Midnight Echo 6 touches down on Earth

CHeck it out – here’s me with my contributor’s copy of Midnight Echo, # 6, featuring my sci-fi/horror yarn, Trawling The Void.

Below is the full ToC – go get your copy now!

“Earthworms” by Cody Goodfellow
“Trawling the Void” by Alan Baxter
“Out Hunting For Teeth” by Joanne Anderton
“Graveyard Orbit” by Shane Jiraiya Cummings
“Surgeon Scalpelfingers” by Helen Stubbs
“Silver-Clean” by Jenny Blackford
“The Wanderer in the Darkness” by Andrew J McKiernan
“Winds of Nzambi” by David Conyers & David Kernot
“Duncan Checks Out” by Nicholas Stella
“Dead Low” by Cat Sparks
“More Matter, Less Art” by Stephen Dedman
“Seeds” by Mark Farrugia

The issue features an in depth interview with Charles Stross, one of the most imaginative and insightful science fiction authors writing today. Stross has been honoured with two Hugo awards and Locus Reader awards, and has published more than a dozen novels, including Saturn’s Children and The Fuller Memorandum. He talks to David Conyers for Midnight Echo about his Lovecrafitan science fiction horror series, The Laundry, and his latest novel, Rule 34.

A second interview is with Chris Moore, world renowned British science fiction artist best known for his striking covers for Orion Publishing’s SF Masterworks series. Insights are gained into Moore’s process for achieving his striking and imaginative art, and the many changes he has been facing in the publishing industry since he began illustrating in the 1970s.

The cover for Midnight Echo 6, ‘Strange Behaviour’, is a creation of talented UK artist, Paul Drummond, who will be well-known to readers of Interzone and Jupiter for his striking depictions of star ships, futuristic humans and robots. Featured interior illustrators include Steve Gilberts, David Lee Ingersoll, Olivia Kernot and Nathan Wyckoff.

Midnight Echo 6: The Science Fiction Horror Special, has been edited by South Australian trio, David Kernot (editor of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine), Jason Fischer (Writers of the Future winner and Aurealis nominee), and David Conyers (author of The Eye of Infinity, The Spiraling Worm and co-editor of Cthulhu Unbound 3).

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Spectral Press – limited edition ghostly chapbooks

Spectral PressSpectral Press is a small independent imprint publisher, issuing very-limited-edition signed and numbered single story chapbooks in a high-quality presentation on a quarterly basis, and concentrating on the ghostly/supernatural end of the literary spectrum. They’re an invite-only publisher and they’re putting out some fantastic work.

I was lucky enough to see the first four chapbooks published so far.

Spectral I – What They Hear in the Dark – Gary McMahon

An absence is more terrifying than a presence…

Rob and Becky bought the old place after the death of their son, to repair and renovate – to patch things up and make the building habitable. They both knew that they were trying to fix more than
the house, but the cracks in their marriage could not be papered over. Then they found the Quiet Room.

This is an excellent tale of loss and grief and the damage it can do to people. McMahon has created such a depth of bleakness and melancholy that it takes you down into the black depths of the character’s lives and it’s not an entirely pleasant place to be. But it is excellent writing and compelling storytelling.

There are some truly horrible ideas in this one, not least the hoods themselves, which I won’t spoil here. The Quiet Room as well is a brilliant device, something so simple yet so ethereal.

Spectral II – Abolisher of Roses – Gary Fry

It’s not always the guilty who have the darkest secrets . . .

Peter has been married to Patricia for nearly thirty years. He’s a practical man, the owner of a thriving factory and the father of two fine lads.

He also has a secret mistress.

One day, his wife takes him along to an outdoor arts exhibition involving some of her paintings, staged in a dark, deep wood. But his are not the only secrets in this marriage, and as Peter strays off the only path through the woods, he soon realises that Patricia has more than a few of her own…

In this story Fry creates a kind of artistic warning that’s extremely well contructed. We go on a journey of self-discovery with Peter in this excellently written piece. What seems initially to be a very harmless and possibly boring environment, certainly to the protagonist, turns out to be anything but. Very creepy.

The characters are strong in this story and in no way the kind of stereotypes it would have been easy for the author to fall into. It’s details like these that set apart truly quality writing from the merely good.

Spectral III – Nowhere Hall – Cate Gardner

We want to live…

In the ballroom, wallflower mannequins stretch their fingers towards Ron. He can’t ask them to dance. He’s already waltzing with other ghosts. Someone stole the world while Ron contemplated death. They packed it in a briefcase and dumped him in the halls of the ruined hotel – The Vestibule.

A nowhere place.

This is a beautiful story, haunting and powerful. It’s superbly written, with rich, stirring language and an excellent sense of place. It’s one of those stories where you think you know all along what’s happening, but even at the end you’re left wondering if you got it at all. It bears reading and re-reading, to savour the idea as much as the exquisite writing.

In fact, it’s the kind of writing that makes other writers, like myself, shake our heads at the sheer levels of artistry involved. Inspirational and aspirational stuff. Absolutely top notch.

Spectral IV – King Death – Paul Finch

In 1348, England is stricken by the Black Death.

The worst pandemic in human history has reached the kingdom of the warlike Edward III, a monarch who in battle against human adversaries cannot imagine defeat. Two thirds of his subjects now perish. Woods become wild again, farmland goes to rack and ruin, villages, towns and castles are left empty, inhabited only by ghosts. Little wonder that fear of the supernatural reaches an all-time high. Little wonder stories ignite about witches and demons spreading the plague, about ‘King Death’, an awesome harbinger
of doom from whom there is no protection.

Cynical opportunist Rodric doesn’t believe any of these. With reckless indifference, he sets out to enrich himself…

Unlike the previous three stories, all contemporary settings, this is a medieval story, historically accurate. It’s told in fine language, evocative of the time – so much so that a glossary is provided at the end to explain some of the terminology.

It’s another brilliant piece of writing, and a dark and hypnotic story of opportunity and bleakness. The protagonist here is an excellent creation, an antihero of sorts who we can probably all relate to. It’s difficult to see where human evil and the sheer horror of nature blur one into the other with this story.

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Editor and publisher Simon Marshall-Jones can certainly pick a damn fine tale and he’s putting together something very special here. Definitely a publisher to watch – keep an eye out so you don’t miss any.

Forthcoming titles are:

Spectral V Rough Music – Simon Kurt Unsworth (March 2012 – SOLD OUT)
Spectral VI The Eyes of Water – Alison J. Littlewood (June 2012)
Spectral VII What Gets Left Behind – Mark West (September 2012)
Spectral VIII Title TBC – Wayne Simmons (December 2012)
Spectral IX Creakers (provisional title) – Paul Kane (March 2013)
Spectral X Cold Havens – Simon Bestwick (June 2013)
Spectral XI Soul Masque – Terry Grimwood (September 2013)
Spectral XII Title TBC – Thana Niveau (December 2013)
Spectral XIII Title TBC – Robert Shearman (March 2014)
Spectral XIV Home and Hearth – Angela Slatter (June 2014)

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Tuesday Toot – Jason Fischer

Tuesday Toot is a new feature here at The Word. It’s a semi-regular, invite-only series of short posts where writers, editors, booksellers and other creatives have been asked to share thier stuff and toot their own horn. It’s hard to be seen in the digital morass and hopefully this occasional segment will help some of the quality stuff out there to get noticed. It should all be stuff that readers of The Word will find edifying.

Today, with the inaugural Tuesday Toot, it’s Jason Fischer.

ATW4Who is Jason?

Jason attended the Clarion South writers workshop in 2007, and has been shortlisted in the Aurealis Awards, the Ditmar Awards, and the Australian Shadows Awards. He won the 2009 AHWA Short Story and the 2010 AHWA Flash Fiction Competitions, and is a recent Winner of the Writers of the Future contest. Jason has stories in Dreaming Again, Apex, Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, and Aurealis Magazine. He has written a series of zombie-apocalypse novellas in the After The World series (available from Black House Comics), and his fantasy novel, Tusk, is soon to be serialised in Terra Magazine.

What are you tooting about?

Corpus Christi (novella now available in After the World #4). Immediately following the events of After the World: Gravesend, Corpus Christi brings the reader straight back into the action. Led by Tamsyn, dead-eyed archer and troubled soul, the survivors of Gravesend have escaped from England on an old cargo ship. Following a mysterious radio message across the Atlantic, they find the promise of a cure for the zombie virus is not all its cracked up to be. It’s a terrifying new America, and if Tamsyn and her friends want a place to call home, they’re going to have to fight for it…

Jason’s website is http://jasonfischer.com.au
After The World #4 can be purchased online via: http://www.blackboox.net/after-the-world-corpus-christi-issue-4
The official After the World website is: http://aftertheworld.com.au/
And for those who want a free taste, Jason’s first novella, Gravesend, is now available online and gratis: http://aftertheworld.com.au/?page_id=18

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MageSign reviewed at Scary Minds

Those fine folk over at Scary Minds have written a very nice review of MageSign. It includes things like:

While I can’t fault Baxter’s writing from a technical viewpoint, the dude can certain string words together, I think it’s the pacing that will turn people into firm fans of the Writer. Baxter doesn’t waste any unnecessary time getting his action happening, and constantly winds up the tension as things start to look very tricky for Isiah and his allies. Magesign gathers momentum from page to page and hits break neck speed as the final confrontation rockets over the horizon. You better hang on there kids, inexperience readers are going to crash and burn on this one.

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I would simply point out that if you are after a well written, enthralling read, that doesn’t let up with the surprises and impact, then look no further. Alan Baxter once again delivers an excellent novel, full recommendation on this one.

I do love a good review. You can read the whole thing here.

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Get your Christmas out of Sol Invictus!

We’re nearly at that time again. It should be stated from the outset, and really doesn’t need to be for regular readers, that I hate Christmas and everything about it. I do love being able to spend time with friends and loved ones, enjoy good food, exchange gifts and all that malarkey. But you don’t need a special day for that. Just like you should tell your partner that you love them all the time and not only on February 14th. But what really pisses me off is all the Christians who think it’s okay to berate people who leave Christ out of Xmas. Given that the whole thing is stolen and shoe-horned into a medieval fantasy in the first place, it’s a bit rich.

I’ve also taken to responding to, “You can’t have Xmas with Christ!” with, “Then you can’t have Thursday without Thor! Where’s your celebratory hammer?” There’s history with all these things, and it behoves the modern mind to know it.

Evil SantaIf you get off on the whole Christ mythology, then bully for you. Why you pick one crazy mythology out of hundreds and insist it’s the truth absolutely mystifies me, but if that’s your wagon, then giddy up. And the Western world has certainly jumped on board the whole Xmas lunacy and subverted it into a materialistic circus of misery and one-upmanship. So I can understand the desire to suggest that people look past the crass commercialism and look for what Xmas is really about. But you know what? It’s not Christ. Sure, it’s been hijacked to be about Christ, but if these people were really honest with themselves, they’d admit there’s more to the story. Then again, as that great physician Gregory House said, “Rational arguments don’t usually work on religious people. Otherwise there would be no religious people.” – (Season 4 Episode 2, The Right Stuff.)

The Christians, since some decades after the death of Christ when the Christians began (thanks to the cult set up by Paul), have always been keen on appropriating something popular, pretending it’s theirs and then using it to further their own agenda. They’re like a virus, chewing up holidays and spitting out Christian rhetoric. But it’s not only the Christians who have pinched things for their aims.

Over the years we’ve merged and melded many things into our modern culture and, while the Christians always shout the loudest at Xmas, there are many other influences that have survived the Jesus takeover.

Burning candles, mistletoe and holly berries, for example, are originally from Yule, the Pagan celebration of the sun god, Mithras. Who is also a very clear blueprint for the myth of Christ himself:

“Both Mithras and Christ were described variously as ‘the Way,’ ‘the Truth,’ ‘the Light,’ ‘the Life,’ ‘the Word,’ ‘the Son of God,’ ‘the Good Shepherd.’ The Christian litany to Jesus could easily be an allegorical litany to the sun-god. Mithras is often represented as carrying a lamb on his shoulders, just as Jesus is. Midnight services were found in both religions. The virgin mother…was easily merged with the virgin mother Mary. Petra, the sacred rock of Mithraism, became Peter, the foundation of the Christian Church.”

Gerald Berry, Religions of the World

Mithras (from the Persian god, Mithra, adapted to Greek as Mithras) allegedly has many features Christians might find familiar:

– Mithra was born on December 25th of the virgin Anahita.
– The babe was wrapped in swaddling clothes, placed in a manger and attended by shepherds.
– He was considered a great traveling teacher and master.
– He had 12 companions or “disciples.”
– He performed miracles.
– As the “great bull of the Sun,” Mithra sacrificed himself for world peace.
– Mithra ascending to heaven in his solar cart, with sun symbolHe ascended to heaven.
– Mithra was viewed as the Good Shepherd, the “Way, the Truth and the Light,” the Redeemer, the Savior, the Messiah.
– Mithra is omniscient, as he “hears all, sees all, knows all: none can deceive him.”
– He was identified with both the Lion and the Lamb.
– His sacred day was Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” hundreds of years before the appearance of Christ.
– His religion had a eucharist or “Lord’s Supper.”
– Mithra “sets his marks on the foreheads of his soldiers.”
– Mithraism emphasized baptism.

Funny old list, that, eh? I said allegedly above as there’s often about as much evidence for these things as there is for the mythology of Christianity; that is to say, not much at all. Though the vast majority of it is backed up by archeological evidence well predating Christian times.

The Roman emporer Aurelian first instigated Dies Natalis Solis Invicti in 274 CE, which is the birthday of Sol Invictus, the sun god, often considered to be one and the same as Mithras. This birthday festival was celebrated with a huge party and feast on December 25th, a date I’m sure you’ll find familiar. It was Constantine who decided, for mostly political reasons, that Christianity would be the state religion, though he did release an edict in 313 CE proclaiming religious tolerance of all faiths. But there were still enough adherents to the Mithraic tradition that even in the 5th century, Augustine preached against them as Christianity continued its takeover.

Incidentally, it was also Constantine who made Sunday a day of rest. Not because of Christ myths, but for Sol Invictus. In March, 321 CE he decreed:

On the venerable day of the Sun let the magistrates and people residing in cities rest, and let all workshops be closed. In the country however persons engaged in agriculture may freely and lawfully continue their pursuits because it often happens that another day is not suitable for grain-sowing or vine planting; lest by neglecting the proper moment for such operations the bounty of heaven should be lost.

But I digress. Going back to Christmas being a Sol Invictus celebration, even the Syriac bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi wrote in the 12th century:

“It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.”

Ernest Renan, in 1882, pointed out how things could have been when he said, “if the growth of Christianity had been arrested by some mortal malady, the world would have been Mithraic” (Renan, E., Marc-Aurele et la fin du monde antique. Paris, 1882, p. 579)

And the whole celebration of the sun god idea can be taken back to well before Roman times. There is much evidence — including many ancient monumental alignments — to demonstrate that the event of the winter solstice, and the return of the sun through longer days, was celebrated hundreds to thousands of years before the common era in numerous parts of the world.

When “the people” are really into something, the worst thing to do is try to tell them they can’t enjoy it any more. The best option is to co-opt it into your own agenda over time. So the Pagan sun worship was Borged (resistance is futile) by Mithras and Sol Invictus celebrations, and those in turn swallowed by the Christians; not as biblical doctrine but to compete with Pagan cults.

Regardless, in the end the effect is the same: “Christmas” is not the birth of the “son of God” but the birth of “the sun”. The deity Mithras and the celebration of Sol Invictus, inextricably intertwined, also ended up drawing in the Christian mythologies and the Christ myths gathered the most adherents and strength and swallowed up those things that birthed them.

Then combine into this Saturnalia, described by the poet Catullus as “the best of days”, which was a big old party in honour of the Roman deity, Saturn. There was a huge banquet followed by gift-giving and partying, where social norms were put aside in the name of hedonism and good times. Which sounds damned fine to me. This festival was originally held on December 17th, but subsequently extended right through to the 23rd. After all, why party for one day when you can get your groove on for a week. And many of those practices were also taken into the Christmas celebration and made a part of the whole thing.


Saturnalia

And everything I’ve written here only touches on the depth and complexity of the history of our culture. So the next time some twat says, “You can’t have Xmas without Christ!” you can respond with, “Yes, you can, actually. Just ask Mithras.”

Enjoy the things that make you happy. Be nice to each other, have fun and indulge yourselves. Give gifts, eat too much, drink too much, and don’t forget to spare a thought for those less fortunate and try to do something to help them as well. But don’t be wilfully ignorant. It’s never been easier to explore truth and history, to understand yourself and your culture. Get out there and expand yourself.

And blessed Solstice to you all.

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