Pleased to announce the fourth book in the Weird West/sci-fantasy series The Fifth Place is completed and up on Amazon! You can find it here.
I hope you like it!
Pleased to announce the fourth book in the Weird West/sci-fantasy series The Fifth Place is completed and up on Amazon! You can find it here.
I hope you like it!
The second book in the pirate fantasy series India Bones is available now on Amazon here.
I hope you all enjoy it; I had the most fun writing it. Packed full of pirate adventure (and danger).
India Bones was once just an ambitious street kid from Mexico Island, without family, without money, and without experience of the wider world.
Much has changed. Now he is an eager crewmember of the pirate ship the Devil’s Dress, sailing the Caribbean under the captaincy of his skeleton friend Grimmer, seeking adventure, glory, and stolen booty.
But sometimes adventures – those of the riskiest kind – aren’t looked for. When the powerful and unscrupulous merchant king Hong Kong Silver demands the crew seek out the pirate revolutionary Ebon Caesar, they are given little choice but to comply.
Yet Caesar is not in the Caribbean. To find him they must travel to Afrika, a vast land full of all new wonders and dangers. And that’s just the beginning of their troubles, for Caesar has his own dark plans .
Morning rose, and they were too dead on their feet to keep going, especially with the shimmering wave of heat that struck them with the rising sun. Old Neg fainted, and that was that. They splashed water on his face, then half-carried him to a small gorge where they laid up in its shadows. Ink took the first watch; the rest were out like a light.
They were roused by Bilge Joe at midday, and wobbled their way out the gorge and west once more.
They relaxed somewhat as the days passed, for no pursuit seemed to be coming. Maybe Caesar really had decided he had better things to do than chase them down. They deviated from their course slightly to approach an old village. Half-naked children played in the red dust, and stopped to stare at the strangers. Somewhere women were singing, wailing, an ethereal sound that carried through the village. It spoke to India of waving lemon grass, of a boiling sun that rose giant and scarlet over the rim of the world as a million birds took to the air. Of titanic mumaphants shaking the earth with their steps, and rhinosaurs rolling in the mud. Of children playing and laughing in the dust and the doom palms and the fever trees.
They struggled to make themselves understood to the villagers, but with enough pantomiming by Bilge Joe they succeeded in both buying food and hiring camels – the only ones, it seemed, the village had. Bilge Joe thrust a handful of battered silver coins at them and their faces opened in wonder and delight.
‘Good thing too,’ India heard him mutter to Bill Timber. ‘I very much doubt they’re gettin’ these camels back.’
Their progress was much better mounted, and not having to pass the bags of gear between them. They kept the camels in a trot for a while – the beasts seemed eager for the rare chance to run – then settled them into a steady walk when they got tired.
There was still no sign of Captain Grimmer and the rest of the crew. India, now worried, asked if they should go back for them (despite absolutely not wanting to retrace all those steps and returning to their place of imprisonment), but Ink and Bilge Joe snorted practically in unison.
‘They’ll be out, don’t you worry,’ the first mate said. ‘Straight west, Cap’n’s orders. We ain’t to go against that.’
‘And if we don’t see him?’
‘Then we don’t see him,’ Bill Timber said in his deep voice.
‘We’re a crew up to a point, lad,’ Bilge Joe said. ‘After that, well, sometimes you can’t do somethin’ for someone more than they can do it for themselves. You understand?’
India didn’t, but kept his mouth closed.
Days, nights, days. The sky was cloudless, the country arid, but for verdant watering holes, crowded with grazing animals of every shape and size. Eventually long grasses returned, the air thicker, the trees frequent. They passed lines of quiver trees alternating with petrified wood in the most unnatural shapes; they looked almost like people who had been magicked into statues by one of the less merciful Afrikan gods. Bushwillows followed, and then, as the foliage grew denser and the climate more humid, red silk-cottons and giant kokrodua and heavy-leafed coffin trees, and many not one of them could name. There were no rocks in this land.
Another day and their camels rode awkwardly and out-of-place along winding forest trails. Black hardwoods and evergreens and blossoming flowers of every colour. The undergrowth thickened, and sometimes the way ahead to smoother grass had to be hacked away with Ink’s machete. Sweat rolled down every inch of their skin. The buzz of insects were regular, and Bilge Joe was attacked on countless occasions; they seemed to be the only things in the world that liked his odour.
They had shifted to riding in the days; the nights here seemed too dangerous, fraught by frightening animal cries. The forest became a predator. They saw slinking shapes away from the light of the campfire, and chittering in the trees, heard prey pounced upon and eaten. One night they all woke up one by one to the sound of discordant humming. None of them were making the noise – it was coming from the forest. Bilge Joe and Ink were on watch, and told them firmly not to investigate. India thought that wise, though he wondered at its source – the humming was wordless singing, now. It was scarier just for the lack of knowing. Oshun and Meria’s stories came back to him. Were they Obambo bush ghosts? Biloko treasure guardians? Mashetani spirits? Was it the trickster god Ogo in one of his disguises? Or was it the Rompo, that corpse-feeder that crooned as it ate?
India shuddered. Much as he liked to experience new things, he didn’t fancy meeting whatever was making that sound, at least not in the middle of the night.
Thankfully the sound faded into the forest, and after a while of staring into the black-green foliage and seeing things that weren’t there, India eventually drifted back into an uneasy sleep.
India Bones and the Indigo Caves is a work in progress. The first book in this series, India Bones and the Ship of the Dead, is currently available FREE as a US/UK ebook here.
I’m happy to report I’m working hard on my next book. ‘Tis the sequel to the pirate fantasy India Bones and the Ship of the Dead, and it’s called India Bones and the Indigo Caves. It’s vaguely standalone like the first (although it does reference the first), as well as being part of a series, so you don’t completely need to have read the first to enjoy it (though you should anyway!). You can find the first on Amazon here, currently free as an ebook in US and UK.
What to expect from the new one? AFRIKA. Hong Kong Silver. Die Kraai. Louisiana swamps. Le Jour des Morts. Mumaphants. Hammertown. Tartarus. Antlered cats…
The art used in the heading image is by Marina Ortega.
The third book in the sci-fi/fantasy/dark western/dystopian series The Fifth Place is completed and up on Amazon! You can find it here.
I hope those who have been following this series enjoy this dark new chapter, as different again as SLADE was to WULF, but still featuring our diverse and tragic anti-heroes we can’t help but root for.
In my writing-but-not-writing that occupies the middle ground between being genuinely productive and procrastinating, I make a lot of playlists. The Fifth Place series is a cinematic series; I often visualise it as a movie, complete with music. Hence I make Spotify playlists for these books. Officially unofficial. Music that inspires, accompanies and/or links in with the books.
I think they’re well worth checking out, although I would say that. I’ve spent a stupid amount of time of them.
Here is the playlist for the first two books, WULF and SLADE:
Read below for a snippet from Book 2 of the Fifth Place. Don’t read if you haven’t read WULF (Book 1) yet and/or don’t want any spoilers!
‘Miss Slade, it is my delight to inform you that you will not die today. You are, in fact, coming with me.’
That’s what he’d told her, before he’d gone on with himself. She hadn’t been able to reply, given the silver band around her throat that stopped her from speaking, except when he allowed her to. Not that she would have offered much; it was the first time in her life she felt she could have outdone Savvi on swearing.
He never offered his name, but he referred to himself as a “Servant”. Information beyond that was scant. When she woke up (she’d no idea how he’d knocked her out and taken her; the last thing she remembered was talking to Jay in a bar in Stoneswell – had he drugged her drink?), she found herself in the middle of nowhere, her ankles and wrists bound with silver loops held together with a kind of slithery, jelly-like cord.
The design wasn’t wholly unlike common manacles, but as the days would wear on, she would be forced to acknowledge their superiority. The cuffs seemed to sense the tensions of her body, and perhaps even her mind. They were only loosely connected most of the time, allowing her to walk almost normally and use her hands. Whenever she tried to escape however (which was about eight times in all), and even when she was only preparing to escape, the glistening silver tentacle that connected the loops would draw itself in, quickly shortening the distance between her limbs. The more she struggled, the closer her ankles and wrists would press together, and the tighter the bands would be. Her legs would be unable to manage even the slowest shuffle, and her hands would clasp with such force that she was unable to use her fingers. This had been particularly frustrating when she’d tried to pick up a rock to hit her captor over the head while he’d been asleep. She thought he’d been asleep, at least, but maybe he never did. He’d opened his eyes glowing green in the night like a cat, and watched her with cool interest as she fell back down, tired and angry and hopeless.
The next day he’d handed her his gun. It was a cold grey thing, as smooth and featureless as a piece of paper. She knew at once it was pointless, but she aimed at him without emotion and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened, of course. She let it drop to the ground and he picked it up, and aimed at a stub of a tree and fired. He gave her what he must have thought was a smile. She stared back. It was a gun that only he could fire. She’d never heard of something like that before, but it didn’t matter. She understood. Until something changed, there was nothing she could do.
After that moment, she only tried to escape twice more.
At the beginning she thought he’d make her walk in front of him, but he never did. They walked in tandem, or side by side, close together or thirty feet apart. It hadn’t mattered. Unless she followed his direction, the bands tightened and she could no longer move. She thought she’d die from the frustration, the impotence.
They walked on in silence, west through the golden Sol Forests, and then into the wilds beyond. Always towards the Black Circle.
SLADE can be bought on Amazon here.
I’m currently working on the third book in The Fifth Place series. Here’s a short teaser that doesn’t really spoil previous books, if you haven’t read them yet (which you should!)
The first book in the series, WULF, can be found here, currently free!
He was born small, smaller than the other kids. Some called him a runt, others protected him – though even at an early age he could see the disappointment in their eyes.
He had more enemies than friends, but he preferred it that way. Better an enemy than a friend that turned on you. Enemies were supposed to be mean; friends weren’t. But it seemed his friends were always the type to flip like a coin.
He was told to grow thicker skin, and he did. But as his skin thickened, so too the cruelty of others increased, growing in sync, and just like everything else, he couldn’t catch up. He was too white in a white culture and too short in a world where the buildings rose higher every day.
He was beaten often. He stopped wanting to leave the house; it was a big house after all, a great manor, one with plenty of places to explore.
He remembered the adults standing over him, always over him, looking down at him with their bright eyes and sharp teeth. He never knew who his parents were, he was never told. Perhaps none of them were, perhaps his parents had died. He was raised by the Family, and when he tried to remember them, after they had disappeared one by one, they were only black, looming shapes, indistinguishable from each other.
One day, after he came home bloody and bruised, they told him about himself. They said he was not like those he played with, those who hurt him and acted his friend. He was better (the word stuck a little in their throats) than them. He would outlive them all. In his life he would see riches turn to poverty and back to riches, and when he was poor he would have to hide from them, but when he was rich, when he had power, they would be at his mercy.
Many times over the years, they would ask him: ‘What are they?’
And he would reply, as they had taught him: ‘They are weakness masquerading as strength.’
And they would ask him: And what are you?
And he would reply, ‘I am strength masquerading as weakness.’
The next evening after they had told him about who he was, about the history of their kind, he left the house again. He was grabbed by his tormentors and one, the biggest, the meanest, put a hand over his mouth to stop him shouting out.
He bit it. Hard. The boy screamed.
The blood tasted good, but the pain tested better.
The boy tried to pull his hand away, but he came with it, still biting.
It was his first taste of justice. It felt right. That those who would harm him would themselves be harmed. The punisher would be punished.
Over the crawl of following years, as the memory of that boy’s wounded cries were joined by the cries of many others, he would come to know the idea as Equilibrium.
Forgive me, I am weak, and thoughts of what occurred next rob me of my strength of mind. To recollect such a thing is like . . . I do not know what it is like. It is something I cannot block out, but to relive it, to speak of it is like inviting that stygian darkness to take its hold on me and not let go.
Huh. Why do I ask your forgiveness? Truly I have become a fragile, pitiful specimen. I do not recognise myself anymore. Nor would you, if you had met me before all this. Things between us would have gone very differently, of that I am . . . No. I am wrong, things would have not gone so differently. Such is the cruel will of the gods.
What can I tell you of the battle? I can tell you that it was not a battle. Death incarnate was before us, and like fools we marched towards it with spears and bows. What surprise is it that we were no different to a sacrifice? Our very finest, walking of our own will into the slaughter pit. A tragedy only outmatched by our folly.
He had begun moving when we reached him – have you ever seen or heard a god move? It is as though the whole world is being picked up and flung. Many times we were thrown to the ground, but we kept after him, running as fast as we could after those ponderous yet enormous strides. To our shame it took a long time before he even noticed us. But he finally stopped on the edges of Lake Texcoco, and that is where our attack began in earnest.
You want details? I have details. They are only disconnected flashes in my mind, but for a second it is like I am still there amid the carnage, and I tell you, the sounds, by the gods, the sounds . . .
It must have been after the initial frenzy of blood; I remember Quetzacthulhu turning to those who had reached the water, those desperately trying to swim to boats in the distance. I do not know what eldritch powers he exacted on us. The shoreline began to steam and then bubble, and the screams of those in the waves were the most terrible yet, pinkening as they were boiled alive.
I remember Quetzacthulhu reaching down with one arboreal arm and collecting a horde of my brethren, opening his gaping maw and tossing them in.
I remember . . . I don’t know when it happened, how much later, but I remember Quetzacthulhu had sat down – all the better to play with us, perhaps – and suddenly there came a host of sickly tearing sounds, and his soft belly began rupturing in half a dozen small places. Who should come out head to toe in yellow filth but my swallowed brethren?
Quetzacthulhu roared then, I hoped in pain, and his arms crashed into us, killing who knows how many. We clutched our fists to our ears, trying to block out the unearthly noise he emitted. I saw my brothers pound their fists into their head again and again, turning their temples bloody, desperate to do anything to make it stop, even if it meant unconsciousness or the mercy of death.
The sound stopped, and I . . . I had fallen to my knees, drained beyond imagining, my head feeling as though it had been scooped out. I turned to see the warriors who were still escaping from Quetzacthulhu’s stomach; they were only a fraction of those thrown down that tongueless chasm. They slid and slithered down his loathsome belly and after a heady drop – they were in too severe shock to wail – hit the earth with a series of thumps. Their eyes were those of the utterly lost and I knew that should by some miracle they survive, they would never recover. Those men were forever gone. Glancing at the spots where they had cut themselves out, I saw a glimpse of slick, wet things, and I saw their sickening movements, and I knew that unspeakable things lived within the god’s innards. I turned immediately away lest I should follow my brothers into madness.
It pained me immeasurably to see Quetzacthulhu now seemingly untroubled by the cuts, and I saw with weary shoulders that just like our spears thrown into his monstrous hide, the wounds were minute to him. It was then that I knew we could not defeat him. Hundreds had by now died at his hand.
Another off-the-cuff idea for something that could go further… or not.
I’m a lanky, bristle-haired daeman from New Africa, and I made a career of dissecting time. It started, as did many things of this nature, with drugs.
In the early days of the Second Enlightenment (the world had perilously skimmed a Second Dark Age, like a nosediving plane pulling up from the sea at the last second, its wings dripping with dumbfuckery), as the leading powers shifted gradually into technocracies (New Africa among them), the political ballast of drug repression thinned, and science began to take as much of as an interest in psychedelic brain expanders as they had in the hippie culture of the 1960s, and then doubly and triply so.
Scientists took inspiration from the hallucinogenic and dissassociative drugs of old, and went into overdrive creating new, synthetic ones. After 83,721 (at least, those were the ones listed publicly) synthetic creations of mind-altering substances, they finally reached a zenith. It was called LDX43iv, although was quickly referred to by all and sundry as ‘Slug’. The adopted name was an in-joke; far from making one’s mind slow, it rocketed it up to unprecedented speeds. To be ‘slugged out’ might hold some truth physically, but it meant the exact opposite mentally. Creative and extremely left-field and out-of-box thinking was enhanced beyond what were initially perceived to be rational levels, at the expense of more straightforward tasks like figuring out how to eat.
I remember the first time I tried Slug. The new textures, new colours, new wavelengths. The giraffes made from felt, in the shape of that old-fashioned written style of the number four. The terrible genius of it all. My mind had raced so goddamn fast I thought I was going to be sick from the sheer mental strain. It was like drinking too much, lolling back in the chair and feeling that void pulling you down, willing you to unconsciousness; but you resist, because it’s scary, and because you know, you just know, that you’ll start vomiting uncontrollably.
It was like that, but with the mind.
The great thing about Slug – once you’d locked it down, and adapted to its speed – was how much your mind opened. For the first time I – and countless others – had viewed their own mind, that is, understood it on a quasi-physical level, an actual perceived dimension. Three dimensions, to be exact. Your thoughts existed not in 2D but across a space stretched without horizon in three absolute directions. The Z axis in particular boggled the inexperienced mind by allowing you, with eyes closed, to go backwards through your own head. The mind-expanse existed where my head was, but without barriers; you simply kept on going, as though your inner eye was also legs and you could walk it or fly it at undefinable speeds.
An increasing number of scientists involved in this field began to take Slug, at first using it to inform their own work, and better understand their experiments on others, but eventually because, for the inquiring mind, there was no way back. Slug opened up scientific possibilities previously thought only theoretical, and delivered new theoretical ideas where previously nothing existed, bar perhaps mad ravings. Scientists also took Slug to understand other scientists whose otherwise unintelligible, yet ground-breaking work had been scribbled whilst on Slug.
As the field continued to expand its sphere of influence, scientists took more and more Slug, for wilder and wilder results. It was still by-and-large in-house at this stage, not technically available to the public (although it was starting to make a dent in the black market). Health consultants were brought in by concerned overseers, and they determined – shocked by the state of some of the scientists, who had been living on high doses of Slug non-stop for months and appeared to be in advanced stages of delirium – that regular ‘complete breaks’ from the drug were now mandatory.
This did not go well. At first, in a case of classic incompetence of bureaucracy, the first scientists were forced to quit cold-turkey. When the last vestiges of the drug wore off, they slipped quietly into something resembling, though not actually, comas.
After that, the weaning-off approach was tried, steadily lowering the dosage until it was negligible. This worked better, although that wasn’t saying much. At best, the scientists became profoundly bored, listless and depressed, showing no motivation or interest towards anything, especially anything based in mundane reality. Their minds, though operating at the same speed as pre-Slug, now felt to them interminably slow and dull beyond belief.
At worst, the scientists lost so much motivation and spark that they had to be cared for 24/7. They had to be helped to eat, bathe, go to the toilet, and so forth. They displayed zero energy or affection for anything around them, existing in a total stupor. They could not even summon the mental will to kill themselves, as was briefly a concern. It wasn’t anything physical, you understand, rather it was a sort of extreme psychological deprivation. The awesome majesty of the universe they had come to understand, and the near-divine sensation of their own minds working, creating, inventing, sorting, imagining at a pace once unimaginable – I’m talking at least several fantastic ideas a second, every second – was now robbed from them, leaving them with a comparable wasteland of sensation in return.
At some point, some of the scientists got together and wrote to be reinstated with the drug permanently, and the new ruling to be stricken. The mental effort to create this petition-of-sorts must have been immense for them, and no doubt they had help from concerned colleagues who either never touched the stuff or only took it sparingly, so as to stay ‘in the loop’ with the cutting edges of scientific theory.
Thankfully, it worked, and the mandatory breaks were removed, it being finally accepted by medical professionals that being off the drugs was more harmful than being on them. If not actually physically harmful, the drug’s absence nonetheless made complete wastes of space of great thinkers. Whether they were on or off the drug, they were no longer fit for regular human society, so society might as well at least let them trip, was the general consensus (although probably not phrased as such).
There was a new ruling, or should I say guideline, that from now on no more academics were to take significant quantities of Slug, for fear of its pressing psychological demands. However, nobody ever bothered to define ‘significant quantities’ (one wonders if those drafting this ruling were partaking in Slug themselves), and so the ruling was at first lax, and then essentially forgotten.
After all, by this point it was hopeless to restrict access to the drug; Slug had now blossomed out of the black market and made its way into the wider public sphere, where it caused as much joy and innovation as it did chaos. Thankfully, the consistently high price of the drug stopped too much regular-use apart from by the rich (who were layabouts anyway and hardly necessary to the common production required to turn society’s gears), and after a troubling splurge, where there were many heavy-handed but ultimately meaningless talks about ‘what to do’, things settled down, and while it remained the psychedelic drug of choice, it dipped far below worldly levels of alcohol and caffeine consumption among the working class.
It also helped that a lot of people just simply couldn’t take it. Or didn’t want to. It boosted the imagination, you see, boosted it beyond the recognisable. Those with little to no imagination saw little interest in the drug; it merely confused the shit out of them. They were much happier with a beer.
Where am I going with this? you ask. How does Slug apply to me? Well, eventually, thanks to many months-long explorations of the deepest mindscape, and new spatial conceptions of reality, we finally unlocked the secrets of the fourth dimension: time. Those taking the highest doses began to break its esoteric workings apart; they passed the secrets to progressively lower-dosed levels of others, until it could go no further without sinking into total non-comprehension. Even now, so many years after those initial manic discoveries (which first took root in New Africa, I’m proud to say), few people in this world understand the mechanics. Even I, whose very job it is to dissect time, barely understands it, and I can hardly be expected to explain it to a thoroughly sober individual like yourself.
So, yes. The discoveries became actionable, and the brightest – and most fucked up – minds of our generation learnt (through concepts once laughably insane, and then theoretical bizzaros, and then veritable eurekas) how to literally make time, how to divide it, how to mathematically add and subtract it, shorten it or lengthen it, alter its intrinsic properties, shape it, cast it in a bubble, grind it into pieces and feed it to things.
Naturally time became a commodity, in the very real sense. You could buy and sell it. And people did, in droves. And it wasn’t cheap.
For single-use it usually comes in capsules; some you press a button to activate, some you break in the middle like glowsticks, some you just throw at something. A bubble forms – a bubble of time. Things can slow down or speed up within this bubble.
It was an oddity at first, something exciting and silly and novel. Little things, at first. Slow down the rate at which your pizza cools (at the expense of it taking longer to reach your mouth), or get more sleep (it was arguable if you actually were getting more, of it was just psychological), or play a trick on someone: a popular, cheap and harmless early one was to cast it on a flicked-on kettle, so the old adage of a watched pot never boils became true.
Then there was “speeding up” ordinary tasks (i.e. making them take less time), like vacuuming the house, although then again we already had robots for that kind of thing and it wasn’t worth the price to attach a time-tube to free labour.
Of course, small bubbles soon weren’t enough. I blame business folk for that. The bubbles became bigger (speed limits had to be redefined after people started attaching time-tubes to their car so they could beat – or outright ignore – the traffic), they took on different shapes, you could have them run only on one or two axis, you could make time go sideways (don’t ask), you could change clocks with them (everybody’s time-tubed and synchronised up to the national Timegrid, except for when it was hacked, which caused a full day of problems), you could manipulate the production of goods, shorten essential tasks, you could use them on robots, on people. . .
It was when people started straying perilously close to paradoxes (such as Amazon, eager for best-delivery-service-in-the-world-status, began delivering parcels before they had technically been ordered), that governments were forced to take some control. This is why the international governmental watchdog and action force TimeGuard exist. To stop people doing dumb shit just because they can.
They could have tried to stamp out Time Co. entirely, but the operative word there is tried, for they’d have failed pretty spectacularly if they had. Time made up more of our respective economies now than it ever had before it had been bottled up and merchandised. Just about every powerful hand was greased by Time Co. and its bought-out partner Slug4U, and the benefits from both of these things were just too great, both in personal fortunes and the general advancement of humanity (working class excepted, naturally).
Time Co. recently bought out TimeGuard, anyway, so that’s that.
Some of the world’s lesser powers and single-states I think were doing okay without it, or with minimal use; they’d observed its effects on us first, and so had strapped in a bunch of new, hard-and-fast laws ready to receive it. The big guns, however, especially New Africa, were in too deep to pull out.
I don’t want them to rub that shit out, anyway. Not yet, at least. Not before all is broken and irreparable. My job depends on it. I’m rare, like a precious bird the world can’t do without. I’m the one who cuts the lines of time. I’m the product man. But I’m more than that, I’m more than just a glorified dealer. I take advantage of the opportunities presented to me. I cut them open and I take my peek.
I might not know exactly how time works, but I know more about what’s inside it every day. In a way, I’m a scientist myself.