Short story: Demon Hunter

17 April 2015

6a00d8341bf67c53ef0148c80f2a13970c-500wiSome of you may have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet around here lately.

Mostly that’s due to me being bed-bound for a week back in March with a bad back. And mind you, when I say ‘a bad back’ I don’t mean that it was aching a little like as though I’d been lifting heavy weights. No, this was a whole new level of badness. I’m talking not being able to stand bad. I’m talking stabbing pains all across my lumbar region bad. I’m talking shuffling around like an old man everywhere bad… Yeah, it wasn’t much fun. Then my mother was over for Easter, which erased another week and all the rest of my free time has been eaten up by the new house, which I’m pleased to say now has paint on its walls and wood on its floors and a garden that is almost entirely weed free.

But never let it be said I’m one to idly lie by because I was able to get a new short story finished during this time and sent off to an anthology for submission. Which is nice.

Click here to read a sample of Demon Hunter (PDF)

Which anthology, I hear you ask? This one. It’s all about hunting monsters of the big and scary variety. Think Godzilla stalked by Elmer Fudd and you’ll be somewhere along the right lines.

Shhh! Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. I'm hunting monsters!

Shhh! Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. I’m hunting monsters!

My own entry for this anthology is a rather strange tail about an exorcist from the Catholic church who roams the galaxy looking for demons to kill. Except that this demon is a giant ball of corrupted flesh and this priest uses science and bullets to kill its prey rather than prayers and holy water.

It’s a silly concept, I know. But it’s nice to let yourself go once in a while and just write whatever nonsense comes into your head. And like with a lot of my stuff these days, the idea for this story is an old one. I’ve mentioned before that Warhammer was a big inspiration for me during my formative writing years. It helped me develop my world building skills. For all the hackery of the 40k universe (and the double hackery of its gameplay) Warhammer has some of the most detailed and interesting fluff of any fictional shared universe I’ve come across. There are some really interesting concepts in the 40k universe and lots of them ripe for exploring further in other media.

The 40k universe: damn does it do super sillyness with style

The 40k universe: damn does it do super silliness with style

One of the most intriguing ideas from this universe is the idea of the ‘warp space’. It’s how the humans in the Warhammer universe travel from planet to planet. The ‘warp’ is basically another dimension which (to oversimplify things) is literally the physical amalgamation of all the combined thoughts of every sentient life form in the universe. Traveling through the warp is extremely dangerous. Not only are there frequent storms that tear ships apart and scatter them across space and time at a whim, but it’s also home to the deamons who are creatures literally born out of our darker thoughts. Most humans go mad trying to navigate their way through it. Many others become possessed by the deamons who live there. But everyone agrees the benefits of being able to travel across the universe so quickly far outweigh the few negatives and occasional mass infestations that might occur along the way.

Like Nurgle here

Some awesome 40k art taken from http://warhammer40k.wikia.com/wiki/Nurgle

This concept was one I basically stole hook, line and sinker for my story Demon Hunter, although, in my defense, I did try to make my demon a little more science-y and less all-out evil. My descriptions of the demon were inspired by China Mieville’s short story Familiar in which a tiny magical creature slowly grows into a monster by assimilating into itself the everyday things it stumbles across. I remember finding the story creepy as all hell when I read it about 10 years ago and something about the imagery has stuck with me ever since.

Anyway I hope you like it. It’s a silly story and far from my best work but sometimes it’s nice to let yourself indulge in your wilder fantasies now and again.

Oh and one last note on the priest’s name: Father Asakite. It comes from a very old joke I used to share with my best friend. He once told me that if he ever became famous he would change his name to Asakite. That way, whenever someone saw him in the street they would say “Hi Asakite!”. There was also Denseek (“Hi Denseek!”) and Hosilver (“Hi Hosilver!”) but they were never as funny for some reason.

Anyway, as always feedback is welcomed.


These are a few of my favourite things

10 April 2012

When I’m not too snowed under with work or the every day humdrum of daily life, it’s good to find a few minutes here and there to actually, you know, enjoy myself a little. Being a writer, a lot of that free time is naturally eaten up with either reading or writing, but there are still a few other interests I manage to squeeze in from time to time. This post is a celebration of those things. Think of it as a little window into my heart and all the myriad nonsense that makes me tick.

1.Piano playing

I play the piano. I’ve never been particularly good at playing it mind you, partially because I’ve always had trouble reading sheet music, but I get by. I’ve been writing my own songs for this thing since I was old enough to realise what I was doing. In fact, at one point I got so involved in song writing I was seriously debating whether I should devote my career to music as a full-time profession. Obviously, I chose to stick with writing instead, but in a parallel universe somewhere I like to think there’s another me out there tickling the ivories for a living. It’s a nice thought.

2. Swimming

Swimming is the perfect sport. Low-impact (meaning it doesn’t tire you out too much) and solitary (meaning I get to do it as and when I please). I’ve never been much of a team sport kind of guy, mostly because the idea of others seeing me when I’m all sweaty and out of breath has never sat well with me. Swimming, though, is perfect. Not only does the water ensure you stay sweat free at all times but it’s one of those sports where you don’t have to think. You can just switch off your mind, set yourself a target and then go. There’s a wonderful relaxation to be had in that.

3. Cooking

God bless Jamie Oliver — the man who taught me to cook! I never used to be much of what you might call a food connoisseur while growing up, my mother (God bless her) even less so. It was only when I got to university and I had to fend for myself for the first time that I realised I should probably learn the difference between a pot and a pan if I wanted to get by in life and not subsist for the next three years on a diet made up of 90% saturated fat.

Cheers Jamie!

These days I try to cook one or two big meals a week and get by the rest of the time on leftovers. I think I’m getting better too. Sure, so I tend to be a bit over ambitious in my ideas and I’m not exactly the neatest of cooks but I haven’t poisoned anyone yet and that’s the main thing!

4. Disney Pixar

If Pixar was a woman, I would be married to her. Seriously. I am utterly in love with what this company can do on such a consistent basis. Namely: reduce a grown man to tears, without fail, every single time they release a film. Up had me sobbing within its opening 10 minutes. Toy Story 3 had me so choked up I wanted to go out and buy some toys just so I could never abandon them and the less said about Monster Inc’s heart wrenching (if slightly schmultzy) end the better. I’ve no idea how they’ve managed to stay so fresh over the years but I can’t think of any other film studio with as much heart, imagination and honesty as this American gem.

Seriously, how can you not love this guy?

True, the company has made one or two missteps over the years (*cough* Bug’s Life */cough*), but it’s easy to forgive these, especially when compared with what their rivals are producing. When treating its viewers as intelligent human beings instead of simple market commodities, there is NO ONE even close to touching Pixar.

And they aren’t the only company I’m loyal to…

5. Nintendo

Now I know that the idea of being loyal to a company is probably a strange one for any younger people out there. I mean, God knows these companies aren’t loyal to me. But trust me if you grew up during the 1980’s you’d understand where I’m coming from. Back in the days of the 16-bit wars, you were either a worthy fan of Nintendo or you were one of those evil blood-sucking minions of Sega. Being neither was heavily frowned upon. Being both was considered social suicide. Well, Nintendo was my choice and its one I’ve stuck with solidly over the years. Sure, I might have disagreed with many of the company’s decisions over the years. Let’s face it, the N64’s lack of CD drive was a huge misstep which cost them the loyalty of Square Enix, and the Gamecube’s lack of online playability and third party support almost wiped out their marketability for selling hardware.

Yoshi's Island: my favourite game of all time

But no matter how often they fail as a company, I will always keep coming back to Nintendo for more. Because, in a weird way, my love for Nintendo has actually altered my perception of what makes a good game. Thanks to the likes of Mario, Donkey Kong and Zelda, platform games are now hardwired in my brain as being the quintessential core of what a game should be. FPS’s? Bluh, horrible twitch reaction gaming. RTS’s? Pure number crunching. For me, the timing and pattern memorization required to beat a good platform game will always be my priority when looking for a new franchise to buy into.

Well that and…

6. Pokemon

Admitting you like Pokemon these days is kinda like admitting you like porn. I mean, sure, a lot of people watch it. We all know that. But come on – have some decency. Leave it at home behind closed doors not where everyone can see it! Whip out your DS in public and you’ll be lucky if a raised eyebrow is the only reaction you get. After all, it’s a game for kids right, not adults?

Wrong. Pokemon rocks. It’s that ever elusive sort of game: one that’s easy to pick up and learn the basics of but almost impossible to master. There is a depth to it that belies its cutesy surface detail, one which I am still trying to master after five generations of games and probably 1000’s of hours of playing time. That’s a hell of a lot of monster catching.

7. TV Space Opera

Yeah, sure it’s cheesy and SF aficionados will complain that a lot of it isn’t really science fiction but gosh darn it, these shows are so awesome with their big ships and their shooty lasers and the alien things with the big eyes and pew pew! God I loved being a kid.

But in all seriousness, shows like Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek were the first to open my eyes up to the wonders of the universe. Sure there are lots of shows with war or exploration in them but BSG and Star Trek showed us these things… in space! It’s that sense of vastness and of the unlimited epic that makes space opera so timeless.

What is happening in this picture? Space opera. That's what.

Among my favourites are things like Firefly (one of the best TV shows of all time), Babylon 5 (a show which I watched for the first time last year from beginning to end in a marathon viewing session that lasted almost a whole week) , Star Trek (my youth encapsulated in one show), Battlestar Galactica (one of the best shows ever… until the fourth series ruined it) and Doctor Who (pure insanity in a box) among others.

These series were among the first to open my mind up to the possibilities of there being more to the universe than what we can see or imagine. They helped to shape my impressionable young mind into one that always asked questions. They wowed me and they angered me. They reduced me to tears and made me punch the air with elation. Their sweeping story arcs took in the fates of whole galaxies. They made me think big. And I will always love them for it.

8. A Song of Ice and Fire

This, right here, is probably the closest thing to an obsession that I have at the moment. It’s seriously unhealthy the amount of time I spend thinking about the politics and history of this entirely fictional world. Kudos to George R. R. Martin that he’s managed to create something so believable and so likeable (and at the same time detestable) that I don’t just keep coming back for more, I never leave it in the first place, but damnit I don’t think this level of geekery is healthy. Too bad, because this series is like pure storytelling gold and if I can ever produce something even one tenth as good as this, I will die a happy, happy man.

I still haven’t watched the HBO show yet, mostly because I don’t want my love and enjoyment of the books to be ruined by other people’s creative interpretations of them (as happened for me with the Harry Potter films) but literally everything else released in this universe is either already mine or shortly will be. Yeah, I’m that crazy about it.

9. Warhammer

I’ve already explained the whys and wherefores of this one in some detail. So I’ll just leave this by saying that Warhammer was a big part of my teenage years and there’s still a part of me that loves it for the rich history of its shared universe, the comaraderie that comes with playing with others and the insane over-the-topness of the models themselves.

10. West Bromwich Albion

I’m a guy and I’m from England, so naturally I support a football team. And West Bromwich Albion is it. Now, I know a lot of you have probably never heard of this team before; they aren’t exactly the most famous team in England (despite being five times winners of the FA cup) but hey, I’m not a glory hunter who only chooses my team because they play nice football. Hell no. We like our victories to be earned, thank you very much.

In fact, if you’ve been paying close attention to this blog you might have noticed a pattern in my interests. I have what you might call a natural affinity for supporting the underdog. For example, most people like Playstation so I like Nintendo. Most people hate Pokemon so I love it. Most teenagers choose to learn guitar, shop in Tesco’s and own Apple products, so I learnt piano shopped in Sainsbury’s and shunned anything Apple-related with a big metaphorical stick. And most people support Manchester United or Chelsea. And I don’t.

And talking of which, there is one underdog which I love more than any other…

Bonus: Great Britain

Yeah, sorry to say that I am an unashamed patriot at heart. Not only that but I’m a (Boo! Hiss!) monarchist to boot. I used to joke that I was born about 100 years too late. That the perfect time for me would have been at the height of the British Empire when everyone was overly romantic and still went into battle waving a sabre over their heads and shouting “For the king!” as they boldly charged into cannon fire. I’m something of an idealist like that.

Alas, it’s not meant to be but a man can still dream and still get passionately upset when his beloved union acts in a stupid way or threatens to dissolve completely. Because Britain is my team. The underdog of the world. And you can’t back out on a committment like that.


Warhammer as an Inspiration

9 September 2011
Back in my youth, just like many British teenagers, I was a huge fan of Warhammer 40,000. The models, the universe, the tabletop game with its overly complicated rules: it was a whole new way for me and my friends to waste our time and I loved it.

This weekend, due to a change in my teaching schedule, I had a lot of free time on my hands, so I decided to do something I’ve not done for a very long time and get back into painting some of the many models I’ve still got lying around from those halcyon days. Here are the results so far (though I warn you, I’m not much of a painter).

In my experience, there are three basic types of Warhammer player. There are those who like to play the game, who like the idea of pitting their tactical nous against one another and trying to out think their opponent. There are those who like to paint the models and convert them. And then there are those who are like me – people who got into Warhammer through the history of its universe (what is usually referred to in the community as ‘fluff’).

One off miniatures painted for colour reference: a Howling Banshee, a Dark Reaper and a Fire Dragon

Right from the very beginning of my playing days, it was the stories that drew me into the Warhammer game. My friends never bothered with any of it, preferring simply to roll dice and say stuff like “What’s the armour penetration of a multimelta?” but I always wanted more from my battles. I always wanted to know why our armies were fighting, to come up with names for my characters and back-stories for each. I wanted to know where they were and why these objectives were important to them. I wanted, in short, to care about what I was doing. After all, I reasoned, you could easily take some bits of plastic and throw some dice and just be playing a game of Risk. Add reasons for the fighting, however, and you can only be playing Warhammer.

Some Guardians from Craftworld Ulthwé

As you can see from the pictures, I am an Eldar player.

There’s something about the Eldar that have always appealed to me. Partially it’s because the models themselves are beautiful, all elegant lines and dance-like poses. Partially it’s because I could never abide the idea of playing as the Bad Guys and the Eldar are probably the closest things to Good Guys the Warhammer universe can provide (with the exception of the Space Communists, the Tau).

Partially, it’s because of their personality. The Eldar are like humans but better: cleverer, faster, longer lived, more elegant. They are artists to their core. Their personality is one of OCD-like fixations. They choose a Path in life and then continue along that Path until they have mastered it before moving on to another. It’s a personality quirk I can relate to.

But where the Eldar have always been the most appealing for me is in their back-story. For the Eldar are a tragic race, doomed to a slow extinction. They are a race that once ruled the universe before throwing it all away because of their arrogance and pride. They are a race that now lives each day in denial.

Here is an extract from their latest Codex that explains this better than I can.

Lost in the vastness of space, the craft worlds float in utter isolation like scattered jewels upon a pall of velvet. No star-shine illuminates their sleek towers. Distant from the warmth of sun or planet, their domes stare into the darkness of empty space. Inner lights glisten like phosphorus through semi-transparent surfaces. Within live the survivors of a civilisation abandoned aeons ago amidst terrifying destruction. These are the Eldar, a race that is all but extinct, the last remnants of a people whose mere dreams once overturned worlds and quenched suns.Eldar Codex page 3

Let’s say that again: their dreams once overturned worlds. Their will destroyed suns. This was a people at the very peak of evolutionary and technological advancement. Disease, hunger, need – these things meant nothing to them. In the wake of that, who could fail to understand their pride and arrogance at what they had achieved?

But that same arrogance eventually destroyed them. Their hubris was such that it lead to the creation of an evil entity, whose birth tore a hole in the very fabric of space and wiped out 99% of the Eldar race.

The survivors of this event are tragic heroes. They live each day with the shame of their ancestors’ sins and a fear for what the future will bring. They know they are doomed and yet they continue to struggle against the inevitable each and every day because there is nothing else they can do.

It is safe to say that the Eldar have not really learned from their mistakes, either. They realise what they did wrong, of course, but their technology is still the best and they are still better in every way than that stupid human vermin that infests so much of the galaxy. They are still just as arrogant as they ever were and this inability to let go and start again is what will ultimately destroy them. Again, this is something that I think we can all understand.

It was directly from this back-story that I first came up with the stub of an idea that would later grow into my novel, The Arkship Ulysses. Here is an extract that I wrote about four years ago while travelling on the Victoria Line in London.

There are few of us left now.

Every day we search for a way back, and every day we are disappointed. So many of us fled the dying Earth but now who can say how many remain? Each day brings more reports of wasting, rebellion and open warfare among those few we have left and I fear – oh how do I fear – that it will only be a matter of time before another of those lights in the sky goes out forever and a fragment of God’s glory that can never be replaced will be snuffed out forever.

God has forsaken us; we are alone. We, the final few descendants of those that didn’t turn from sin in time. We, the final fires of God’s glorious creation abandoned now upon a sea of silence to slowly dwindle to ashes and dust in answer for our sins.

We die now because we don’t deserve to live. We suffer because it is the only thing that is left for us to do.

Straight away, notice the similarity in set-up and tone to the extract from the Eldar Codex printed above. It goes without saying that none of this text has made it into the final version of my novel, but the atmosphere has. The same feeling of impending doom – that no matter what we do we will always fall deeper into our own damnation – is something I’ve been striving for from day one of writing this thing. The people of the Arkship Ulysses are survivors, just like the Eldar, who are desperately trying to stave off extinction. They too believe that their sins were the cause of this punishment and they too fear for their future because they know that baring a miracle they are doomed.

Every time I absorb myself back in Warhammer 40,000 and the world of the Eldar, I am reminded of that initial spark that fired my imagination all those years ago. I am reminded of that sense of foreboding, of a hopeless fight against destiny which we throw ourselves into all the same.

And I am inspired.