TMoRP Day 18 – Absent Friends

We lost a beloved member of the extended family this week. Norbit has been the canine member of my brother’s family for more or less as long as their eldest boy.

Norbit’s go-to move for attention

Norbit was a bitsa Stafforshire bull terrier, with a lovely companionable demeanour, spotty white hair and doleful brown eyes that always made him look sadder than I suspect he ever was.

He was also deaf as a post. Right from birth, if I recall correctly. He didn’t come when you called him (I always forgot, at least once per visit, and invariably looked like a doofus sitting around calling for Norbie to come and get a scratch). If you wanted to communicate with him, you had to use sign language. I never got past the basics, but Norbit was always very patient with me. And he knew I was usually good for a scratch or a belly rub, which probably helped.

He was wonderful with kids, and helped raise a family of three, often by being an unflappable playmate, a good ball chaser or a very comfortable pillow. Even when he started to get on in years, he never let the kids get far out of sight.Though if he could stand watch while sleeping on my brother’s feet, that was his preference.

My kids only got to see him on holidays, but to them he was as much a part of the household as any of their cousins.

They don’t know he’s gone yet. I haven’t worked out how to break it to them. I’m having trouble breaking it to myself.

I’m sad right now – ugly-crying, if I’m honest – but only for those of us left behind. Norbs had a good life, give or take the odd bump and scrape and occasional misadventure, and it was never a chore to enjoy his affectionate, easy-going nature. (Well, maybe that time he ate my brother’s copy of Consider Phlebas, but who among us hasn’t wanted to chew up a good book from time to time?)

Goodbye Norbit. You’ll be sorely missed and always loved, you great lump.

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TMoRP Day 17 – Reading as Resistance

Most of the time when I talk about relentless positivity, I mean it in the cheerful, bubbly, this-thing-gives-me-joy sense. But to me it’s an expression with another aspect. The other side of the coin is determination to keep going in the face of darkness. This week I’ve read the most extraordinary essay about reading and writing fiction as a tool for navigating and surviving real-world horror.

I’m sure I’ve already talked about Uncanny Magazine, which is one of my favorite speculative fiction mags. Editors Lynne M Thomas and Damien Michael Thomas have a keen eye for beautiful, poetic, mythic fiction, and the stories they choose are invariably among my favourites of the year.

But Uncanny also has a powerful line in non-fiction essays, both about and at the margins of science fiction and fantasy literature, community and debate. They have always had a particular bent towards progressive politics and various social justice themes; over the last year or two they and their editorial team have not flinched in magnifying voices speaking to those themes.

Which brings me to “The Shape of the Darkness As It Overtakes Us” by Dimas Ilaw.

This is an extraordinary essay by a Filipino writer about the horrors of living through sudden and drastic increases in state-sanctioned violence and the dismantling of institutional governance. It’s long, and it is by no means an easy read (content warning for discussion of numerous real-world murders), but it is, I think, essential reading. (Backup content warning – the essay will probably make you very, very sad). It’s about recognising the darkness but also about looking for ways to escape and find hope and strength.

The story does not change things. But it makes the darkness bearable. It allows us to pretend enough to stand. And keep walking.

It’s not enough to be aware of the darkness – however you perceive it – and to rally against it even as it threatens to destroy you and everything you love. You also need to have a plan to survive it, to keep on going in the face of crushing adversity, to make yourself costly to erase and to be relentless.

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TMoRP Day 16 – Publication!

I’m very pleased to announce that my short story “Burn the Future” is set to appear in the next issue of Andromeda Spaceways Magazine.

Cover of the previous issue of ASM, which doesn’t feature my name

ASM is an Australian speculative fiction magazine (now digital-only) which features a rotating cast of editors highlighting some great science fiction and fantasy. My story will appear in Issue 69*, due out on the 4th of December,  as edited by the esteemed Tom Dullemond.

“Burn the Future” is a post-apocalyptic survival story set in the demolished remains of a magical military academy. It features probably the weirdest magic I’ve ever come up with. If you’ve been enjoying my flash fiction stories, pick up the next issue of ASM for a taste of something longer, as well as some other great stories. His selection of my work notwithstanding, Tom has excellent taste and I look forward to seeing the fruits of his curation.

It’s always exciting when I get to put a name and date to my sometimes vague announcements about story sales. If you read it, let me know what you think!

* Nice, huh?
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TMoRP Day 15 – Cards Against Humanity Saves America

I’m not actually a huge fan of Cards Against Humanity, a card game that sort of mashes up Blankety Blanks with risque, politically incorrect subversion. I find its encouragement of transgressive humour all too often crosses the line into blatant and nasty bigotry, and I don’t particularly need that in my casual entertainment. This is not an endorsement of the game itself.

One of the tamer possible CAH scenarios

But I really, really like the people who make CAH. Their latest stunt is, at least on the surface, a masterpiece of punching up, trolling the Powers That Be with sublime resolve.

Cards Against Humanity Saves America is a fund-raising effort – now completely sold out after only two or three days – to buy up a piece of vacant land in the projected path of US President Trump’s Mexican border wall. They intend to use the money to hire “a law firm specialising in eminent domain to make it as expensive and time-consuming as possible” for the government to acquire the land from them.

I like inventive forms of protest, especially when they take an obnoxious attitude towards grotesque, unthinkingly malicious politicians. This one made me smile.

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Friday flash fiction – Nightfall Will Be Coming Soon

The first sign is the face burned into Hector Munoz’s morning toast.

He thinks of Jesus and crosses himself, but the scorched face doesn’t look like the statue on his mother’s mantle. It doesn’t even look like a brown Jew from the Middle East. It’s an Asian man, kind of a plain appearance with a boring haircut. Nobody he knows, not spiritually nor on Facebook.

Hector checks the toaster’s settings but nothing’s wrong. While he waits for the House AI to run a virus check, he eats the toast. It’s softer than he prefers but it’s fine.

The Dolphins are playing Baltimore this week. Odds are good that Miami’s going to pound the hated Ravens into the dirt this season. Hector settles into his couch to watch the game.

Right on the kickoff, the TV screen blanks out. Every channel dead. It takes Hector forty-five minutes on the phone to the cable company to work out how to reconnect the signal. When he does, Baltimore is up by 28 points and Miami’s promising new running back is being stretchered off with his foot turned the wrong direction. Hector sighs and switches off again.

It’s a nice day, not too cool. Before he moved into the smart house he would have mown the lawn. But it doesn’t need trimming; the landscape management routines dispatch the remote mower before the grass has a chance to look shaggy. If anything, the lawn is even shorter and tidier than usual.

Hector drains his beer and takes a walk. He needs to clear his head. He thought the game would distract him. It’s the anniversary of the accident that almost killed him. The details nip at his heels. The sheeting rain; the oncoming headlights; the sickening lurch across three lanes and through a guard rail. Then into a roll, and upside down when he came to. The CD was stuck, playing those same damn lines of Tom Petty over and over: “Nightfall will be coming soon. Oh my my. Oh hell yes.”

He’s really not the superstitious type. But Hector hung head-down, arms pinned by his seatbelt, for eight hours before they cut him out of his car. Eight hours of blood in his ears and that song on an endless loop.

Hector walked away, unscratched but not unscathed. When the car was scrapped he made sure the Tom Petty CD was still in it. He hasn’t wanted to hear the guy since.

When he gets back, a delivery drone from the grocery store is lifting off from his front porch. He unpacks the foam crate on the kitchen bench. At first he thinks, “This isn’t my order.” Vacuum packed noodles, sauces he doesn’t know, two whole frozen fish. A case of a brand of beer he’s never heard of with a label he can’t read. But the store hasn’t made a mistake; the House logs match the delivery docket.

“House, query,” he says. “Why did you order this stuff?”

Polite and neutral, the house replies, “The order is consistent with the historical shopping preferences of the resident.”

“Well, now, that ain’t so. And why’s it so cold in here?” He checks the menu displayed on the lounge wall. Hector likes a balmy summer warmth. It’s ten degrees south of there.

“Temperature settings are consistent with the historical preferences of the resident.”

“The hell they are.”

Damn glitchy House AI, needing a technician. Service fees are double on the weekends. Besides, he’s read the manuals. “House, instruction. Restore factory settings and prepare for new resident profile data.”

A full reboot will cost the rest of his afternoon, switching off options and tweaking his preferences. Not a bad distraction.

Hector cracks a beer as he scrolls through menus on the wall panel. It’s a lager, too bitter. “House, acknowledge. This voice belongs to resident Hector Munoz. Sole resident. Acknowledge.”

The House AI’s chirp is non-committal. “Do you want to play back your saved programs?”

Without waiting for a response, the television bursts into life again. Two handsome white people are demolishing a run-down house while a voiceover discusses breathing new life into old neighbourhoods. The screen corner watermark is for a channel Hector doesn’t subscribe to.

“What the heck is this?”

“This is Gentrifying Missoula with Harmony and Jeff, season two, episode fourteen.”

“I hate home improvement shows. Switch back to my game,” says Hector.

The channel changes to a bald old white stock analyst giving a report on the financial markets. Not the game.


The channel switches to a pair of photogenic anchors engaged in a lightning fast exchange of Chinese or Korean or something thereabouts.

“Well, shoot.” Hector finishes his beer, gagging. He must have screwed the pooch on those settings. Best leave it to the technicians after all.

The House AI has prepared spicy noodles. The flavours are all wrong but he’s too tired to care. “House, prepare my bed.”

“Your pyjamas are on the sideboard.”

Hector always sleeps buck naked. “My what?” A light blue cotton dressing gown and drawstring shorts are right by the bed. He feels strangely self-conscious stripping off his clothes.

The bed feels lumpy and wrong. He doesn’t need to ask the House AI whether the memory foam mattress has forgotten his body shape, but he asks anyway. “Contour settings are consistent with the physiological profile of the resident. Do you want your sleep playlist?”

Hector tries to sit up but the mattress sinks beneath his hands. “I don’t have no -”

Tom Petty’s nasal croon fills the darkness. It’s the same song. The same broken refrain.

Hector waits for the kick of adrenalin, the spike of fear to get him moving, get him up and out of bed and out of this house.

It doesn’t come. His eyes don’t want to open. His head feels light. Hector can’t hold sleep off.

“Nightfall will be coming soon,” sings Tom.

“Resident profile reset complete,” says House. “Good night, Doctor Yang. Tomorrow is a new day.”

This entry was started a few weeks ago, and obviously the unexpected death of Tom Petty influenced the direction it took. The song it’s referring to is “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It’s not one of my Petty faves, but it’s suitably maudlin and creepy, and fit nicely with the tone. (By the way I don’t recommend the video clip either, it’s creepy and wrong all over, better listened to than watched…)
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