Encounters Magazine #6, Out Now and Featuring Shadows That Scratch At Frosted Glass

It’s good week for camp Foxie. Winterlands came out yesterday, and I very much hope you’re enjoying your copy.

If you want some more amazing fiction for your weekend, you can purchase Issue 6 of Encounters Magazine, which features my story, Shadows That Scratch at Frosted Glass.

Juna captains a small trawler, working the deep space dust clouds for hydrogen ions.  She has problems with the companies buying her catches squeezing her out the market, she has problems with her first mate Adele, and she has problems with her son.  But none of those problems compare to those of her sleepers, the people who lend their sleeping minds to the on-board computer so the trawler can take a short cut through dreamspace and travel thousands of light years in just a few weeks.  Something has noticed the sleepers, something greater than anything their minds can hold.

Encounters 06 Cover_web

“There’s good fishing around Seventeen,” Alex said. He leaned over the table and lined his shot up. “I heard skipper say she’s been going there for years.”

“And I’ve slept for her the whole damned time. I’ve requested dozens of transfers and I’ve been rejected dozens of times.”

Louisiana finished her drink, turned around, leaned over the counter and mixed herself another.

The eight ball cracked into the corner pocket. “I heard Seventeen was haunted,” Alex said.

“That’s what they said, before I was assigned here. I laughed. Haunted? That’s a child’s word. But Seventeen is a dark place. When I sleep there, I am not myself. I am possessed by something. I am in my body, but I do not control it. It is like being a puppet for God, and God is an old, old thing. Humanity is nothing to it.”

He glanced up at Louisiana. She watched him carefully over the rim of her glass.

“Maybe if I’d been sleeping there for four years, I’d unplug too,” he said.

A sleeper who believed in ghosts was a liability, and no one would hire a liability. It was a dangerous confession.

She traded him in kind.

“I feel it when I’m awake sometimes,” she said. “It watches me. Like a shadow on the wrong side of frosted glass.”

She watched him, worried she’d said too much. If he ruined her, it was one less person he had to compete against for work.

But then he nodded, and she saw the fear in his eyes.

He understood.

Issue  6 also features fantastic fiction from Robert Mitchell Evans, Thomas Canfield, Steven L. Peck, Wade Peterson, Jeff Barr and Harry F. Kane.  So don’t you dare say you’re not getting value for money!

Journeys in the Winterlands: Now Available!

Yes folks, it’s finally happened. You can purchase Journeys in the Winterlands through the Vagrants Among Ruins site, in your choice of electronic formats (£2.00) or good old-fashioned dead-tree (£4.00).

Three pictures imposed over each other: the Celtic triple spiral; the Ouroboross; and the chi rho

But what is this ‘Winterlands’ thing, Foxie? You’ve not mentioned it before!

The Winterlands anthology started as an exercise in collective storytelling. Allegra wrote the first story, and passed it along to the next writer to do with as they saw fit. Through the writing and editing process, we worked together to build a world, to create characters, to make something greater than the sum of us as individuals. We are all very, very proud of what we’ve achieved.

It started with Callista, a lonely figure crossing the icesheets that now cover much of Europe, searching for her mentor. The permanent, global aurora borealis has driven most of humanity mad and those who’ve kept their sanity fight the frozen desert, and the once-human Affected, just to survive. But stories have spread and breathed hope back into Northern Europe. A hero has arisen, has fought the ice and the Affected and reminded people that humanity endures, and it thrives, regardless of hardship. Because of hardship.

And if Callista can find him, maybe she’ll refind hope, too. Maybe the horrors of the Affected cities, of their steam-driven machine-men, of their towering harvesting machines that pluck human beings like ears of corn, maybe they won’t be so haunting. And maybe she’ll realise that searching itself is an act of hope, that it’s enough to reignite hope in others.

What did Allegra, John and myself do with the seeds Allegra sowed? Well, there’s only one way you’re going to find out…

The Smell of Old Books

For my A level in English Lit, I studied a play called ‘Pentecost’, written by David Edgar. The story revolves around a fresco discovered in the remains of a church in a former Eastern Block country, somewhere around the Baltic region. If the fresco is genuine, then it rewrites the story of the European Renaissance. An American expert and a British expert meet with a local expert to examine it and decide what to do with it.

The cover of the play, Pentecost.  A fresco is partially revealed from a plane white cover.

There’s a lot of examination Western cultural and intellectual imperialism in the play, which, frankly, passed my nineteen-year-old self by. My thirty-two-year-old self shall have to remedy this.

However, what struck my equally-long-haired former self was the arguments in the play about restoring the fresco.

The British expert, Oliver, believes that the obvious thing to do is restore it to its original self, make it look like it did when it was finished in some time in the thirteenth century. At the time, there was a lot of talk of restoring old frescos. Maybe I just noticed it. But it all made perfect sense to me. As the British expert Oliver, very sarcastically, says:

Michelangelo took five hundred years of candlegrease and overpainting into full account when he painted the Sistene ceiling, and thus actually intended it should turn a dark brown.

Surely we should see these paintings as they were originally painted. As the artist intended them. That’s just common sense.

I don’t know what I was expecting as a counter-argument, but I didn’t get it. Leo, the American, says:

Whereas the problem with scrapers,– Gabby, is that for all their spritz about the artist’s intentions they, too, have their prejudices, which is for things to look as bright and bland squeaky clean as television. And if they believe there’s no real difference between a quattrocento Venus and a pin-up, and the Sistene’s back wall is just a billboard, then why not strip ’em down and make ’em look that way.

Later, he says:

That’s what paintings are, stars, of the Hollywood variety. With tours. And fans. And franchised merchandise. And — entourage. And as such, they are, they must be, universal and eternal. Not allowed to change. Most surely, not allowed to fade. To crumble, to grow old. And of course, they’ll never die.

But paintings do grow old. Their history is written in their faces, just like it is on ours.

It’s taken me over a decade, but I’m beginning to see Leo’s point. I’m on the verge of agreeing with him. Things accumulate history and crumble and fade and… And that’s okay.

But what’s fascinated me for those tenish years is the idea of all the dirt and candlegrease being the history of the painting. Of it being as tactile a record of the painting’s life as the creases on our faces. Of the painting slowly and accidentally recording its life story as it interacts with its environment.

A swoman lies unconcious, dotted lines drawn on her face.  A surgical-gloved hand holds her chin.

You know how you get the face you deserve? Fuck that! Slice your face up and erase the past! Just like it never happened!

So, yeah. I’ve grown to like the smell of old books. That strange aroma that tells you of a life lived, of the thumbs that have turned pages and the shelves that have held it. That reminder that I am one link in a chain of owners, that I’m a part of the ongoing history the pages are accidentally accumulating. That this book has had many special someone’s, but right now, it’s special someone is me. We will share pleasure, and then pass it on so someone else can share it.

History and life and all of us are messy, complicated things. I’m happier acknowledging and growing to love it than I ever was wanting nothing but the smell of fresh glue and new paper, wanting everything to be as clean as a television screen or a billboard.

So, thanks, David Edgar. Maybe one day I’ll get to see the play actually performed.

Of course, Allegra beat me to all of this by years.

Photo of the face-life taken from here.  Pentecost’s cover from Amazon.

Two Soon-To-Be Available Stories

As you may have read, snow has covered Britain in a thick blanket of shame and embarrassment as a few inches of the white stuff brings our country to a screaming, juddering standstill.

A modest suburban bungalo, the front garden and roof covered in a thick blanket of snow

This was my house yesterday when I left for work. The sight made me skip work, loot several chain stores while I still could, and refuse to doff my cap respectfully when the local landed gentry sailed by on their unicorn-pulled sled. I spent the rest of the day building a guillotine and stalking the royal family through celebrity magazines.

It seems strangely apropos, though.  I have two stories in the birthing canal and almost ready to enter the world, and they both take place in worlds buried beneath snowy blankets.


The Long Road Home, from Twenty or Less Press

In a snow-covered landscape, a lone humanoid figure contemplates the buried skyscrapers, the falling snow, and the dead body half buried

Three days before hibernation and the corpse of the human ambassador Rembik is sent to investigate is as cold as the winter smothering Rheged.

“Find an answer,” Uncle tells him. “We’ve spent ten years building a relationship with the aliens, and you need to give them a damned good reason not to leave.”

But Rembik and his partner are social outcasts and his girlfriend appears to be in the middle of everything.

Maybe the reason the human’s ghost keeps following Rembik is that they’ve got more in common than either realized.

(I’ve been making the very final edits to The Long Road Home over the past few days. I’m very proud of what Michele, my editor, and I have put together.)


Journeys in the Winterlands, from Vagrants Among Ruins

Three pictures imposed over each other: the Celtic triple spiral; the Ouroboross; and the chi rho

“The world that we were living in was hanging by a thread.  We could all see it.  If it wasn’t this, then it would have been something else: war, famine, disease… Society could not sustain itself forever.  Everything ends.”

Three writers.  Three stories.  The end of one world.

Nine years ago, the Earth struggled in the throes of an industrial revolution.  Steam trains scythed across the countryside, and great aerostats drifted lazily across the skies.  The cities swelled with factory-smoke and bilge-water while people thrived or starved in their streets.

On All Souls Day, that all changed.  A great star fell into the sky, bringing a perpetual twilight that turned most of the population against each other–twisting men and women into the ferocious, sky-mad Affected.  When the star finally disappeared the world froze.  Now, Callista trudges across the icy wastes in search of her mentor: everyman-turned-folk-hero The Web of the North, who might just be the last frozen glimmer of hope that she has left.

Allegra Hawksmoor, John Reppion and Dylan Fox come together for an exercise in collective storytelling and world-building that will lead you into the ruins of factories submerged beneath the ice, probe the wrecks of burned-out airships, and provide a glimpse into the minds and deranged communities of the Affected and Unaffected that struggled to survive out in the snow.

Flip down the sky-guards on your goggles, and step into the Winterlands…

(I talked about my contribution to the collection in my Next Big Thing post.  The collection, though, is certainly greater than the sum of its parts and full credit needs to go to Allegra for making it live and breathe.)


Don’t worry.  I’ll let you know–in no uncertain terms–when you can buy them.  The Long Road Home will be available as a download, and Journeys in the Winterlands will be available in both download and dead-tree formats.

Flattr Me!

Jo introduced me to Flattr. The idea is simple: each month you put an amount of money in your Flattr account. Throughout the month, you can ‘Flattr’ webpages. At the end of the month, the money in your Flattr account is divided up between all the pages that you’ve Flattred. It’s a simple way to reward sites that you feel deserve rewarding. It’s a way to support your favourite bloggers or admins. It’s an alternative to watching the Internet drown under advertising.

The only downside is that you can only Flattr sites which have signed up. I signed up because I think the idea is fantastic and want to see it spread as far as possible.

A screenshot from this blog, the 'Flattr' button circled in red, with a red arrow pointing to it.

So, if you’re wondering what this button was all about, then now you know! Sign up to Flattr, and click on it to Flattr a particular article. Or, if you have the Firefox extension installed, you can Flattr the site.

The whole concept just seemed like a worthwhile way to support sites that I value. Now they just need to sign up for it…

Bubblegum Bridges and Shortcuts

Life throws problems at us. The reason they’re problems is that there’s something buried deep inside of us that doesn’t fit with them. However, because it’s buried deep inside, we don’t know about it. So when a problem comes our way, we fix-up an ad-hoc solution to the problem. We grab whatever’s lying around–sticks, leaves, flat stones–and lash them together with bubblegum to make a bridge that gets us to the other side.

In a scene from Indiana Jones, Indy is about to cut the unstable rope bridge

Kind of like this bit, but in reverse. Only the racist Indians are the problems… but they’re still advancing. Best not to think about the analogy too much otherwise it starts to fall apart…

So life rolls another problem our way. It’s a problem because there’s still something buried deep inside ourselves that jars with the outside world. But it’s still buried, and we still don’t know what it is. The bubblegum bridge we built last time–the ad-hoc solution–doesn’t quite work this time. The ground on the other side has shifted and the bridge won’t hold our weight. So, we grab some more of whatever we can find, spit out another wad of gum and fix things up as best we can. And we get across.

But then, there’s another problem. It comes from that same thing, buried inside ourselves. We still aren’t aware it’s the source of all these problems. So, we get chewing on the bubblegum and gather our sticks and stones to remodel our bridge again.

Building these bubblegum bridges starts when we’re very, very young. When we’re very, very young it’s pretty much all we’re capable of. When we become aware of the thing buried inside, the root of these problems, we can tear down the bubblegum bridge and build something sturdy and real.

When we grow into adults still unaware of the root of these problems, the bubblegum bridges become huge, contorted masses kept together only because they’re falling apart in every direction with equal force. Walking across them does us damage. It restricts the choices we are free to make. But the idea of tearing it all down and starting again… a little pain, a few closed doors is so much easier.

Let’s say you, unknown to yourself, believe that everyone you meet hates you. It happens to more people than you’d think. So, the first bubblegum bridge is to avoid everyone. That works for a little while, but not very long. So you start forcing other people to do what you want, because that’s safe. But then people start to avoid you. So you start scripting conversations in your head so it won’t wander into uncomfortable territory. That works for causal interaction, once you get the hang of it. So you avoid anything deeper. You avoid any situation you can’t control. When you can’t avoid those situations, you fall back into being bossy and imposing your will. And if anyone does get close to you, you push them away. But you can’t go to parties because the scripts don’t work there and you end up alone and hiding the shadows of a corner. And you can’t learn archery because there’ll be someone telling you you’re doing things wrong, and you’re only coping mechanism is to try and impose your will.

Bubblegum bridges. Ad-hoc, often destructive solutions to underlying problems which are painful and difficult to find, dig out and deal with. Solutions which have been augmented over a number of years into complicated and treacherous rituals which even you sometimes fall foul of.

I only have a small thought box, you know. I don’t know a lot about neuroscience, and the reading I’ve done seems to be saying that neuroscientists don’t know a huge amount, either. I mean, they have oodles of data but not enough to have a proper name for your thought box. At least, not one they can all agree on. And if they do, I don’t know how to find it and I don’t want to make an arse of myself by mis-sciencing all of ya’ll.

Anyway, your thought box is where your conscious thoughts are. As well as, ‘I want a pickle’-type thoughts, it’s the place where you do all the talking to yourself, the churning over of ideas, the debating over the merits of pickle eating… basically, all the stuff in your brain you’re conscious of.

The size of someone’s cogitatio capsa (does the Latin make you more comfortable? Make this whole ramble seem more sciencey?) is a big determining factor in how smart we think someone is. Take multiplication. Maybe your cogitatio capsa can’t do the maths for 2352×423. So you break it down into bits you can do. The bigger those bits and the more of them you can hold (and more bits mean you’re more likely to make connections between them), the smarter you are.

The bits for me have to be very small. Complex ideas won’t fit in there. This is why I have to write everything down to make sense of it.

It’s also why I have a habit of coming up with these little sayings. ‘Ad-hoc, often destructive do-dah whatsits’ won’t fit in there. The whole reason I have ideas is so I can examine and manipulate them. So I can understand them. So I can use them to talk to myself. The phrase, ‘bubblegum bridges’ fits in quite nicely, and serves as a shortcut to the longer, more complex definition. It leaves plenty of space for other things. I only have to articulate the simple phrase ‘bubblegum bridges’ to get the full benefits of the complete definition.

I don’t think I’m the only one who needs shortcuts to complex ideas. I mean, we have ‘Big Brother’, ‘space race’, ‘multicultural’ and dozens more. If you ever find any of mine useful, then feel free to take them. I won’t lose anything. And I wouldn’t be sharing them if I didn’t want them to be shared.