Where Babies Come From #6

As usual, spoilers ahead. 

Neither Homeward Bound nor On the Edge of Living are particularly plot-filled stories and I’ll group them under the same banner in terms of intent. Both of them are short stories focused on the small guy affected by the Event, showing how normal life has been irreparably altered by the cataclysm.

The premise of Blackout is that all of the stories happen either during or long after the Event, an apocalyptic disaster that shut off every electrical device on the planet, shutting down the global energy infrastructure and annihilating communities in a flash. With electricity disappearing, things like running water, general stores and most businesses start shutting down. Motorised transport becomes defunct, most commodities become useless or so hopelessly expensive to create that they disappear in a matter of months. Old supermarkets like the one Jack finds himself in in On the Edge of Living become free-for-all buffets provided the contents haven’t rotted away yet.

The already-great gulf between the rich and poor in Cape Town was something I decided to focus on in Homeward Bound, the situation exacerbated by the disaster. With poverty and homelessness being an ever-present in the new shattered world, it deserved some attention. The emphasis, though, was on the people struggling to survive, one of the main themes of my works of fiction being man’s determination to succeed.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

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Where Babies Come From #5

As usual, spoilers ahead. 

I really enjoyed writing Outed. It gave me a chance to do a quieter local story with more ‘regular’ people being the focus. Eventually I was going to have to give in to the stereotype about South African fiction and tackle discrimination so this is the story where that happens. I’m not mature enough to sensitively tackle racism and segregation, so I didn’t focus on that sort of prejudice. Instead, I wrote an allegory on coming out, hence the title. I’ve never had that sort of experience, so this particular story took a fair amount of research to pull off.

The X-Men series of comics have taken the route of comparing having to grapple with superpowers to having to come out for years. I didn’t quite do the same thing, but the more well-written comics are certainly a point of inspiration for me. Between offhand comments from other people to outright spouting of hatred, I aimed to capture the universal sort of distrust and disdain closeted people fear. I, of course, do not claim to have captured or have fully understood the feeling. I can only guess at what that feels like and I have absolutely no intention of speaking above those voices.

This story is the first in the anthology with a female protagonist. I’d experimented with writing from a woman’s perspective a couple of times before this and I found, to absolutely no one’s shock, that it’s practically identical to writing from a man’s perspective. Funny that…

The protagonist, Maddie, is the first person I really show experimenting with their telekinetic abilities and this has important ramifications on the rest of the series. Between using small sparks to light candles and bigger crackles to intimidate hecklers, Maddie trivialises telekinesis which, at this point, humanity has very little understanding about. By the climax, her abilities are well-established, making the feat of containing a house blaze much more ‘believable’. This is, of course, nothing special compared to stunts pulled off by later characters, but more on that when I get to Angel Apocalypse.

With the addition of brain-hemorrhages and nerve damage, there are faux-biological side-effects for overuse of telekinetic abilities, referred to as burning out in my internal planning. I wanted this story to follow the tone, or hardness, of science-fiction the other stories have while teasing the reader with a bit of grand telekinetic action.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #4

As usual, spoilers ahead. Also, since starting this little series of posts, sales have gone up significantly. Thanks, guys, I appreciate that a lot. 

Capacity for Atrocity represents me going to my roots as a writer: writing fast-paced, intense action scenes and trying my best to portray something cool. As I said in #1 of this series, I really like mecha and this story follows a random group of mecha pilots in Donetsk. Why Donetsk? I wanted another exotic location and I was out of ideas. I went to watch some football and I was met with a Europa League match between Manchester United and Zorya Luhansk. The commentator starting speaking about one of my favourite players, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and how he used to play for Shakhtar Donetsk. I wanted a snowy place in any case, so a large city in Ukraine worked nicely.

This story was much less of a test for my descriptive skills than many of the others, being more of an action story than the others. I wanted to make the reader feel the sort of unfamiliar intensity and power the characters would see from pre-Event weaponry. In the context of the narrative, these mech suits are almost legendary machines and are certainly much more powerful than anything else at the military’s disposal. I aimed for a melancholy feeling of a lost era as the mecha fight but with the sort of energy and intensity that justifies even hardened professionals cracking under pressure.

The desolate ruins of Donetsk are little more than a microcosm of the global situation. As a Blank Zone, it’s an abandoned area that civilians are pretty banned from entering. I allude to Blank Zones having mutagenic monsters, rogue Lordframes and dormant weapons like virus bombs and untriggered nuclear devices. I intend to set more stories in the Blank Zones, so giving the reader a taste here won’t hurt.

In the end, I wanted Capacity for Atrocity to be cool and intense, showing off both my standpoint on warfare and my technical abilities.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #3

The Bloodbringer is actually one of my older short stories, one I posted a couple of years ago on this blog. I received positive feedback on it and, with some tweaking, it was ready for the anthology.

With this story, I wanted to capture the fear of a recovering post-apocalyptic world full of new and terrifying entities and what better lens to shoot the world through than the eyes of a child? I focused on the desolation left behind by the Event and how people adapted to it. References to TV shows and series gave way to dog-eared novels. Having the story take place in the dead of night added to the sinister mood. I know I’m not the only one who was scared of shadows in the night as a child.

Gangsters are rather a large problem here in Cape Town, to put it very mildly. That made putting organised criminals in the limelight as my villains very easy. The fear factor didn’t come from them. I modeled the ghoul in the story on deep fears of mine: lurking murderers, impossibly strong monsters and silent shades. I never explained what the ghoul was and I don’t plan to. Fear of the unknown is another deep fear of mine.

The Bloodbringer was the first story that involved large chunks of descriptive text and represents an important marker for me. It was my first shot an atmospheric piece and I think I did a decent job.

Thanks for reading and enjoy your day.

Where Babies Come From #2

As usual, spoilers ahead. Get a copy of Blackout or give me a shout if you want a free copy.
We’re going into the more meaty stories now, with Panic being first. I wanted to go to a foreign location for the epicenter of the apocalypse. Doing one of the cosmopolitan European cities would have been a cheap way out and there are enough end-of-the-world stories set in the US, so I didn’t need to add any more. I thought Nigeria, being Africa’s largest economy at this point, would be interesting place in which to set my story.

Most of my stories, novel including, happen long after the Event hits, so I felt obliged to write one at the point of impact. The whole thing is described as horrific, world-ending but very distant in the main narrative, turning Panic into something more visceral and more real. It gave my descriptive skills a bit of challenge in keeping the reader’s attention with a single character, no dialogue and an entire city going to hell. No one in the subsequent stories quite knows what happened, so giving the reader something extra seemed good.

The apocalypse introducing the power of telekinesis was always on the cards, with the end of Panic showcasing my unique take on magic system in science-fiction settings. With telekinesis being a magnetism-like force, I have a somewhat scientific sounding system that’s quite fun to play with. I really enjoy the sense of scale, destruction and power that telekinesis brings to a story, so I wanted to have that as a resource in my novel and in Panic, you get to see where that comes from. Mutagens introducing superpowers are something I’ve seen in some of my favourite pieces of fiction and I took it upon myself to deal with the concept very differently.

Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

Representation in Fiction

Yesterday was the 27th of April 2017. That probably isn’t important to many of you out there but here in South Africa, it was also Freedom Day 2017, the anniversary of the first truly representative democratic election in 1994. We’ve still got a long way to go (obviously) in terms of representation, but it was a great step forward. If I wanted to use that thematically, I’m a day late, but whatever. I suppose it’s better late than never to discuss representation and how I go about dealing with it. I’ve written about the portrayal of genders already, so I’ll skip over that one this time.

1. Race. I’ve never really placed too much emphasis on race and it’s really a tired trope to do so in this day and age. It ends up being a more incidental thing than important to the core of the character for me. Race shouldn’t really define how a character acts unless the context or plot specifically call for it and then it should be dealt with very carefully. Stereotypes are a bad path to wander down, unless you want to be metaphorically mugged.

Communities are more nuanced and subtle than stereotypes allow. As always, research into different sorts of contexts and situations allows one to portray one’s characters of colour more sensitively. If you get something wrong about a community, that’s fine as long as it’s not offensive. The thought of including different kinds of communities goes a long way.

2. Sexuality. Gay is not a character trait. Unless your plot or special context calls for it, I wouldn’t place any emphasis on someone being gay/bi/pan at all. Queer romance is practically identical to heterosexual romance, with the distinction of potentially bigoted characters getting in the way. Unless your aim is to show this facet, I suggest identical treatment for all romance. Normalising things is good.

3. Religion. Please, please, please do your research on this one. No one appreciates having their beliefs, organised or otherwise, ripped apart by some fool behind a computer screen who didn’t bother to get any of the fundamental facts straight. No person’s faith is identical to another’s: atheists, Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus etc all have different individual details among themselves. Try not to make anyone upset if you choose to depict any given religion in a light that isn’t strictly neutral.

4. Politics. I’m not brave enough for politics nor am I brave enough to depict them. Many writers make their political leanings extremely clear when they write and this is bound to upset someone. The fact of the matter is, there’s no right answer for politics. Some people will like any political sentiment in your work of fiction, some people will absolutely hate even the faintest sniff of politics. I can’t help you with this one.

I hope the above points help at all. Thanks for reading and have a nice day.

Teaser- Capacity for Atrocity

The armoured feet of a war machine hit the ground with a metallic thud, a stone giving something to hit other the soggy, sooty ground. Rain rattled against the broad curves of the frame’s shoulders and back. The machine dwarfed nearby houses, its head reaching halfway into the third stories of some. It had the shape and swagger of a burly rugby player, bronze plates making an imitation of a tan. Under the heavy-set forearms sat shining axe blades, notches on the sharpened edge telling a number of war stories.
“Tango, activate forward lights.” A small head set deep within armour plating regarded the weapons with silent admiration, floodlights illuminating the way through snowy mist.
The pilot, eyes locked dead ahead at the screen relaying dizzying amounts of information, rested deep within the machine. Around their arms and legs hung braces, a framework of rods and rings that approximated some sort of metal skeleton. They recorded everything the pilot did, down to finger twitches, and forced those motions on the machine. This was the invention dubbed the Motion Matrix.
Another Lordframe dropped onto the scene, splashing mud in all directions. The pair grew in time to be a heavily-armed trio waiting outside a smashed wall several metres higher still than their machines.  The buildings ahead were the ribs of the city’s upturned carcass, the machines vulture ready to venture in.

“This is Major Nathaniel Tomkins reporting in,” the first pilot said into his mic. “Time is exactly twenty-three hundred Eastern European time. We’ve hit the Blank Zone’s border in upper Donetsk.
“Blank Zone, sir?” the operator asked.  Major Tomkins grumbled. A radio operator not knowing crucial information this early in a mission was a great sign.
“You didn’t pay much attention in history class, did you?” another pilot jeered with a hint of a laugh.
“Don’t mock him, Simon,” Tomkins said with a cool yet ominous tone. “The Blank Zones are the places your mother told you not to go. The cities and towns claimed by Pre-Event weaponry, radiation and all manner of other disturbances, deemed too dangerous to venture into and almost always devoid of human life, those are the Blank Zones. We’ve received reports of ‘monsters’ coming out of Donetsk. Now these might be the results of mutagens being released on the population or they might be rogue Lordframes, I don’t know right now. What I do know is that we won’t have prepared for nearly a year and flown from Leeds to not do a proper job. I’ll report in when anything of substance occurs. Until then, Tomkins out.”

Simon nodded silently, wise enough not to irk Tomkins. A veteran of numerous such sorties, his achievements still paled in comparison to those of the major.
A light scar twitched on the major’s dark brow as he scowled, tired of waiting around. “Best get on with it. Let’s move.”  The massive machines whirred back into life, their red-hot hearts melting the snow on their backs. Tomkins shoved the ruined chunks of steel to one side, breaking through what was left of Donetsk’s border wall. The two accompanying frames swiftly moved to flank Tomkins, their war machines smaller and lighter than their bulky frontline leader. One of them, that belonging to Simon, clutched a long, tube-like firearm in its hands, always aimed straight ahead as the gunman surveyed his surroundings. They could ill afford to be ambushed by an enemy they had only anecdotal information on.

Teaser- My Angels

Frank and Maria’s daughter had been sick for a long time. But recently, the eight year old’s fever and cough had gotten much, much worse. In the middle of a stricken suburb with more focus on weapons than welfare, the couple was running out of options. There was no way they could afford suitable medication for Anne and there wasn’t a chance in Hell of them finding a doctor that would do them a favour. Anne’s issue was a mystery. She’d just as often have carefree hours outside with the other children as she would have those sputtering in bed. The sickness simply wouldn’t go away.
A knock came on the door and Frank, already on edge, marched there in a huff.
“We’re busy now. Come back later,” he said through an opened door not much wider than a slit. The man on the other side smiled, as if understanding their situation.
“I can help you, Frank,” he said. “I’ll take this issue off of your hands.” Frank glared at the man sceptically but he didn’t close the door. “I’m a reverend, a holy man with an eye for educating the youth. If you allow me to, I can take your children on for free.”
Frank grumbled. “I don’t see how that helps Anne.”
The man at the door narrowed his eyes, something Frank noted immediately as sinister. “Medical facilities, my friend. Specifically, my medical facilities. As a trained medical professional, I can provide whatever help your daughter needs.”
Frank held the man’s gaze, breaking it only to sigh. “Listen, we’re not friends, guy… but I don’t have a choice here. I’ll get my wife on board and then… then we’ll follow you to wherever the hell you’re from… you better be legit, or else.”
The man shrugged. “Fair, good sir, fair.” A lock of hair floated across the visitor’s face. “I’ll wait here.”

It didn’t take much to convince Maria and even less to convince Anne. The sickly little blonde girl was tired of being bedridden and, more importantly, tired of being a burden on her parents. They doted after her day and night and they didn’t deserve this. No less than she did. The girl tried her best to hold onto the strange new man with golden hair as he mounted his bike and rode off, followed suit by Maria and Frank on her bike. The trip took a number of hours, hours broken intermittently by fuel stops and breaks.
They eventually ended up where the Western Cape used to meld into the Northern Cape. Those days, it was just a uniform wasteland, like a bombsite the size of a community. Only a lonely church building still stood, surrounded by little shacks and outbuildings that seemed to expand from the building itself. The blond man motioned towards the church, as if to declare his ownership of the place.
Maria seemed on the verge of tears. “We’d love to visit this place more but… the fuel cost and the distance and…”
The man raised a finger. “It’s alright, ma’am, I understand. Rest easy, your child is safe in my hands.” Anne’s parents nodded, bidding their daughter teary farewells as they got atop Maria’s bike again and rode back home.

The man led Anne by the hand through the massive golden doors of the church, their bodies assaulted by dust flown along violent winds. The gates closed with an almighty clang, grabbing the attention of a dozen other people inside the church. They were all seated on pews, Anne noted as she lifted her head to look at them. They were all children as well and almost all of them were younger than she was, maybe six at the oldest.
The rest of the church’s main body was blackened and worn by time. Even a place as venerated as this was not immune to the passage of time. Despite that, the pews were noticeably clean and varnished. Special attention had been paid to them. The children sitting on them were as confused as Anne was, seemingly brought to the place as recently as she.
The man deposited the girl onto a pew, one shared with a raven-haired girl with an eye-covering fringe. Anne was missing any sort of familiar face amongst her surroundings… she’d have to make new ones.

Teaser- Outed

The two women sat with their feet dangling in the water over the edge of a wooden bridge. The little stream remained a surprisingly clean fixture of the abandoned, overgrown garden, the water supporting ducks and all manner of local fish. The cries of birds signalled the coming of the early morning a bit more clearly than the slowly emerging sun for the two women, both fighting hangovers from the night before. It was particularly sharp for Maddie, fighting the tougher of the two headaches as her tooth-baring grimace attested. Putting her feet in the cold water provided some sort of relief and very definite contrast to the squeezing warmth in her head.
She didn’t really know the other woman too well, not being someone she’d normally hang out with, but out there in the dark, there was no way she was risking herself by going out alone. Being drunk made her way friendlier anyway… Maddie squeezed the bridge of her nose as if it was going to relieve her pain. No way am I giving into peer pressure again… Perhaps the vodka hadn’t been a good idea. It was a bit too late to complain about whatever she was doing the night before, but it didn’t make Maddie curse them any less. Continue reading

My World- Part 3

Angelfall, the day it all changed

Excuse the cliche above. I’ve introduced you all to the Apocalypse Seven before and if you haven’t met them already, here’s their introduction. Effectively, they’re the dream team for evil, edgy teenagers (note: I turn 18 in April. I’m allowed to make this joke.) Being entirely responsible for the state of the world as it is, the angels are the primary antagonists of the series. The Black Angel opposes the protagonist in Wyvern Diary, being a very personal enemy to him. Anything beyond that veers into spoiler territory. I personally love writing the Black Angel because of his ‘overacting’ and his destructive tendencies really test my descriptive skills.

With their high speed and the augmentative qualities of telekinetics, the best way to battle the beast is hand-to-hand, with the ubiquitous sword being more economical than the gun in any case. Characters in the novels fight with both in equal amount. Personally, I love the mental image of a dragon squaring off against a mech suit with squads of riflemen flanking both.

The story of the first novel revolves around Steven’s change from child seeking justice for the world to revenge-filled angry teenager, and the repelling of the angel as he invades Cape Town. Being South African, it gives me great pleasure to be one of the very few authors setting science-fiction novels there/here. I’ve dropped a few hints here and there in Wyvern Diary as to locations and such. Between action sequences which I have been praised in crafting and quieter character-driven plot, I hope Wyvern Diary ends up being exciting and wholesome.

In terms of characters, we have:

First Squad:
Private Steven Hail (16): 
A blond-haired idealistic boy tainted early by a family tragedy. Extremely stubborn and strong-willed, Steven will fight until he blacks out.
Sergeant Emmet Hail (16): Steven’s twin brother, a much more responsible and cool-headed lad but with a dark intelligence about him. Motivated equally to protect his brother and serve his PMC to the best of his ability, it may yet tear him up inside.
Private Sam Steenkamp (16): A red-headed jokester with no sense of seriousness, Sam provides a well-needed jest in the face of horrific battles and monsters. Coming from a scholarly family with heavy pressures on him, Sam discards it all, though how successfully remains to be seen.
Private Isa Claramond (16): Notable for her emotionlessness, stark paleness but otherwise remarkably pretty face, Isa is an enigma to most of the platoon and a deadly one at that. As probably the second best fighter in the platoon, she gives Steven a pointer or two in that department while hiding deep-rooted issues of her own.
Private Amanda Walker (16): Sarcastic and biting where her best friend is jovial, Amanda can barely be found away from Sam. Exceptionally brave and a no-nonsense professional, she prefers to bottle her emotions than express herself. Does that suit her, though?
Private Kyros Manis (16): A kind-hearted young lad born from a Greek father, he is far more jaded than his smile lets on. Blessed/cursed with the ability to create fire, Kyros is a talented telekinetic who fears his own powers. Despite his considerable utility to the platoon, he often doubts his place in the squad structure.
Lieutenant Damian Wolf (22): The devastatingly handsome, hyper-dangerous celebrity soldier in charge of the platoon, Wolf lives for battle and for the thrill. The sole survivor of the previous iteration of the 46th Platoon, he values the lives of his subordinates dearly, prepared to fight a god to keep them safe. Always looking out for the emotions of his underlings, he buries his own wants and needs deep…
Dragon Guild PMC:
Major Maxine Harris (24): Another survivor of the disastrous Congo expedition, Max is Steven and Emmet’s adoptive sister and a superlative fighter in her own right. While accepted by most of her family, she has considerable friction with Steven due to events in their youth. When these tensions reach a point, can she put duty above her personal issues with her brother?
Colonel Sheila Hail (40): The premier one-on-one fighter in the Guild and an absolute hero. She is practically worshipped by her sons, especially Steven. But as to all heroes, there is a dark side, one that many refuse to accept…

Aube Rouge:
Aube Rouge is an Australian-based PMC that provides the nameless goons for much of Wyvern Diary. Headed by an ambitious Black Angel, they invade Cape Town for reasons unknown.
The Black Angel (?): An enigmatic beast from realms far beyond, the Black Angel is supremely confident, overly dramatic and unbelievably dangerous. With close-combat ability besting even the most capable soldier, the Black Angel goes about his private agenda with stunning effectiveness, darkly mocking Steven as he goes. He’s a troll and a murderous one at that.

I hope that outlines things nicely. Thanks for reading and have a great day!