New Central Station story, “Crabapple” now online

My latest Central Station story, Crabapple, is now online at Daily Science Fiction:

Neighborhoods sprouted around Central Station like weeds. On the outskirts of the old neighborhood, along the Kibbutz Galuyot Road and Siren Road and Sderot Menachem Begin, the old abandoned highways of Tel Aviv, they grew, ringing the immense structure of the spaceport rising high into the sky. Houses sprouted like trees, blooming, adaptoplant weeds feeding on rain and sun, and digging roots into the sandy ground, breaking ancient asphalt. Adaptoplant neighborhoods, seasonal, unstable, sprouting walls and doors and windows, half-open sewers hanging in the air, exposed bamboo pipes, apartments growing over and into each other, growing without order or sense, creating pavements suspended in midair, houses at crazy angles, shacks and huts with half-formed doors, windows like eyes–

In autumn the neighborhoods shed, doors drying, windows shrinking slowly, pipes drooping. Houses fell like leaves to the ground below and the road cleaning machines murmured happily, eating up the shrunken leaves of former residencies. Above ground the tenants of those seasonal buoyant suburbs stepped cautiously, testing the ground with each step taken, to see if it would hold, migrating nervously across the skyline to other, fresher spurts of growth, new adaptoplant blooming delicately, windows opening like fruit– continue reading.

Henry, Caesar of the Air

Daily Science Fiction have been publishing my novelette, Henry, Caesar of the Air, His Life and Times, or, The Book of Qat as a serial over a week through their e-mail list, but the story is now available in its entirety online.

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

This story has a curious origin. It is the last note of an unpublished novel about World War 2 in the South Pacific, a novel about Vanuatu mixing non-fiction, autobiography, and the story of a pilot arriving in the New Hebrides in the middle of that war. You won’t see that novel, but here, in lieu of an introduction to the story, a short exclusive extract explaining where Henry first came from.

Introduction to Henry, Caesar of the Air

I woke up in the night with Henry’s name beating like blood in my head. Vanua Lava, our second night there. Thunder covered the bay like a military blanket. A war was going on, the sound of explosions echoing and multiplying in the bay, from Sola to Port Patteson and back, and for a moment it was as if time had turned and it was the war again, Americans and Japanese fighting in the sky above.

Darkness, the mattress wet with our shared humidity. My throat was dry. On my skin, bites from the mosquitoes and fire ants. In the coming months we will learn that wounds don’t heal, collect upon ourselves a map of tiny, permanent scars. I lifted the edge of the mosquito net and slithered out. Darkness, rain slamming into the natangura roof, the wind blowing through the bamboo walls. A concrete floor, Henry in my head. I opened the door that separated our little cubicle of a bedroom from the rest of the hut. Lightning flashed outside. The waves of the South Pacific crashed against the shore, almost drowning the sound of thunder. I never knew the sea could be so loud. Trying to find a torch, matches, the hurricane lamp hanging from a crooked nail. Thinking, What the hell am I doing here? and not finding an answer, only Henry, still echoing in my head, demanding to be let out. Had he been trapped here as effectively as us? There is no way to get off an island. The nights on Vanua Lava are filled with ghosts, the vui, and they are restless. I must have used the torch. On the desk a paperback book and my pen and I wrote on the title page, the words from the dream: Henry, Caesar of the Air, His Life and Times. Dreams are as real as the waking hours, here. Sorcerous battles are fought in dreams: a bad dream means someone hemi spoilem yu, they put a curse on you. The vui, too, come in dreams: just as Henry did.

The smell of rain and ozone pushed in by the wind, through the weave of the walls and the windows torn into the hut. The wind shook the natangura roof and dropped fire-ants down like parachutists. I closed the book and edged my way back to bed, the sound of mortar fire all around me. You were there, sleeping but restless, and I lifted the net and climbed back into the small space, the old spongy wedge of a mattress, the bed of uneven planks hammered together in an afternoon, the pillows that smelled of fungus, the kind of humidity in the air that never goes away, where nothing ever properly dries.

Your skin was slicked with sweat. We slept. Who was Henry? And where does his story begin? In the morning the sun rose and as I stepped outside the clouds parted and the volcano appeared on the opposite side of the bay. The smoke of cooking fires was rising from the other end of Sola. Was I beginning to understand time as it passes here – low-tide, high-tide, full-moon, no-moon, the time the white fish come and the people of Sola line up on the broken jetty with bamboo rods, the time of planting pineapples, time as it is counted by the gathering of wild yams in the bush, by the movement of fish, by the light of the moon? I doubt I did, and I am not sure I understand it now, though I lived it. I wonder if Henry did. I think he might have, in the end.

You were boiling water for tea. In the night the rats had gotten into our food closet, though they could not get into the tins. I said, ‘We need a cat.’ You shook your head.

I know you were wondering what the hell we were doing there.

New Short Story: The Rush of the Wind and the Roar of the Engines, and the Call of the Open Road

My latest short story, The Rush of the Wind and the Roar of the Engines, and the Call of the Open Road, is now up at Daily Science Fiction!

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN GIANT ROBOTS.

Coming lower through the atmosphere one is greeted by a planetary-wide continental mass shining with countless neon signs and highway lights. The planet is crisscrossed by the interlocking and interweaving network of eight- and sixteen- and thirty-two-lane highways, dark tarmac lines like a Maori tattoo. Come lower, but be careful of the traffic in the skies–strange unfathomable machines from the Dawn of Time, from humanity’s careless youth!

There–an F-4 Phantom! There–an Eagle F-15! There the majestic Concorde rises, there a Jump Jet, there the F-16 Fighting Falcon!

You watch in the awe of religious fervor as these creatures soar through the air of Hasbro. Below, amidst the giant highways, lie the ports of the air, citywide assemblages of garages and landing strips and fueling points, the homes of these flying creatures.

But most of the planet is highway, the Way, in the old tongues of Earth. The Way of Hasbro. See them roar! See the Great Old Metal Ones on this, the shrine planet.

Dotted amidst and alongside the highways are petrol stations, temples for the visitors of the human worlds. Always the pilgrims come. The pilgrimage never stops. In ferries from the Earth worlds they come across space, to see and to worship and to seek counsel and wisdom. They come to marvel at these beings, these creatures, to hear that which is the most precious sound in all the universe.

Listen.

Can you hear it?

Descending lower, lower still. The Great Old Metal Ones roar across the open Ways, transforming. Sssshhh…

It is the sound of the engines, the sound of freedom, the sound of the world back when the world was young, and we were young together with it. – read the full story.

New Story: “The Stoker Memorandum”, at Daily Science Fiction

My latest short story, The Stoker Memorandum, is now up at Daily Science Fiction – it is set in the world of The Great Game and, in fact, partly drawn from the novel – a taster, if you will!

Warning: may contain Steampunk!

Abraham Stoker’s Journal

— From the archives of the Bureau of Secret Intelligence, Pall Mall, London, Classified Ultra, for Head of Bureau Eyes Only —

#

Bucharest

I had finally arrived at this city, with darkness gathering, casting upon the city a most unfavourable appearance. Having checked into my hotel I drank a glass of strong Romanian wine, accompanied by bear steak, which I am told they bring from the mountains at great expense. I had not enquired as for the recipe.

I am sitting in my room, watching the dance of gas light over the city. tomorrow I set off for the mountains, and as I write this I am filled with trepidation. I have decided to maintain this record of my mission. In the event anything were to happen to me, this journal may yet make its way, somehow, back to London.

Let me, therefore, record how I came to be at this barbarous and remote country, and the sorry tortuous route by which I came to my current predicament.

#

My name is Abraham Stoker, called Abe by some, Bram by others. I am a theatrical manager, having worked for the great actor Henry Irving for many years as his personal assistant, and, on his behalf, as manager of the Lyceum Theatre in Covent Garden.

I am not a bad man, nor am I a traitor.

Nevertheless, it was in the summer of 18—that I became an unwitting assistant to a grand conspiracy against our lizardine masters, and one which I was helpless to prevent.

It had began as a great triumph for my theatrical career. Due to a fight between the great librettist W.S. Gilbert and his long-time manager, Richard D’Oyly Carte, over – of all things – a carpet, I had managed to lure Gilbert and his collaborator, the composer Arthur Sullivan, to my own theatre from D’Oyly Carte’s Savoy. We were to stage their latest work, titled The Pirates of the Carib Sea, a rousing tale of adventure and peril. The first part, and forgive me if I digress, describes our lizardine masters’ awakening on Caliban’s Island, their journey with that foul explorer Amerigo Vespucci back to the British isle, their overthrowing of our human rulers and their assumption of the throne – a historical tale set to song in the manner only G&S could possibly do it.

In the second part, we encounter the mythical pirate Wyvern, the one-eyed royal lizard who – if the stories in the London Illustrated News can be believed – had abandoned his responsibilities to his race, the royal Les Lezards, to assume the life of a blood-thirsty pirate operating in the Carib Sea, between Vespuccia and the lands of the Mexica and Aztecs, and preying on the very trade ships of his own Everlasting Empire, under her royal highness Queen Victoria, the lizard-queen.

Irving himself played – with great success, I might add! – the notorious pirate, assuming a lizard costume of some magnificence, while young Beerbohm Tree played his boatswain, Mr. Spoons, the bald, scarred, enormous human who is – so they say – Wyvern’s right-hand-man.

It was at that time that a man came to see me in my office. He was a foreigner, and did not look wealthy or, indeed, distinguished.

‘My name,’ he told me, ‘is Karl May.’ – continue reading!

New story: “Passage” at Daily Science Fiction

My latest short story, Passage, is now online at Daily Science Fiction.

“Ol Man Amerika oli gat sam problem naoia,” Verity said.
Brett said, “What do you mean the Americans are having problems now?”
Brett was tall and lanky and white. He was a teacher. Verity said, “Oli gat wan samting olsem sik. Mi harem long radio.”
After six months on the island Brett’s Bislama still wasn’t all that good, though he was trying. He said, “there’s a sickness in America, and you heard it on the radio?”
“Si.”
Yes.
Brett went in search of a radio.
#
“Awo,” said Moses, the engineer. He had studied in New Zealand. “Hemi no gud tumas.”
That is very bad.
They were sitting in the nakamal, discussing the news. It was very dark and everyone spoke in hushed voices. They were drinking kava. The bark had to be peeled off the root and the roots then had to be chopped and minced and mixed with water. The resultant drink was brown and made the mouth numb and made everyone sensitive to sound and light.
Hence the darkness and the hushed voices.
“I tried to phone home today,” Brett said. He was smoking a cigarette to try and counter the taste of the kava. “But I couldn’t get through.”
“Hemi wan nogud nakaimas,” Moses said.
“This is bad… this is bad magic?”
“Si.”
He had listened to the news, but the only radio station they could get was from the Solomon Islands. They had said some sort of virus had spread across America, and it was turning people into–it wasn’t clear what.
“Ol man I kakai man,” the Solomon Radio announcer said. Which meant cannibal…
It was hard to believe people back home were actually eating each other. But the news spoke of chaos, of mindless drones shuffling down main roads, biting and tearing flesh, infecting others in their turn.
A plague.
Wan sik I nogud.
“Do you want another round?” Moses said. – continue reading.

The Three Laws of Zombie

My latest short story, The Three Laws of Zombie, is now online at Daily Science Fiction. My thanks to Nir Yaniv for his help in formulating the three laws. Incidentally, the story was conceived and written exactly a year ago! We were hanging around a book stall in Israeli Book Week, supposedly to sign copies of the Hebrew edition of The Tel Aviv Dossier, and we ended up with the idea of a zombie Asimov robot and, almost immediately afterwards, to the Three Laws. I possibly have that piece of paper with them scribbled on it, somewhere around…

Anyway, check it out!

The first time I saw a zombie was at McDonald’s. It tried to attack the cashier. An angry mob turned on the zombie. It stood between them and a Happy Meal. They beat the crap out of that thing. Green rotten brain splutters hit the plastic counter and it smelled worse than it usually smells at McDonald’s. By the time it was dead for good I had lost my appetite.

Zombies weren’t good for business.

In the following weeks every major fast-food chain had hired guards to stand outside, big fellah bouncers in non-threatening company colours and brightly-coloured shotguns. Don’t matter what colour a shotgun is when it blows your brains out.

They also hired extra cleaners. The new company standard was despatch-remove-clean in under a minute, or you could claim a free meal.

Everyone likes a free meal at McDonald’s.

KFC had a major embarrassment when old Colonel Sanders came back from beyond the grave looking like a half-cooked fried chicken past its sell-by-date. And when the whole zombie thing really took off, and Micky D had to face hordes of zombie Ronald McDonalds in feeding frenzies across the country, mass layoffs were a continuous problem.

I don’t know what happened with Wendy’s. I never went to Wendy’s. – continue reading.