Posts Tagged ‘Lies We Will Tell Ourselves’

Lies - High ResolutionVictor watched his master getting into the car, observed his five-fingered hands about this daily task. Twisting keys in the lock. Lifting the handle. Spreading for balance as he leant across the seat. Flicking delicately across the buttons of the stereo and tapping a rhythm to echo the music. Finally they gripped the wheel as the black Mercedes crunched off down the gravel drive.

Victor looked down at his own hands. Two wide, metal digits faced each other across a motorised palm, padded in case he clenched too tight. A hand to grip and prod. Open and closed, nothing more. A binary hand for a servant of silicon and tin.

Victor rolled into the kitchen, rubber tracks silent on the polished floor. He carried plates and mugs to the dishwasher, gripping and releasing each in turn, then prodded a button. As the machine rattled mindlessly into action Victor fetched the vacuum from a cupboard, pressing the on switch and gripping the nozzle as he dragged it around the floor, chasing down dust. Later he carried his mistress’s shopping in from the car, a long succession of plastic bags gripped and released safely back in the house.

Left alone in the late afternoon, he went to the breakfast table and reached out toward a slender vase of roses. Twin fingers spread wide, then closed gently around the bottom of the vase.

Grip.

Release.

Grip.

Release.

Lift, and turn so slightly, holding the delicate tube up to the light as he had seen his master do.

The vase swung down between his two flat fingers, petals and water cascading across the table.

*

At night, Victor plugged into the security system, overseeing the house through its hidden cameras. In the bedroom his master and mistress slept with hands entwined, fingers meshed.

The master enjoyed coin tricks. Victor replayed a memory, watching a circle of copper dance across those hands, fingers twitching and turning, making the metal flit back and forth, dart into the air and disappear, only to reappear between two outstretched digits. Five such delicate, flexible instruments – what joy to be human.

Victor wanted to see the fingers up close. He unplugged himself from the security net and quietly rolled down the corridor. Gripping the handle, he pushed open the bedroom door and approached the humans as they slept.

His mistress turned in the moonlight, fingers stretching out and running through the sheets, pulling them tight. Victor leaned forward, reaching out, trying to sense what each finger was doing, how such a marvel worked. The master shifted, disturbed by the mistress’s movement. Eyes opened slightly, then widened, staring up at Victor with an expression the robot had never seen before.

*

After de-bugging, Victor was sold to a shop. He gripped and released, fetching and carrying all day. When the till opened he would turn away, unable to look at the change being counted, unable to understand why.

 

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‘Digits’ was first published in Carillon in 2007. It’s also one of the stories in my science fiction collection Lies We Will Tell Ourselves, still free on the Kindle until Sunday.

La Belle Dame Sans Merci by Sir Frank Dicksee. Image via Wikimedia commons.

No-one ever asks me where I get my ideas from. Why would they? I know lots of smart people, and they understand that ideas come from all over the place. But looking through the stories I’ve assembled in Lies We Will Tell Ourselves I was struck by what a wide range of sources I’d chewed up and spat back out in these short stories:

  • How We Fall – came from a deliberate decision to turn the next two adverts I saw on the side of bus shelters into a story – the adverts were far less classy than what I made out of them.
  • So Cold It Burns – sprang from a couple of paintings I saw in Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, in particular the blighted leaves that hint at sorrow to come in Frank Dicksee’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci – the guitar strumming cousin and his song about an actress is based on my friend Dan and his hilarious Keira Knightly song.
  • Distant Rain – my friend Nick, a naval architect, was telling me all about submarines while at another friend’s wedding, and this is the result (the wedding in question was that of occasional commenter on this blog Jon Taylor, at which I met several people who are now good friends, so it was an auspicious occasion all round).
  • Day Labour – inspired by Kris Drever’s song ‘Harvest Gypsies’.
  • Digits and The Extra Mile – both written for a competition in a magazine with the theme of ‘five’.
  • Second Skin – influenced by working for a company that analysed investments, where I learned about hedge funds and how awful they are.
  • The Harvest – inspired by a chapter in an anthropology book on the subject of agriculture.

The only story where I can’t point at the inspiration is ‘Our Man In Herrje’, and I wrote the first version of that so long ago that the process is lost in the mists of memory.

It’s amazing where you can find inspiration. Where have you found yours recently?

And if you like the sound of any of these stories, you can get them all in Lies We Will Tell Ourselves, free from Amazon until Sunday. Why not give it a go?

“I have no objection to truth,” I said, “but I enjoy untruths too, they’re the building blocks of human culture. Actors pretending to be kings, singers faking heartbreak or elation, novelists inventing heroes in their heads to escape the mindless dullards around them. Reality is a vast sea of tedium interrupted by brief flashes of the repugnant – why would anyone chain themselves to that?”

Lies - High Resolution

Out now on Amazon, Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is the latest, and for now last, of my anthologies pulling together my previously published stories. This time it’s the turn of science fiction…

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loath 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.

Includes:

  • How We Fall – trapped behind enemy lines, faith and duty clash for Sergeant Grund’s squad.
  • So Cold It Burns – long cut off from home, Gandpa Jo must decide the future of his frozen wife.
  • Distant Rain – the submarine Promethean hunts a mutant whale through a polluted Pacific.
  • Our Man In Herrje – Julius Atticus lives by lies, but can he defend them to the alien Gatherers?
  • Day Labour – a dark secret waits for the farm labourers of a distant world.
  • Digits – a robot finds his humanity in a hand.
  • The Extra Mile – race driver Geordie proves how far he’ll go to win.
  • Second Skin – stock trader Eddy’s symbiont has all the latest apps, including one no-one told him about.
  • The Harvest – as aliens devour the Earth, an anthropologist recognises an unsettling truth.

Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is out now on the Kindle. I’m just releasing it there for now as experiment, and I’ll get into my reasons another day. But because it’s exclusively on Amazon I’m able to give it away through there for a few days, and so it’s free from tomorrow until Sunday, after which it will still be only $1.99.

So what are you waiting for? Go forth and read your way into a bright new future!

Lies - High ResolutionThe snapper leaves looked like giant green tacos hanging from the vine, folding and unfolding in a languid breeze. All the plants were bigger on these low gravity worlds. You could have slept wrapped in a leaf.

‘Cut ‘em off at the stem,’ Dwight said, pointing at the fruit, each berry a bright globe a foot across. They looked as appetising as the toxic dirt from which they grew, blue fruit on an orange planet, a bright place that burned the eyes. ‘One in five of y’all pushes the trolleys, the rest fill ‘em with fruit. Full trolleys get emptied into the hopper. When the second hopper’s full y’all can have a rest and some water.’

Dwight’s eyes screwed up in something that fell short of cunning. ‘I catch any of you greasers slacking, you can forget about gettin’ paid.’

He handed out the tools, hooked knives blunt from long use and barrows with wheels that wobbled and stuck. No-one stopped to fix them. We knew that trap. You spent half an hour sharpening blades or tightening screws, then the farmer said that wasn’t what they hired you for. They got better tools, and you lost half an hour’s pay. Even at three bucks an hour, that wasn’t something our band of travelling labourers could afford. We’d traded our blankets for food in the spring, pushed past endurance by lean bellies and screaming children. Now winter was coming, soon the work would dry up, and we needed warmth and dried beans to see us through.

We set to work. The vines had sharp ridges and even my calloused palms were soon scraped raw from pushing them aside to reach the fruit. No matter which way I approached, one of those big damn leaves would flop down in my way, forcing me to move them. I asked Dwight if we could cut down the leaves. He snorted.

‘Damn plants are worth more than your planet-drifting ass. Don’t you cut shit without I say so, or you’ll be sorry.’

As the day wore on the leaves opened wider, unfurling soft pink tendrils and spines like long, dripping needles. We all tried to keep away from them, but after a lunch of grass-seed tacos and cheap re-pork we were sent into the heart of the snapper field, where the biggest fruits lay.

‘An’ there’s a bonus for the best fruit,’ Dwight declared with unconvincing bonhomie. How he’d judge who got the best I didn’t know. Probably the girl with the best tits and most compliant smile. But it got everyone going again, hooked knives flashing in the shadows beneath the stalks.

The leaves were real close now. They seemed to be sinking as they spread, forming a veined green wall all around us, until there was no way out of the field without pushing them aside. It was a relief to be sheltered from the sweltering sun, but the rustle of the creeping green made my hair stand on end.

I heard a sound like a branch snapping and a muffled scream. Spinning around, I saw little Evo’s trolley standing deserted. Next to it was a leaf, folded over on itself with lumps and bumps wriggling inside it. I ran. I could hear Evo’s indistinct cries of alarm as he tried to struggle out of the leaf. Blood dripped from its tip, then stopped as the plant closed up tight.

I raised my knife and tried to cut the leaf open, but I couldn’t get the cutting edge inside the hook against the broad surface of the leaf, and the tip was too blunt to break through the membrane.

Others came running as I yelled. Chiquita, her mind as sharp as her features, instantly took in what had happened. She turned and ran for help, but a leaf snapped shut around her as she brushed past.

The snap of closing leaves and screams of their victims rose all around me as the others rushed to help or fled for safety. The full leaves rose through the canopy, swollen green bodies swaying against the cloudless sky.

My heart was pounding. I wanted to run, to scream, but I forced myself to stay calm. I flattened against the ground and crawled between the stems, dodging the tendrils that curled out of the leaves, licking the ground as they searched for food. Whenever one came near I froze, hardly daring to breath in case I caught its attention. It was a couple hundred yards to the edge of the field, but getting there took the longest half hour of my life. Bad as it was hearing my friends’ screams, worse still was the gurgling that followed, as they disolved in the snappers’ digestive juices.

Dwight stood beyond the edge of the field, smoking a cheap cigarette and grinning to himself, a shotgun slung over his shoulder as he watched his crops getting fed. He didn’t see me crawl out from among the roots, covered as I was in dust. He didn’t even think to look for escapees, had clearly seen this a dozen times before and knew there was way out.

He knew wrong.

I crept around behind him, my footfalls masked by the horrible gurgling, a curved knife still in my hand. I grabbed his hair, yanked his head back and, in the moment before he could react, hooked the knife round his throat. It might have been blunt, but I was strong with anger and it was sharp enough for the job. I harvested one final fruit.

I found a lighter in Dwight’s pocket and an oil drum around back of his trailer. When I’d finished with them I ran, not looking back until dusk. When I finally turned I saw flames filling the snapper field, bright orange as the toxic ground. Burning as fiercely as my grief.

 

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‘Day Labour’ was first published in AlienSkin back in 2010. It’s also one of the stories in my science fiction collection Lies We Will Tell Ourselves, coming out on Monday – you can pre-order it for the Kindle now.

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NaNoWriMo update:

I’m writing this at 5.30om on Thursday, when I haven’t done my daily NaNo writing yet, but I’m pretty confident I will. I’m still a couple of days behind, but work is more under control and currently involves a couple of editing days, leaving my writing brain free for City of Blood and Steam, my NaNo novel. So maybe now’s the time to catch up.

It looks like I won’t be hitting the monstrous 200k writing all in that this month threatened. Editing days mean I won’t be writing quite so much on the freelance project, and I recycled an old story for today’s blog post. Still, we’re looking at over 150k in 30 days, including my 50k of NaNo, and I’m pretty much on track for that.

“I have no objection to truth,” I said, “but I enjoy untruths too, they’re the building blocks of human culture. Actors pretending to be kings, singers faking heartbreak or elation, novelists inventing heroes in their heads to escape the mindless dullards around them. Reality is a vast sea of tedium interrupted by brief flashes of the repugnant – why would anyone chain themselves to that?”

Lies - High Resolution

Coming out on 17 November, Lies We Will Tell Ourselves is the latest, and for now last, of my anthologies pulling together my previously published stories. This time it’s the turn of science fiction…

A spin doctor forced to deal with aliens who loath 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.

Includes:

  • How We Fall – trapped behind enemy lines, faith and duty clash for Sergeant Grund’s squad.
  • So Cold It Burns – long cut off from home, Gandpa Jo must decide the future of his frozen wife.
  • Distant Rain – the submarine Promethean hunts a mutant whale through a polluted Pacific.
  • Our Man In Herrje – Julius Atticus lives by lies, but can he defend them to the alien Gatherers?
  • Day Labour – a dark secret waits for the farm labourers of a distant world.
  • Digits – a robot finds his humanity in a hand.
  • The Extra Mile – race driver Geordie proves how far he’ll go to win.
  • Second Skin – stock trader Eddy’s symbiont has all the latest apps, including one no-one told him about.
  • The Harvest – as aliens devour the Earth, an anthropologist recognises an unsettling truth.

 

As an experiment in book marketing I want to try to get some reviews of this book up on Amazon on the day of release. So if you think you’ll have time to read around 20,000 words by 17 November (maybe a quarter of a novel’s worth) and you’re willing to write an honest review in return for free stories then drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll send you a free copy of the ebook. All I ask in return is that you do your best to read the book and leave a review and rating on Amazon on 17 November.

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NaNoWriMo update:

5306 words so far, so I’m on target. The detectives have their first lead, and I have to plan chapter two before I write any more.