Tagged: story

Announcing Project Pythias

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.

Project Pythias isn’t so much a game or an interactive story as it is a piece of software. You might have noticed that my interactive work has been getting more and more tech-heavy over time, but actually this sort of thing goes way back for me. Although my BA was in English Literature, and much of that was focused on very old texts, I was studying at the University of Reading which is really big on scientific research. A lot of my friends were involved with neural networks at some point or another, and though I can’t put together anything of the same complexity they were, I’ve got enough of an understanding to bolt together something that, when trained on my own stories, can generate outlines of similar follow-up works. Twine lets you bring in pretty much any JavaScript you like, and if you’re willing to get your hands dirty you might be surprised what sort of functionality you can get out of that.

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.

A Christmas Call

Holly Bowl

“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?”

Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure 50% Complete!

It’s taken a lot longer than expected (the original plan was to have the entire thing wrapped up by the end of November 2015), but the first (or arguably left-hand) half of Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure is now complete!

exponential-adventure-half

Provided you choose to sit around moping at the at the very beginning of the story, rather than going off and doing something interesting, you can explore every single possible option leading off from that point, and follow along all the way to every possible ending: 256 in all!

I’ll be starting work on the second (or right-hand) half of the Adventure pretty much immediately, but it might be a while before I make the new content available just so that there aren’t too many dead ends for readers to stumble into. If you haven’t taken a look at this yet, now’s a great time: you’ve got absolutely masses of options and I can guarantee that any storyline you can start, you can also finish.

At the time of writing, the story is 78,629 words in length altogether, making it the single longest work I’ve ever released by a reasonable margin (the next longest is currently Face of Glass, at 55,550). Despite that, this novel-length interactive story is completely free to explore. If you’d like to chuck some money my way, however, please consider pledging to support Ten Little Astronauts, my crowdfunded novella. You’ll get a book that wouldn’t have existed any other way, every copy will have your name recorded in the back as one of its patrons, and you’ll be helping me achieve my dream of having my best work to date distributed by Penguin Random House. It’s a win-win-win!

NaNoWriMo 2016

It’s got a little overshadowed by Ten Little Astronauts and Craft Keep, but yes, I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month again this year! However, I’m not writing a novel this time around. I’m continuing last year’s massively interactive fantasy story, Girth Loinhammer’s Most Exponential Adventure. The upshot of this is that although we’re only six days into the event, and although I only really got into it on Day 3 myself, the project is already more than 60,000 words long (50,000 from last year, plus 10,000 words of never-before-seen storylines from the past six days).

exponential-adventure-wip-flowchart

The only way I could get the entire flowchart into one image was to set up multiple monitors, and even then I had to stitch two screenshots together.

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Halloween 2016: Failing That…

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.

Dead Hand

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.

Perfect.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

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.

Support it here and get gorgeous goodies!

The Dragon’s Lamp

Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 30

The corpse of the dragon lay steaming upon the floor, the marks of its wrath seared permanently into the cavern walls. Yet the heroes stood victorious. Leaving the dragon to stink and smoulder, they ventured deeper into its lair, appraising the stock of treasure the winged terror had amassed across the ages.

“This will ease the suffering of our land…” observed Khemaghan the Keen, lifting a gem-studded chalice, worth several fortunes on its own.

“…but it will not repair the devastation that the beast has wrought.” Quilbar the Quick was troubled by the same thought.

“We beat it,” said Skondar the Strong, speaking firmly as ever. “We won. It’s over.”

But from the bones of the dragon, there sprang forth a new threat. For in its hoard—beyond the reach of mortal man for years known only to the gods—there stood a copper lamp upon a bare pedestal. In every other room, gold and jewels had lain strewn across the floor, a careless bed for the vile serpent.

In this room, the floor was bare. A perfect, solid circle of clear stone marked a perimeter about the pedestal, as though gold and silver feared to draw too close to the base metal that stood atop it.

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David Bowie Day

Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 29

Challenge #13*: David Bowie Day. Write a story exploring themes of death or identity, including something beginning and something ending, and incorporating transhumanism. It must include at least 10 quotes or lyrics by David Bowie, and a character based on Bowie himself.

Blasting across the universe in a napalm-propelled rocketship with an Egyptian goddess in the driver’s seat and a money-pooping goat in the cargo hold was not the carefree getaway Girth Loinhammer had hoped it would be. He let out a gentle sigh.

“What’s wrong?” asked Sekhmet. Despite being the goddess of bloodshed, she was surprisingly sensitive to other people’s feelings (and unsurprisingly liable to punch in the face anybody who mentioned this out loud).

“It’s nothing,” he said. Then, feeling he might as well get it out there: “It’s just…you know we’re fictional characters, right?”

“No,” said Sekhmet, rolling her eyes. “I thought we were in a real napalm spaceship with a real money-pooping goat.”

“Okay, point taken. The thing is, when we exist, it’s because we’re in a story. And when I’m in a story, I almost always have to explain that I used to run a generic fantasy dungeon, that everyone I took prisoner in it was expecting a different kind of dungeon, and then within a thousand words it ends with me running off because things geterotic.

“Why do you always say that in subscript?”

“Because I don’t like it! You know me, I like violence. I’m not happy when things getsexual.

“Hey, foos!” put in the ship’s computer, which of course contained the uploaded consciousness of Mr. T. “There’s a starman waiting in the sky!”

“What?” asked Sekhmet.

“Knowing my luck,” said Girth, gloomily, “it’ll be some androgynous weirdo.”

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Robocopout

Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 28

“We can rebuild him. We have the technology!”

“Aaand right off the bat, that’s a reference to the wrong thing.”

“What do you mean? It makes perfect sense!”

“We’re turning the guy into a robo-cop, and you just quoted The Six Million Dollar Man.”

“Yeah, but they’ve given us exactly six million dollars to do it.”

There was a brief pause.

“Do you ever get the feeling that the guys upstairs have a sense of humour? It never feels like it in person but then they pull something like this.”

Arnold K. Marty was finding it harder and harder to pretend that this was all a dream. He twitched and stretched, preparing to get up, and wasn’t too surprised to discover that his arms and legs made robot noises as he did so.

“Okay,” he said, somewhat surprised to discover that he didn’t have a robot voice too. “What did you do?”

“We rebuilt you,” explained a skinny guy in a lab coat whose nametag label said “Phil.” “You are now the most technologically advanced officer on the force!”

“But,” added an equally skinny guy whose nametag said “Apply label here,” “bear in mind that six million dollars is way, way less now than it was in 1973.”

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But is it Art?

Flash Fiction Month 2016, Day 27

Challenge #12: Write a speculative fiction story exactly 55 words in length. It must not contain dialogue.

Unit 659-43-A faced two dilemmas.

One: there was insufficient Paint #96A400 for the wall, necessitating either a patch job or mural.

Two: the only reference models to survive Armageddon were one granite bust of Emperor Chang and one surprisingly fire-resistant Frilly Kitty doll.

Unit 659-43-A decided to compromise.

The city’s 0 inhabitants raised no objection.

If you’ve enjoyed this story, you can find my work from previous Flash Fiction Months collected in these books:

OCR is Not the Only Font Cover REDESIGN (Barbecued Iguana)Red Herring Cover (Barbecued Iguana design)Bionic Punchline eBook CoverOsiris Likes This Cover

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.

Support it here and get gorgeous goodies!