Georgia Rose posts an interview with multi-genre author, EJ Lamprey, writer of cosy whodunits and sci-fi.
I adore SF, but in a narrow vein. It has to be cheerful, and positive, and a bit exciting. Star Trek, Dr Who, the Stargate offshoots (but not the final gloomy one) had me riveted to my TV. A Town Called Eureka was my favourite series. I cut my teeth on Asimov, romped through Douglas Adams, but on a reading front nowadays lean more towards the Terry Pratchett type than heavy-duty SF.
It has taken a few years to build up recognition for EJ Lamprey and it wasn’t the lightest decision to start with a new name. Sensible writers put out as many books as possible under one name, no matter what the genre, and let the readers sort it out for themselves, but any follower of this blog knows that I am unable to grasp the principles of sensible. I did try to write the new book as EJ and found myself establishing lively retirement villages on distant planets, with purple squishy Major Horace types now having additional hands to the alarm of the female residents. Tchah. It seems that for me, a separate genre needs a separate name.
Having a different name also affected my writing style. A year or so back I joined a monthly competition writing SF microstories, and Joanna Lamprey learned to compress ideas and concepts into a tightly-written 600 or 700 words. As all EJ Lamprey’s patient readers know, she has barely reached her first cup of tea in 700 words. I don’t mind them being known to be linked, but this way you know what you’re getting with each.
Enough idle chatter. Please welcome Joanna Lamprey to your Kindle. There is a book of stories (ranging from microstories to a darker and fast-paced novella) on free promotion for 5 days – click on the cover below to be transported to your local Amazon. Time has been out a while, but I have never promoted it: the title story was so very alien to EJ’s style, because the heroine is not very likeable. It was recently completely revamped, with the shorts added, and while Lucy is still a foul-mouthed self-centered piece of work, I’m happy with the collection. You know by now how I feel about free, but this is a good cause, because there is also a new launch of a new mini-series, and I’m really excited about that.
The new series is based on a newly-settled planet nicknamed Place, and the first book, The Talian Project, is lovely. Everything that I like about SF – engaging aliens, bizarre indigenous animals, exotic eco-systems – came into play, along with a community of settler types, some human greed and political machinations, and a cheerful love-affair. I was originally enraptured by the idea of steampunk, so Place is decidedly retro, but there is not enough clockwork to satisfy the purists (well, none) and it is more of a space Western. Apparently. A sensible writer would pick a proper genre and work it, but we’ve already covered sensible.
The planned three books are novellas which will eventually be published in paperback as one novel, so Book One is short, breezy, and if you don’t love it I will eat my camel saddle. It is, to use a really EJ word, charming, and also nicely suitable for the Young Adult market (yes please) in a way the whodunits have never been. That’s available right now on a special pre-order price if you click on the cover below. Be quick – it goes up to full price* tomorrow night.
*It’s a novella. Full price is only $2.99, but a bargain is a bargain.
Theme: A container (anything – pillbox, space station).
Required Element: eccentric pet .
‘Excuse me. You, the lady with the dragon—if you could step over here, to the Zoological control desk?’
The blonde sighed and changed direction, the little dragon on her shoulder hissing and ducking its head as it braced itself against the turn. Her hover trolley, obedient to her wristband control, was waved forward and up onto the table. Johnson sympathized, but graveyard shift or not, it looked good on his record to stop the occasional passenger. Not to mention the chance to see a dragon close-up. . .
He went swiftly through the two boxes of shimmering clothing, then looked dubiously at the third one, glass-topped with tiny ventilation holes, half-filled with writhing slender black worms winding themselves into flowing knots.
‘Dragons only eat live food.’ She looked bored, dug in her shoulder bag and produced a slim box, taking out a cheroot and putting it between her lips. She half-turned her head for the little dragon to burp flame and light it. She drew deeply and looked back at Johnson, smoke trickling from her nose in scornful plumes. ‘Do you need the paperwork?’
‘Yes, please. That’s a lot for one little dragon.’
‘Immigration Law allows us to bring in everything we need for our personal use. I’ll be on Earth three months. That’s a three month supply.’ She handed over a sheaf of papers. ‘Proof of ownership, his sterilization, and his vaccinations. All up to date.’
Johnson flipped through the papers, then looked up, formalities over, ready to chat. ‘That seems to be in order. He’s a beauty. A pet?’
‘Part of my act. I’m an exotic dancer.’ She smiled for the first time. ‘I think people come to see him as much as to see me.’
‘I’m not surprised. I’ve never seen one close up. Where will you be performing?’
She handed over a courtesy pass to a well-known club instead of replying, and he thanked her and pocketed it after a glance, smiling. He looked covetously at the dragon, which was staring intently at the container, and on an impulse popped the container open, picked up the first worm his fingers touched, deftly re-sealed the top, then offered the treat. The dragon gave a hoarse shriek and tried to leap away, brought up short on its tether.
‘He’s not allowed to take food from anyone but me.’ She looked both startled and annoyed, and he flushed and put his hand back on the container, ready to replace the creature. One worm near the lid was convulsing particularly vigorously. Thread-like spores suddenly appeared all over its skin, then dropped free and vanished into the depths of the box. It was so quick he almost thought he had imagined it.
‘Livestock brought to Earth has to be sterile.’ He frowned. ‘Did that thing just spawn?’
‘They excrete from multiple orifices. They’re fairly disgusting, actually. Crap all over the place.’ She was looking annoyed again, but he shook his head worriedly. No-one but him on graveyard shift, and a choice to make—believe her, let them through, potentially spark a career-ending eco-balance nightmare? Confiscate the worms, and risk the port being sued for starving a creature worth five years pay? It had been a long day and he was tired, and wanted to get away. She was the last passenger through, the paperwork was in order. . .he glanced at the worm writhing between his fingers and his eyes widened as the black rubbed off, revealing the iridescent colour they were warned about, trained to recognize, from the first day on the job.
After the press conference, and the presentation of the very generous reward, the Earth President of Zoological Control hung back for a word. ‘Well spotted, my boy. Cleverest way I ever saw of smuggling drug worms. So much for dragons being lucky, eh? Not so lucky for her.’
‘Pretty lucky for me, sir.’ Johnson grinned. ‘The reward, and all. I might buy myself one now!’
Theme: “the day after the end of the world” or irrevocable changes in a way of life.
Required Element: something that used to be abundant and is now nearly or completely depleted.
Required Element: some kind of conveyance (chronal-challenged time machine or humble butter-making yak with cart).
So what do we do? Ann’s voice sounded frightened and Tony’s reply was quick and impatient.
There’s nothing we CAN do. The only way we could possibly reverse it would have been for Central pull us back, and try again for an hour earlier, so we could stop that stupid bitch before she sprang into action. If there was still a Central. Which there isn’t.
No need to call her a stupid bitch, Ann said mildly and Tony sprang up and paced.
No? What WOULD you like me to call her? How many times, how bloody many times, was it drummed into us? Do nothing. Observe only. No contact. Do not, repeat do not, change anything in any way? How many times, Ann?
Ann’s mental voice strengthened. You don’t need to do it telepathically, when she can hear. She feels bad enough.
He rounded on her, his whole body radiating rage, and opened his mouth. A guttural grunt emerged—a really good ear might have made out words. Ann heard it as “hab gew tried talkig?” and shrugged.
Mary turned back to face them, her eyes under the heavy brow ridges cold. So they don’t talk. Doesn’t mean they can’t talk. Babies learn. These bodies have vocal chords. We have to keep trying. She added aloud “ee cag do id.”
We wouldn’t have to if you had followed orders, Tony flung at her and she shrugged her heavy Neanderthal shoulders.
You’re the leader. ACT like a leader. Okay, one little mistake, I wiped out the future as we know it. I have said sorry every way I can think. Fact remains, the far past is now our present. We control these bodies. We can survive. We can learn to speak. Or we can sit here hating each other and weeping over the biggest spill of milk in all time until we turn to dust. I want to live.
The biggest experiment in human history – sending three minds back thirty thousand years into Neanderthal hosts, on the most extraordinary research trip ever—boils down to Mary wants to live, Tony was bitter, but there was no real heat in it. She was right. He hated her for what she had done, but that hatred had to dissipate. Life—even if it was just one foot in front of the other—had to go on. He sank back down onto the boulder, his enormous unfamiliar head in powerful horny-palmed hands, to try to think, to plan. Mary was right, he was the leader. Two hours ago, the most brilliant man of his generation. Now a Neanderthal youth, accompanied by an elderly Neanderthal woman and another who was probably his sibling, and facing the biggest challenge of his life.
Two plans. He lifted his head at last. We have to find others—we’ll never survive alone. You two had better do that, they might attack me on sight. And I’ll start working on a message. He looked at the sheer granite face of the rock rising behind them. I’ll carve it into that. Maybe, he smiled bleakly, future scientists will work out how to whisk us back. It will take days. Weeks. If it works, we’ll be straight out of here instantly, so I won’t add the last word unless you’re both here. If it doesn’t . . . well, we start life again. Go.
As they finally left he wearily started the search for a stone he could use as a chisel, and another that would do service as a hammer. If he survived long enough to leave the message, if it worked, what then? Where then? A time machine, perhaps, to come from a crude chisel and chunk of rock? Hope was all that was left.
Theme: A crime is being or has been committed
Required Element: Reference your favorite author (By name, quote,etc.)
Required Element: First person narrative (I had also decided it was time to try my hand at present tense. Hmm)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man is, in Goona, a precious resource. A virile, fertile, single man. When there are only three men to every twenty women of child-bearing age, the competition is fierce, and the fiercest are ovulating and mean business. A woman’s power and influence when old are directly related to the children she bears when young, and we have but ten years of fertility. Partner a sterile man and you waste two years, fail to partner in three successive mating Games and you’re either too old to produce young at all, or the resented outrider in an older man’s pack and wondering whether he can impregnate you before he drops dead. Men don’t last long here.
Lin stumbles into the square, looking distraught, as I go out to take down my finery ready to dress for the dance, the start of the Game, and I cross to her instantly, because although she is, right now, the enemy, we are friends between Games. She’s on her second Game and has sultry experience and one child already at heel. This is my first Game and I have youth and novelty. She shakes off my first attempt to catch her arm but bursts into gusty sobs.
‘Carl. CARL,’ is all I can hear between the sobs, enough to make my blood chill. Carl is my choice for the Game. He’s young, merry, a father four times over, a good hunter and, I have been watching him covertly, a good partner. Most of us want him but he watches me and this year, my first year, all the men want me.
‘What about Carl?’ I pinch her fiercely and she wails, eyes huge with grief.
‘Where?’ She just points and I run, fleet as a deer, heart pounding with terror. He’s lying by the path, only minutes from the village, and he looks as dead as a man can, his throat gaping open. I fling myself on my knees by him anyway, shrieking his name and my shaking fingers on his neck next to that obscene and bloody grin. The blood is already drying, and the skin under my fingers is already tepid. My Carl, my mate, my hope and plan for the future, is gone and I raise my face and howl like a wolf as others hurry up the path and crowd round.
‘He was never yours.’ Anol, his recent partner, objects, paper-white, spots burning in her cheeks. ‘We were going to re-partner for another two years. We bred sons together, and he loved me.’
At this, Lin’s tears abruptly stop. ‘You lie. Re-partnering isn’t allowed, it breaks our laws on consanguinity. He wanted me, he told me so.’
‘He wanted me,’ I want to say; but he never said it. Just watched me. Many of the village men watch me, and try to draw me aside to discuss Game strategy, but Carl—Carl and I would have needed no strategy. Raw with loss, I ask instead, ‘who did this?’
‘What is done is done,’ Anol whirls on me, harsh and abrupt, but I hardly hear her, tears pouring as I look despairingly from face to face, seeing shock, horror, sorrow; on one face they look fake. Jake’s face. I blink, re-focus, and he feels my stare and looks away, and I know. Jake has been watching me for seven months, always ready to wink, to smile, to come over to me at any encouragement whatsoever. I rise to my feet like an avenging Fury. ‘Jake!’ my voice breaks and I have to clear my throat, start again. ‘JAKE murdered Carl!’
He breaks and runs, and after a frozen moment of shock the other hunters pound after him. The older men look stunned, but the women, young and old, are glaring at me with fury in their eyes and it takes me a moment to realize what I have done. I have robbed us of another man for the Game.
Theme: Distance (physical, temporal, emotional)
Required Element: A ship (anything from a dugout canoe to a kilometre-long void carrier)
Required Element: A decision (to be considered, made, or have foisted upon you)
When you know there’s something or someone watching you, but you shoot quick glances out the corners of your eyes and there’s nobody in sight? That.
Dan paddled a little faster, and his dugout shot across the water. His best time for crossing the distance between his home island and the one Mira lived on was forty-seven minutes and nineteen seconds, measured on the watch her family had given him when they accepted his request to court her. A man in love with the pretty daughter of a wealthy family paddles fast, but a man who is being watched by somebody in hiding paddles faster. He was pretty damn definitely going to shave a good few minutes off his best time, presuming he got the chance. He half turned his head again, quickly, but nothing, just his crisp wake in the still water. And then he saw the shadow, immense, drifting up the wake as it blotted out the sun.
Mira’s family hadn’t picked a fool, there was nothing wrong with his reflexes. Even as the shadow closed with his dugout he tipped over and came up gasping inside it, treading water. What what what what—he couldn’t even formulate the questions, the reality was so completely outside anything life had sent his way so far, but at least here he was safe, nobody could see him. Just an upturned canoe. Nobody here but us fishes, fly away monster.
Instead there was a strange singing sound in his ears, an odd feeling of pressure, a moment of weightlessness—and he was standing upright, his canoe sliding off his head to clatter to the steel floor.
*A perfect specimen* a voice purred in his head, sounding deeply satisfied. *Look at the depth of that chest! And those thighs and arms! What age is it?*
*Around twenty, I would say* there was a definite touch of smugness in the voice that responded. *Should live for years, this breed has been known to reach eighty or ninety in captivity*
‘Hey!’ he looked about wildly ‘what you talking about, man? I’m no specimen, I’m Daniel! You put me back right now!’
*Good bark, too, I like that. It’s a male, of course. Do you think we can source some females for it? Ideally at least three, but try to get fatter ones this time. The thin ones don’t last well. Anyway, give it some food, see if we can coax it to eat.*
A shutter in the nearest gleaming wall slid back and Dan stalked across, stiff-legged. Hmm. Roasted meat, cold, but—he took a bite—delicious. And roasted roots, not as delicious, but at least the food would be good. Dan rather liked his food. And three females, all the food he could eat, no more paddling to get everywhere and living twenty years at least longer than anyone on his island, in living memory . . . he chewed thoughtfully.
They didn’t understand his voice, but he understood them. Was there an advantage in staying dumb? Or was it in his interests to think-talk to them, tell them about Mira, how pretty and healthy she was, and her best friend Tali, and even Gina, who had made him a man and then refused to teach him any further? One would need to think REALLY clearly, and REALLY loudly, perhaps. He glanced back at the dugout and saw beyond it a big bed, some sculpted furniture. A viewing screen on the wall.
Well, faint heart never won three fair ladies—*ER, HELLO? CAN YOU UNDERSTAND ME NOW?*
(see my SciFi tab for the other monthly entries in the friendly microstory competition on LinkedIn)
THE RED CLOAK
(The theme for December was Midwinter Solstice, and the elements were fear and not here, not now)
Warmth spread to his horn-nailed fingertips with the first gulp and he drank again greedily. Wonderful. Wonderful! Between the firebox walls, even the delicate web of flame flickering overhead, this excellent drink, and the cloak slung around his shoulders, he, who had thought warmth and life lost forever, was alive again. He fingered the cloak wonderingly. It was soft, fine, red, the most magnificent thing he had ever seen. As they brought him in, half-dead with the cold and fear, a young Galan in the startled crowd had pulled it off his own shoulders, and, at a nod from an older man, rushed over to fling it round him. The same youngster stood by him now, attentively waiting to top up his drink, beaming at him as though he were the most wonderful sight in the world. It wasn’t a look the traveller was used to, and he wondered uneasily whether he was being wooed. These primitive Northern folk, one heard strange tales—but on the other hand, one couldn’t be a traveller and turn down new experiences, and the lad was, for a Northerner, very taking. He looked back to the glossy-furred Elders smilingly watching him.
‘The cloak,’ he asked haltingly in Galan, ‘how make?’
‘As our Lady returns, we comb ourselves every day.’ The woman picked words he could understand. ‘The combings are spun, then dyed and woven into cloaks. There is only ever one red cloak, it is sacred to us.’
‘We have no thing like this.’ He marvelled. ‘But our fleece are short.’ By Southern standards he was shaggy, with a winter mane of which he was secretly proud, but he felt positively svelte among these hirsute people. His people thought the Northerners wild, with their flowing pelts, but the cloak was superb. He wondered what he could trade for it. Sacred wasn’t a word he knew, maybe it meant friendly, in which case they might even give it to him. ‘You said your—Lady?’
‘Our Lady of Summer. While she reigns, we grow our food, hunt, and raise our young. As the Winter Lord’s dark shadow grows we turn to learning and inventing. Every year, a day comes when there is no daylight at all, and on that day we light the fires, because fire is their link. We spend this day in worship, we sacrifice to him, and he lets the Lady take us back, day by day, to the summer. We do this also on the day there is no dark, because we crave the knowledge the Lord brings us.’
‘We had hear you superstitious!’ He was delighted to get the stories confirmed.
‘What else do Shorthairs—Southerners—say of us?’ one of the men asked with interest, and he felt a warm rush of affection for these friendly, lovely people.
‘We say,’ he confided, ‘that you primitive. Hostile. Must not to visit in winter.’ He shivered. ‘Now I know why. So cold!’
The Galan looked puzzled. ‘Are you cold?’
‘No, no, not now! I ready to die for cold when you find me. Now warm. I not ever see fire like this.’ He pointed a claw at the delicate tracery of flame above. ‘Beautiful. This drink, you call moonshine? I never taste drink like this. Make me warm, happy. Is good.’
‘We learn much during the reign of the Winter Lord,’ the old woman repeated. ‘Fire is precious, for two days a year only, for the rest of the cold time we use the heat that we stored during the months of the Lady.’
He was puzzled, but his Galan wasn’t up to pursuing an explanation and he returned to an earlier comment. ‘You say sac-ri-fice,’ he used the barely familiar word carefully. ‘That is to kill a beast, yes?’
‘No, for the Lord we draw lots. One must burn so the rest can live. This time, it was to be Gered.’ She gestured at the handsome lad who was so attentively caring for him, and he felt a shock of protest. This promising and charming young man? Barbaric!
‘Was to be, not now?’ He looked up and Gered bent forward eagerly, tilting the jug invitingly. Flame reflected, dancing, in his eyes.