My piece of flash fiction “Growing Flowers” is one of one-hundred-and-one wee tales included in Zombie Pirate Publishing’s upcoming anthology Flash Fiction Addiction, currently available for pre-order on Amazon and delivered to your Kindle device on April 15th.
In case you don’t know, “flash fiction” tales are very, very short stories (in this case anywhere between 100 and 750 words long), and any one of them can be read in a few seconds to a few minutes. You can Go Here to find out more. Oh, in the image below, my name and story title is in the left-hand column toward the bottom.
Yesterday, I finished reading Jon Del Arroz’s short story Knight Training, a small steampunk piece that’s part of his For Steam and Country universe. I won’t post these first few paragraphs at Amazon, but I feel it necessary, given the criticism I receive every time I mention Mr. Del Arroz on this blog, to say something about him, or at least how some folks perceive him.
About a year ago, another author, Jim C. Hines, wrote a scathing criticism of Del Arroz that he titled Jon Del Arroz’s History of Trolling and Harassing. I was doing some research on Del Arroz via Google and came across the missive (and it’s the only reason I became aware of Mr. Hines and his writing since he otherwise was not on my radar). If all this is true, it makes Del Arroz a pretty terrible person.
On the other hand, Del Arroz’s fellow writer Richard Paolinelli says he’s a pretty good guy. I like Richard and have no reason to doubt his word, but I must admit, I see two sides to a man who calls himself “The Leading Hispanic Voice in Science Fiction.”
Some months ago at work, a friend of mine and I got to talking about steampunk as a sub-genre of science fiction, and, long story short, he recently lent me his copy of Mark Hodder’s 2010 novel The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack: A Burton and Swinburne Adventure.
Basically, Hodder takes real places (London specifically) and actual historical figures, such as Sir Richard Burton, poet Algernon Swinburne, Charles Darwin (yes, that Charles Darwin), and Florence Nightingale, and transforms them into bizarre, distorted, “steampunkish” versions of themselves in a much larger than life adventure set against a highly improbable background.
The result is an amazing romp that could never have happened (time travel notwithstanding) but is nevertheless, is a lot of fun.
Recently, I said that I’d be making a concerted effort to read more recently produced science fiction novels and stories as defined by those having been published within the last ten years or so. Mr. Hodder’s novel certainly qualifies, so here we go.
Seventeen-year-old Keisha Davis had been in this world twice before. The first time was, from her frame of reference, two years ago, and the alternate reality resembled her world of about 1910, except arcane technology combined with steam power, enabled fantastic machines to be created, including improbable cyborgs, submarines, and even zeppelins which could fly to the edge of space.
The second time was last year, two days after her sixteenth birthday, but in this world, twenty years had passed, and now Tony Stark-like inventions were running on oil and diesel. Three-year-old Leah and nine-year-old Josiah, the children of her other reality mentors Isaiah and Eralia Covington, had grown to be twenty-three and twenty-nine respectively.
Three months ago, she had turned seventeen, and yesterday, he once again mysteriously materialized in the alternate realm, only now, another twenty years had passed, and the environment was reminiscent of the 1950s. They had the internet, Facebook, YouTube, as well as rocketships to Mars and Moon bases, all driven by transistors and
nuclear power. Leah, her mother’s name had been Leah, was now forty-three. She only had one son, a teenager called Josiah, named after her brother. Keisha’s older brother was also named Josiah.
“Grandpa has ears that truly listen, arms that always hold, love that’s never-ending, and a heart that’s made of gold.” –Anonymous
Keisha marveled at her first sight of Kentville as Isaiah navigated the steam-driven Fliver-B out of the tunnel and into the morning sun. Like the entrance to the Batcave, the camouflaged doors swung shut, and to the casual eye, they blended in with the rest of the mountain.
She was sitting beside Isaiah in the passenger seat, her large hat brim shading her eyes from the sunlight. Unlike San Francisco, this was a quaint little town nestled in the wooded mountains of a state park, quaint that is, except for the outrageous contraptions moving to and fro in the streets, adorning every building and even every person.
There were windmills driving cogs, turning sprockets, pushing rods, pumping water through fountains, turning fans that cleaned the sidewalks, and working escalators that led into the sides of shops, hotels, and apartment buildings.
Then there was the enormous brass clock face mounted on a tower at the south side of the town square. It was just striking nine o’clock, and a brass man took jerking steps out of an aperture set just below the clock, raised a large hammer with both hands, and then struck an equally brass anvil. “Clang.” He raised the hammer again and it fell, hitting the anvil with a “Clang,” and repeated that action seven more times. The brass man turned to face the square, and in a voice made of springs and metal filings announced, “Nine O’Clock in the morning.” In one final declaration of time telling, a steam whistle blew shrill notes. After that, the brass man retreated to the sanctuary of his robotic den to await the coming of another hour.
“That would get really annoying if you were trying to sleep.”
Isaiah chuckled, “I imagine it would, Miss Davis.”
“Grandpas bring a little wisdom, happiness, warmth, and love to every life they touch” –Anonymous
Keisha could hear the two Spads veer off to either side just after the machine gun clatter stopped. Her eyes were squeezed shut and she’d bent forward in her chair as far as she could, covering her head with her arms.
She felt her body being pulled forward even more, which meant the Kestrel was going into a dive.
“Miss Davis, are you alright?” It was Isaiah! He was alive.
“I’m okay. How’s Josiah?” She opened her eyes and looked to her right but her view of the man and boy was obscured by clouds of mist.
“I’m fine except for being scared out of my wits.”
“We made it,” Granger shouted. “Get us down, Oscar. We’ve got to ditch the zeppelin’s superstructure.
“Duck soup, Boss.”
“Don’t give me that mush. It’s curtains for us if we don’t land this tub, and we’ll have to hit on all sixes to get the job done.”
“Grandfathers are just antique little boys.” –Unknown
They got a lot farther than Keisha thought they would. Adrenaline and panic drove her and young Josiah up the first quarter of the trail, but after that, fatigue started to set in. Then fear rose again as they encountered the first unconscious mech man about halfway up. Some of the cogs and gears on his mechanical body parts were still spinning and whirring, as if trying to get the organic mass they were attached to back up and running.
What made the climb worse was the massive, clunky breathing masks which fit over their heads like helmets, and had goggles and a nose pieces that jutted out like an insect’s. Her breathing, already labored because she was trying to run uphill, sounded more like Darth Vader. Why was this taking so long? Isaiah needed them and Keisha couldn’t let the nine-year-old boy lose both his Mom and Dad.
Finally they reached the top of the trail. The gas was much thicker here and the drone of the airship louder. The teenager looked up, but amazingly couldn’t see the enormous dirigible for all the gas and smoke. What had happened to Isaiah?
“Young people need something stable to hang on to, a culture connection, a sense of their own past, a hope for their own future. Most of all, they need what grandparents can give them.” –Jay Kesler
“Still no sign of the warship, Isaiah. It’s been four hours.” Keisha was whispering in the hot, humid air of the Dakuwaqa’s control room. Both Isaiah and his son Josiah were at their stations, trying to remain as motionless as possible.
The man at the helm looked back at the chronometer over the engineering station. “Yes, Miss Davis. The danger is still present, should the Navy ship be playing the same silent waiting game as we, but we must risk moving our submersible. Son. Apply minimum power to the screws and I’ll raise us marginally off of the bottom.”
“Yes, Pa.” The nine-year-old expertly worked the knobs, wheels, and levers on the tin, brass, and wooden panel in front of him, and Keisha could detect the faint hum of the engines from the rear of the boat. At the same time, Isaiah pulled back on the helm gently, activating the Barsoonian charge which restored just a slight bit of buoyancy to their craft. Power was also increased to the atmospheric circulation system, refreshing the air aboard.
Three times before, eighteen-year-old Keisha Davis had been transported into an alternate universe. For her, only a year passed between each transition, but in the world where the Covington family had become her own, each leap put her twenty years into their future.
Standing inside her Grandpa’s workshop located at the edge of her small, northern California town, she stared into the vastness of the converted warehouse. The first time she saw it when she was fifteen, she didn’t understand why he had built such an eclectic collection of odd technologies, but now it was painfully clear. Each one was a doorway.
“Grandpa, I know why you did this to me. Cancer took you too soon or you discovered the other world too late. Either way, you were never able to take on the missions yourself. You knew I would be the only one who’d understand what you needed and what kind of help that strange alternate Earth needed. Now it’s like your ghost is telling me I can’t go back again, not to him anyway, not where and when he lives in Atomworld.”