Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Midnight Echo 6 Interviews: Shane Jiraiya Cummings

With the release today of Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue in e-format, here is the second interview with the authors from the issue. Shane Jiraiya Cummings is well-known for promoting Australian horror fiction internationally and as co-founder with Angela Challis of Brimstone Press, Australia’s leading small press publisher in the genre. He also knows how to craft compelling and horrific tales, and “Graveyard Orbit” is a good example of Cummings skills.
1. What is your favorite Sci-fi horror novel or short story?

To throw a curve ball, my main sci-fi horror influences have been films. I don’t read enough novels, let alone sci-fi novels, to easily cite an influence. Having said that, I don’t know if there are that many truly awe-inspiring sci-fi horror novelists out there (excluding the thriving Cthulhu Mythos mob – guys like Cody Goodfellow and our own David Conyers have produced some exceptionally imaginative Mythos work that blends SF with horror).


I love a dark, gritty story set in outer space, a trillion trillion kilometres from home, which is why films such as Event Horizon and Alien really appeal to me. Perhaps it was my stage in life and the circumstances that particular evening, but Event Horizon scared the bejeezus out of me when I first saw it at the cinema. That combination of the extreme isolation of space, the claustrophobia of a derelict ship, and the threat of the supernatural really resonates with me. I feel that people find comfort in technology, and these kind of films touch on this as the protagonists often rely on advanced equipment and weaponry, and as a result, they enter situations with way too much confidence (the Colonial Marines on LV-426 in Aliens, anyone?). I love that moment when the characters’ belief in advanced technology fails and they need to rely on neglected, almost antiquated skills to survive (such as good old fashioned human ingenuity). I particularly enjoy clashes of technology and the supernatural. An intriguing, if a little cheesy, take on this occurred in Jason X (the tenth Friday the 13th film, set aboard a starship).

2. Tell us about your story and what your influences are?

Directly, you can blame the band Filter for “Graveyard Orbit”. I sometimes like writing to music, and when a particular song matches the words well, melds into the background, and no longer intrudes on the creative process, I put it on endless loop until the story is finished. It’s a bit Asperger’s, I know, but I have those tendencies. In the case of “Graveyard Orbit”, it was a song titled “The 4th" by Filter. There are no words (discernible ones anyway, as a phrase is repeated in reverse and then buried under a creepy, atmospheric tune) but the song really helped me bring the story to life.

Indirectly, you can blame David Conyers. I’d always wanted to write a Cthulhu Mythos story, and when David invited me to contribute to the Call of Cthulhu fiction anthology Cthulhu’s Dark Cults (Chaosium, 2010), he sparked my imagination. The resulting contribution, “Requiem for the Burning God”, became a novella (and was later published as a standalone ebook) and the first in what I call the ‘Ravenous Gods’ cycle of stories. “Graveyard Orbit” is the second story in the ‘Ravenous Gods’ cycle, although chronologically, it will probably be the fourth or fifth (once I write the intervening stories). Without revealing spoilers, even though the two stories are set roughly 500 years apart, they have a character in common.

I believe that a big idea should be at the heart of every story, which is why my stories are getting longer and longer. In “Graveyard Orbit”, I hint at an explanation for why there are holes in the universe’s dark matter structure. There is an underlying Mythos-inspired supernatural explanation for the structure of the universe, and while this story doesn’t explicitly offer explanations, it lays clues for what could be revealed in future ‘Ravenous Gods’ stories. And it wouldn’t be a Mythos-inspired story without a brush with the alien, the bizarre, the unknowable, and that is exactly what you will find in orbit around the planet Osiris II.

3. Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn't common knowledge?

I have years of experience as a journo, and I find writing news or non-fiction easier than writing fiction (although the mechanics of journalism – interviewing people and transcribing quotes – is a lot more exhausting), but ultimately, I feel more intense satisfaction from completing a work of fiction.

Now for something completely new – as a person (not just a writer), I possess a bizarre ‘superpower’: I am invisible to birds. Whether I’m in my car or walking, my fine feathered friends simply can’t see me. It’s a completely useless and only mildly inconvenient power. The worst of it is when I’m driving and trying to avoid birds on the road or when I need to walk through a large flock of birds (pigeons are a delight – I’m almost guaranteed to have a stray wing smack me in the side of the head, and given that I’m now used to the unexpected brush of feathers, the bird is usually more surprised than I am!). I first discovered this dubious ability when as a teenager I was sitting in a park in Sydney and a particularly imposing ibis spotted the chips I was eating and methodically stalked its way towards them, stepping over my legs and completely ignoring my warding arm. It nabbed one of the chips, but it must have been disturbed when (to its eyes) the rest of the chips levitated away as I left the park in annoyance. My experiences with birds will make great fodder for a story in the future!

Graveyard Orbit
Shane Jiraiya Cummings

System: HD 209458 (designation: Osiris).
Distance from Earth: 150.4 light years (Pegasus Constellation).

“What in hell is that?” Walker pointed to the brown-yellow smudge on the central viewscreen.
Lost to his interface with the ship, Peng took a few moments to answer, “What?”

“You mean, ‘what, Captain’,” Walker said with distraction. He’d spent the entire three month journey reminding his subordinates of his position, and correcting them had become an automatic response.

“Uh, yeah, what, Captain?” Peng said, although he remained interfaced with the ship and didn’t bother to turn to address him.

Peng’s crewmate—and the Wellington’s first officer—Huang was also interfaced, but he appeared to quiver slightly. Although his back was to Walker, he was sure Huang was suppressing laughter.

“Enough, you two,” Walker chided. “I want a full spectrum analysis on that planet. Thermal, radiation, gravity density mapping, atmospheric composition, the works.”

“Sure, Captain.” Huang swivelled in his chair to face Walker. “Although if you just interface... oh, very sorry, I forgot, you’re not enhanced.” The wireless pods embedded in Huang’s temples pulsed with lights. The magnetically insulated strips that ran up the sides of his neck and disappeared into his hairline strobed in a lightning-fast sequence of flashes.

Walker grimaced. The instant information Huang was accessing from the *Wellington’s* telemetry arrays was more of a slap in the face than his words—and Huang knew it. It wasn’t the first time his subordinates had mocked him for his humanity. Mundanes such as Walker were fast becoming obsolete. If he hadn’t owned the *Wellington*, he’d be unable to pick up work in interstellar exploration.

“Just show me what you have, Huang.” Walker sighed. “Main screen.”

The image was still grainy. Walker rubbed his eyes. The advanced telemetry of the *Wellington’s* equipment should have been able to display the visual with crystal clarity. Even with Huang’s tweaking, the image refused to resolve itself.

“Serious ionisation,” Peng muttered.

“Speak up, Peng,” Walker said.

Peng muttered something inaudible, lost as he was to the interface with the ship. Huang, too, was silent as he absorbed the data.

Walker thumped the arm of his chair. “Come on, guys! Don’t drift on me. I need answers!”

Peng straightened in his chair but took a few seconds to disengage from the data stream. “Osiris II has an atmosphere of approximately six hundred klicks. Apart from the ionisation, I’m getting no readings at all.”

“Something wrong with the equipment?” Walker asked.

“No,” Huang answered after a pause. “I ran a diagnostic and the arrays are in working order.”

Walker glanced at the planet on the main screen again. “Strange. It looks like pollution haze. Reminds me of home.”

Although his vision was unenhanced, Walker pressed his face to the nearest viewport. Until today, Osiris II had been an unclassifiable planet, identified only as a gravity distortion by telescopes in far orbit in the Sol System. Walker’s best guess was that it was akin to Venus, a rocky planet covered in a thick layer of gasses, but he needed a closer look.

“Move us into low orbit.” Walker commanded as he returned to his chair. “I want to pierce the veil.”
Within moments, the ship lurched to the right, and Walker’s stomach with it. The planet loomed in the viewport larger by the second.

As their approach vector changed, Walker spotted something.

“Stop the ship!” he called to the crew. Within seconds, the ship slowed and stopped. Walker’s stomach lurched a second time from the deceleration. He was forced to grip his chair tight to avoid being dumped on the floor.

“See that debris? What is that?” Walker asked.

Biography – Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Shane Jiraiya Cummings has been acknowledged as “one of Australia’s leading voices in dark fantasy”. He is the author of Shards, Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves, The Smoke Dragon, Requiem for the Burning God, the four volumes of the Apocrypha Sequence, and the forthcoming collection The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After. More on Shane can be found at “Graveyard Orbit” is part of Shane’s ‘Ravenous Gods’ cycle of Cthulhu Mythos-inspired stories.

Midnight Echo 6 Interviews: Cody Goodfellow

With the release today of Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue in e-format, we’ve decided to interview two authors from the issue. The first is Cody Goodfellow, a rising star on the global horror and weird fiction scene. Cody’s style is always captivating and his story “Earthworms” demonstrates his skill. It was so good, it opens the issue.

1. What is your favorite Sci-fi horror novel or short story? 

Blood Music by Greg Bear. I read it shortly after discovering Lovecraft in junior high school, and it perfectly dovetailed with the unacceptable revelations of At The Mountains Of Madness. It was an utterly new vision of the apocalypse in its truest sense, as revelation rather than mere disaster. Also, it cleverly disposed of cliche cleft-jawed heroes and sexy scientists fighting to avert the coming change.

2. Tell us about your story and what your influences are? 

For "Earth Worms", I delved into cherished memories of pulp sci-fi from Fredric Brown and Theodore Sturgeon, as well as cheesy Golden Age sci-fi comics, where the undoing of all human aspirations come as the punch line of a twisted cosmic joke. To push those hoary old tropes in the service of a deadly earnest issues like environmental and spiritual apocalypse scenarios just seemed like a natural fit, with the unspeakable alien zookeeper obligingly explaining how, from our earliest origins as multicellular life on Earth, we'd been conned.

3. Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn't common knowledge?

Not much of international interest... I used to write for a local music and culture magazine in San Diego, and was one of the first (if not the first) to unmask guerrilla artist Shepard Fairey as the man behind the Andre The Giant sticker and banner campaign back in the 90s. I used to compose electronic scores for porno videos in college, and am currently working on the soundtrack for a short monster movie I wrote called Stay At Home Dad.

Cody Goodfellow

Gary Caldwell awoke from a dream he couldn’t remember, except for the sound of his own voice telling him to be fruitful and multiply.

Cold golden light poured like sand into his eyes, but he could not close them. Could not move at all. He could see nothing but the light, feel only a vague, universal aching which brought him to the edge of panic. He was still in his body, or he seemed to be. The sensations he felt were nothing like the deep meditation or the OOBE training that was supposed to prepare him for the end.

Something his wife said came to him, just then: the End isn’t when we die… it’s when we all get what we deserve…

Was this what he deserved, then? Was this the Limbo reserved for infidels and unbelievers? It would be far better, if he could panic; if he could feel exultation, fear… anything.

Because the end had come, and what he believed had come true.

This thought cast his discomfort and confusion into a whole new light. He had seen them come down out of the sky with his own eyes. When the whole human race had succumbed to despair, he and the others who shared the vision had held out long enough to see them come.

He was with Joyce in the communications bunker, watching the torrential acid rain. The telescopes and pirate satellite feeds had found nothing, but their Big Ear had been pinging with anomalous radio signals for weeks. Someone had to be listening out there, and might finally be trying to speak.

Caldwell was the only one well enough to stand watch. A Grey Grids infection had wiped out half the group in the last week. Joyce was well into the terminal phase, the livid, circuitry-shaped rash branding every pallid inch of skin, but she came topside to bring him soup and spend her last breaths on accusations.

“Just admit it, darling,” she whispered, like begging for medicine. “Admit you were wrong.” It was unworthy of her, but it was easier than facing the real betrayal. She had followed him out here, and she was dying, and he was not.

“What did I do, now?” He busied himself with rebooting the sweeping radio receivers, but no outsiders broke into their argument. The constant atmospheric disturbances caused by the roving tri-state cyclone-cluster they called the Funnel, now a permanent feature of the Great Plains, had snuffed out all terrestrial communications.

No one on Earth had anything to say that was worth hearing, anyway. Night and day, the group tended their telescopes, their radio transmitters and their lasers, and sent out Dr. Scriabin’s message to the universe.

“All of this was a mistake. All the calculations, the predictions, the pilgrimage out here… just laser-guided prayer. Just another cargo cult pipe dream.”

That stung. The world had called them a cult, but what did they believe, that was not written in the poisoned earth, the tainted skies and the rising, dying seas? Their leader was not a wild-eyed crankcase, or a glad-handing evangelist, but a soft-spoken retired college professor.

Dr. Scriabin predicted the end based on Malthusian charts and greenhouse gas curves, while the rest of the world clung to their fantasies of a universal Daddy who gave them the earth to eat like a pie in an eating contest. Was their retreat into the Montana badlands to try to contact an extra-terrestrial intelligence any more insane than the infantile belief of a solid majority of Americans that they would be raptured away from the end by angels?

It was hard to look at her, but he forced himself. “You’d rather we stayed in LA, when it fell into the sea, then? You’d prefer to have died in the food riots?”

“We didn’t just come out here to survive,” she spat. “You staked our lives on the premise that someone out there was watching. And that they would save us.”

The distress signal had been going out, in some form or other, for almost twenty years. The endless string of binary laser-light pulses and more esoteric codes were a barrage that anyone who could make sense of mathematics would surely decipher to learn the location of Earth, the dire state of its environment and, if they were as merciful as they were advanced, they would come running to save the few humans left from imminent destruction.

“We could have gone out with our families,” she sobbed, “with people who mattered to us… we could’ve gone somewhere and just tried to live…”
Biography – Cody Goodfellow

Cody Goodfellow has written three solo novels––Radiant Dawn, Ravenous Dusk and Perfect Union––and three more––Jake's Wake, The Day Before and Spore––with John Skipp. His short fiction has been collected in Silent Weapons For Quiet Wars and All Monster Action. As editor and co-founder of Perilous Press, he has published illustrated works of modern cosmic horror by Michael Shea, Brian Stableford and David Conyers. He lives in Los Angeles.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

New Websites: Brimstone Press and John Kenny

Some interesting developments on the web these couple of weeks.

The first is Brimstone Press' return to the fold, with the re-launch of their website and does the site look profoessional. There are three books for purchase: Macabre edited by Angela Challis and Marty Young (and featuring a story from yours truly "Sweet as Decay"), The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines, and Shane Jiraiya Cummings' Shards. More books are promised.

The second is from John Kenny, writer, editor and publisher of Albedo One and Aeon Press. John also offers his services as an editor for authors, and if you are thinking of going down this path, he comes highly recommended from me. John and I collaborated on "Expectant Green" (a science fiction story which will appear in a future issue of Jupiter), and his input made the story shine.

Midnight Echo 6 Interviews: Joanne Anderton

As the release date for Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue approaches, we though we would introduce you to Joanne Anderton, who wrote one of the most original and bizarre stories in the line-up, “Out Hunting for Teeth”. Joanne’s skills as a writer are demonstrated by her recent novel publication, Debris out from Angry Robot.
1. What is your favourite Sci-fi horror novel or short story and why?

I'm really no good at playing favourites. I do, however, have a soft spot for Ghost Beyond Earth by G. M. Hague. I read this book many years ago (when I was but a young thing...) and it left such an impression on me. Twisted, creepy supernatural horror mixed with space-station claustrophobia and good old fashioned madness, all with an Australian setting and tone. There's just something about space and horror that goes together so well, and I think the same things applies to horror set in Australia. So much of the horror in sci-fi comes from the isolation, and the fact that you just can't escape because there's nowhere for you to go. How much is that like the Australian outback? No one can hear you scream on an isolated cattle station either...

2. Tell us about your story and what your influences are?

The main character in my story, "Out Hunting for Teeth", is Wype -- a W-type Scavenger-Class android. He's part dead boy, part machine, and he hunts humans through the insides of a crippled starship, so he can extract their useful material, such as skeletons and neural networks. He was built by the Witch, a giant and grotesque creature born from the ship's core. He mostly ignores the whispers from his dead boy's brain and listens to his programming instead, until he finds the body of a man hanged by his own people. What he discovers on the dead man's networks will change everything.

"Out Hunting for Teeth" was inspired by Goya's etching of the same name, which depicts a witch stealing teeth from the body of a hanged man. As soon as I saw it, I just knew I wanted to write about it, but I also knew I wanted to do something... different. This story is the result. My husband described it as a cross between Wall-E and Genocyber and I still think that's the best description!

3. Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn't common knowledge?

There's common knowledge about me? Now I'm worried. Well, hmmm, how about: I love writing horror, but I'm a complete chicken when it comes to reading it or watching it. A truly scary movie will give me many sleepless nights before I convince myself that no, the *insert horrific supernatural creature here* isn't real. Got to be supernatural though. Serial killers just bore me.

Out Hunting for Teeth
Joanne Anderton

The colony in the sunside hydroponics chamber had strung the man up in the access corridor like an offering. He swung from the ceiling’s naked beams on a noose of optical fibre and copper wire, and his hands were tied in front of him. His face was expressionless and grey, his mouth hung open, and the nodes drilled into his teeth were misfiring desperate, panicking signals.

W-type Scavenger-Class—nicknamed Wype by his mistress in her cruel glee—had never seen anything like it.

His sensors told him the man was already dead, no need to chase and kill this one himself, which reduced the chance he would damage the man’s spinal enhancements and neural networks. That was good. The Witch was vicious when she was displeased. So it made sense to cut the man down, slice him into manageable parts and drag the useful ones back to her as quickly as possible.

But Wype was more than sensors and circuitry. He was a Witch’s spell, a complex blend of dead human parts and recycled machine parts, given life and a task by his mistress. He shared a brain, and most of his body, with a dead boy. And his boy told him something wasn’t right. Humans were too few and they considered themselves too precious to kill each other indiscriminately. There had to be a reason for this man’s death. Perhaps he was contaminated. If Wype brought a virus—biological or digital—into the Witch’s lair, she would eject him into airless space.

So Wype and his boy decided this required more investigation.

Wype swung himself down from the ducting. His boy leg jarred at the impact. He pumped a fresh round of painkillers into the degenerating muscle, and shuffled awkwardly forward. He was designed for climbing through the hollow bones and rotting guts of the derelict ship, not walking in a straight line. His metallic leg was longer than his human leg, segmented, and hooked at the tip. His one human hand was encased in reinforced ceramic tiles stolen from the ship’s breached hull. He had two mechanical arms. One ended in a hook like his leg, the second was a multi-tool of cables, a light, a soldering iron and a photon-beam blade.

The sensors protruding from Wype’s neck scanned for heat signals, electronic pulses, and neural firings. He detected nothing but the panic emanating from the man’s teeth. He cut the man’s leg, wiped a thin drop of blood directly on the powerful lenses of his mechanical eye, and ran as many scans as he was programmed with. As far as Wype could tell there was nothing wrong with his flesh, other than the rigors of death. That only left his networks.

Wype hauled himself up the wall, extended his blade and cut the man down. Then he dropped back to the floor, and pried open the dead man’s mouth. It took a little drilling with the sharpened tip of his blade to expose enough ports to link himself with the neural network.

Human networks were basically designed for maintenance: they monitored blood pressure, muscle function, and oxygen uptake. But the dead man’s was doing none of those things. Instead, it was flooded with data, a nonsense of figures and formulas, instructions and feedback that didn’t feel human at all. It felt, if anything, like a machine. A jumbled, failing machine.

“Who are you?”

Biography – Joanne Anderton

Joanne Anderton lives in Sydney with her husband and too many pets. By day she is a mild-mannered marketing coordinator for an Australian book distributor. By night, weekends and lunchtimes she writes dark fantasy and horror. Her short fiction has recently appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and orlds Next Door. She was shortlisted for the 2009 Aurealis Award for best young adult short story. Her debut novel, Debris (Book One the Veiled Worlds Series) will be published by Angry Robot Books in 2011, followed by Suited in 2012. Visit her online at: and on Twitter@joanneanderton

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Midnight Echo 6 Interviews: Helen Stubbs

Our fourth interview with the contributing authors of Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue is with upcoming Australian weird speculative fiction author, Helen Stubbs. Her contribution “Surgeon Scalpelfingers” is as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

1. What is your favourite Sci-fi horror novel or short story and why?

My favourite Science Fiction horror novels are The Visitor and The Margarets by Sheri Tepper. She deals with futures where humankind endures drastic interventions by extra-terrestrial entities. Tepper writes girls who can do whatever they must to survive horrific events, rituals and weapons. The novels are disturbing, beautiful and believable. I would love to be able to create worlds and universes as massive and convincing as hers.

I also love John Wyndham's novella Consider Her Ways, and Kafka's Metamorphosis, which are both subtle horror working with the concept of waking in vastly changed circumstances. Whether you become a breeder or a cockroach, that has to suck.
2. Tell us about your story and what your influences are?

My story, “Surgeon Scalpelfingers”, draws on one of my greatest childhood fears...ending up on an alien work bench. Initially, my protagonist observes what has happened in a cool detached manner. I love the narration of John Wyndham and that influenced my style in this piece. Jeff Lindsay's Darkly Dreaming Dexter inspired me in part (to take my character apart), while the robot from Lost in Space was definitely in the back of my mind as I designed the final product. There are some delightfully icky images in this story. Yay.
3. Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn't common knowledge?

My first attempt at constructing a book was non-fiction. It was about my pet chicken, Chatterbox, who hatched one Christmas day then met an untimely end mere months later. Rest in peace, Chatterbox (1985-1986). This story is for you, who will ever be my favourite adolescent rooster, for whom I never found even a torn dappled feather. Was it alien abduction? Perhaps you are free ranging through far off galaxies, making single-legged featherless hens very happy.

Surgeon Scalpelfingers
Helen Stubbs

I woke and wondered if I was still me, then decided probably not. While I had no memory of what I had been, I was certain I’d been a single thing, with a few or more limbs and zero coils.

I was strewn around the dim lab. I still had a sense of my body-parts, though we were no longer directly joined. Some sat tall and alone, on quietly vibrating dishes—that arm for example. It used to have a hand on top, now it had a metallic disc.

A brown organ with a curved back was encased in a glass canister of orange jelly. It had an aerial on top and wires trailing from the base. Yet other parts of former me inhabited small robots, for example, one finger had become the body of a metallic seven-legged insect? Insept, I supposed.

Its rubbery neck supported a half-sphere, which turned toward me.

Oh, hello—it held my other eye. That other eye looked back at me, to where this eye and my thoughts were based... in my head? No, not at all. My other eye had a clear view and told me I no longer had a head.

The majority of me was collected on a green operating table. One eye had been set into a circle of skin that was stretched over a cylinder. It looked similar to a drum. I couldn’t see my mouth, but other parts of me lay along the bench, integrated with a lot of hardware. Limbs, organs and a few toes were set into glass and metal casing. The connections between them included cable, wire and some tubing.

I had no skeleton—not bone and not metal. My scaffolding was missing. I could not stand up.
My independent eyes looked about a little more, rolling around their new settings. Beyond the circle of light that surrounded the green bench, it was hard to make out details. But there were my bones; lined up, from shortest to longest, in a slim tank that stretched along a wall. It didn’t look like it included all 206, but approximately a hundred.

My nose sat on top of a tripod. If I had an eye above it, that eye would have quite a view. Perhaps the insept could crawl up and take a look? Actually, it was good vantage point for smelling. My nose sniffed... it smelled blood and Betadine. And something more animal. Something that could do with a wash.

I was a work in progress. If I could have found my tear-ducts I would have cried.

To distract myself, I focused on locating my missing fingers, recalling that there should be another nine of those, along with two arms and two ears. These things were coming back to me. And so was a tall wobbling form, backlit by a bright light beyond the corridor. He was a two-metre tall, hill-shaped blob.

“Surgeon,” said a voice above me, in an unfamiliar language—yet I understood.

The voice belonged to a triangular robot face on a snake-like arm. Its long neck originated from somewhere above, lost in the darkness. It had spoken through a triangular speaker which lit up when it spoke. This mouth was set beneath its round camera eye.

The snake-bot turned to face the surgeon.

The surgeon burped and farted as he moved closer, and his rolls of pale fat came into view. His white face seemed to glow against the dimly lit background. He had bruise-blue lips, just like raw sausages.

His pale yellow eyes were rimmed with red inflammation.

Biography – Helen Stubbs 

Helen Stubbs loves the beautiful weird, especially fiction about the future and alternate realities. Her writing usually includes tough heroines and terrible things. Her unpublished novel, Black Earth, is a quarter-finalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Award. She’s currently working on a novel called Verdan’s Marsh. Helen’s short stories have appeared in the Aussiecon Four Souvenir Booklet (competition winner “The Perforation”) and the Australian vampire anthology Dead Red Heart. She’s a member of Queensland Writers Centre, Vision Writers and Prana Writers. Her interests include chatting to strangers, travelling, bike riding, the environment, art and innovation. Contact Helen at and

Friday, 18 November 2011

Undead and Unbound

Now that all rejections have been sent and acceptances have been made, the news is out. In our follow up to Cthulhu Unbound 3, Brian M. Sammons and I have teamed up again for a new anthology, Undead and Unbound.

In this horror anthology you will find animated shrunken heads, warrior wights, conquistador skeletons, undead faeries, zombies on Mars, mummifed pharoahs, Malaysian floating head vampires and plenty of other unusual undead.

He is the table of contents, in no particular order, featuring some very talented authors from across the globe:
  • Mother Blood by Scott David Aniolowski
  • Phallus Incarnate by Glynn Owen Barrass
  • Thunder in Old Kilpatrick by Gustavo Bondoni
  • Incarnate by David Dunwoody
  • Blind Item by Cody Goodfellow
  • In the House of a Million Years by John Goodrich
  • When Dark Things Sleep by Damien Walters Grintalis
  • The Unexpected by Mark Allan Gunnells
  • Undead Night of the Undeadest Undead by C.J. Henderson
  • The Wreckers by Tom Lynch
  • Dead Baby Keychain Blues by Gary McMahon
  • Descanse En Paz by William Meikle
  • Marionettes by Robert Neilson
  • I am Legion by Robert M. Price
  • North of the Arctic Circle by Pete Rawlik
  • Scavengers by Oscar Rios
  • Romero 2.0 by Brian M. Sammons & David Conyers
  • The Unforgiving Court by David Schembri
  • A Personal Apocalypse by Mercedes Murdock Yardley
I must say I'm really impressed with the talent we managed to secure. There are some familiar names (to me) in the list, authors whom I've worked with before and am pleased to work with them again, but there were also some fantastic contributions from authors I wasn't aware of, towards whom I have now come to realise how good and how prolific they are.
Undead and Unbound will be published by Chaosium in 2012.
Stay tuned, more when I can say more...

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Midnight Echo 6 Interviews: Cat Sparks

Our third interview with the contributing authors of Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue is with Australian speculative fiction short story writer and editor, Cat Sparks, who penned a space opera horror fantasy with pirates, “Dead Low”.

1. What is your favourite Sci-fi horror novel or short story and why?

I'm not sure I have an absolute favourite, but I was really taken by Jeff Long's The Descent when I read it a few years ago. The novel concerns a vast, labyrinthine world of tunnels and caverns below the subsurface of the world and the troglodyte hominid cultures that inhabit them; tribes humans have interpreted as demons throughout history. This is a violent novel rich with character and detail. Many scenes remain indelibly imprinted on my mind.

Other favourites include Stephen King's The Stand and Patricia Highsmith's collection of short stories Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes.

2. Tell us about your story and what your influences are?

“Dead Low” is inspired by elephants' graveyards and abandoned children raised by wolves, only instead of elephants there are space ships and in place of wolves run malfunctioning surplus military hardware. Did I mention there are pirates? What's not to like?

3. Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn't common knowledge?

Most of my writing, one way or another, tends to be about the search for identity: either mine, my protagonists', or perhaps that of the entire human species. I didn't realise this fact until an astute editor pointed it out after reading a bunch of my stories. “Dead Low”, however, is about SPACE PIRATES!

Dead Low
Cat Sparks

They were seven all up if you counted the pilot—and Clancy always did. Qamar had the smarts to demand a fee in lieu of a share of the plunder. Smarts enough to get paid regardless. He never went in but he’d always got them out. More than once by the skin of their back teeth. He cut things close but close was good enough for Clancy. She wouldn’t have swapped him for all the jewels on Europa.

The Sargasso Drift was not for the faint hearted. Not for greenhorns either. She knew she should have left the kid at base. Konte was excited for all the wrong reasons. Busting out and itching for a fight. Trouble was the last thing Clancy needed. The Sargasso Drift was trouble enough on its own.

“Looks like an elephants’ graveyard,” said Kyah, picking at her fingernails as Clancy enhanced the view. Before them, a sea of debris meshed with frozen rocks. Shattered hulls slept nestled amongst them, their once shiny surfaces pockmarked by centuries of micro impacts. Booster cylinders, photon drives, modular components battered into new and unrecognisable shapes. All jammed together to form a large amorphous mass, like a cancer or a blood clot. And something else; a substance registering as a brown-grey shadow that looked as though it should have been rock, but wasn’t.

“This here’s what you call a dead low,” Clancy explained. “Everything adrift in this part of the system ends up here sooner or later.”

Corvettes, cutters, blockade runners, battle cruisers, satellites, zips and flails, and all the other junk detritus illegally dumped from freighters.

“Elephant?” asked Konte, the kid in battle fatigues so new, the fabric was still stiff and shiny.

“An ancient kind of ship,” said Pace. “Freighter. Pre-Empire. Reckon this is where the Horgis generals sent their ships to die.”

“No way!” said the kid, his eyes as wide as saucers. He turned to Clancy. “Can’t we get in closer?”

“Not until we have to.” The grim tone to Clancy’s voice gave them all an early warning. All except the kid, of course, this being his first time out. Nobody wanted him along for the ride. Virgin heroes were generally the first to fall, usually dragging some other poor bastard down with them.

“First in, first serve for salvage rights,” said Kyah. Her hands were trembling, which meant she was on the juice again. Not good.

“Hon, we’re far from being the first. A good many of those shattered hulls belonged to salvage crews.”

“Not good ones, though. If they were good, they would never have bought it so easy.”

Clancy decided to let it go. Regret was already gnawing at her edges. The lies it had taken to get them all this far. After all, the ship belonged to Pace. His ship, Barbuda’s map, but the heartache was hers and hers alone. If she was wrong then none of it was going to matter.

“So what does the scan say?”

DeVere was already on it. “Highly mineralised,” he offered.

Biography – Cat Sparks

Cat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. A graduate of the inaugural Clarion South Writers’ Workshop and a Writers of the Future prize winner, she has edited five anthologies of speculative fiction and more than fifty of her short stories have been published since 2000. She’s won thirteen Aurealis and Ditmar awards for writing, editing and art. She is currently working on a dystopian/biopunk trilogy and a suite of post-apocalypse tales set on the New South Wales south coast. (Photo credit: Selena Quintrell)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Announcement: Cthulhu Unbound 3

Forthcoming from Permuted Press, Cthulhu Unbound 3.

In a successful series started by John Sunseri and Thom Brannan, Cthulhu Unbound 3 presents four novellas of Lovecraftian horror. Cody Goodfellow's "Unseen Empire" returns to the wild west in an exploration of a cavernous city under the American Plains. D.L. Snell's "MirrorrorriM" shows us just how weird the Cthulhu Mythos can be when truly embraced. Tim Curran's "Nemisis Theory" investigates what a man would do if he was trapped in a maximum security prison with horrors from beyond. David Conyers and Brian M. Sammons' "The R'lyeh Singularity" continues the saga of NSA consultant Harrison Peel and CIA agent Jordan on a globe espionage adventure to halt the return of the greatest of the Great Old Ones.

Edited by Brian M. Sammons and David Conyers. Cover illustration by Peter C. Fussey. Published by Permuted Press. Anticipated 2012 release.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Midnight Echo 6 Interviews: Alan Baxter

In our second interview as part of the lead up to Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Issue, we have an interview with Alan Baxter. His contribution tackles the fears faced by space travellers far form home and very deep into the void.

1. What is your favorite Sci-fi horror novel or short story and why?

This is a really tough one to answer. Some of the best sci-fi horror is in the movies as it's sadly under-represented in written fiction, but there is a lot of good stuff out there. However, while it's not necessarily classified as horror, I would have to say Peter Watts's novel, Blindsight. It's a hard SF first-contact novel, and not really a horror novel in the commonly accepted sense. But Watts does such an amazing job of creating a truly alien entity for first contact and develops such horrifying reality around what such an encounter would really be like, that I find it hard to go past. It's an outstanding book, and perhaps the most horrifying element for me is the way the aliens move. Seriously, read it and you'll see what I mean.
2. Tell us about your story and what your influences are?

My story involves a few influences. Firstly, my science fiction tends to be heavy on the fiction and light on the science. I'm not scientifically educated enough to make the scientific elements of a story really convincing, but I love the scope for exploring ideas that SF gives a writer. There's certainly way more out there than we can comprehend, let alone prepare for, as the example of Blindsight above so ably demonstrates. On top of that, the experiences of humans in deep space would be very different to any experience available on Earth and I like to play with those ideas too. So my story explores the nature of very deep space exploration, the inexplicable things that might be out there, and the psychology of the people in those situations. I like my sci-fi to have a bit of a wild frontiers element, with the technological and human challenges that would bring. For example, the main character, Peevy, has a condition called deepfear, like a galactic agoraphobia, which was a lot of fun to play with.

3. Tell us something about yourself as a writer that isn't common knowledge?

I'm such an online whore that I doubt there's much people don't already know. But here's a couple of things. I wrote a sequel story to "Trawling The Void", called "Salvage In The Void", which picks up exactly where the first story ends, and that sequel just placed as a semi-finalist in the Writers Of The Future competition. So now I need to find somewhere to publish it. Also, I used to be a fishmonger. How's that?

Trawling the Void
Alan Baxter

The incoherent voices in Peevy’s mind were more insistent. The ghostly dragging at his clothes and skin stronger, though he knew nothing was there. He ground his teeth, staring at the diagnostics panel.

I’m not going mad. I’m not going mad. The thought was becoming his mantra.
He reached one hand down and scratched the soft, furry head of LaVey. The SimHound looked up, gave him a doggy smile. Peevy frowned at engine efficiency readouts. “Look at this, Jack.”

The Duty Engineer, an old ship hand, rough around the edges, shrugged. “Looks all right to me.” His grizzled old face showed no signs of worry.

Peevy glanced up, surprised. “Really? Look at the energy fluctuation across the coils.”

“It’s not much.”

“Maybe not, but as we don’t know what’s causing it we have to find out.”

“You’re the boss.”

Peevy smiled at the Duty Engineer. He was getting lazy in his old age.


“This array seems fine.” Peevy twisted in the cramped space to look the other way. “What about there?” The presence surged and he stiffened, wincing as he tried to ignore it.

The tech opposite gave a thumbs up. “Yep, this one’s fine too.”

Peevy made a sound of annoyance. LaVey watched with heavy-lidded disinterest as Peevy and the tech emerged from the service bay. Jack’s eyebrows raised. “Nothing.”

The old eyebrows sank as he smiled. “There you go then.”

“No. The engines are still out of whack. You should care about this. I think we should do a full restart.”

“The Cap will not be happy about that.”

“The Cap will have to suck it up.”

Biography – Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author living on the south coast of New South Wales, Australia. He writes dark fantasy, science fiction and horror, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog. He also teaches Kung Fu. His contemporary dark fantasy novels, RealmShift and MageSign, are out through Gryphonwood Press, and his short fiction has appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies in Australia, the US and the UK, including the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror. Alan is also a freelance writer, penning reviews, feature articles and opinion. Read extracts from his novels, a novella and short stories at his website:

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Skyfall (Bond 23)

Anyone who knows me well knows I'm a James Bond fan. I've read all the Fleming novels. Casino Royale is one of my favorite movies of all time. It is a film series that has only ever gotten better as it went along. So I was very excited to watch the press conference online at MI6 regarding the new movie, Bond 23, now offically known as Skyfall.

The cast is pretty exciting, with Daniel Craig, Javier Bardem, Dame Judi Dench, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe, Ralph Fiennes, Albert Finney and Ben Whishaw. I have a sneaky suspiscion that Mr. Fiennes will be Blofeld, but I'll wait and see.

The press conference did say there would be no Quantum organisation from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, which is a shame. I wanted to see Bond infiltrate them.

Film locations include Britian, Scotland, Istanbul and Shanghai.

Sam Mendes directing and screenplay by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. David Arnold will score the sound track.
I'm one excited individual.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The Eye of Infinity available for Purchase

The Eye of Infinity is now available for purchase, at the Perilous Press website. Here is the blurb:

Interior illustrations by NICK GUCKER

ISBN 0-9704000-4-8
Trade Paperback, 84 Pages

At a remote radio telescope facility in New Mexico, an astrophysicist commits suicide after contracting a hideous mutative plague caused by something he saw...and he won't be the last.

Major Harrison Peel has witnessed his share of cosmic atrocities before, but now he faces a threat worse than death and a powerful enemy that hides behind a human face.

When a top-secret NASA program refuses to heed his warnings, Peel is catapulted into a nightmarish government conspiracy that takes him from Fort Meade's Puzzle Palace to the launchpads of Cape Canaveral; from the desolate Atacama Desert of Chile to the very heart of the universe itself, all in a desperate bid to close... THE EYE OF INFINITY.

The Eye of Infinity is a new novella in the epic series that began in The Spiraling Worm and is a spellbinding fusion of cosmic horror, quantum physics and espionage action.

"The Advertising Imperative" on

I'm excited to announce my short story "The Advertising Imperative" has been published by the good folk at, or more specifically, Liz Grzyb. This story combines my love of space opera with my professional experience in marketing communications. Satrical I know, and one of those stories that only approaches an issue from one viewpoint, but I'm still really happy with the finished product.

Also thanks to Damien Broderick who gave me some great editorial advice on this one.

If you want to read it (and vote for it), go here.