Sharks! Punks! Mech Suits! Not too Proud to Beg!

Returning from my hiatus hunting wild Yetis that Surf, in Montana no less, to announce I have a new story for your reading pleasure.

I’m very late doing this as the book will be released on May 1st.

 

First, let’s have a look at the gorgeous cover by Simon Coleby

sharkpunk

 

 

Yes, you read that title correctly.  Sharkpunk.

I first heard about this project at the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton in 2013. I was talking to the madman behind the idea, the gently spoken and annoyingly talented Jonathan Green.  He told me he had been watching all of these shark movies popping up, Sharknado, Ghost Shark, Shark in Venice, Sharktopus and so on.  He said he had accidentally pitched the idea of an anthology called Sharkpunk based on the explosion of shark related films and to his surprise had been told by a publisher that if he put it together, they would put it out.

I started begging for a spot immediately.

I’ll admit it, I’m not too proud to beg for things I want.  And I really wanted to be part of this.  I lobbed a few ideas his way, mostly to be told that someone else was already doing them, with a character that was long running.

I suspect that was Kit Cox.

Time went by after the convention and I heard from Jon, was I still interested, did I still want to write for it?

Oh yes, I did.

And so I sat down, ready for sharks, madness, adventure, horror and more sharks and… nothing.

For weeks.  Nothing.

Finally I got the spark of an idea.  That spark became one thousand words.

Which then got dumped because it was the start to a novel.

Take two.  Dumped again.

It was getting very frustrating.  I had a world that I was really into writing about, but I could not find a story that would be short enough for the anthology.

And yet, as I’m posting about an anthology I am in, you can probably guess that I did finally solve my issues.

I have to say I have never worked harder at getting a short story completed.  Once the book is out I may well post excerpts from those early tries and explain why they just weren’t working.

Enough about me (for a moment), here’s the contents of the book and I have to say I look at those names and think “Why am I on there?”

Peter and the Invisible Shark, Jonathan Oliver
Blood in the Water, Den Patrick
The Lickspittle Leviathan, David Lee Stone
Sharkadelic, Ian Whates
Shirley, Amy & Andy Taylor
Deep Black Space, Toby Frost
The Shark in the Heart, David Tallerman
Deep Red Bells, Josh Reynolds
Sharkcop 2: Feeding Frenzy, Alec Worley
Sharkbait, Richard Salter
Goblin, Kim Lakin-Smith
Blood Relations, Andrew Lane
Feast of the Shark God, C L Werner
Le Shark, Laurel Sills
The Serial Killer Who Thought She Was a Shark, Jenni Hill
Rise of the Übershark, Robert Spalding
Swimming with the Fishes, Steven Savile
Ambergris, Kit Cox
Silent Waters, Running Deep, Gary McMahon
YOU ARE THE SHARK, Al Ewing & Sarah Peploe

 

Finally, if you pop over to www.sharkpunk.com you will find interviews with all of the authors about their stories and favourite sharks.

Oh look, here’s mine.

And one last note, on May 9th at Forbidden Planet in London, Sharkpunk is having a mass signing/launch. Come along, grab a copy and be one of the first people to ever get my signature. In fact the first book I get to sign will have my actual, literal, first ever signature.

You never know, if I am Rich And Famous one day, it might be worth something…

You can find the details here.

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Passion, Paths and Choices

This is an expansion of something I posted on Facebook earlier today.

 

I’ve come to a realisation recently.  I think I have finally realised why my writing has come to a complete halt.  Why any excuse is a good one for not sitting down and hitting the keys.

I don’t have the passion for my stories.

Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Gary McMahon, Joe Hill, Adam Nevill, James Herbert, Simon Bestwick.

These are just a few of the writers that I admire and have tried to follow in the footsteps of.  I have come to realise that I’ve made the wrong choice.  While I like horror, I came to it late.  The path I have been trying to carve for myself in long form prose is the wrong one.

All of those mentioned above and countless other writers are great storytellers, fantastic atmospherists and wonderful character creators.  Things I admire and aspire to match the skills of.

In my admiration, I’ve tried to tell similar stories, draw on them as pure influences.

I made a mistake.

Their stories are brilliant, but they aren’t what I always want to read.  They don’t create the worlds that I have always loved.

They don’t weave the magic that captured me when I started to write.

As much as I like their work and will re-read and buy their novels, they aren’t my passion.

 

David Gemmell, Joe Abercrombie, Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Scott Lynch, Robin Hobb, George RR Martin, Trudi Canavan, Fritz Lieber, Robert E. Howard, Brian Jacques and, of course, JRR Tolkien.

These are my heroes, those who have tread the path and explored the worlds that I find myself repeatedly drawn to.

Fantasy, High, Heroic, Sword and Sorcery, Grimdark, it doesn’t matter.  Those archetypes, that magic, the swordplay and honour.  The thieves, the heroes, the dark lords and the wizards.  The strong and the weak, the endless pulsating conflict of good and evil.  The final triumph and the preceeding failures and losses.

These are the things that have always fired my imagination.

I don’t know why I stopped writing it.  I think because I finished a YA heroic fantasy and could find no takers for it.

Maybe I was a little put out by that.  I love the world I created and thought the story was strong.  But no-one else seemed to, except the people I let read it.

They weren’t enough for me.  Because I always wanted to earn a living as a writer and I needed the validation of a publisher picking it up.

I was disheartened I think.

So I turned to horror, hoping that would make my fortune.  (That laughter you can hear right now are most of the authors I first listed, hunched over and wiping the tears from their eyes.)

But that hasn’t worked.  I have spent the last few years trying to turn myself into a writer that I am not.  Even the dark, horror tinged novel I got 50 thousand words into, when I stepped back and properly looked at it, takes the shape of epic fantasy.  The lone band of heroes fighting a hopeless battle against the great darkness.  Just using machine guns instead of swords.  Magic abounds there and is dangerous.

So, I think I have always known what I should be writing.  I have known what it is that makes me excited to write.

Finally, I know it, truly, truly know it.

I have the first scene of my epic, I have the finale.  Both are fixed squarely in my head.  I have my merry band of heroes.  I see them, I know them.  I have the setting for the first part, and that excites me greatly, because I think I have something fairly original.  Not completely as I have taken it from real life and moved it into a fantasy setting, but I don’t think anyone else has done it and if they have, they probably won’t have done it how I plan to.

The voices are spinning, the second list of writers, the fantasy authors inspire me.  But I finally realise, I don’t want to be them.  Not like I tried to be a Horror writer exactly like the ones I mentioned.

Instead I want to stand beside them as myself.

Robert Spalding – Fantasy Author and Proud.

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Johnny-Come-Home – A Fragment of a Decaying World

Johnny-Come-Home

A Fragment of a Decaying World.

 

Marfin stood next to the statue which had, against all possible reason, survived the DecayWind.  The township it had once dominated the skyline of, had not.

Every building was reduced to rubble, splinters of wood and stone dust were all that remained and yet the statue had survived.

 

Marfin felt the tear rolling slowly down his cheek, an unbidden expression of emotion he had not meant to display. Carefully his lifted the recycling tube to his face and sucked the precious liquid into it.  Sweat and tears sustained him now, but he couldn’t last much longer on them.  As efficient as his recycling suit was, he still lost a percentage of his waste every day.  One more week and the loss would outstrip what he had left and Marfin would be just another husk in the desert.

 

Belmarnia had been his hope for an extension of life.  A township he had passed through many times over the years.  It had always seemed so secure, so safe. The decay never seemed to touch it.

Now it was gone, destroyed and the people scattered or smashed by the devastating winds of the storm.  The only thing to mark their existence was the statue which none of them could bear to look at.

A reminder of what the people of Belmarnia had always thought would be their darkest day.  Marfin knew the story, of course.  Every visitor had enquired and gotten a version of it.  Only those who asked time and again to different people could hope to piece the best possible version of it together.

 

It dated from some time just after the Finnser Wars.  The battles which had wrought so much damage to the world that people had thought it was going to end.  How ironic then that a marker of that dark time would survive what truly was the end of the world.

Marfin laughed as he struck a match against the base and looked up into the sad eyes of the woman as he lit his cigarro.

So many young men had marched out of their homes to be fitted with bulky suits and huge weapons they barely understood.  Only to fight an opposition that was as piss in their pants scared as they were.

Firing weapons that did more damage to the planet than it ever managed to do to their enemies.  The anti-pulse shields both had were so good that the beams would reflect and scorch whole swathes of earth.  Devastation followed devastation with no advantage to either side.

Then came the move to more primitive tactics, the rebirth of the blademasters, whose metal weapons could cut through the shields because they were not energy.

Blood and burning and death on a scale not seen since before the joining of the first Union.

All ending when the five warring sides came to realise that they were too evenly matched to ever find a decisive win without leaving themselves nothing to gain by their victory.

Instead of a great peace, there was an embarrassed petering out as the Union returned to its previous state, but with less land to grow food or house the refugees that war created.

 

The men that had survived returned home.  Some seemed normal apart from the sudden tears, some returned broken completely, in body or mind.  Many of them did not return at all.

One image summed up the futility of those wars and it had been taken in Belmarnia as their soldier sons returned home.  One woman had searched through all of those that slowly marched into town, receiving the grateful salutes of their friends and neighbours with barely concealed contempt and rage on their faces.  She searched and searched until it was clear that her son was not among them.

Then she had raced to the edge of the town, back along the route the returning soldiers had taken and looked out into the open fields, hoping to see her son.  There was nothing there for her, no hope, no returning hero.

She fell to her knees and reached out, pleading and begging with the Universe to give him back to her.  Her eyes, despairing and staring were the starkest image of how cruel the war had been.

 

Which meant the image became a hot property and made the photographer a very rich woman.  Posters of this woman and her misery were syndicated across the planet.  Tourists came from everywhere to see the town and began to hound her, wanting some of her emotion for themselves.

The poor woman, broken by the loss of her only son, her only family, was hounded for months until she killed herself with a knife in the centre of the town; right where the statue stood.

The photographer had felt some form of guilt, as did many of those who had come to see the woman.  Funds poured into the town for a memorial and of course, only one thing would do.

So they made a statue of the mother at her most vulnerable, on her knees, reaching out for a son that would never come home, despair etched into her metal eyes to last forever.

 

Marfin looked up at the woman for the last time “Ma’am, I’m truly sorry for what they did to you.  I’ll let you rest now, won’t be no-one else coming to claim some of your grief from now on.”

He pulled up his facemask and walked away, disgusted with the statue one last time.  Of all the things to call it, of all the words that could have gone on the plaque at its base, they had chosen the last words she had been screaming as she looked out for her son.  The words she had been crying as she slit her throat in the centre of town, so broken by her loss and the emotional vampirism of those who came to see her.

Marfin was glad he would never again set eyes on Johnny-Come-Home.

 

 

 

© Robert Spalding 2012

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Fragments of a Decaying World – an Introduction

This is a little introduction to the post that follows this.

Fragments of a Decaying World is a series of very short, short and not short at all stories and pieces that detail the end of a world, one that is nothing like ours.

The plan is for 80 thousand words or 80 stories, whichever turns out to be more.  This is a project that I will be coming back to as and when I feel like it and until I have finished them all, most of them will not be seen by most people.

However, I do plan t post the occasional one up on this blog and if I am really proud of any, I might try sending them out for publication elsewhere.  But for the most part, this will be the only place to get a sneak peak at this series.

I would think it won’t be done for years, but whenever a new one pops up it will be because I just decided to.  No big reasons, just a feeling that it was time for a new fragment to be seen.

So, here we go.

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Geek Culture Clash, or How I Ended Up in a Fight for Wil Wheaton’s Honour

I haven’t told any stories here for quite some time, so how about I tell you one I’ve been meaning to ever since I started this blog?

This story is mostly about the first time I ever encountered something I would come to embrace, Geek Culture and the love of that special something you watch or read.  At the time I thought what happened was ridiculous and I still do to some extent, but I now get the passion behind it.

Now, I’m going to ramble, diverge from the path and generally meander as we go.  Why?  Because the essence of the story is quite brief, but the flavour of it is why I remember it.

It happened when I was about nine or ten, it was certainly before I started secondary school which I did just after my twelfth birthday.

As a family we had gone on holiday to a caravan park, somewhere in DorsetI think.  We had our own caravan and while I see them now and think “How would I fit in that?” at that time I was small enough that sharing with my Mum, Dad and Brother didn’t seem exceptionally cramped.

I know the camp was by the sea, there was a winding path down something really steep right to the beach.  In my mind the path was on the edge of a cliff but I suspect it was just a large hill.

It was probably a Haven site, we liked going to them.  Static caravans in one place, ones people brought with them elsewhere and most importantly, a kid’s club.  I say most important because if there had been no organised kid’s entertainment I wouldn’t be telling this story.  I also wouldn’t have ended up in a ridiculous fancy dress costume for a competition that I think I was the only one who entered.  Can’t remember what the theme might have been, but my costume was a bin liner over my head with empty crisp and chocolate wrappers attached to it.  I ended up walking around the whole site dressed like that and yet, amazingly, it’s not why I got into a fight.

Now, I watched a lot of TV as a kid, still do to be honest.  I was always reading as well, that’s not relevant to this story directly, but I feel I need to balance out my declaration of being a square eyed kid.  I could have been well on my way to being that stereotypical geeky kid we now all think of, if not for the fact that I was sports mad as well.  I was a sprinter, I played football as much as I could, I was even drafted into my Year’s cricket team despite having no experience with the game because they assumed I’d be able to pick it up like any other sport.  Well, I played, I was not good at it, but they still had me fill in a couple more times because I wasn’t utterly awful either.

What I am trying to say is that at the age of nine or ten I had a lot of interests, but none of them inspired in me the passion of the kid I am about to tell you about.

With my declaration of defending Wil Wheaton‘s honour in the title and the fact that this story takes place in ’90 or ’91, you will have probably already worked out that my first real interaction with a full on, dyed in the love for his show geek, was with a Star Trek fan.

I don’t remember his name, just that he was ginger, slightly tubby and was about two years older than me.  We’d interacted at the various activities the kid’s club had done, but only in passing.  It had been enough, however, that when we all sat down for a bonfire/campfire/barbeque thing (details about what we were doing are fuzzy, I remember sitting down and there being fire.  I’m fairly certain it wasn’t an arson spree, but who knows?), I was quite happy to sit next to him and chat.

He was wearing a Star Trek T-shirt, original series or Next Gen I don’t recall, so that’s what we started to talk about.  I hadn’t seen the original show, but I had seen the movies and I was enjoying watching the Next Generation.

Now, after a while it became clear to me that he knew a lot more about Trek than I did.  The difference was huge, I vaguely remembered episodes I had seen only once, he could quote whole scenes.

And so, being me, I decided to mess with him.  When I say mess, I mean lie.  I was making up episodes I had seen and challenging him to identify them – just flat out fabrications of things that had never been in Trek, and yet he kept steering me back to real stories.

“What you mean is this, yeah?  You’ve just got it a little muddled.”

“Um, I guess so.”

“Exactly, well, that’s this episode.”

Quite amazing in retrospect, but he kept his cool.  The conversation was fun and we were laughing.  I was enjoying making him figure out real things from the utter tosh I was talking and he seemed perfectly happy to be talking about Star Trek with someone who seemed to like it.

Then we moved on to favourite characters.  I think his was McCoy, I remember him doing the “I’m not a…, I’m a Doctor!” thing several times.

I had never really thought about a favourite, but when I did the answer was clear, Data.  I just thought Data was the best thing in Next Generation.

The kid did not agree “He’s just a replacement Spock.  Pick someone else.”

(I will now say that these quote’s are not all verbatim, they are more general flavour of what was said.  I’ll tell you when we get to the one thing he said I will always remember.)

I struggled to think, Worf was good, a fighter but not very funny.  I couldn’t pick any of the women because, well, they were girls.  Picard seemed too obvious.  Then it hit me, the character I kinda identified with, who I would have liked to be if I was in Star Trek The Next Generation.

“I would say it’s Wesley Crusher.”

He stared at me, his face started to go red, I began to worry he was ill.  Then he sucked in a huge breath, leaned right into my face and screamed “Wesley Crusher is a prick!” (That’s the quote I always remember.)

I’d never had anyone but my little brother scream in my face before, I was shocked.  “No, he’s good, because he’s a kid like us, but he’s on a starship.”

Another deep breath, closer to my face and he screamed again “Wesley Crusher is the worst thing in the history of television!” (It may have been in the history of Star Trek, worst human to ever live, I don’t exactly recall, but you get the gist.)

Now, I liked Wesley, he seemed alright and if it had just been the first scream, I would probably have let it go.  But the second seemed utterly unnecessary.

So I stepped up to the plate “You’re wrong!  He’s great and you know nothing about Star Trek.”

Bang!

He slapped me in the face!  An actual slap, could have been trying for a punch, but what he delivered was a slap.

So I hit him in the chest.

At which point he grabbed me, threw me to the floor and knelt over me.  He hit me again, a couple of times I think, and continued yelling about how Wesley Crusher was rubbish, how I was stupid and a bunch of other angry stuff.

Now, he was heavier and older than me and he had me pinned down good.  But, unlike him (I imagine) I got into quite a lot of fights.  My primary school had a field for play times which was also a football pitch.  At some point before this happened I had declared the centre circle “The Fighting Circle” and anyone who entered it was fair game for a bit of a fight.  Never too vicious, never bad enough that a teacher had to step in, but it did give me a lot of experience in scrapping.

It also taught me two things, I really hate getting hurt – it’s almost a phobia which is why I never got that good at mountain biking, too scared to go properly crazy.  Secondly it taught me that the best way to win any fight was to fight dirty.

So, with a crazed twelve year old keeling above me I did what it is I do, and kneed him square in the bollocks.

As he rolled off me I sprang up and ran away yelling back that Wesley Crusher was great and he was stupid.  I don’t remember seeing him after that.

So yeah, that is how I fought for Wil Wheaton’s honour (well, Wesley Crusher’s).

The other interesting thing that happened during that holiday which relates to my love of certain cultures now is that I ended up with my first Japanese comic.

In the site shop they sold bundles of six American comics for a pound.  Being a voracious reader I was into the Beano and The Big Comic (anyone else remember that?), but I had nowhere at home to buy American comics.  So I bought myself a bundle.

Most of what was in it has long since been lost, apart from two issues which blew my mind completely.

The first was the premiere issue of Those Annoying Post Bros.  An utterly mental multi-dimensional, violent black and white comic about psychotic siblings who at one point end up killing like a thousand copies of one of them.

I loved it, but have had no luck since getting any more of them.

The second was to be the first turning point towards my enjoyment of Manga and Anime.  It was issue 13 of Dark Horse’s translation of The Legend of Kamui.

Ninjas, sharks, arms chopped off, an eyeball popping out, all rendered in a realistic (compared to the Beano) style.  I was absolutely captivated.  I don’t know how many times I re-read that comic, but it did start to get a bit frayed.

Years later I was able to buy volumes 1 and 2 of The Legend of Kamui and see everything that had led up to that first issue I read.

Well, there you go.  I said I’d ramble, I said I would digress.  But now you have heard the story of how I first came to learn about the really obsessive geeks and come to find some things I could grow to love as well.

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Double Feature – Payback (Theatrical Version) and How I spent My Summer Vacation

Here we go then, this is the first in an occasional series where I recommend a double feature of films and try to explain why I think they work well together.

To be clear, just in case anyone doesn’t know – a double feature is where you watch two films back-to-back.  So we’re looking films that work together as a pair, in one large chunk of film watching time.

To kick things off we’re starting with two Mel Gibson films.

If any comments try to derail it into “Gibson is an anti-Semite” type stuff I will borrow John Scalzi’s Mallet of Loving Correction and the comments will be gone.

My House, My Rules.

Right, with that out of the way, onto the films.

Why do these two make for a good double bill?  It’s not just the leading man, although it doesn’t hurt.

What really brings them together is the fact that they are both of a similar tone.  To be clear, I only mean the Theatrical Version of Payback here, the Director’s cut is a different beast and will probably feature in another Double Feature later on.

Both of them feature an unrepentant criminal who is not adverse to being violent but can also be funny and kind to those he cares for.  Both the main characters are determined to get their money back and both go up against organisations that outnumber and should overpower them.

In fact, when I saw How I Spent My Summer Vacation, my first thought was that the unnamed protagonist was actually Porter from Payback, just 15 years on.  With Gibson playing both it’s not too hard a leap to make.

In Payback, Porter works his way from one Organisation member to the next, all in an attempt to get his $70000 back.  He tries to charm, but is willing to get violent when necessary.

In HISMSV, the unnamed Gringo gets locked up in a prison town, literally a town inside a prison, and has to work his way through the ranks to be trusted.  Only once he has done that can he work on getting the millions stolen from him by crooked cops back.

Both protagonists use a mixture of guile and outright brutality to get to where they want to be.

If you want to compare a couple of scenes, look at how Porter goes from broke to well fed and dressed at the beginning Payback.  Then see the Gringo go from hungry to fed after a fire at the heroin shack.

There’s a smoothness about the actions in both.  Something that tells you these men have been professional thieves for a long time.

Or look at the way both of them use trickery to get Bosses to be where they want them, just in time for an explosion.  Again, you can see the same pattern of thoughts running through both films.

Sidenote – the umbrella gag in HISMSV made me actually laugh out loud.

So why should you watch these as a double feature?  It’s because they complement each other.  In Payback you have a brash and younger thief doing what he needs to to get what’s his.  In HISMSV you have an older thief using the knowledge of years to get out from under a bad situation and back on his feet.

The bad guys in each are equally nasty, although the main villain’s plot for the boy the Gringo befriends takes him over the top to be the nastiest of them all.

The films work well as a pair, with HISMSV acting as almost a quasi sequel to Payback.  Check them out, I think you’ll find it works.

Tell me if you agree or not in the comments.  Do you think there’s a better film to be paired with either of them?  If so, let me know and I’ll give them a spin.

Please don’t suggest a random double feature, I have a few planned, but I might ask for suggestions later.

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The Lucky 7

I so rarely get involved in these memes, but this one appealed.

Rules are:

Go to page 7 or 77 (or 777 if you have got that far and if so, your editing process will be hell!) in your current manuscript.

Go to line 7.

Copy down the next 7 lines or sentences and post them on your blog.

So here’s mine, from page 7, still in the prologue of my novel-in-progress.

Firstly that the ration packs would stay good for a very long time.  The second was that Torbin was going to start rotting and decaying.  He would make a terrible stench and there would be no way to escape it.

The combination of these ideas and thoughts came together in something elegant and simple.  He could stop Torbin from decaying to putrescence by eating him.  There were enough computer cases that could be disassembled to make portable toilets to store his waste in.

The first bite was disgusting.

You are supposed to tag people to do it, but I don’t do things like that – but if you like the idea, do it and leave a comment below so I can read it.

 

Quick edit to say:  This comes from Laura Lam, newly minted Strange Chemistry author and nice person.  Hers can be read here http://staticsplit.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/the-lucky-7/

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