The Gigantomachy Of Antonios Costas, Chapter 2

Last week we met Antonios Costas, a Professor of Classical Studies at the University of Athens, and a student of Zeno’s Stoicism. After a gigantic sinkhole caused untold devastation in the centre of Athens, Antonios and his golden student, Medas, a Hellenist student of Greek antiquities, received an unexpected and somewhat distasteful invitation to explore the hole. This week they meet somebody representing the person who sent the invitation.

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It Takes A Village To Raise A Book

It’s been almost a week since Chris and I went official with our announcement of the Official SFF Chronicles Podcast (which reminds me; we will definitely be working on a snappier name for it…) and the response has been overwhelmingly positive so far. One of the initial reasons I had for wanting to do a podcast was to help create something where I retain a sense of control (rather than submitting myself to the endless rounds of rejection that typify a writer’s existence). Another reason was for it to be a learning experience for us as hosts and writers. By talking through certain ideas, topics and themes with other qualified individuals I hoped it would improve our own understanding of them.

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The Gigantomachy Of Antonios Costas: Chapter 1

I hope readers enjoyed my novella Resvrgam. I’ve now stickied the whole story at the top of the blog. I wrote it for a “Secret Santa” challenge up at SFF Chrons Headquarters : a challenge whereby everybody posts their wish for a story (for example, I might ask for a story about two estranged sisters set in a cloud-based city, or whatever), and then an administrator randomly allocates these wishes back among the wishes, who then go away and write a story with the brief given. The completed stories are then secretly given back to the people who requested them as their “present”. There would follow a quick guessing-game of who write who before all was revealed. The whole thing would take four to five months, and it was a great writing exercise! I was given the brief “I’d like a little story about fire,” and so obviously I wrote a 17,000 word novella about a secretive pyromanic cult shaping the course of London’s history.

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Announcing the official SFF Chronicles Podcast!

A little while ago I mentioned I was putting together a plan for a new podcast in a bid to take control of what I was hoping to achieve with my own writing, and how I interact with other members and parts of the writing community. My good friend Chris Bean, a wonderful and well-read horror writer, and I have been working over the summer months to put the groundwork for such a venture, and I’m really delighted to finally announce that we will be launching the first episode of this new venture in January 2022.

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Announcement: The Official SFF Chronicles Podcast!

A little while ago I mentioned the notion of beginning a podcast, and I’m really delighted and excited to announce that my friend Chris Bean and I will be launching the official SFF Chronicles Podcast in early 2022.

The creative industries are hellishly competitive, and especially so in publishing, where the artistic merit of a book is sometimes only arbitrarily correlated to its commercial potential. At least, that’s in the eyes of publishers, who are (understandably) yoked to a ruthless commercial market. This does mean that small and first-time authors are finding it increasingly difficult to engage in the publishing industry. I was incredibly lucky to get a novel published in 2018, but even then it was with a small press who had almost zero budget for marketing purposes, and since then things have been very difficult. Despite that I’ve continued to be creative, and in my eyes a podcast is an extension of that.

The thought of doing a podcast came after thinking about what authors can do that’s within their control. It’s not always obvious, but one thing I learned from a colleague who’s been through a hell of a lot of bad times is that even when you think things are against you, you have to be serious about identifying the things in your control, and focus on how to exploit them. I’ve been a member of the SFF Chronicles community for around 7 years now, and it surprised me that nobody thought of doing this before, but there we are. It’s the world’s largest SFF community (though has a significant horror fanbase) with 20,000 members from all across the globe, and while it has at its heart books and writing, it covers all media, from TV shows to photography and artwork. There are several jobbing writers who are active on the site, and several heavyweight writers have been found lurking there over the years, including Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Kerry Buchanan, Stephen Palmer, Jo Zebedee, Bryan Wigmore, Teresa Edgerton, Neal Asher, and others. The best podcasts are able to spend a considerable time talking about interesting things in good faith, and I hope to be able to do that – or at least capture the spirit of that – with the SFF Chronicles Podcast

All this means that doing a podcast to cater for this ready-made audience makes perfect sense to me. I’ve wanted to do a podcast for a while, and I really wanted to do one with Chris. He’s a fantastic writer, primarily of horror, and is a deep thinker about the craft and creativity of writing. He’s also uproariously funny and will bring his orderly pedagogic skills from his time as a dance teacher with RAD and others.

At present we’re drawing up a longlist of topics to cover, and will be opening a survey at SFF Chrons to gauge how popular they are. We will then book in our guests, and if all goes well we hope to launch the first episode in January 2022, and monthly thereafter for a first season of 12 episodes, and we’ll be able to see how things go after that. We see each episode as featuring a guest to talk about a particular book and do a deepish dive into that particular book, but also spend some time talking about the industrial and commercial aspects of writing and publishing so as to find a balance between the artistic and the commercial practices. We’ll try to split the episodes evenly between fantasy, SF, and horror, as well as industrial and commercial matters.

In the meantime, if you’re an SSF (and H) fan and would like to become a member of the world’s largest community for that particular slice of subculture, you could do a lot worse than to head over to Chrons. It’s one of the most vibrant and diverse communities active in this area, and is an unfailingly pleasant place to be. Membership is free, but a Supporter membership with a few extra perks costs just £15/year.

I’ll post more details as they come about, but both Chris and I are really looking forward to trying to dig into the books we love with some very cool guests, and bring together a great community in a different way.

Resurgam: Chapter 8 and Epilogue

So, we reach the end of the road for Vivienne and Ignatius. After the traumatic events of last chapter, Vivienne tries moving on, but has one last encounter with the mysterious cabal in the shadows of London.

The next day was broiling, roasting, as if the sun sought vengeance for some wrong it had suffered. The weatherman said it was to be the hottest day of the year, but Viv stayed curled up in bed with the covers wrapped around her, unable to face it. She’d texted in sick, but only afterwards realized it was Saturday. Great. That’d look weird. 

It wasn’t until sundown that she ventured from her pit, sweating, shaking and sleep-deprived. Sleep hadn’t visited her at all during night or day; the fear of Georgiana’s doughy hands clambering through her windows to strangle her, or Ignatius appearing beside her wreathed in blood, kept her awake. She feared losing her sanity, but when the images of everything she’d seen flooded back, she wondered if she already had. Overhead a plane soared into invisibility, leaving white contrails in its wake, bound for somewhere new. She wished she were on it, wherever it was headed. That feeling passed, like everything else she’d experienced that day, leaving only empty exhaustion and confusion. At the very least she had an incredible story. But would they put it under science, or lifestyle? She smiled weakly at her own feeble wit. It was a pertinent question; could she write up this strange account? Embarrassment tore at her each time she considered how she’d been had by Ignatius’s whole sorry charade. Even now, doubts lingered. What of the fag-wound in her hand? The Petrowski-thing? “All tricks, all subterfuge,” she whispered at the sky. Saying it aloud made it somehow more palatable, and made her feel slightly stronger. The thought of food entered her mind, and her stomach gnawed in agreement.

She was out of bread, which made her curse. She could venture to the shop before it was totally dark. Shivering, she pulled on thick tights before jeans, a pullover and gilet before heading out. It was still a stinking hot evening, but she pulled her clothes close, like armour.

Her head was buried into her chest, ignoring the world, so the car hit her without giving her a moment’s notice. She was launched onto her back, blinking confusedly at a fading violet sky, breathing jaggedly, trying to speak but only managing whimpers. Something felt broken. Her body was still, and she didn’t dare move it.

The driver of the car, a lad no older than twenty, rushed out and got to her side, flapping and panicking. Amid the panic she made out the words ambulance and help. He dialed the emergency services while she waited there. Dogtired, she had to fight with her every fibre to remain awake. She managed a smile at the stressed young man, who couldn’t even bring himself to hold her hand. Poor, dumb lad. “Hey, don’t worry,” she whispered. “It’s not your fault. Just don’t… don’t let me die, ok?”

“I’m so sorry,” he kept uttering, over and over. She didn’t mind. It helped keep her awake. The thought of death, of taking everything with her to the grave terrified her more than any fire. She hoped to God she wasn’t dying.

It was two minutes before the ambulance came, but two minutes of mounting pain that felt like hours. That was good, she decided. Beneath all her clothes she felt wet, but relaxed. The world was fading as a large, uniformed paramedic walked into view against a flashing blue backdrop.

“Hello? Hello?” The paramedic’s voice was cool and calm, like summer rain. It brought an unbidden smile from her. She heard other words: losing blood… move… time… Against all her fight, her eyes softly closed and images swarmed in the darkness: wounded and burned arms and hands, smouldering bodies melting into rain, and then billowing into dust clouds. Just before she slipped into unconsciousness she called out a word.

~

When she awoke there was still pain. Only pain. Waves of it, right down to her bones. Sharp, knobbly things poked at her naked back, stabbing her, making her writhe, which brought the pain anew. She cried out, a twisted yelp. It was hot, yet gooseprickles erected themselves across her battered, naked body. She knew immediately where she was.

“Sorry, my dear,” came a waspish voice, just out of view. “You will have to endure the pain a little while longer. But you will endure it, for death is a miserable alternative, isn’t it? You certainly thought so, when you called for me. Wasn’t it lucky that one of the paramedics knew exactly where to deliver you?” 

Of course. That ambulance had arrived a bit sharpish. Bloody bastards. Viv tried stretching out but every move brought yet more agony. Above her were converging images: water, air, earth, sloping away to a distant, bright point. A bit like the end of a tunnel. She managed a hoarse whisper. “I’m not dying?”

Ignatius clicked his fingers, creating a ball of flame. “I’m afraid you are. Mortal death. Broken bones, broken back. Unfixable. Torturous pain. Or, will you right what you wronged? You owe me the time you took from one of our own.” He held out his arm in front of her, the fire wreathing it, just as it had done in the penthouse that evening. She wept. She didn’t want to die after all. Oil, hot and slick, wet her face and body, seeping into her pores and crevices like a lover.

“I don’t want to die.”

“You won’t. You’ll be reborn.” 

She wanted to spit at him, spit at them all, no doubt staring blankly at her naked body from beneath their heavy robes in the shadows. But she couldn’t. All she could do was scold herself. She didn’t believe it. It had all been bullshit. But what good did it do to scorn them now? She nodded. “Bloody do it, then.”

His eyes, fiery red, were the last parts of him she saw before the flame caught and greedily lapped up the oil. For a few seconds there was no pain as the oil burned away, and thin, grey smoke danced prettily towards the ceiling. Then it came, burrowing, peeling, scorching, and she screamed. She screamed so loudly she almost drowned out the steaming hiss when the fire hit her flesh. Then the flames took the screams from her throat, and the last thing she heard was her own crackle and spit.

<<<>>>

Epilogue

Feng waited patiently by the gate for the flight to begin boarding. He yawned and stretched, which made him feel lighter. One more flight to London to look after and then he’d have some precious time off. There was a cute boy he’d met a couple of weeks ago at a comedy night in Hackney. After he recovered from the jetlag he’d give him a call.

Night flights always were his favourite; breezing through the air, with the licence to drift off to sleep. Some of the other flight attendants bitched about how cramped the CRCs were, but he didn’t mind. Besides, he was only a waif of a thing himself. He smiled with eyes closed. According to the manifest it would be a nice, empty flight, too. Perfect.

The departure lounge, despite being empty, felt fusty and suffocating. He winced, fingering his collar to let some air in, but it did no good. Perhaps the air con was broken? He pressed fingers into the corners of his screwed up eyes and started when he opened them, before emitting a little laugh of surprise. A woman had taken the seat next to him. Early. Passenger. Smart, dressed in an electric blue skirt suit. She smiled at him. “Sorry,” he said. “You were very quiet.”

“Don’t apologise,” smiled the woman. She had fabulous turquoise eyes, like pools, gushing with life. “You work on the airline, Feng?”

He screwed his face up. How did she know his… her gaze dropped to the name badge pinned to his chest, and he smiled in embarrassment. “Sorry. I forget I’m wearing it half the time. Yes, it was my dream job,” he cooed. “Always wanted to do it. Not just for any old airline though. None of that cheap flight silliness!” He leant in and smiled. “I wanted the prestige.”

“Don’t we all.” The woman pressed a hand upon Feng’s; it was warm, and felt wet, which made him uncomfortable. “Is something the matter?”

Feng laughed. “Oh sorry, no. Not at all. It’s just very hot in here. It makes me uncomfortable. I like the cabins in the plane – the AC always keeps it nice and cool. Usually it’s pretty cool here too, but something’s different. The AC’s probably screwed.”

“I never used to like the heat either. But I learned.” There was an awkward pause, during which the woman fished a large bottle of water from her travel bag, from which she enjoyed a long draught. “I envy you, Feng. You have it all in front of you. Well, you do if you choose.”

Feng spoke slowly, discomfited. “Choose what?”

“What you do defines you, Feng. And what you’ve chosen to do is no coincidence. When we get back to London, let me show you something that’ll keep you from being bored ever again.”

Feng opened his mouth but said nothing. On arriving in London he’d be jetlagged, exhausted, in need of bed. “Sure, why not,” he said. He’d always been fickle like that. Just like the wind.

<<<>>>

Resurgam: Chapter 7

Vivienne is all in. Having been shown things that are mysterious and inexorable, she takes the plunge and sees what lies behind Ignatius’s facade, and in doing so witnesses something horrific.

In a narrow alley just off Cheapside a small church sat by an even smaller livery building. The evening heat hadn’t been helped by Georgiana’s insistence that they walk across town rather than hail a cab.

“Don’t say a word,” said Georgiana, knocking upon the door to the church.   

With a smooth thunk a viewing hatch slid open. Two slitty eyes peered out, eyeing the two women for a few seconds. A decrepit male voice asked, “Are you here for nightprayers?”

“For the one who answers nightprayers,” replied Georgiana.

The voice made a harrumphing sound, and the eyes flicked over to Viv. “Who’s this one?”

“Fire has called her.”

“She is known?”

“She was found by fire, and touched by fire. Tonight, she may be cleansed by fire.”

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Guest Blog by Peat Long: Let the Truth Lie

My name’s Peat and Dan’s asked me to write a post for him while he goes skiving off to the wilderness with his family. I gladly agreed as it seemed the ideal opportunity to give a response to a post Dan did a little back called “A Reason to Write – Wrestling With the Truth“.

You see, I too am a writer, and when I get to the point where it’s worth having author cards, I want ‘professional liar’ put on mine.

So to hear Dan talk about writing in order to know the truth, to wrestle it out of the bushes, took me aback a little.

I’ve always had a somewhat love-hate relationship with the idea of fiction containing great meanings. On the one hand, I associate it with tedious school lessons where I read books I wouldn’t have picked myself. On the other, I often talk on my blog about the books I read at that age in the way I’d have talked about a book at school. I will openly talk about how the philosophies of certain authors affected my life. On the other, I bristle when I see people worrying about what message people will get from this book or that book. The Lord of the Rings is unabashedly monarchist; the majority of fantasy readers are not. I bristle too when people talk about books that are seen as “entertainment heavy, message light” as being inferior to books that are message heavy, and also when people talk about how there are no messages.

The idea of being a professional liar, other than it being funny the first three times, is that it’s a riposte to the people insisting on great meaning. A statement that I am an entertainer making up entertaining lies, not a philosopher.

But, in doing so, I am probably lying.

The truth is when it comes to messages is I have an irreconcilable rift of opinion within myself. There is something similar when it comes to the idea of writing books in order to find truth. Sometimes I do recognise that feeling Dan’s talking about. But I also think of what David Gemmell said about the Alamo and his debut, Legend:

“The Alamo had a big effect on me when I first read about it. Unfortunately I now know the truth about the Alamo… The Alamo is a consistent story of cock-up after cock-up. Nobody there expected to die. I’m not saying they weren’t very brave men. But the whole thing was mismanaged to the point of ineptness… I don’t like to believe that, but it’s the reality of life, so perhaps I shouldn’t have studied the Alamo. Legend is the Alamo spirit – or what should have been that spirit.”

Gemmell was not wrestling with the truth. He knew the truth and didn’t like it. It’s a sentiment similar to Grant Morrison’s treatment of The Invisibles as a hypersigil to change the world, or even Tolkien having the hobbits fight industrialisation in The Scouring of the Shire. Sometimes the author is less interested in finding out the truth of the world and their view of it than they are in providing their version of it, either as escapism or a rallying cry for better.

Sometimes an author seeks to do both, to confront and escape simultaneously, to use something CL Polk said that stuck with me. I like that, as it speaks to another variation of the irreconcilable rift of why to write. That there are multiple reasons, and that they are sometimes in conflict, even in the same author.

When I look at what I’m writing myself, I see multiple reasons for what I’m writing.

Take The Girl and the Knight, the completed manuscript I’m currently pitching. It started as a project on what would happen if a D&D Paladin took his powers and honour to the cause of fighting crime. Somewhere down the line it became a mix of medieval Celtic epic and Noir, all first-person laconic tiredness and big personalities doing petty things. But underneath the witticisms and the mystery, there are some thoughts on what masculinity should be in a modern world, and on picking a way through divided loyalties, and finding a purpose when the world is harsh with you. Things that matter to me.

There’s two other projects I’m working on right now. Stab and Sparrow is a light hearted Pratchettian adventure with two young women, full of witty banter and strange sights. The other is Swords of Scorn, a mix of barbaric ancient Greek Epic, murder mystery, and coming of age, in which a group of unlikely heroes must figure out who killed the god-kings of their country as their magic fades. It’s all fun and adventure, but I can feel themes and thoughts creeping in. Establishing independence for yourself. Family. How far down a hard road someone might go.

Why I write changes every day. It fits into an overarching theme of what I want to communicate, but what I want to communicate isn’t always the same thing. It’s just things I notice and put out there, seeing if it strikes a chord with anyone else.

Even if I know I’d probably never even hear if it did.

But that is my truth, tell me yours.

<<<>>>

Note from Dan: I’m on holiday at the moment, so I’m very grateful to Peat for swinging by here and filling in for me. You can read Peat’s excellent and eclectic blog, which covers topics such as fantasy, writing, music, movies, the countryside, sport, and much else besides, over here. Chapter 7 of Resurgam drops this Friday, and I’ll return in time to post Chapter 8.

Resurgam: Chapter 6

Vivienne remains unconvinced of her former mentor Robert’s arguments in favour of the rational. The empiricist in her knows to believe what she sees, but the rationalist in her still fights this instinct. Work loses its favour for her. Science seems foggy. She is invited to a conference and meets somebody she does not expect to see.

Viv stayed in the café after Robert left, making arrangements with this Peter to talk about teeth. The meeting wouldn’t be until tomorrow, so she went for a walk. Unsurprisingly, she ended up at the block of apartments near Fleet Street. She talked to the concierge, but Ignatius wasn’t in. She thought about leaving another message with him, but decided against it. She wondered momentarily why Ignatius didn’t have his own phone, but she reckoned journalists probably weren’t his usual go-to contacts. Instead, she called in at the office.

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Resurgam: Chapter 5

Last time, Vivienne was given a shocking insight into the fiery secrets of London’s history. This week, as her faith in science and rationality unravels, she seeks the advice of an old colleague from her university days. But is she seeking the validation of her old ideas, or the new ones?

Viv hadn’t smoked a cigarette since university, but tonight it seemed oddly appropriate. The craving must have been related to Ignatius’s weird theatrics, which seemed less like magic and more like flamboyant chicanery the further she got from the penthouse, but doubts still gnawed at her. She caved near Southwark, buying a packet from a kiosk after a meandering walk. The first drag brought a spasmodic cough jolted from her chest when the hot, bitter smoke hit her lungs. The second went down easier, but by the end her head was spinning so ferociously she swore it could have been a joint – how strong were these bloody things? She tossed down the fag-end and stamped it out.

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