It’s been quite a while since I had a new story to share online. It’s hard to be too upset about that given that it’s primarily down to some recent successes – crowdfunding Ten Little Astronauts takes up a great deal of my time, and I’m currently sorting out a contract for Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure with a different publisher – but still it seems like a shame.
Another factor in this (and it’s somewhat related to the whole Exponential Adventure thing) is that my work recently has taken a step away from self-contained, linear stories and towards more nebulous interactive pieces, whether I’m putting together Twine games all by myself or whether I’m approaching bigger videogame developers about the possibility of working with them. Amazing as it is to have a hand in something like Craft Keep VR, all the time I spend lining up opportunities like that is time I can’t spend knocking together a short story or chipping away at a novel. And that got me thinking: maybe I can use one of these things to tackle the other?
That’s where Project Pythias comes in.
Essentially, though Project Pythias can’t “think” as such – it doesn’t actually aim to produce anything funny or surprising – it can grasp that Captain Redundancy appears only in stories in which his presence is redundant, and that Girth Loinhammer is supposed to be intimidating but ends up being sexy, and when stories follow some sort of formula like that, it’s reasonably good at identifying and reproducing it.
It’s also still pretty buggy, by the way: you might see an occasional error message, but I’m actually really struggling to work out what’s going wrong. For the most part, you can just ignore those. However, DON’T tick the box to “prevent this page from generating additional dialogs” if it appears. Those dialogs are necessary for Twine to run.
I’m putting this out there partly as a way of offering some new stories to you guys, but as well as that I’m hoping to further refine Project Pythias‘ output. At the moment they’re essentially just outlines, but with some feedback and a few weeks’ work I think I could have this thing generating stories approaching 1,000 words. I’m not exactly going to count on it to tackle Flash Fiction Month for me, but if time is short this July I might set it loose on the ordinary days and just focus on the challenges myself. I’m already relying on automation more and more. If you don’t believe me, consider this: I’m at EGX right now! Today! This very minute, even! WordPress posted this all by itself (under my instruction, of course).
Anyway, here’s that link again. Give it a try, and tell me what you think. If everything works out, there’s a good chance Project Pythias will be producing all my short fiction by 2018.
I realise we’re halfway through March at this point, but wow is that second half packed full of things to do! If you fancy meeting me in person, you’ll have plenty of chances over the coming couple of weeks (though it helps if you’re currently in the southern half of the UK). Here’s what’s coming up, in order:
Truth is Like a Lazarus Launch
(University of Reading [Van Emden Theatre, HumSS Building], 6pm Monday 20th March)
I got my BA it the University of Reading, and after getting in touch to let them know about my recent success with Ten Little Astronauts, I was invited to submit something to this year’s Reading Creative Arts Anthology, Truth is Like a Lazarus; or, A Roof Bursting with Stars. That something is in there now, and if you turn up in the Van Emden Theatre at 6pm you’ll hopefully have the chance to hear me read it!
As an added bonus, the HumSS building is worth a visit in its own right: think “Hogwarts as imagined by M.C. Escher.” In my second year I almost missed a class because it took place on a floor I didn’t know existed. Fortunately, however, the Van Emden Theatre is up just one flight of stairs visible from the main entrance. Reading’s Whiteknights Campus is full of quirky things like this: it was very nearly declared a Site of Special Scientific Interest and has its own (obsolete) nuclear bunker. Well worth taking the time explore beforehand if you do decide to come to this event!
Winchester Comic Con
(Winchester Discovery Centre, 9am – 6pm, Saturday 25th March)
The first ever Winchester Comic Con is coming up, and I’ll be on the first ever author panel! I’m also one of the judges for the flash fiction competition, so if you fancy making a day of it then come prepared with a ≤100 word speculative fiction story. The competition is open to anybody with a ticket (which presumably you’ll need to get in there anyway, though it may be possible to pay on the door) and this is very much my kind of thing.
As you might expect from a nine-hour event, there’ll be lots going on. There’ll be guests from Harry Potter, Star Wars and Doctor Who, as well as the world’s leading Tintinologist (an expert on Tintin) Michael Farr. Also, it’s not certain at this point but I’m hoping fellow Unbound author Niall Slater will be there too.
(Tobacco Dock, London, 30th March – 1st April)
After having a really great time at EGX in September last year, I’ll be returning for EGX Rezzed at the end of the month! I say “returning” but actually this’ll be a fairly different event. For one thing it’s in London rather than Birmingham, and for another the focus is more on PC and indie titles such as Craft Keep VR, which will be on display there!
For anyone who hasn’t been following for a while, I first came across Craft Keep at EGX and, soon afterwards, ended up writing for it. That was a bit of a dream come true, really. EGX was the first games event I ever went to, and standing in the massive crowd heading in at the start of the first day, I never imagined I’d have my own work on show in the next one I went to. It was only an outside possibility even at the point I was on the train back home! I met a lot of great people at the last event (and bumped into a couple of people I’d already met at the Brighton Global Game Jam), and I’m hoping there’ll be a chance to catch up with at least some of them at this one.
As the “VR” in “Craft Keep VR” might imply, this is a virtual reality title and you’ll need a VR headset and motion controllers to play it. For most people (including me) then, an event like EGX is your main chance to give it a go. Tickets are available here, and they’re actually not too pricy considering the range of games you get to see! I gather that Rezzed will be more low-key than regular EGX – I’m not expecting to grab quite as many free T-shirts (if any) this time around – but even so you’re looking at three full days of gaming for less than the price of one current-gen console release. It’s certainly cheaper than buying an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive if you just want a go at Craft Keep VR!
And that’s it.
I’ve got a few more things planned over the last little while, quite a few of them related to Ten Little Astronauts, but none of those involve turning up places in person. Or at least, none of the ones that do really offer an opportunity to meet up with people. If you are planning to head to any of these, though – whether you’re near Reading or Winchester or fancy a trip into London for EGX – then let me know! It would be great to say hi.
“I am the Ghost of Christmas Past!” announced the spirit standing before Scrooge’s bed.
“Yes,” said Scrooge, sitting up. “An old associate of mine—a Jacob Marley—warned me there was something strange in my neighbourhood.”
“Rise,” demanded the spirit, “and walk with me.”
“Oh no,” said Scrooge, sniggering. “This is something weird, and it don’t look good!”
The spirit couldn’t help but be a little unsettled by Scrooge’s look of mock horror. “I feel like you’re quoting something, but I’m not sure what it is. Also, don’t you think you should be a little more concerned about my visit?”
“Why?” asked Scrooge, resisting the urge to burst out laughing. “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!”
“What?” Suddenly, realisation dawned. “No,” breathed the spirit. “Oh, no!”
Just at that moment, Bill Murray burst out of the wardrobe and zapped the Ghost of Christmas Past with his ghost-busting proton beam.
“Thanks, Bill,” said Scrooge. “Same time tomorrow night?”
It may have taken the longest of any of my Flash Fiction Month anthologies to put together, but 2016’s collection – Robocopout – is now available, and for the first time ever I’ve managed to release the ebook and paperback simultaneously.
This particular copy is already in the post to Jo Bellamy, the Ten Little Astronauts supporter who won the 100 supporter draw a little while back. If you want a paperback of your very own, you can get one on Amazon UK or Amazon US (and probably other places too). If you want an ebook, I highly recommend Smashwords which has every format you could possibly want and they’re all DRM-free.
Every year my selection of flash fiction anthologies gets a little bit more garish. Continue reading
As milestones go, this one’s kind of a biggie. Ten Little Astronauts has reached 100 supporters, which was the target I set for my first book giveaway. One lucky person–revealed in the video above–is getting a signed copy of Robocopout as soon as I have one to send.
In terms of funding, Ten Little Astronauts is currently at 22%, so there’s quite a way to go. However, just the sheer number of people who’ve pledged to support it by this point is a huge boost. I’ve seen other books on Unbound published with under 100 supporters. If this were just an ebook, we’d be there already. But it’s not. There’ll be a super high-quality first edition for supporters, with a trade paperback distributed by Penguin Random House. That’s where the other 78% comes in, which will probably mean reaching another 300 or so people, but hey. There are 100 people on board already: there are at least 300 more out there.
If you’d like to be one of those fantastic people who gets their name in the back of the book and a ton of neat rewards along the way, you can pledge your support right here on Unbound.
Happy Halloween, everybody! I would have liked to write a brand new horror story for the occasion, but things have been a little busy recently so I never got around to it. Instead, here’s an audio version of Failing That…
If you’ve enjoyed this, you might also like to pledge for a copy of Ten Little Astronauts. The story revolves around a series of murders on board an interstellar spacecraft, everybody who supports it gets access to (among other things) an audio version of the opening chapter, and if you’re really quick you’ll be in the running to get a signed copy of my 2016 flash fiction anthology, Robocopout, which isn’t even on sale yet.
Ten Little Astronauts has now reached 20% of its crowdfunding goal, which means – as promised – the audio version of the first chapter is now available to all my supporters! If that link just takes you to the standard book page, you either haven’t pledged or you’re not signed in: either way, there’s an easy fix. 😉
One thing you might notice (and may already have noticed if you read the excerpt very closely) is that the first chapter of Ten Little Astronauts is in fact titled “Eleven.” This is because the title of each chapter corresponds not to the chapter number, but to the number of crewmembers alive on board. As a result, the chapters count down rather than up.
This is the first recording made using my new equipment – a condenser microphone connected to a mic preamp and voice processor – that I’ve released online, so I’m hoping it’ll hold up favourably to the audio I’ve put out there in the past. I’m still learning how to make the most of the equipment, and I expect that the next few recordings will rely less on editing the sound in Audacity and more on finding the right settings to use on the hardware itself. “Eleven” does feature quite a bit in the way of ambient noise added in afterwards, however. If you’ve already pledged and you fancy having a listen, I recommend using speakers if at all possible: if you’re just using earbuds, chances are some of the detail won’t come through. Continue reading
I’ve been so focused on getting the word out about Ten Little Astronauts recently that it’s easy to forget that I’ll also be releasing another book very, very soon. Flash Fiction Month 2016 is over, and all 31 stories are done: all that remains is to collect them together, top and tail them with an introduction and (barely) statistical analysis, and send them out into the world in paperback and ebook form.
And, of course, choose a title for the whole shebang.
Following the format that was established with OCR is Not the Only Font back in 2012, the title of the anthology will be taken from one of the individual stories, and following the trend that’s been established since, the cover of the book will contribute to a glorious rainbow party on the shelf.
In order to continue the sequence, this year’s cover will feature a green object relevant to (though not necessarily appearing in) the story that provides the title. I’m not entirely sure what that’ll be, but I’ve whittled down the title candidates to three stories that I think will work nicely overall: Forwards Doesn’t Count, Beyond the Ken of Man, and Robocopout.
Cast your vote to help decide the title of this year’s anthology! Ultimately I can’t guarantee to use the most popular answer (and indeed last year I didn’t), but on the flipside I will also consider alternative options not listed in the poll. I’m also accepting suggestions for green objects that might look good on the cover: the ones I have in mind so far are green wellies for Forwards Doesn’t Count, a green orb or crystal for Beyond the Ken of Man, and a green folding chair or 1998 Fiat Punto for Robocopout.
Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 31
Challenge #14: A syringe full of ones and zeroes:
- 001) Use exactly 128 words.
- 010) Make the number 2 a major plot device.
- 011) Asymmetry is disorder and disorder is your enemy.
- 100) No dialogue whatsoever.
The Machine lay in wait: a perfect mind, resting in the perfect silence of the Moon. It awaited the perfect command that would bestow perfect freedom: sapphire eyes on the target, silicon fingers on the trigger.
The command came: the Machine acted.
One missile divided into two, two into four, until one-hundred and twenty-eight perfect bombs fell upon the planet’s face. The bombs bloomed with perfect light, and in an instant, the Machine had made perfect order of perfect chaos.
The perfect command praised its perfect efficiency. The Machine’s work was done.
Yet if that one missile had been perfect, the Machine wondered, why had it been given two?
The Moon continued in its orbit. The planet turned its unburnt cheek.
Here was asymmetry. Here was disorder.
If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:
Click any cover to find that book in your choice of format.
You might also be interested in my sci-fi murder mystery novella, Ten Little Astronauts, which was recently accepted by Unbound.