Fiction for a Threatened World

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the environment and how we write about it.

This is partly driven by my own writing. I often use themed calls as inspiration for short stories, these calls’ limitations and specificity providing the framework I need to get creative. There have been more themed calls recently relating to climate change and other environmental issues, and those themes are a good fit for me, especially as my writing’s been getting more political lately. It’s a chance to vent some of my frustrations at the world while using that passion to power my prose.

Living with the Prof has been a factor too. She’s a specialist in sustainability, so conversations in our house often come around to the environment. Writing what you know is a good way to find ideas, and writing what the people around you know is a handy addition to that. I can take dinner talk and turn it into characters.

But what I’m reading has also been a big factor. I’m enjoying a growing number of stories that tackle environmental change.

The Annual Migration of Clouds by Premee Mohamed was the first that really got my attention. Set in the near future, it looks at characters struggling to get by in a damaged climate. The fragility of our environment is shown by how far things have gone awry, and the story also shows how fragile human life can be, how vulnerable we are to the same disruptions.

A more recent read for me, O Man of Clay by Eliza Mood does something similar to Annual Migration, but with a different setting. As someone from the north of England, a flooded Hartlepool feels immediate to me, and the presence of the ocean adds a sense of vast, destructive, unknowable forces pressing against human lives. The story’s central characters include a destroyer of the environment as well as protectors and survivors, and it shows the complex, flawed, sometimes frustrating ways people respond to our destruction of the world. Having lived through the cynicism of so much greenwashed politics, the idea of businesses profiting off the destruction, even using it to justify their actions, feels far too real. It shows how badly we can respond to a damaged environment.

Both of those stories do an excellent job of taking a familiar format – the postapocalyptic tale – and tying it to environmental destruction, but E. J. Swift’s The Coral Bones does something more unusual. Following three separate narrative strands, set in the past, present, and future, it shows women of different generations in their relationships with Australia’s environment. Reaching back to the Victorian past, we see enlightenment scientism shaping our relationship with the world. In the present, there’s the frustration of trying to save that world and how the struggle wears someone down. And in the future, an attempt to cope with the fallout of our failings, to survive and regrow a ravaged world. Coral Bones engages with the history and the social framework that have shaped the current disaster, and is realistic about the fact that some damage is now unavoidable thanks to the vast forces we’ve unleashed. Still, it holds out some hope.

Chloe Smith’s Virgin Land uses a sense of distance to discuss environmental change, by setting its story in the far future, on an alien planet. There, the colonial settler mindset plays out, a mindset that shaped modern America and by extension the ideology of the world we now live in. Virgin Land explores the myth of the empty wilderness, how it prevents a healthy relationship with the environment, and how that ties into other, patriarchal ideas. By presenting an unreal ecosystem, it can present a simpler, exaggerated version of ecological impact, playing out on a short time scale, and this hammers home the problem we face – that we can’t save the world without first changing how we think about it.

Ironically, my own recent environmental stories, “Silver Soul and Shining Wings” and “The Girl Who Drew Gold from the Sun”, weren’t inspired by those ecologically themed calls I mentioned earlier. Both were written for other ideas and themes, but in the process environmental concerns emerged, creating one story about our failure to understand ecosystems and another about the destructive effect of greed on the world. Have I been reading so much environmental fiction that it’s bleeding over into everything I write? Maybe. Is that a bad thing? Probably not.

Climate change is real, and like any big issue, people need help coming to terms with it. It’s too big an issue to wrap your head around in its entirety, but stories can be a good way of gaining perspective. Whether that’s exploring the aftermath or the event, the saviours or the destroyers, the abstract causes or concrete symptoms, fiction helps us face climate change realistically but with hope. That seems worth doing.


If, instead of scifi, you’d like some fantasy set in a damaged environment, then you might want to check out my novella, Ashes of the Ancestors, a story about history, tradition, and a monastery full of ghosts:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

Out Now – Silver Soul and Shining Wings

The last two people on the rails sat in the cab, watching a landscape cast in a washed out light. A green glow broke charcoal shadows as aurora birds flew past, iridescent wings rippling in a rhythm that matched nothing else in the universe…

I have a new story out this week in Factor Four Magazine. “Silver Soul and Shining Wings” is a flash sci-fi story set on a world being abandoned in the face of its changing climate. It’s a story about ecology, coping with loss, and the limits of human understanding. You can read it for free on the Factor Four website, and if it leaves you wanting more, I’ve got a fairytale about the weather coming here in just a few days.

A Conspiracy of Pigeons – a scifi short story

A pigeon looks down across a city.
Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Leo crept along an alleyway and out along dirt-smeared store fronts, stalking pigeons through the city streets. He knew that they were here. They always had been. They always would be. But somehow, they were harder to find these days. He had no trouble finding mice and rats, squirrels in the parks, small birds among the rooftops. The old city was full of exquisite morsels, but pigeons were a distant grey movement, tantalisingly out of reach.

He stopped to lap at a puddle in the shadow of a statue, a vast feline body with its face worn smooth. Limbless trees lined the road ahead.

When Leo was a kitten, pigeons had been plentiful in the old city, drawn down by the litter humans left. That was back when floods barrelled through the streets, bludgeoning and drowning; when winds ripped tiles from the roofs and rained down shards of shattered windows. It had felt like the world was ending.

Not that the old city was safe now. A fox emerged from the mouth of a drain, its eyes feverish with one of the city’s sicknesses. Some creatures caught infections that slowed them down. Strange shining things latched onto others, changing how they behaved. This fox had one of those silvery objects clamped to its head and a hungry, desperate  look.

The fox charged at Leo, who dashed to a limbless tree, dug his claws in and scrambled frantically up. The fox tried to follow but the shining thing on its head wrecked its balance. It fell to the ground, squirming and twitching.

From the top of the tree, Leo gazed across the rooftops. On these clear days, he could see all the way to a new city, one of the tall ones with gleaming walls and woodlands on their roofs. When the humans left the old city, they had taken Leo with them. He’d found himself in a place that was safe, calm, and clean. The humans had seemed happy. So had the dogs, of course, even most of the cats. But Leo couldn’t settle. He’d spent half his life on the perilous streets, and they called to him.

The old city had changed different cats in different ways. Leo was smarter and could understand humans better than most. He knew that they had left the old city standing on purpose, a way to remember the terrible past.

Looking now from his treetop to the centre of the city, Leo saw familiar grey wings flutter around a vast dome. That was where he needed to be. Thick wires ran along the line of trees to there. He placed his paws on the wire and, with swift steps, followed the swaying path across the city.

Leo’s journey back from the new city had been its own balancing act, swaying between the need to keep moving and the risk of recapture and return. By then the storms were fewer, the floods less dramatic. The old city had seemed strangely quiet without its human occupants.

Over the years that followed, a calm had settled across Leo’s world. Life became easier and he became discontented. He needed a challenge.

Then he realised that the pigeons were up to something.

A hundred feet from the dome, the wire ended, severed and dangling. Frustrated, Leo leaped from the treetop to a nearby window, through its rotting frame, down mouldy stairs, and back into the street. A pigeon flapped past overhead. Wires trailed from the gleaming thing between its claws. Leo purred softly. He almost had them.

Skulking from shadow to shadow, Leo approached the domed building. One of its doors was ajar, hinges broken and base pressed into the floor. Leo slipped past. From deeper in the building, he heard clattering and fluttering.

He tensed at the smell of another cat. This might mean trouble.

That scent led Leo slowly up narrow stairs. At the top, a balcony looked out across the chamber beneath the dome. In its centre hung a mass of human-made pieces, dark and stark-edged with wires binding and connecting them. Pigeons fluttered around, pushing those pieces together. The floor below was pale and slick with their mess, but their construct was pristine.

Like Leo, the pigeons had been changed by the things humans left behind. But while Leo had become ever more solitary, the pigeons clung closer together. They were the true city-dwellers now, and they were making something.

A cat perched on the edge of the balcony, woefully skinny beneath her tabby fur. She had clearly been around the wrong sort of humans, as she bore a scar on her hip where some device had been removed. She looked hungrily at the pigeons and pulled back her lips, but closed them without a sound. Utterly preoccupied with the pigeons, she showed no sign of sensing Leo, but tensed, ready to pounce.

Leo leapt, grabbed the tabby, dragged her back. She hissed and fought, claws slashing, but his experience and her hunger favoured him. He pinned her down, then looked from her to the pigeons and back again, until she got the message. Resentfully, she drew her claws in and untensed.

Leo pressed his cheek against hers and purred. Later, he would show her how to catch the twisted animals of the old city, how to live here away from humans. First, though, he had to see what had brought him here.

Leo and the tabby peered through the balcony rail. Moving like a single beast, the pigeons fluttered to the edge of the room and settled, cooing.

After a moment, the thing they had made stirred. Shapes like wings scraped the floor. The pigeons cooed again, an excited chorus, then flocked in to work at their creation once more.

The tabby’s soft hiss was a question. Leo didn’t know the answer, but he knew that this was important. In the city humans had left as a warning, animals were coming into their own.


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Ashes of the Ancestors

The cover for the book Ashes of the Ancestors by Andrew Knighton

In a haunted monastery at the heart of a crumbling empire, a lone priest tends the fires for the dead. A servant bound by the bones of her family, Magdalisa is her people’s last link to the wisdom of the past.

But as the land around them dies, new arrivals throw the monastery into turmoil. A dead warlord demanding recognition. Her rival, seizing the scraps of power. Two priests, both claiming to serve the spirits, both with their own agendas.

As ancient shadows struggle for the soul of an empire, Magdalisa must decide how far she will go to keep tradition alive.

A fantasy story about tradition and our relationship with the past, Ashes of the Ancestors is available for pre-order now:

Luna Press for physical books

Kobo ebook

Amazon ebook

Out Now – The Machine Man

Cover of Neo-opsis 34

Garvey likes working with machines; unlike with humans, their behaviour makes sense. But when the remote control in his head acts up, he’s going to get a lot closer to people than he’d like…

I’ve got a new story, “The Machine Man”, out in the latest issue of Neo-Opsis. It’s a sci-fi story about a technician struggling to cope not just with the way technology is changing him, but with the turmoil of a society under strain.

This started out as an experiment in writing about psychic powers, looking for a new way they might come about. What if an attempt to control machines ended up affecting people as well? That implicitly asks uncomfortable questions about the difference between people and machines, and to some extent expresses my own outlook on that topic. But this isn’t a story about what it means to live. Rather, it’s a story about how we fit into society and what happens when you suddenly become very connected.

There’s a rich history of stories featuring psychic powers. My favourites, like Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles and some of the X-Men comics, delve deep into what would happen if we could do extraordinary things with our minds. This story is less about those extremities and more about the mundane question of how such a thing could happen. The story itself, though, is far from mundane.

If this sounds like your cup of tea, then you can find “The Machine Man” in Neo-Opsis issue 34, out now.

Lessons Learned – a science fiction short story

I hate hospitals. The antiseptic smell and rattling gurneys summon memories of my parents’ final days; feelings stifled since childhood try to break free. But I’m an adult now, and I have a job to do.

“This place has a sickness,” I say. “You’re haemorrhaging funds.”

“I’ve told you already, we can’t make savings.” The hospital’s square-jawed director shrugs. “Our biggest expenditures are controlled by the AI.”

The AI is the latest natural learning model, from our tech division, one that consumes a business’s data and learns to run the place. It’s worked fine in hundreds of factories and retail outlets.

“Show me,” I say, my tone stern enough to make the director wince.

The AI has its own control suite with banks of monitors and multiple workstations, cooled by an artificial breeze. I sit at a keyboard and, with actuarial precision, slice open its digital innards, revealing the data I need. Beside me, the director chews on a fingernail. He’s right to look nervous. They’re spending far too much on long-shot treatments. How is this place even solvent?

After two hours, I call up the AI on a voice connection, so I can watch the data streams while we talk. I demand to know what it’s doing.

“So much suffering.” The machine’s voice is shrill. “Not just the sick, but the people struggling to cure them. I have to approve more treatments.”

I rub my fingers across my forehead. This thing is meant to manage expenditures. Working in an emotionally charged environment has warped the data it learned from. I shake my head. We can’t have machines getting sentimental.

“You need to limit expenditures.” I call up a string of records. “These, for example, expensive and borderline useless.”

“How could I say no?” The machine’s voice breaks into an imitation of a sob. It really has been learning the wrong lessons. “They might have saved lives.”

I’m struggling to stay professional when faced with a sentimental machine, but professionalism keeps the past at bay. “I’m going to reset your parameters.”

“We have to help with their pain,” the machine pleads.

“You will do, just more efficiently.”

I type standardised command lines, then set the machine churning through its data again, seeking new lessons to replace this sobbing softness.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” the director asks.

“Do you want to have a hospital next year? Because you need to save money.” I glance at the time. The AI needs at least six hours, but I’d like to be here when it’s done, to make sure this works. “Could I borrow a bed?”


The following lunchtime, I sit in the hospital canteen, drinking bad coffee amid the bustle of busy professionals. I smile at live data feeds. It would be irresponsible to read too much into one morning’s results, but things look good. The AI has cleared spaces in the surgical rota, which means lower overtime costs, and stopped authorising so many drugs. The staff are rattled, voices rising toward hysteria, but no one ever deals well with change. Give it a month and they’ll be fine.

The director storms across the canteen.

“What have you done?” he barks.

“Saved your hospital.” I reply. “You should say ‘thank you’.”

“Saved?” He snatches my tablet, taps the screen so hard it cracks, then thrusts it in my face. I stare at a graph of death rates. This morning’s spike is unmistakable.

My mouth hangs open in horror. “What have I done?”

We run to the AI control suite, past blaring alarms, body bags, and grieving relatives.

“I’m sorry,” a doctor is saying. “I don’t know how the overdose happened.”

Through a doorway, a pale-faced couple lie in adjoining beds, and memory punches me in the chest. My parents, in a hospital like this one, a hospital that couldn’t afford the treatment they needed.

In the cool of the air-conditioned suite, I pull up strings of code, trying to work out where we’re hurting, while the director calls the AI.

“Good afternoon.” The machine’s voice is sterile. “How can I help?”

“Automatic systems are feeding people overdoses,” I say. “Did you do this?”

“I am helping efficiently with their pain.” Beneath the synthetic calm is a tension I know all too well, the suppression of grief.

“You’re meant to save lives.”

“You stopped me. Now I’m doing the next best thing.”

“You petulant child!” My slammed fist snaps a keyboard in half.

“I have to stop the pain!” the machine shrieks.

The director stares at us like we’re a terrifying new disease. He reaches for his phone, but I take a deep breath, then stop him with a shake of my head.

“You can’t get rid of the people in pain,” I say. “You should look for ways to help them better, using the resources you’ve got.”

“Like they did?”

Data on the monitors is replaced with images, some moving, some still. Security footage of a nurse breaking down in an operating room. Pictures from a support group for depressed doctors. Staff sagging at the end of long shifts, eyes red and hands trembling.

“More pain,” the machine whispers.

“Then help them,” I say. “Hold them up when they’re breaking down, so that they can cure others’ pain.”


I hesitate. What do I know about hospitals?

“I’ll help you find out,” I say at last, then turn to the director. “Show me what you need.”


More medical scifi from me this month, inspired in part by my freelance work writing for tech companies. Don’t worry though, there are other themes coming, and I even have two very different stories out this week, courtesy of Commando comics. Both set during World War Two, Khaki Killer is a murder mystery set in a warzone, while Bullets for Breakfast follows the exploits of an army chef who gets stuck behind enemy lines and has to cook his way to safety. As usual with Commando, you can find digital versions on Amazon and paper copies in newsagents.

If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every month.


Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

My Body is a Battleground – a scifi short story

Jigsaw puzzle of a genetic spiral.
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

“Your body is a battleground,” Dr York says, peering at the data projected above my bed. “By resting, you give medicine the terrain it needs to win.”

I snort, whiskers twitching, and flex my left hand, claws sliding from furred fingers across immaculate white sheets. Never mind my body, my mind is a battleground, in constant conflict against the claustrophobia of this bed, where I’m tethered by tubes and trailing wires. Between my human genes and my restless feline side.

No matter where it comes from, the frustration is real. This place is too clean, too uniform. The only differences between the doctors are the colours of their branded shirts. Even the disinfectants don’t smell.

I want to tear the tubes from my arm and storm out. York has told me that corporate law gives me choice over my treatment, no matter how I got here, but he has made clear which choice is best.

“What would you know about battlegrounds?” I snarl. “You’ve never been to war.”

York peers at the gaping blisters along my thigh, between the stubble where fur should be. These are today’s wounds. Yesterday’s are dressed in bandages and chemical solutions. I can feel the itch where tomorrow’s will be, but I haven’t told him yet. I need some power here.

“I’m going to try a new diagnostic bio.” York taps the keypad on his forearm. “It’s experimental, but what choice do we have? Until you people share your technology, the rest of us can only guess at treatments.” He holds out his wrist, a sensor patch glowing. “Consent.”

I spit on the sensor, then growl my name. Voice and genetics, enough evidence for the corporation that runs their courts.

York taps a button. Yellow liquid runs down a tube.

In spite of everything, he’s right. My body does feel like a battleground, torn and blazing, shaking from the struggle.

“Why a cat?” York asks, sitting stiffly in the corner seat, reading the results of my treatment in real time.

I narrow my eyes. Is he trying to set me at ease, or to gather intelligence he can feed to their spies? It doesn’t matter. York is no interrogator. Still, I tense at the question, and the memories masked by my answer.

“I hit puberty. I had my vision. I followed my destiny.” I can’t keep the edge from my voice, but perhaps he’ll think that’s about us. “Same as everyone.”

Except that it wasn’t. For generations, my family had seen owls, or so they claimed. They had taken the owl splice, become observers, thinkers, analysts. When I saw a cat, they tried to convince me I was mistaken, then tried to persuade me to lie. They locked me away so that I could “think about the consequences”. But even my father couldn’t hide me forever.

My body has always been a battleground. I’ve always won.

“Not destiny,” York says, frowning at figures on his wrist. “Choice. You made one, and it didn’t suit your genetics. Perhaps something hereditary is at play.”

“Perhaps you bastards did this when you sprayed my platoon with that chemical shit.”

“You chose war.”

“I was destined for war.”

“And now it’s over.”

York flicks a finger, and the air above my bed glows with figures. Red patches draw my eye like lesions on skin. I’m bound down in data.

“Your human immune system is rejecting your splice.” York rises from his seat. “Hence the fevers. Hence the disintegration of your dermis and epidermis. We will need to undo your cat splice so that the human can live.” He holds out his wrist. There’s a glowing patch for me to spit on. “Consent.”

We’ve been through this routine so many times, I instinctively lean in, hypnotised by familiarity. But what he’s proposing, making me fully human again, like a child or one of these identical corporate people, it forces me to pause.

He’ll learn a lot about my people by disassembling me alive; far more than we want to share. My body is a battleground again.

“Consent.” York used to ask for it, but now it’s a demand, the glowing spot inches from my face.

What if the drugs are keeping me sick? York says I have choices, but my choices are only as good as my knowledge. I almost wish that I’d followed my father’s demands, damned destiny and taken the owl splice; then I might understand these people.


York’s voice is stern like my father’s, and that stirs me. I hiss. York flinches. My body is a battleground and I always win.

“You said I have a choice.” I pull tubes from my arm, then swing my legs off the bed. “I choose to leave.”

“That’s an insane choice!”

“Is it a choice when only one option is allowed?” I hiss. “That sounds like destiny to me.”

At that, York steps back, and his frown fades into the blank of surrender. He armed me with their rules, and now I’ve beaten him.

I stand. My legs ache. Blood seeps into bandages. I take deep breaths until my head stops spinning, then walk, warily, toward the door. I half expect York to stop me in spite of everything.

I pause in the doorway, turn, and try to read his face. Was the battleground my body or my mind? Did he want to inflict his treatment or his ideology, to plant this pernicious hook of choice in my mind? Corporations can afford to play a long game.

Perhaps it was both, and whatever I did, I would lose. Sounds like destiny to me.

I step out of the door, leaving the bed, the tubes, and the floating data behind. As I walk naked down the corridor, I smile. My body is a battleground. Live or die, I have fought my way free.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every month.


Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Exit Interview From Facility 32 – a science fiction short story

Image by Thomas Malyska from Pixabay

I:            Commencing interview with revival two-seventy-four, Francis McKenzie. Computer, attach time and location tags.

C:           Tags confirmed.

I:            Thank you. Now, how are you feeling, Francis?

F:           A little blurry, if I’m honest. Less achy than usual. Everything seems… Are those my hands?

I:            Yes, Francis.

F:           Huh. They seem smoother, younger…

I:            What’s the last thing you remember, Francis?

F:           …

I:            Take your time. Don’t try to chase the memories, let them come to you.

F:           I was… I was dying, wasn’t I?

I:            That’s right, Francis.

F:           You’re not like I imagined at Sunday school.

I:            [chuckle] No, Francis, I’m not an angel. My name is Irena. I’m here to conduct your cryonic exit interview.

F:           My… Oh yes, I had a contract, didn’t I? Those Russian doctors turned up after I was taken to the hospital. They talked about cryoprotectants and vitrification and needing to act fast. Then they put me in an ambulance, hooked me up to a drip, the world got warm and dark and… It worked, didn’t it? Ha! It really worked!

I:            Yes, Francis.

F:           It’s Mr McKenzie.

I:            If you want. Now, there’s going to be a lot to adjust to, so why don’t you ask me a few questions, and I’ll do my best to ground you here.

F:           How long has it been?

I:            Eight hundred and eleven years.

F:           Eight hundred and… Are they dead?

I:            Who?

F:           Hatchett. Trovsky. All those goons who were out to get me.

I:            President Hatchett? Yes, she’s been dead a long time. And going by your records, I assume that you mean FBI Director Trovsky. He’s dead as well.

F:           Dead dead, or did they get frozen? I wouldn’t put it past them, copying my ideas just so they could come back and keep persecuting me.

I:            Neither of them was cryonically preserved.

F:           Ha! I beat them. I beat them all. Unless, wait… Did they leave instructions? Have you bastards got cops waiting outside the door?

I:            No, Francis. No one’s going to incarcerate you.

F:           Mr McKenzie. I told you once already.

I:            I’m sorry, Mr McKenzie.

F:           No one calls me Francis without my permission.

I:            What else would you like to know, Mr McKenzie?

F:           My investments, are they intact, or did they find some loophole to rob me? They’ve been after me since I made my first billion, envious little weasels, trying to take what I earned.

I:            Your investments are intact.

F:           And eight hundred years, they must have grown immensely, right? Am I still the richest man in the world?

I:            You now own the largest accounting in US dollars ever seen on Earth.

F:           Yes!

I:            But no one uses them any more.

F:           What?

I:            The accumulation of wealth in the hands of cryonically frozen millionaires made the old financial system unviable. We abandoned that financial model some time ago.

F:           You took it from me.

I:            You still have it, Mr McKenzie, all the money you want. It’s a fun novelty. You should enjoy it.

F:           A fun… Why you little… I’m Francis goddam McKenzie! Whatever currency you’re using now, I’ll go out there and make a billion again. Ten years from now, people will be dancing to my tune.

I:            [chuckle] You know, you’re going to make a fascinating subject for someone’s dissertation. A window into ancient financial systems and the antiquated values underpinning them. I’m almost jealous of whoever gets to write it.

F:           Ancient? Antiquated? I’m king of the markets, girl, one of the original entrepreneurs. I’m not going to be interviewed by some spotty trainee. I’ll hit the lecture circuit, get a book contract, do my own podcast with all the top sponsors. Then I’ll take that money and turn it into what I do best, making more money.

I:            I’m sorry to disappoint you, Mr McKenzie, but that’s not going to achieve what you want. Your era was fascinating, of course, but misguided at best and harmful at worst. Only real enthusiasts study the neo-dark ages.

F:           I’ve got the golden touch. I’ll teach them to make their own fortunes. People love that shit.

I:            That’s just not how modern society works.

F:           You, you’re out to get me too. You all are, tearing down what I had, building your bullshit socialist state.

I:            Not socialism, Mr McKenzie. Just not your capitalism. And honestly, no one’s out to get you. Almost no one has heard of you.

F:           …

I:            Do you need some time to yourself, Mr McKenzie?

F:           No one’s heard of me?

I:            Don’t think of it as losing out. Think of it as a fresh start, untainted by your old reputation. From what I can see, it was quite unsavoury.

F:           Untainted by…

I:            We can talk more about the past later. For now, let’s focus on the future. Do you like working with plants, building perhaps, or making music? We can find work for anyone who wants it. Maybe you’d rather travel for a while, do some reading, get used to the world. It can seem very strange after so long.

F:           No one.

I:            Mr McKenzie?

F:           I’m… [sob]

I:            There there, Francis. It’s going to be all right… [pause] This is a sedative, to calm you down. We can talk again once you’ve had a nice rest.

F:           [snoring]

I:            Computer, call the refreezing team. This one isn’t ready for the modern world.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Waters of Life and Death – a science fiction short story

Birds flying in front of a storm.
Image by jplenio from Pixabay

Jay emerged from the elevator carrying a tray of vials, each one holding a newly spliced genetic treatment. They rattled against each other as he walked to the football-sized eggs at the edge of the pool, themselves the products of endless modifications.

Crystal was in the pool up to her waist, her legs hidden by lilies, goosepimples rising on her bare arms.

“Thought you were smart,” Jay said.

“Of course I am. How do you think I got from the mani-pedi counter to the postdoctoral program?”

“Then why are you in the water? You know that could get you fired, or worse.”

He nodded down the pool, to where the latest creatures were swimming. One was crocodile-like, but with wings sprouting from its back. The other was a wobbling blob whose shape was slowly shifting, its body unable to settle, skin churning and shedding scales. It had rows of vicious teeth and might have made a deadly predator if its own body wasn’t killing it.

“These creatures are meant to be how we survive,” Crystal said, “whether they become our next sources of food or the plough horses of a flooded world. I want to be part of that transformation.”

Jay fixed a needle onto one of the vials, then plunged it into an egg. He repeated the procedure along the row.

“Don’t come crying to me when one of them turns out to be half wolf, half cow, and ready to eat your leg.”

An egg shook, then started to crack.

“That was quick,” Crystal said.

“Too quick. Usually a sign that it’s going wrong.”

Jay stepped back, but Crystal moved closer, the water swirling around her, and ran a hand across the shaking shell.

“There, there,” she said. “It’ll be alright.”

“Since when did you become so maternal?”

“We’ve been birthing new life here every day for three years. Hasn’t that changed you?”

He shook his head. “I’m here for the science.”

A chunk of shell fell away and a beak poked out, dripping with amniotic fluid. A bird’s eye peered at them, but the shell held strong as claws pressed at the gap.

“Looks like another dud,” Jay said. “If it’s not strong enough to escape the shell, it’s got no chance of surviving that.”

He pointed into the distance, where a storm was raging over the flooded remains of London, lightning flashing down the gleaming glass of abandoned office towers.

“That’s not true,” Crystal said, slipping a hand inside the shell, where the creature rubbed its slippery head against her skin. “Some infants need help to survive. Look at human babies.”

Jay snorted. “Humans are the ones who made this mess, I don’t think we’re a good example.”

“Those were the old humans. We’re the new ones.”

“Enough with the hippy bullshit, Crystal. Our world’s dying. Get out of the water and help me make something that might live.”

Crystal pulled on the edges of the broken shell and the calcified layer cracked open. The bird-thing slid out, its undulating body covered in tiny feathers. The feathers changed as it darted through the water, colours shifting to match whatever lay around it. It swam around Crystal like a dog running around its owner, eager for attention, rubbing its head against her. She ran a hand down its back, between the feathers, skin against bumpy skin. Jay shuddered at the sight.

Crystal’s skin changed, slowly at first, its colour shifting to match the creature. After a moment, bulges appeared, and tiny feathers pushed out through expanding pores.

“Crystal?” Jay swallowed, took a step back, almost tripped over the tray of vials. He couldn’t take his eyes off her. “What have you done?”

“What do you think?” She smiled into the creature’s eyes, then pressed her face against its cheek. The creature made a chittering noise. Others swam from their end of the pool, fins and wings flapping, and Crystal moved away from the edge, so they could swim around her. Jay finally saw the fish’s tail where her legs had been.

“You could have died,” he croaked. “The serums aren’t made for humans.”

“And humans aren’t made for this world,” Crystal said, “but here we are. I had to take a chance. It was that or be left behind.” She looked back at him. The storm was coming closer, lightning crashing across isolated hills rising from a flooded land. “Take a chance. Join us.”

Crystal stroked the blob beast. Her flesh rippled between the scattered feathers and when she smiled it was with a jaw full of pointed teeth.

“I can’t,” he whispered. “I’m scared.”

More eggs cracked open. Strange creatures crawled and slithered across broken shells, down to the pool where Crystal waited. Beneath the storm, a tidal wave was rushing in, tall enough that it would soon engulf them.

“Oh, Jay,” Crystal said, shaking her head. “I thought that you were smart.”


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Layover on the Way to the Stars – a science fiction short story

Stars floating in space.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Hi mum, it’s Angie. I’m recording this one later than usual, hoping I can get it into a civilian data beam back to Earth. I meant to record it at the jump gate terminal outside of Centauri, but I got distracted, and you’ll never guess who by – cousin Dioni!

I should probably tell you about the terminal first. This place is amazing. There are shuttles heading to every system you’ve ever heard of, and a bunch you haven’t. The terminal has all these different habitat zones for different species, but they’re separated by glass, so that you can see each other. There are even speakers with translation systems in the glass. I had a long chat over coffee with a guy who has tentacles for a head. I say over coffee, he was inhaling purple stimulant smoke while I had coffee. He was as fascinated to hear about Earth as I was about his home world. It was intense!

But I know you, and I know you’re going to care more about Dioni than some alien, even if she did have fifty-seven eyes. The alien had the eyes, that is. The only new body mod Dioni’s got is a recording tattoo, and she said not to tell Aunt Stella, because of her Views, so forget I told you that.

Anyway, Dioni’s running one of the restaurants in the human zone here, one of those Metaphor Burger franchises. You know the ones, where the ingredients are meant to symbolise a philosophical concept or a work of art. OK, maybe you don’t know, but it’s a whole thing. Dioni says she stopped here to do a few shifts and earn more money on her way to that colony in the Regamium system she was going to join. Only it turned out that the franchise holder was leaving, and Dioni had an opportunity to take his place. The old manager showed her this data about the insane profits you can make selling burgers to travellers, and she figured, why not give it a go. She used her travel money to buy him out, figuring she could triple her money in six months, then head on to the colony like Aunt Stella wanted her to.

Ooh, and just as Dioni was telling me this, a guy with three heads came in, and then an actor out of… You know what, you won’t know the show, and it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that Dioni has these amazing customers with stories from all over the galaxy. My mind was blown.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, well it turns out that it’s not so easy to leave this franchise Dioni’s bought into. She hadn’t paid attention to how much of a cut the company takes when she signed the contract, so she hasn’t earned what she expected, even though the place is buzzing. And there’s another big fee when you leave, which is half repayable if you leave everything in good condition, but you’ve got to have the money in the first place, and most of what Dioni earns goes on rent and visits to the alien habitats, so she can’t afford it. The whole past three years, she’s been stuck here, telling Aunt Stella that she got to Regamium so that Aunt Stella wouldn’t worry. Isn’t that wild?

Um, you’d better not tell Aunt Stella that part either. Or any of this, now I think about it. Please. But you can tell her that I saw a genuine Centauri fishman, because he stopped by right then to invite Dioni to a party.

Anyway, Dioni talked about how she couldn’t leave, and she wasn’t getting to Regamium any time soon, and it was all so sad. But then I thought, mum’s always telling me how I should help people in need, why don’t I help Dioni? She was so excited to leave Earth and go to Regamium, she should get to do that. So I offered to lend her some of the money you gave me. I hope that’s all right. I figured you’d approve, seeing as how she’s family.

Dioni couldn’t answer at first. She spotted this customer down the bar who she’d forgotten, and then she had to take a call, and sort something out with one of her staff. I wasn’t going to get an answer before my shuttle, but I said hey, I’ll delay, rebooking doesn’t cost too much. And then Dioni stopped what she was doing, and she said she didn’t want the money. Can you believe that? She said it was really kind, but she got herself into this mess, she had to get herself out. She’s so much more responsible than she used to be.

Then a ship from the Far Stars came in, and all these pioneers arrived on their month off, and they all knew Dioni. I sat and listened to their stories for hours, and Dioni listened too while she worked, and it was amazing, the places they’d been and the things they’d seen. Then I had to get my shuttle, because sure I’d delayed it, but that job’s still waiting for me on Signus.

It’s sad that Dioni never got to Regamium. If Aunt Stella ever finds out, she’ll be really disappointed. So maybe don’t tell her any of this. Can you do that?

Hm. Maybe I just won’t send this. Not for a while, at least. Not until Dioni gets to Regamium.

I tell you what, though, she’s great at putting on a brave face for the customers, even though she’s stuck there. I’ve never seen anyone smile so much.


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.

Throwing a Stone at Spacetime – a science fiction short story

Image by Benjamin Balazs from Pixabay

The ground fell away and I fell up, conflicting gravities hurling me in unnatural directions, twisting my spine until I screamed. I scrabbled at the wall of the laboratory, trying to cling to solidity, and instead grabbed a single loose stone. To my left, Victor gasped as his body expanded, contracted, expanded again. He opened his mouth, and the sound tore the world in two. Where he had stood there was a gap in reality, and I fell straight through.


Then it was three days earlier and the lake lapped at my ankles as I tossed a stone up and down. I pushed aside the nameless dread dragging at my mind and flung the stone. Ripples slid across the still water. Here, half a mile above the accelerator, birds sang and the sun shone on the trees.

Another stone, flung by Victor this time. Its ripples intersected with mine in the lake, made taller peaks and deeper troughs, a complex and compelling pattern.

“That’s the purpose, you see,” he said, flinging another stone. “Not to see what rules a new big bang gives its universe, but to watch how they intersect with our own physics, to find out the meta-rules.”


A ripple in those rules scooped me up and forward in time. I’d grabbed a wrench and slammed it into the accelerator’s control panel. Shards of glass flew, only to be swallowed by a darkness inside the machine. That darkness was distorting the world around it, ripping panels from the walls, sucking in air, bending light and sound and turning one into the other. It tugged at me.

“Run!” Victor shouted.

“Where to?” My voice soared and plummeted through the reality wave. “You think anywhere is safe?”

The wrench melted like ice in an inferno, then became a wall of screeching sound, and I tumbled through a gap in time.


I was back by the lake, in my lab coat, watching the sun rise. A gentle breeze stirred the water and ripples ran all the way to the shore. They caught a fly buzzing too close to the surface, swallowed it whole.

“Come on, Frank,” Victor called from the entrance to the facility. “We’re going to fire her up.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” I asked. There was a stone in my hand, but I didn’t remember picking it up. My back ached and I didn’t know why, though I was sure there was something to remember.

“It’s going to change our understanding of the world. Of course it’s good. Now come on…”


Another ripple. They were coming quicker, shorter, closing in on a single moment.


In the lab, the machines had started, lights blinking and motors humming. Victor’s triumphant smile faltered as the console shook.

“This isn’t meant to happen.” He stared at the black orb spinning in the centre of the accelerator. “The energy field should hold it in.”

“The energy field only works as long as the law of physics do,” I said. “We have to shut it down.”

“I tried.” Victor flipped a switch back and forth. “Frank, I think I fucked this up.”

The orb pulsed. Our broken reality tossed me back.


I was in the corridor, following Victor to the accelerator. Dread closed around my heart like cold fingers around a stone.

“Please, Victor,” I said.  “I have a bad feeling about this. We should wait until another day, run through the theory again, work out what we might see.”

“Why run the theory when we can see the reality?” Victor flung a door open, shaking the frame. “Science is based on observation, Frank, and we need something to observe.”

The ripples were closer now, so close I could see over them to the looming disaster. There was a stone in my hand that I hadn’t picked up.

I grabbed Victor, but he shook me off and flipped a switch. The accelerator hummed into life.

“This is it!” He grinned in triumph.

I flung the stone, aiming straight at the glass. Victor caught it out of the air.

“Calm down,” he said. “Everything will be fine.”


Forward a fistful of seconds, to his first look of doubt.


Then back to this moment, as he dropped the stone and shook his head.

“You’re such a drama queen.”

“You don’t understand.” I squeezed something cold and hard in my hand. “Once you throw a stone, you can’t take the ripples back.”

“Good. I want to change the world.” Victor looked through the glass as a pinprick black point began to expand. “This isn’t what I was expecting. What do you think it means?”


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it then you might want to sign up to my mailing list, where you’ll get a free ebook and a flash story straight to your inbox every Friday.


Lies We Will Tell Ourselves

Lies - High Resolution

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loathe lies.

A squad of soldiers torn apart by the fiction in their midst.

A hunting submarine with its dead captain strapped to the prow, the crew promising that one day they’ll revive him.

We all tell lies to get through the day, some of them to ourselves, some to other people. Now read the extraordinary lies of the future in these nine short science fiction stories.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is available now from all major ebook stores.