This week, Monday 1st April 2013

Freedom, Of A Limited Sort

Happy FaceYes, I have now bagged myself a sweet week of peace and leave. The odd result is that I shall struggle to meet all of my post deadlines this week. It is because I shall sleep until about one o’clock every afternoon and then run out of time. That’s all for the good though, as I’ve just barely gotten over last week’s Skullfucker Plague. The healing process involved one of those terribly helpful visits to the doctor. It was actually one of the highlights of another terrible week of work, even if it was only four days long (thank goodness for nailing people to crosses). Seriously, if anyone has something they want done for money, bump it my way please.

I like to take a list with me to the doc, because otherwise I just feel like I’m complaining and want to stop and escape before I’ve even gotten to the good stuff. Everything that’s wrong with me is a virus (probably) or some lungrot caused and exacerbated by our continued cold and damp weather (so I shall die of this in England), or the result of stress. Excellent. Therefore the planned week of leave is the ideal remedy and is also my Lady Half’s birthday week! Huzzah.

This week’s scribbles

Tuesday Appeasement and Loss

A short story set in a fantasy world where revenge is all that’s left to one man.

Wednesday Lego Creations: Mini Mech

A happy rootling about in my Lego box and an enthusiasm for matching colours resulted in quite a nice build.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Two

The expedition gathers pace, hardware and danger…

Friday Book Review: The Departed by Neil Asher

I’m behind the times as always, but I finally got round to reading the first in a new series by one of my favourite authors.

Updates on my thrilling life

Writing

Tiresome repetition! I made the mistake of going to work last week and it almost crushed my desire to function. As a consequence I am in catch up mode. That was proving really difficult earlier (compounded by the shrieking of rat children outside – yay, Easter…) until I found myself in a scribble-frenzy. I don’t know what brings them on but it certainly seemed to be influenced by trying to read my own appalling hand writing in my night writing book. It sits by the bed waiting for me to blindly scrawl nonsense in it and then I am unable to decipher it.

I thought I’d found an unused scrap of Pigheart in it, but it took half an hour to translate maybe a hundred words and then realised it was a very early draft of The Assassination Adventure. Very annoying, but it got me onto writing Tuesday’s story ‘Appeasement and Loss’. Not cheery, but then that doesn’t seem to be the way my stories are going at the moment. That makes me a bit sad.

Last week’s scribbles

Shankanalia 8The Desert CrystalsTuesday Skankrabatic – The Sinuous Twist of Angry Poetry De-stressing with short enraged poems..

Wednesday Pulp Pirate 17 Piracy returns to the Flash Pulp podcast.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part One A fresh expedition into the extraordinary Northern Continent begins.

Friday Film Review: Welcome To The Punch (2013) Another dreadful waste of celluloid.

Lego

Boba Fett’s house has gotten out of control… I’m now nowhere near finished once I realised that I wanted an extra floor and to be able to see inside it. I didn’t want the grief of making a model that splits in half, so it’s just getting taller. Really it needs that though because there isn’t even a bed for the poor Mandalorian fellow, let alone a kitchen yet. Bounty hunters cannot live by guns alone. So work must continue anon!

Improv Comedy

We had a show on Friday at The Glee Club which was good fun. We had a somewhat unfocussed first half but definitely got it back together fully for a strong second half. That said, I really enjoyed the scenes I did in the first half, including a Shakespearean Scene with Marilyn (always a joy) which had something to do with being a lollipop man distracted by the touch of a bosom. It did in fact utterly derail my attempts to speak, resulting in new words for me and my character. I also took this month’s monologue (me repaying myself back for a month of bastardy) and told a lovely dark, spotlit (thank you James) tale about my spiritualist father and our caravan home in Penzance. I enjoyed that a lot.

I also still love our intro theme by The Nibbler:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/22520253″ iframe=”true” /]

We also met and had a chat with some of the guys from The Noise Next Door who were playing downstairs at the same time as us. They were nice enough to pop up and catch part of our set. They’re the UK’s only (I think) professional improv outfit – and they work a lot. They do an excellent super-polished show and are very funny fellows indeed. I see them as brand ambassadors for the whole of the UK improv comedy scene and hope to see them again soon. It was very cool to have an improv venue for a whole night in Nottingham.

Media Intake

Books

I return to the massive tomes of Peter F Hamilton! Yup, I’m on the middle book of the Void trilogy – The Evolutionary Void. I have to thrust some of this space opera fun onto a friend who only seems to read old-school sci fi and rejects the new wave of amazing British sci fi. Obviously he’s wrong, but he really needs to feel the error of his ways.

Appeasement and Loss

Loss_and_AppeasementThe moon glumly reflected my mood, staining the paper trees with its grudging glow. I knelt amongst the bushes, the tips of my fingers dappled with that same sallow light where they rested on the dark metal barrels waiting for their moment of revenge. Beyond our shabby nest lay the house of my enemy. The moon showed her favour, stripping away one half of her clouded veil and striking the house smartly, brightening the glassy stone and throwing the windows into gleaming eyes, piercing my night shroud with paranoid fever.

I shrank back between the leaves. It had taken me some hours to draw this close into the estate. The fearwards had been easily overwhelmed with my own hatred; I was to commit murder, what fear could oppress me now? Equally the more animal boundaries had been easy to pass. I left behind me a trail of bloodied organs and dark patches even the moon would not light. And now I waited.

The house of The Salver was visited day and night by those who respected, feared and wooed the incumbent power. His was a rare and richly powerful role, appointed by a council of government but subject to the approval of the Chall. Only a man who could be trusted to deceit and the abuse of power would survive as The Salver, official bridge between our people and the Chall, the shadowy people of the night who had haunted our dreams and lives since they first arose.

I had lost my respect for The Salver early on when our town had been offered as a gift to the Chall. My father and brother were broken, driven insane by the Chall as they invaded our streets. Living nightmares given flesh by our masters, flesh to terrify, taste and ultimately wear. The older men of our house had locked us in the cellar – myself, my two youngest cousins, sister and mother – while they pretended at a normal household, waiting for the Chall to arrive. Many had already fled and their screams had been caught on the wind, whipped and hurled back into the town by the Chall as they aproached from all directions, surrounding us with the sound of the escapees deaths.

We were separated from the Chall and the ruin they wrought upon our home by the thick wooden floor, woven with iron and jasmine. That alone hid us from them but did nothing to shield us from the sound of torture and gibbering terror that they drove our loved ones too. When the Chall had had their fill and departed The Salver was already praising our noble sacrifice and sweeping the depravities of the night into the past. Cherence was officially declared ‘out of humanity’ before we even emerged from the cellar.

We found my brother a hollow man, weeping blankly while huddling under the kitchen table. No sight or sound penetrated his mind and despite our attempts to feed him and nurse him back to health, he died; and we suffered the indignity and horror of gratitude for his death. Of my father there was worse. One of the Chall had taken his skin for clothing and left behind nothing but his eyes and a hand. The hand clenched and squeezed and for a time my mother carried it with her as a reminder of my father and the warmth of his touch. His eyes I wear about my neck in a silver necklace. I want him to see how I avenge our family.

Our home, Cherence was left as a ghost town. We five were the only survivors and we soon left as well. There was nothing in that place for us but misery and the wails of those whose minds had been cruelly bound into the bricks and wood of their homes.

No matter where we went we were poor and weak, the townsfolk welcomed us only with fear and suspicion. Our tales of Cherence were hushed down, at most spoken of only in sealed rooms as the most monstrous concession ever given to the Chall. Publically The Salver was acclaimed for his success. The Chall were so satisfied with their ghost town that they had even withdrawn from the Eastern border of our lands. We were told our sacrifice was heroic and noble. I withheld the sight of my father’s eyes from those who thought his death good. We marched on in silence, the anger and sorrow crunched down in our breasts to a hard core of loathing, we showed only our darkened eyes to the next town and made no mention of our past.

We adopted normal life again, in time, but I never forgot my hatred for The Salver. I was right to keep it, as we discovered. Eight summers and winters had passed us by. We had grown relatively contented in our new life, far from the borders and the threat of the Chall. Although our mother had faded out of life not long after we had settled, never able to reconcile herself to the loss of our lives in Cherence, I and my sister had made a home for ourselves and our cousins. We soon learned that safety and comfort were things never to be granted to those who survived the Chall.

I travelled to trade in the objects that our experiences with the Chall had given me the art to craft. I sold and taught disfigurements and wards that would resist the Chall’s senses to the travellers and wardens who met in secret and discussed the Chall and our future. So I was away from home when The Salver’s men came for the rest of my family. I returned days later to find the house empty and a warrant for our detainment and transport on the kitchen table. The Chall had never forgotten about Cherence and some clerk of The Salver’s had tracked us down at last.

None of our neighbours could tell me where my family had been taken; even the wardens had no information. I set out immediately for Cherence: it was the only place I could think of. I was of course too late. All that awaited me on the outskirts of Cherence was an abandoned wagon, its horses torn to ribbons and overlaid across the hedgerows with the tattered strips of the soldiers who had guided them. The Chall had been hungry. Of my sister and cousins there was just clothing and a single polished skull with my sister’s hair carefully draped atop it. The nightmares started before I even left the wagon, shrieking down in and around me until I managed to wrestle my strongest disfigurement into place. Then I fled.

And now I wait, moonlit, for the house to fall dark and for The Salver to return to his study. There he will light a lamp and spend an hour alone before bed. That’s when I will kill him.

Lego Creations: Mini Mechs

Robo-fun – Mech-Beelding action

If you don’t fancy building starships out of Lego, robots are the logical alternative. They’re smaller, faster to build and you can still build starships as well. I have a fondness for the guy in R2-D2 and the disabled kids who performed in Silent Running. The unifying element is that there was no need whatsoever to put an actor in those boxes; they are there for purely comic effect. So I wanted to make some small robots who looked neat and simple.

The two robots have the same body and leg structure, which I found an easy way to add bits onto – maximum studs facing outward from the core. They’ve both come out quite differently and have a pleasingly smooth overall finish. Trying to keep a consistent colour scheme has driven me fairly crazy and tells me I should really buy a few more kilos of small Lego bricks…

Mech #1

Originally I built this little chap out of the AT-RT set (which is great and has a very cool Droideka). For no clear reason I was delaying the construction and had a happy tinker with the pieces. Eventually I did build the AT-RT and had to recreate Mech#2 from other parts. The head’s a really satisfying brick, and it turns out I’ve got about a dozen of these in different colours. They are so obviously robot noggins.

Mech #2

I wanted to build another version of Mech#1 out of just black Lego, but it was really hard to see (and not just because we use low-energy light bulbs). Lego black sucks in light and blinds you. So the addition of orange felt just right (especially once I’d checked that I had enough parts). I made entirely different arms for this guy and stretched the body out slightly and it seems to have had the desired effect.

Related articles

The Desert Crystals: part 2

Part 2 – Aloft

The Desert Crystals Harvey had carefully planned the route they would take around the southern rim of the Great Bane Desert where the scorched sand was penned in by a vast razored ridge of glassy rock. True to his word, Rosenhatch had ensured that their hunt for the Crystal Finches would be conducted in style. Harvey’s complaints about the malice of the region were well founded and Rosenhatch had no intention of dying before they had even found the birds, let alone returned with the prize. There were other, far richer fans and enthusiasts of exotic and possibly mythical fauna whom Rosenhatch could tap.
The airship was sixty feet of colourful balloon carrying an elegant cradle of brass and glass. She was a beauty and the proudest possession of Lord Emmaline Corshorn. He was a patron of the university and had supported several of Rosenhatch’s wilder exploits. More importantly, Lady Corshorn had an especial fondness for beasts of the air and after hearing Rosenhatch’s impassioned expedition pitch had demanded that Emmaline lend the explorers his airship. The point blank refusal that followed was eroded by glacial marital disharmony into reluctant acquiesence.
Lord Emmaline’s consent to use The Dove’s Eye was conditional on his captaining the luxurious vessel. He also supplied the crew, which was fortunate since Rosenhatch’s knowledge of flight extended as far as climbing the gangplank. He was an initially grumpy host, but separation from his wife and the extraordinary cigars and whiskey that Rosenhatch had brought aboard won him over. The pair stood upon the airship’s deck watching the sun set through the Corrigible Mountains, its vivid red and orange flowing through the tips of the peaks. They sipped whiskey from Corshorn’s priceless crystal glasses and tapped cigar ash into the air below.
“So, hoping to bag a few Finches, eh Rosenhatch?”
“We think we’ve got a good chance, yes Lord Emmaline.”
“Planning to pop ’em in those, eh?” Corshorn waved his cigar at the peculiar cages stacked and strapped down at the other end of the deck.
“Quite. Harvey has some fascinating theories about the Crystal Finches. It’s said that they emit their own light, which is then diffracted through their feathers.”
“The same light that will burn the flesh off a fellow’s bones?”
“Well yes. So they say. I rather hope that might be a part of the story that actually is a myth. However, we certainly expect our eyes to be sensitive to them.”
“We won’t know until it’s almost too late,” Harvey’s ominous tones made Lord Emmaline stiffen and slosh whiskey over the railing.
“Dammit man, you don’t need to sneak up on us.”
“My apologies Lord Emmaline. It’s the carpeting in your cabins.”
“Well, wear a bell or something.”
“Ha ha. Only Maxwell gets a bell, and then only when we’re at home,” added Rosenhatch.
“The Finches,” Harvey continued undaunted by Corshorn’s rudeness or discomfort, “perpetuate their own light. It is to them as your blood is to you,” he gestured to his own segmented thorax with a pair of legs, “or my ichor is to me. They at once depend on it for life and use it for hunting. My plan is simple. I have designed these boxes which as you can see are comprised of mirrors and crystal shards. The angles will reflect the Finches light back at them and contain their lethal rays. I have also constructed goggles for each member of the party. I have every expectation that they will protect our eyes from the Finches’ harmful emissions. Maxwell is trying his out now.”
Maxwell rolled out onto the deck, alternately stepping and clawing at the mask strapped over his face.
“Of course, in Maxwell’s case the goggles were difficult to fit,” Harvey pointed at the clasps holding the mask into place over the cat’s head. Maxwell fell into a heap of hissing and kicking in an attempt to remove the offending articles. “Now, don’t scratch the lenses.”
“Can’t see properly,” declared Maxwell, rolling over and kicking at the straps with his hind feet.
“Stop making such a fuss. You’ll be glad of them when we reach the pass.”
Harvey and Rosenhatch had painstakingly mapped out the trails of the desert traders whose rumours of the crystalline beasts had initiated the project. All of the original trade routes had passed through a narrow valley that punctured the Corrigibles before opening out into the desert itself. The mountains jagged up almost to the clouds, which scudded violently away from the dagger blades of translucent rock. From the peaks a mean grassy scrub flared out into thick forestation that vanished into the valley. Below that the lush vegetation died away into the desert landscape. The valley’s likely climate seemed to match the preferences of the common finches, and it fit with the other worrying accounts of those early voyages into and across the Bane.
“Well, we’ll be there by morning I should say,” declared Lord Emmaline, tossing back his whiskey and hurling the glass at the ridge they followed. He wandered off back to the helm where he bawled a few directions at his lieutenant and retired for the evening.
Rosenhatch scooped up Maxwell and scruffed his fur while he undid the straps. Maxwell examined them closely for scratches. They stood there for a while with the cat purring in the man’s arms, and together they watched the sun slip below the peaks.
Next Week: Part 3 – The Sharp Lands

Book Review: The Departure (Owner Trilogy Book One) by Neil Asher

The_DepartureWhen this first book of a new sci-fi trilogy was released in 2011 I must confess I was rather worried. I utterly adore his previous Polity series of novels and constantly lust for more. It’s a very selfish and reader-centric concern but was high in my mind when I finally downloaded it on Kindle (it’s a new series, so I don’t have to get all the matching hardbacks…)

The Owner trilogy (of which The Departure is book one) gives us an awful dystopian Earth where the bureaucracy has gone wild with horrific results. There’s a lot of info dumping about the political setup, which came across as slightly defensive – as if a future where citizens get designated ‘Zero Assets’ (a bit like reading the Daily Mail) and herded into zones where they can be exterminated while the rich and powerful hoard resources and shove the best anti-ageing drugs in themselves, living the high life at the expense of others is in any way implausible. It really doesn’t feel unlikely either, and the horror of that future is well realised in the actions and reactions of the main character, Saul.

I can’t tell you much about him without giving to much away, but he’s a tough character to like. Initially he’s quite sympathetic if incredibly ruthless in resisting the global government. Cue tonnes of murder, shoot-outs, violence and subversion of computer systems. As his story becomes clearer he’s in the interesting condition of having a load of experimental hardware shoved in his head and he struggles to integrate that new awareness and existence while retaining his humanity. He doesn’t do terribly well at that.

The stakes escalate very well and the action is relentless and exciting. I don’t care for many of the other characters in the book; most of them are some species of bad guy (although they’ve survived in a climate where being a ruthless bastard is the only way to survive, so they’re a bit ambiguous) but I really disliked his female companion who seemed almost offensively weak to me (but again has been through a number of brutal wringers). The main story is offset by an insurgency underway on the tiny human Mars base, cut off from resources and run by the dangerous idiocy of the regime’s political officer. Although I did get into the main Saul storyline I found the Martian struggle more engaging straight away.

It’s good sci-fi and I still feel that my reservations about the book stem from this not being the Polity world (which is just me being a dick). The politics and social setup are provocative and satirical, the characters actions are radical and violent. It’s slightly clumsy in how it gets going, but that was much the same in Gridlinked (the first of the Polity books – I had to force a friend to get through that one to reach the gold on the other side) and I suspect this is going to be much the same: Zero Point (book 2) will be awesome. The main character theme also seems to be the opposite of that in Gridlinked – where Cormack is learning to disengage with the virtual world, Saul is learning how to bend it to his will. Read it, it’s part of the astonishing Brit sci-fi new wave.

Neal Asher

Get The Departure at Amazon.co.uk

This week, Monday 8th April 2013

Blissful Mind Peace

Orc ForgerA week off does wonders for the soul, though not necessarily from the skull-shuddering headaches. Never mind, that’s just my mind being invaded by trans-dimensional beings. My open rage emissions make me vulnerable to their pseudopod probings. Aside from their mentational strokings it has been a very nice week indeed. Ihaven’t done much…

The highlight for me was my other half’s birthday and observing the unrestrained glee with which she carefully removed the tape from each wrapped parcel and then tore apart the paper in a neat, folded way. In celebration we have hit the cinema fairly hard this week and had a lovely meal out as Las Iguanas with some close friends. The actual party will have to wait until later in the month because of other people’s birthday parties being arranged earlier. Damn them.

In hopes of approaching the return to work with positivity I have had a shave. I’m not sure why I think this will help. I suspect it will mainly make my face cold as summer is not on the cards this year.

This week’s scribbles

Tuesday The War Alone: Day One – Call Centre

A one-shot story set in the chaos and confusion of The War Alone.

Wednesday Shankbuddy – Convenient Hate Poems

A tiny reminder in poetry form of why I needed a week off.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Three

It’s time to leave the safety of the air behind.

Friday Film Review Double Bill: The Host & G.I. Joe: Retaliation 

Jeez, what a pair of films…

Updates on my thrilling life

Writing

I have, as I predicted last week, been exceptionally bad at sitting down and doing anything of note. All I have done really is embraced the need to write another 800 words every week for The Desert Crystals (and done last week’s Part 2). I have no sense of where this story will end. My original draft was fairly short and concluded with the new beginning… so we shall be going off the wall, underneath the box and so forth for exactly some number of chapters.

I’m enjoying the business of a review every Friday. I thought I might find it irritating, because I’m a bit conflicted about reading other people’s reviews of films and books. Instead it helps me to focus on what I enjoyed about a thing, and am remembering it better. Regardless of any benefit to me I’m happy to thrust my irrelevant opinion onto you every week. I hope you enjoy them and treat them like any other review – ignore them entirely and do what you want.

Last week’s scribbles

The Desert CrystalsLoss_and_AppeasementTuesday Appeasement and Loss A short story set in a fantasy world where revenge is all that’s left to one man (or Loss and Appeasement as I reordered it for my picture).

Wednesday Lego Creations: Mini Mechs A happy rootling about in my Lego box and an enthusiasm for matching colours resulted in quite a nice build.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Two The expedition gathers pace, hardware and danger…

Friday Book Review: The Departure by Neil Asher I’m behind the times as always, but I finally got round to reading the first in a new series by one of my favourite authors.

Lego

We on patrol.

Mwha ha ha! I have more boxes which has enabled further segmentation of Lego by colour and shape. I don’t know how far to take this, as it can be convenient to have it all separated, but then I have to be surrounded by a roomful of boxes. It’s also really handy to have stuff mixed up together – it supports my lack of planning as I can be inspired by a random aggregation of bricks in a corner.

I finished my little mechs for last week’s post and am still toying with more variations on the theme. I’ve also been tinkering further with Boba Fett’s house. I need to dismantle part of it to get more space in there – the man needs a shower and a wardrobe. I’m quite pleased with his sleep capsule though.

Finally… I delayed the unboxing for weeks but I have broken into The Orc Forge at last! It’s a really cool little model to build (though rather repetitive on the base) and the use of the light brick is pretty. Admittedly I was a touch disappointed because the picture on the box virtually promises two light bricks. I was robbed. However that is completely countered by the orc’s ears being part of the hair piece. Genius. As a newbie Lego builder I also noticed for the first time that Lego are employing techniques more commonly seen on the moc circuit than in their usual kits – the shaping around the base looks great.

Orc Forge

Improv Comedy

We’re still punching away at the Evente in Fisticuffs on Tuesdays. We’re a bit torn on where to go with it. There have been just four of us playing it for a few weeks now and it might just be that having one scene each plus the bookend events make it feel weirdly short. However, we are playing nicely together and we had ourselves in tears of laughter last week over the sexy tortoise and dong-face. That was a fine round of therapeutic corpseing.

For the jam we were back in the freezing environment of 8 Stoney Street. It’s a great space but Christ it’s cold. That does make it hard – once you stop moving you don’t want to start again because it moves all that lovely warmth that you’ve gathered. Regardless, Lloydie let us in a fun round of justification and grounding, building in part upon the workshop that Jules Munns did with us a few weeks ago. Having to say “because” leads to wonderful realisations and discoveries.

I also enjoyed going to the pub afterwards: it was warm. And had beer.

Media Intake

Books

I dove straight from The Temporal Void into The Evolutionary Void and finished that yesterday. Loved it, loved it to bits. It’s been a very satisfying 5,000 page read through of the five books almost back to back. Peter F Hamilton’s scope in the series is just immense and epic and it made me very happy. What to read next? Well, I now have a taste for the massive and will have to dig Adrian Tchaikovsky’s next Shadows of The Apt tome, The Air War (book eight of ten). I’ve been holding off on reading it because my anticipation and excitement are immense. Knowing we’re close to the end of the saga causes me internal weeping.

Events and Excitement

Gorilla Burger – Thursday 11th April

7.30pm at 8 Stoney Street, Nottingham.
An improv comedy show where anyone can play.

“Angry folk” lp launch Karl & the Marx Brothers – Friday 12th April

8.00pm at The Guildhall, Derby.
MissImp are providing an improvised protest in front of this excellent album launch show!

Related articles

The War Alone: Day One – Call Centre

The grind of days of data entry had numbed the call centre workers’ brains to an all-new low. By ten o’clock the boards were already fun and the phones were ringing ceaselessly. The supervisors prowled for difficult callers and staff taking too long to resolve their customers trivial issues.

Mike ground his teeth in frustration, listening to Mr G.E. Abbingdale painstakingly detail how hard it had been to find the number he had just called on their website. His hand sought out the remnants of his stress ball and gouged it savagely with his fingernails. He’d been there since eight o’clock and already wanted to kill everyone. The allure of going postal was powerful. Getting the guns to do it with was virtually impossible. That was probably a good thing. Probably… wouldn’t it just be freeing people from this nightmare?

War Alone - Call CentreMr G.E. Abbingdale finally ran out of steam and grudgingly conceded that he had indeed located the desired number and having done so had made this call but his need, which drove him into his number-quest, had vanished during the duration of the subsequent call. Mike ended the call and drove his thumbs into the pits of his eyes.

He raised his hand to indicate that he needed to be covered while taking a break. After receiving the hard eyes and reluctant nod of his supervisor. Mike thrust undercover finger-Vs towards the bastard. He pushed away from the desk and headed for the loos. A sudden blare of telephones accompanied his use of the urinal. It sounded like every phone on the switchboard had lit up; an excellent time to not be there. He washed his hands and rested his face on the hand-dryer before pulling himself back together.

The corridor outside was silent, a welcome relief from the endless ringing and babble. Maybe the phone system had broken down again – one of those rare but wonderful times. They would either be found some other make-work to do or told to fuck off and not expect payment for their downtime.

Large glass doors opened into the circle of hell (as the phone operators had dubbed it). Mike resignedly pushed them open, and stopped. The room was silent and still, and everyone was looking at him. The expression of sheer malice made Mike briefly wonder if he’d accidentally pulled a power plug out again. Then he noticed the stream of blood following the badly laid carpet tiles.

The door swung closed behind him, settling with a quiet sucking thump. Everyone shifted minutely. Predatory, menacing stances. Mike was uncomfortably reminded of being at the zoo, eyes following him as he walked round the cages. There were no cages here. Just his colleagues, standing by their desks. He also noticed that there were more feet under one desk than people standing behind it. A face peeked out from under the chair- Mark, one of the elite cadre of supervisors now crouching shivering under a table. Mike had worked here for six months and never exchanged a single word with him. Mark’s face was white and lightly spattered with blood, the same blood that was being soaked up by the carpet tiles.

Their eyes met. “Run you fucking idiot,” Mark whispered hoarsely. The two nearest helpdesk operators responded instantly – Brenda (mother of two, prone to weight gain, badly made up) flipped the whole desk over, knocking computer, phone and stationery across the floor. Before the cables had finished ripping out of their sockets and almost before the edge of the table hit the ground, Usuf (cat hater, mid-forties, bad taste in ties) had seized Mark and began slamming his head against the next desk. Mike heard Mark’s skull crack and he became limp as his head turned to a broken bloody mess.

Mike panicked and spun round, fumbling at the door. He’d always laughed at people who pushed when they needed to pull, but right now he couldn’t figure out why the door wouldn’t open. The letters that made up the word ‘Pull’ didn’t work, didn’t refer to anything. The reflections clustered closely behind his own mirrored face of fear. A weight struck him from behind, hammering him into the glass door. He felt a tooth crack on impact. He began to scream as hands and stabbing fingers tore at his arms and legs. All he saw was the empty corridor outside.

Related stories

Shankbuddy – Convenient Hate Poems

Sure I’ve had a lovely week off. Lovely because it was a week off. I’m anticipating a return to the intellectual environment that produced the poems below. That may seem rather pessimistic, but I think it’s a reasonable expectation that by Friday I’ll be writing more of these.

Follow @shankanalia on Twitter for irregular poetic updates.

Shankbuddy – Convenient Hate Poems

Shankanalia 9

Well Done, Oh Well Done Indeed
It’s not a competition
To be the biggest twat,
But if it were
(You useless fuck)
You’d win the fucking gold,
And dance and pose
To the fucking moron crowd.

Your Praise Means The World To Me
5 stars.
5 fucking stars.
5 pointed stars.
Devil sucking
Hobo performers
For the cuddly
Reward of meaningless
Paper:
Measurement of fuck all.

Hard of Hearing You
My tolerance for your bullshit is
At an all time low.
Incomprehensible mumbling,
Handwringing twat,
Inarticulate to the point
Of dismemberment.

Face-Borne Contaminants
Scream at you till my lungs are dry,
Retch cranial fluid instead of tears,
Hack and sneeze
My plague of loathing
Into your moist
Flesh sack.

With All My Heart I Embrace You
Bubbling chest of fury:
Ribs bending
Spreading
Spangling
Under pressure
Of anger;
Bloody rage flow;
Spear idiots on broken rib spars:
Bleed on you.

Sir You Vex Me
Cut you
Fuck you
Break you
With my fists
Filled with rage.
Sate it with your
Bruising
Punctured
Whimpering
Whining
Flesh.
Keep you dead.

More of The Same

The Desert Crystals: part 3 The Edge of Night

Part 3 – The Edge of Night

The Desert Crystals

The night had long since sucked the heat from the air that circulated high over the Great Bane Desert, leaving a chill breeze to compete with the airship’s propellers. The gentle thrum had lulled Jacob Bublesnatch, night watch mate of The Dove’s Eye into gazing blindly out of the cockpit. Despite travelling for sixteen days and nights around the edge of the brutal desert, the journey had been remarkably peaceful. That resulted, in no small part, from the absence of their Lord’s wife, the formidable Lady Corshorn. Their previous trip – out to the coast had been spoiled, for the crew at least, by the Lady’s shrieking at them for every excessive noise or disturbance they caused to the varicoloured birds who were intent on attacking the airship’s provocative balloon. The crew had also noted the improved mood of their captain, Lord Emmaline.

Young Jacob, on only his fifth voyage in the airship was thrilled by their passengers: the notorious adventurists Rosenhatch Traverstorm and his companions, Harvey the giant centipede and a small playful cat. When Jacob was not on watch or fulfilling the countless domestic duties that were required of him, Jacob spent his time lying on bunk flicking through the Journals Biologinary, a tattered bundle of over-fondled periodicals filled with tales of adventure and discovery. No less than twelve of Traverstorm’s catastrophic expeditions were recounted within those hallowed and inky pages and Jacob knew them by rote. When he’d learned of their guests he truly thought his heart had stopped and he spent the loading and embarkation in an excited sweaty clamminess. He had even personally taken the centipede’s weighty panniers into the cargo hold converted for the enormous creature – and been personally thanked for it.

It had proved to be a slight disappointment that the adventurers had not shot anything from the deck of the airship or attracted the attentions of some as yet unknown brute to propel them back into the Biologinary‘s pages. Jacob had contented himself with building up the courage to request an autograph, a preparation ruined when Maxwell, the cat, pounced upon one of the journals and dragged it gleefully on deck to his (possible) master. Maxwell looked on smirkingly as Traverstorm mildly condescended to the lad and signed the magazine with a flourish. Harvey had then taken it upon himself to add a trademark snap of his mandibles (the centipede equivalent of a signature), and a dedication to the brave young man in his flying machine. Had it not been in the middle of the deck, with his crewmates watching Jacob shame a lantern for beaming, he would have been much happier.

In compensation for the embarrassment Traverstorm took the boy under his wing and showed off the magnificently complex mirrored traps and goggles they had prepared for their expedition. Jacob was in no doubt that the voyage would be a tremendous success, and he had high hopes to be there when Traverstorm netted the Crystal Finches at last. That of course, wouldn’t happen, as Traverstorm and his team would be going on alone once they reached the razored ravine that had been designated as the end of the outward journey. Jacob would be staying behind on The Dove’s Eye as they waited for the heroes to return.

Jacob stared out of the cockpit into the night. The course was fixed, the wind was in their favour: smooth sailing. Pleasant daydreaming, or nightdreaming, or dreaming… even dozing his mind briefly debated the semantics of his dreamy state before his eyelids slid shut with a relieved flutter. His face rested against his hand where it loosely gripped the elevator, pulling it back. The airship began to rise. Clouds drifted idly across the glowing moon ahead; dark shapes flocked out of the night behind them.

As the airship rose higher the air grew colder. Frost began to flower across the surface of the catenary curtain and blossomed down the sides of the envelope, reaching for the gondola slung beneath. The cold air touched at the passengers in their sleep; Rosencrantz twitched and tugged his blankets (and Maxwell) closer over his chest and face; Harvey’s dreams turned sluggish and his spiracles shivered.

Back in the cabin Jacob shuddered with the chill air blowing through the gaps around the window and juddered back to wakefulness. His eyes flew wide as a black shape leaped out of the night and slammed into the window inches from his face. A scream died in his throat as ghastly foot-long talons scraped against the glass leaving jagged scratches. The lamps cast Jacob’s shadow over the creature’s face and all he saw was the gleam of curved teeth before it tore the window out of its frame. The nightmare thing squeezed through the shattered hole and spilled into the cabin. Jacob backed away until he hit the wall. The jolt finally shocked a cry out of him; once released he didn’t stop. The intruder rose up, talons extended and reached for him.

Shouts, hammering fists and the pounding of feet on wood roused the crew and passengers. Half-dressed, pistols half-cocked and half-awake the travellers warily spread on deck in a pattern of confusion. Lord Emmaline reached the cockpit first, and was the first to see the wreckage of the room.

“The boy’s gone,” he cried.

All eyes were on the night around them.

“There!” Rosenhatch’s arm speared outwards as a shadow flashed across the moon – a wide winged shape bearing a struggling human form. Lord Emmaline seized the controls and set a pursuit course.

Next Week: Part 4 – The Frothing Horror

Film Review Double Bill: The Host & G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)

The HostJeez, what a mess. Obviously anything from the author of Twilight is likely to be pretty poor: derivative, badly written, tedious… This one hits all of those low standards for excellence. The essential concept, that of an alien invasion where the aliens occupy our bodies is standard sci-fi fare and offers enormous opportunity for excitement. That promise is totally ruined by the sheer quantity of stupid injected into the shoddy screenplay.

The aliens are travellers across the universe – they invade (in a friendly, personality destroying way) the hosts of a civilisation and then proceed to occupy the exact same roles those hosts had in their natural existence, but do it better. So pan-galactic aliens (who travel as a bundle of fibreoptic shit FX) invade people to live their tedious lives. All except for the badly-trousered guardians, or security police or whatever they call them – ah, yes Seekers, who hunt down the remaining unhosted humans and make sure they get possessed. They wear white clothes and use only the shiniest of vehicles. It’s how you know they’re the bad guys. They hunt you down with tasers in violent love.

The story is that of a girl who tries to take her own life to avoid capture and hosting and to protect her brother. She fails to kill herself and is repaired by the aliens (with their spray-on medical tools labelled “Heal”, “Clean” and other moronically simple things). They give her the lovely shiny contact lenses to denote her new alienhood – which is handy as otherwise the 1,000 year old alien behaves in exactly the same way as its irritating host. I just wanted the original character to be expunged. Oh, but she’s a really spunky tyke and fights against her evil (symbiotic and friendly) Host.

Yaaaawn, after a minor excitement she goes to find her family of natural humans. Then we get some more beating up girls (strong theme), and then everyone distrusts her, gets to like her alien pal, try to kill her, like her again, fall in love with her. Oh, and the main Seeker goes nuts and tries to kill them. The other Hosts don’t like that, but you won’t care. Eventually it ends.

The Host is almost unimaginably tedious and stupid at every step. There’s a decent cast, but they are wasted on irritating hushed voices, ludicrous script (oh I’d forgotten the dreadful voice over from the ‘trapped inside human’ – which makes half the film just the lead talking to herself) and being in a film in which nothing of note occurs. I just wanted to note how amusing the pastoral life in a volcano is: the survivors hide in a volcano, with a huge mirror array to grow crops (“you may have seen amazing sights across the universe, but nothing like this” – true, it looks stupid) which cues shots of them reaping in more or less Amish dress as if it’s a magical perfect place… ah if only we could all be farmers.

I’ve genuinely lost count of all the dumb things in this film and in truth I’d like to stop thinking about it now. Except I can’t because most of the film is a mind-numbingly dreary chaste romance between the girl, her pre-Hosted boyfriend and the Host and a guy who tried to kill her. Avoid.

GIJoeRetaliationOn to something still bad, but tonnes more fun. The first film was plagued by bad decisions – the Joes had super suits which turned them into CGI cartoons and they ended up fighting in an undersea city in the arctic. Very odd, oh and Paris got trashed as well. All of the adverts leading up to the new are painfully apologetic, promising that the new film will be much better. And you know what? It is. Sort of. There’s no real need to go into the story as there isn’t much of one – it just serves t link highly entertaining action sequences together (that’s not a complaint – what did you think you’d get, socio-politics and gender equality?)

The Joes, who appear to be the worst soldiers in the world get wiped out, including Channing Tatum (Duke) which is mildly surprising. So that we care about his loss the film makers included two vaguely comic scenes of him being bullied by The Rock (Roadblock). You won’t think about him again.

Once that’s out of the way you can enjoy Jonathan Pryce gorging himself on pigmeat to play the president and Zartan disguised as the president (CGI and using the same actor is slightly disappointing – it would have been far cooler to have Arnold Vosloo dressed up as Pryce). Yay, Cobra take over the American presidency – it’s almost exactly like a Republican government. The Joes need to resolve their massacre and fix the America. To do this they need ninjas, Bruce Willis and guns.
It’s really silly and I laughed all the way through with my friend Martin; I’ll admit that we were often the only people laughing. Some of it is hysterically daft.
Highlights for me include RZA’s terrible turn as a ninja master – some kind of black white-eyebrows. I’ve no idea what accent he is using when presiding over training scenes between Snake Eyes and Jinx. You remember how it’s best to fight with your eyes closed right? They’re engaged in a baffling plot to kidnap Storm Shadow and provide cliched martial arts movie references. They succeed on both counts. The huge rock-climbing, swinging through the air mountain battle is fun, with a high casualty rate and ninjas plummeting to their doom.
Storm Shadow breaking Cobra Commander (but not sad Destro) out of an underground super-secret prison is a great action scene. Never mind that it’s rather easy to get into if you have a motorbike that explodes into rocket projectiles (why?), the prison itself is appalling: inmates are kept in a permanent state of REM sleep, so they’re paralysed but conscious (I know, it doesn’t make sense) which seems really cruel. And their mocking egotistical jailer (one of my favourite actors in Justified) gets what he deserves.
Perhaps best of all is the global showdown between the Cobra president and other world leaders where they all whip out their identical nuclear suitcases and attempt to blow each other to bits. All the actors they’ve chosen to play European premiers are as warty and snaggle toothed as you could wish for. I don’t know why Bruce Willis is in this film, but he keeps hand grenades in his fruit bowl.
GI Joe: Retaliation is enormous fun (enjoy the Top Trumps tech specs in the intro credits which catch you up on the previous film) and the cast play it out with confidence and humour. I’d love to have seen more of Arnold Vosloo (the guy who played the mummy in The Mummy and Shakespearean actor of note in his home country), and a few more Joes would have been nice. The girls are in it mainly to look at but Jinx and Scarlett do also kick the crap out of quite a few people, which is satisfying. Watch it!

This week, Monday 15th April 2013

Blissful Mind Peace

Captain Pigheart dirtyWow, a horrifying week of no beer, no whiskey. Apparently this is healthy. I am unimpressed. Not least with the alternatives to drinking beer. There’s a substance in flavour and texture to beer (never mind whiskey) that pomegranate juice and milk (not mixed together) really don’t approach. Every pub I’ve been in this week only has Becks Blue zero-alcohol beer, which is revolting – mainly because it tastes exactly the same as normal Becks lager.

Honestly it hasn’t been that bad (sobbing uncontrollably) and I’ve only got three more weeks to go. My dear fellow David has acquired for me a couple of bottles of BrewDog’s Nanny State 0.5% ale to ease my suffering,  which should taste a damn sight better than water.

This week’s scribbles

Tuesday Goldfur McRoo: Terror of The Subterranean Tunnels

A pirate story for children, featuring a tiny fuzzy pirate beast.

Wednesday Pulp Pirate 18

Back on ye olde Flashe Pulpe podcast with another piratical tale.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Four: The Frothing Horror

The search for the missing crewman begins.

Friday Beer Review:  Nanny State by Brewdog

This may become a theme…

Updates on my thrilling life

Writing

Well at least I’m consistently behind on everything I’m supposed to be doing. Or at least I think I am… Just in time is more like it. I finally finished my double film review five minutes before the scheduled publish time during Friday lunchtime. Eek. I do need to catch up in case other bits of life get busier and overtake again. The serial nature of The Desert Crystals is intriguing and exciting and even though I leave it till the last minute I do find myself thinking about it often.

Very excitingly Mr Neal Asher was kind enough to read the review of The Departure I wrote a couple of weeks ago and retweet it to his legions of fans. He also left a comment on the review. Brave stuff – I don’t think I’d ever want to read reviews of anything I do, but from the briefest of contact I’ve had with him he seems like a thoroughly nice chap, and his blog is appealing and self-deprecating. I must confess that it had never occurred to me that anyone would read my rambling commentary of their work (even though I tweet it to the author as a matter of courtesy). I think I care a good deal more about authors of books I’ve read than the makers of films I watch. I’m not sure why, but books seem a more personal endeavour (plus I dabble in scribbles myself) than films. Hmm. It gives me pause for thought. I think I’m fair in expressing my opinion; even if occasionally harsh, it’s still what I feel.

Last week’s scribbles

The Desert CrystalsWar Alone - Call CentreTuesday The War Alone: Day One – Call Centre A one-shot story set in the chaos and confusion of The War Alone).

Wednesday Shankbuddy – Convenient Hate Poems A tiny reminder in poetry form of why I needed a week off.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Three The Edge of Night It’s time to leave the safety of the air behind.

Friday Film Review Double Bill: The Host & GI Joe: Retaliation One really awful film and one enjoyable, but awful film.

Lego

I am still dismantling and rebuilding my Lego Boba Fett’s house. Unfortunately we were out almost every night last week, and have been with children at the weekend. So I have had precious little time for play, other than in expanding the top floor. My indecisiveness will be the death of me.

On the other hand I did get to spend an hour on Sunday showing off our mini figure collections and assorted models to my enthralled niece. That was nice. She demanded to know where all the figures came from – Cavalier from France, Poseidon from the sea, alien cyborg from um, space…

Improv Comedy

I compered our Gorilla Burger show this week in our current weekly home in The Corner, 8 Stoney St. Since the space was being set up for an art exhibition we were nicely confined in a miniature theatre that made the room much warmer than usual. We had a bunch of new folk and some of those we’ve only seen occasionally and a good time was had by all. I particularly enjoyed shrieking (in a game of Dubbing) as Becky’s voice whenever giant hands approached. I know… it only makes sense when you can see it.

On Friday night Martin, Geoff and I supported some friends of mine in their Angry Folk LP launch at The Guildhall Theatre in Derby. It’s a lovely venue (I’d like very much to do improv there) and an ideal setting for their socialist folk band Karl & The Marx Brothers. The support we provided was an improvised protest in the foyer as audience were arriving. We yelled at people, set up mutating chants, ranted about the government doing nothing about black holes and many other silly things. We were very popular! I had feared we’d be merely annoying but we got quite a lot of attention from chatting people in the interval. How nice! There will be videos and photos at some point.

https://soundcloud.com/furthestfromthesearecords

Media Intake

Books

I have managed to avoid going straight into Adrian Tchaikovsky’s next Shadows of The Apt tome, The Air War (book eight of ten). I’m saving that for a rainy day, or something. I went for something different instead – The Third Pig Detective Agency. It’s a delightfully bound little hardcover in the style of real pulp detective fiction. I quite enjoyed it, but I’ve read a lot of stories set in the fairy tale world already and I’m not sure there’s much more to be done with it. I then picked a book my other half got me for Christmas: The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach by Steven Erikson. I’ve never read anything by him before, but this is grim surreal fantasy is extremely poetic, violent and fantastic. I’m loving it. I can’t usually abide the tedious repetition in fantasy but this guy’s nailed it with an intriguing new perspective on the genre; I may read more.

Films

I entirely forgot to mention that the week before last we saw two other films – Finding Nemo in its 3D release and Trance. We saw Finding Nemo for my other half’s birthday. There was a funny new Toy Story short with Rex (one of my favourite characters) as a party animal pumping it up to 11 in the bathtub rave scene, although I was disappointed not to get the brilliant original Pixar short (Knick Knack – about a snowman in a snowglobe). While I still think 3D is utterly worthless technology for films the depths of the ocean always had the glorious illusion of depth and it plays out well in 3D. We had a good time.

Trance was a far odder fish (mwhah ha ha) detailing an art heist that goes awry with an amnesiac and hypnotherapist as complicating factors in its recovery (by the criminals). I’m not sure I have too much to say about it other than that I enjoyed it very much – it’s funny, tense, slickly made and has a twist you aren’t given enough information to guess at. It wrapped up very satisfyingly, although there is an odd and rather unnecessary beaver shot.

Events and Excitement

MissImp in Action – Friday 26th April

8.30pm at The Glee Club, Nottingham.
High energy improvised comedy show.

Related articles

Goldfur McRoo: Terror of The Subterranean Tunnels

Goldfur - MontyGoldfur McRoo skipped fearsomely down his tunnel. He had a spring in his scamper because he had just been named the most fearsome of all subterranean pirates by a committee of forest dwellers. He was so happy that he wasn’t really paying attention to where he was going and before he knew it he was in a tunnel he didn’t recognise at all. It was very cold and made his fur stand up on end to keep him warm. It also smelled like no one had been here for a very long time.

 It was a little bit scary, but since Goldfur McRoo was a very fearsome pirate he just puffed up his lovely golden fur and with a good deal of noise he confidently explored further. Around the next corner was a huge icicle hanging from the ceiling all the way down to the ground. Goldfur edged around it and peered into the gloom behind it. As his big wide eyes adjusted to the dark he suddenly let out a cry and bounced backwards into the icicle. Its sudden coldness on his ears made him cry out again and leap forwards where he was once again startled by the thing that had startled him to begin with.

 This went on for a little while, until Goldfur’s ears got used to the chilliness and he rested against icicle to catch his breath. He was rather tired from all the surprised squeaking and was all squeaked out. Now that he was a bit calmer he could have a look again at what had frightened him.

 In the tunnel ahead was a huge pair of tusks pointing right at him, and in between them a great hairy trunk pointing at the roof. It was certainly an alarming sight, and much bigger than the little marsupial pirate, even with all of his fur puffed up. However, even with all his brave battlecries and the bouncing back and forth it had neither run away (which is what normally happens when Goldfur McRoo was fierce at things), nor had it charged at him (which is what happens the rest of the time when Goldfur McRoo was not fierce enough).

 Feeling brave, Goldfur got even closer and discovered that the whole beastie was encased thickly in ice. No wonder it hadn’t run away! The big beastie wasn’t as scary as Goldfur had first thought – even though it was very big indeed, it was also rather furry and to Goldfur’s eye, it looked quite lonely as well as cold. Just looking at the big fellow was making him feel cold. He determined to warm the beastie up and make friends.

 First he tried cuddling at the tusked thing, but that just made his fur cold. Then he tried wrapping a blanket round it, but that just got stuck to the beastie’s leg. He realised that what was needed was an heroic act of digging and decided to excavate the whole burrow, right up to the surface and let the sun warm his (hopefully) new friend up properly. This was not a little operation.

 It took many days to dig away the earth above the frozen creature, but at last Goldfur was done. The icy head and mighty shoulders of the thing stuck up out of the ground for the sun’s rays to do their stuff. With such a big piratical digging project, all of Goldfur’s crewmates and friends had come to see what was going on.

 Pomfrey the Owl was sitting in a tree watching the melting when the big beast’s ears first started to twitch. With loud hoots he woke up Goldfur, who was very tired from all the digging and had fallen asleep in a little pothole he’d dug for himself. The ice was melting faster and faster, and the big hairy creature was soon surrounded by a pond of cold water.

 Goldfur made a raft out of his friend, Alas the Terrapin and rowed over to the furry island. He climbed up the still chilly trunk and gave the big beast a big pirate kiss right between its eyes. There was a pause in which Goldfur prepared to either hug or run away.

 With a huge groan the trunk lifted into the air and blew out a fountain of water, nearly knocking Pomfrey off his perch. Goldfur clung to the trunk as if it were a mast in the middle of a storm. The eyes opened on either side and looked at the golden pirate clinging to its nose.

 “Hello there,” it boomed.

“Ahoy!” cried Goldfur McRoo, “I, Goldfur McRoo, terror of the subterranean tunnels have defrosted you!”

“Oh thank you, I’ve been terribly cold,” said the beast underneath Goldfur’s feet, “I’m Monty by the way. Monty the Mammoth.”

 Goldfur helped Monty out of the deep hole and they became great friends.

Pulp Pirate 18

Flash Cast 84 – Tainted Kidney

The conversations in Flash Pulp’s Flash Cast world get darker and funnier each week.  This one hops and skips between organ transplants, Star Trek TNG geekery (honestly one of the geekiest conversations about Lesley Crusher I have ever heard), and contributions from the faithful pulpists out there. Featuring my very own pirate tale The Paternal Adventure.

Listen to it now: 

FC84-tainted kidney

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http://itunes.apple.com/podcast/flash-pulp/id367726315

The Desert Crystals: part 4 The Frothing Horror

Part 4 – The The Frothing Horror

The Desert Crystals

The Dove’s Eye was in pursuit. With Lord Emmaline Corshorn at the helm the airship’s upward drift was adjusted, and though the frost did not slacken its grip on the balloon or on the chilled flesh of the crew and passengers it gleamed brightly as they turned their course towards the moon.

“We’re not actually going to the moon, are we?” enquired Maxwell, from deep inside Rosenhatch Traverstorm’s coat.

“Of course not, doubtless the creature responsible for this hooliganism dwells in some cave within the Razored Ridge,” replied a shivering Rosenhatch.

“You might wish to remind the captain of that, for we are about to veer sharply from our destination in pursuit of the dangling boy,” commented Harvey, the huge centipede from within his voluminous scarves. And indeed they were heading out into the deep desert, leaving the ridge behind.

“I can hardly ask him to to call off the hunt for the poor boy when we’ve only just begun looking.”

Rosenhatch had studied the scene of the kidnapping as best he could, which was not well, considering that Lord Emmaline was currently stamping around inside it, his hands at the controls with crewmen bobbing in and out for instructions and course corrections. By ducking and weaving around that stream of activity Rosenhatch noted the splintered glass, and the inward bend of the pane that remained. His investigation revealed a number of facts, which in turn offered certain conclusions to his curious mind. And it is here that the ambiguity of the available evidence aided the travellers not in the least.

“Lord Emmaline,” cried Rosenhatch, above the gale that blew in to the tiny cabin as they fiercely pursued the departing creature, “I have drawn a number of conclusions regarding the beast-” he was interrupted by Harvey who thrust his forward segments and mouthparts to offer his own contribution.

“-for the thing, due to the residue left upon the fragments of glass is almost certainly neither vegetable nor mineral, although it could be construed as some form of sap or pulped cellulose – but no, for the accounts of Cloud Beans are at best apocryphal-”

Rosenhatch interrupted in turn, fearful that the centipede would mire them in academia, “I believe the beast to be large – though not so large as to require the entire window to get inside,” he reflected on the glass for a moment, “or, that the beast’s arm, or claw or writhing proboscis alone was not so large as to destroy the whole window to gain access to the poor boy. Well. If the latter, then the brute would likely be huge.”

“My thanks Traverstorm,” the Lord replied in his typical sanguine fashion, “for bringing to my attention the precisely unknown nature of our quarry.”

Harvey chipped in, “we believe it to be dangerous – most likely carnivorous and possibly female,”

“Though that presumes gender, of which we have little evidence, save noting that the boy was not torn to shreds and immediately consumed.”

“Indeed,” clicked Harvey, animatedly, “suggesting a gathering behaviour, perhaps a period of nesting or for the feeding of the young. Recall the Greater-Toothed Grundle Bear and its collecting of live amphibians into a stockpile to feed their ravenous triplets once they have burst from its wombing limb?”

“Ah! Or the Chiverley Hermit Beetle, which takes live prey in order to wear the still-breathing skin and pass amongst the tribesmen of the western plain…”

“While these deliberations are doubtless fascinating and of great worth within your hallowed college halls,” remarked their captain snidely, “perhaps you could turn your scholarly eyes towards that.”

His harsh tone cut through the bubbling rush of ideas and he gestured forward, beyond the overhanging balloon at what awaited them. As Rosenhatch peered into the night ahead he caught a last glimpse of the flying creature as it vanished into a greater shadow. The clouds drew back from the moon and its sterile glare etched out the shape of a cliff hanging in the sky. It extended upwards beyond Rosenhatch’s view, even as he leaned over the railing to follow its rise. The cliff face appeared to be slowly turning, for the moonlight spread across its face revealing countless crags and crannies, from holes large enough to house The Dove’s Eye to gaps Maxwell would struggle to squeeze inside. The caves were blacker than the night from which the cliff hung.

“It has no bottom – look, it’s just hanging in the air!” exclaimed Rosenhatch, his analytic brain stalled with gawping. The crew appeared on deck, as crew will, without summons or orders- they just knew, drawn by the sense of wonder, and not yet tainted by fear, that their place was on deck. Lord Emmaline, being possessed of a good deal more common sense than the average commoner, reduced their speed until they reached a drifting stop.

“Sky Mountain,” gasped one of the more nimble crew.

“Bollocks,” retorted a rigger, “no such thing as Sky Mountain.”

“Well what’s that then?” demanded the crewman.

“Well, that’s just a lot of caves stuck together.”

“Gentlemen, I think we can afford to name the Aerial Monolith later,” intruded Harvey (a round of murmurs went up as he continued: “Sky Mountain’s a better name”), “I myself have a more immediate concern.”

The centipede shook off the smaller of his scarves to gesture with more legs at the cliff side. The edges of the caves, those ovaline shapes so neatly outlined by the waxy yellow lunar glow, were changing, rippling, extending outwards in a frothy spume like a brutally whisked hot chocolate, bubbling onto a coaster. Here Traverstorm’s imagery broke down because the coaster was the night air itself and the over-excited beverage was a vast cloud of winged monsters.

“Man the artillery!” cried Lord Emmaline and the crew scattered, leaving Traverstorm and Harvey at the bow. Maxwell hopped out of Rosenhatch’s coat and ran back to their cabin.

Next Week: Part 5 – The Obsidian Eyrie

Beer Review: Four Zero Alcohol Beers

Sulking

I admit that I approached the business of low (less than 0.5%) or no alcohol beers from a bad place. It’s not my choice, but the doc, in his infinite wisdom has decreed/proposed/suggested a month of not drinking. It sounded horrific. It is proving (at a week and a half in) to be… not so horrific. That said, last night I was at the most excellent The Exeter Arms in Derby. It’s a Dancing Duck Brewery pub and they have just won two CAMRA awards – best pub in Derby and something else; I forget. They were handing out free half pint of beer tokens in celebration. I gritted my teeth and enjoyed my Fentiman’s Victorian Lemonade. It’s a great lemonade – but free beer? FREE BEER? I am strong in my resolution.

Zero Alc
I immediately smashed the bottle rather than ruin the camera with Beck’s Blue.

Finding and Trying

Few pubs seem to stock a low/no alc beer, and generally I’m completely with them – what’s the point? Why not just have a soft drink than some emasculated ale? There’s a texture and taste to beer that I actually like. I don’t drink to get drunk (although I do like that too); I find it a refreshing and pleasant mild narcotic. It’s a low drug dose (usually) and quite manageable without trashing one’s faculties.

I realised that fruit juice or tea just don’t have the same quality for drinking of an evening and I don’t want something with half a pound of sugar in it (you can shove your diet sodas where the sun don’t shine pal, they’re unilaterally vile).

The four beers below are the only ones I’ve found and tried so far. It’s a start right? Read on for Nanny State, Czech Pilsner Lager, Erdinger Alcohol Free and Beck’s Blue. I’m using an animal rating solely because it amuses me – and I’m rating them against each other, not against ‘normal’ ABV beers. Just in case you care. I think you’ll be able to figure out which ones I liked.

BrewDog Nanny State

My sympathetic friend David acquired these for me at the Nottingham BrewDog. They are pricey – £3 for 330ml. Amusingly, the seriously strong punk brewers only produced Nanny State to mock the media response to their irresponsibly strong beers a few years ago. As ever, the media were being twats.

They describe it as an “insanely hopped imperial mild“, which I find appealing as a description. It certainly is hoppy, and I find that many of BrewDog’s lighter coloured beers are intensely hoppy, which is great if you like that sort of thing. Personally I prefer their darker 5am Saint, but I’m generally a fan of IPA-type beers. Nanny State has very tasty dry, fruity flavour and went down very smoothly. Pretty damn good.

Rating: Armadillo

Sainsbury’s Czech Low Alcohol Pilsner Lager

Sainsbury’s had half a dozen different low/no alc beers – most of them are awful miniature bottles of French biere pisswaters so I ignored those. I’ve always like the cleanness of Czech and Polish lagers; they’re a world away from the inconceivably awful Fosters and Carling that sports fans use to deaden their senses.

This is actually brewed in the Staropramen brewery (and bottled by Marstons) and is the low-alc version of the already quite acceptable standard strength lager Sainsbury’s sell. I like it. It’s smooth, clean-tasting and very refreshing. For £1.20 for 500ml I felt very happy with it.

While it certainly doesn’t have the richness (I don’t know, a folded silver and gold flavour!) of Staropramen, or Zywiec I shall certainly drink it again. I mean, I’ve got two and a half weeks to go.

Rating: Albino crow

Erdinger Weissbrau Alcohol Free

Apparently our German pals have been brewing splendid low alcohol wheat beers for ages and tout their isotonic and vitamin-rich health benefits. At least that’s what it says on the label. I do like their regular versions, especially the darker Erdinger, and was pleased to find it in Sainsbury’s and Tesco.

Without question this is the best of the bunch – it’s texture is delightful: rich and just the right kind of cloudy on the tongue. It goes down a treat and, y’know what, I feel isonicised by it. It really gives the qualitative feel of drinking beer, and since it’s low calorie as well as isotonisch and vitaminhaltig I do believe I’ll have another.

I’m seriously considering having Erdinger Alcohol Free as a regular drink even when I’m back on the booze – I could drink it at work in the Summer! YES. It does seem like the ideal chilled after-sport drink. So much tastier than Lucozade. £1.59 for a 500ml bottle (Lucozade’s new ‘Dual Fuel’ is £1.50 for 500ml! I guess that ain’t bad for gas and electric).

Rating: Archaeopterix

Beck’s Blue Alcohol Free Corpse Juice

I’m only including this one in the interests of balance. The supermarket had this next to Skol which probably says it all. Dismayingly this is the only low/no alc beer I’ve found in pubs yet. Presumably the manufacturers have tested the beverage on customers and correctly settled on 275ml, which is a just barely tolerable volume to suffer through. It’s sold for between £3-4 for six bottles, or about £3 a bottle in the pub (it does take up three quid’s worth of space).

This is a relentlessly foul shaken-donkey-jizzing in your mouth experience. Incredibly they have made a drink which makes regular Beck’s (already a worthless stain on a bar) into a drink you might consume if you found yourself prostrate in a desert, but if possible I’d hack open a camel with my teeth and suckle its hump butter instead. I would rather drink salt water until I vomit than drink Becks Blue again. The very touch of this bilious carbonated poison almost broke my doctor’s prohibition.

Becks Blue is awful. Presumably if you already consider Beck’s lager to be drinkable you are so lost that you might be able to drink this.

Rating: Sea Slug Choking A Mudskipper

This week, Monday 22nd April 2013

Captainface2

Blah Blah Words


Life without alcohol… it’s okay. That said I have been waking up with crippling headaches for most of the last week, so either my tolerance for the magic dop has reduced to the point that a bottle of 0.05% beer is giving me a hangover, or I’m broken in a different way. Either way, it’s a super start to the day… Once I’ve recovered from that and blundered to work everything seems to be alright. I don’t feel any different, but I imagine the health benefits will be invisible and detectable only in about thirty years time when I fail to die a year early.
I have had a week of being highly vexed by people’s inability to undertake basic comprehension tasks, or example reading a question and then answering it. You know what, it’s a reading problem. A terrifying proportion of the supposed humans I have to deal with work are unable to make themselves understood or to receive information via language. Maybe they are all psychic and simply acquire their information directly from other telepaths. That would explain why my primitive arrangement of symbols so befuddles them. Yeah, that must be it.

This week’s scribbles

Tuesday Shanktimonious: Self-Righteous Angry Poetry

There ain’t nothing like a good bit of spitty rage.

Wednesday Lego Friends: My Best New Friends

For girls? Don’t be so sexist. They’ve got lovely coloured bricks.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Five: The Obsidian Eyrie

Will death save young Jacob Bublesnatch, or will the horrors take him?

Friday Book Review: The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain & Korbal Broach by Steven Erikson

A delightfully surprising read.

Updates on my thrilling life

Writing

Last week was good! I’d written the Goldfur McRoo story quite a while ago, in reponse to my sister complaining that my pirate stories aren’t suitable for children. I’m fine with that, but there does seem to be a general expectation that pirates are for kids. It’s perplexing since there’s nothing about pirate life (still less the adventures of Captain Pigheart) that are mite-friendly. I have read pirate stories for young adult fiction and enjoyed them, but I have no desire to write a story from a child’s point of view. Anyway, Goldfur is my solution. Apparently the language awkwardly straddles reading skills for ages 6-14 (which is a little depressing), but I think it’s quite sweet.
I’m really getting into The Desert Crystals now. It’s a satisfying challenge to do 800-1000 words of a story in its own right and continue the series. We have diverged enormously from the direction I had in mind, which I find amusing and intriguing. Since I started with the end (or almost) in chapter one, then I somehow have to wrangle it. Hopefully the story now has a life of its own, and picking it up each week gives an opportunity for tangents and new characters. We’ll see how long it lasts for!
My beer review last week got a lot of hits, which is gratifying and some nice feedback – thank you humans! I feel I can be as honest, brutal and playful as I like when reviewing a mass-produced product. I very much hope the makers of Beck’s Blue read and are annoyed by my mockery. I’ve had one other zero-alc beer since, but once I’ve got a bunch in my belly I’ll do another review.

Last week’s scribbles

The Desert CrystalsGoldfur - MontyTuesday Goldfur McRoo: Terror of The Subterranean Tunnels A pirate story for children, featuring a tiny fuzzy pirate beast.

Wednesday Pulp Pirate 18 Back on ye olde Flashe Pulpe podcast with another piratical tale.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Four: The Frothing Horror The search for the missing crewman begins.

Friday Beer Review: Four Zero Alcohol Beers  Three good, one very very bad beer.

Lego

I have once again expressed my terminal indecision and dismantled the house I’m building in order to reconstruct the upper floor again. I am happier with it now! It’s not finished though. The upper floor requires walls and I need to figure out some kind of removable roof. I also need to include some kind of washing facilities.
My dear friend Tesco has been kind this week, slashing a load of Lego Chima and Lego Friends with 75% reductions. So I got 7 sets and 3 mini bags (which I already had but they have such pretty colours). More of that on Wednesday!

Improv Comedy

I missed Fisticuff’s last week so I could go to a meeting about the Furthest Point From The Sea Festival on 29th June. I’m sort of involved as an organiser, but really I’m just moral support. When that comes round we’ll be having an improv slot in the comedy tent (plus a Captain Pigheart slot) and we’ll have improv workshop space during the day.
Parky ran this week’s jam where we had a good mix of old and new improvisers which resulted in surprising and funny scenes. I felt pretty relaxed and on the ball for the couple of scenes I did. That bodes well for the show at the end of this week. I suppose one result of being so busy at work is that I’d barely noticed we’re at the end of the month already.

Media Intake

Books

I’m still staving off The Air War with random books. I found The Stone Man by Luke Smithers in the Kindle store and tore through that last week. It’s an intriguing story about a (you’ll never guess) Stone Man who appears in Coventry and then walks across the country destroying everything in its path. I enjoyed the story telling, which is almost all from one perspective, that of a reporter who turns out to be sensitive to the Stone Man’s presence. Good book! I did find the main character rather unlikeable and the repeated notes about his Asperger’s just seemed odd. It’s quite possible to be focussed on a goal and not really care about people without having to put the character somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Strange.
I’ve now moved on to The Valley of Heroes by Jonathan Stroud (author of the magnificently entertaining Bartimaeus trilogy). I’m near the beginning and waiting eagerly for the exciting stuff to kick in. I suspect I’m just being impatient, but the Norse-like medieval set up is something I’ve grown tired of in books. I wanna see the monsters.

Events and Excitement

MissImp in Action – Friday 26th April

8.30pm at The Glee Club, Nottingham.
High energy improvised comedy show.

Related articles

Shanktimonious: Self-Righteous Angry Poetry

Shankanalia12

Human to Humour Interface

Much of my emotional distress is, I believe, the result of a mismatched interface between me and the outside world. For example, I consider the ability to be asked a question, understand it and provide a suitable answer to be a pretty basic, core requirement of communicating with others. This is less normal than I had once suspected.
I spend much of my day, especially at the moment, talking to other people. They have a lamentable inability to comprehend information, no matter how simple the presentation and content. It is painful to listen to and observe. How the fuck can these (apparent) humans interact? Are they fucking psychic and so find my primitive scrapings of crude symbols to be so far beneath their telepathic intellects that they cannot comprehend written language? Or are they just utterly incompetent?
I’m regularly assured that while many people are lacking in certain skill areas (like communication, memory, reason…) they have been employed because of their amazing skills in other areas (like talking to other people – sure they can talk, it’s unfortunate the content is meaningless repetitive babble). But I doubt it. If you can’t communicate then there ain’t much else you can do either. I suppose they must just be the drones of a psychic hive mind.

Follow @shankanalia on Twitter to experience anger in real time.

Shanktimonious: Self-Righteous Angry Poetry

Your Call Is Important To Us
Whaddup fucknut,
Thanks for your call.
I’m hanging up now
So I can hang myself.
Did you think,
When you rang
To withhold your shartbrain query?
*Chokesigh*.

Ventriloquicidal
Sometimes I feel like putting
My fist into your face,
You know I can puppet you;
Make your face flap
When you’re talking like a twat.

Downtown Fo Shizzle
Put yo hands in the air!
Put yo hands in the air!
No, your other hands.
Bla-blam.
I don’t accept surrender from imbeciles.

Blubber Spear
The only tears I’ll ever shed again
Are other people’s blood.

Soft-Hearted Smiler
You know I’d beat you with a stick
Just for looking at me slanty:
your judging eyes.
Maybe I’m over-sensitive,
Let’s see how your screams affect me.

All My Wheels Are Round
I can only assume
That you’ve got a plan
That I can’t understand.
Inscrutable,
Ineffable,
Miracle brain sparks,
Random ideas.
Incomprehensible.

Thousand Yard Glare
Fuck you and fuck your stupid face,
Stick to chewing and spitting.
Slack-jawed boggle-eyed
Blandly hateful faces
Gazing with malevolent vacancy.

Related articles

Lego Friends: My Best New Friends

My Lego Hunting Spear Is Sharp

Full set

If you read this often you’ll know that I delight in hunting down Lego bargains. Partly that’s because Lego is insanely expensive, especially compared to the US – I frequently see the exact same numbers on price labels, except with sterling instead of dollars. That’s hurtful, although I can’t dispute that there’s huge value in Lego, I’m not convinced that an extra fifth is appropriate. Partly it’s because I genuinely love it when I’ve paid less.

Tesco has been good to me of late. It’s where we usually find the next series of Lego minifigures first, and has been the source of many reduced items. I still haven’t opened the Attack on Weathertop set (or my Jabba’s Palace) which I feel demonstrates awesome self-control; I’m waiting for the perfect building day… So imagine my delight when I checked out a bargain advertised on Hot UK Deals (which despite the frequent arsehole flaming often has good Lego notifications on it) and found they had reduced the £10 Lego Friends sets by 75%, plus the mini set bags and a handful of the weird Lego Chima sets by the same. Joy. Joy. Joy. Well worth the frantic dash between work and going to improv jam on Thursday. I acquired an heap.

Lego Friends Are My Bestest Friends Forever

mini sets

I’ve admired the Lego Friends sets for a while. I did get the mini animal bags a while ago because they’re dinky little sets with a good number of bits. I wish I’d got more at Tesco because they’re packed with lovely blues, golds, greens and mustard yellows. There are a bunch of the light sabre handles / telescope pieces and more greenery is always welcome. Mind you, I don’t know what use I would have for dozens of squirrels and turtles. At 75p they presented superb value for brick and the more I think about it the more I’m kicking myself.

I picked up four of the formerly £10 Friends sets and while I am of course judging the value for money based on the crazy £2.50 per box I got them for, there are a surprising number of bits per box. Check out those gorgeous purple curtains in the magic set – you can almost taste the velvet. The vanishing bunny trick is neatly accomplished.

You Shall Play With Pink Girl Parts

I know the Lego Friends stuff is aimed at girls, which I find a little sad. Are girls really so well instructed in gender bias that they won’t even look at toys without pinks and ponies? Evidently Lego have decided so, as the minifigures that come with these are very different from our usual bricky pals. The overlarge head and curved body are very familiar from the mutant Barbie and all the rip-offs since. They don’t have enormously deformed breasts which is probably a mercy.

I don’t know if they’ve released any male figures yet, which might be cool. It’s odd, especially because of late Lego has released far more clearly female characters, although the bias is still very much for male figures. I think it’s disappointing that Lego have had to market to boys and girls separately. From a brief review of some literature available about gender interests at early ages it’s very unclear what kids are naturally drawn to, or where their parents’ biases are already interfering in their choices. Maybe I just want my nieces to be into robots and monsters.

The Lego Friends sets feel quite different to other Lego sets and have lots of accessories, as well as the aforementioned awesome new colours. It seems closer to fulfilling Playmobil’s intention of having toys for almost every human endeavour. And that’s the bit that pisses me off I think – that the activities in Lego Friends (ponies, holiday camp, cafe/restaurant) are female aspirations whereas police, aliens and franchises are for boys. Grumble grumble.

Put The Gender Down And Step Away

lego frendz

I’m really looking forwards to using the colours as highlights in other designs. I’ve also seen the new Friends heads used in exoskeleton / space suit / EVA builds, adding a more human face into the construction – very cool. So these are the sets I got – pony worship, magician, Kendo practice (girly? I’m confused by the gender roles Lego promotes) and dog training.

Lego Friends is clearly awesome and not just for girls, just like all Lego is clearly brilliant and all should play. I think the designs, and the different box shape (smaller, more efficient with more sides) probably deter young boys. Certainly the incredible look of scorn I got from a six year old when I was buying them suggested that. My also buying Chima stuff seemed to mollify the brat however. More on Chima another time…

The Desert Crystals – Part Five: The Obsidian Eyrie

Part 5 – The Obsidian Eyrie

The Desert Crystals

Jacob Bublesnatch was having a bad night. He was surprised to discover that being hauled through the broken cockpit window of the airship by a fiend of the night was only the beginning of his terrors. The wind rushed beneath him as he dangled from the beast’s claws. Jacob made a distinct effort not to look down at the ground thousands of feet below, but it was unavoidable. An anguished wail left his mouth every few moments, as the creature shifted its grip and he swung horribly over the landscape.

In a time of less stress Jacob might well have admired the dunes below. Endless waves rippled across the desert, punctuated here and there by wells and hollows formed by the fierce winds and currents. In the moonlight it seemed like the sea caught in an instant of lightning that went on forever. It would be a long way to fall and it would not be a soft landing. That death might still be preferable to the unknown fate that awaited him.

He shuddered uncontrollably from fear and the cold that gnawed at his face and fingers. By twisting his head uncomfortably he could just make out The Dove’s Eye far behind them, her blazing lights illuminating the front of the balloon like a roseate bruise swelling in the sky. Jacob wondered if they knew he was gone. He wondered if they would rescue him. He wondered if they would rescue him before he was eaten. Jacob tore his eyes away from that homey, hopeful sight and winced as the beast’s claw dug into his left shoulder again. They were flying almost directly towards the moon, and it loomed so large and bright that Jacob had to squint.

When Jacob peeled his eyes open the moon was gone and his future was black, a blackness so profound he feared that he had already died. Then the moon caught the very edge of a vast cliff that loomed out of the night. They were flying directly towards an opening ringed with moon-brightened fangs. The image of flying into a mouth was inescapable, much though Jacob tried to tell himself it was just a cave his mind screamed that he was about to be eaten whole. Countless holes stretching out to every side of the gaping maw for as far as Jacob could see. Then he and his captor were swallowed up by the dark.

The darkness was complete; sound expanded to fill Jacob’s blindness. The rushing of wings flapping up and down, the sound of the beast’s breath and Jacob’s own frantic panting echoed all around. His body swung back and forth from the claws and he constantly tensed, expecting to collide with a wall or some other nameless horror in the pitch. In the darkness there was no sense of time; it seemed as if they flew blindly forever. Presumably deeper into the mysterious floating cliffs, far beyond the reach of his friends and captain.

It was warmer in the cavernous blackness, though not so warm that his numbed limbs began to thaw. Rather he was aware of a dank heat all around, kept at bay only by the speed of their passage. Too frightened to cry out he sagged in the gripping talons allowing it to swing him about; he dangled like a rag doll from a delinquent’s fist.

Without warning he was released. Jacob was so surprised that he didn’t even cry out. His stomach lurched up through his body, limbs flailed for an instant and then he slapped down hard on his hip and side. The best he could manage was a faint groan. The creature’s flapping receded. Whether it had flown away or merely perched somewhere, watching over him with malevolent intent, Jacob had no idea. He strained his ears to their limit and faintly detected a regular murmur, as of a vast distant thing breathing in sleep. He could no longer tell if his eyes were open or closed unless he felt as his eyelids with panicky fingertips. He didn’t know if he should move or if stillness would be safer.

He made a decision and gingerly began to feel out the space around him. There was only the ground, a rough crumbly rock everywhere he could reach without moving about. He began to crawl, ever fearful of the precipice that his mind screamed was after the next fingerstep. Instead his hands began to describe a rising slope, which became vertical after just a few feet. Standing, he could feel the beginnings of a ledge above.

It was perhaps an unfortunate time for the continued lack of sight to take its toll upon his deprived mind. In the quiet dark he began to hallucinate wildly. Edged shadows and streamers of blinking lights surrounded him, pressing on and fleeing from him. They harried him; he ducked, flinched and quivered under their assault. Strange ghosts snuck upon him and vanished from the corner of his other eye.

Helpless with visions he flailed at the ledge before him, hoping to drag himself away from his imagined horrors. Something seized his hand, enclosing it in a moistly firm grip. It pulled; Jacob shrieked. He was dragged up the wall, hungry leathery hands or claws or tentacles or tongues wrapping around his arm shoulder chest, neck. Bodily he was hauled onto the ledge and into a close dank breathing embrace. Thinner creeping flesh gripped his head and tugged him forwards. Fully bound his face was tilted back, screaming mouth and all and a thing prised open his eyelids.

Horrid flurries of wet crawling licked and pinched at his eyeballs. Shaking, shuddering Jacob finally went black inside his mind. He slumped unconscious while the thing continued to drool slitheringly into his eyes.

Next Week: Part 6 – The Sweet Night Air

Book Review: The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach by Steven Erikson

Bauchelain

I have a bit of downer on fantasy as a genre. I read a lot of fantasy when I was younger and it just ran out of new ideas. Everything felt rehashed: irritatingly unpronounceable names, set in one of maybe five identikit fantasy worlds, probably a Viking thing. I just didn’t care anymore. Rare books and authors escape that (note – George R.R. Martin is exactly the blandness I’m talking about) – either by virtue of their humour and loving parody of the genre (like Terry Pratchett until he started repeating himself after about eight books) or an astonishing sideways leap from the genre (Adrian Tchaikovsky‘s Shadows of the Apt).

My other half and I acquire random bargain books for each other and get maybe twenty each birthday or Christmas. This was in my Christmas heap, and I didn’t know the author’s name, quite liked the write up on the back, noticed that it was short stories and put it on the heap. I should have read it sooner. I’ll start by saying I knew nothing of the Mazalan Empire series until after I’d read this, and will likely pursue them once they are meaningfully cheaper on Kindle.

There are three novellas here, which follow on chronologically from each other, though with some substantial gaps between the second and third. The first is a detective story set in the wonderfully named Lamentable Moll. A series of terrible murders provide a guide into the lyrical writing style and black, bleak sense of humour Erikson soaks every sentence with. The main character, or at least the lens for the story winds up as the manservant for the eponymous Bauchelain and Korbal Breach. They are a splendidly wicked, murderous pair of necromancers who seem to be generally on the run. I gather that they appear in the main series, but these stories are sufficiently stand alone that I perhaps enjoyed them more with not knowing the overall tale and their place in it; I suspect I’ll be disappointed if they don’t feature heavily.

The second is a sea voyage (which as a shift reminded me of the change between The Lies of Locke Lamora and its sequel Red Skies Over Red Seas), with a doomed crew carrying the dark magicians through a sea filled with huge monsters, supernatural enemies and a very bloody resolution. I loved it, and want more of the rest of the crew. The third story sees Bauchelain and Korbal Breach deposing the ruler of a peculiar city which has I suppose gone health and safety mad, banning all dangerous activities and vices. I enjoyed the last slightly less, perhaps just because it had fewer thrills in contrast to the awesome sea voyage.

None of that summary above gives you a sense of the dark wit and grim playfulness of Eriksons’s prose. The characters’ names alone had me smirking and the delicious amorality of the antiheroes is thoroughly enjoyable. Since I haven’t read any of the rest of the series I don’t know what the overall story arc is but I immediately fell in love with this complex world of crazy politics, religion, magic and monsters. This is everything fantasy is supposed to be but so rarely achieves.

Steven Erikson

Get The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Breach at Amazon.co.uk

This week, Monday 29th April 2013

 

I Have Travelled Back In Time From 2542

Another week of gentle hell… work is properly scrambling my brain at the moment – so badly I’d actually forgotten we had a show on Friday until lunchtime. Nicht so good. It is incredible to find that although I only rate myself average in my general IT skills and common sense that our organisation manages to recruit so many below the 50% mark. It shouldn’t be possible. Nonetheless… a week of increasingly stupid questions, inattention and lack of comprehension skills combined to make me wish I was drinking. Speaking of which – it’s my last zero alc week! Hurray!

Aside from that, this has been a good if rather busy week of improv activities and nights out. We  finally celebrated my other half’s birthday – we were severely delayed by the happy acquisition of work, but at last we found a suitable evening on Saturday. Also – had Wednesday out to wave off a good friend who is working in New York for a month. Lucky devil. It’s nice to be out and about but it does make it difficult to get anything done, especially when most of the day is wasted on work… The coming week looks very much like we have only one evening out. Bring on the Lego.

♥ This week’s scribbles

Tuesday Shankata – Layers of Hatred Accrued Poetically

There ain’t nothing like a good bit of spitty rage.

Wednesday Lego Blog: MiniFigs Old and New

Grubbing about in my box I’ve found some lovely older figures.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Six: The Sweet Night Air

The beasts are out! Dare our heroes enter the sky cliffs? (probably)

Friday Beer Review: Three Zero Alcohol Beers

I found more; they’re okay.

Updates on my thrilling life

Writing

Zero update. Almost. Since I’ve taken to my five day schedule I’m mainly writing just to keep up with it! That means I’m failing to scribble enough extra stuff to genuinely plan ahead. I don’t know how I’m going to fix that – maybe some evenings at home will help. What has worked for me and writing is setting myself targets. I don’t really have much personal sense of ambition and I am not a ‘driven’ person so normally being told I have to do something matters not a toss to me. It’s weird then that if I set myself a target and promise it to the anonymous wonder of the internet that I feel responsible. So mebbe I need to set myself an additional random 300 word story per week aim…

Last week’s scribbles

The Desert CrystalsFull setTuesday Shanktimonious: Self-Righteous Angry Poetry There ain’t nothing like a good bit of spitty rage.

Wednesday Lego Friends: My Best New Friends For girls? Don’t be so sexist. They’ve got lovely coloured bricks.

Thursday The Desert Crystals – Part Five: The Obsidian Eyrie Will death save young Jacob Bublesnatch, or will the horrors take him?

Friday Book Review: The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain & Korbal Broach by Steven Erikson A delightfully surprising read.

Lego

Holy Legalooza! Series 10 Lego Minifigures are out! I am looking at the 8 of the little devils we’ve acquired so far. It’s going to be one hell of a hunt for Medusa and the wild goose chase Mr Gold. Mwha haha! That’s perhaps too many exclamation marks for so short a paragraph.

I had a lovely time talking about Lego with my pal Parky and his daughter on Saturday. We all like Lego Friends. It’s also nice to show off my Lego to someone who really gets it.

Improv Comedy

We went for some  freeform improv at Fisticuffs on Tuesday which produced a couple of great narratives, including a fun story about a pair of birds with differing attitudes to being watched while mating.  Then we played with the Aliens Vs Predator (AVP) script, which is terrible and produced true strangeness. Very good fun though!

We had a fucking excellent show on Friday at The Glee Club. In part that was due a lovely audience filling up the space and being really responsive, especially to the compering duo of Lloydie plus ‘Voice of  God’ James, but we also had a special guest: the lovely (and diminutive – look at the photo) Heather Urquhart from The Maydays, though we know her best from giving us incredible musical improv workshops with Joe Samuels. It’s an absolute delight and huge tilt to have someone new on stage; we’re still enjoying the freshness of Ben; and Heather made beautiful scenes with the team. I regret not having any scenes with her specifically… sad face. Next time Gadget, next time. Still, I had an especially fun Samurai/Geisha scene with Martin (I was the Geisha!), shouted at Ben, told a time-travelling story and rollercoastered happily with Marilyn in accents and genres! I declare aceness.

MissImp in Action with Heather
(L-R) Me, Ben, Heather, Martin, Marilyn, Lloydie at The Glee Club Nottingham for MissImp in Action

Very soon – in fact in a week or so, Parky and I shall be running the next MissImp improv beginners course. It runs for six weeks on Mondays starting 13th May (we’ll probably skip the bank holiday Monday, but that will be up to the group). It’s the third MissImp beginners course and we’re really looking forwards to spreading what we know like comedy butter onto the minds and souls of a new group of improvisers. If you’re interested, and you should be – check out the details here: http://missimp.co.uk/improv-comedy-training-in-nottingham/improv-comedy-courses-in-nottingham/

Media Intake

Books

I finished off The Heroes of The Valley by Jonathan Stroud; I enjoyed it, especially the consideration of how myth and legend grow but felt it oddly lacked the bite and excitement I was hoping for. Not to be deterred, I plunged into a novella by Neal Asher Snow in the Desert. I think I must have read it before, but it was still a satisfyingly odd little scifi tale of one albino whose testicles are desired by others. As I said, it’s been a busy week so I next chose by plunging into my Kindle. There I found the second Cretaceous Station novel by Terrence Zavecz- Hunter’s Moon. I still love the dinosaur setting, but sadly it’s being overwhelmed by some dodgy writing. I’m not sure if it just needs a brutal proofread but it lurches between past and present tense from sentence to sentence and there are a lot of typos.

It sounds a bit petty to moan about spelling and bad proofing, but I find them off putting. It’s hard to edit your own stuff; I certainly find it almost impossible to find the time during the week, but then I’m writing fast and loose – that’s my excuse. A lack of editing seems to be a feature of many independently published ebooks I buy. I want them to be better! Can I help?

Films

Just the one this week: we finally caught Oblivion at the cinema. I don’t really have much to say about it. I love the clean, retro-future ’70s designs and (a bit like The Host) there’s a really good alien invasion story in there somewhere. There was another one of those stupid American trailers that go on for ever and tell you the entire story, which definitely helped undermine it. Actually, even without that the ‘twists’ are incredibly obvious and predictable. There’s some nice scenery and chases (I love the Terrahawks style drones and the noises they make) but there is no tension at all. Sad really.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vGpjlfCfe2Y&w=560&h=315]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gY-7R_jd2ZU&w=420&h=315]

Events and Excitement

MissImp in Action – Friday 31st May

8.30pm at The Glee Club, Nottingham.
High energy improvised comedy show.

Weeks That Have Come Before

Shankata – Layers of Hatred Accrued Poetically

Shankanalia9I haven’t read these poems for a little while, and I’ve thankfully forgotten exactly what inspired them. They are a little more personal than my usual spilling of bile. That doesn’t necessarily make any difference of course. As far as I recall from studying poetry at school you can read whatever you like into them and that has equal validity with the artist’s intentions (obviously I jest in referring to myself as an artist!) That never made sense to me.

Surely a work is ultimately what the author intended? Anyway, I’m not going to even try to tell you what these are about, or what they mean to me. I would however, be interested in hearing what you think they are about.

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Shankanalia – Layers of Hatred Accrued Poetically

Fuck You
Your thoughts
Persist through me;
In me;
Defrauding me
Of free will-
Genuine intent.
In knowing this
I emasculate you,
Turn on you.
My head;
My rules.

I’ll Remember Your Ashes
You might be in my head
Alone
Hiding
In the dark,
I will find you.
I’ll burn you out
Till your eyes are cinders
Bones of ash
Raise you
Raze you.

Abmanagement
The tension I feel
(Cos you don’t know the question
To the answer you posited
With a sneer of authority)
Is my insides
Revolting at your stupidity.

Remember Morph?
I prefer to use my fingernails
To get inside your skin.
Peel back layers of flesh and fat
and claw the bones inside
Scrape out the marrow;
Make a toy.

Blubbery Tearing
Weep
Cry
Drown you in my sorrow.
Choke on my saline,
Ocular sweat,
I can see inside your lungs:
Rasping desperate red,
Like the lids of my eyes.

What A Pleasure
Tension crawls up my spine
A tremor in the tendons
A twist in the muscle
Bunched
Writhing
Inside out
Contorted remembrance
Scorned bones.

Mini-You
I’d blind you
Take your eyes
And hands
Make an homunculus
To dwell in darkness
And torment
To make you real
Gift you suffering
Bless with pain