If you’re reading this blog, then there’s a good chance that you’ve already read the stories in Beasts Clothed in Beauty, my new collection. Either you read them here on the blog or you got the book and have been enjoying these little snippets of other lives and worlds.
If you’ve read and enjoyed these stories, could you please do me a favour and leave a review for the book on Amazon. Even if it’s just a quick sentence and a star rating, this could really help me in reaching more readers, and help those readers decide if this is something they want to read.
Here it is – my second annual collection of flash fiction. Beasts Clothed in Beauty collects all the fiction I published on the blog in 2016. There are refugees on the spaceship to Io, smugglers on the Phoenix Shore, and some very cold legionaries stuck on Hadrian’s Wall, along with dozens of other characters and settings. There are even reappearances by characters from some of my previous stories, such as cynical British space diplomat Julian Atticus and the demon detective Shadowvalt.
Maybe you’ve enjoyed the stories here and would like to have them all on your e-reader. Maybe you missed some. Maybe it’s a gift for someone else. Maybe you’d just like to support my writing. Whatever motivates you, you can get on over to Amazon and buy the book now.
I’m excited to announce my second annual collection of flash fiction. Beasts Clothed in Beauty collects all the fiction I’ve published on the blog this year, including the stories still to appear in December. There are refugees on the spaceship to Io, smugglers on the Phoenix Shore, and some very cold legionaries stuck on Hadrian’s Wall, along with dozens of other characters and settings. There are even reappearances by characters from some of my previous stories, such as cynical British space diplomat Julian Atticus and the demon detective Shadowvalt.
Maybe you’ve enjoyed the stories here and would like to have them all on your e-reader. Maybe you missed some. Maybe it’s a gift for someone else. Maybe you’d just like to support my writing. Whatever motivates you, you can get on over to Amazon and pre-order the book now.
As an added incentive, I’m putting together some bonus material exclusively for people who pre-order the book. So once you’ve ordered, email me a copy of your pre-order receipt at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send you something special.
I love it when stories have strong narrator voices. The way the story is told gives you a sense of the narrator’s character without describing them directly. It can make for a really interesting read.
This year, I’ve encountered two Cthulhu mythos stories that do this well, and that make the mythos accessible to someone like me who doesn’t know it well.
First up is “My Friend Fishfinger by Daisy, Aged 7” by David Tallerman. It’s told from the point of view of a 7-year-old girl. She’s describing her friend, nicknamed Fishfinger, who is nice but unusual. Her parents worship a strange god and they’re going to take Daisy on holiday with them. From the child’s point of view, it’s incredibly sweet. As an adult reading the story, it’s obvious what’s amiss, and Cthulhu fans will doubtless know exactly what it refers to. The contrast between the strong character perspective and the reader’s understanding creates a wonderful strand of dark humour, as well as telling us a lot about the characters involved.
Then there’s “Donald” by Adrian Tchaikovsky. An academic, responding to some unnamed investigator, tells the story of his encounters with a man named Donald Toomey. Again, there are the ironies that creep in through the gaps between reader and narrator understanding. There’s also a great pleasure to be taken in the narrator’s voice. His opinions, biases, and assumptions flavour the text like tasty spices. There’s a certain amount of belligerence and bloody-mindedness. There’s also a tendency to assume that the world works a certain way, a set of academic assumptions that are carefully shown rather than crudely explained. It makes the storytelling subtle and the voice authentic.
Horrors creeping in around the edges of modern life. A sense that something terrible and abnormal is reaching out toward us. The eldritch amid the mundane.
No, I’m not talking about party political conference season. I’m talking about The Private Lives of Elder Things, a cracking collection of Cthulhu mythos short stories by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Keris McDonald, and Adam Gauntlett.
Making Sense of the Incomprehensible
I don’t read a lot Cthulhu fiction. I hold my hands up now and confess that I’ve never read a word by H. P. Lovecraft himself. But I’m friends with two of the authors of this collection, I like their writing, and there was free wine at their book launch. So not only did I buy a signed copy, but I started reading it.
Weeks later, I told Keris that I was reading her book and hadn’t read much Cthulhu. She seemed surprised and asked what I thought of it. After all, the stories are built on references to existing Cthulhu creatures. Without that prior reading, a lot of the references were going to be lost on me.
The answer is that I’m really enjoying these stories. I can tell as I read them that they’re referring to things I don’t recognise or understand. For me, that doesn’t leave me frustratingly lost. Instead, it creates the feeling of being embedded in a larger, richer world. I’m intrigued by those hints at things beyond the stories in my hands. They add to my immersion because they’ve been done well and so hint at a wider in-story world, rather than being nudge wink references that pull me out of the text.
And of course, the feeling of incomprehension is part of the allure of the mythos.
Superheroes and the Supernatural
I get the same experience reading the better superhero comics from DC and Marvel. References to events and characters in their wider continuities can create a sense of depth and richness. As long as those add to the story, rather than being what holds it up, they create depth whether I understand the references or not. Take this page from Gillen and McKelvie’s Young Avengers:
Do I need to know about the current story arcs of Thor and Captain America to understand the significance of them ignoring events outside? No. Is a deep understanding of their personalities vital to the story? No. Does it add something? Yes.
Of course, when poorly handled, these references become meaningless and frustrating, and that happens a lot in comics. A reliance on continuity rather than its use as flavour makes many comics inaccessible to new readers and boring to the less continuity-minded like me. Some people love it, but I think you can over-salt this meal.
Fortunately, that doesn’t happen in The Private Lives of Elder Things. These are creepy stories set in the modern world that hint at something more. They’re thoroughly enjoyable.
Ghosts, Gears & Grimoires, a collection of supernatural steampunk stories, is out now from Mocha Memoirs Press. Edited by Rie Sheridan Rose, it features such fine stories as my own “Steel and Steam”, in which industry unearths something it shouldn’t. So if you like something a little spooky, or are looking to inject a little more steam into your life, then go check it out.
What happens when the supernatural and steampunk collide? When ghosts get into the gears and cowled figures haunt the cogwheels? When blood drips with the fog from the streets of cities that rattle with industry?
In just over a week’s time you can find out, with the release of Ghosts, Gears and Grimoires, an anthology of steampunk horror stories edited by Rie Sheridan Rose of Mocha Memoirs Press. It includes my story “Steel and Steam”, in which colonial industry faces native spirits, and over a dozen other tales. There’s a very nifty book trailer here, and if that doesn’t whet your appetite enough, here’s a small taster of my story…
Hywel snorted. “This is the nineteenth century, Mr. Kagunda. The world is powered by science and steam, not ancient superstitions and mystification.”
“Mr. Jones is right,” Filbery said. “There are far more plausible explanations. Human error, machine fault, even sabotage. If this superstition is causing us problems, then we should nip it in the bud.”
“You have a Bible in your room, Mr. Filbery?” Kagunda’s voice was rising, his guarded, respectful tone giving way to something more primal. “And you, Mr. Jones? I have heard you singing songs of God as you work.” He made a wide, sweeping gesture with his arm, taking in the whole of the surrounding plains. “This land is my Bible. My songs are of this earth, and those who came before.”
“I say!” Filbery protested, as Kagunda grabbed each of them by an arm and dragged them to the back rail. Hywel knew the foreman was strong, but this was the first time he had felt the intensity of that strength, pulling him about like a rag doll.
“The white.” Kagunda pointed at pale flecks in the broken dirt thirty feet below them. “What is it?”
“Chalk?” Filbery asked.
“Flint?” Hywel murmured, knowing as he said it that the geology was wrong.
Fadiyah flung herself into the air and down, dodging a strike by that crude iron arm as her blades sang across its surface. Sparks flew and the air filled with the bitter taste of metal, but all she left were shallow scratches across its shell. It swung another blow and she somersaulted back, flicking out the blades again, this time leaving a deep gouge on the shovel hand. But the machine pressed on unperturbed, lumbering towards her, arms jerking and swinging…
‘The Sand Dancer’, my Arabian action fantasy of magic through dance and daring rebellion, is being reprinted next month in 9 Tales from Elsewhere #6. Originally printed in the Ways of Magic anthology, if you missed it then you now have another chance to read this story, alongside eight more by other science fiction and fantasy authors. It’s available to pre-order now on Kindle for only $2.99.
A demon detective and a steam-powered samurai. An engineer from the distant past and a pilot from the far future. Love, loss, pain and triumph in worlds beyond our own. Enjoy brief trips to other realities in fifty-nine flash stories including fantasy, steampunk, science fiction and historical fiction.
If you’ve enjoyed reading these stories on the site, and you feel that you’ve read enough of them that you could review them as a set, then please take a moment to leave a review for the book on Amazon. Getting some early reviews would be really helpful.
Tomorrow, more flash fiction! In the meantime, happy reading.
Would you give up your idol’s soul to save those around you? How about if that idol was the love of your life?
I’m very pleased to announce that I have a story in A C Macklin‘s new anthology Moonlight is Third. This is a fascinating project where the editor invited us to write stories with the same title. The result is an intriguing mix of magic and murder, to which I’ve contributed my own mix of historical fantasy and emotional struggle, as a blacksmith tries to unravel a deadly magical sword – a sword that still contains the spirit of her dead master.
As well as stories by myself, A C Macklin, Charlotte Bond, Francesca Kilpatrick and Andrea Cradduck, the anthology has a beautiful cover by the aforementioned and ridiculously multi-talented Andrea Cradduck.
Moonlight is Third is out now as an e-book or print book. If you’d like a little more magic in your life, or to see what happens when five creative minds riff on the same phrase, then please check it out.