This week, I was pleased to discover that Bionic Punchline has been reviewed as part of Creativity Hacker‘s Immerse or Die series. As the name might suggest, these are no ordinary book reviews. In fact, they’re not so much reviews as the book equivalent of those How long would you survive locked in a wardrobe with a polar bear? quizzes that turn up on Facebook.
The process goes something like this: Jefferson Smith, the reviewer, hops on a treadmill and starts reading. Either the book immerses him for the duration of his 40 minute workout, or (upon accumulating three strikes for “WTF” moments) it dies, with its survival time becoming a sort of score. As the banner says: 1 book, 40 minutes, 0 mercy.
So how did Bionic Punchline do?
12 minutes, 4 seconds!
Based on the other reviews, that’s actually not too bad. Out of more than 200 books, only something like 21 have made it through the entire 40 minutes, and many don’t make it through the first one. It’s also just nice to see a detailed, critical review.
Though I’ve quoted such gems as “Most of the stories are pretty good” on the back of the book itself (and I’m hugely grateful for any review, no matter how brief), it’s great to know that there are people out there willing to take the time to explain precisely what they do and don’t like. The treadmill test might sound gimmicky, but actually the scores it provides feel like a more practical gauge of a book’s quality than an overall star rating. I don’t insist that every book keep me riveted for hours at a time (and Jeff himself suggests he might go back to Bionic Punchline at some point), but as a rule the best ones do, so that’s definitely something to look out for.
With that in mind, if you’re looking for a really great read then the Immerse or Die Survivors would probably be a good place to try. And if you want to see the full review of Bionic Punchline, you can find it right here.
Fans of big purple bionic boxing gloves rejoice! My third free collection of flash fiction stories, all of which are readily available on this very website, is now available in a non-free paperback format!
I’m really pleased with how this turned out, because the boxing glove took the most editing out of any of the cover images so far. It was also the first cover made without the direct assistance of JD McDonnell, though given that he left me with a very solid format to follow, I’m nut sure exactly how much I could screw up on my own. Continue reading
You might recall The Dungeon Lord–aka. “Girth Loinhammer”–from some of my flash fiction stories earlier this year. More specifically, he featured in the Black Throne series: Before the Black Throne, Rebranding the Black Throne, and Black Throne White Noise. Well, he’s back again, this time with his own blog all to himself. He’s even got his own twitter account. The thing is, even though this is a reboot of sorts, he’s still dealing with the same old problem.
While good old Girth just wants to run a nice respectable dungeon–torturing heroes, stealing their gold, all that honest dungeoning stuff–a lot of the people who’ve been turning up recently have some very strange ideas about what kind of dungeon he’s running. It’s starting to look like his whips and chains and black leather armour are giving the wrong impression entirely, and this makes him very, very uncomfortable. Long story short, he’s fed up with the situation, but he’s out of ideas as to how to fix it.
This is where you come in. Leave a comment over on Beyond the Black Throne, or shoot @BlackThroneNews a message on twitter, and give the Dungeon Lord a suggestion as to what he should do next. Your feedback will dictate the course of his story! But naturally this is a big problem, and he’ll need lots of advice, so be sure to share the site with any friends you think could help (or, failing that, anybody you think could get a laugh out of the situation).
Where this goes next is up to you!
If you liked the stories I posted every day in July, you’ll love this: you can now download the entire collection–Bionic Punchline–free to enjoy on your e-reader, tablet, phone, or just any old computer.
For those of you who didn’t catch every single story this year (and given how many there were, I’m guessing there’s more than a few of you), this is a great opportunity for you to catch up. For any die-hard fans who managed to read all of them, you’ll be pleased to find a never-before-seen introduction to and statistical analysis of the collection. And if that comes as a surprise to you, you may also be interested in OCR is Not the Only Font and Red Herring, because I’ve done this twice already. But don’t worry: it turns out different every time!
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 31
Challenge #15: Write a story featuring summertime, and a multi-headed entity. It must include a word beginning with “f” in every sentence, become progressively more insane, and be written in the form of a 369er. A 369er is three different stories that are each exactly 69 words long, that are connected by a common theme, and meant to be read together.
Even without looking closely, you can tell that someone managed to survive here—alone and desperate—for quite some time. The festering animal bones in the corners of the room make you glad of your respirator. There are pages of writing scattered about the floor, but the hand is jagged, illegible. Your superiors refuse to tell you what happened here, and for the first time, you do not care.
We have watched a flaring match blaze into the sky. Oldself knows this is signalsymbol for canvasbirds flying overhead. We mastered such once, flicking switchsticksockets behind eyes glass. We once glad pilot training trusted mission special payload for gloryforce air. But newself has no formshapehandslimbsorder. Failure forced bailout made tankrupturerelease. No matter now, for someone is at the door. For we will greet. For we will make them new.
DOWNED PLANE HAS BEEN FOUND STOP
FERNIOT COUNTER CONFIRMS SEVERE CONTAMINATION OF CRASH SITE STOP
PASS UNNAVIGABLE EXCEPT IN SUMMER USING FULL TRACKED VEHICLE STOP
FIRST PILOT CONFIRMED DEAD BUT SECOND UNACCOUNTED FOR STOP
LOCAL WILDLIFE EXHIBITING FULL RANGE OF ALICE INDUCED ABERRATIONS STOP
SIGHTED FAUNA WITH MULTIPLE HEADS SPINY PROTRUSIONS WHIPLIKE APPENDAGES STOP
RECOMMEND FLAMETHROWERS TO CLEAR AFFECTED FOREST STOP
FORCES EXPENDABLE BUT PAYLOAD MUST BE RECOVERED STOP
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 30
Challenge #14: Write a 666 word urban fantasy story featuring a monk or holy person. It must begin with an argument, and the main character must be marginalised in some way.
“What did I tell you about coming here? Fourth Street’s ours!”
The voice carried all the way up to the window of Vittore’s fifth floor apartment. He glanced down at the street below, but couldn’t see anything out in the open. It was the alley with the bins again. It always was.
“And what did I tell you? This bit ain’t Fourth. You on our turf.”
“The hell I am! Get out of here, dog!”
“What did you just call me?”
There was a snarl, and a crash as something bashed into the dumpster around the side. Vittore grabbed his keys from the bowl, locking the door with a trembling hand. He knew that the fight would be over before he’d even hobbled to the elevator, but he had been a priest once, and despite—perhaps even due to—having been cast out of the church, he could not simply sit inside like the rest of the residents and pretend not to hear. The doors pinged open, and he stepped inside.
When the elevator reached the ground floor, Vittore was surprised to find that he did not need to go any farther. A girl in a battered grey hoodie was sitting on a bench by the main doors. Vittore’s neighbour Mrs. Rennolls was standing over her.
“You can’t just walk out of here.” She said it with force. “I’m calling an ambulance.”
Vittore stepped forward. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary.” He put on his most convincing voice, taking care to hold eye contact with his neighbour. “I’ll see to it that she gets home safely.”
“There’s gangs out there!” Mrs. Rennolls waved an arthritic hand towards the doors. “And they’re dangerous! All that fighting…”
Vittore had been momentarily taken aback—when he had a mind to persuade someone, they usually came around immediately—but he recovered quickly. Where polite persuasion failed, there were other methods. He stepped towards Mrs. Rennolls, baring his teeth. “You would do well not to interfere with what you don’t understand.”
Mrs. Rennolls shrunk back. “Alright, dear.” She started towards the elevator. “If you’re sure.”
Vittore waited until the doors closed and the floor number started counting up before speaking to the girl. “Are you hurt?”
“Just a little, Clanfather.” She unfolded her arms, revealing a sharpened length of dowel jutting out from just beneath her ribcage. When she tugged it out, the wound did not bleed.
“If that had been a little higher,” said Vittore, sternly, “you would be dust right now. Was that one trespasser really worth risking your life over?”
“It wasn’t about that one,” she replied. “Everywhere we go, they’re watching out for us. Everyone’s watching out for us. But they only stand out at the full moon.”
“I know, child.” Vittore placed a hand on her shoulder. “So choose your battles better. It will be a full moon tonight, but now you’re in no shape to defend the clan.”
She stared at her scruffy canvas sneakers. “I’m sorry.”
“You’ll do better next time.”
Vittore spent the evening quietly watching TV. He would have liked to read, but his eyes weren’t what they used to be and the large print section at the library had little to offer him. He considered that he wasn’t much help to the clan now either. Unfortunately, for him there was no next time. The most he could provide now was a stern word or some brief advice, and even then there weren’t many opportunities. That was why, when he heard a muffled thud from the apartment next door, he went to investigate.
“Mrs. Rennolls?” he shouted through the wood.
Vittore reached for the handle, then hesitated. “Are you inviting me in?” he asked to make sure.
“Yes. It’s open.”
Vittore stepped inside and found Mrs. Rennolls collapsed in front of the sofa, tufts of fur sprouting from her cardigan, claws sprouting from her fingertips.
Yellow eyes looked up. “I think I’ve thrown my back out…somehow. Little help?”
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 29
Challenge #13: Write an epistolary story in response to a piece of flash fiction written by another author this month. The story must include at least one dead character, at least one nameless character, and at least one cat. This story is a response to Joe Wright’s piece, Toil and Trouble.
Dear Miss MacAbre,
I have a somewhat embarrassing problem. As a recently deceased usurper of the throne, I’m having some difficulty adjusting to the afterlife. I understand that’s totally normal, and I’ve been very impressed by the advice on offer. The leaflet I was given upon arrival—So You’ve Been Besieged by an Army of Guys Dressed Like Trees and Your C-section Rival Lopped Your Head Off—was both helpful and unnervingly specific. I’ve taken everything it says on board and, though it’s hardly smooth sailing, I feel that I’m making good progress. My wife, who died shortly before me, seems to have acclimatised much more quickly and has already succeeded in gaining employment with a local magazine.
My real problem is that while I am content to slowly adjust to life after death, my wife is pressuring me to commit regicide once again. This causes no end of worry, as not only did it not work out so well for me last time, it is actually the same king. I fear that murdering him a second time would threaten to end our already strained friendship.
I love my wife dearly, and have tried to divert her attention from what I believe to be a doomed enterprise by adopting an adorable kitten named Spot. Sadly, my wife does not share my affection for him and upon seeing him will invariably attempt to shoo him outside. Also, I fear that distracting her with a pet or hobby would not address the underlying problem in our relationship.
I eagerly await your advice. Also, if there’s any chance anyone at your publication would be able to look after a small but very energetic kitten, I would be much obliged.
Boo hoo hoo! You sound like such a whiny little girl. If I were a man, instead of a lady, I would totally murder that king so hard! In fact, I wish I wasn’t a lady so that I could actually murder him. I would be, like, soooo full of cruelty and thick blood and junk. And manly. Really manly. Just like you should be, except you’re not, because you suck. You big wuss.
Go kill Duncan again, and do it right this time.
Dear Miss MacAbre,
I’ve taken your advice, but I can’t help but feel that I’m just going round in circles. Everything is happening the same as before, only this time people seem to be much, much, much more suspicious of me. I didn’t like to mention this initially, but a lot of people who were around for my first stint on the throne are also dead now, and it’s hard to persuade them that I didn’t kill the king’s ghost. Frankly I feel kind of guilty that they’re even giving me the benefit of the doubt.
It’s fine. Just throw a big banquet. Get ‘em so drunk they don’t know what’s what! Also, if any of these people gave you trouble last time around, this would totes be the time to bump them off. Live and learn, right? Well, learn anyway.
Dear “Miss MacAbre,”
I didn’t exactly study at Wittenberg, but I’m pretty sure it’s not a good idea to plan multiple murders in the “Help and Healing” section of a widely-read magazine. While I’d like nothing more than to see both of you get your comeuppance, I personally would prefer it if you didn’t arrive in the after-afterlife quite so soon.
Banquo’s Ghost’s Ghost
Too late. He’s your problem now.
Banquo’s Ghost’s Ghost
I think we should see other people. “Till death do us part” and all that. You can keep the cat.
Macbeth’s Ghost’s Ghost’s Ghost
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 28
Long ago, when the forest was young, a fox was walking amongst the trees. He had not been walking far when he came across a little frog croaking by a puddle. Immediately, the fox seized the frog, and would have swallowed it down in one gulp if the frog hadn’t spoken.
“You may as well let me go, fox,” said the frog. “I can make myself far too big for you to eat.”
“Go on, then,” said the fox, “show me.”
So the frog gulped in many breaths to swell itself, and it did indeed look too big to eat.
But the fox saw how it was done. “This is nothing but air,” scoffed the fox, and he swallowed the frog breath and all.
The fox had not walked much farther when he came across a little squirrel nibbling pinecones on the path. Immediately, he seized it, and would have swallowed it down in one gulp had the squirrel not spoken.
“You may as well let me go, fox,” said the squirrel. “I can make myself far too big for you to eat.”
“Go on, then,” said the fox, “show me.”
So the squirrel bristled up its fur, and it did indeed look too big to eat.
But the fox saw how it was done. “This is nothing but fluff,” scoffed the fox, and he swallowed the squirrel fur and all.
The fox had not walked much farther than this when he came across a tiny new butterfly just emerged from its cocoon. This creature the fox did not even need to seize, for it was still too frail to escape. But the butterfly saw the fox approach, and it spoke.
“You may as well let me go, fox,” said the butterfly, “I can make myself far too big for you to eat.”
At this, the fox laughed. “You are almost too small to be worth eating! How can you become too big?”
So the butterfly flipped open its wings, and suddenly it was not a butterfly, but two huge eyes staring back at the fox, who now felt very small indeed.
“How!?” cried the fox, confused and afraid, and he fled back the way he came, terrified that the butterfly—with its great hunting eyes—would come and eat him. At night, sometimes you can hear him crying still: “How!? How!?”
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 27
Professor Hattersley took his place at the podium, ignoring the less than kind murmurs that spread through the audience as he crossed the stage. Talk didn’t bother him. For one thing, he was used to it. For another, after this conference the talk would be different. He set the shoebox-sized casket of gold and lapis lazuli before him.
“Esteemed colleagues,” he began. “I am aware that my research has drawn a certain amount of scorn in the past, and I appreciate that a degree of scepticism is only healthy.” The murmurs showed no sign of abating. If there was one good thing about being an academic pariah, it was that it did wonders for one’s public speaking skills. He spoke louder. “The idea that the deities of ancient Egypt were not merely the invention of a primitive society, but powerful visitors from another dimension, will no doubt have a dramatic effect on Egyptology, and indeed the study of all ancient civilizations.”
“This is just conjecture!” shouted a no-nonsense delegate at the back of the room. “You’ve never provided so much as a shred of evidence for the ideas presented in any of your books.”
A hearty chorus of “hear hear” went around the auditorium.
“I have provided enough evidence,” retorted Hattersley, “for anyone who is prepared to accept it. And I will provide much more. Behold!” He held the box aloft.
“That could have come from any New Age hippy woo shop.” One of the speakers sitting in the front row flapped a hand dismissively.
“As a matter of fact, it did.” Professor Hattersley tapped the lid of the box. “But though this item may be made of plastic, its design is based on a ruined original believed to have been associated with King Scorpion, and that design is what matters. That, and the summoning incantations I discovered on my most recent expedition. These have, of course, already been performed.” He smiled, waving a hand over the box.
“I’m sorry,” a reporter at the side of the room spoke up. Until now she had been looking pretty bored. “Do you mean to say that inside that box…there is a god?”
“That is exactly what I am saying.” Hattersley grinned. “But the sacred charms I recovered do not merely summon this god—they will allow me to command it.” Without a word more, he whipped the lid from the box.
Suddenly, there was a blinding light that obscured the entire stage. When it faded, there stood before the podium one of the strange, animal-headed figures every member of the audience was so familiar with. Its head was that of a lioness, and it regarded the mass of observers with a cold, distant gaze.
“Oh my goodness…” one delegate whispered to another, “I think that’s Sekhmet!”
“I don’t think so,” replied the other. “Sekhmet was the focus of my thesis—she’s usually pictured robed in red. More likely this is…”
“SEE ME!” boomed the goddess on the stage. “I AM TEFNUT—GODDESS OF MOISTURE!”
“Prove it!” shouted the delegate at the back.
The goddess opened her mouth and produced a hissing chant, like ten thousand leaves swaying in unison. Suddenly, the room was quite humid.
“Amazing!” the delegate at the back had to concede. “Tell me…can you do more than this?”
“NO,” replied Tefnut. “IF I DID MORE THAN THIS, THE ROOM WOULD NOT BE MOIST. IT WOULD BE WET. IF YOU WANT THE ROOM TO BECOME WET, YOU SHOULD SUMMON ANUKET—GODDESS OF THE NILE—OR IT MIGHT BE EASIER TO JUST SPRAY IT WITH A HOSE.”
“Wait…” Professor Hattersley peered from behind the podium, where he’d been hiding. “Do you mean to say I’ve spent my entire career searching for you…and you’re basically just a supernatural humidifier? You can’t do anything else at all?”
“THERE IS ONE OTHER THING I CAN DO.”
“Go on then.”
Tefnut stared blankly at him.
“I command you,” shouted Hattersley, “show me!”
Tefnut stepped down from the stage and approached the speaker in the front row, who began to panic. “SCRIBE,” she said, “YOUR LIPS ARE DRY.” So she stretched out a hand and pointed to his lips, and they were dry no longer.
“Thank you!” stammered the speaker. “I left my chapstick on the plane and I’ve been without it for days…thank you so much!”
Professor Hattersley slapped a palm to his forehead. “Is that really all you can do?”
“THERE IS YET ONE MORE THING,” said Tefnut.
“Yes?” Hattersley tapped his foot.
“IF ANYBODY HAS A DISAPPOINTING TURKEY SANDWICH, I CAN…”
“That’s it.” Professor Hattersley pulled the microphone from his lapel and threw it to the ground. “I quit.”
Flash Fiction Month 2014, Day 26
Challenge #11: Write a story based on the work of David Bowie, featuring a cross-dressing, transgender or androgynous character. The story must begin with a hook and end with a twist.
The barmaid slid the mug across the bar, watching in fascination as the leather-clad patron tipped his head back, angled the drink over the slotted faceplate of his helmet, and poured. It wasn’t exactly neat, but the chugging noises suggested that it was at least effective, and that was something.
“Hey, honey,” said the regular with the ample bosom and prominent Adam’s apple. “That’s quite a talent you’ve got there. And I like your style. Want to make me scream like a baby?”
“No.” He set the mug down and sighed.
There was a pause. The barmaid dunked a dirty glass into a bucket of water.
“This is really going to bother me if I don’t ask…are you a man or a woman?”
“Honey,” said the regular, “I can be whatever you want me to be.”
“Hmm…” another pause. “Still no.”
“Humph,” said the regular, storming away with a flourish of his or her bipperty-bopperty hat.
The guy with the helmet stared into his empty mug for a moment. “I could do with another.”
The barmaid poured it out.
“You don’t have to take that personal,” she explained as she slid the mug over. “I’m not entirely okay with it going on in here myself, but it’s just business.”
Another sigh. The mug of mead vanished through the faceplate just like the three before it, and the drinker rested his head on the edge of the bar. He looked unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed.
“So…” the barmaid tried to spark up a conversation in some way that wasn’t painfully awkward. It didn’t work. “You seem pretty down. Want to talk about it?”
“No.” His voice was muffled by the wooden countertop.
“Want to talk about something else then?”
“No.” He rolled his head over to one side, so he didn’t just have his face pressed against the wood. The barmaid supposed it was the next best thing to actually sitting up. “I want another mead.”
“Don’t you think you should pace yourself a bit?”
“I’m not drunk.”
“You’ve had four already!”
“Most of it just soaks into my collar.”
The barmaid set down the glass she’d been wiping. “People who aren’t drunk tend to take their helmets off in order to consume more alcohol.”
“You know how when some people are reckless teenagers, they get bad tattoos and then just have to deal with it for the rest of their lives?”
“When I was a reckless teenager, I got a helmet. Now I just have to deal with it.”
“It’s permanent, yeah.”
“Ah.” She poured another mug of mead and carried it over. He sat up to take it. “My name’s Eleanor, by the way.”
He tipped half the drink through his faceplate. “I’m the Dungeon Lord.”
“Aaaaaaah.” Eleanor winked. “I get you. And that does explain the outfit…”
The Dungeon Lord groaned, slumping forward once more.
“That. Everything. I had an actual dungeon, but everyone ended up mistaking it for something…kinky. In the end I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
“Oh.” Eleanor thought for a bit. “Well ‘Dungeon Lord’ is bound to give the wrong idea. Why didn’t you just use your real name?”
“My real name is Girth Loinhammer.”
A barbarian at the other end of the bar burst out laughing.
“Okay,” said Eleanor. “I’ll admit you’ve definitely been dealt some low cards.”
The Dungeon Lord took an angry gulp of mead. “All I wanted was to get unlimited power and money by hurting people. But it always ends up turning into some weird sex thing. I’ve tried everything! I set up one of those snake cults, I bought my own island, I became a general in the legions of Shagamemnon…”
“Yeah. That was a particularly bad one. After that I went for a whole different genre altogether and took up a job as a starman. Figured I’d join a spaceship crew, then just spend all my time waiting in the sky, beating up anyone else who landed on my asteroid and maybe looking for satellites to hold for ransom.”
“Well what went wrong there?”
The Dungeon Lord took a deep breath. “Green, three-boobed alien women wanting to be taught the Earth-concept of love.”
“I see.” Eleanor rinsed and dried another mug. The Dungeon Lord drained his. “Do you not think your real problem might be that you’re determined to use violence to solve everything? Maybe you’d have better luck if you tried to take up a different lifestyle altogether. If nothing else, you’d be less likely to bump into the unsavoury characters you’ve been meeting so far.”
The Dungeon Lord thought about this. He shook his head. “Violence and torture are what I do. It just bothers me that I can’t do what I do without the situation becoming really, really uncomfortable. For me.” It seemed important to clarify that.
“That’s just it!” Eleanor ploughed her fingers through her hair. “I’m not saying that you should race out and do anything you’re uncomfortable with, but it’s worrying that you seem to be more troubled by the prospect of romance than violence. Maybe if you were just a little nicer to other people, you’d stop ending up in that kind of situation and perhaps find a relationship you actually…”
“You know what?” The Dungeon Lord stood. “I came here to forget my problems. I shouldn’t have to listen to a lecture from you. And I shouldn’t have to change who I am just to avoid everything suddenly heading towards sex. And I…don’t…seem to have any money to pay you for the drinks. I’m very sorry. Dungeoning was my only source of income and that ticket to Space really ate into my finances.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” said Eleanor. “I’m sure we can…come to some other arrangement.”
The Dungeon Lord stared at her, eyes welling with tears. Then he ran out of the tavern, blubbering.
“Wait!” shouted Eleanor, after him. “I only meant you could wash some of these mugs!”