Internal Spoilers

I am currently reading quite a few books. A writing artefact keeps hitting me that I will coin as internal spoilers. You see it in films as well as books and short stories.

It goes like this. There is a preface, or an early chapter, or a few scenes in a film – then the narrative moves back in time to before the prose just shown.

I understand why this is done. It is an attempt to engage the reader, to say to them ‘the rest of the book is good – look this thing will happen later’. Also it always seems to get done for the same reason. The fact that the start of the book is of poor quality and that a reader is likely to discard the book without it.

Maybe it is an editorial or a publishers decision, maybe it is the decision of the author. But if the start of the book or film is so poor that you have to jazz it up with an internal spoiler – why don’t you fix the start instead? Maybe you just started it at the wrong point.

Internal spoilers – even if the reader cannot correctly guess the path or even the context of the spoiler – still spoil the story. As a reader I am waiting for my expectation to arrive. Even if I guess wrong – it still spoils the reading experience.

As an aside – internal spoilers are not the same as feigning a direction of the story within the natural narrative flow. Here the reader also guesses what is going to happen – but in this case it doesn’t spoil the reading experience, and can in fact enhance it.

So please, if you or your editor or your publisher are pushing to put in an internal spoiler. Don’t do it.

James.

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Mirror Man by James Aston now available on Kindle

Mirror Man, the fifth stand-alone story in my every-other-month series of new science fiction stories is now available on Kindle – see https://james-aston.net/science-fiction-stories/ for details and Amazon links.

Mirror Man

Robert picked up his briefcase and paced towards the exit of the hotel lobby. He was in a hurry to prepare for his meeting the following day.

“One moment please.” The receptionist behind the desk said.

Robert stopped, wondered what it could be and turned back. He watched the receptionist pick a form out of a tray behind the counter then hold it out to him. “If you could fill this in and send it back.” She said.

Robert gave her a quizzical look.

“It’s a feedback form.” She said. “We’d like to know what we did right and what we did wrong. In case you come back again.”

Robert snatched the form from her and pushed it into the pocket of his thick winter coat. “Thanks.” He said.

Outside the hotel a solitary cab stood waiting in the rank. Robert strode across the pavement to claim it, but before he reached the cab he was pushed aside by a tall man with curly black hair.

“Get the next one buddy.” The man said before he jumped into the taxi and pulled away. Robert stood, surprised at himself for letting his cab be stolen and watched the car recede down the street.

Time rich is not a phrase Robert would use to describe himself, but that may be about to change. A chance encounter with an alluring woman twists his perception of space and time – and his place within it.

James.

Zombillions by James Aston now available on Kindle

Zombillions, the fourth stand-alone story in my every-other-month series of new science fiction stories is now available on Kindle – see https://james-aston.net/science-fiction-stories/ for details and Amazon links.

Zombillions

Yago 42485 pushed the stiff branch aside and stepped into a small clearing. He stopped and scanned the ground and the foliage that stretched up to the sky. On the far side of the clearing he saw a pool of light that reached through the canopy to touch the ground.

He walked across the clearing and stood in the pool of sunlight, then turned his head upwards. He felt the heat of the sun warm his face.

<<Request, location update>>, he sent.

A few seconds passed before the response arrived. <Target location, one point five (km), twenty one point three north (deg)>.

He turned to face the direction indicated, the trees were denser in that direction. The canopy completely covered the ground and darkness lurked beneath the trees. It was only punctured here and there by stray shafts of sunlight.

He frowned, and wondered whether there was a better route. Subconsciously he captured the image he saw and held it to be attached to his next communication.

<<Request, route strategy, (embedded image)>>, he sent. His mind cleared as he waited for the vast processing capabilities of the network to determine the best course of action.

The network. Pervasive, reliable, dependable. It impacts every decision, every choice, every action. But has humanity given too much?

James.

Zero by James Aston now available on Kindle

Zero, the third stand-alone story in my every-other-month series of new science fiction stories is now available on Kindle – see https://james-aston.net/science-fiction-stories/ for details and Amazon links.

Zero

Derek took a long draft of bitter, took a deep breath as though holding his anger in check and then placed his glass back on the dirty wooden table. His eyes met those of his colleague, Ivan, who sat opposite leaning back in his chair.

“Ivan, why do you have to be so cynical?” Derek said. “It could work. There’s no reason it has to fail.”

Ivan felt Derek’s gaze upon him, but kept his own expression unchanged. Then Derek looked away – his gaze wandering around the pub. Dark wooden beams crossed the ceiling and were caught in the soft orange glow of candlelight. A flame licked in the fireplace, a stone creation sunk into the haphazard brick wall. Copper-coloured fire pans were stacked in a disordered heap to one side.

“Derek, my friend.” Ivan said, a hint of amusement in his voice. “That’s what I like about you. Ever the optimist.”

In the near future the world is desperate for energy. One research lab leads the way, but does catastrophe lurk around the corner?

James.

Nominal Meat by James Aston now available on Kindle

Nominal Meat, the second in my every-other-month series of new science fiction stories is now available on Kindle – see https://james-aston.net/science-fiction-stories/ for details and Amazon links.

Nominal Meat

The metallic sound varied in pitch as it blasted from the speaker grills set around the room.  Every few seconds a voice cut in and announced that ‘Alert status one’ was active.

Keaghan remained seated at the table where he had been eating, hand halfway between his plate and his mouth.  Drops of brown gravy dripped on to the table as he crooked his neck, trying to discern whether the sound was going to abate.  Two minutes of continuous noise convinced him that this was not an alarm test, and that he would have to react to it.

He dropped his fork and the skewered meat back on to his plate, a spattering of juices emanating from the impact point.  He scraped his chair back and slowly trudged towards the exit of the empty cafeteria.

In deep space, one man’s stay on a battleship equipped for war is about to take an unexpected turn.

James.

Looking for self-published and indie sci-fi recommendations

I have decided to broaden my horizons from well-known and publishing house fare in the sci-fi world. So I am looking for recommendations of stories to read. There are no criteria but as you can only read so much I’ll (most of the time) use the following preferences when picking the next story to read.

– Prefer self-published and indie books over larger publishing houses
– Prefer short stories over novellas and novels
– Prefer stories I can buy and read on Kindle
– Prefer hard sci-fi over sci-fi that borders on fantasy
– Prefer more recently published to less recently published

If you are the author of such a story, or if you have read a story that you think I may like – then ping me a direct message on social media or via email (james at james-aston.net). Obviously tell me the title, author and preferably a link of where to buy it. If I enjoy the story I will leave a review, if there are areas I think could be improved (from my personal perspective) I’ll include those in the review.

Once I have read enough I will likely create and update a self-published and indie sci-fi reading list on my website somewhere.

James.

(P.S. This is an ongoing, no catches, no obligation thing. But I am looking for direct recommendations rather than taking them from the social media river we all bathe in.)

Science fiction short story series starting soon

I am through a bout of editing and have a set of science fiction short stories, ranging from 5000 to 12000 words, that are now in my publication pipeline.  This includes, among other things, generating the cover art, distribution versions etc.  Hopefully the first of these will hit the digital airwaves within the next couple of months.

Stay tuned.

James.

(and no, I couldn’t find a word starting with S to replace fiction 🙂 )

Robots seize their rights

He stood surveying the landscape of machines in front of him.  Robots of every generation were gathered, they were talking, chatting, laughing.  A frown creased his brow.  He knew that this was the one opportunity to rid the world of the machines.  He had read the reports of the actions individual robots had taken, and his models predicted the escalation of these activities.  It would not end well for humans.  In his hand he held the remote for the EM-pulse generator buried beneath the field.  It must be done, he thought.  Next to him, his android companion watched as his thumb started to descend towards the button.  “Please don’t do this.”  It said.  The man hesitated.

Christoph Bartneck and colleagues have been investigating human-robot interaction for a decade and has revealed that people attribute human-like value to robots.  They hesitate when asked to turn them off, and get embarrased when asked to undress in front of them.  Hear more in an interview for CTV: http://www.hitlabnz.org/index.php/news/3-news/236-ctv-interview-with-christoph-bartneck

James.