Archive for June, 2016
A bold reimagining of the Frankenstein story, set in a bizarre Steampunk Regency England!
It is the year 1814 in the nation of Nova Albion, an alternative British Isles powered by a bizarre combination of magic and technology, and policed by an elite armed force known as the Chosen Men. A baffling series of crimes leads Chosen Men Byron, Shelley and Keats to the beautiful and headstrong Mary Godwin, who is plagued with prophetic nightmares about a scientist intent on creating life from the bodies of the dead.
Shelley finds himself emotionally entangled with Mary as the investigation deepens, but this only draws them deeper into peril … what gruesome artifacts are being smuggled into the land through Cornwall? Who is the ghostly highwayman who haunts the countryside’s lonely turnpikes? Why is the elusive enemy able to anticipate the Chosen Men’s every move?
To save both himself and Mary, Shelley must face secrets and mysteries hidden within his own soul … secrets that could destroy the very nation he is fighting for …
“The book is obviously born out of a love of Gothic literature, with references peppered throughout (the names of the protagonists, for example, are “Mary” and “Shelley”), but it never feels like a parody. The world is so well-drawn, so intricately detailed, that it rises above its inspiration, feeling fresh, original and exciting. As genre-mashing tributes go, it’s certainly far superior to the likes of the cynical ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ and its depressing brethren.
I know there are a whole lot of Steampunk romance fans out there, searching for something you can really get your teeth into. You’d be doing yourselves a favour to grab a copy of this as soon as you can.”
– John McNee, author of “Prince of Nightmares” and “Grudge Punk”.
Kindle and Paperback versions here!
Excerpt from Jamie Carter’s biography of rock and TV legend Jason Zodiac.
Gerald Moore, who played the character Doctor Chess in the T-Service series, retired from acting in the late Seventies. According to the Fugue magazine files, he currently ran a record shop over in Wandsworth for collectors of rare vinyl. I parked the car near Putney Bridge tube station and walked the drab, windswept streets to a shop-front with faded album covers in a dusty, rain-stained window. A faded wooden sign above the door named the shop: Stillness and Motion.
The first thing that hit me when I entered was the smell of patchouli. The second was the reverential church-like air of the place, the rows and rows of vinyl records in their specially designed display cases, the glazed look on the faces of the two male punters who were shuffling through the racks as I came in. The sound of a sitar and tablas floated through the incense from the speakers mounted on the wall.
Gerald Moore stood behind the counter. I recognized him from the show straight away, despite the years of aging. His beard was now streaked with grey.
I looked behind him to the records decorating the wall, sealed in their protective plastic envelopes. Beggar’s Banquet by the Rolling Stones, Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter by The Incredible String Band.
“Original copies?” I asked.
“Yes, worth about $1,500, $500 and $400 respectively. You must be Mr. Carter.”
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Let’s go into the study.” He called a youth – “Roger!” – and told him to take care of the shop.
We went up a flight of dark, narrow stairs to a landing. Moore pushed open a door and swept his hands through a clattering bead curtain, and we both entered a room of warm, glowing primary colors, the glinting of light on brass, and more incense – sandalwood, this time.
From a shadowed alcove in the corner dark gnomish figures watched me enter the room. Bulbous, elephantine heads, curved tusks, each figure with far too many arms than should be natural.
“I see you like my little pets, Mr. Carter,” More said. “They were carved to my own specifications by an Indonesian friend of mine. That one is Ganesha in . . . shall we say . . . his less than fortuitous aspect.”
I glared at the dark wooden statuette he gestured to. It glared back.
“I can only offer you sherry,” Moore said.
I shrugged. “It’ll keep the chill out.”
He busied himself getting a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream and two dainty glasses from a well-stocked cabinet across the room. He indicated a sofa with a gorgeous-looking throw draped over it, next to the bead curtain screening the door, but I was more interested with studying the walls, the framed prints of blue-skinned figures with multiple limbs, jewels in their foreheads, diamonds studding their noses.
In the corner stood a brand-new Apple Power Book, and above it on the wall hung a framed photograph of a Sadhu holy man, his body plastered in blue-gray mud, his hair twisted into long dreadlocks.
“The Festival of Diwali takes place this month on the banks of the river Ganges,” Moore said as he poured, “the most sacred time in the Hindu calendar. And this is also the time Ganesha has chosen to favor you, Mr. Carter.”
I turned around and gave him a smile I like to think of as my conspiratorial, I-know-your-secrets smiles. “Is it really?”
“Ganesha is the remover of obstacles, and among his many other duties, he is the protector of writers.”
I glanced back at the alcove. “Interesting.”
Moore took an album out of its sleeve and reverently placed it on the turntable. Shabid Parvez, The Art of the Sitar. The elegant drone of the Indian instruments rose out of the speakers as he sat down next to his desk, booting up his computer, and I sat down on the offered sofa. It was as soft and comfortable as it looked, and it had the redolent odor of years spent soaking up incense. I took a sip of sherry and put the glass down on the coffee table.
“How did you find me?” Moore asked.
Moore let out a surprised sound somewhere between a laugh and a cough. “I should have guessed it was him. Did you offer him money?”
“Yes, I did, but he’s not exactly desperate. There’s still a big cult following for The T-Service, and you know the sort of money that can be made in conventions and guest signings. Haven’t you thought of appearing?”
“Leonard Nimoy once memorably said, ‘I am not Spock’. So let me paraphrase that and say, I am not Doctor Chess. That’s all in the past, and now I simply sell records.”
“Yes, but years after that Nimoy said he regretted that statement, and the second volume of his autobiography was called I Am Spock. Are you sure you won’t reconsider?”
Moore shook his big, shaggy head. “Don’t butter me up, laddie, it’s not really me you’re after. It’s Jason.”
“Matt said you might know where he is.”
“I do and I don’t.”
He looked at me blankly, and I gave him another smile, my you-don’t really-mean-that smile.
“The thing about Jason,” Moore said, “is that he could be the sweetest, softest, most considerate man you’ve ever met, and the next day he could be a nasty piece of work. It’s no wonder the girls were obsessed with his hair and his clothes; he had this beautiful, narcissistic presence.”
“And that glamour was his magic?”
“No. Beneath the glamour was the real magic.” Moore paused, took a sip of his sherry. “The management always tried to keep us apart, and we found out why during the show’s second season. Jason was getting paid five pounds more than the rest of us.”
“I imagine that didn’t go down well with the rest of the cast,” I said.
“No. Especially not with Archie Baker, because he was one of the old school Billy Cotton light entertainment crowd. So the atmosphere got a bit fraught during rehearsals. Most days, we’d skip the discussions and get straight into arguments.”
Moore took a framed photo from his desk and passed it to me; a black and white picture of six smiling young men, beards, glasses, flowers draped around their necks.
“So in early 1968 John Lennon invited Jason to India to see the Maharishi. They’d been good friends for a while; Jason was impressed by John’s resentment of what he called the ‘pop machine’. And Jason made quite an impression on the Maharishi.”
“I thought it would be the other way around.”
“Not at all. The Maharishi said Jason had an aura about him; he was one of the children of the sun, and he had a special part to play in the future.”
“You didn’t go with them, did you?”
“No. I realized my mistake years afterwards. I went to India in the mid-Eighties,” he said, taking out a pair of wire-rimmed reading glasses and carefully putting them on. “I’d given up my acting career, and I’d had more than enough of Thatcher’s Britain. I took what my friends and family called the Hippy Route, and bought a plane ticket to New Delhi. I traveled the country, taking on manual jobs when the money ran out, and settled in Goa. I was there when the psychedelic trance movement started, and I saw Jason Zodiac perform a DJ set on the beach. A Full Moon party. The entire beach off their heads on mushrooms, acid or Ecstasy. It was . . . an experience impossible to put into words, Mr. Carter, I’m sorry.”
“Acid House kind of revived Jason’s musical career, didn’t it?”
Moore glared at me. “That’s like saying the Beatles concerts were ‘mildly interesting’. It was a transformational event, Mr. Carter. Nothing has been the same since.”
I fidgeted on the sofa, drained my sherry. “Why don’t you call me Jamie? Anyway, Matt said that you had this reunion in Goa, that you spent a few days together with Jason and his girlfriend Zena. That was news to me, because I thought Jason lost touch with his TV colleagues in the early Eighties, when he became almost a recluse. Could you, eh . . .”
Moore was shaking his head again and chuckling at me softly. “You want to be impressed, don’t you? You want to have your pop-culture post-modern scoop for the fanboys. Well, the thing is, Mr. Carter, as a verse in chapter four of the Bhagavad Gita says . . . Truly in this world, there is nothing so purifying as knowledge.”
I crossed my legs, said nothing, just waiting for him to either stop chuckling or refill my sherry glass.
“In Goa,” Moore resumed, “Jason told me what he was trying to do.”
“I don’t know . . .” Moore sighed and turned to his computer screen. “I don’t know where to start, or how to make you understand.”
“Maybe with this,” I said, taking out the email I’d printed out. “You mentioned the Paul Is Dead hoax, and I don’t see the connection.”
“Ah, yes!” Moore looked suddenly animated – even alarmed.
“You don’t seriously suggest that the current Paul McCartney is an imposter, that he’s really . . .er . . .”
“He’s really a man called William Campbell? No. What I wanted to tell you is that all the clues, the clues on the covers of Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road and Let It Be, are all a smoke screen to confuse people and to stop them discovering the real conspiracy.”
Okay, I thought, trying not to let my doubts show on my face.
“Have you ever heard of backmasking?” he said.
“Of course. Backmasking, or backwards masking, is putting something on the grooves of a vinyl record in reverse, so that you’ll hear the information properly only if you play the record backwards. The rumors say that if you play certain records backwards, you’ll hear secret messages. They said bands like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin put them on the grooves in their albums . . . or something like that.” The rumors also said that they were messages telling kids to worship Satan, because they were mostly spread by right-wing God-Squad parents, but I didn’t mention that.
“Listen to this.” Moore opened a file on his laptop and clicked ‘play’. A slurred, garbled voice began to hiss through the speakers, on a continuous loop. “I put the needle on the Beatles’ Revolution 9 track backwards and then digitally transferred it to the computer. Apparently John’s saying ‘Turn me on, dead man’. Most people believe he’s referring to Paul.”
I listened. I could just about hear what he meant, but to me, the sample sounded more like, something something dead men. Moore closed the file and opened another one – a longer sample of garbled speech.
“Time, turn back! Time, turn back! Turn back!”
“Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, even ELO,” Moore said, “they all put secret messages on their albums. Messages there for people who knew to look them.”
“But what’s the point? What do they mean?”
“I don’t know yet.” He paused, and then added: “But I know who put them there.”
I waited. “So . . . who put them there?”
His eyes flicked towards the photo above the computer. “Who do you think?”
I closed my eyes, just for a second. “You mean Jason? You mean he’s responsible for all the backmasked messages?”
“Why not? Jason knew them all – John Lennon, Syd Barrat, Jimmy Page, Jeff Lynn, and he was in and out of their recording studios whenever he felt like it. Nothing is outside his abilities, Mr. Carter!”
He took a slim plastic folder filled with photocopies of different magazine pages, and handed it to me. “That’s just a sample of the evidence I’ve compiled. There’s an image of Aleister Crowley on the Sergeant Pepper album cover – and Crowley had written, as long ago as 1913, that listening to reversed phonograph music is a form of occult training for the mind. Jimmy Page -”
“Just a minute,” I said, holding up my hand. “If that’s the case, did Jason put any backwards messages on his own band’s records?”
“Ah. Yes. Now you’re talking.” Moore grinned at me, his eyes getting all distant and glittery. He turned back to the keyboard, his fingers tapping away, opening audio files. “This is hidden in the grooves of the first Banana Sundial album, Angels and Interchange. Just isten to this …”
To find out more about one of rock music’s greatest mysteries, go here!
This story was published in July 2016, so the excerpt is no longer available.
THE FULL STORY WILL BE PUBLISHED IN “TALES FROM BEYOND TOMORROW” VOLUME TWO, RELEASED IN MARCH 2017. VOLUME ONE, WITH TEN SIZZLING SLICES OF ALTERNATIVE HISTORY, CAN BE FOUND HERE!
Halfway through the grounds of Kasaieki-mae Park, on her way home from school, Yuko Iwata stopped and stared to her left.
She saw a riotous sprawl of color on the ground around one of the garbage bins. That in itself didn’t bother her much; what made her pause was the weird look of the stuff. It was like the scuffed earth had acquired a coat of paint. Last semester there’d been some science homework about lightning striking sand on the beach and turning it into glass; it reminded her of that.
As Yuko approached the trash bins, the mess resolved itself in her vision. It consisted of card or paper, cut into dozens of small squares all roughly the same size, covering an area about one meter square. Yuko crouched down to examine it, her brow wrinkling in puzzlement.
It was a map.
To be more accurate, it had once been a map.
The squares represented Tokyo. There were green areas of parks, gray areas of built-up residences and businesses, bordered by the red and yellow veins of roads. Yuko could make out the kanji lettering of the Showa avenue, Hibiya Park, Ueno railway station, but nothing was where it should have been. Everything had been mixed up; the capital city had been cut into pieces and then rearranged in new, unexpected patterns.
Yuko got to her feet, swinging her satchel back onto her shoulder. Perhaps someone had put the map in the trash, and then someone else had come along and pulled it out. But why had they brought it to the park? Why had it been carefully cut into squares before being dumped?
She kept speculating on what could have happened all the way back to her house, an average wood-and-plaster two-story building set in the tiny streets around Kasai station. To her relief, her parents weren’t home. They hadn’t returned from work yet.
Yuko’s brother, Takenori, was upstairs, going through his collection of B’z and Mr. Children J-Pop CDs. She flopped down on his bed, sucking on a carton of choco-milk. Behind Takenori’s head, and above the textbook-filled desk, hung the scroll given to her mother by Yuko’s calligraphy teacher. Sleep four hours a night and pass, it declared in beautifully lettered kanji. Sleep five hours a night and fail.
“You know what that idiot cram school teacher did today?” Takenori fumed. “You know how he’s always telling us not to be so passive in class, and to pay attention more? Well, he told us last week there was a test for today, and a cover teacher came to supervise it. One of the questions was, ‘Does your regular teacher wear glasses?’. Some of us answered yes, and some answered no. Turned out the correct answer was, ‘I used to, but I switched to contact lenses.’ ”
Yuko and Takenori were both leaving school at the end of the year. It was expected that Takenori would enter a private high school in Aoyama at the end of this year. It was also expected that Yuko, a high school senior, would enter university. Their parents could only afford to send one of them to a cram school, and it had been decided a long time ago that it would be the son.
Takenori and his father weren’t on speaking terms at the moment. Last week, Takenori had returned worn out after attending regular school and cram school, and playing a match with the school basketball club. He’d fallen asleep in his room, and Papa had scolded him for not coming down for dinner at the correct time.
Yuko stared at her brother’s pre-occupied face. How different he’d looked last week, she thought. Eyes screwed up tight, tears pumping down bright red cheeks. He’d picked up a chair and beaten it three times, up and down, on the kitchen floor. And he’d screamed – not words, but just noise – raw, penetrating noise. Papa was still smarting over it. He kept muttering that Takenori “didn’t show enough respect these days”.
“Maybe you should try something to keep Komatsu-sensei happy,” Yuko volunteered. “A friend of mine told me that she had a teacher once who ate a lot of curry-rice. At the end of one test paper, she put down a really tasty recipe she knew for curry-rice. She got full marks.”
“It’ll take more than that to make Komatsu happy. He goes on about the environment a lot … maybe I should write in green ink?”
He turned to his shelf of TV games, pulled Man-Made Death 4 out of its hologram-studded cover, and slipped it into his PlayStation Deluxe. The sleek black console hummed faintly and winked one tiny red light on its control display.
“You know, Yuko, there’s something else I’m nervous about, right, it’s … well, I haven’t got a girlfriend right now. I know you don’t have much time, and your friends are older than me, but I was thinking …”
Here we go again, Yuko thought. “Well, Miyoko’s got a younger sister, about your age. She’s pretty cute. I’ll see what I can do.”
Sucking the carton of Choco-Milk dry, she watched her brother as he started to say something about the girls at school, and failed to finish the sentence, his mouth pursing itself and eyes narrowing as the pre-game graphics flickered into life on the screen.
“Do my homework soon,’ muttered Takenori, as if he were talking to himself. “Just want to see … if …”
The Saturday evening news was full of the murder.
After the family anime shows, while the Iwata family was having dinner sitting on the tatami in front of their giant plasma-TV screen, they found themselves confronted by scenes from their own neighborhood. Streets, houses, schools, and Kasaieki-mae Park in close-up and long-shot, the on-screen image shaking as if the cameraman’s hands were trembling. Subtitles marked the names and the locations of the buildings involved, and the breathless commentary of the reporter underscored it with dates and events. A community cross-examined; a life under the lens.
“She was only sixteen,” Yuko’s mother was saying, “and she came from a school only a couple of blocks from here! Her poor parents …”
“You’ll have to stop walking home through that park,” her father rumbled. “We’ve told you that before, Yuko. There could be all kinds of strange people in that park after school. There are violent kids hanging around, all kinds of unstable folk … ah, this country just isn’t safe any more.”
Yuko remembered that her mother had thrown away the first page of the morning newspaper after breakfast; she’d said that the details they’d printed were “too disturbing”. Excusing herself from the table, she went into the kitchen and quietly picked the front page out of the garbage.
Later, when her parents sent her upstairs to do her homework, she methodically flattened out the soiled page and read it …
The complete story and 14 others can be found here. Read them … if you dare!