiction series by Frank Herbert. His death left the incredible series apparently unfinished, and his son, being one of those Christopher Tolkein-esque relatives who can’t damn-well resist, ressurected the franchise to write the two ‘finale’ books that have corrupted a near-perfect literary vision.

So disgusted was I by the dilution and contamination of the senior Herbert’s creation, and so badly written it was too, that I acted upon one of my “fuck me if I can’t do a thousand times better than that” moments and decided to end the series myself. Having recently re-read the six originals, I could remember very well the characters and themes and significant events that drove the series. With this bigger picture in mind, I felt that I could faithfully see where Herbert was going and constructed a breakdown of my own version of “Sandworms of Dune”. But it is only when you realise that you’ve scribbed twenty pages of dense notes, reminders and tiny images, all at your desk at work, that you’re suddenly aware of how noticable your fervour must have been to those sitting around you, and, oops, how valuable your job is.

I suppose we should be supremely grateful for these creative trances (“we” being the half of you who, I realise, are also creative types of your own kinds, and hopefully can relate), because they are the combusting coals that we need to then slow-burn our way through that 100,000 word novel, or 30 hour painting, or endless nights of programming. But damn if they aren’t an inconvenience, like an erection on a bus, being probably extremely useful in another time and place, but otherwise utterly inappropriate.

–db              

I’d like to thank everybody for their support during the November Challenge.   I’ve had a lot of messages regarding one story or another, and some blog comments, and I’m overwhelmed at the response!

Although I came within one or two seconds of failing on certain nights (seriously) I did manage to upload a story a day for every day in November, no later than midnight.  A few facts and figures:

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Stories Completed: 30

Stories Failed: 0

Shortest Story: Da Bomb at 1,039 words

Longest Story: Big Dog at 6,825 words

Total Number Words Written:  79,381

Favourite Few: Love is an Eye That Doesn’t See, Time Fears the Pyramids, Follow The Sun Underground, An Account of a Curious Encounter, Endless Bodies, Broken Bug

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The stories will be available until 31st December, but not promised any later – a few might make the website permanently, but that’s not likely.  This is your last week to get your hands on them, free, before the New Year.

To help you choose which to ponder, here they are divided by genre, with word-lengths beside.  Enjoy!

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MAINSTREAM:

A Quiver of Graves – Written November 1st: 2,000 words

The Fabulous Voyage of the Paper Lantern – Written November 7th: 1,259 words

The Glass-Handled Sword – Written November 10th: 2,569 words

Follow the Sun Underground – Written November 13th: 2,524 words

The Woman Who Couldn’t Remember Lightning – Written November 14th: 2,128 words

Telling Signs – Written November 15th: 2,242 words

Her Majesty’s Agent – Written November 18th: 3,157 words

Da Bomb – Written November 19th: 1,039 words

The Word for Wizard is Woman – Written November 21st: 1,194 words

Through the Brittle Grass – Written November 23rd: 1,714 words

Sudoku: The Movie – Written November 28th: 1,321 words

One in a Million – Written November 29th: 1,100 words

 

SCIENCE FICTION:

Amelia Amongst Machines – Written November 3rd: 4,742 words

Big Dog – Written November 4th: 6,825 words

Exposure – Written November 11th: 1,629 words

An Account of a Curious Encounter – Written November 16th: 4,448 words

The Endless Bodies – Written November 22nd: 2,040words

 

FANTASY:

Love is an Eye That Doesn’t See – Written November 2nd: 3,560 words

To Fly Away and Never Come Down Again – Written November 5th: 3,834 words

Kashcei and the Firebird, At Peace – Written November 6th: 1,651 words

Time Fears the Pyramids – Written November 8th: 5,643 words

Upon the Hill – Written November 9th: 3,862 words

Living With Monsters – Written November 12th: 2,301 words

The Cave of Wonders – Written November 17th: 2,885 words

Moon’s Djinni – Written November 20th: 2,381 words

Mountains Won’t Move – Written November 24th: 2,370 words

A Dream Did Weave a Shade – Written November 25th: 2,339 words

Matryoshka Man – Written November 26th: 2,841 words

Raphael – Written November 27th: 1,659 words

Broken Bug – Written November 30th: 4,188 words

–db

NOVEMBER CHALLENGE 2010

A story a day, for thirty days

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30 days, 30 short stories – I did it!  November has been a month of trials, not least massive snowstorms today and yesterday that have cut shorter my usually short window of time between getting home from work and going to bed.

A minimum of a thousand words a day, each story different, has been a real challenge.  Yet somehow I’ve managed to accomplish what I thought I never would, and achieved my own wild goal.

Today’s story – the thirtieth and final story for a little while! – is a little special.  I can’t take credit for the main character, Ginko, or for the tiny invisible creatures of which he is master: mushi.  These are the invention of Yuki Urushibara, whose books you should read.  And although I usually balk at fan fiction, of which this is basically an example, I thought that this month would be the opportunity to pay my tribute to a fantastic set of books (which in turn was made into a fantastic television series).

I urge you to read the source material, and hope you enjoy my tribute to this incredible world.

“Broken Bug” is a tale of Mushishi.

[Edit:  Sorry, you are too late to read this story.  Some stories may be retained on the website.  Some e-mail requests for copies of the stories are being granted (spinning.lizard@yahoo.co.uk).]

For the .pdf copy of the story above you can read online (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader) or download to your PC, laptop or e-book.

The website is up to date now with all thirty storys – Go to Stories and then follow the November Challenge link for the full list.  Now that it’s nearly December I may start taking down the ones I’m not fully pleased with to save myself some embarassment.  Those that make the cull will be available for a while longer but no later than 30th December 2010.

I really would love to hear your thoughts on any of the stories either on this blog, or via the website’s forum.  I’ve been creative and want your creative input.

Enjoy, and thanks for all your support this long, long month – without your interest and encouragement I would have given up weeks ago.  Thankyou for helping me keep my promise, and best wishes to you all in this chilly season.

— db

NOVEMBER CHALLENGE 2010

A story a day, for thirty days

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Holy testicle Tuesday, tomorrow is the last day of November!  I’m nearly free!  FREEEEEEE!

Seriously though, I’m enjoying it.  I can’t believe I got this far.  I’ve decided to celebrate with a very special story for a very special girl.

For Lisa:

[Edit:  Sorry, you are too late to read this story.  Some stories may be retained on the website.  Some e-mail requests for copies of the stories are being granted (spinning.lizard@yahoo.co.uk).]

The website proper will be up to date by the time I post the final story tomorrow.  For the .pdf copy of the story above you can read online (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader) or download to your PC, laptop or e-book.

The stories will remain available for a minimum of 30 days but no later than 30th December 2010.  I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the stories either on this blog, or via the website’s forum.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading,

db

NOVEMBER CHALLENGE 2010

A story a day, for thirty days

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Today’s story complete, dear God they’re getting harder to write now!  I’m drying up.  This is it.  After today, two more stories to write.  The last hurdle approaches.

AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH

Okay, here’s today’s:

[Edit:  Sorry, you are too late to read this story.  Some stories may be retained on the website.  Some e-mail requests for copies of the stories are being granted (spinning.lizard@yahoo.co.uk).]

It’s a preview of a film, believe it or not.  I received a DVD copy in the post yesterday and watched it last night.  Consider this a story for the purposes of this challenge.

The website proper is still up to date.  For the .pdf copy of the story above you can read online (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader) or download to your PC, laptop or e-book.

The stories will remain available for a minimum of 30 days but no later than 30th December 2010.  I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the stories either on this blog, or via the website’s forum.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading,

db

NOVEMBER CHALLENGE 2010

A story a day, for thirty days

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And so on the 27th day, after 27 stories, the ideas begin to dry up!  I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

And yet, something came to me this morning, I don’t know how.  I spent an hour looking for inspiration online, just some line of a poem, or a piece of concept art, or something in the news or a historical fact from November 27ths past…

I do not know what the inspiration was for this story.  But it occured to me that as the legends are built up over time, some ‘factual’ from the original Book, but most fictional accounts by writers wanting to explore these rich stories, there is a little gap that we haven’t covered yet, between the moment God chose to cast Lucifer from Heaven, and the instant of the deed being done.

Who had the job of cutting off Satan’s wings?

[Edit:  Sorry, you are too late to read this story.  Some stories may be retained on the website.  Some e-mail requests for copies of the stories are being granted (spinning.lizard@yahoo.co.uk).]

For this .pdf copy of the story above you can read online (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader) or download to your PC, laptop or e-book.

The stories will remain available for a minimum of 30 days but no later than 30th December 2010.  I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the stories either on this blog, or via the website’s forum.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading,

db

NOVEMBER CHALLENGE 2010

A story a day, for thirty days

_______________________________________________

[Edit:  Sorry, you are too late to read this story.  Some stories may be retained on the website.  Some e-mail requests for copies of the stories are being granted (spinning.lizard@yahoo.co.uk).]

For this .pdf copy of the story above you can read online (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader) or download to your PC, laptop or e-book.

The stories will remain available for a minimum of 30 days but no later than 30th December 2010.  I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the stories either on this blog, or via the website’s forum.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading,

db

NOVEMBER CHALLENGE 2010

A story a day, for thirty days

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I wrote two stories today.  That’s right, two!

Actually, one and a half.  The story I started, as it happened, turned out to have no ending.  There was just no way to finish it.  There were no facts to support it.  My research attempts failed.  It is a failed, unfinished story, that will never be told, because in the real world it makes no sense.

On the other hand, a story in which life is only a dream makes perfect sense, and I’ve attached it for you right here:

[Edit:  Sorry, you are too late to read this story.  Some stories may be retained on the website.  Some e-mail requests for copies of the stories are being granted (spinning.lizard@yahoo.co.uk).]

The website proper is still up to date.  For the .pdf copy of the story above you can read online (you’ll need Adobe Acrobat Reader) or download to your PC, laptop or e-book.

The stories will remain available for a minimum of 30 days but no later than 30th December 2010.  I would love to hear your thoughts on any of the stories either on this blog, or via the website’s forum.

Enjoy, and thanks for reading,

db