All writers have a long history of stories and ideas that just weren’t quite good enough for publishing. Most of those writers have perhaps a drawer filled with early manuscripts, or a yearly bonfire to destroy the evidence. I, on the other hand, have the internet and a brief period in the 1990s where I posted pretty much everything I wrote, for good or bad. Let’s just say I’ll never get elected for public office.
Back in the days just before the World Wide Web was born, the Coventry University Science Fiction Society had an email newsletter. It was a simple, text-based email with about 6 or 7 things the club was up to each month. Not long after I got there, Stephen Sangar, the club chairman, started asking for some short fiction contributions for the newsletter. He must have received maybe one or two a month and he would put them out in the newsletter, but soon he was getting more good stuff and he had to create a separate mailing just for the stories. Each time the premise was simple: he would give you a title, and you would write a story. I wrote a couple of things for it and started getting some nice mentions for them, and it boosted my confidence as a writer. Eventually, Stephen moved on and I was able to take over the duties of administering this new venture. As it was normally the fifth item in the club newsletter, I named it “The Fifth Column” and began sending out titles every month, opening it to anyone who wished to enter a story, and promised that no story would be turned away.
Of course, this meant that some strange stories ended up appearing within its electronic pages. This short one, from a Mr. John C. Reynolds, always stood out to my mind:
Hey you, over there.
What’s it like to have no hair?
Extraordinary, powerful stuff. But along with that came some seriously good prose. Unfortunately much of it has been lost since that glorious era, and even the power of the internet could not drag it back from the depths of time. However, at the same time as I was writing for T5C, I was also writing a series of Cyberpunk stories and posting those to the Usenet newsgroup alt.cyberpunk.chatsubo. As many of us did back then, the stories were written and posted in episodes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. I had just finished the first version of “Boy” when i call for submissions to a new(-ish) internet-only fiction magazine called “InterText”. I submitted “Boy” and flipped out when they actually published it. Over the course of the the next three years I wrote for T5C and serialized my Cyberpunk stuff in a.c.c and then cleaned them up and submitted them to InterText and about 90% of my work was published that way. That’s a pretty good hit ratio even if I do say so myself.
That was all a long time ago, of course. In the meantime I got married, moved to the US, bought a house, got a steady job… All the things grown-ups do. And for some reason my writing went on a hiatus for all that time until I started writing this blog about Steampunk and Dieselpunk and the burgeoning retro-futuristic Silver Age of SF and the story of The Intrepid Engine began to take shape. You can see it happening in some of my earlier posts here.
So while this is the home of the new world of The Intrepid Engine, I thought I could also post up some of the other stuff I wrote a long time ago so you could see where this all came from.
Between 1989 and 1996, I wrote a series of short stories set in a futuristic cyberpunk world in a time known only as the Year of the Rat. All in all, five were written, all published by the Intertext online fiction magazine. Ghostdancer was nominated in 1996 for eScene, an anthology ‘dedicated to providing one-click access to the Internet’s best short fiction and authors’.
Mercy Street and Seven, while not truly part of what became to be known as the ‘Year of the Rat’ series, are set in the same milieu, and Seven in particular sets the stage for Ghostdancer, sitting behind the scenes as it were between the events of Monkeytrick and Ghostdancer.
The world of Year of the Rat changed much during each subsequent story set within it. As such, there have been many re-writes of early stories to fit in line with later ones, and many different editions appear on separate websites.
A Lost Girl began its life under the T5C title Dream State. Most of the imagery of the piece did actually come from my dreams, where I was standing by in Camden Lock and the water of the Grand Union Canal was thick oily and black. I used to dream of insects, too, when I lived in a flat with a sticky tree that attracted wasps into my room while I slept with the window open. If I had a dime for every time I woke up with buzzing in my ears… Well, I’d have about $1.34. The rest of the story is lifted from the song Headhunter by Front 242. Which is actually about corporate headhunters, but I imagined it as being about bounty hunters. It appears on InterText under the title Nails Of Rust, which I always hated as a title. No idea why I went with that.
Life Without Buildings was a title I came up with for a T5C issue. I was browsing through the Uni library one day and came across a book set in Egypt. The opening scene, of an old man sitting in at a table in cafe, inspired the opening, and the rest just wrote itself. It was part of a series of tales I was intending to write set in the same universe as Rain City, in what I was later to term a Biopunk milieu, where technology has moved beyond the realm of mere metal machines into genetic ones. I remember writing one more, set in a new version of Rain City itself, but that appears to be lost. The title comes from a song by seminal 80’s new wave group, Japan, where the only lyric is “I see nothing, but I hear everything… In my building”. Thus, the story turns this around, under the pretext that if we remove the buildings, we can see everything. It also attempts to show that poetry doesn’t need to be written to be effective, that an act of destruction could be poetry in itself.