Tag: earth

Short Story Saturday: Flock by Mike Russell

Short Story Saturday: Flock by Mike Russell

This week’s short story is Mike Russell’s Flock, one of eight short stories in Strange Medicine.




Anthony Tobias Bradshaw sits, as usual, on the 7:00 a.m. train, on his way to work. Dressed in his black raincoat, pin-striped suit, white shirt, black tie and black shoes, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw reads the morning newspaper, either nodding or shaking his head in agreement or disagreement with the various articles. Each movement of his head, be it a nod or a shake, maintains and strengthens who it is that Anthony Tobias Bradshaw believes himself to be.

‘Why does he continue to go to work?’ is a question that many people have whispered behind the back of Anthony Tobias Bradshaw; not because Anthony Tobias Bradshaw is past retirement age and in receipt of a pension (though he is) but because the business for which Anthony Tobias Bradshaw continues to work closed down twelve years ago.

If anyone were to ask Anthony Tobias Bradshaw why he continues to diligently repeat the same administrative tasks, Monday to Friday, nine to five, in an abandoned office building, for a business that no longer exists, he would undoubtedly reply:

‘Because I am Anthony Tobias Bradshaw. That is what I do.’

The train slows to a halt. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw lays his newspaper on his lap and peers out of the window. The station that Anthony Tobias Bradshaw sees is not his destination. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw looks at his watch; his destination is not due for another twenty-seven minutes. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shakes his head.


‘Yes, sir?’ the young guard replies, rushing through the carriage towards Anthony Tobias Bradshaw, eager to be of service.

‘This is the 7:00 a.m. non-stop train, is it not?’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw asks.

‘Yes, sir,’ the guard answers. ‘This is the 7:00 a.m. train and it is non-stop.’

The guard smiles, happy that he has been able to help. Before Anthony Tobias Bradshaw can ask the guard why then, if the train is non-stop, has it just stopped, the guard walks on through the carriage with the satisfied feeling of a job well done.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shakes his head then picks up his newspaper and resumes reading. Whilst Anthony Tobias Bradshaw reads, the carriage doors open and an elderly woman in a multi-coloured shawl steps onto the train. She walks towards Anthony Tobias Bradshaw and sits in the seat opposite him.

The carriage doors shut and the train continues on its way.

The elderly woman stares at Anthony Tobias Bradshaw.

‘In the future,’ the woman says, ‘I remember a man like you.’

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw slowly lowers his newspaper.

‘I am sorry, madam, are you talking to me?’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw enquires, knowing perfectly well that she is but wanting the woman to understand just how impertinent it is of her to be doing so.

The woman ignores Anthony Tobias Bradshaw’s question and says:

‘One day, the man realised that he wasn’t a man at all but that he was, in fact, sixteen birds. At the moment of realisation, the birds all suddenly took flight, each one flying off in a completely different direction.’

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw slowly shakes his head.

‘Is that so?’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw says. ‘And what exactly is it that you are attempting to communicate to me by sharing this little work of fiction, this little fairy story, hmm? I presume that you intend it to have some sort of symbolic function, though I really cannot see what on Earth that might be.’

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw waits for an answer but the woman simply stares at him with an expression that clearly shows her disdain for everything he has just said. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shakes his head then returns to his newspaper.

The 7:00 a.m. non-stop train eventually reaches its destination, the extra stop somehow not having added any time to the journey, and Anthony Tobias Bradshaw packs his newspaper away in his briefcase, shakes his head one last time at the elderly woman in the multi-coloured shawl who is still staring at him with the same expression, then Anthony Tobias Bradshaw stands up, steps off the train and walks towards the derelict building in which he works.


Anthony Tobias Bradshaw enters a large room filled with rows of empty, dust-covered desks and empty, dust-covered chairs. Though all of the desks and chairs are identical, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw always works at the same desk, his desk, and sits on the same chair, his chair, both of which are significantly less dust-covered and are situated at the far end of the room. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw walks to his desk, removes his coat and hangs it on the back of his chair, sits down and opens his briefcase.

‘I should not have even entered into conversation with her,’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw says aloud to himself. ‘I should have just shaken my head then ignored her. That is what I should have done. To even entertain the possibility that such nonsense has meaning is a weakness that leaves oneself open to attack.’

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw feels a breeze, looks around him and sees an open window. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shakes his head, reprimanding himself for not having closed the window the previous day. He hears a rustling sound coming from the waste-paper bin beneath his desk, looks inside the bin and sees a pigeon flapping about amongst the screwed up newspapers. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shakes his head.

‘This is what happens,’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw says aloud, ‘when one leaves just the tiniest opening.’

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw opens his desk drawer and removes a pair of scissors, a ball of string and a bulldog-clip. Using the scissors, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw cuts a one metre length of string from the ball. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw then ties one end of the length of string to the bulldog-clip. The other end of the string, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw ties to the paperweight that is sitting on his desk. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw then reaches into the waste-paper bin, takes hold of the pigeon, attaches the bulldog-clip to one of its legs, carries it to the centre of the room, sets the paperweight down on the floor, then lets go of the pigeon. The tethered bird flies about frantically, pulling on the weighted string, unable to escape. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw walks back to his desk, sits down, watches the bird for a while, nodding in satisfaction, then begins his usual daily tasks.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw works through the day, pausing only at midday to eat a cheese and tomato sandwich that he bought, as usual, from the newsagents in the station that morning, then at 5:00 p.m. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw closes his briefcase, puts on his coat and leaves the office, ensuring before he does so that all of the windows are firmly shut.


At the station, as usual, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw buys the evening newspaper, then catches the 6:00 p.m. train. On the train, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw sits reading the evening newspaper, nodding or shaking his head at the various articles. The 6:00 p.m. train travels to its destination on time without incident.

‘Hello, Celia,’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw calls as he enters his house.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw closes the door behind him, sets down his briefcase, hangs up his coat and removes his shoes.

‘Hello, Celia,’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw calls again.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw’s wife always has a hot meal waiting for him when he arrives home. The meal always consists of meat, potatoes and three vegetables on a large, white, china plate with cutlery and condiments, positioned at the far end of the dining table. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw’s wife always eats before Anthony Tobias Bradshaw gets home because Anthony Tobias Bradshaw prefers to eat alone.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw enters the dining room.

Instead of the usual one large, white, china plate at the end of the table, there are sixteen small, white, china plates covering the whole of the table. There is no cutlery, no condiments and each plate, instead of containing a hot meal, has in its centre a small pile of seeds.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shakes his head.

‘Celia!’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shouts. ‘What’s going on? Is this a joke?’

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw walks into the kitchen. His wife is not there. In the middle of the kitchen table is a large packet of birdseed.

‘Celia!’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shouts.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw walks upstairs. His wife is nowhere to be seen. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw walks back downstairs, enters the living room and sits in his armchair, shaking his head again and again whilst waiting for his wife to appear. When the clock strikes midnight and his wife is still nowhere to be seen, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw walks back into the dining room, picks up the sixteen small plates, takes them into the kitchen, pours the birdseed into the bin and puts the plates away in the cupboard. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw then walks upstairs and goes to bed.


The next day, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw sits again on the 7:00 a.m. train and reads the morning newspaper, nodding or shaking his head at the various articles, then nodding his head with particular vigour when the train arrives at its destination without having made any erroneous stops.

Inside his office, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw nods in satisfaction at the tethered pigeon, then walks to his desk, removes his coat and hangs it on the back of his chair, sits down, opens his briefcase and begins the day’s tasks. As usual, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw works through the day, pausing only at midday to eat a cheese and tomato sandwich, then at 5:00 p.m. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw closes his briefcase, puts on his coat, leaves the office and walks to the station. There, he buys the evening newspaper, then catches the 6:00 p.m. train home.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw closes the door to his house behind him, sets down his briefcase, hangs up his coat, removes his shoes, then calls:


There is no answer. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw enters the dining room. Sixteen small plates cover the dining table as before, each with a small pile of birdseed in its centre. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shakes his head then picks up his briefcase and stomps upstairs.

In the bedroom, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw undresses in front of a full-length mirror. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw shakes his head at his naked reflection, then opens his briefcase and removes a bulldog-clip. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw attaches the clip to the end of his tongue. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw produces another clip from his briefcase and attaches it to the end of his nose. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw produces two more clips and attaches one to each of his ears. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw produces more clips, attaching one to each of his eyebrows, one to each of his nipples, one to the back of each of his hands, one to each of his thighs, one to each of his knees and one to the top of each of his feet.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw then produces from his briefcase a pair of scissors and a ball of string from which he cuts sixteen lengths. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw attaches a length of string to each of the bulldog-clips that now adorn his body.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw looks at his reflection and nods.

‘But how to harness them?’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw says aloud.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw searches his reflection, then finds the perfect solution. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw ties each of the loose ends of string to his penis. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw nods in satisfaction, then puts on his pyjamas and goes to bed.


In the morning, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw wakes at the usual time, washes, dresses, walks downstairs and puts on his shoes and coat, picks up his briefcase, then leaves his house and walks to the station. The bulldog-clips and strings mean that Anthony Tobias Bradshaw has to walk rather carefully but, other than slowing him down a little, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw does not find them too troublesome.

‘The usual, sir?’ asks the newsagent, deciding not to mention the entirely obvious pieces of stationery attached to Anthony Tobias Bradshaw’s face and the connected strings that disappear down into Anthony Tobias Bradshaw’s collar.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw nods, then hands over the exact money for his copy of the morning newspaper and his cheese and tomato sandwich.

On the 7:00 a.m. train, only the young guard shows any sign of noticing Anthony Tobias Bradshaw’s peculiar adornments, and even then his only reaction is a brief expression of concerned shock, which is quickly and professionally replaced by a congenial and un-judgemental smile.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw arrives at his office, nods at the tethered pigeon, walks to his desk, removes his coat and hangs it on the back of his chair, sits down, opens his briefcase and begins the day’s tasks. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw works until 5:00 p.m., pausing only at midday to eat (with some difficulty) his cheese and tomato sandwich, then Anthony Tobias Bradshaw leaves the office, walks to the station, buys the evening newspaper and catches the 6:00 p.m. train home.


In his house, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw enters the dining room, clears away the sixteen new plates of birdseed, sits in his armchair in the living room until midnight, then walks upstairs to bed.

In the bedroom, Anthony Tobias Bradshaw stands in front of the full-length mirror and undresses. Anthony Tobias Bradshaw nods in satisfaction at the fact that all of the clips and strings are still in place. Then Anthony Tobias Bradshaw turns around and gasps.

‘Celia!’ Anthony Tobias Bradshaw says.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw’s wife is lying in the bed. She is wearing her multi-coloured shawl.

‘Turn the light out, dear,’ she says as if she has not been absent for the past two days and nothing is amiss.

Anthony Tobias Bradshaw stands and looks at his wife. He feels as if he has not seen her for longer than two days; he feels as if he has not really seen her for years. He is overwhelmed by her beauty, by the beauty of who she is, of who she really is, and Anthony Tobias Bradshaw experiences his first erection in twenty-five years accompanied by the noise of sixteen bulldog-clips snapping shut as they are all pulled at once from their various locations. The bedroom is filled with the sound of fluttering wings and that which used to call itself Anthony Tobias Bradshaw feels utterly fantastic.

Interview With Leonora Meriel

Interview With Leonora Meriel

The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel
The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel
Interview with Leonora Meriel

Do you write alone or in public?
I write both – depending on where I can achieve the most undisturbed writing session. If I am alone in the house, then I will write by candlelight on the sofa. If there’s a chance of people pulling me out of my writing world, I’ll escape to a café and find a corner to hide in with a large cup of coffee.

The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel
The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel

What are your books about?
My books so far are about the meaning of something. My first novel was about the meaning of happiness – what it is to a young child, to someone who has got their life wrong, looking back on a lifetime. My second novel was about the meaning of life on Earth – our patterns, motivations, structures – it was an exploration of the question rather than offering answers. In the novels I’m currently writing, I’m exploring themes of society, belonging, peace, spirituality, technology and culture. I like to write about themes and questions that have no limits to how deep you can explore them – and also no clear answers. It means that your work will be part of a conversation and a wider exploration.

• What is your favourite part of The Unity Game?
My favourite character in The Unity Game is the genderless energy channeller who boards a space vessel so that it can prolong its lifetime. My readers are really divided about whether they love this character and want more (about 20%) or whether they find this character slow, abstract and frustrating (about 80%). It was the hardest part of the novel to write, as I had to strip out any references to gender or time, and still create coherent sentences. So, my favourite part in the novel is when Noe-bouk (the character) discovers that despite thinking that it has been free and enlightened all of its life, it has in fact done nothing but obey the dry and passionless law of logic. Then it realises the potential of experience there is to be had in the universe. I hope that I will one day have a life re-evaluation on this scale.

Leonora Meriel
Leonora Meriel

Do your characters seem to hijack the story or do you feel like you have the reigns during the whole writing process?
In this novel, The Unity Game, my characters and I were in agreement about where they wanted to go, and my original vision of the novel was fairly close to the end result. In my first novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall, however, my characters had quite different ideas and I had to change a good portion to accommodate what they wanted to do. Once their personality has settled, during a first draft, my characters are entirely independent.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
What fun it is! There is a great stereotype of tortured creative souls living in misery and eking out livings and masterpieces while having disastrous relationships and miserable lives (did I make that up?). However, having your work out in the public is enormous fun. People read it and comment on it. Some hate it and write long tracts on why, and what – which is fascinating! I agree with a lot of it. Some love it and are incredibly moved by it. Wow. There are book blogs, there are fans, there are readers, there are other writers. All I have ever wanted to do is write, and now I am in a heaving, wild, living community of readers and writers. It’s wonderful.

The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel
The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel

Are there any websites or resources that have been helpful to you as a writer?
An amazing website I used for The Unity Game is Sky Map Online. There were some specific references to constellations in The Unity Game, and with this website, I was able to see the exact configuration of the sky from a specific place in the world, on a specific day in the past. Extraordinary! I believe this is the website used by the hugely talented Eleanor Catton in her Booker-award winning The Luminaries, which is structured around the constellations and set during the 1800s. Even if it’s not a feature in your novel – it’s fun to see what the stars were like on the day of your birth, or on the date of your character’s most important event.

Leonora Meriel
Leonora Meriel

What genre do you consider your books to be in? Have you considered writing in another genre?
I consider my novels to be Literary Fiction, in the sense that they are written with the intention of being serious, high-quality fiction, and contributing to the body of literature in the world. As sub-genres, my first novel was magical realism, and my second novel was speculative science fiction. I certainly hope to try a wide range of genres during my writing career – I’m currently writing a piece of literary fiction, and trying to keep it on the Earth, with no magic – my personal challenge. I’m also writing a children’s book and a poetic novella. As I writer I plan to grow and expand and challenge myself until the very last word I write.

Who is the most famous person you have ever met?
I’ve met the author David Mitchell at a book reading in London, and he was wonderful, funny, erudite and inspiring. I also knew the Ukrainian writer Andrey Kurkov when I lived in Kyiv. When I worked at the United Nations, I was present at the Millennium Assembly in 1999, and was thus in close proximity to every world leader of the time, however I was too shy and lowly to introduce myself to any.

If you could write about anyone (fictional/non-fictional) who would you write about?
I am writing about the people I want to write about. Socrates decided he wanted to make an appearance in The Unity Game, so he snuck in there with Plato. I’m currently re-reading some Albert Camus, and I have a feeling he is going to get a cameo, especially as one of my current characters lives in Paris. There are several Ukrainian characters I’m interested in also, such as the writer Lesya Ukrainka. I’d be surprised if she didn’t turn up soon. With fiction, you can do anything!

The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel
The Unity Game and The Woman Behind the Waterfall by Leonora Meriel

Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?
I’d say – please look at our relationship as just that – a relationship. I write the books, but you are a critical part of the equation as the readers of the books, the writers of the reviews, the hosts of the book blogs, the whisperers of recommendations and the requests to local bookshops to stock a great book you’ve just discovered. I have the power to create worlds (you do too!) but you have the power to create success for a writer. I’d like to thank each and every reader for that, and to say – please don’t underestimate your role in a writer’s life and career. Thank you!


The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel

The Unity Game by Leonora Meriel

The Unity Game



A New York banker is descending into madness.
A being from an advanced civilization is racing to stay alive.
A dead man must unlock the secrets of an unknown dimension to save his loved ones.

From the visions of Socrates in ancient Athens, to the birth of free will aboard a spaceship headed to Earth, The Unity Game tells a story of hope and redemption in a universe more ingenious and surprising than you ever thought possible.

Metaphysical thriller and interstellar mystery, this is a ‘complex, ambitious and thought-provoking novel’ from an exciting and original new voice in fiction.

Read more on Goodreads.

My thoughts:


This is the second book that I’ve read by Leonora Meriel, the first being The Woman Behind the Waterfall. It has cemented my views that she’s a great writer, particularly because the two books are just so different. For this reason, I really don’t think I could say which I enjoyed the most – they’re too different to compare.

The Unity Game is written in rotating sections, a style that I always enjoy reading, covering a host of very diverse characters. Some characters, such as David, a New York banker, are explored heavily, whilst others remain somewhat mysterious. Whether you’ve read The Woman Behind the Waterfall or not, I would highly recommend reading The Unity Game.

Spoilers (scroll past the cover image if you’ve already read this book and want to compare notes!)


David is such a well-written character. I felt true hatred and disgust towards him at times, particularly in his more violent sexual scenes, but I also managed to always want to understand what he was going through. Why was he doing these things? Was he going to be ok? Truthfully, I really liked him and found him to be a very believable character. His dream scenes were probably my favourite sections of the book.

Alisdair’s experiences were really interesting to me. I didn’t care about him so much and I’m not sure we’re really supposed to, but it was fascinating to imagine being in his shoes in the after-life that exists in the novel. It could almost be a starting point for one of Stephen Baxter’s immense short story collections, like Vacuum Diagrams or one of the Xeelee books.

The story of the alien pair was so very emotional but also strangely flat. I don’t mean that as an insult to the storytelling but more as a compliment to the range of feelings which are shown throughout the book. David’s life and experiences are so vivid and action-packed and here are these two beings… on a mammoth task yes, but ultimately experiencing something very basic.

I was a little bit disappointed that Elspeth wasn’t in the story more, but I can see why the novel needed to focus more on David. At least she got her wonderful ending!


Thank you for reading this review! I hope it inspires you to try one of Leonora Meriel’s books because they really are great reads.

Review: People of the Sun by Jason Parent (2017)

Review: People of the Sun by Jason Parent (2017)

People of the Sun by Jason Parent

327 pages

On a mission to save their race from extinction, four aliens leave their home for the first time. Unfortunately for them, they end up on Earth. Facing problem after problem, we follow these characters on their adventure in a hostile world. Although the aliens are in awe of our beautiful planet, they’re bemused and soon disgusted as they begin to learn more about the human race.

I really enjoyed this book and it was never a chore to read. It’s dark, but not miserable; it has some horror elements, but it’s fun and uplifting. Although humans are portrayed in a less than favourable light in this story, the best character is a kind-hearted Earth-dweller named Connor. Likewise, although the alien race have evolved to become non-violent beings, one of the four, Kazi, starts to become power-crazed and dangerous as he absorbs the knowledge of thousands of humans.

And so, Connor slowly becomes far more compassionate than most of his race are capable of, and Kazi rapidly becomes the first of his race (in memory) to show truly hateful behaviour. How will the other aliens and humans react?


Above: author, Jason Parent

Early in the story, the aliens also have to come to terms with the likelihood that their planet and race no longer exist. The book is easily comparable to real-life situations of displacement and emigration. More importantly, it raises mirrors and questions how various societies welcome these individuals.


People of the Sun is an intelligent, exciting science fiction thriller. The story is never predictable, nor does it jump to unbelievable twists. It’s wonderful to read a book in this genre that doesn’t feel like a cheap rip-off of any sci-fi classic (at least, not one that I’ve read!). I definitely recommend giving this a read.

I look forward to reading more by this civil litigator turned sci-fi author!

People of the Sun is published by Sinister Grin Press and is available in paperback and for Kindle. The publishers sent me a copy of the book in exchange for a 100% honest review.


Stupid Humans

Stupid Humans

Today we have a guest post and book feature from author V. R. Craft.

What If All the Intelligent People Escaped Earth—and We’re What’s Left?

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like without idiots? I have, and it inspired me to write my first science fiction book, Stupid Humans.

I had been writing science fiction short stories for a while, and had attempted to write a couple books, but nothing had clicked novel-wise. Then one day I was at my job in hell, otherwise known as retail. A customer came to the register with a package of cardboard bankers’ boxes, which was shrink-wrapped and didn’t appear to have been opened.

She pointed at the label, which clearly said, “6-pack.” “This says ‘six pack.’ Does that mean there’s more than one in here?”

The question was so stupid, I didn’t know how to answer without getting written up for being rude to an idiot, er, valued guest. I wanted to suggest she count to six on her fingers, but stupid people almost always complain to management when they fail to appreciate sarcasm.

Finally, with as straight a face as I could manage, I said, “Yes, there are six boxes…in the six pack of boxes.”

She wasn’t even the dumbest person I waited on that day.

That night, as I was running on the treadmill and trying to burn off the stress of my annoying day, I thought about how nice it would be if I could round up all the idiots and ship them to another planet somewhere. How much more could the rest of us accomplish if we weren’t answering stupid questions all day? How awesome would our technology be if smart people were never interrupted by idiots. What would a society of only smart people look like? I bet there wouldn’t be any warning labels telling us coffee is hot.


My fantasy had a big problem: Based on my observations of people at work, there are far more idiots in the world than smart people. From a logistical standpoint, it would make more sense to leave the idiots here and move the intelligent humans somewhere else—let the dumb people have Earth.

And that’s when I thought, that would make an interesting setting for a book.

Then I remembered a previous story idea involving a journalist, a space station, and a war between the humans and some aliens. It never went anywhere because I had zero creative ideas for what the aliens looked like, what their society was like, and why they were at war with humans. I couldn’t think of anything that didn’t seem corny, cliched, or like something that had already been done on Star Trek.

That’s when the lightbulb went off. Humans have never needed aliens to start a war. What if all the intelligent humans did leave Earth—and we’re what’s left? (That would explain a lot of people I’ve met.) What if the intelligent humans ditched Earth, moved to another solar system, and were living happily ever after when the rest of us finally tracked them down?

By the time I got off the treadmill, I had the world for Stupid Humans.



What if all the intelligent humans abandoned Earth… and we’re what’s left? Samantha is a journalist who travels through the wormhole to New Atlantis and discovers that embarrassing reality when she meets the People, humanity’s more intelligent—and smugly superior—distant relatives. Unfortunately, thanks to humanity’s penchant for fighting, a Human/People conflict is brewing. She could almost forget she’s not on Earth, except the People have tails and don’t slap idiot warning labels on everything.

Plagued by anti-Human sentiment on New Atlantis and unwilling to return to Earth, Samantha moves to the Five Alpha, the space station closest to the wormhole, where Human—and People—stupidity lurks around every corner. Then the conflict worsens, causing concern for the security of the wormhole—and its closest neighbor. Naturally, politicians from both sides decide they can provide a diplomatic solution by holding peace talks on the station.

When sabotage puts both Five Alpha and her only route back to Earth in jeopardy, everyone blames Samantha—including a manipulative politician with her own agenda—forcing her to fight to uncover who is plotting to destroy the wormhole and cut off Human/People relations for good. Can she find a way to save the wormhole—and her sanity—before it’s too late?


Haylea couldn’t believe how well her latest Copacetic Communications stunt had turned out. To be fair, the Travel to Exotic Lands theme she’d tried last month had been poorly planned—every new Human attack made visiting a station close to the wormhole seem less exotic and more neurotic. Then the luxury angle failed because her funding from corporate—her mother’s travel company—abruptly dried up when the non-war’s effect on the travel industry cost Go Galactic a fortune.

But the “Can’t We All Just Ignore Each Other Peace Rally” on the main concourse was a huge success. She’d put out a hurried press advisory yesterday, and this morning people showed up toting signs, wearing t-shirts with peace-mongering messages—“Togetherness is overrated” was her favorite—singing songs, and reciting poetry. Some of it was borrowed from ancient Human culture, as one of the head chanters explained to her.

She’d made a deal with some of the station’s artists and clothing designers to carry their crap—er, memorabilia—in the concourse gift shop. One of them had hastily produced dozens of plastic “peace symbols” from Earth, strange circle-triangle symbols that she saw as an ironic reminder of how badly the humans had failed to establish peace on their own planet. Unfortunately, the damn things were selling like Carvalian beer, so she pretended to love them.

Naturally, she was thrilled when Farley, the head chanter, invited her to host a Prayer for Peace on the concourse. Public praying was more of a Human thing, but that was okay—showing support for the Humans was acceptable as long as it was part of the “Let’s All Just Ignore Each Other” campaign. She was helping both sides focus on the bigger goal.

So she found herself on a stage constructed from cafeteria tables, holding hands with Farley and mumbling to “any and all greater powers who might or might not be”—no one wanted to offend anyone—for a peaceful end to the conflict. She wasn’t really religious, but she was genuinely interested in ending this stupid war.

I’m a force for peace, she mused as she watched the other chanters. About ten percent were Human, and hopefully they’d remember her station as the place where peace between their peoples started. Wouldn’t helping bring peace to a warring sector of the galaxy look great on her résumé in case Go Galactic had to close Five Alpha?

As she considered how best to articulate that achievement in a job interview without sounding conceited, she saw a small blonde Human stride purposefully from the elevator, start toward the cafeteria, then pause, as if she wasn’t sure where to go. Something tickled the back of Haylea’s brain. Where did she know that woman from?

“Great crowd, isn’t it?” her assistant, Clark, whispered in her ear. “Hey, is that another Human showing up to make peace with us?” He thrust his chin in the direction of the blonde.

“I guess so. She looks familiar,” Haylea whispered back, hoping no one in the prayer circle would notice. Fortunately, they were all chanting pretty loudly.

The blonde turned around a few times, surveying the area, then shifted her overstuffed bag to the other shoulder and headed back toward the elevator. Of course! That was the woman the guards had hauled off to some ship the other afternoon. What happened to her politician boyfriend? Had she finally dumped him?

Was a young, attractive, and influential politician now recently unattached?

What a great power couple Haylea and that attractive guy from the other night would be. Maybe he could feature her on his show—

“Isn’t that Samantha, the reporter from Glass?” Clark nudged Haylea and pointed at the blonde.

“That’s right!” Haylea’s train of thought veered away from the talk show host. That must be why the Human journalist was here at the peace rally. Finally, one of the news nets was sending a real reporter—not just a news-collecting drone, but a real person. Well, Human, but that was okay.

“I’m sure she’ll want to interview the main organizer of this event.” Haylea smoothed her hair and started toward the reporter. The other peacemakers were too busy chanting to notice.

Samantha was interviewing a shop owner, probably about the positive economic effect the “Can’t We All Just Ignore Each Other Peace Rally” was having on her business.

“We’ve got five-cred pitchers of beer all day long, to help keep everyone in a peaceful mood,” the woman practically screamed the word peaceful.

Haylea walked casually toward the two, not sure when she would enter the shot. Reporters usually had micro-cameras embedded in their clothing, and often roving, insect-sized camera drones flying around, too. Those were conspicuous, so most of the reporters Haylea was in the habit of plying with beer said they used them only when absolutely necessary. Unfortunately, it was impossible to know just how wide a shot the cameras were taking, so Haylea kept a perfect smile plastered on her face and tried to look like she had no idea she was on camera.

“Here’s the person who made this all possible.” The restaurant owner grabbed Haylea by the arm and shoved her toward Samantha. “Haylea here is the reason I’m able to offer five-credit pitchers of beer all night!”

“Thank you for talking to me, Sheila.” Samantha’s face was slack with boredom. “I’m sure you have to get back into your restaurant and keep the beer flowing, so I won’t keep you.”

The restaurant owner bustled off, screaming over her shoulder about five-cred pitchers.

“I’m working on an independent piece for Glass.” Samantha’s dark eyes looked Haylea up and down in one swift glance. “You organized this event?”

“Absolutely! As the manager of this station, I felt strongly—”

For half a second, Haylea thought she heard a very loud thunderclap, because that was what it sounded like. Then she remembered there were no thunderclaps on a space station, because there was no thunder on a space station. There were only very loud explosions. The noise went on, deafening, with no sign of stopping.

The praying, on the other hand, ground to a complete halt. Everyone looked around at the ceiling, the walls, the floor for the source of the noise. Samantha gripped the nearest table with one hand, her eyes sweeping the crowd of people.

Haylea looked around, frantic, trying to recall if they’d skimped on any safety measures lately due to cost. She sure hoped not. But then she realized the station was holding together, and the rumbling sounded like it was coming from outside—but how could that be? Sound didn’t carry in space.

Well, it did if something crashed into the station’s hull and the vibration of the impact carried through the walls.

“Oh, no!” Clark stumbled over to her, waving his data pad. Why hadn’t she been looking at hers? What was she doing?

He shoved it in her face. “Look at the news!”

Haylea stared at the up-to-the-minute newsbrief, reported by roaming news automatons faster than any living, breathing reporter could even ask what was happening.


Ship explodes departing Space Station Five Alpha. Due to the nature of the explosion, natural causes are deemed unlikely (12% probability based on all available information). The most likely explanation for an intentional explosion is another act of aggression (probability of Human origin, 55%; probability of People origin, 45%).


For reasons Haylea didn’t quite understand, the second the shaking stopped, everyone ran for the exits. Hands pulled apart, feet pounded the floor in heels and soft soles, and signs fluttered to the ground as their holders fled.

“This door is locked!” someone screamed from the end of the concourse.

“So is this one!” Clark had joined the fleeing crowd. She’d thought better of him than that, but he’d been dating a Human, and while stupidity wasn’t contagious, people sometimes picked up each other’s habits.

Farley, running through the crowd in his “Peace for peace’s sake” t-shirt, threw the first peace symbol. Samantha said something Haylea couldn’t hear to Sheila, as she flounced out the door of her restaurant and surveyed the scene. Sheila grabbed for the nearest emergency exit door, jostling Samantha, who stumbled into Farley.

“This one’s locked too!” Sheila bellowed.

“It locks automatically after an impact to protect the inner part of the station in case of….” No one could hear her over the noisy crowd, and finishing the sentence with “a hull breach” would only worsen the panic, anyway.

“This is your fault, Human!” Farley yelled at Samantha. “I bet you caused whatever just happened, didn’t you? Your people can’t stand peace.”

Two minutes earlier he’d been holding hands with two Earthers and singing some old Human song, the lyrics of which sounded a lot like, “Come buy bombs.”

“Oh, that’s great!” yelled a Human at the back of the crowd. “Some peace organizer you are.”

“Seriously? You helped organize this display?” Samantha sneered at Farley.

“Not anymore!” He slammed his peace symbol onto the ground. Due to the lightweight plastic and the lightweight gravity, it bounced off the floor and flew up into the crowd, smacking Clark in the face.

Sheila shoved Samantha up against the wall, grabbing the collar of her black jacket. Was that messing up one of the camera shots? “Time for you to stop asking questions and start answering them. What do you know about this Human attack? Which of your people blew up that ship, and how stupid was their reasoning? Or were you in on it, Human?”

“Leave her alone, or I’ll make sure you stop getting an Economic Crisis discount on your rent.” Haylea hoped to come off as a beacon of peace instead of a miserly manager. It was so hard to gauge these things before they hit the news nets.

Sheila let go of Samantha and stomped back into her restaurant, slamming the door on other frantic fleers, but the Human/People clash was far from over.

While Haylea yelled at the crowd to calm down, every peace symbol in the room was lobbed at someone. Fortunately, the cheap plastic limited the damage, but a few pieces managed to leave red marks. One found its way to the mouth of a shop owner just as he yelled, “You people are sub-Human!” The peace sign drove his lip into a nearby tooth, and blood trickled down onto his “Give peace a fighting chance” t-shirt.

What was she doing? She was supposed to be in charge here, and she was gaping at this idiocy like, well, an idiot. Remembering her data pad, she called up the emergency preparedness plan she’d signed off on after Clark wrote it last month. She hadn’t actually read the plan, so hopefully Clark knew what he was doing.

Going through the emergency procedures—screaming at engineering to seal off the departure dock, ensuring the station’s AI had sent a distress signal to nearby ships, checking reports for life support systems in the danger zone, sighing with relief when none of them were—Haylea realized she was a lousy person. While she was genuinely concerned about the safety of everyone on Five Alpha, another part of her brain pictured the whole place going bankrupt. As the Humans and non-Humans ran around, screaming, crying, and generally melting into masses of useless hysteria, it was clear that no Copacetic Communications campaign could repair the damage the explosion had just done to her station.

Who is V. R. Craft?

V.R. Craft always heard you should write about what you know, so she decided to write a book called Stupid Humans, drawing on her previous experience working in retail and her subsequent desire to get away from planet Earth. She has also worked in marketing, advertising, and public relations, where she found even more material for Stupid Humans. Now self-employed, she enjoys the contact sport of shopping at clearance sales, slamming on the brakes for yard sale signs, and wasting time on social media, where she finds inspiration for a sequel to Stupid Humans every day. She plans to write more science fiction books and short stories.

Follow V. R. Craft on Twitter and take a look at her blog.

The Beautiful Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)

The Beautiful Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)


As regular visitors to Examining the Odd will know by now, British-born Mexican surrealist Leonora Carrington is one of my favourite artists. Her paintings are somehow oppressive yet elegant, tense yet loving. Her writing is inspiring and thought-provoking. We have two prints of hers at the bottom of our stairs to add a little more amazement to everyday life!

One of her sculptures has very recently been unveiled in Mexico City, donated by her son Pablo Weisz to the Acquis Heritage Collection SHCP. It’s a dream of mine to visit Mexico one day. I just need to find out which time of year is coldest and trip over a pile of money first!


I can spend so much time looking at these… There’s just so much to see. Each little character looks as though they could have a whole novel attached to them. Even the trees are fascinating, appearing to be thinking, watching…


Even as a young girl, Carrington was a non-conformist. She was repeatedly thrown out of her schools for “anti -social tendencies and certain supernatural proclivities”. In Florence and Paris she revelled in the arts, but dodged her workload and school regiment through running away, and was consequently expelled… It was at Chelsea, in the classes of cubist Amédée Ozenfant, that art, commitment and precision all came together for Leonora. Ozenfant insisted on understanding “the chemistry of everything you used”. In 1936, she visited the London International Surrealist Exhibition, and became obsessed with the movement.  Hunger

The short video above talks about Leonora’s horrible marriage to Renato Leduc, and her beautiful one to Emericko Weisz. Leonora also talks of her disgust and bemusement towards bull-fighting – well done Leonora.

Dylusions Ink Sprays white linen 2 oz. bottle

MÉXICO, D.F., 06ABRIL2015.- Hoy se cumple el 98 aniversario del natalicio de Leonora Carrington, “La novia del viento”, quien en 1963 tuvo el encargo de llevar a cabo un mural para el Museo Nacional de Antropología: “El mundo mágico de los mayas”.  FOTO: ARCHIVO /CONACULTA /CUARTOSCURO.COM

I was lucky enough to see a tiny production of The Hearing Trumpet by Dark Matter Theatre in Brighton recently. We were two of the four members of the audience, but it was a wonderful little piece of surrealist theatre.


Leonora Carrington was 94 when she died – I hope I manage to look that cheeky when I’m that age. She truly was “the last great living surrealist” – Homero Aridjis

5 Books Set on Mars

5 Books Set on Mars

Want to escape? Here are five books set on Mars. Bon voyage!

    1. Across the Zodiac: The Story of a Wrecked Record by Percy Greg – The book is notable as containing what is probably the first alien language in any work of fiction to be described with linguistic and grammatical terminology. It also contains what is possibly the first instance in the English language of the word “Astronaut”, which features as the name of the narrator’s spacecraft. In 2010 a crater on Mars was named Greg in recognition of his contribution to the lore of Mars. Public Domain Review. You can also read the full book for free by following that link. 25683464
    2. Doctor Omega by Arnould Galopin – In a quiet Normandy village, amateur violinist Denis Borel meets a mysterious white-haired scientist known only as Doctor Omega, who is building an amazing spacecraft, the Cosmos. Doctor Omega invites Borel to accompany him on his maiden voyage – to Mars! Goodreads

3. To Mars via the Moon by Mark Wicks – Available in paperback and for Kindle here.

4. A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs – Available in paperback and for Kindle hereOn this new world, Carter has great strength and nearly superhuman agility, which make him a valued member of the Tharks, a nomadic tribe of Green Martians. But when the Tharks capture Dejah Thoris, the Princess of Helium, and a member of the humanoid red Martians, Carter begins to question his role on Mars. He is determined to return Dejah Thoris to her people, but in time it becomes clear that Carter must lead a horde of Tharks. With Carter’s loyalty tested to its limit, this victory or defeat will determine the fate of Dejah Thoris as well as the whole of Mars itself. – blurb

5. Out of the Silent Planet by C. S. Lewis – Available in paperback, hardback, audio and for Kindle hereThe first book in C. S. Lewis’s acclaimed Space Trilogy, which continues with Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, Out of the Silent Planet begins the adventures of the remarkable Dr. Ransom. Here, that estimable man is abducted by a megalomaniacal physicist and his accomplice and taken via spaceship to the red planet of Malacandra. The two men are in need of a human sacrifice, and Dr. Ransom would seem to fit the bill. Once on the planet, however, Ransom eludes his captors, risking his life and his chances of returning to Earth, becoming a stranger in a land that is enchanting in its difference from Earth and instructive in its similarity. First published in 1943, Out of the Silent Planet remains a mysterious and suspenseful tour de force. – blurb