THE DIVIDE by Alan Ayckbourn

THE DIVIDE by Alan Ayckbourn (PS Publishing)

Review by Gary Fry

It’s always been difficult to keep up with Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s prolific output. I try my best. Of the 83 stage plays he’s written since the 1960s – from early undisputed classics such as The Norman Conquests and Absurd Person Singular to tricksy modern masterworks like Arrivals and Departures and (his very latest) Birthdays Past, Birthdays Present – I’ve seen or read about 70. The range of his work is striking, including straight adult dramas (with often ingenious structures), genre material (sci-fi, thrillers, ghost stories), musicals, and children’s plays. And now he’s added a new form to his repertoire, the literary novel. Slow down, man! You’re giving me whiplash!

Although The Divide was conceived and written as a novel, it was first presented onstage (in a shortened version) as a rehearsed reading (or a “narrative for voices”), a treat for regulars during the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 60th anniversary events. This live production in Scarborough, nudging eight hours, was later adapted (not by Ayckbourn) as a play produced at London’s Old Vic. The play, bearing little resemblance to the author’s original conception, received mixed reviews, with some celebrating its timely exploration of gender relations (as if Ayckbourn hadn’t spent his whole career poking around in such fractious territory) and others suggesting that the piece would work better in book form. But of course, that was how the author had first planned it. And so here it is at last, The Divide as the novel it was always intended to be.

The piece, in my view, pulls together two strands of Ayckbourn’s previous work: his various dabblings in sci-fi (Surprises, Henceforward, Comic Potential, to name but a few) and his frequent work for children. Indeed, despite exploring some decidedly mature themes – oriented around what we might crudely call the gender wars – The Divide reads like a Young Adult novel.

The story is set about a hundred years in the future. A plague has rendered relationships between men and women nigh on impossible and, consequently, the country has been divided in half, with all the men to the north and the women to the south. Male children, however, remain with their two mothers (Mama and Mapa) in the south until old enough to make the journey north.

The plot is largely conveyed through diary entries of a daughter and a son coming of age in this grave new world. There are other contributions, including meeting minutes from a local authority in which the two youths live (a microcosmic representation of broader political trends, methinks). We also get to read letters from other characters, as well as various flyers and memos, all of which round out the depiction of a society functioning in paranoiac mode, of new legislation prohibiting the liberties that we – yes, even in our ostensibly oppressive times – take for granted. This is a world turned upside down, as the phrase goes. Heterosexuality is illegal, art is pornography, and Vanity is elevated to the worst sin of all.

If all this hint at a new prudishness, a systemic response to the age-old problem of controlling passions arising from human nature, there is satire here. The mores of Ayckbourn’s exaggerated world might be taken as the ultimate consequence of pursuing contemporary fundamentalist solutions to conflict between the genders. I won’t get waylaid by such contentious debates – let each reader take what they will from the worldbuilding – but I will state that many aspects of this future are grimly imagined. For instance, a Ten Day Collar, attached to a female found guilty of deliberately contaminating a male, put me in mind of brutal aspects of the similarly themed The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Divide, however, is lighter in tone than Margaret Atwood’s celebrated novel. This arises entirely from its focus on two youngsters, both documenting their daily reflections and concerns in private. Their lived worlds are fleshed out in convincing detail, each of them revealing the eternal travails of being pre/postpubescent whatever the social circumstances. The diary entries read like the kind of mini-monologues so many characters in Ayckbourn’s plays deliver, usually when someone else is just listening (or commonly, pretending to listen). The author’s mastery of articulating people’s inner feelings lends the book a relentless readability. There was an obvious risk in assigning to only two characters the great majority of the narrative, but both Soween and her elder brother Elihu are so sympathetically engaging that the story remains hugely enjoyable throughout.

Less positively, I did occasionally think, during some dramatic episodes, how much more satisfying the scenes would play in situ, drawing on the author’s peerless dialogue. There is a hint at such potential richness in the verbatim transcript of a court case (a very funny scene), but otherwise we’re left with exposition from those who have recently observed or participated in events alluded to. This is the unavoidable consequence of telling a story in an epistolary manner, a problem of form rather than execution. All the same, from such a great dramatist, it’s hard not to yearn sometimes for a live action telling.

But we needn’t dwell on overly fussy negatives. When Soween and Elihu fall in love with the same person (Giella, the feisty daughter of politically progressive parents), the novel becomes a version of Romeo and Juliet, with all the tragic implications inherent in that cultural enclave. In my estimation the subtext of this tale is the irrepressibility of human nature. The siblings’ surname is Clay, but can either be moulded in any old fashion? No, says Ayckbourn, but rather than thump a tub to this (or the alternative) effect, as so many ideologically motivated people do in our own time, he skilfully dramatises the observation, delicately depicting the youthful awakening of sexuality and love in circumstances not of his characters’ choosing. That is the purpose and value of the kind of art that is banned in the novel, and The Divide is a convincing testament to such timeless verities.

 

The Divide is available from PS Publishing: https://www.pspublishing.co.uk/the-divide-hardcover-alan-ayckbourn-4900-p.asp

 

The Divide by Alan Ayckbourn

Sneak Peek Extract: Foreword

Being so closely involved with the events leading up to the fall of the Divide, I have been asked on countless occasions to write down my experiences leading up to that momentous event. Till now, I have always declined. I had two reasons for doing so. The first was that, on a professional level, my reputation, such as it is, has been based till now as a successful writer of popular fiction. Not only was I hesitant to attempt a factual account of real events but I was anxious lest they be mistaken, especially by the young, as creations of my own imagination. This period in our history is far too important to be relegated to the realms of myth for recent generations who never experienced them at first hand. We are often too ready to dismiss or conveniently forget such uncomfortable or inconvenient chapters in our history. My second reason for refusing was, on a personal level, though long in the past the events are still too clear for us who lived through them for the pain they caused to be entirely softened by time, most especially for my Mother. Although we both lived through them together, I somehow felt she, a loving parent and partner, bore the brunt of events far worse than I, an immature fourteen-year-old. But my Mother died a few weeks ago. It was thankfully a peaceful passing, in her own bed as she would have wanted. She’d reached a good age and her family were all there, myself, her daughter, her devoted son-in-law and her three beloved grandchildren, Fayla, Japeth and Jilli, to say our farewells to Mama.

First, some apologies. What follows is less a straight narrative and more a montage gathered from various sources, mostly from my own diary from the age of eight upwards. I’ve edited this as little as possible, attempting to avoid the obvious trap of trying to improve, through misguided hindsight, the outpourings of an immature girl battling the usual agonies of adolescence. Some entries I was tempted to remove to spare my blushes. Particularly my embarrassing ‘sub Brontë’ period in which I appear to have been completely carried away! Nonetheless I hope my diary will capture at least some of the flavour of how it was to live and grow up, as a child, during the final years of The Preacher’s regime, in an isolated, strictly puritanical all-female society entirely segregated from men. The inhabitants meekly underwent a form of endless penance on behalf of their sex for sins long past and wrongs long forgotten. The image in our Village Square of The Men’s Memorial with its ten thousand names of those who died from The Plague will remain with me for ever. It stood dominating everything, a massive granite reminder to all us Women, of our responsibility for that appalling loss of life. We were a society ruled by guilt which we were seldom allowed to forget. Four times a year, spring, summer, autumn and winter, came those Days of Reflection, when the entire Village would fall silent for twenty-four hours, whilst each of us jointly acknowledged her responsibility for the past. I suppose my view of events is slightly skewed by the fact that my mother’s partner, my Mapa as she was known, was devoutly Orthodox. As children, during our early years especially, my brother and I were brought up strictly according to the rules laid down by The Preacher.

As to The Preacher himself (or herself, we were never quite sure), we were encouraged to believe that he/she was immortal and still lived. But I think many of us abandoned that belief along with Father Christmas (who was most definitely frowned upon!) Evidence, following the fall of the Divide, suggests that the original Preacher died many years earlier (some reports say from a sexually transmitted disease!) and was replaced by a committee of two, initially men but later on of both sexes in an attempt to maintain the status quo established by The Preacher and the legacy he left in his Book of Certitude, the Bible we were all meant to live by.

There were, needless to say, powerful factions of society, particularly on the Male side, with a considerable vested interest to maintain it. But when has it ever been otherwise?

The other major source I have drawn from is my own brother, Elihu’s diary. He was a slightly less conscientious diarist than I, being a boy he became preoccupied with Other Things.

In the case of both our respective diaries, I have used their original system of dating that is the PD (Post Divide) method we lived under at that time. I never quite understood why our lives were run on this system, rather than the previous Anno Domini version. Possibly it was intended to make our lives feel greyer still, without days of the week or calendar months. Just numbers and seasons. It certainly gave our existence a sense of remorseless monotony and so perhaps achieved its intention.

Other documents I’ve gathered from here, there and everywhere and must especially thank Talyed Chilzer, the former Chair of South Sarum Village Council for access to previously restricted documents including the trial transcripts. I have also included material from the archive of the now defunct North Sarum Journal. My reason for this was I was aware that I had otherwise included very little relating to conditions North of the Divide during that period. It was a region, of course, from which I, as a Woman, was excluded. By including samples of correspondence from its lively letters column plus a rather enlightened (certainly for the period) leading article, I hope to redress this imbalance somewhat. My grateful thanks also to the Journal’s Archivist, Simeon Mappletrose. Lastly, without apologies, I occasionally quote from The Prophet’s Book of Certitude, a thick tome we were instructed to read every morning and night but rarely did.

By rights, I ought to dedicate this book to the memory of the lovers, Elihu and Giella, who more than any other single individual were instrumental in bringing down The Divide. But their praises have already been sung by many and countless legends have already been written about them both and even this book is really about them so I’m sure they will forgive me, wherever they are, if I dedicate this book to the least sung hero, my dearest late Mama, Chayza, who was there throughout and indomitably survived it all. This is for her.

Soween Clay-Flyn April 2154

Available for Pre-Order.

Mountains of Madness Revealed edited by Darrell Schweitzer

Sneak Peek Extract: Introduction by Darrell Schweitzer

This entire book is, of course, a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness.” All of the stories herein take place after the events in the Lovecraft story, refer back to it, and exist in a universe in which the Pabodie-Dyer-Lake expedition to Antarctica of 1930-1931, as sponsored by Miskatonic University, actually happened, even if the details have been to some degree either suppressed or disbelieved.

That means that you really do need to read the Lovecraft story immediately, before you read this book. No, no, don’t put this book down. Buy it right away, but save it until you have read “At the Mountains of Madness,” which is itself easily available in any number of editions. Any that make use of the corrected texts edited by S.T. Joshi will do.

“At the Mountains of Madness,” along with the slightly later “The Shadow out of Time,” represents the zenith of Lovecraft’s efforts to create a non-supernatural horror story. It is as far as it is possible to get from his other two longest narratives, “The Dream- Quest of Unknown Kadath” and ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward’ (both of which he had repudiated and which were not published in his lifetime). There are no ghostly revenants or eldritch horrors summoned up by dark magic here. The Necronomicon is mentioned, and a couple of the scholarly characters have even read it, but it is seen, not as a book of magical spells that actually work, but a compilation of primal myths that can only hint at the true history of our planet’s deep past.

It is in search of evidence of that deep past that the Miskatonic expedition sets forth. The intention is to drill through the ice and stone to recover mineral samples and fossils from millions of years ago. But the explorers find far more than they bargain for, including clear evidence that “our” planet is not “ours” at all, except only be default and perhaps temporarily, since it was inhabited by various intelligent species that filtered down from the stars as the world cooled, long before life evolved there. There is even a suggestion that the Old Ones or Elder Things, of which complete, amazingly well- preserved specimens are found, created all life on Earth, including us, either on a whim or as a joke. Certainly the proto-simian creatures depicted in some of their murals were never the center of attention.

It is not too much of a spoiler to tell you that the “specimens” turn out to be in suspended animation, not dead, and that two members of the expedition take off  in an airplane and discover a vast alien city, at least a hundred miles long and fifty miles wide, half-buried under the ice on the other side of a newly-discovered range of mountains which “put Everest out of the running” as the tallest peaks on Earth. Th e explorers land and spend several hours deciphering the carvings and wall-reliefs of this ancient race, learning shocking secret after shocking secret, before they also learn that the city is not entirely deserted.

“At the Mountains of Madness” is one of the greatest masterpieces in the Lovecraftian canon, but it is not, I think, the place to start reading Lovecraft. It would be rather like starting Poe with ‘Th e Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.’ Instead, begin with some of the shorter, popular works like “The Colour out of Space” or “Pickman’s Model” or “The Dunwich Horror.” Chances are you will soon be duly hooked and want to read everything anyway. (Oh, in the meantime, you did buy this book and put it on your “to-read” shelf, didn’t you?) “At the Mountains of Madness” will give you an even more rewarding experience if you come to it with some understanding of Lovecraft’s “Cthulhu Mythos,” which here we are seeing through a scientific, reductionist lens (the “gods” having become extraterrestrials, and there is no “magic.”) It would help to understand some of Lovecraft’s philosophical and even political thought (his strict materialism, his late turn toward socialism), which you can master by reading S.T. Joshi’s monumental I Am Providence, The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft and some of Lovecraft’s essays and letters.

Of course you don’t have to go through a course of study before reading “At the Mountains of Madness.” The story’s strongest feature is the vividness of its descriptions, its often claustrophobic sense of detail and text, as we are taken step by step into the haunted, pre-human ruins amid the stark Antarctic heights. It is one of Lovecraft’s great “caverns of horror” stories, probably deriving a bit from Poe’s “Arthur Gordon Pym” and even from Jules Verne’s (occasionally creepy but much more cheerful) A Journey to the Center of the Earth), but also expressing in its most complete form a Lovecraftian fascination with tunnels, caves, and unplumbed abysses, which we see even in his earliest, semi-juvenile eff orts (“Th e Beast in the Cave”) but also in such mature works as “Pickman’s Model,” “The Festival,” “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” “The Mound,” “The Shadow Out of Time” and many others.

Th e story is densely written, with little conventional plot or “action” (in the pulp-magazine sense). Here we see Lovecraft achieving the kind of spare, unemotional prose style that he had been striving for over the years. Gone are the eldritch, gibbering, necrophagous, blasphemous adjectives of the sort you find in a story like “The Hound.” “At the Mountains of Madness” is written as a scientific report. Indeed, the motif behind it is that Professor Dyer and the graduate student Danforth never revealed all of what they saw and experienced—until now. The story is being told to discourage further exploration, as Miskatonic’s later Starkweather-Moore expedition is being organized. As we see from some of the stories in the present book—You did buy it, didn’t you?—this effort was in vain. Th e Starkweather-Moore expedition seems to have set forth, then vanished without a trace shortly before World War II.

It would be pleasant to report that the story brought Lovecraft fame and fortune, but, alas, it did not. Farnsworth Wright, the editor of Weird Tales, rejected the story with his usual excuses that it was “too long,” “not easily divisible into parts,” and “unconvincing,” this last being a virtual buzz-word for him when he could not come up with a better articulated reason for turning something down. Whether Wright made the correct decision is still open to debate. Certainly most serials in Weird Tales were lowbrow action melodramas designed to make less sophisticated readers keep buying the magazine, and “At the Mountains of Madness” does not fit this description. But my own feeling is that Wright, for all his brilliance—and you have only to read a few issues edited by his predecessor, Edwin Baird, and compare them to the Wright issues of the late 1920s to mid-’30s to appreciate how good an editor Wright really was—could be overcautious at times. Admittedly the magazine was often in perilous shape, particularly after losing its assets in a bank failure during the Depression, but one of the things I learned as one of Wright’s successors, co-editing Weird Tales between 1988 and 2007, is that if you have what you know to be a good, even brilliant story that you are afraid many readers will not understand, the thing to do is simply to pad the issue in question with other material that you know will be popular, so that if some readers don’t like that particular story, they will like enough of the rest to keep on buying the magazine. If Wright had chopped “At the Mountains of Madness” into three 10,000-word installments and deliberately packed those issues with Robert E. Howard’s sword and sorcery, adventures of Seabury Quinn’s psychic detective Jules de Grandin, a lurid torture tale or two, and an Edgar Rice Burroughs knockoff  serial by Otis Adelbert Kline, I am sure he would have gotten away with it. But he never took that leap of faith.

What is certain is that the rejection crushed Lovecraft. About a year later he rejected “Th e Shadow over Innsmouth” for the same reasons, while a mainstream book publisher (G.P. Putnam’s) turned down a proposed collection of his stories. Lovecraft’s confidence evaporated. He began to feel that his fiction-writing days were over, and certainly that the cozy relationship with Weird Tales that he had enjoyed in earlier years had come to an end. From Wright’s point of view, Lovecraft was evolving away from the kind of material Weird Tales needed from him—shorter, atmospheric stories like “Pickman’s Model,” “The Dunwich Horror,” or “The Outsider.” For Lovecraft, never a commercial writer, the very idea of tailoring his output to fit a market was anathema, and writing more such stories would have been for him an artistic step backwards. He was interested in vast studies of alien societies, such as we see in “At the Mountains of Madness,” “The Shadow Out of Time,” and “The Mound.” We can now see that he was at the height of his creative powers, but to Lovecraft, his powers seemed to be failing.

Then he had a stroke of luck. His young friend Julius Schwartz, who was trying to set himself up as an agent in the fantasy/science fiction pulp field, sold “At the Mountains of Madness” to F. Orlin Tremaine, the editor of Astounding Stories, the leading science fiction pulp of the day. (The same magazine now published as Analog.) Apparently Tremaine was so impressed by Lovecraft’s reputation in Weird Tales that he bought the story without reading it. He serialized in in the February, March, and April 1936 issues of Astounding, with excellent illustrations by Howard V. Brown.

Th e huge check that resulted certainly relieved Lovecraft’s dire poverty for a while, but even so, his troubles were not over. The text was heavily edited by Astounding. Pulp editors did not usually think in terms of publishing “literature.” They saw their material more on the order of a newspaper’s “copy,” which is to be edited, cut, reparagraphed, or otherwise banged into shape as needed. Th e result brought out the strongest language ever recorded from the otherwise impeccably genteel Lovecraft (“that god-damned dung of a hyena Orlin Tremaine…”). He came to regard the story as unpublished. He spent several days with pen and exacto-knife correcting three sets of the Astoundings serial (restoring whole passages) so that he could circulate the text among his friends. But he did not have the manuscript in front of him and so did not correct all the errors. While Arkham House based its early editions on those corrected Astoundings, the story was not published as Lovecraft wrote it until Joshi revised and edited a new edition of At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels in 1985.

To add insult to injury, the serial drew at best mixed reactions from Astounding’s readers, who were not used to dense, philosophical fiction, or scary stories. Th e letter columns resonated for the rest of 1936 with tirades for and against Lovecraft, mostly against. Farnsworth Wright, seeing this, might have concluded that he’d dodged a bullet.

Virtually all of Lovecraft’s triumphs seem to have been posthumous ones. Since 1936, “At the Mountains of Madness” has continued to fascinate readers. It is not only included in H.P.L.’s Library of America collection, Tales, but it also had a separate edition, as a literary classic, from Modern Library. It is now part of the canon of 20th century American literature, which cannot be said for anything else Astounding published in 1936.

All of this brings us to the subject and premise of the present anthology. Th is was never intended to be a political or propagandistic work, but we do live on a rapidly warming planet, where just about every year records the hottest temperatures on record. The climate is changing more rapidly than the earlier projections had supposed. Glaciers in the Alps, the Himalayas, and, yes, in Antarctica are disappearing. So if we apply observable reality to Lovecraft’s fiction, isn’t it inevitable that before long that 100-mile-long, 50-mile wide stone city of the Old Ones, millions of years old, will be in plain sight? What if you can see it on Google Earth (at least until censorship kicks in) and every intelligent person on the planet is faced with the realization that 500 million years ago, in the age of dinosaurs, another sentient species, perhaps superior to our own, flourished on the Earth and occupied it? The Starkweather-Moore expedition may have vanished without a trace (I believe that is my invention), but other intrusions, both national and private, sponsored by universities, corporations, and even private individuals, will soon be tramping all over the Mountains of Madness and may soon discover the final horror, a glimpse of which put the graduate student Danforth off  his head and which neither he nor Lovecraft could ever describe. What comes next? Science? Exploitation? Even a ridiculous attempt by an entertainment conglomerate (herein tactfully referred to as the Funny Mouse Corporation) to build a theme park? This, one suspects, is not going to end well.

Let our authors tell you how it all turned out.

—Darrell Schweitzer, Feb 8, 2019

Available for Pre-Order.

The Unquiet Dreamer: A Tribute to Harlan Ellison

As Nabokov said, “I think it is all a matter of love; the more you love a memory the stronger and stranger it becomes.”

It was sometime in the mid-nineties at Dangerous Visions Bookstore in Sherman Oaks, when a seismic shift altered the foundations of the room. It wasn’t the Northridge quake, but it was certainly a force of nature—in walked Harlan, the man who had written “Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes” and “Repent Harlequin. . . .” and “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.” In walked the man who had met Bruce Lee, mouthed off to Sinatra, marched in Selma, had lived through the insanities of Hollywood producers . . . and, oh, so much more. Something had happened to the crowd, as if they had fallen into the path of a McCormick thresher—husks torn away to reveal something essential in their awe-struck silence.

I knew all too well how meeting one’s heroes can turn out badly (as it had for some of Harlan’s fans), but I was indefatigable in my youth and I told him what I thought of his work and he smiled and shook my hand and we talked for a while. I had told him my dream of putting together an anthology someday, with a table of contents that included some of the very writers in this book. “That’s a pretty nifty list,” Harlan said. “Do it, kiddo.”

As the years passed, I went on to write for Nature Magazine and became a contributing editor at Locus, and the dream kind of fell by the wayside, but Harlan never let me forget.

And though I wish Harlan could see it, the dream is finally here—a book full of memories and love—thirty-three international contributors who have joined together to celebrate his life. It’s strong and strange in ways I never expected, full of inspired ideas, anecdotes and stories of Harlan. Of course, to include everyone influenced by Harlan and the work he celebrated would more than fill The Lost Aztec Temple of Mars.

And without further ado . . .

I’d like to share a few excerpts from THE UNQUIET DREAMER                                                                                                                                                                                            — Preston Grassmann


THE FIRST OF MANY SHUDDERS

by Kaaron Warren

The evicted drifted back to see the place, sift through the rubble.

Some of them had watched the demolition of their homes from across the road, belongings in garbage bags around their feet, because until then they really didn’t believe it was going to happen. Or they thought; they’ll stick up the condemned signs and we’ll move back in, because that had happened before, blocks of flats considered derelict but still livable if you had nowhere else to go.

But the place was reduced to rubble and every day the rubble shifted, formed into something else, made of memories, good and bad.


ON AN OLD MAN’S CONTEMPLATION OF AN ARCHWAY SEALED WITH STONES

by Adam Troy Castro

His name is Stick. He is an old man. He is not feeble. He is not confused. He is young in aspect because such is his nature. It is impossible to consider him old. But he is old, very old; old enough to remember when times were green. He knows that he does not have much time left. He avoids the end as best he can, as we all do. In the meantime, he does what he has always done, visit the worlds that he finds through the portals from the Gray.


A THIN SILVER LINE

FOR HARLAN ELLISON

by Steve Rasnic Tem

A thin silver line: color of moonlight, or morning fog, the highlight on your grandmother’s lips. The fading borders of the dream just before you discover it is morning. It’s a separation keeping you from the dream, the day from the night, and the fantasy from nightmare. The division is less substantial than mist; you can cross it and not even know.


THE WAY YOU CAME IN MAY NOT BE THE BEST WAY OUT

by Paul Di Filippo

The first time Sal Broome heard a Rigellian play the gnostic flute, he was ruined for all other music. His mind shattered into myriad tiny mirrored fragments, his soul melted down into a puddle of honeyed whey, and his gut suddenly hosted a whirling maelstrom that made the vortex that Arthur Gordon Pym encountered look like a bathtub drain.


HUMS

by Peter Crowther

The waiting area was cramped but William found a seat. He eased himself between a man wearing a tweed jacket and an old woman whose spectacle lenses were so thick that there didn’t seem to be eyes behind them.

He looked at the table alongside and scanned the books, magazines and newspapers. Several copies of Readers’ Digest, the morning’s Independent with what looked to be the word ‘sugary’ (although William decided it must have been ‘surgery’) scribbled above the masthead, a couple of well-thumbed copies of National Geographic (one which proclaimed “we are not alone” in large blue letters written on an interstellar gaseous cloud) and a coffee-ring stained Beano Book showing all of the comic’s characters in a bus whose side boldly proclaimed ‘Christmas Or Bust’. He opted for a Readers’ Digest that boasted a story about clairvoyant pets.


THE LAST SHOUT OF THE BEAST

by Bruce Sterling

To witness the end of the world was a nightmare. Professor Echo knew he wasn’t dreaming, though; the end of the world smelled worse than any dream ever could.

The Mogul’s rocket-base stank of decomposing plastics, dead topsoils, arctic methane, and the ill-winds from bomb-cratered cities. Space-rockets towered on the desert horizon. Each colossal, gleaming missile had a sharp nose and four big hollow fins. They were ranked as neatly as literary awards.


THE RE-EVOLUTION OF CLOUD 9

Nikhil Singh

They’re out there, friends. They are out there with their quadrophobes and their capsules of rotten time and their Eye-rooms. They say and we lousy mugs do. Their fingers are in your pie, Sunny Jim. So, what you gonna to do? Sit there with a stupid expression on your Happy Frank while Little Miss Eyeball and her bugs peel open your dreams like bananas? What’s this rotten egg they’ve sold you, Bubba? Why are things in the shitty state they are in? I mean, you can wave your anti-matter cyclons and your peace signs and your anti-retrovirals, but what you going to do? The clocks have stopped. Time is doing the geriatric tango and still you working for the Man. We have one great Age to duck and weave in kids, from the dinosaurs to the apocky-clips, and still you pumping checks for Daddy God and the great white picket fence in the sky…..


Artist Biography: Yoshika Nagata

Yoshika Nagata was born in 1977, and lives in Tokyo. After graduating from Tama Art University in 2000, she began working for a CM editing company, but left her job in 2003 to pursue her art full time. Her illustrations and paintings have appeared in various art galleries around the world. She currently illustrates for books and performs in live-painting events.


Editor Biography: Preston Grassmann

Preston Grassmann was born in California and educated at U.C. Berkeley. He began working for Locus in 1998, returning as a contributing editor after a hiatus in Egypt and the UK. His most recent work has been published in Nature Magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, and “Futures 2” (Tor). He is a regular contributor to Nature and writes a feature for Locus called “The Cosmic Village”. He currently lives in Japan, where he enjoys hiking, watercolor painting, and performing at live events throughout Tokyo.


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The Ice Garden and Other Stories by Eric Brown

Sneak Peek Extract: Introduction

A few weeks ago, while I was contemplating putting this collection together, I had an email from a reader with a question: “How do you write a short story?”

That gave me pause.

I’m largely an instinctive writer who believes that the answer lies in giving the subconscious free rein. I get an idea, a notion, a character with a dilemma, and I sit down with a setting in mind and start writing. A day or so later, as if by magic, the story appears. Then begins the longer task of rewriting the thing.

Which doesn’t really answer the reader’s question.

The best way to answer the question, I realised, was to think back to my last collaboration with my friend and fellow science fiction writer Keith Brooke, because, as I don’t have free access to Keith’s subconscious, with him I write short stories differently and of necessity the process is a bit more drawn-out and laborious.

One of us gets an idea, a notion, and tells the other about it; we bat this idea back and forth for a while, over many emails, until we’ve ironed out the gremlins. (I come up with a lot of half-baked ideas which, under Keith’s sharp-eyed scrutiny, sag and die.) The idea suggests characters, and conflict, because the powerhouse behind any story is conflict: What does the character want? What is stopping him or her from attaining it? How can he or she prevail over these problems?

Once we’ve got this far—with an idea, a cast of characters, problems that the characters need to overcome—a storyline pretty rapidly develops. One of us sits down and begins writing, and after a couple of thousand words hands it over.

That must have been how I wrote short stories back in the early days, when I had to think through every aspect of the story before I was confident enough to sit down and start writing. Nowadays, with over forty years’ experience at the keyboard, I’m more gung-ho about things, and I’m a great believer in rewriting. No story is ever right after just one draft. I’m not infallible, and I make mistakes, and those mistakes need ironing out over a dozen re-readings and a dozen re-drafts, or more.

Some ideas come in an instant, a dizzying inspirational flash that hits me  and begs to be developed—while others take much longer to germinate. For instance, for the past six years I’ve been sitting on an idea for a SF story entitled “Life in Orbit”. It’s about an expeditionary survey mission to a far-flung world, and the two telepaths aboard the starship who compete to find sentient life. The backstory is that the funding for the expedition is due to be cut, and one of the telepaths will be made redundant—crudely, the telepath who discovers life will save their job. Also, if sentient life is discovered, colonisation of the planet will not take place. Now, for the purpose of the tale, one telepath will be investigating a shoal of aliens which float in the stratosphere high above the planet’s surface, while the second will be assigned to look into a race of herbivores which lives  on the surface. The conflict, other than the need to come up trumps and save his or her job, will be heightened by the fact that the telepaths detest one another  for reasons that will be explicated in the telling of the tale. Our viewpoint character will be the telepath investigating the herbivores—who thinks she’s been given  the short straw, as the herbivores are just grass-munching bovines, right? The second telepath arrogantly assumes he will triumph, and rubs the other’s nose in the fact. However, thanks to the twist in the tale, which I won’t divulge here, the land-based telepath wins the day, discovers the sentient aliens and secures her posting.

Now, something is stopping me from beginning the story, and I don’t know what. Perhaps I need a second idea to rub against the other, in the manner of flint and stone, or perhaps I need to pass the idea on to Keith.

The stories collected in this volume were written between 2002 and 2017, the oldest being the collaboration with the late, great Michael Coney. They run the gamut of the old, tried, and tested SF tropes: the coming of aliens to Earth, contact in space with a race of very odd aliens, near-future social satire set very much on our planet, clone technology and its potential misuses, an autistic character’s drastic life-choice and the repercussions it has on the people who love him, and a biological murder mystery set on a colony world. One story, “Conway and the Almorans”, features the characters and setting of my Starship series of novellas, and was written specially for this volume.

What they have in common, I like to think, is that they’re all character-oriented and, very importantly, are all stories in the traditional sense of the world, with coherent plot lines; a beginning, middle, and end, and satisfying resolutions.

I hope you enjoy them.

Eric Brown, Cockburnspath, Scotland, May 2019

Available to Order. 

The Disciples of Apollo by Eric Brown

Sneak Peek Extract: Introduction

I’ve been writing short stories now for forty-four years, and I’ve been selling them for thirty-two. During those first twelve years—let’s call it my apprenticeship—I wrote a couple of hundred tales which never saw the light of day. They were dreadful. Most of them I didn’t even bother to type out (I wrote longhand back then), and those that I did type and send to magazines were rejected pretty quickly, and rightly so. During those dozen years I also wrote about twenty short novels, each in the region of fifty thousand words. I read a lot of Ace Double novels at the time and thought that this was the required length of all novels. I submitted a couple of these novels to various places in the UK and US, and they were rejected, too. I also contacted an editor in London outlining an ambitious plan I had to write a dozen colony novels. The editor was John Jarrold, who many years later was to become my agent. John must have laughed at the naïve presumption of the tyro who thought that any publisher would be in the slightest bit interested in a dozen short novels by a previously unpublished writer. I did write five of the series, before moving on to other things. An idea in one of them was to become the central conceit of my first novel, Meridian Days, in 1992. But I jump ahead of myself.

In 1985, I began submitting stories to the British SF magazine Interzone. I think I had around half a dozen rejections before I sold them “Krash-Bangg Joe and the Pineal-Zen Equation”, quickly followed by a couple of others, in 1987. That year I spent in Greece, running a youth hostel on Crete, and while there I received a letter from an agent (not John) asking if he might represent me. And did I have any novels he might look at? We met on my return to the UK, and I told him that I didn’t have a novel I was happy with, but that I could bundle up a collection of short tales. Now this was in the day—long gone, sadly—when a major publisher would risk their neck on a collection by an unknown writer. Pan Macmillan did so, and wanted to see a follow-up novel. The Time-Lapsed Man and Other Stories came out in 1990, followed by the novel two years later. From then on I’ve published an average of five short stories a year, and I still write them—even though the market is shrinking and the rate of payment is on average lower now than what it was back then.

So why do I write short stories?

Because I love doing so. Because from initial idea to completion can be as little as a day. Because it’s possible to explicate a single idea, with a character or two, in a few thousand words of exerted effort. Because editors still want them. Because, although I’d earn more working at a “proper” job rather than spending a few days writing a tale that might earn me between zero pounds or a hundred or so, the satisfaction of creation—the release of endorphins within my cranium—is greater than the buzz I get from working at a “proper” job, or even writing novels, which is a laborious slog.

The fifteen stories gathered here were selected from 150 published tales spanning a period of thirty years. I chose these particular stories because they’re my favourites—they work for me on an emotional level, and also they are pure “story.” They’re not just character studies, nor just simple “ideas” stories; they’re not vignettes, nor merely mood pieces, and they’re not in any way experimental (though I’ve written all of the above). They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They’re traditional in that they present a character or characters in a certain dramatic situation, with their wanting or needing something, and the story is about the working-out of their desire, or need, or dilemma. There are twists along the way, and reversals of fortune, revelations, and conceptual breakthroughs (science fiction is particularly good at this), and always, I like to think, a satisfying denouement. Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that the characters always get what they want, or that the endings are always happy, but that the finale is a complete emotional and intellectual culmination of the situation set up in the story.

I’m less influenced these days by what I read—I suppose I’ve been writing long enough to be confident in my own ability—but in the early days I was influenced by the writers I loved: Robert Silverberg, H. G. Wells, early William Gibson, Bob Shaw, and Michael G. Coney. I still reread and love Michael’s work. He’s sadly neglected now, but he wrote the BSFA award-winning novel Hello Summer, Goodbye, which I urge you to read, as well as his other fine novels and dozens of excellent, beautifully crafted, and moving short stories. (And I had the honour of collaborating with him on what would be his last published work, the long story “The Trees of Terpsichore 3”, which appeared in Spectrum SF 8).

Over the years I’ve written homages to and pastiches of my favourite writers, including Wells, Verne, Chesterton, Bukowski, and Simak. These have been technical exercises, the coming together of an idea that was admirably suited to the style or approach of a certain author. I’ve included one of these—“Life Beyond…”, an homage to Simak—in this collection.

So, there we are. I’ll cease my rambling and let you begin, and hopefully enjoy, the fruits of my thirty years at the keyboard

Eric Brown, Cockburnspath, May 2019

Available to Order.

Chasm by Stephen Laws

Sneak Peek Extract: Prologue One Year Later

Jay took the street corner at sixty and struggled to control the car as it slewed up onto its front and rear left-hand side wheels. He’d seen the stunt performed by experts on television a lifetime ago, couldn’t believe that it was happening to him now . . . and yelled out loud in panic as he wrestled with the wheel. The car wobbled and swerved up onto the pavement, clipping the corner of a building and shearing away the trim in a welter of buzz-saw sparks. Jay wrenched at the wheel again to prevent the car from being flipped onto its back by the impact, and it slammed back down onto its suspension, cracking the rear window. And now the wheel was spinning madly in his hands as the car swerved all over the road, the headlights flashing over ruined and looted buildings.

He couldn’t lose control now.

Not with the Vorla somewhere behind, hurtling through the night after him. He could feel it rushing after the car, could feel his skin crawling and knew how badly it wanted to get him.

“Jesus . . . ”

A rubbish bin bounced onto the hood, disgorging crap all over the windscreen. Jay hit the wipers, cleared enough space through rotting vegetables and fruit to see that if he continued on down this street, it would take him straight to the edge of the Chasm. Pulling hard over to the right, he took the car around the corner of another burned-out building and finally got the vehicle on the straight. That’s when he saw the Vorla in his rear-view mirror, exploding around that last street corner in its hunt for him. The tyres screeched. Hearing the sound, the Vorla gushed across the street in his direction. Jay slammed his foot down hard on the accelerator and took another corner at speed. He didn’t know where the hell he was now. Could he swerve the car around, aim the headlights at the damned thing? But what then? His only hope was to put enough distance between him and it, abandon the car and try to make it on foot.

But it can smell you, Jay. It can smell the scent of your fear. It’ll just keep on following that scent.

“Fuck it!”

The car screeched past the burned-out front of a grocery store, its valuable contents long since destroyed or looted—and then Jay cried out aloud again when he saw what was in the street before him.

He slammed on the brakes.

There were two—no, three—people in the middle of the street, frozen in the headlights. They had been hurrying across in the darkness, but had frozen when they’d heard the sounds of screeching tyres getting nearer and nearer. Unsure of which way to run, waiting in terror to see if the danger would pass them by, their fear had immobilised them. One of them was holding out his or her hands in an instinctive “Stop!” gesture as the car screeched and slid, with smoke rising from its tyres. Jay wrenched the wheel hard over and the car hit the pavement hard. His hands flew from the wheel to protect his face as the car exploded through the plate-glass windows of a fashion store. Bouncing and jerking with glass exploding on the roof and past the windows. The impact winded Jay; the seatbelt constricting his chest. He coughed and gagged for air.

One of the headlights had shattered, but the other still glared into the store. Suddenly, it seemed that the car was surrounded by human figures, all frozen in grotesque poses, their angular shadows all around him.

And there was a severed human arm on the hood of the car.

No, not a real human arm. It was the arm of a shop dummy, a department-store mannequin. At last, he realised that there were mannequins all around him, some of them smashed to pieces by the car as it came through the window.

Was the arm on the hood somehow smoking?

No, the smoke wasn’t coming from the arm. It was coming from under the hood of the car. Something had ruptured there. Now smoke was rising in front of the cracked windscreen, and he could smell the petrol.

There was a blur of movement in the wing mirror and his door was suddenly yanked open—and now Jay could see the people that he had nearly run down. These were not people that he knew. These were other survivors: two men and a young woman, in rags and with a look of horror on their faces that he knew only too well. They were starved. The older man had pulled open his door while the other two clambered around to the other side of the car.

“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” snapped the older man, jabbing at him with a rusted iron railing. “One of those murdering bastards!”

“You’ve got . . . ” Jay struggled to find his voice. “You’ve got . . . to get off the street!” Wincing at the pain in his whiplashed neck, he looked fearfully back out onto the street, knowing what could not be far behind. “It’s coming after me . . . ”

“We’ve been hiding here for a year,” said the old man angrily, jabbing with the railing again. Up close, Jay could see that he wasn’t old at all. The dirt and the scarring just made him look that way. “Hiding in these ruins for a whole bloody year, while you and your kind have hunted the others down like animals. Now, we’ve got one of you, haven’t we? Let’s see how you like it, you bastard!”

“I’m not one of them,” gasped Jay, slapping out at the iron railing. “And you’ve got to get off the street. Now!

The woman had reached the passenger door. Did she believe him?

“You must have something to eat,” she gasped. “It doesn’t matter what. Anything. We’ve been hiding all this time. Please, you’ve got to . . . ”

There was a sound from the street. A rumbling murmur, like the distant thunder of an approaching storm. The Vorla was coming.

“Get out of the street!” yelled Jay, finding his breath and startling the woman. “Hide!”

“We’re sick of hiding!” yelled the younger man, suddenly yanking the passenger door open and clawing inside. Jay grabbed the shotgun lying on the passenger seat, raising it awkwardly in a one-handed grip.

“Back off!”

And then the older man lunged into the car, jabbing with the railing as the younger man tried to yank the shotgun out of his hands.

“We only want food!” screamed the woman.

Jay kicked out at the older man, tried to jam his elbow back into that blackened face as the younger man finally seized the shotgun barrel. Somewhere beyond, the young woman was screaming.

“You idiots!” yelled Jay.

His finger tightened involuntarily on the trigger. The explosive roar within the car was more than deafening. It stunned the senses of all three as the windscreen was blown out in an explosive spray of glass shards. The girl’s screaming became hysterical, but Jay was the first to recover. The younger man had recoiled in shock as, with both hands on the recovered shotgun, Jay jabbed the stock viciously into the older man’s face. He grunted and slithered away from the door as Jay scrambled quickly out of the car, kicking him out of the way. Banging the gun barrel down across the car roof, he pointed it directly at the younger man on the other side. He staggered away from the car, eyes wild, and held his hands up in surrender. The woman sobbed uncontrollably, both hands clasped to her face and hopping from shredded foot to shredded foot on the broken glass that littered the destroyed storefront. Jay stood aside as the older man pulled himself up against the side of the car. Clutching his bloodied face he lurched hand over hand around the car to join the others. Now, the smell of petrol was overpowering, making Jay gag. They began heading back into the street.

“Not that way!” hissed Jay, rubbing at his neck. He looked around at the jumble of fashion dummies lying scattered over the store carpet. Their tangled limbs made it look like some bizarre, bloodless slaughter had taken place in here. “There must be another way out of here. Follow me . . . ”

But when he turned back, his attackers had fled back into the street, out of sight.

He started after them.

And then he heard that familiar, sickening sound.

Like the sound of a crowd mumbling; or the underground rumbling of some poisonous river. The sound that was like a million whispering voices.

Moments later, the two men and their woman companion began to scream in terror and agony. High-pitched, whooping cries of torment.

Jay felt ill, as if he might vomit. Swallowing hard, he backed carefully away from the car, trying to avoid standing on glass and giving away his presence. The sounds continued, rising in agony. But the street outside was still empty. Whatever was happening was taking place just out of his range of vision, and for that he was grateful.

Something ignited under the hood of the car with a soft whump! The hood jarred open an inch and smoke began to gush into the department store. Blue fire was surging and roaring in the engine. Jay saw drops of liquid blue fire dropping to the floor beneath the car, igniting a spreading lake of burning petrol.

Frantically, he looked around for a way out and could find none.

Should he run back out onto the street and take his chance there?

Jay heard the thousand-thousand, whispering, hungry voices out there as the Vorla fed eagerly, taking its insane pleasure from the hideous torment that was being inflicted on its latest victims. The voices were still racked in agony, but somehow muted and further away—as if they had been lifted, and absorbed.

Christ, no! Not back out there!

Should he stay here in the store, take shelter, and hope that he wouldn’t be burned alive?

Flames began to leap around the car as Jay sprinted across the store, leaping over the jumbled dummies. He whirled as the flames illuminated the interior. He could feel the pounding of his heart in his chest and his throat when he saw the Exit door sign on the other side of the store. Still clutching the shotgun, he ran to it.

Please God, after everything that’s happened. Let that door be open. Let it be OPEN!

Part of him refused to believe it when that door did swing open.

Flames from behind illuminated the small alleyway beyond, his silhouette leaping gigantically ahead of him. There was only the sound of surging flame behind him now, the noises of feeding and torment drowned. He swung the door shut.

And in the same instant, the car exploded with a shuddering roar. Off to his left, a store window cascaded into the darkness around him, raining fire and a shower of broken glass.

Something beyond the store began to scream.

Something that was not human.

Jay ran down the alley as smoke began to drift behind him. There were double-gates ahead in the gloom, but he wouldn’t have to climb them. The bolts were easily withdrawn and in the next moment, he was out onto a side street and running as fast as he could.

The sounds of screaming faded behind him.

The whispering, obscene voices were gone.

But as he ran, Jay knew that the danger was far from over.

He had to find somewhere to rest, somewhere to orientate himself. Somewhere he could work out in his mind the implications of everything that had happened since the nightmare of Day One, and just what the hell he was going to do to get away from the Vorla and back to the others.

He had no idea how far he’d run, knew that he could only go so far in any one direction before he reached the brink of the Chasm again. When he saw the unbroken shop frontage of an electricals shop, and could also see that the door was open, he knew that he could run no further. The poor bastards back there had probably ended up saving his life and buying him some time. Not to mention the burning car. He staggered through the doorway, only pausing to look back to make sure that the horde of voices and the darkness was not sweeping up the street after him. There was no relief in the desolate quiet of the empty street. It could come anytime, anywhere. Without warning.

Deep inside the shop, surrounded by shelves of silent televisions, DVD recorders and music centres, Jay slumped to the floor and dropped the shotgun at his side. He sat for a long time, just getting his ragged breathing back to normal again, feeling the blood pounding in his temples and his ears. Letting it all settle down.

But the deep, icy knot of anxiety would not go away.

And then he saw the dictation machines on the shelf beside him. Leaning over, he picked one up.

Leaning over, he picked one up.

There were batteries inside, and a tape. When he looked more carefully, he could see other packets of batteries; other boxes of blank tapes.

He smiled grimly.

“Jay O’Connor,” he said in a cracked voice. He looked at the dictation machine in his hand for a long time, weighing up. “This is Your Life.”

He pressed the record button.

And began to speak.

Now Available for Pre-Order. 

Ten-Word Tragedies edited by Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden

Let’s hand over to those two reprobates, Chris Golden and Tim Lebbon to get the full lowdown. Guys?

TIM LEBBON: When did you discover Frank Turner?

CHRISTOPHER GOLDEN: For those who don’t know him so well, this is Tim, looking for a pat on the back! You’ll get it, mate. Truth is, right around the end of 2014, I entered a fairly depressed period during which I didn’t sleep a single night without taking something to help me sleep. That went on until Halloween, 2015. Sometime around September of that year, I’d just been listening to the same old same old music for a while, and I posted online about needing recommendations for new music. I listed some of my favorite musicians, and two people who know me very well both immediately recommended I listen to Frank Turner.

The first was Matt Bechte (pictured far right with me and Frank), who has a story in TEN-WORD TRAGEDIES. The second, moments later, was you, Mr. Lebbon. Fittingly, I wouldn’t have even been led down the path to Frank if you hadn’t introduced me to Flogging Molly years ago. In November of that year, I reached out to Frank via email to sort of awkwardly tell him how much finding his music had meant to me, and that it had helped me get through a rough time. He replied a couple of hours later with an invitation to come down to Providence, RI, which is about ninety minutes from my house, to see him live with the Sleeping Souls at a small club called Fete. I brought Matt Bechtel with me and saw my first Frank show on December 16th, 2015. I’ve seen him live another six or seven times now, most recently at Lost Evenings 3 in Boston last week.

CG: So how’s about you, Tim because I know you’d been listening to Frank much longer than I have. What’s your Frank Turner story?

TIM LEBBON: Glad you took me up on that recommendation! Mine is a nice story, too. My daughter Ellie is in university now, but back when she was living at home all year round, I’d often pass her room and hear music creeping from the door (she’s a big music fan).  She’s always had quite a broad taste in music––some days it’d be Beyonce or Mumford & Sons, some days Green Day, and quite a few singers and bands I didn’t really know. One day I heard a bit of gentle piano music and a gentleman singing in a very English voice about listening to his music on a portable stereo. I stuck my head in the door and frowned.  Ellie knows me so well, so she said, “Just wait a minute, Dad.”  I’m glad I did wait.  With a “Hi ho, hi ho, hi ho . . .” Frank launched into Four Simple Words, and for me my love of his music was instant. I listen to a lot of rock and roll, but my tastes have definitely widened since my metal teens, and Frank Turner’s music really struck a chord (if you’ll forgive me).  He’s such a wordsmith that every song tells a story . . . and I think he’d actually be a great novelist. I’ve told him that, too. Who knows, maybe his first published fiction in this anthology might lead elsewhere?

TL: Do you remember the first time you heard Mittens?

CG: It was right after you and Matt recommended him to me. You know my musical tastes a bit better than Matt and said I needed to listen to Frank’s newest album (at the time), Positive Songs for Negative People, which had just come out. I love the whole damn album, from first note to last, though given my state of mind at the time it’s certain that “Get Better” will always be my favorite. Still, I loved “Mittens,” and what I loved most about it was that opening verse. As a writer, I was fascinated by Frank’s ability to paint an entire short story just in those few lines about discovering all those old postcards for sale in a New York City thrift shop. The idea that as a songwriter he would buy a box and ship it home for later inspiration stuck with me. I’d like to say the anthology was my idea, but I can’t honestly remember if it was you or me who came up with it, only that we had to do it together.

CG: You’re the one who managed to persuade Frank to send you a box of postcards to choose from for this project. I don’t remember which of us first learned the postcards were a true story, but how did you come to acquire them, and how did you select which ones you were going to send to the contributors?

TL: I remember the Skype when we came up with the idea. I think we were just talking about how great his lyrics are, and one of us quoted those lines, and the other said, “And that’s a great anthology.” I honestly can’t remember which one of us it was . . . we’ve collaborated so much that we are now, actually, one person. We’d both discovered by then that Frank is actually very approachable, and I think it was you who emailed Frank with the idea. He responded to say that it was a true story, and next thing he was shipping a big box of postcards to me (which I still have . . . I really must return them)! As for selecting postcards for contributors, I went through the box and pulled out the ones that I thought were interesting––whether it was picture, message, or sometimes just a one-word note. Then when we’d established the list, I picked three for each writer, at random, and sent them off.

As for a home for the anthology, PS felt so natural.

PS felt so natural.  I’ve known Pete for a long time (some people would probably say too long . . . I know he would), and I remember him once saying to me, ‘Music makes the world go around’.  I know he’s a big music fan, and I’m sure this has created one more Frank Turner fan, at least!

TL: What were the challenges of putting together such an eclectic mix of stories?

CG: It was the opposite of a challenge, really. It was an outrageous pleasure, the kind of freedom that rarely comes along, both for us as editors and for the contributors. So often you get invited to contribute to an anthology that has such a specific remit, or at least is bound by a particular genre. What writer wouldn’t love the freedom of being asked to take a look at three postcards, pick one, and write a story inspired by it—any story you want, in any genre you want, or no genre at all? What a wonderful gift to be able to give the authors, and the readers, and ourselves.

CG: What surprised you the most, as the stories came in? (Aside from how great Frank’s contribution is, which should really come as no surprise to anyone.)

TL: I think it was how different each story was, and also how differently each writer approached the invitation.  Some were quite literal, writing stories inspired by messages or pictures on the postcards.  Others seemed to just allow the postcards to trigger something in their mind, and the stories were only very tangentially linked.  I think it goes back to what you said about the freedom of such an idea.  And as a writer, I know that’d be a great thing.  We’ve ended up with such a pleasingly eclectic mix.  I’m delighted with how it all worked out!

TL: You’ve edited a lot of anthologies, was this one relatively easy to put together, or more difficult than usual?

CG: A little bit of both. Coming up with the list of authors we wanted to invite was difficult, as we wanted authors who are inspired by music, who are fans of Frank Turner’s music specifically, and who wouldn’t be terrified of fucking up such an open challenge as this offered. But we began with a core of writers whom we knew would jump at the chance. And the results . . . folks will see for themselves, but the results are extraordinary. I’m as proud of this anthology as I’ve ever been of anything with my name on it.

CG:  What would you say about this book to readers who aren’t familiar with Frank’s music? And what would you say about it to Frank’s fans who may not be familiar with some of the authors?

TL: I’d say to those readers, check out Frank’s songs, because his styles and themes are as varied as the stories in this book.  And for those who love Frank’s music already, this anthology is not only a great chance to read his first published fiction (how lucky are we!), but also to try out some other writers you might not have heard of before.

We’re thrilled to be launching the book at The Lexington, on Pentonville Road, London, on 10th July. And we’re even more pleased that Frank will be doing a short acoustic set at the launch, and then signing books.

Tickets are available to buy now and hard copies are available for pre-order.

T.M. Wright BEST OF and Novella MALLAM CROSS

The Windmills of His Mind: An Introduction to THE BEST OF T.M. WRIGHT by Steven Savile

There’s a reason Stephen King described Terry Wright as a rare and blazing talent, and a reason why, the last time we spoke, Terry said he hated that epitaph. There’s no getting away from the fact it’s true. Terry really was a rare talent. I’m tempted to call him a writer’s writer, because, when you know just how difficult some of the stuff he attempted to do with his prose was, the more you appreciate the sheer skill and down-beat power of those words he conjured with. But that King line was a millstone around his neck, too, because it was a false bill of goods. It got you thinking ‘ah, I’m getting another Big Steve’ here and became the kind of praise that’s impossible to live up to when your main aim, again and again, is to subvert expectation and deliver something new whilst at the same time exploring the familiar themes of death and loss of self.

‘But for me, Terry had more hits than misses.’

I never tired of reading his stories or his emails.

Now, there’s something vaguely melancholic about knowing we’ve reached this point, me writing the last few words that take us to the turn of the last page. After the final story in this book, ‘Otto’s Conundrum’, there are no more lost T.M. Wright stories waiting to be discovered. This is it, right here, in this collection, the rarest thing, the last original and previously unpublished T.M. Wright story.

Indeed, the fact you’re actually able to read it is nothing short of a miracle of a lazy mind, to be honest, and a thank-you to my email provider for hanging onto an archive of hundreds of thousands of emails dating back about fifteen years.

‘A little story for you before we get to the story itself.’

Many years ago now—and when I say many, it’s more than a decade and then some—I was sitting in a café in Stockholm when one of those bright shining thunderbolts of inspiration struck and I wrote the pitch document for something called ‘Monster Noir’, which was a shared world concept where all of those monsters grew up loving were real, and had been hidden away in an enclosure in the Nevada desert, victims of the Monster Alienation Act passed by Nixon, and so on. Terry wrote ‘Otto’s Conundrum’ specifically for this book that never was, with us trading a good forty or fifty emails about his ideas for the world, possible storylines and characters he imagined living in it. He wanted to be sure everything he came up with gelled with the world as I saw it, and together try to find out how to best make it fit in smoothly. He had a wonderful habit of sending snippets he was excited about while he was working, just the odd paragraph, a few lines of a description or a turn of phrase that he’d particularly enjoyed during that day’s work which made any sort of collaboration with him a lot of fun. Indeed, so many emails were filled with enthusiasm over Nyxon, our fictional town and its inhabitants and what might become of them, so in the slump that followed the failure to publish, we were both very down about everything.

‘We’d invested a lot emotionally in the project and suddenly there was nothing.’

It probably sat on our respective hard-drives for a year or more before we even discussed it again, but when we did, it was Terry broaching the idea of us working together on a follow-up piece talking about what happened after the last lines of Otto’s story, making it something bigger. Maybe a two-part story, or a short novel, or the illusive ‘something’.

That was a big deal to me—not least because A MANHATTAN GHOST STORY was one of those ten books that made me want to be a writer, and the idea that Terry didn’t just like my work enough to write that glorious introduction to Temple: Incarnations of Immortality where he half-jokingly called me a mad man who had clearly consorted with devils . . . but that he liked my work enough to want to fuse it with his own.

So, after maybe a year with less contact than there had been for a good three or four years, there was suddenly a mad flurry of emails, ideas building into ‘something’ and it looked like we were beginning to get there with the story of the Sheriff. Terry actually mailed to say he was starting work on it that day, but when I woke up the next day (thanks to the time zone shift between us) expecting a little sample of Otto’s return, instead there was a bullet point outline for something else entirely, a brand new idea that had gripped him as he sat down, a sort of crime noir horror, Sally Pinup. The story had taken root inside his head, unplanned, he explained, and had gripped him madly. Would it be okay if he saw where it would go before we got back to Otto?

I remember my response, it was the typically sanguine, ‘No worries mate, we’ve got loads of time, we’ll come back to it. I’ve got plenty to be getting on with.’

Only of course we didn’t have loads of time, and neither of us realised how little, to be fair. But, the joy for us is that he got to finish that last novella, Sally Pinup, while he was still on the top of his game, and it’s included here as a rarity along with his better-known short stories.

‘Terry didn’t write much in the way of short fiction, and often what he did was little more than hallucinatory fragments.’

So the fact we have something complete, and traditional in terms of story, that explores all of his familiar themes, is a wonderfully unexpected gift from my old friend.

And boy did we get lucky. Terry worked on an old computer—which even in 2008 was ancient. He used to joke that it was a brick even then . . . I seem to remember it was a Pentium, which dates it. During his final months in hospice care that machine, along with all of the digital copies of his old manuscripts and work in progress gave up the ghost and went to silicon heaven. I’ll be honest. I thought Otto was gone forever, lost in the crashes, because it hadn’t survived the several digital migrations my own files had gone through over the intervening decade. Why would it? Monster Noir was never happening. It wasn’t my work. It was only when a friend emailed asking if I had a copy of his submission lurking in my email by any chance because he’d lost his that I thought, hmm, you know, I might . . . I’m terrible. I never clear the online storage (there are about 400,000 emails still on the server) and just pay increased fees every year to add gigabytes to the account. I found Terry’s original emails, hundreds of them, spanning about six years, a real treasure trove of my dead friend’s thoughts and words, which were vital in completing work on what became MALLAM CROSS, and, deep in the pile, several revised versions of the manuscript for ‘Otto’s Conundrum’. Terry was a tweaker. He’d send a finished story, then two days later a version with a couple of changed sentences would arrive; then a week later along came another version with a few words changed; and so on until what you had on paper was exactly how he wanted to read.

‘I’ve explained what happened next in the introduction to Mallam Cross . . .’

. . . and how as a fan of his work Peter Crowther stepped in and volunteered the excellent PS Publishing to make these two books a reality. He’s a champion. But Terry has another champion in David Niall Wilson, who not only came to my aid sourcing digital versions of some of these old stories but with his Crossroads Press has kept Terry’s words alive for a new generation of readers. These two gentlemen have, I’m sure, never met, but came together to make this last book possible and for that I will be forever grateful.

Sometimes, just sometimes, it feels like it’s not luck at all . . . but then, Terry did spend most of his life writing about how our world and the next interplay, so maybe he had a little hand in this stuff not remaining lost.

Now let’s close with Steve once more with a short nod from his twenty-six hundred word Afterword to MALLAM CROSS . . . 

In the months before his death Terry tried to bring that city of ghosts to life. Too sick to write, blind now, he dictated the ideas as they came to him, spitballing a big grand confusing city and its inhabitants and histories, but with no real connective tissue. He created a cast of if not hundreds, probably close to a hundred, with snatches of thoughts and bits of backstory, but it was all very disparate. Roxane, Terry’s wife, transcribed all of it. Around 50,000 words of these little histories. But it was a race against time he was never going to win, and as his own grasp of reality slipped deeper into the dementia consuming it, it became harder and harder for him to connect with his creation and, full of frustration and anger at his inability to get the words out and shape the ideas as he saw them in his mind he gave up working on this and realized he’d never get to tell the stories of these last imaginary people living inside him.

Now available for pre-order. Buy either the BEST OF collection (£30) or MALLAM CROSS (£18) or better still, pick up both books in an illustrated slipcase (just 200 copies with a signature from Steve) priced at £50. 

The PS Book of Fantastic Fictioneers: A History of the Incredible

The “Fictioneers project” which has culminated in these two wonderful books has a long history but mainly I just wanted to celebrate a special group of men and women who made indelible marks on our collective and individual consciousness and whose works stand as milestones in the history of fiction in culture. It couldn’t be just my personal lesser known favorites, if it was going to be a history so there were obligatory entries like Walt Disney, Steven Spielberg, Ursula LeGuin, Rod Serling, Gene Roddenberry and so on.

I put Jack Kirby in and Roy Thomas thought Stan Lee should also be included . . .

. . . and, of course, Stephen King had to be there and so he was . . . along with literally hundreds of others. But I mostly wanted to spotlight people like John Stanley, Mo Gollub, Jay Matternes, Basil Gogos, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, Basil Wolverton, Bill Watterson, Arthur Machen and others you may not know much about but you should. And after you’ve spent some time in these pages, you will.

We cover weird fiction, comic books, children’s books, cartoons (print and animated), movies, television, paleo art and more.

And the fine men and women who graciously lent their expertise in the form of special created-for-this-book essays are legion and legend. Just scan the list of contributors and you’ll see what I mean. Interesting connections were made; Ramsey Campbell wrote about Hans Christian Andersen, Stuart Gordon wrote on Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison on Frank Herbert, Maryelizabeth Hart on Octavia Butler, Roy Thomas on Robert E. Howard, Chris Ryall on Harlan Ellison, S.T. Joshi on Algernon Blackwood, Pete Atkins on Ramsey Campbell and many many many more.

I am so proud of what we have done together here but before I get too excited, I must make mention of the illustrious Ernest Farino who wrote on Ray Harryhausen (of course!) and also laid the book out and brought a wealth of design skills to the table. And of course Pete Crowther, the rascal who nourished and encouraged the whole project and is finally publishing it. There have been frustrating delays but as is often the case, the book is far better for them. I’m so glad to put it out now rather than a couple of years ago—it’s a better book now, plain and simple. I hope you get this book and I am confident that if you do, you will love it.  And now back to our sponsor. Much love to one and all. From Pete Von Sholly Early 21st Century.

Oh, thank you so much, PeeVee.

Folks, I just can’t let it go without a few final words. This project—two jam-packed books in full illustrative colour thoughout, cartoons, movie stills yada yada yada—runs to amost 800 pages split into four- or six-page sections each of which concentrates on an individual or collective achievement. Believe me, reading REPEATEDLY though this crazy project is the most fun you’re gonna have for the whole of what’s left of this year and everything else that’s already lining up.

Putting a price on this project has been the true nightmare but we’ve figured it out. Each pair of books—Volume 1 and Volume 2—will cost £50 a piece plus postage but you can have both volumes for £90.

Available for Pre-Order.