Friday, October 26, 2012

"The Forever Contract" by Avery Sawyer (Novella)

Genre:  Young Adult Dystopian

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  In the very near future, the country is plunged into drought and unrest. Scare resources and constant heat are making life completely miserable. Casey doesn't think she can stand slugging back another gel pack or working one more shift at the wells. Fortunately, there's a solution: anyone over the age of seventeen can sign the Forever Contract and enter a utopian paradise. While people's minds take a permanent vacation, their bodies get warehoused and hooked up to a complex array of sensors and feeding tubes. As Casey's brother says, "You upload your consciousness to the system and you're free to live as long as you want, however you want. No more pain, no more heat, no more awful dust, no more work. Just pure thought. It's what our species has always been meant for. Suffering is for philosophers. Not for me."

Casey's ready to sign--a permanent vacation is just what she needs. There's only one problem: her boyfriend James doesn't trust it.

Told from his and her perspectives, The Forever Contract is a 17,000 word (60 page) novella suitable for readers in grade 8 and above.

Would you sign the contract?


All anyone ever talked about these days was going into the system. Most of us turned seventeen this year, and you couldn’t go in until your seventeenth birthday.

“But what will it feel like?” we asked each other in class, when we were supposed to be writing lab reports or graphing equations. “What if it hurts?”

“It doesn’t hurt,” the decided ones said. “My best friend Shana went in last month and I chat with her every night. She says it’s amazing—you get to do whatever you want.”

“That does sound pretty decent,” the doubtful replied, throwing back a gel pack. We all had gel packs for lunch; water was scarce and the gel was supposed to rehydrate you even though it never felt like it did.

There had been a drought and record high temperatures all over the country as long as anyone could remember. We lived with the constant whirr of weak air-conditioners and uncertainty in our small prairie town. A long time ago, the town boomed thanks to large deposits of natural gas, but that was all over now. Most people had left, but a few thousand hunkered down and built concrete block houses. It wasn’t quite as hot in the summer here as it was farther south, so we figured it could be worse. No one had seen green grass in years; everything was dirt and dust and dead trees. It was actually illegal to plant your own garden because everyone knew you’d try to water it in the middle of the night when no one was looking. I kept planning to cut my longish brown hair into a pixie to make one-minute showers easier to manage, but I just couldn’t do it.

My brother Benjamin had gone in a year ago. Our parents were upset—they didn’t believe it was a good idea, because once you went in, you couldn’t come back out. “But I’ll never be able to give you a hug again,” my mother had wailed. “It’s not normal.”

“We’ll talk every day on screen,” Ben had replied. “And you can join me any time and give me a hug inside.”

“I doubt two avatars hugging really feel anything,” Mom had said ruefully. “It’s all made up. A fake world, a theme park, a game.”

“No, it’s not, Mom,” Ben had insisted. “It’s whatever you want it to be. Don’t you ever get tired of being thirsty? Of feeling pain?” He knew she’d suffered from arthritis for years. He wanted to sell us all on the idea, on the plan, but I knew my parents would never go in without me, and I wasn’t old enough then.

“Please don’t do it. I don’t trust it,” she’d begged.

“The system isn’t some monolithic thing, you know,” he’d tried to explain. “It’s the first true democracy. You upload your consciousness to the forever system and you’re free to live as long as you want, however you want. No more pain, no more heat, no more awful dust, no more work. Just pure thought. It’s what our species has always been meant for. Suffering is for philosophers. Not for me.”

“You’re free to live and play as long as the system has power,” our father corrected him. “What happens if the grid goes down?”

“Won’t happen, Dad. Why are you so negative?”

Our parents were still part of the faction who believed it would get better in the nuts-and-bolts world. That the rain would come back, that the changes we were seeing around the globe were temporary. They were different than most parents in our town. Most parents felt that anything was better than life as we all knew it. As a result, there were almost no young adults around anymore. It seemed like everyone seventeen or older had gone in. You almost never saw a twenty-something at the supply store or the school. Older people could go in if they wanted to, but they were more reluctant. They weren’t completely comfortable with the technology—they wanted to give it a few more years.

Things had gotten worse gradually. My mom talked about citrus all the time. That’s the thing she missed, she said. Grapefruit. A slice of lime in soda water. We couldn’t get citrus fruit anymore, and I couldn’t even remember what it had tasted like. She said I’d loved oranges as a toddler. We were the lucky ones, though. A lot of families didn’t have enough to eat. Food was very expensive, so meals were skipped. People ate rice and beans. It was awful. We at least had meat once or twice a week.

In any case, Ben had signed the Forever Contract and went in, and like my mom said, we couldn’t hug him anymore. His avatar looked like him, only better somehow. His hair seemed thicker onscreen; his arms and body leaner and more muscular. I wanted to ask him if he’d done it with anyone in there, but I couldn’t. I was his sister, and little sisters didn’t ask big brothers that sort of thing. Besides, I could read about it anywhere. Every report coming out of the system said sex inside was amazing. Indescribable. Much better than it could ever be in real life—with no worries about pregnancy or diseases. The system didn’t have babies, which sounded perfectly fine to me.

Still, I wasn’t sure. My boyfriend James was a really good kisser and I couldn’t imagine doing anything that would prevent me from being in his arms. When his lips touched that spot on my neck, right below my ear, I felt more alive than I ever had. How could immortality and nice muscles compete with that?

Besides, James wasn’t going.

He said it was a crock, the whole thing. I never let him get very far with his argument because I didn’t want to think about what it meant for Ben, but James believed the system was a completely flawed corporate-government program designed to prevent even worse food and water shortages. He believed that those who uploaded their consciousness in exchange for life as avatars in utopia had essentially agreed to commit suicide.

Buy this story on Amazon or B&N.

Friday, October 19, 2012

"Broken Vacuum Cleaner & MacKillop Series 2 Episode IV: Yuckahula" by Steve Whitmore (Short Story)

Genre:  Science Fiction, Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  The universe’s greatest ever investigative duo uncovers a plot to destabilise the Cosmos in a run-down London convenience store. As booze-crazed alien slugs unleash unspeakable horror and terror, only a combination of MacKillop’s able brain and Broken Vacuum Cleaner’s array of cleaning attachments can hope to save the day.

This is the first story in the BVC & MacKillop series. Genre aficionados may appreciate its blend of fantasy, sci-fi and humour — not to mention a fascination with defunct household gadgetry of a sucky nature.


MacKillop’s eyes snapped tight shut. Materializations were always unpleasant, especially those dishing him up to a Tuesday, which this quite clearly was. His skin stung like it had been grated; he felt sick — a horrible sickness, an uncontrollable urge toretchretchretch. But as ever, the foggy magenta visuals were the worst of it. The limbo between dimensions as one panorama morphed into another was no place for reconstituted mortals, let alone their spasmodically jettisoned stomach contents.

Broken Vacuum Cleaner sang to him from the canvas MYSTERIE’s knapsack slung over his back — random crooning that didn’t help at all. He turned to clock his cylinder accomplice’s shiny yellow carapace in the corner of his eye. “Shut up,” he said, with a female growl, “or I’ll throw up into your dust bag.”

Buy this story on Amazon.  Be sure to check out Steve's blog!

Friday, October 12, 2012

"The Magic Particle" by TJ Hudson (Short Story)

Genre:  Fantasy

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  It is 2012, and humanity believe they may have finally found the Higgs Boson. Little do they know that not only have they discovered the origin of mass in the universe, but also the source of magic; The Magic Particle.

A group of magical beings are called to attend a rare Grand Summit, where they must discuss the new discovery's impact on the magical world. Then they must decide the future of the entire planet.

A fantasy with a friendly dose of science.

This book is in British English.


The worldwide news story called for a special event, an incredibly rare special event. A Grand Summit would be called, and a representative of every magical council, organisation, sect, cult, nation or combination of the previously mentioned were required to attend. If you were called, attendance was compulsory. However, this time this particular rule did not have to be enforced, everybody called for wanted to be present.

The selection of the venue was a daunting task, it had to have the required gravitas for such an event, but no superfluous over the top pomposity. This was not a state occasion, a coronation or any other form of ceremonial event; it was a meeting, a meeting of the so-called wise and powerful, who had to make some very important decisions. Then agree on them.

The venue had to be on as neutral territory as possible, at a convenient place and at a convenient time. Due to the urgency of the meeting this was far harder than it should have been. The venue would also have to cater to the needs of each representative, as if the existing requirements were not already enough.

The mysterious Stewards of the Grand Summit outdid themselves, they always did, even with time so constrained. There was a reason they had earned their titles, that, and managing to stay completely neutral in all magical matters; just how did they do that?

And so it was chosen, the most prestigious venue for the 156th Grand Summit of the Magical World (an event that had not occurred since 1945) would take place at The Golden Dragon Pub, out in the Wiltshire countryside on a typically British rainy summer's evening.

There were seven beings present. Beings, not people, as the magical world has sentient creatures beyond humans. The number for a Grand Summit had never been set at seven, but since time immemorial (or time as far back as anyone can remember, or as far as records went - having the occasional immortal around blurred these lines) there had always been seven present. As they were all of the magical persuasion, (some literally existing more in other worlds, realms and dimensions than our material world) they tended to take their superstitions a bit more seriously than those of us in normal, non-magical, society. That even includes the astrologists and homeopaths amongst us. Due to this, the number of attendants became unofficially/officially fixed at seven and no one wanted to take responsibility for any potential consequences of breaking with tradition.

The news story that had driven this meeting into existence was reported everywhere in normal and magical society alike. It was not about a war, or terrorist attack or natural disaster and it was not about a wedding, a birth or a world record being broken. Instead it was of a scientific nature, a new particle had been discovered, the scientific community at the Large Hadron Collider tentatively announcing it as the famous and very elusive Higgs Boson; the particle that proves the existence of the Higgs field which in turn gives mass to everything in the universe, so quite important then. 

The discovery of this particle was remarkable enough in the normal world, it had been theorised for many years, providing the final piece of the puzzle to the Standard Model of particle physics. If this final piece was found then it would indicate to humanity to concentrate on this theory and discover even more fundamental and new physics. The Standard Model however, was not the only theory to the building blocks of the universe, there were many others, all taken with varying degrees of seriousness. 

The discovery of this new particle prompted further debate about these theories; whether this Boson was indeed the Higgs, did it give mass, could it be broken down, did it have sibling particles and many other exotic questions. The people undergoing these discussions and debates could not have realised that the discovery would be at the centre of another, far more important debate, one that would decided the future of the peoples of the Earth, magical and non-magical...

Buy this story on Amazon or Smashwords.

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Wishful Finger" by Boris Guzo (Short Story)

Genre:  Suspense

Type of Short Story:  Short Story

Summary:  You could have known Jeremy Atkins for years, worked in the same office, even gone to parties with him. But would you really be able to know him, unless he let you see through?
And when Jeremy meets a mysterious hitchhiker on a cold night, it's his turn to ponder. Is it fate? Or something more fatal?


Jeremy Atkins was a perfectly normal guy. Well, normal except for his two little oddities.

Driving home from the pub on this Saturday night, feeling slightly giddy, he sang along with the old rock 'n' roll station on the radio. Unlike most Saturdays, he wasn't feeling particularly bad about being alone. It was almost as if he had anticipated that it was going to be an unusual night.

He wasn't a completely lonesome person, he did have a few friends. They were all colleagues from work, but that still counts. He worked an office job, eight hours a day, five days a week. Some days, they hung out after hours, at a nearby pub. Like once or twice a month.

A few years back, Jeremy had suspected that the night outs were actually much more frequent, and that he wasn't being invited in on all the occasions. Of course this was only a hunch, there were no concrete evidence to prove he was right. Besides, he was in a depressed mood back then, so he could have just as well been imagining things. Indeed he had gone bar hopping several nights in a row, stopping by every decent pub in town, trying to run into a group of his colleagues, catch them red handed—with no success.

Tonight he had been by himself at the pub. He didn't like to drink alone at home. It made him feel like an outcast, or a crackhead. So even when he had no company, he went downtown to get his fix. In the ideal scenario, he would meet new people and make new friends this way. But that never really happened.

He had drank four beers—that was his limit when he took the car. Not fully safe, but this was one of the very few risks he took in life. Some folks bungee jump, others go rock climbing. Jeremy liked to drink four pints and then drive the fifteen miles home from the town. You could call this a quirk, perhaps—but it's not one of the two peculiarities I mentioned about him.

Buy this story on Amazon.  Be sure to check out Boris' website!