RealmShift for only 99c – it’s a Bookblast!

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January 21, 2014

Those wonderful people over at Gryphonwood Press have set up a very special little promotion for RealmShift, called a bookblast. The bottom line is that you can get RealmShift for just 99c on Kindle, Kobo and Nook. Also, if you buy the Kindle version for 99c, you can get the audiobook version through Amazon for only $1.99. This is some kind of madness, surely? Well, maybe, but it’s only lasting for a day or so, so you’ve got til the end of Wednesday, US time, to get your copy.

Here’s the skinny:

Realmshift1 RealmShift for only 99c   its a Bookblast!

Today through Wednesday only, get RealmShift, book one of
Book 1 of The Balance for 99c

RealmShift, book 1 of The Balance series by Alan Baxter, is only 99 cents on Kindle, Kobo, and Nook! What’s more, if you buy the Kindle version for 99 cents, you can also buy the Audiobook for $1.99 through Amazon! Don’t miss this great intro to Alan’s dark urban fantasy series.

Kindle US

Kindle UK

Kindle AU

Kindle CA 

Kobo

Nook

You know you want to – go get some! And please share this around any of your networks if you think people will be interested.

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10 Question SFF reading meme

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January 19, 2014

I saw this over at S F Signal, and thought it asked some interesting questions about sci-fi/fantasy/horror reading. So I’ve snurched it for my blog here. Feel free to copy the questions and add your answers in the comments, or snag it for your own blog, Facebook, blood-scrawling on the wall of your cold, wet dungeon or wherever else you like to write things down.

The last sf/f/h book I read and liked was:

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers. This is the book that Pirates of the Caribbean was based on. It’s been on my To Read list for ages and I finally got around to it. It’s a brilliant book, the story far better than the movie. (Although, I do love those movies.)

The last sf/f/h book I read and wasn’t crazy about was:

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King. It’s not a bad book, but it’s far from a great book. It’s just kinda okay and I suppose I expect more than that from King. The previous King book I read, Joyland, was excellent.

The sf/f/h book I am reading now is:

North American Lake Monsters by Nathan Ballingrud. This is a short story collection. I’ve never heard of Ballingrud before or read his stuff, but I saw this book being touted a lot in my social media. I always take the advice of those good people, so I bought it. I’ve only read the first two stories so far and it’s really quite excellent.

The sf/f/h book(s) I most want to read next is/are:

The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig and The Book of the Crowman by Joseph D’Lacey. The first is the third Miriam Black book and I was a huge fan of the first two, Blackbirds and Mockingbird. The second is Volume 2 of The Black Dawn. I read the first one, Black Feathers, a while back and it was very good. In fact, I reviewed these books for Thirteen O’Clock. Blackbirds here, Mockingbird here, and Black Feathers here.

An underrated sf/f/h book is:

I’m not sure about this, as I don’t really know what’s underrated among other people. If I had to pick something that certainly deserves more attention I would suggest Joanne Anderton’s Veiled Worlds trilogy. The third one of those is out soon. (Jo is a friend, yes, but her books are fucking amazing, so shut up.) Another book I read last year that blew me away and I haven’t seen much about it elsewhere is Max Barry’s amazing novel, Lexicon. And the last thing to spring to mind is a novella from Spectral Press that I read last year, called Whitstable by Stephen Volk. It’s an amazing blend of fact and fiction.

An overrated sf/f/h book is:

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. And not just because Card is a hoofwanking bunglecunt of the highest order. (I saw that insult on Twitter this morning and just had to find a place to use it.) But seriously, I hated this book before I really knew anything about Card’s despicable views. I read it because it’s always on top 100 sci-fi book lists so I thought I should try it. And it was very dull, and the central conceit was really obvious from early on and it’s just stupid. On that front, another highly overrated SF book is John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. Now Scalzi isn’t a nasty piece of human sputum like Card. Scalzi is actually a stand-up guy, a really nice fella if my social media interaction is anything to go by and he does fantastic things for the SFF community. But this book did not work for me at all, I couldn’t finish it. I reviewed it briefly on Goodreads here if you’re interested in more of my opinion on it.

The last sf/f/h book that was recommended to me was:

I honestly can’t remember… I talk about books with people so much that it’s impossible to keep track. I know Lexicon was recommended to me not that long ago. Sorry, my brain isn’t up to this question.

A sf/f/h book I recommended to someone else was:

Recently I’ve been happily recommending these wherever I can:

Lexicon by Max Barry
Whitstable by Stephen Volk
The Dog-Faced Gods trilogy by Sarah Pinborough
Midnight & Moonshine by Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
Cabal by Clive Barker

Seriously, if you’ve been stuck for a good read lately, go and buy all of those now and you’ll be reinvigorated. Amazing stories, brilliantly written.

A sf/f/h book I have re-read is:

The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. I lovelovelove this book and recently reread it again. It is a truly outstanding achievement, but I’m a total Clive Barker fanboy, so maybe I’m biased. But seriously, if you haven’t read it, do. In fact, I’m going to add it to the list answering the previous question, because I’m always recommending this and Cabal by Barker whenever I get the chance. I’m adding Cabal too. I’d better stop there though – honestly, I could sit here and recommend books all day.

A sf/f/h book I want to re-read is:

The Earthsea series by Ursula K Le Guin. I’ve read and loved the original trilogy a few times, but never read the others. I recently bought all the various volumes and have them sitting on my side table ready for a big reread. (Well, reread of the first three, then read of the rest.) I’m really looking forward to it.

So there you go. I thought those questions might lead to an interesting discussion of good reading. Mmmmbooks, how I love them…

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Ghost of the Black back in print

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January 17, 2014

photo 300x300 Ghost of the Black back in printAfter a few requests from various places, I’ve made my sci-fi noir novella, Ghost of the Black: A ‘Verse Full of Scum, available in print again. It was originally self-published in serial form on this very website (and is still available to read here), then I made it available as an ebook and paperback through my little micro-press, Blade Red Press. It’s still available there as an ebook, even though Blade Red is on indefinite hiatus.

However, thanks to the wonders of CreateSpace, it’s now available in paperback again. You can find it in on Amazon here. It can also be ordered via Ingram’s and will propagate out to all the other online bookstores over time.

It’s a bit over 100 pages of magical, science fiction, crime noir fun, so if you’re keen, grab yourself a copy. Or it would make a fine gift for a friend. Here’s the blurb:

Ghost is possibly the best bounty hunter in the universe and he always gets the job done. At least, that’s the reputation that he rides on. When the DAP employ him to track down and capture a rogue Magicker who’s running across the galaxy killing anyone who gets in his way, Ghost realises that this is a job that could cost him his reputation. It’s also a job that could cost him his sanity. A sci-fi noir novella from the author of RealmShift and MageSign.

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Obligatory eligibility post for award season

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January 17, 2014

It’s award season in the SFF world and I’ve seen several people post things on Twitter and Facebook and the like that basically say, “Yes, I want a reminder of what you’ve had published in 2013 so I can make informed votes, but no, I don’t want to be spammed upside the head with it constantly.” Which is really fair enough. I’ve been enjoying several of these posts and remembering books and stories I enjoyed last year. So, I’ll just leave this post here for people to do with as they please.

In short fiction, I’ve had the following publications in 2013 (if there’s a link, you can read it online):

Not the Worst of Sins” – Beneath Ceaseless Skies #133 (October 31st, 2013)

“Roll the Bones” – Crowded Magazine issue #2 (August 2013)

“The Beat Of A Pale Wing” – A Killer Among Demons anthology (Dark Prints Press, June 2013)

“The Fathomed Wreck To See” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 9 (May 2013)

“On A Crooked Leg Lightly” – Dreaming Of Djinn anthology (Ticonderoga Publications, May 2013)

“Quantum Echoes” – Next anthology (CFSG Publishing, April 2013)

“A Time For Redemption” – Urban Occult anthology (Anachron Press, March 2013)

“It’s Always the Children Who Suffer” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 10, Winner of the 2013 AHWA Short Story Competition (due end of December, 2013)

“Exposure Compensation” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 10 (due end of December, 2013)

Also published in 2013 was “Dark Rite”, the short horror novel I co-wrote with David Wood. That’s some good, pulpy, Hammer-esque horror fun if you’re into that sort of thing, and barely more than a novella, so a quick, easy read.

All the anthologies, magazines, novels and so on I’ve talked about above, and all the others I’m involved with, can be tracked down via this page: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/books/.

So if you enjoyed any of the above last year and you fancy voting for it anywhere, I would be most grateful. And remember to check in with the blogs of your favourite writers for a reminder of their eligible stuff. The more people who vote in popular awards, the better the awards reflect the will of the reading public. Have at it.

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In defence of “sportsball”, check your hypocrisy

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January 6, 2014

Start the new year with a rant? Yes I fucking will. This is something that’s been bothering me for quite a while so I thought I’d finally write about it as it flared up again over the Xmas period. I’ve noticed a distinct tendency among my geeky friends and acquaintances on social media to gleefully denounce any sporting event with the kind of disdain usually reserved for the truly stupid. And I find this disturbing on many levels.

Let it first be said that I’m a geek and a sports fan and a sportsman. There are many of us out there. I don’t like all sports, of course. I think cricket, for example, is very boring. Anything that takes several days to get a result needs a serious overhaul in my opinion. And yeah, I know, that’s what the 20-20 and stuff is all about. I just don’t get cricket, that’s all. Or golf. As someone very famous once said, playing golf is a sure way to spoil a nice walk. But I don’t mind that other people love those sports. I love lots of other sports. Also, I’m a personal trainer and make a career as a martial arts instructor so in some ways I suppose that drops me firmly in the “jock” category. Because after all, don’t we all like to categorise people so we can compare ourselves and feel superior? But I’m a geek and a nerd too. I’m a spec fic author; I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons and computer games (and still do); I love Doctor Who and Star Wars and Star Trek and Legend and Labyrinth and all that stuff. I go to SF conventions as much as a fan as I do as a writer. I also grew up playing rugby and training in the martial arts. I’m certainly more of a geek than a jock in my mind, but my career is writing and teaching martial arts, so they’re pretty equal in reality, I suppose. And I’m cool with that.

Then I see my social media feeds going mad with disdain whenever the rugby world cup is on, or a tennis grand slam. All my geeky compatriots saying things like, “Oh, there must be a sportsball event on. What a fucking waste of time” or “Gah, my feed is full of tennis, what a bunch of losers”. And it makes me sad. The whole coining of the phrase “sportsball” is a disdainful reduction of all sports into one homogenous and irrelevant nonentity, and then the fans are ridiculed as being neanderthal and dumb.

Sure, sport does often attract the kind of idiot, drunk, offensive loudmouth that so often seems synonymous with the game. But you see a lot of them because they make great news footage, and their idiot antics make good news stories. But it also attracts far more people like me – people who are pretty normal and just enjoy sport. We don’t make the news, of course, because the news is about spectacle and we’re not it. Sport attracts families, it offers fantastic bonding opportunities for parents and their kids – I can’t wait to take my son to his first rugby game! The loudmouth idiot who makes the news because he’s good fodder for footage is in the huge minority to the thousands of happy, engaged fans who enjoy a day of their favourite sport and then head home again happy and fulfilled. Or aching with the loss along with their team, but that’s ever the risk of support.

But you know why it really bothers me when the SF crowd start mocking and decrying sports fans? It’s because they should fucking know better. How many times have you been upset when someone laughs at your love of sci-fi? How often have you heard that all SF fans are fat and lazy with body odour and social disabilities? How often have you ground your teeth when someone says, “Star Wars, Star Trek, it’s all the same.”

And yet you’ll say the same things about sports and sports fans.

How often have you cried out in defence of your SF love, “You don’t have to like it, but don’t give me shit for the things I’m into!”

So why give sports fans shit for the things they’re into? Why judge them all by the idiot few?

Sure, there are not nearly as many global or national events to fill up your news feeds in the geek world as there are in the sports world (although the recent Doctor Who 50th anniversary rivaled the Olympics for social media saturation!) Sure, there are way more sports fans in the world than SF fans. But the crossover is massive. The principles are the same. There are millions of people enjoying the thing they love and the last thing they need is some snooty fucking heckler belittling them for their passion and lumping them in with the tiny minority of the worst of their kind.

I’ve used the term sportsball before. I’ve made a joke about a sudden and massive influx of posts about a sporting event I didn’t know was happening. I’ve joked about sports I don’t like. But I’ve never mocked the people for liking it. And I won’t be using the term again, because it seems to me it’s being used as a pejorative. It’s an attack and a mockery and I want no part of that. I will never understand people who love standing in the rain watching a person in strange trousers whack a tiny ball through an artificial park. But if that scores your penalty then bully for you and enjoy. I don’t get it, but I’m glad you love it. You’d expect spec fic fans to have a great empathy for that attitude.

Sport keeps people healthy, it’s fantastic social bonding, it teaches kids about team playing or, in the case of martial arts and other solo pursuits, it teaches dedication and constantly challenging yourself to improve. It brings families together and makes communities into parties when a local girl or boy has risen to the top of their field. It makes you feel good. Everyone should engage in some kind of physical pursuit for both their physical and mental health – the plethora of studies outlining the benefits of exercise for everything from diabetes to depression and more is irrefutable. And I know it can be hard to find the thing that truly engages you, and it’s hard when you first start to exercise to get past the effort and certainty you’re going to puke. But there’s something out there for everyone – you just have to look until you find an activity you love that also happens to be a type of exercise. Rock climbing, cycling, footy, martial arts, swimming, fucking Dance Dance Revolution – I guarantee there’s something you’ll get a rush out of and it will become a passion. Or don’t bother, it’s up to you entirely. And if you do find an activity you love, you don’t have to watch the footy finals too, but don’t heap shit on people who do. Whatever you do or don’t choose to engage in, you’d expect other people to respect your choices. Show them the same courtesy.

Of course there are a lot of inherent problems with sport – drunkenness, elitism, violence, massively overpaid professionals with the morals of a stray cat on heat, etc. But you see that in lots of other fields too. Yes, I’d like to see an equal amount of government funding go to the arts as that which goes to sport. But I won’t write off such a huge and integral part of the human condition and society based on the behaviour of the idiot few.

So the next time you’re about to ridicule someone for their passion, stop and think about how it feels when someone ridicules you for yours. It’s the same thing. Check your hypocrisy.

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My year in review

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December 20, 2013

I guess this post is more for my own benefit than the interest of readers, but what the fuck? They say blogging is dead anyway. Actually, it’s not, by a long way, it’s just changed. But still. I’d like to think this post might also serve as some kind of inspiration. After all, it’s been a hell of a good year for me, writing-wise, and I’ve been working my arse off for a long time to get to this point. Maybe others can draw strength from that. I started to take being a professional writer seriously in 1997, after all. That’s 16 years ago now. Shit, eh? Where does the time go? We’re all getting older, life’s a bitch and all that. But 2013 was a fucking good year for me, so maybe it can inspire others who are trudging this long road to keep going. One more step. Then another. Art hard and don’t give up, motherhumpers.

After all, a successful person is a simply a failure who refused to godsdamn quit.

And you know, the longer I work at this gig, the more true that becomes. I’ve talked before about how success is basically hard work, luck and determination. It’s really the determination that’s the key. If you’re determined to keep going and keep working hard, you’ll get better. If you get better and stay determined, you’ll get more luck. More opportunities will come along if you’re busy working hard. You just have to notice and take them.

So, professionally, what’s happened this year for me? In short fiction, I’ve had the following publications:

“Not the Worst of Sins” – Beneath Ceaseless Skies #133 (October 31st, 2013)

“Roll the Bones” – Crowded Magazine issue #2 (August 2013)

“The Beat Of A Pale Wing” – A Killer Among Demons anthology (Dark Prints Press, June 2013)

“The Fathomed Wreck To See” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 9 (May 2013)

“On A Crooked Leg Lightly” – Dreaming Of Djinn anthology (Ticonderoga Publications, May 2013)

“Quantum Echoes” – Next anthology (CFSG Publishing, April 2013)

“A Time For Redemption” – Urban Occult anthology (Anachron Press, March 2013)

“Tiny Lives” – originally published in Daily Science Fiction (25th December 2012) this was reprinted in the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror 2012 (Ticonderoga Publications, August 2013)

That’s seven original stories and a reprint published already, including two pro sales (5c/word or more). I’ve still got three more publications due out this year, all in December:

“All the Wealth in the World” – Lakeside Circus 1, due any day now.

“It’s Always the Children Who Suffer” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 10, Winner of the 2013 AHWA Short Story Competition (due end of December, 2013)

“Exposure Compensation” – Midnight Echo Magazine, issue 10 (due end of December, 2013)

So that’s 10 original stories published and one Year’s Best reprint. Which is pretty awesome. And you’ll notice one of those originals is the winner of the 2013 AHWA Short Story Competition, another great high point for the year. I’ve also sold a couple of stories already that will be out next year, so it’s good to get a start on that.

Also published this year was Dark Rite, the short horror novel I co-wrote with David Wood. That’s some good, pulpy, Hammer-esque horror fun if you’re into that sort of thing, and barely more than a novella, so a quick, easy read.

All the anthologies, magazines, novels and so on I’ve talked about here, and all the others I’m involved with, can be tracked down via this page: http://www.alanbaxteronline.com/books/

I’d be very happy with all that as a year’s work on its own, but of course, I’m saving the best for last. A couple of months ago I signed a three book deal with HarperVoyager Australia, and they’re publishing my trilogy The Alex Caine Series between July and December next year. That’s not only the high point of the year, it’s the high point of my career to date. I couldn’t be more excited about it.

And on top of all that, my son was born at the end of October.

Oh yes, 2013 is going down as one HELL of a year. It’s hard work all the way, but it’s paying off. I’m getting better all the time, I’m staying determined, I’m working hard and I’m starting to see real results.

You can too. Go for it!

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Get your Christmas out of Sol Invictus! (That time again.)

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December 18, 2013

Originally posted on December 20th 2011, then again last year. As I mentioned last year, I think I’ll probably repost this every year. It’s worth reading if you don’t know and worth a reminder if you do. It’s fun to learn about our culture, kids! This blog is concerned with stories and these cultural myths are the greatest stories of all. Everything we know is built on them. Off we go then…

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 without 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 santa1 Get your Christmas out of Sol Invictus! (That time again.)If 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.
- He 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.

220px Disc Sol BM GR1899.12 1.2 Get your Christmas out of Sol Invictus! (That time again.)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 1 Get your Christmas out of Sol Invictus! (That time again.)
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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365 Shorts Success!

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November 30, 2013

I’m as surprised as you are, but it seems I succeeded in the task I thought I was certain to fail. Towards the end of last year, I set myself a task to see if I could read 365 short stories in 365 days. I thought I’d never get close, but I wanted to record my short fiction reading and see how I went. Here’s the original post about it. I decided to set the year to start on December 1st 2012 so the end didn’t get lost in the Xmas/New Year shenanigans. That means the 365 days ran up until today, November 30th 2013. Instead of failing, I passed my target. I read 388 stories this year.

Now this has to be tempered with a few points of order. First and foremost, this includes podcasts. I listen to loads of short fiction podcasts – I’ve got a page all about them here. So I included listening as reading. I also included books and magazines that I’m in, but didn’t include my own story in the total count. Even so, I easily read past my limit. And it’s worth bearing in mind that my son was born at the end of October, so for just over the last month of this challenge, I’ve hardly read much at all. I think it’s fair to say I would have passed 400 if it wasn’t for that slight interruption to normal programming.

The thing this makes me realise more than anything else is that I probably read around this many stories every year. I made no special effort to make sure I hit my target. I listened to podcasts and read anthologies and magazines the same way I always do, and it turns out my personal challenge wasn’t much of a challenge after all. My eyeholes absorb that much short fiction on a regular basis regardless. Go me!

If you’re interested to see all the stories I read in the past 365 days, I’ve made a page here with all of them listed. Some were total shit, some were meh and some were absolutely outstanding. I haven’t bothered including any commentary on the list – it was a pain in the arse enough just to remember to write them all down as I went.

So it’s easy to read loads of short stories every year and you totally should. The form is fantastic, it takes hardly any time and the reward always far outweighs the effort. Unless the story was shit, of course, but that’s the risk you take. I read a story this year that won a massive award and I thought it was absolute bollocks. But that’s the beauty of art – there’s something to appeal to everyone and something to make everyone say, “That was bollocks.” You can usually find the magazines and editors whose taste gels with yours without too much effort and then you’re likely to get a hit rate of tasty yarns far higher than random sampling. But I’d recommend random sampling as well, because there are gems in every shitpile from time to time. Below, I’ll make a list of my favourite short fiction places, to get you started. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, just a shove in the right direction. Enjoy!

Great short fiction:

First and foremost, let’s get the shameless self-promotion out of the way. You can find a selection of my short fiction, free to read online, by checking out this page.

For great anthologies, check out the publications by these awesome Aussie small presses:

Ticonderoga Publications

Dark Prints Press

Coeur De Lion

(There are loads more out there.)

For excellent magazines, check out:

Abyss & Apex
Albedo One
Analog Science Fiction & Fact
Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine
Apex Book Company
Asimov’s Science Fiction
Aurealis Magazine
Beneath Ceaseless Skies
Black Static
Chizine
Clarkesworld
Crowded Magazine
Daily Science Fiction
Escape Pod – sci-fi podcasting
Fantasy & Science Fiction
Ideomancer
Innsmouth Free Press
Interzone
Kasma SF
Lightspeed Magazine
Midnight Echo – magazine of the AHWA
Nightmare Magazine
PodCastle – fantasy fiction podcasts
Pseudopod – horror fiction podcasts
The Red Penny Papers
Shimmerzine
Strange Horizons
Ticon4
Wily Writers

Go forth, read short fiction and become a better person!*

(* May not actually make you a better person.)

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AHWA winner judges report

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November 29, 2013

I just received the judges report for my AHWA Short Story Competition winner. Here’s what one of the judges said:

‘Showing his great proficiency of the written word, Alan Baxter gives an all too believable tale with “It’s Always The Children Who Suffer”. Classic, creeping horror to linger in your mind and prey upon dark little fears, both real and unexplained.’
- Ashlee Scheuerman

That’s very nice to read! You can find the story in Midnight Echo issue 10, out at the end of the year. You can pre-order print or electronic versions now at the Midnight Echo Magazine site. I have another story in that issue (two yarns in one mag!) along with loads of other great stories and features by tremendous authors. You know you want it.

http://midnightechomagazine.com

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Top Ten Horror Stories from Jones and Campbell

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November 24, 2013

Over at This is Horror recently, Stephen Jones, one of Britain’s most acclaimed and prolific anthologists of horror and dark fantasy, posted a list of ten of his favourite horror stories. Here are the stories he listed (click the link back there to see the full list with his commentary – I’m just reposting the author and story title here):

1. A Warning to the Curious by M.R. James

2. The Call of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft

3. Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper by Robert Bloch

4. Sticks by Karl Edward Wagner

5. The Chimney by Ramsey Campbell

6. One for the Road by Stephen King

7. The Dark Country by Dennis Etchison

8. Dance of the Dead by Richard Matheson

9. The Man Who Drew Cats by Michael Marshall Smith

10. Homecoming / The October People / Uncle Einar by Ray Bradbury (Jones says “take your pick: they are all as wonderful as each other.”)

That’s a pretty solid list. In response to Jones’ list, Ramsey Campbell (at the #5 position above) posted his own personal top ten on Facebook. He referred to these as “Ten that I think are crucial”:

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe

Carmilla by J Sheridan Le Fanu

The White People by Arthur Machen

The Monkey’s Paw by W W Jacobs

The Willows by Algernon Blackwood

The Colour Out of Space by H P Lovecraft (this one is my personal favourite HPL story too.)

A Warning to the Curious by M R James

Smoke Ghost by Fritz Leiber

Running Down by M John Harrison

The Hospice by Robert Aickman

You’ll notice the only story which appears on both lists is the M R James one. Now that’s a seriously solid reading list of short horror fiction. And I need to fill in a few blanks myself based on those recs, so I’ll be searching out the ones I haven’t yet read. But you know what else I noticed? Cockforest. Wang-a-rama. Sausagefest. Yeah, basically, they’re all blokes. Horror is a notoriously male-dominated genre. But it shouldn’t be, because there are loads of fantastic female horror writers out there. And several men on the lists above are contemporary and still working today, so it’s not even fair to say it’s just an historical aberration. And even then, historical aberration would be a bollocks excuse. What about Mary Shelley? Shirley Jackson? Ursula Le Guin? Gertrude Barrows Bennett (writing as Francis Stevens) who wrote in the early 20th century and has been called “the woman who invented dark fantasy.”? There are so many more.

In a more contemporary list, there are loads of great women horror writers at work today. Kaaron Warren, Margo Lanagan, Sarah Langan, Sarah Pinborough, Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Joanne Anderton. This is just off the top of my head. By all the tentacled gods of the nether darkness, there are loads of them out there making fantastic work.

So while you’re tracking down those stories above recommended by Jones and Campbell (which you really should), seek out some of the tremendous women of horror too. You owe it to yourself to experience their work and, as readers, we owe it to these wonderful writers to ensure their audience grows regardless of their lack of cock.

Feel free to leave your recommendations in the comments below, both for your favourite stories and your favourite women horror writers. And don’t worry if you don’t know any women horror writers right now. That’s okay. But fix it, as soon as you can.

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Welcome

The website of author Alan Baxter

Alan Baxter, Author

Author of horror, dark fantasy & sci-fi. Kung Fu instructor. Personal Trainer. Motorcyclist. Dog lover. Gamer. Heavy metal fan. Britstralian. Misanthrope. Learn more about me and my work by clicking About Alan just below the header.

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