Flotation Device is charity anthology featuring stories donated by the Glasgow SF Writers Circle community, with proceeds going to the Trussell Trust, the Simon Community and Medicin Sans Frontiers. Initiated and edited by E.M. Faulds, the book features work by Hal Duncan, Neil Williamson, Cameron Johnston, Ruth EJ Booth, and my own story of supermarket car park pirate ships Nelson's Blood.
The idea is to help those already facing difficulty accessing food and medical services in our communities.
I love the cover of Gheist, the artist captured so much of the story and the atmosphere.
It's now possible to get T-shirts and other objects with the cover image, either as the whole cover or without the title.
I recently finished reading Graham Hancock's Magicians of the Gods. It was good to step back into ideas and challenges about the past.
Graham's books have been a big inspiration to me - Talisman for The Harrowed Garden, Supernatural for Crow of Thorns, The Sign and the Seal for Enoch's Vault - and I've met him a few times over the years.
I've not yet managed to find a good story that imagines an advanced civilisation before the end of the last Ice Age (~12,000 years ago). And by advanced, we could mean simply that they had excellent knowledge of astronomy, and could navigate the oceans in ships. I do find it compelling, if very scary, the idea that a comet brought an end to their civilisation and the warming of the planet, and then a few thousand years later, after the 'nuclear winter', further impacts brought about a return to a warmer climate.
What is chilling is the idea that there is a 30km chunk of black ice in the Taurid debris the planet passes through twice a year. Twice a year the planet runs across a busy six-lane motorway and so far hasn't hit a big truck. So far.
Reading that the makers of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina had Wiccans advising them on the details of their witchcraft, this seemed unusual.
The witchcraft in Sabrina appears to mainly be an inverted Christianity, inspired by witch trials:
Meanwhile, modern witchcraft, claiming ancient roots is more about fertility and the natural passing of the seasons:
Two things that are most of note. In Sabrina, the covens are led by men, just as the Christian church tends towards patriarchy. In pagan witchcraft, there is a balance to the sexes in leading the ceremonies and more communal decision making processes, with perhaps a slight lean toward the goddess/female power.
And perhaps more significantly, the witches in Sabrina meet the Dark Lord in person, a goat headed being (distinct from the statue of Baphomet 'borrowed' from the Church of Satan, seen in the centre of the witches school). And actual demons appear too. With such tangible presences the room for faith is slim. And yet within Sabrina's coven there is room for people to do good, not everything in Satan's name is an evil act. Sabrina herself often tries to do the right thing, while others tempt her to the 'dark side'.
Those Wiccans may well have expertise in Theological Satanism, but the two faiths are not the same thing.
Hybrid publisher Creativia has accepted my recent, and current, novels for publication. Over the next few weeks and months these will become available through Amazon, wherever you are.
A silhouette, Azazel lounges in the doorway to the scriptorium. “He's finished. Are you coming?”
Samael examines the vellum sheet he has been illuminating. “Just a moment.” The lettering is heavy and dark with spidery serifs. He likes the white spaces. Wielding his pen like a fencer, with a few slashes he finishes his work and lays down his weapon. He turns to face his brother in arms. “Finally we’ll see what all the fuss was about.”
In the candlelight, Azazel sees Samael's face half yellowed and half in shadow. Something isn't right. A feeling of foreboding rises within him. “You don’t seem very enthusiastic.”
Samael shrugs. Is it so hard for his brother to understand? “He already made us. What more does He need?”
Azazel hesitates. He doesn’t know what to say. He is afraid of agreeing with Samael. Instead he turns away into the cloister, permanently lit by His radiance.
The City is busy and buzzing with excitement. In the streets choruses sing His praises. They pause at an intersection while phalanxes of Thrones and Seraphim march down the wide thoroughfare beneath the stern gaze of Dominions and Powers. The celestial light gleams off their bright spears and shields.
Something about so many armed troops within the City concerns Azazel. His anxiety increases.
The great amphitheatre is full. They make their way down to the front, the crowd parting easily for them.
Samael feels the crowd’s the anticipation. He doesn’t share it. How can perfection be improved upon?
Then the Humans are there - pale, naked, without pneuma; idiotic, lifeless. A startled hush spreads from the floor to the heights.
“They are the same as us, as Him.” Samael pushes forward for a closer view, protests and Azazel following in his wake.
Azazel can see they do not have the fiery foundation of his fellow Bene Elohim. “They are different. Look closer.”
Samael waves a dismissive hand at Azazel. He sees it now. He sniffs. “They are made of earth.” He walks around the cold meat, separated, for some reason, into two sexes.
“You know that he expects us to bow before them?” Azazel is uncertain, he feels insecure. Too much is happening too fast.
Samael loses his patience with this nonsense. “These naked vermin?” He feels his trust, his love, betrayed. Humiliation rises within him. “He told us to bow down before none but Him.”
Azazel is shocked. The whole crowd can clearly hear their conversation. He is trapped between fear and agreeing with his brother. Instead he speaks for them all. “Who are we to question Him?”
“I am not the one making conflicting commands.” Samael turns and addresses their audience, rows upon rows, tiers upon tiers, of his brothers. “Was our love not enough?”
There is silence, from all the ranks assembled.
“I will love none before Him.” Samael scans the crowd, seeking familiar faces, indications of support. Many shift uneasily. He makes his final gamble. “I know I am not alone.”
The tension in the amphitheatre rises.
Samael does not, cannot, will not, take back his words.
A sword scrapes against the sides of its scabbard.
The terraced hillside, walled-off from the world, is lush and populated with many varieties of plants and animals. Small iridescent-winged insects are chased by birds with plainer plumage. Tall grasses move easily in the breeze which carries the fragrance of green herbs.
In the dawn-light Samael watches the river flowing down the valley, a silver ribbon that widens on the plain. In the distance more white-tipped peaks reach back to Heaven. He is bruised and raw.
His contemplation is disturbed by an unusual barking sound that heralds the arrival of the Humans. They cavort under the trees, streaked with mud and other stains. He sniffs. “Look at them. They act like animals.”
“They’re not doing any harm.” Azazel adjusts the poultice on his arm. He looks at them carefully, the way they move. “I find them interesting.” He enjoys the sound of their laughter, unknown to him before now. But there is something more. “The Woman is more attractive than the first one.”
The corner of Samael’s mouth curls. “Did you land on your head when you fell?” The Woman is indeed different to the first one, but he doesn’t care what happened to her. He is more worried that already there are more of them. “They aren’t much better than the beasts they tend to.”
“If I’d had time to find my helmet, perhaps it would have been prevented.” Azazel is happy he chose to follow his brother. His inner conflict is gone. The consequences of his actions do not seem so severe now he is here. He enjoys it - pain, sensation, the feeling of weight. There is one thing though. “It is so cold here.”
Samael looks at the Humans playing a little longer, they do not amuse him. Their simplicity is offensive; they have no idea what they have been given, what they are wasting. “They need to learn a lesson. They need to understand.” They have no idea of the cost.
Man falls over, chasing Woman. Azazel feels a shudder in his chest. He lets it out. He laughs. The sound delights him. These Humans have something to teach them. “Leave them alone. Have you not done enough?”
The couple run into the trees, chasing a rabbit, carefree, innocent.
Samael frowns. “Can you not see how unfair this is?”
Azazel turns away and begins to scan the ground. What’s done is done. He rubs his arms trying to warm them, careful of his bandage. “There has to be some wood round here somewhere.”
Samael finds them lying in the grass exhausted, entwined.
Man opens his eyes, uncertain who is blocking the light. When he sees someone who looks like him, he smiles. He sits up, disturbing Woman, who also smiles upon seeing Samael.
Samael covers his revulsion from looking into their cow eyes. “Have you tried the fruit of the tree over there?”
They follow his outstretched arm towards the Tree of Love and Death. Man stands to get a better look. “No. Our Master told us not to eat from it.”
“I was told to worship you as a god.” Samael tries to keep the bitterness from his voice. It surprises him that they can talk. He expected grunting. Samael takes his arm out from behind his back and shows them a fruit. “Doesn’t it look ripe and juicy?”
“He said we would die if we ate from it.” Woman stands up beside Man.
Samael holds out the fruit towards her, balanced on the palm of his hand. The lustre of its skin catches the light. “This doesn’t look like a fruit that will kill you, does it?”
“We have plenty of other things to eat.” Man gestures to encompass much of the hillside. “It doesn’t matter if we leave this one alone.”
Samael realises they are not as simple as they look. He smiles. Perhaps this will be more of a challenge than he thought. They smile back at him. “I think you have been lied to. Nothing else here is harmful. Why grow a poisonous tree in a garden that is so safe? Here, I picked this one for you.” He offers them the fruit again.
Woman reaches out, but hesitates and withdraws her hand. “Lied? Why would our Master lie to us?”
Samael shrugs, as if he had never considered it before. “Maybe He knows how tasty the fruits are and wants to keep them to Himself?”
“He did give us dominion over all living things.” Woman scratches her head.
“Always with the contradictions. I like the way you think.” Samael lifts the fruit up in front of his face, looking at it, considering his next move. “Wait until you try this. You’ll think in a whole new way. Here.” He throws it towards the Humans. Man instinctively catches it and juggles it from hand to hand. “It won’t bite you, you know.”
“What does it taste like?” Woman takes it from Man’s hands. She sniffs at its skin, drawing in its thick, sweet smell.
Samael thinks for a moment, his eyes stray towards the Heavens. “Clear blue skies. Crystal cold water. Freedom.” Suddenly it all seems worth it. What better gift can you give than the one you want for yourself? “It tastes like freedom.”
“Thank you, but I don’t want it.” Woman holds the fruit out towards Samael, holding it by the stalk, between thumb and forefinger.
Samael struggles to keep calm, keep the sudden anger off his face. “You are returning my gift? I’m deeply offended.” He feigns a faint, back of hand to brow.
“We didn’t mean it.” Man moves between Samael and Woman. He takes the fruit from her, cradles it in his hands.
“It’s too late now.” Samael turns to go.
“What can we do to make amends?” Man steps forward to stop Samael from leaving.
Away from them, Samael smiles. He is almost there. He turns back. “Try the fruit. Go on. It’s yours. I promise it won’t hurt you. Afterwards, you should try the Tree of Apotheosis. You’ll love that.” They look at Samael with another dumb expression he doesn’t understand.
Man digs his thumbnails under the skin, juice spurting out, and begins to peel.
Samael finds Azazel huddled in the lee of a hill that overlooks the garden rubbing a stick between his hands. Silently, he joins him.
Azazel blows gently on the shavings of wood and sawdust at the base of the stick. A speck of orange and a whisper of smoke spread to small flames. Azazel builds a small tent of twigs as the fire grows. Before long he has a skinned rabbit spitted over the glowing coals.
From down the hillside comes a commotion. They can just hear Metatron as he scolds the Humans, their denials of any wrongdoing.
Azazel sighs. “What did you do?” He looks across the fire. The light flickers on Samael’s face.
Samael shrugs. “Nothing.” The balance had to be redressed.
“You must have done something.” Azazel pokes at the bright embers with a stick. He knows his brother is responsible. The rabbit drips sizzling fat into the fire. The smell of burnt flesh is pleasing. Maybe tomorrow he’ll try a goat.
Samael is pleased with himself. With time, He will see His mistake and wipe the slate clean. “I just spoke to them. Helped them take ownership of their lives.”
In the gloaming, a bright pillar of light casts long shadows. It moves through the terraced garden. Samael and Azazel watch the humans leave the garden, hunched over, as though carrying a heavy burden on their backs, a few tattered furs covering their skin, their wet eyes bright next to the flaming sword. They head towards Nod.
Azazel retrieves the rabbit from over the fire. He peels off a thick blackened strip of meat, singes his fingers. He lowers it into his mouth and chews. As his first meal, it is sublime. “Looks like all they own is dust and misery.” He offers Samael a piece.
Samael wrinkles his nose, his thoughts elsewhere. “Wait until He tires of their love and casts them aside for a new creation. Then they will know dust and misery.”
Azazel finishes his rabbit. He lies down in the dirt and pulls over himself a blanket he has woven from grasses. He supresses a shiver. He knows what his brother means.
Samael watches the couple as they follow the river until they are swallowed by the night. He stares into the fire until it dies.
I'm pleased to say that my story 'Stone' has been accepted for Allen Ashley's anthology Sensorama, forthcoming from Eibonvale Press. More news when it's available.
Paul sat down and admired the view. An occasional ray of sunshine escaped through the clouds to illuminate a hillside. Scoured Munros sparkled with snow. Ice-cold narrow streams flowed down into the loch. Heather rippled in the thin breeze. The occasional sheep broke up the purple and dark green. A hawk surveyed its prey, hovering in the air.
He took a flask of tea out of his backpack, poured some into the cap, added a nip of the local single malt, and sat back against the standing stone. It was good to get away from it all. No roads below, not even jet trails scarred the sky. He rummaged in his pack for an energy bar, peeled off the foil and bit into the crumbly cake.
Out the corner of his eye he thought he saw something red bobbing up and down. It was far too big to be a capercaillie. This was more like a balloon. Maybe it was from a competition and had run out of air, getting stuck in a bush. It could be another walker. But that wasn’t possible, no one was allowed here.
The red shape got closer. Not the red of a pillar box, more like the lustrous radioactive red of a mushroom cap. It was another walker after all, wearing a jacket. The figure waved. Paul waved back and immediately regretted it.
“Hello.” The walker stopped nearby. Leaned on his stick and breathed deeply before exhaling with the sound of satisfaction. “Marvellous.” He smiled. “May I join you?”
“You already have.” Paul smiled too. “You know this is private land?”
“Really?” The walker sat down beside Paul. “I didn’t see any signs.”
“Unless you flew in, they’re all around the estate.” Paul downed his tea and started to put the flask away.
“Do you have any left? I’m parched. I didn’t bring anything with me. Sorry to be a pain.”
The walker’s only concession to the environment was the jacket. He wasn’t even wearing boots, just shoes more suited to the office than a hillside. Another one of those eejits who expected to get rescued by using his mobile phone. He’d be out of luck, no signal up here. Just the way Paul wanted it. The locals in the nearby town were a bit miffed, but he let them use his high speed fibre-optic broadband.
Paul unscrewed the cap and poured out some more black tea. “And a wee bit of the good stuff, if you will.” Paul clenched his jaw. Instead of telling this guy to take a running jump, he dropped a generous measure into the tea and passed it to the walker.
The walker cupped his hands round the tea and breathed in the steam. “Marvellous.”
“Who the hell are you? What are you doing here?”
“You could say I’m your biggest fan.”
Paul held out his hand, flat, and after no response from the walker made a beckoning motion. “Come on then. I’ll sign whatever you have. Just go away and leave me in peace. I hope you’ve brought your own pen.”
The walker sipped from the tea and sighed. “I haven’t got anything to be signed. I just wanted to meet you. Britain’s answer to Stephen King.”
“I always thought that was James Herbert. I prefer the 21st Century’s H. P. Lovecraft.” Paul barely kept up with the hawk as it dove down on its prey which struggled in its talons as the hawk rose up again.
The walker smiled. “Well, quite. Makes a change from all the zombie authors writing about sparkling vampires shagging faeries. Good to see a return to that nihilist realism from the live-forever fantasy.”
“It isn’t that bleak is it? Atheist perhaps, if you don’t consider some of the extra-terrestrial beings as gods. But they give some meaning to existence, even if it is only to die for their fleeting benefit. Life itself is a purpose.”
“God is dead, nonetheless. But you seem to have single handed denied God and brought so many back to belief.” The walker took a deeper drink, the tea had cooled. “What prompted you to do the TV special of ‘The King in Yellow’?”
“That was a terrible, terrible idea. I don’t know what possessed me. They kept asking me for rights, for film, for merchandising. Can you imagine a playset of Forgotten K’Rata risen from the desert sands? A Nathugua doll? How would they do the non-Euclidean tentacles?” Paul turned towards the walker, but his eyes were seeing something else. “I thought what is the worst thing I could give them, something they’d never do in a million years? I saw my copy of the play in its case, and I knew that was it. They lapped it up.” Paul took a long swig from his hip flask. “I mean I warned them. I told them it wasn’t me that wrote it, originally. I just reconstructed the play. Found original medieval sources Chambers didn’t have access to. It was banned for a reason. They went ahead anyway. It was all Victorian hysteria, they said. You must have seen the Yellow Sign. It was everywhere, the Radio Times, posters on the underground, even on badges.”
“One in ten, I heard.”
“Yeah. Something like that. The producers should have stopped it during rehearsals when the cameraman attacked Liz Forrester with a knife. It just added to the pre-broadcast hype. They agreed to put a warning announcement before the show. But I still feel like it was all my fault.”
“I don’t think we can put all the blame for the queues at A&E, the stress on the mental hospitals and the overflowing morgues entirely at your feet. Those people chose to watch it of their own free will.”
Paul looked up at the walker. He was serious, he didn’t blame Paul. He offered the walker the hipflask.
The walker lifted his hand. “No thanks. I better be going. Like I said, big fan. Just wanted to meet you.” The walker got up and headed back the way he came.
Paul watched until the red of the jacket disappeared from view.
No not a statement of Morloks vs Eloi, but in case you've not seen them two TV shows currently airing in the UK (and apparently both now cancelled by their US networks after one series/season).
Almost Human pairs Karl Urban's John Kennex as an embittered injured cop with a robot partner. The current range of standard issue bots aren't to his tastes as the logic of one got his pal killed and he lost a leg in a shoot out with the criminal group The Syndicate. Since it's the law that all cops need a robo-buddy his boss contrives to give him one of the older models, Dorian, which has a supposedly faulty emotion chip and has the role of a mobile, physical search engine. It's all a bit Bladerunner, and might be really funny if John turned out to be a bot too. Despite a gleaming future run by robots people still get to drive their own cars.
Intelligence is set in the present day and has one of America's most highly decorated veterans, Gabriel Black, played by Lost's Josh Holloway, have a weird genetic anomaly that allows a chip to be put in his head that lets him wirelessly access all networks, hack into them and dig through databases while a side effect is he can intuitively walk through crime scenes recreated in his minds eye. Kind of like a holodeck only he can see. He's teamed up with a female Secret Service agent, Riley O'Neil, to act as his bodyguard in the field. She's so attractive looking she enters an uncanny valley of not looking real that many actors seem to be falling into these days.
I've only seen one episode of Almost Human so not sure how that pans out storywise. Intelligence has put all the show's money into the visualisations of Gabriel's data-searches and VR experiences as otherwise it's quite a cheap show. Iraq looks like the same Hollywood backlot they filmed Star Trek on. Both shows have the male lead pursuing/ pining for a mysterious female who they were in a relationship with but now seems to have been into something shifty.
What is interesting for me is the comparison of the two approaches to robotics and advancing technology. In Almost Human the technology is very much external, in the future we'll have fully humanoid artificial beings. In Intelligence we'll all be directly connected to information without Google goggles or smartphones using tiny computers inside use, hell lets call them nano-bots.
The more plausible is the world of Intelligence. If recent history has told us anything it's that we're getting better at user interfaces and in fact removing that interface where possible. Hence the move into touchscreens, voice activated assistants, spectacles projecting augmented reality into our eyes. Those devices will collapse further and disappear inside us.
An actual physical robot is a user interface for the whole world. It's going to the opposite end of the scale. We start with the machine and introduce the humanity. How soon before we replace ourselves entirely with an artificially body and remove that interface completely?
What do we need robots for anyway? To do hard work we don't want to, or can't do. In some cases they're even substitutes for emotional work, companions to the elderly and the young, no doubt the loveless too. They're a retreat from all dangers. They don't really make the problem go away, they mitigate it. If we go tiny with our robots we might not need to worry about the problems at all. Aging bodies replenished by tiny machines, our other needs that lead us into danger - food, resources, may not be so necessary. If we lose our emotions though we're probably not human anymore anyway.
But what about, dare we say it, our souls? If we replace ourselves with machines from the outside in (the macro model) do we lose our souls quicker than from the inside out (the nano model)? It seems either way the future is the same, one is just more blatant than the other.