Tuesday, 16 September 2008

PLAYING FOR KEEPS: Podcaster's superhero hit

Nobody was as surprised as Mur Lafferty herself when the print version of her podcast novel 'Playing For Keeps' flew up the Amazon charts on its official release day. Not only did it hit number 16 in the overall books chart, but it took the number 1 spot in SF, action/adventure and hot releases. Not bad at all, considering the book had long been available as a podcast series, a free PDF and a print-on-demand edition. Where many writers would want to leave all the hard work of marketing their work to their publishers, renowned podcaster Mur (I Should Be Writing, Geek Fu Action Grip, and at one point Pseudopod as well as her podcasted fiction) followed in the footsteps of people such as Matthew Wayne Selznick and did the lion's share of the marketing chores herself. It certainly paid off, with the book garnering rave reviews on it's Amazon page and across the internet. Publishers Swarm Press have found themselves with a cult hit on their hands, and after all the hard work that went into it, quite rightly so.

Reading the book itself, it is quite easy to see why it wasn't picked up by a major publisher and instead finally went to the smaller (and rather interesting) Swarm Press. Quite simply, its premise isn't one that the mass market would really get. Sadly many readers would be turned off by the superhero aspect and the use of powers throughout the story, and miss out on something really quite enjoyable. The fact that the main characters, the Third Wavers, have seemingly useless abilities when faced with the iconic Heroes and Villains, is a great strength. The characters must learn to use their limited powers to greater effect in order to stay alive, and in the case of lead character Keepsie, find out just what her power is capable of.

The prose is sprightly, and though the format of the book is rather unwieldy (I'm not a fan of these oversized trade paperbacks), it does work as a book as well as a podcast series. Thankfully, the episodic nature of the podcast version hasn't left the story feeling like an anthology. While the action scenes are great fun, it is in the character interaction that the book really shines. The bunch of misfits that fill Keepsie's life are written well, with definite personalities and struggles of their own to deal with as well as the main action.

The success of this paperback edition of Playing For Keeps is another example of the world at large starting to take notice of what fans are creating themselves. The entertainment and publishing industry, slowly but surely, is catching up with the audience. With writers such as Lafferty, Sigler, Hutchins, Selznick and their ilk, it really does seem to me that we are witnessing the birth of a new set of stars in the realms of genre fiction, and with their continued efforts (that stretch far beyond just writing the books), they are earning every sale. That is to be admired, and should set a good example to the rest of us: If you're not willing to make the effort to get people interested in your material, why should anybody else?

You can find Playing For Keeps on Amazon here, and visit Mur online here.

Friday, 5 September 2008


Presented here is the opening to my next project, CITIZEN: THE FINAL DAYS OF HUMANKIND. This is a book that takes the story of an album I did with my old band RED20, namely the concept album CITIZEN STAIN, and tells the whole story of mankind's downfall at the hands of a godlike pseudo-technological entity. The album was released as a digital package in 2006 after 15 months of work on it. The story was enormous, and alongside the music a selection of scenes were recorded as dramatized audio. Snippets of those scenes found their way onto the album, creating an apocalyptic mix of rock, industrial, metal, electronica and storytelling that was too violent to contain in just a CD. After talking to my former bandmate, Alastair Turl (who is currently completing his new album), I am proud to be able to bring you the full story of your final days. The book, containing a chapter for each of the individual tracks as well as a section on the album and its creation, will be made available online. If you would like any further information on the project, please do get in touch by email- hexinfinity at yahoo dot com. Now, the extract...

From the forthcoming book 'CITIZEN: THE FINAL DAYS OF HUMANKIND' by Andrew Hawnt

What is your name?

They kept asking and asking, but they never got through. They’d never get ot out of him. This was down to him not being in any mood to cooperate and also because at that moment in time he didn’t have the faintest idea who he was. He laughed and laughed, and flung himself against the mirrored glass again. It still didn’t crack, but it had buckled. It wouldn’t be long before it gave way altogether and the specimen’s wiry form would crash through into the observation lounge.

Your name. Tell us your name.

He shouted at them through the glass, his eyes reddened and wide, spittle cascading against the huge stretch of mirror. Numbers. Streams of data. Code interspersed with gibberish, random syllables cried out in anger and frustration. He spat phlegm at them in their safe little room, and they shifted uneasily in their chairs as he seemed to look straight at each of them in turn, despite the fact that all he could see in the chamber was his own demented reflection. Powerful men and women sat in plush chairs, watching the man writhe and gibber and scream incoherently as if they were slipping notes to a rough looking stripper behind a sheet of Perspex.

This wasn’t Perspex though. This was state of the art material. The whole place was state of the art, although beneath the facility lay things that wouldn’t even be known to be state of the art for a good decade yet.

I don’t have a name. I’ve never had a name. Have I? 001010101011100010101 help. Hegfwefwwerrfyyiyfifi34iuyfy7 no no no. This can’t be right. It’s all in the wrong order. Sort the lines and move onto the next. I see them. I see you. You’re watching me and I don’t like it, but you think I can’t see you and that makes me laugh. Can you hear me through that glass? Can you?

“Can you hear me?” he screamed, suddenly coherent. He stood motionless, listening for a response. He took in his own reflection. His scraggy blonde hair was a mess of sweat and dried blood and filth. Spindly limbs were hidden by a heavily stained grey jumpsuit, that would have hung from his frame like empty skin if the straps hadn’t been holding it in place. His feet were stuffed into dull boots, a strap linking them together. The straps linking his hands together were loose enough to rock his arms back and forth oin front of himself, which he did now as he stared at himself and those watching beyond the glass.

Tell us your name.

“You answer me first!” he screamed at himself in the glass. The room was sparsely furnished. Aside from the chairs and the people there was one small terminal feeding the audio loop behind them at the far side of the room, by a door that had a level sixteen encryption in its lock.

How he knew all that escaped him. All he knew was that these were the facts. The data was clear and correct. Much clearer than the sight of his dishevelled self in the mirrored surface. The data. 01010101011000100010101010iuhweirhfryf346yqy6 secondary protocol active obey reroute obey.

Two of the men in the room beyond his reflection were armed. There was metal and plastic and machinery, but no data in their weapons. Clever. Very clever. He couldn’t tell how the guns were made or what made what work in them. Clever.

The terminal was a different story.

Again came the request for his name, which was met with a new outburst from him, screaming and kicking and flinging himself at the glass. Just a name. They just wanted a name. A name he didn’t have. They wanted him to obey and to yield and follow and agree. They wanted too much.
Something had been entered into the terminal, and the man inclined his head to one side, his eyes suddenly blank. The mediocre lighting of his holding cell flickered.

The data made more sense. The name request had been a trick question. He didn’t have a name- how could he? He was a thing, a unit, a device, and these were the masters that had created him. The upgrade that had just been installed felt incredible, his brain firing with all manner of notions and equations and orders and beautiful, exquisite data. Information filled his veins, and the screaming calmed.

Another upgrade was installed. From the vibrations picked up by the terminal’s signal emitters, he could tell that guns had been drawn and the formation of the people in the room had changed. The two armed men had moved to the front of the room and were little more than a metre away from him now. The new upgrade fed him and he slumped against the glass like a junkie letting his latest hit run its course. Ecstasy. Perfection.

Oh. Oh, hello, he said internally.

Another order. Another upgrade fed through the system and into his pulsating, strained brain. This one didn’t slip in so easy, and the watchers recoiled in horror as their subject reared up from the glass, screaming, foam erupting from his mouth as he spat equations into the air. Blood cast a grim rainbow across the back wall as he screeched and ground his face against the back wall. He laughed again.

Tell us your name.

“I understand now,” the man said as he sat in a heap, trembling and bloody as his outburst passed. “It isn’t the name you’re after. I could have said my name was Bastard McLovely and you would have been happy.”

He dragged his skinny form upright and lurched over to the glass again.

“It was the manner in which I was to answer your request that you were interested in. Your little terminal was to receive my answer, not your ears and eyes. You wanted me to bypass these petty methods of communication and go for the direct route. Okay, here you go.”

Data reversed. Stream magnified.

Chaos in the room beyond the glass. The hidden people were screaming now, not him. They were scrambling for the door, but the door was ruined. They were scrambling for the terminal, but it was emitting such a powerful noise that they couldn’t think straight. Feedback. Sonic torture. A shot was fired. The mechanical scream intensified. Screams, pain and sudden darkness as they all fell, their heads swollen, inner ears ruptured. He smiled at the thought of their suffering. They had earned it. More data sent back to the terminal. He could feel his body acting as a transmitter.
“You gave me a number. A designation as one of your favourite pets. My designation is Specimen Red Twenty. Do I win a prize?”

He laughed again as the sound beyond the glass intensified still further, and the people on the floor cried out in confusion and agony. The glass split across the diagonal, and the lower half shifted in its moorings. With a flurry of data sent across to the terminal, he silenced the noise and looked at his distorted reflection. After the torture of awakening with no name, no identity and a mind afire with chaotic data, he stood defiant. He could see the entire facility by just willing to do so. He could see it from space, from underground, and from the inside down to the last shred of matter. He could see everything, everyone. Despite the pain, the blood and the chaos in his seething brain, he laughed and threw himself at the glass, which gave way at last, a huge shard ripping one of his shackles loose and his arm fell free as he landed in an awkward crouch.

People were suffering all around him. Their toy had been broken, their bodies swollen and twitching as they still struggled for the door. Specimen Red Twenty openly laughed at them, distorted little meatbags, scared of the product of their own work.

With his laughter becoming an incoherent scream, he pulled the terminal from the wall with chilling strength and proceeded to beat his victims to death with its twisted form.

He didn’t stop laughing until the last of them stopped breathing.

(c) Andrew Hawnt 2008