Great publishing news!

I had some exciting news a couple of weeks back. Dimension6, an excellent Australian speculative fiction magazine, accepted my novella, The Reclaimers, for publication.

The Reclaimers is a secondary world fantasy, where a magical weapon of mass destruction has left a world impacted by magical waste. The only use of magic now allowed is reclaiming, absorbing the magical waste to allow crops to grow, and people to not get sick. The story revolves around two reclaimers as they make their way around the edges of society where they are still tolerated.

I’ve had this novella kicking around for some time, but could never get it quite right. There also aren’t that many venues that take novellas, especially from little known authors. So, the story languished – sitting on my hard drive, enduring a little tinkering now and then but not really going anywhere.

And then, earlier this year, I decided I might self-publish it. I liked the story but I had got it into my head that no one would publish it. But only I had looked at it – and if I was going to self publish, I needed an external perspective. So, I put a call out for beta-readers and three people answered that call.

Ion “Nuke” Newcombe is the editor of Antipodean SF, who have published some of my flash fiction. Nuke gave some high level comments, and encouraged me to shop the story around before considering self-publishing. I’m very grateful for that friendly push – without it, I probably wouldn’t have made the effort to submit The Reclaimers to Dimension6!

Rhonda Selg also answered the call. Rhonda went through and provided some excellent, thought provoking comments that really helped sharpen the story. Rhonda has recently released her own book, Filigree Rings and other Fae things, which I’d encourage everyone to check out!

And finally, Kathryn Flaherty. Kathryn went above and beyond, and provided some of the most detailed comments anyone ever has for one of my stories. This feedback was invaluable, and really improved the quality of the story. If The Reclaimers is of publishable quality, it is in a large part because of Kathryn’s feedback. Kathryn recently had a flash fiction piece published at Antipodean SF, and also occasionally blogs.

If you eventually read and like The Reclaimers, it will be because of the excellent work of these three beta readers. If you don’t like it, you can definitely still blame me!

The Reclaimers is slated for release in Dimension6 in April 2018. I have nothing but appreciation for the most excellent Keith Stevenson, editor and publisher at Coeur de Lion (the creators of Dimension6) for the faith he has shown in my story.

The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair (a story)

A colleague and friend once said to me (in a moment of rare frustration) “You know Mark, you should write a story called ‘The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair’”. I really liked the title, so I decided to oblige.

At their worst, public service performance reviews can feel like being savaged by a pack of wild dogs. This story does not contain a particularly subtle metaphorical treatment of the subject.

It is, I guess, a sequel to ‘In the Service of the Public‘, if flash fiction can have sequels.


The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair

Oh god, performance appraisal time,’ Alison thought as the mauve indicator light flashed in the corner of the screen. It was her supervisor, T’ahmar.

Ever since Earth’s artificial-black-hole-induced implosion, Alison had drifted from job to job throughout the bureaucracies that made up the Interstellar Coalition Public Service. Initial sympathy for her plight had morphed into curiosity, which had then solidified into indifference.

The years danced by. No alien race was willing to take on the burden of the million or so human refugees who happened to be away from home when the accident happened. The reality of it was that governments only allowed proper citizens to take senior positions in their public services.

So Alison, once considered the bright future of the Earth Department of Foreign Affairs, was reduced to menial filing in a backwater colony of the Frusbian Empire — a grand name considering the Frusbians had colonised only three moons and a mining asteroid in their own solar system.

Still, human beggars like Alison couldn’t be choosers. With no place to call their own and so little in the way of aid from the other races, humanity drifted towards the edge of extinction. The Sol system had been evacuated and was still off-limits. Any habitable planets in what had been known as human space were claimed by civilisations with military capability. The few nascent human colonies were relocated, “for their own protection”. Humanity was the new underclass of the civilised worlds.

The indicator flashed again. T’ahmar didn’t like to be kept waiting. Not that her previous supervisor Z’utpok had been lenient, but he had at least recognised that Alison — despite being human — had significant skills to offer. Z’utpok had allowed her to help with issues of policy, and she had been instrumental in getting his bureaucratic pièce de résistance approved by the Frusbian government.

Flushed with success and singing Alison’s praises, Z’utpok immediately retired. Unfortunately, the senior bureaucrat brought in to replace him moved to populate senior posts with former colleagues selected more for loyalty than competence. Before long Alison found herself on the wrong side of her new boss T’ahmar through a combination of her connection to the previous regime, her non-Frusbianness, and her all too human tendency to speak her mind.

Now T’ahmar had insisted on a traditional performance review. While theoretically still legal, the orthodox Frusbian performance review was considered barbaric and tasteless by most modern commentators. Still, if Alison was going to save up enough money to get off this rock she’d have to go through with it.

Alison donned the traditional Frusbian review garb (which looked to her more like a hessian sack) and mentally reviewed what she knew about the D’armen attack dogs that T’ahmar favoured. Once she was as ready as she would ever be, she grabbed her favourite duelling dagger from her desk and headed out towards the Review Arena, trying all the while to think of a better way to earn a living.

THE END


‘The Devil Wears Shapeless Ugly Garments Covered in Dog Hair’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 171 (September 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

New story “Narration Blues” published on AntipodeanSF

One of my flash fiction pieces, titled “Narration Blues”, is in the latest addition of AntipodeanSF, an Australian publication.

It cannot be denied that “Narration Blues” is a silly story. I was listening to the voice over at the start of a fantasy television series, and I thought to myself “gee this is a lot of backstory – lucky they got the right person”. What if the hero died? Didn’t quite finish the quest? Gave up to become a carrot farmer? All that wasted destiny…

“Narration Blues” is the result.

As always, many thanks to Ion “Nuke” Newcombe, the editor of AntipodeanSF, for his support of my work. This is the 11th flash fiction piece that Nuke has published of mine, for which I am very grateful.

In the Service of the Public (a story)

To be honest, this story occurred to me as I sat in a prestigious program for promising public servants listening to a self important lecturer drone on about his own greatness. When I realised there was still an hour to go in the lecture I started to wish the world would end. So in some ways this story was semi-autobiographical. Sans the black hole of course.


In the Service of the Public 

Alison’s vision blurred as she stretched the skin of her forehead towards the ceiling in a desperate attempt to stop her eyes from drifting shut. The eminent professor was pleased with his own accomplishments. He droned on, happy to let the audience bask in the light of his genius.

With an effort, Alison snapped the fuzzy image before her into a sharp, three-dimensional representation of the source of her lethargy. After all, it was an honour to have been selected for the Interstellar Coalition Public Service leadership development program. It offered Alison the chance to rub shoulders with colleagues from the seven Coalition planets, and it was a hopeful sign of things to come back on Earth.

Not to mention that the prestigious Hawker Memorial School of Interstellar Government was named after the woman who had bound the human race together after its first encounter with intelligent extraterrestrials — the reptilian Aazorks. As Earth’s inaugural President, Hawker had also negotiated the first Aazork treaties. That, in turn, had paved the way for the Coalition, and inevitably the ICPS.

Six months of dedicated training about the habits and cultural traits of the various species that made up the Coalition was a huge investment by the Earth bureaucracy. Alison’s heart swelled with pride just thinking about it. The trip out to this giant space station in the middle of nowhere had taken nearly three months, and the trip back would take just as long — a full year out of Alison’s life, but time well spent.

As the professor’s self-important drone continued unabated in the background, Alison couldn’t help but wonder what she would do upon her return. She certainly wished that a better faster-than-light drive had been invented, and that the relativity effects had been overcome. Being away for a year was difficult, but by the time she returned over 10 years would have passed on Earth. She’d been a perfect choice — no family, excellent at her job, and practical enough to see the time invested as worthwhile. This trip would propel her to the heights of the Earth Department of Foreign Affairs, but she didn’t even know who would be in charge when she returned, let alone what position she might hold.

A wave of muted noise suddenly rippled across the room. The professor stopped speaking, visibly struggling with the concept that anything could be more important than his lecture.

Alison turned to the man sitting beside her. He was staring at his datasheet in horror.

‘What’s going on?’, she asked.

Her fellow student’s face was ashen. It took him some moments to formulate a reply. ‘News just in on the quantum entanglement coms system. There’s been an accident back home. Scientists started that damn Extra Large Hadron Collider and the Earth has been swallowed by the black hole it generated!’

Alison slumped back in her seat trying to process the shocking information. She could only wonder what a career in the Aazork public service might be like.

THE END


‘In the Service of the Public’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 169 (July 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

Striking Twice (a story)

Time travel stories have always bugged me a bit. Especially the part where essentially the same people wander around changed timelines except with nothing altered except slightly different personalities. I mean come on – wait five seconds to have sex and you’ll end up with a completely different child. If someone did go back in time and start to change things you most likely would end up with completely different people populating the planet. Worrying about this really takes me out of a time travel story. Striking Twice was the result of trying to work through that frustration on the page.


Striking Twice

Roy sat in the delivery room clutching his wife’s hand while the surgeon worked. Breech birth. It was a good sign. The original pregnancy had been breech.

Yes. The right day, and the right time at the culmination of a similar pregnancy. An excellent match as far as his fuzzy and somewhat overloaded memory could tell.

‘Here she comes!’ cried the surgeon with her professional, practiced enthusiasm.

Roy looked up, a wild, desperate hope clutching at his heart. The baby emerged — first the legs, then the stomach and chest, and finally the head. She was beautiful: perfectly formed, and already filling her lungs to scream her displeasure at the world.

Roy slumped, disappointment and despair vying for supremacy. It wasn’t Ella.

He raised leaden fingers to the device on his wrist and tapped a few keys. The room shimmered, then faded away. As his existence unraveled, he wondered how it was that a disembodied consciousness could feel so sick to its stomach.

After a period of time that was both instantaneous and infinite, the world snapped back into focus.

Roy felt the strength and energy of his reduced years flood into him. He was always 18 after the transition — there didn’t seem to be any way to avoid that. Since he had created that first connection it was as if his consciousness had no choice but to follow the same path whenever he activated the device.

That first journey had been unforgettable. He had abandoned his ancient and ravaged body, and regained the glory of youth with a whole life stretched out before him — one where he essentially knew the future. Wealth, power, wine, women and song — Roy had loved every minute of it. This time he had invented the device much earlier, and lived in the sure knowledge that if anything truly bad happened he could go back and start again.

But as Roy’s 20s faded into the distance and he marched confidently into his 30s, he found himself thinking more and more about his daughter Ella. He hadn’t considered her potential lack of existence when he’d jumped. Anxious, Roy had sought out his former, and hopefully future, wife. But his new über-confident personality had cooled her interest. When the original date of Ella’s birth came and went, he decided to try again, and fired up the device.

Since then Roy had lived a hundred partial lifetimes, trying in each one to recreate the circumstances that had brought Ella into his life. He’d soon worked out how to match the broad events, but the critical detail proved tricky.

It all came down to Roy’s sperm. The average man carries billions of the little buggers. Which one makes it over the line to fertilisation depends on fragile, delicately balanced factors — factors that had so far frustrated his efforts at replication.

Roy squinted into the bright sunlight, squared his shoulders, and set out on yet another attempt to make lightning strike twice.

THE END


‘Striking Twice’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 168 (June 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Publication – Narration Blues

Some excellent news over the summer, when Ion ‘Nuke’ Newcombe, the editor of Antipodean SF, picked up one of my flash fiction pieces, called ‘Narration Blues’.

‘Narration Blues’ will feature in issue 226 of Antipodean SF, due out in May 2017.

This will be the 11th flash fiction piece I’ve published in Antipodean SF, and I remain very grateful that Nuke has been such a big supporter of my work.

Make Mine a Macchiato (a story)

I wanted to try something a little away from science fiction as well as something a little silly. ‘Make Mine a Macchiato’ was the result. It was also the first time I showed a story in progress to a non-writer friend. While I didn’t agree with all the feedback, I did gain an appreciation for the benefit of better understanding what your potential audience might like. In this instance, my friend wasn’t a big fan of the ambiguity at the end of the story. I liked it so in the end I kept it, but it was a good reminder that you can’t please all of the people all of the time.


Make Mine a Macchiato

Jack was used to tickles of insight that warned him when things weren’t quite right. His talents didn’t lie in proper prognostication — even the thought of tracking the probabilities of multiple potential futures gave him a headache. But every now and then he got a nudge, an inkling that things were about to get ugly. Mostly, those flashes were frustrating and vague. Fortunately, the crushing waves of terror helped him pinpoint the problem this time.

A portal hung open in the middle of the footpath, like a malicious shimmering eye. Through it Jack could see the hazy image of a person. Well, perspective was a little tricky. Perhaps larger than a person. In fact, if he wasn’t an avowed atheist Jack could have sworn he was looking at…

“A demon?” Jack muttered.

“Come on, Jack,” the purported demon said. “You don’t believe in all that supernatural bullshit. Psionics are a completely natural phenomenon. Why would this be any different?”

Jack squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose in the universally acknowledged mechanism for dispelling hallucinations.

It didn’t work. Some form of response seemed in order.

“If you are human that’s a bloody good disguise,” Jack managed. “You seem to have more horns than I’m used to seeing on the average pedestrian, and the red marbling throughout your suspiciously stony skin…”

“Yes, well, I’m sure there are plenty of rational explanations,” it interrupted. “Anything from a complicated government conspiracy involving a new form of sensory mind control through to that dodgy kebab you ate last night. Does it really matter?”

Jack supposed not, although interpretations that pointed to mental instability would be of concern. The fact that no passersby were freaking out seemed to lend that branch of thought credence and Jack said as much.

“Look, Jacky boy,” the devil shaped entity said. “I’m really just looking for someone to buy me a macchiato. The cafe across the road is my favourite, and it isn’t every day that a certified level 17 psionic walks by. Do a demon a favour and pick me up one would you?”

Jack remembered enough stories to know that he was in dangerous bargaining territory. But he didn’t believe in demons. So why was he still standing here? He started to back away, slowly.

The as yet unproved daemon raised its hands in placation.

“Jack. Mate. Look at it this way. Right now you’re worried you might be crazy. If you hand over the coffee and it actually disappears you’ll know you’re sane. If it doesn’t, well…early psychiatric intervention can only be a good thing.”

The apparition made a reasonable point. Jack shrugged, crossed the road, and purchased a macchiato for it — and a flat white for himself. He used the cardboard carrying tray to pass the small cup through the portal’s glistening threshold to the eagerly waiting fiend on the other side, then stood back to find out if demons were real.

THE END


‘Make Mine a Macchiato’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 166 (April 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

The Gloriously Cunning Plan (a story)

In my day job I deal with bureaucracy a lot. “The Gloriously Cunning Plan” stemmed from this concern – what would happen if one of those last minute heroic plans I always see on TV came face to face with the kind of red tape I see in real government work?


The Gloriously Cunning Plan

Second Lieutenant Sanders hovered in perfect equilibrium between oblivion and suffering. He longed to let go and allow the breaking waves of pain to drag him back into a sea of blissful unconsciousness. But a nagging sense of some important task left undone wouldn’t let him rest. That, and the bloody distracting siren that someone insisted on blasting into his eardrums.

One eye opened as a lifetime’s experience of eyelid manipulation had led him to believe it would. The other was… sticky. Gummy — clearly refusing to toggle as required. Already feeling put upon, Sanders tried not to take this additional injustice personally.

Activating muscles that protested being press-ganged into service, he raised a hand to paw at his face. He smeared enough blood away to restore minimal function. The harsh artificial light of the shuttle pod’s interior clashed in headache-inducing splendour with the flickering flames of the uncontrolled fires that burned in the console. Meanwhile, the smell of burning plastic assaulted his nose as thoroughly as the light ambushed his eyes.

Time to leave.

Sanders rose, his body reeling like a tired scarecrow left too long to the mercy of crows. He stumbled forward and collapsed his weight onto the door control, executing a clumsy escape from the increasingly smoky confines of the forward cabin.

One glance at the outside of the shuttle confirmed what his injuries had led him to suspect — it hadn’t been an easy flight from the Odyssey.

The Odyssey! The mayday call from the military freighter. The Captain’s decision to respond. The many, many enemy ships that surrounded them. The gloriously cunning plan of the Captain, that relied on…

…that relied on Sanders getting to the bridge of this run down freighter. The blurry clock icon in his peripheral HUD painted the time in crimson neon across his vision. Sanders focused. Three minutes to go. If the missiles weren’t fired at exactly the right time and in exactly the right pattern the plan would fail, ensuring the destruction of the Odyssey and the almost certain capture of the freighter. But Sanders had served two tours with the Captain. He had seen enough rabbits pulled out of enough hats to feed a small army.

External communications were jammed, and internal communications unresponsive. Sanders raced down grey corridors filled with flickering lights, alarms, and barely repressed panic. These freighters didn’t exactly attract the best of the best. No security stopped him as he burst onto the main bridge with barely 20 seconds remaining.

‘Captain, I’m Lieutenant Sanders from the Odyssey‘, he barked. ‘We need a full spread of missiles, attack pattern delta-epilson-five to coordinates 165 by 234. On my mark…’

The frazzled freighter Captain looked up at Sanders, his expression bemused. ‘No can do. All class seven freighters had their missiles confiscated as a part of the last efficiency dividend process’, he said.

Sanders sighed and slumped to the ground as the forward screen flashed. It was awash with light from the exploding Odyssey.

Bloody bureaucracy, Sanders thought, and waited patiently for the oblivion he once again hoped would follow.

THE END


‘The Gloriously Cunning Plan’ was originally published in Antipodean SF, in issue 165 (March 2012). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?See my bibliography for more details about my published work.

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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Authentic Empathy – audio edition

My latest story to be published in Antipodean SF was also played on the Anti-SF radio show as well. You can find the podcast of the episode here in episode Gemma, first released on May 23. My story, Authentic Empathy, is the first out of the gate.

I think it is fantastic that Nuke, the editor, provides so many channels for stories to be discovered. The website, the eBooks and the audio together provide a powerful delivery mechanism for everyone’s work. It is a pleasure to publish with him.

More details about all my publications can be found on my bibliography.

Authentic Empathy now available in Antipodean SF – Issue 200!

I have a new story published and online today! Authentic Empathy is the 10th story I’ve had published at the long term online magazine AntipodeanSF, and to make it even better, it is in the bumper issue 200.

AntipodeanSF was started back in February 1998 by Ion “Nuke” Newcombe as a venue for using the new-to-most-of-us technology of the internet to bring a wider range of stories to the masses. The stories were pitched at 500 words long (flash fiction) because that’s the most Nuke felt people could read in one hit on the flickering CRT screens that were the norm at the time.

17 years later, he is publishing issue 200 and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it. Nuke has been excellent to me – taking the time to not only publish but edit my stories. But more than that, I’ve been astonished at what a wide array of Australian writers had early publication credits with AntipodeanSF. Nuke is a stalwart of the Australian speculative fiction scene, and if you haven’t had a chance to check out AntipodeanSF, make now the time that you introduce yourself to its bite-sized delights!

Issue 200 is a bit different from most. Rather than the 6 – 10 flash fiction pieces Nuke usually publishes, he has gone back to people who had early AntipodeanSF publishing success and asked them to provide a new story. The issue contains 22 stories from authors who owe Nuke a debt of gratitude, and as a bonus he has included (in most cases) the first story that the author had published on AntipodeanSF. In my case, that story was called Shipwrecked, which came from my wondering about why Earth may have never been visited by extraterrestrial life.

My new work, Authentic Empathy, is a short piece that was inspired by some questions I’ve always had about what would really happen if AIs were introduced to the world.

If you’re interested in hearing more about AntipodeanSF, I recently interviewed Nuke for the Galactic Chat podcast.

So, go get my story here and if you’re interested in seeing more of my flash fiction, see my bibliography page or my self-published collection of the flash fiction (A Flash in the Pan?)that has previously been published at AntipodeanSF.

(I should note that for the last couple of years I have been producing the simple eBook editions of AntipodeanSF, so when you combine that work with the fact that Nuke has published my work, you can see that I’m a little biased!)