Nov 2015

Things to Stick on Bread 1: Roquefort and Grape

Good thick slice of crusty Ciabatta or sourdough and add:

- Thin spread of Normandy butter
- Thick spread of Roquefort
- Grind of black pepper
- Sliced, seedless rosé grapes

Made of yum. That is all.

SelaFane 1: An Unpleasant Opening

Joey Malish woke, at four forty-five of a Saturday morning, on the unprepossessing cold tile floor of a ground floor bar of the Swiss Cottage Holiday Inn.

(And those of a sensitive and not to say somnolent nature - it is, after all, far too early for this unpleasantness - would be well advised to skip over this chapter entirely and pass on to the next … which starts at a far more reasonable hour, contains far more likeable people and has some hot lesbo action thrown in to boot.)

Woke as though surfacing from surgical anaesthetic: simply and suddenly there and functioning on some refrigerated and disassociated level, as though the brain has been excised and lightly chilled and slopped on a slab, the essential vestiges of self shrivelled and atrophied and unable to connect.

A cleaner was prodding at him with the business end of an Addis.

Joey gazed up, numbly, at the rayon-clad vision of loveliness, unable to move, and tried to pull some sort of sense out of echo-chamber stimuli dragged through ears seemingly stuffed with ether-permeated cotton wadding.

The grey and parboiled-looking, wrinkle-edged lips stopped moving, and shut as though pulled tight by a drawstring. Evidently some sort of salient response was called for at this point.

‘Glurk,’ said Joseph Peter Malish. ‘Glub-flubber grag fug blerk.’

* * *

Reception was deserted, the lobby dimly lit on night light. Joey headed vaguely for the toilets: there to partake of the waters of life and do unlikely things with liquid soap.

In the mirror-tile, under yellow-filtered fluorescents, something thin and pale and twenty-five:

- Ratty mouse-brown hair in which the abortive peroxidal experimentation had almost grown out.
- Scuffed biker leather over stretch-mesh lycra clotted with a stratal crust of various semi-potable residues.
- Heavy-lidded mud-grey eyes, underblotched with incipient low-grade toxicosis and a sparse four-day growth.

This elegant and debonair figure was only slightly marred by the fact that some kind soul had seen fit to inscribe the word TNUC, in mirror writing, upon the forehead, with magic marker. There had been some small lapse of concentration with the N, and only this appeared to be reversed.

Joey regarded his reflection impassively for a while, and then repaired to a sink and a soap dispenser to scrub vigorously at his forehead with the heel of his hand.

Now, it is not the purpose of this narrative to burden the world with yet another gritty exposé of the strange and murky world of the incredibly hung-over alcohol abuser … not alcoholic, you understand, which is another thing entirely.

Then again of course, the only carefully considered and reasonable response to those who wilfully go around pointing out and actually discoursing ad infinitum upon such cliché is, of course: fuck off you smug bog-postmodernist bastard and learn how to make things up for a change.

Anyhow. For our purposes, the salient point is that in such a state certain bodily functions tend to go dormant, waiting to be jump-started as it were by the pulse-acceleration and endocrinic shift of some sudden exertion.

One might, for example, be industriously scrubbing at one’s forehead with the heel of a hand, when one experiences the overwhelming urge, so one thinks, to expel a sudden and particularly extensive lower bowelful of wind.

All in all, it was the end of a perfect night.

* * *

In a cubicle that had suddenly assumed the olfactory aspect of a wire-guided Irish pub taking out a sewerage plant, Joey dropped his ruined Jockey shorts into the bowl and scrubbed at the inside of his jeans. Mercifully, the underwear had taken the initial brunt.

He stuck a hand through the hole in the pocket of his jacket and fished out the small plastic bottle lodged in the lining: massage oil infused with rose and ylang-ylang. Gorgeous.

Then again, it was either that or the poppers - and the possible epidermal effects of a vial bearing the kind of biohazard warnings ordinarily associated with a biochemical warfare lab didn’t bear thinking about.

Balmed and perfumed with the oils of the Orient, he left the rest room and sauntered out through the lobby.

A recently-materialised night porter followed his progress with glowering suspicion; probably, Joey thought, uneasily, pegging him as Rent … an uncharitable estimation that would, in fact, upon subsequent investigation of the toilets, be revised upward to rent and into seriously autoerotic scat as a sideline.

Out on the street now, and heading in what he hoped to God was the direction of a southerly-travelling night bus, hunched and shivering in his jacket against the wind and with the icy cold lancing upward through Air Wair soles worn membrane-thin.

A single clear memory surfaced from the megrimous chaos of the night. Rian looking down at him: ‘Jesus, will you look at yourself? You’re pissing away your entire fucking life.’

Joey squashed it flat and stuck a couple of fingers in a pocket to find the crushed and slightly damp remains of a cigarette.

Off to the left a multiplex cinema lay dark and dormant, waiting to lure the unwary the dubious pleasures of Shatterlands, Violator IV (With All-New Strap-on Weapons Attachment!) and Razorbill.

Off to the right (and which was sodding typical in that it meant he was walking in the wrong direction entirely) the sky grimly lightened towards dawn. Something vaguely avine shrittered and chirruped nearby, disturbed by his passing.

‘Tweet fucking tweet,’ said Joey.

NEXT: Hot Lesbo Action


Pulling Back

Super-8 sound. 4 minutes.

The sequence has been shot on VHS with a relatively high degree of professionalism. It has then been duplicated through several generations and replayed on a slightly malfunctioning Phillips portable TV set to maximum colour and contrast, and this filmed in closeup by a hand-held Bell and Howell Super-8 ciné camera. Focus and exposure are correct. There is no noticeable screen-reflection.

The soundtrack consists of a man reading from a prepared script in a tinny, grating monotone: there is no change in pitch or rhythm, save that his voice cracks at points of emphasis. Sound-effects are cleanly overdubbed. This basic track is is intercut with sound-bursts from the original video shoot, rerecorded from the speaker of the TV and fouled by a babble of background voices, male and female, raised in argument, the actual words of which are indistinguishable.

The flickering, static-hazed image trembles and wavers on the screen, and this is exaggerated by the process of projection.

* * *


(Motherly, hushing sounds. The rasping slither of soft, warm, talcum’d skin.Slipping crackle-crust. Soft, cool hands roll me over and a knee crunches into the back; sharp-edged carbon steel biting into wrists as hasps lock with quick precision: snick, snap.)

And fade up to:

A clean bare room: cracks and patches of plaster crumbled off the lath. Scrubbed floorboards. Abstract and vaguely totemic designs are scrawled on the walls: black and primitive and complex. Bright sunlight outside and a simple Japanese paper screen across the window. Black plastic bags of clothing strewn across the floor. Scattered clothing, male and female.

A mattress lies against one wall. A radiator pipe and broken radiator. A small pile of various unused condoms in their wrappings by the bed. A ceramic bowl containing four used condoms beside it. There is menstrual blood on them; smears on the mattress.

A MAN, naked and face-down on the mattress, legs splayed and tied by ankles to steel rings bolted to the floor. His left wrist is handcuffed to the pipe. His right hand grips the pipe tightly. He wears a number of heavy rings. There is a wad of bundled clothing under him, raising him slightly. Well defined musculature.

Scratches fresh and half-healed on his back. A tattoo on his shoulder and another and another on his upper arm. A solid-black Cocteau design. Longish, fine and off-blond hair. His face is pressed into the mattress. Straddling one splayed leg, on her knees, a WOMAN: mid-twenties, punkshock hair, face intent and childlike-serious as she straps on a six-inch silicate dildo.

(And in the Calibrian region of Italy, women saved a few drops of their menstrual fluid in a small bottle which they carried wherever they went. It was believed that when such drops were secretly administered to the man of their choice the man would be bound to them forever. The Elixir Rebeus!)

She smears her palm across her mouth. A slick film of saliva.

She smears saliva on the head of the strap-on, then rolls a condom down the shaft. She pinches the teat with one hand. Gently, secondarily she brushes outer labia protruding from the base of the strap-on with a fingertip.

She falls upon the man, gnaws gently on the back of his neck.

(And the weight on top of me, pressing on me, and a mouth pressed to my ear and murmuring:

'She finally passed out. And when she finally passed out I hamstrung her, dislocated her hips and shoulders. It was vital that she remained immobile, absolutely still. Saline drips and bloodpacks. I inserted a catheter and I fed her through a needle. I kept her alive for months. It was quite difficult. Slaying skin and muscle and glucaea a single tiny shred at a time. A fragile tangle of veins and arteries and lymph ducts. Lymph and bile and cephalic fluid stored in individually-labled bottles and refrigerated. It’s. You have to believe. Have to believe I never ...

'Her voice is cool and monotonic, matter-of-fact flipping someone I don’t know called Susan from vanilla fem to ritual butchered meat. In that instant I don’t know if she’s making it up or not.')

She slithers down. Teeth clench lightly, momentarily over the anus and release. A tongue slips inside.

('There’s a black iron engine hanging in a hot red sky and the machine is me and as I try to comprehend its vast and churning maze of internal conduits my mind shifts and slips like shale and suddenly I crazy-move to:

'Sand dunes under an azure summer sky. A salt breeze ripples samphire. A blonde and beautiful child, a girl, offers me a clump of tiny, pale blue flowers. It’s not, she shays, it’s not - and the light, the crushing light comes down, washing out my field of vision with its flat blank white. Hooknails bite into shoulders and rake down. Slithers up: slugtrail tongue.')

She smears lubricant into the anus, working it apart with circular, splaying, stretching movements.

('And we stumbled through the tunnels ‘til we found the husk of Nail: wasted and flaking and propped against the wall, crumbling into papergrey ash. The Strata Angel was there, a construct now, like gelid glass, shot with wormholes filled with lambent fluid. Shadowplay on translucent surfaces, macroforms splitting and flickering and pulsing. Somewhere somebody was shrieking, clawing at his face in a room of broken machinery …')

She half-smiles, catlike.

('She pirouettes in mid-air, screaming tactile subsonics from her eyes and mouth and cunt, down corridors and catwalks and vast brick vaults with chessboard floors and halls hung with shredded membrane and the false backs of cupboards and skylights and holes in the wall. A dark room hung with burning kites. The death of the hollow age.')

She shoves into him, digging nails into his back to afford purchase, and gouges down.

('An exquisite awareness of a slight mass under me. She’s slipping faster now and I’m shuddering and I want to projectile-shit and -')

And later, he glances back, and speaks, softly, and for the first time he uses her name.


A Comminiqué From Like 1992

The operation was timed with split-second precision. Around sevenish, give or take, various people wandered vaguely into the heavily fortified Macklin Street HQ (by day a day-centre for London’s adolescent homeless, who had of course by now been summarily turfed out onto the streets) and by a quarter to eight the crack team of highly-trained activists was assembled.

Slap-stickers, aerosols and permanent markers were in evidence; we were hard and we were mean and we were ready to take the war home.

It was raining. It was raining hard ... but what did mere discomfort matter of case-hardened, street-fighting politicos like us? Not one jot. We pelted merrily for the Holborn tube with nary a desperate lunge for the nearest available portico to wait out the worst bits.

In our inspired, impenetrable guise of a bunch of drowned rats with Travelcards (then existing) we had little trouble slipping through the extensive defences; cyclopean vidicams held no terror, no poster escaped our attentions … we were, you should pardon the expression, indiscriminate. Thus Michelle Pfeiffer, the popular screen actress, suddenly professed to being a Bi Queer, while the noted brain surgeon, sliding-superstring theorist and tapdancer Jean-Claude van Damme suddenly became Bi and Proud to be a Lesbian.

But the authorities were on to us - halting trains at random and shutting down whole stations, calming an increasingly fearful transient populace with excuses of catastrophic flooding. Time and again we evaded their foul and loathsome clutches, but the forces of unending darkness were closing in, and it was only a matter of time before some Leicester Square menial with the beaky hat awoke from dreams of the halcyon days of steam to see what we were doing to the appropriate poster.

A tactical withdrawal was called for, and so we tactically withdrew to the First Out café and had a beer.

Suitably refreshed, down to the Circle Line, and on to the London and Lesbian Gay Centre (again, still existing) and near disaster. An off-duty transport copper and a young friend of unknown status had been watching our happy frolics with no small degree of disgust and, as the train rattled into Barbican, tried to hustle one of our number off with them.

Thinking this a simple if singularly coordinated attempt at queer-bashing, our plucky chap dug his heels in, and with the sheer heroism for which he is justly famous managed to put about six startled Bi’s between himself and his putative attacker.

By this time the tube had of course moved off, splitting the copper from his nice young friend and leaving him suddenly lost and alone in the middle of six or seven slightly annoyed perverts, and leaving nothing for it but to flash his warrant card and introduce himself personally.

Our wise counsel finally persuaded the guy as to the general inadvisability of trying to bust seven or eight people en masse - and having spent the latter part of the incident struck dumb with abject terror and gripping a handrail for dear life, this reporter can only report that these people, who know who they are, walk in truth and beauty all their days.

Other, bigger things happened later, but this action (delusional right-ons playing around laughably though it might sound) was one of the first I can recall as UK Bisexuals taking action, as a Movement in and of ourselves and with an actual agenda.

You really had to be there at the time. At that time, in the UK, Bisexuals were flabby old wife-swappers from Purley, or a couple of girls clumsily lezzing it up for the camera, or something a rock-star did in his freaky lifestyle, or a creepy attribute to a movie-villain. In the Gay Community we were welcomed at most grudgingly, with suspicion, and the assumption that we were having it both ways.

Dumb and laughable the above might sound, but it was actions like these, at the time, that paved the way to our more solid integration into the LGBTA of today.

Can We Talk?

I’ve always had a soft spot for the bastard Don John. In his definitive speech, ‘I cannot hide what I am ...’ he effectively sticks a couple of fingers up at the saccharinity of Leonato’s court - and subsequent events are more the result of the hypocrisy of others than of his own frankly villainous involvement. (And for the literately-challenged, we are of course talking about that seminal tragicomedy, Whoops, There Goe my Pantoufles, Withal, or Up Your Alley. Way after the fact, I know, I know.)

(And fingernails running soft through hair. A vibrator pressed along the perineum and anus, lubricated with spit. And lying back on cool grass. And ‘Manda’s cotton gold-screen-printed butterfly dress in sunlight.)

Like that nifty Beatrice/Benedick subplot that has served as the basic template for every will-they-won’t-they scenario ever since, this is as relevant now as then: we are all of us forced into rôles we don’t want, must walk the walk and talk the talk or must necessarily take a villainous stance.

(And the Elephant Song with appropriate gestures. And sucking a freshly-washed cock and rolling the tongue around the head. And girlie voices and jangly guitars. And cat-play. And the feel of vaginal walls clenching and unclenching. And getting a massage maybe halfway right. And the way people look at you and go childlike and smile.)

Bisexuals, to hear some tell it, far from being the slavering libidinous monsters of popular report, are generally relaxed and kind, with a relaxed and open attitude to non-hierarchical, non-gender-orientated relationships in an oppression-free and mutually supportive environment and stuff. Oh what a relief. Heaven forfend that sex might be dirty and humiliating and anything that might approach actual fun.

(And the gentle, salacious stroke after the sting. And fingers softly bitten near the knuckles. And black condoms. And black men dancing. And slobbing on the sofa with Jenlain beer and Yanqui Fritos. And giggly threesomes. And spontaneous laughter. And the look of rubber, the feel and smell of leather.)

We do not do this thing through choice; we do this because we are driven. Unlike Scientology, or Stalinism, or any kind of Separatism, which are imposed and negate the self, bisexuality is an expression of self.

(And fingernails drawn soft down the spine and buried hard between the shoulder blades. And utterly disgusting Australian party games. And rimming. And red Leb and Old Holborn. And wrestle-slithering. And sleazy, sweaty, exploitative and absolutely Incorrect pornography. And holding hands and nuzzling and sod the lot of them. And body-piercing on other people.)

We are all of us equal and different and existing - and any putative Movement must be founded upon that fact, rather than an attempt to impose some arbitrary set of social values and rules. Empathy is not the specious mouthing of the right noises learnt by rote; it is the natural product of a generous heart.

In the narrow terms of the intolerant, who feel we must pick sides, we are cop-out … and to protest that we’re not is to accept those terms. Might I instead suggest the simple response of: fuck off and die.

We are the people people warned us against, and we should be revelling in it.

(And lying in your arms, enfolded in your arms and safe.)

* * *

And sometimes, just occasionally, people wear their scars lightly. People who are healed and well, who know how to deal with frightened children who find themselves turning into monsters and who don’t know why. Who take in strays, and feed them until they can run again, and then they let them go. Miracles happen. Miracles happen all the time, and most of them are other people.

It’s like gazing absently through a train window as you pull out of the city in the dead, grey rain. Sunlight bursts through a gap in the cloud-cover, briefly illuminating a landscape with a hard-edged, crystalline, coruscating clarity.

Nothing has changed, nothing at all - but suddenly, in spite of everything and against all expectation, it can just be a beautiful world.

It’s inside you all the time: a big light machine. All you have to do is switch it on.


Ancient Reviews

(Back around the turn of the century I had a semi-regular gig writing book reviews for the print-magazine, SFX. The conceit, for several of em, was a vague attempt to parody the author in question. This might make em of some interest in themselves, so I'll stuck em up.)

Carpe Jugulum by Terry Pratchett

‘Ah yes,’ said the reader, closing the book and setting it down with a contented sigh. ‘Another masterpiece from Pratchett, and well worth the wait.’

And a long six months it was, said the alternative point of view. The unkind might say that this production-line way of doing things is wearing the material rather thin. The renovated Witches-story machine hoves into view again, and it’s ticking and ratcheting away like clockwork by now - you can almost smell the elbow grease that’s gone into polishing and winding it up for yet another outing.

‘That’s hardly fair,’ said the reader. ‘If you read Pratchett, the Discworld, any particular subset of it, you come to it with certain expectations ...’

There’s a difference between expectation and total by-the-numbers predictability. Granny Weatherwax meets the vampires - what do you reckon to the odds? The dutiful trotting out and upending of the relevant genre clichés; a villain whose crime, in the narrative sense, is to refuse to see himself as such and to attempt to innovate. Granny tells him precisely what she thinks about that, and things promptly reset to the good ole status quo ... spoilers don’t come into it. We have heard, not to put too fine a point upon it, it all before.

‘I said that this was a story of a type’ said the reader, pointedly. ‘Do you criticise a Shakespearian comedy on the sole basis that there’s a lot of mistaken identity and people get married at the end? The interesting things are the themes he’s exploring within it, the aspects of his humanism particular to that situation and no other, the central theme of duality, of being in two minds ...’

And doesn’t he just hammer that into the ground and jump up and down on it to get out all the juice. And I’ve always found his much-vaunted humanism a bit didactic for my taste. It’s all very well to be completely and utterly Right, but, once you are, all you can do is keep on being it, over and over again ...

‘Well, okay - but it was great to see how everybody’s lives were getting on, if only to watch Magrat turn around and shock the socks off Nanny ...’

And the reprise of the snoring made me laugh out loud, I’ll admit.

‘And what about the George Wallace pictsies and their moothfuls of heedies?’

And that whole where-did-Granny-go thing. I just tore ahead wondering how that was going to turn out ...

‘The private life of Igor ...’

... and the extra items of anatomy ...

‘Not first-rate Pratchett, by any means.’

You just can’t get the parts these days. But even so, it’s still head and shoulders above almost anybody else working in a similar vein. Um ... can we read it all over again?

‘Yes, let’s.’ said the reader.

And so they did.

* * *

The Dance of the Voodoo Handbag by Robert Rankin

‘So tell me about the Voodoo Handbag,’ the psychiatrist said.

‘It contains multitudes,’ I told him. A movable feast with a world-snake and a pickled egg, constantly feeding off itself, constantly forming, shifting and reforming -’

‘Just stick to the facts.’

‘Like Lazlo Woodbine? You know he only works in four locations: the alley where he ... okay.’ Visions of Cecil the Male Nurse and his big needle hove into view. ‘Okay. I was sitting in the Rat and Pestle, nursing a smallish Irish Boilermaker, when I espied a grizzly, raggedy, comb-and-scissors bristly figure sink his Death by Cider, toss his now-legendary exercise book aside and rise up on his two good pins ...

‘The lad was by profession a teller of tall tales, and never one to let plausibility, mere external logic or an ear for scansion like a cheap tin tray get in the way of a good, knotty story - and what a towering, tottery, twisty heap of sheep-shank our boy told. Old favourites were sporadically in evidence: the joy of the Brentford gasometer, the majesty of Barry the Sprout ... flipped casually into the hot air amongst such cavalcades of grotesques as took his momentary fancy: the horrid mother of Billy Baines (ruler, as we know, of the entire world) and the granny in the suitcase; the nasty fate of a policeman and the even nastier fate of an estate agent; the unutterably evil Henry Doors and his Necrosoft that invades and befouls our very reality - that last, of course, quite frankly unbelievable.

‘The viewpoint and the narrative lurched and weaved like an scabrous tar on the way back to his scow. The unkind might say that we’ve heard it all before - but this is Rankin we’re taking about, here, and the joy of Rankin is in the performance ...

He’s like a clown as opposed to a comedian - and one of the basic attributes of a clown is a genuine and underlying sense of pain. A sense of how fragile our realities and sanities really are. Reading Rankin is to feel that breathless sense of when a juggler drops his balls, or an acrobat tumbles from the wire - and then the balls and wire are caught. It’s under control, all part of the act. The guy’s going to drop ‘em or fall off spectacularly one of these nights, naturally; it’s inevitable.

But it won’t be tonight.

The psychiatrist was looking at me; I realised that I had in some way slipped through the cracks of sense, tense and viewpoint - but that’s what Rankin tends to do to you. I suddenly wanted to blurt out just how I had really, really loved this book, before Cecil came in for yet another blatantly tricksy endi -


Kama Mundra

(This was originally intended as Pornography, I think … until I discovered, in remarkably short order, that I am completely incapable of writing Pornography.)

The Kama Mundra
Or, The Way of the Limping Ocelot

As translated from the Manaanan by Sir Rupert Gilhooly FRS
Excerpted with annotation, addentation and introduction by Mr. D.R. Stone


Much has been made, and rightly so, of the translation by Sir Richard Burton of The Kama Sutra in 1883 - so much so that we tend to completely overlook his predecessors in the translatory arts. We forget that, some ten years before, following a gruelling trek through the interior regions of Manaan, the celebrated explorer, terpsichorist and practical pharmacologist Sir Rupert Gilhooly emerged from that dark and fetid sub-continent bearing boxes of intricately-carved onyx, a hatful of dubious mushrooms that turned your water green, and the last surviving copy of the Kama Mundra.

Gilhooly’s first translation of this magical, if not alas ultimately seminal, work did not do well, perhaps because of its unashamedly forthright nature, but far more probably, and not to say plausibly due to the fact that the disgusting practices contained therein were physically impossible if one were not a professional contortionist with ready access to a coconut and a trained mountain goat.

While The Kama Sutra - Aphorisms of Love was riding high on the best-seller lists and Burton himself chatting airily to Sarah Dunant upon the innate semantic self-contradictions of Sanskrit, ritual Nabob nipple-worship and what it was like to be married to Elizabeth Taylor, Gilhooly’s work, entitled perhaps unfortunately for modern sensibilities, The Kama Mundra - How to do Sex like the Wogs do it, was lucky if it could get into the remaindered bin at WH Smiths.

Disheartened by this lack of success, Gilhooly became a recluse. Indeed, as his diaries say at the time: ‘Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke.’ He devoted the rest of his short, sad life to goat-breeding, freebasing crack and extensively researching his original Manaanan source material with a view to a possible sequel, tentatively entitled Doctor Gilhooly’s Joy of Shagging. He died of massive rupture in 1885, when two pages stuck together.

The Kama Mundra

This is, I believe, the first English translation of certain precepts and aphorisms contained within the text compiled ‘in modesty and rectal continence’ by Varashanta the Manaanan, embodying the wisdom of that noble people from between 1,000 B.C.E. and 400 C.E.

I find myself unable, I confess, to ascertain the true meaning of certain nouns, the meanings of which have long-since been lost to us. I do not know, for example, what a Super Nintendo Game Boy is, and have not the slightest intention of finding out.

- Rupert Gilhooly KBE, FRS 1873

The Congress of the Fibrillating Raven
The gentleman reclines upon a mat of scented rushes, applying a tincture of pomegranate and green pesto to the lady’s Yoni, all the while that the other gentleman leaps from the pianoforte (a clavicle is perfectly acceptable, though slightly diminutive for advanced tastes), singing a selection from the refrains of the noted entertainer Mr. George Formby, with a preponderance toward the number of surprising adventures involving his little stick of Blackpool rock. This continues until exhaustion, prostration or the untimely interruption by a mythical Manaanan retributive deity commonly known as Old Bill.

The Congress of the Soapy Hedgehog
A number of sad and rather bedraggled gentlemen sit in a circle and make glum and stilted conversation upon some self-imposed topic or other, listening to the occasional bursts of distant happy laughter and shooting the occasional furtive glance to the door behind which the Women’s Group are having all the actual fun. This continues until some gentleman suggests, in the charming patois of the region, ‘sodding off for a beer’.

The Congress of the Ubiquitous Lemur
Not so much an act of sexual congress as a magickal technique for the unobserved conduction of same. Ladies and gentleman of a certain lost and hybrid tribe would join with members of certain far more polarised sub-groups upon some ritual demonstration or other, or to make some common grievance heard. They could then do what the fuck they liked, because, strangely, they upon the instant became completely and utterly invisible. Indeed, such was the success of this ploy that contemporary archival material contains no mention of them whatsoever, and this is almost certainly why they remain lost.

(One detects a note of uncharacteristic spite in this particular translation, possibly as a result of certain unfortunate experiences Gilhooly encountered upon a mass demonstration by the Temperance League for the Social Equality of Maryannes, Uranians, Lunatics, Sapphic Women, Women in general and in Fact Everybody except Mr. Rupert Gilhooly.)

The Congress of Vienna
Oh dear me, I beg your pardon. I couldn’t resist it. Willie Rushdon didn't die in vain.

The Congress of the Big Tin of Swarfega
The lady and the other lady swing from the … oh, what’s the point. I’ve had enough of this. There’s a little green worm inside my head, his name is Jeremy and if we’re very, very good he might sing us his song. We had to avoid certain parts of the room, you see. I hear the tread of Mistress Crabtree on the stair, bringing me my afternoon Largactyl …

(Interpolatory textual note. At this point, and quite without warning, there comes a four-hundred-and-fifty-page-long diatribe against the Corn Laws, interspersed with personal abuse directed toward Messrs. Grablitt, Flatchlock and Swive, the firm of barristers who unsuccessfully defended Gilhooly after the notorious Bath and Wells galvanistical bicycle-pump incident, and just what, precisely, he would like to do to them.

Certain of these passages have induced projectile vomiting in even the most hardened souls well used to slithering in the most unmitigated frightfulness, might cause unnecessary distress to those descendants now living, and have thus been excised.

Only once more does Gilhooly’s text touch directly upon matters of sexual congress - and this, strangely, deals with a variant upon the Hindu ritual of Panchamakara.)

* * *

Those who are expecting a glowing report about how people stick their rampant twonks into other people’s heaving organs of sensitivity until they do a multiple orgasm and the so forth are going to be sorely disappointed. The current authors would be really good at sex, they bet, if they ever got around to actually doing it … but being for the moment complete strangers to the ways of slithering and unmitigated perversion and pretty damned smelly to boot, they shall confine themselves to detailing the so-called ‘infamous’ Panchamakara ritual - as scaled down from eight protagonists to a healthy and readily assimilable three, and improvised upon the spur of the moment and off the top of their heads.

The Panchamakara seems to consist of five stages, the Five M’s, and has apparently shocked and shamed many a European as well as many an Indian writer. Well, fuck ‘em sideways, or indeed upside-down and hanging from a set of manacles. The Five M’s are:

1.) Madya (wine and suchlike intoxicating substances). Protagonist (a) smokes a joint or from a hash pipe whilst protagonist (b) pours wine to taste between (c)’s tits and licks it off. Continue around the circle until the end of the bottle and the joint or until everybody’s at least had a taste. The navel or the small of the back may be substituted the second time around for a bit of variety, of which the spice of life it is.

2.) Mamsa (the flesh of animals). Again working in a circle, every protagonist worshipfully kisses each applicable protagonist’s dick in turn. For exclusively female gatherings, the sucking of nipples is preferable to miming with dildos and the like, since the point is to engorge erectile tissue. We don’t use the ordinarily obvious clitoris because of:

3.) Matsya (fish). Every protagonist worshipfully kisses each applicable protagonist’s cunt. (For boys-only bashes, or for people who just prefer rimming, rimming will suffice.) Our authors would also like to apologise at this point for associating female primary genitalia with fish: vaginas do not, so far as they know, roam the oceans in majestic shoals, know the secrets of the deep and would in all probability be incredibly unappetising if filleted, battered, deep-fried in lard and sold with a bag of chips.

4.) Mudra (grain). Sacred wafers, cream crackers, hash brownies, half a packet of Ritz biscuits or whatever else one has to hand are passed around to be anointed with vaginal fluid and precum and eaten. Yum.

4b.) As (4) save that everybody masturbates and wherever possible comes to anoint said half a packet of Ritz with seminal or vaginal ejaculatory fluid. Culinary artistes should be taking notes. Great British Fuck-off, anyone? Please yourselves.

5.) Maithuna (sex). Everyone just fucks each other’s brains out, and good luck to them. Incidentally, if (4b.) has obtained, with the sexual imperative-pressure off, the whole thing devolves into something far more caring and, ultimately, climactic. Either that, or everybody just feels a bit of a fool and gives up. You pays your money and you takes your choice, basically.

The sacred ambiance of the Panchamakara can be accentuated by several Most Solemn and Magical ritual chants, including the mystical ‘I’ve got a Loverly Bunch of Coconuts’, the sublime ‘Grandad’s Flannelette Shirt’ (lordy, lordy) and the ancient and authentic Hindu text of ‘I’m a Pink Toothbrush, You’re a Blue Toothbrush’. Particularly popular proves one of our authors’, who shall remain nameless, rendition of the concinnately beautiful Tantric love ballad, ‘Frigging in the Rigging’, as one goes down for the third time.

And then we had some very nice tea and unadulterated biscuits. Chocolate Hobnobs, if the memory serves.



That Was MY Idea, That ... er, What?

(A while back, someone asked for my thoughts on NA elements in New Who. This is what I said on the matter.)

Everybody, famously, knows where they were when Kennedy was shot. I know I do. I was going through of process of meiosis in my mother’s tummy, subsequent to a knee-trembler round the back of some Nissan Hut or other, my birth-mother being a member of the Women’s Royal Army Corps at the time.

Thus I was far too young and unformed to hold a gun, was nowhere near Dallas at the time, so you can’t pin it on me. That’s one suspect crossed off the list, in any event.

Likewise, my involvement with an event of the same time, an event far more pertinent to the subject in hand - the first episode of the popular television drama, Doctor Who - was by necessity somewhat minimal. I gather, from an interview on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, that the show was the direct result of a focus-group committee, actively designed to be liked by the broadest possible number of people … and so my only contribution was, nascently, being one of the people of whom it might like to be liked.

This policy of non-involvement continued for a number of years as the show was run by, and received the imprint of a personal stamp from, everyone from Marvin the Paranoid Android to Widow Twanky. I just sat there and gawped at it, sucking it in to the busily preforming child-brain along with that whole mélange of Hitch-hiker's, Randall and Hopkirk, Action comic, The Champions, Tomorrow People, prototypical console games and so on, and so on, and so on, that in the fullness of time would come to be collectively known of as Menk.

Like many others of my generation I was simply enamoured of this stuff, incorporated it. So much a part of me it was that I was convinced, on some fundamental level, that this was what I was going to do when I grew up - much in the same way that I’m still waiting for them to give me a jet-pack and let me live in a colony-dome on Mars.

And of course, as we all know, just as I was getting to the age where I could actually do something about it, they pulled the sodding plug. This was a bit of a blow. All part of the track-record of the BBC in the ‘80s and ‘90s, of course - from canceling The Goodies and using the money to ruin The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the small screen, to the comment from some high-up that sci-fi fans were being catered for perfectly well cos they were still making Red Dwarf. Still, it was something of a personal blow.

Fortunately, any number of other people had also been blown by the BBC … and in the fullness of time they would find a small protective enclave in the Virgin New Adventures - the licensed and official continuation of the Doctor’s adventures in print.

Serious moment, here, since - all joking aside - a lot of people don’t realise what a true phenomenon the NA’s were in popular fiction - certainly in Science Fiction as a genre:

The basic premise, after all, involved this guy who could go anywhere, any time, and do anything when he got there. Combine that with the sheer scale of production - at their height, the Virgin and later the BBC Books were putting out at least two full-length novels per month - and you had a market for largely original, SF-related fiction unparalleled since the pulp-fiction magazines of 1940’s America.

These were not some strictly controlled pieces of by-the-numbers spinoffery like the Star Trek books, and the breadth of basic concept meant that it would be a push to even describe them as ‘shared-world’ fiction. More like a sub-genre of Science Fiction, in and of themselves.

And crucially, of course, being licensed and sanctioned by the franchise-holders, and the only game in town for the remaining fans, there was the neigh-on certainty that they would punch way above their weight in sales.

Like I said, a phenomenon. And the result was, when Alan Carr … I beg your pardon, when Russell T Davies came to reboot the show, there was a huge conceptual backlog over and above the entire televised history - in terms of wordage and sheer number of ideas at least.

A lesser man might have simply ignored the lot, but Russell - writer of an NA himself - was better than that and did not. Thus, ultimately, necessarily, there was a certain amount of bleed-through from the NA’s and the Beeb Books into New Who.

In no particular order, off the top of my head, here’s a small list. And if it’s all very partial and self-serving, well, to quote Krusty the Klown, I’m a lazy, lazy man and can’t be bothered to check every little thing …

- The Time War, the first NA reference to which, as such, I believe occurred in Sky Pirates!

- Humanised Daleks, in the sense that NA mentions of them hinted of cultural subtleties and sympathizing elements nonexistent in the show, in much the same way that the culture of pre-War Japan was pretty much incomprehensible to the West. Ben Aronovitch, for example, mentions ‘Dalek poetry’, which, not having read it, I can only assume consists of haikus rather like this:

Exterminate, exterminate
Vision is impaired
I cannot see

- A charming if occasionally hapless anti-hero, taken out of time and with his own ship, and who becomes a second-string Companion and shags everything that moves. Jason Kane in Death and Diplomacy, natch

- A bright and witty Future Archaeologist who in some certain sense has and will become the most important Companion to the Doctor of all. (Benny/River Song)

- A space-going version of the Titanic, sabotaged by the owners for the Insurance. (Ship of Fools)

- The corpus of Paul Cornell and Gareth Roberts. Well, obviously

- The notion that everyone in the future is bisexual

- The Doctor as pants-wetting nemesis for the bad guys. It was Cornell and also Kate Orman, for example, who came up with ‘The Oncoming Storm’, though they connected it with the Draonians rather than the Daleks. (The Daleks, by way of Aronovitch, called him the Bringer of Darkness.) And as Steve Moffatt said, somewhere, ‘Nice guy - if you’re a biped.’

- A Reality Bomb consisting of a planetary orrery. That is, a bunch of planets all, like, crowded together. Sky Pirates!, again …

And on. And on. And so on. Anyhow. At this point you’re probably saying. ‘Oh, come on, Dave! Are you seriously sitting there in a fit of self-aggrandising sour grapes and really thinking New Who ripped you off?’

To which I say, ‘Can you spare a quid or so for a tin of cheapo beer, guv?’

To which you reply, ‘Oh, you poor brave man! I never realised things were so hard for you! Here, take everything in my wallet! I know it’s not much, but it might help.’

All of which is to say, a man can dream. Of course I’m not sitting here thinking I’ve been ripped off or anything. At best, it would be nice to think that I contributed the odd striking image and idea to the whole rich broth of material from which New Who was drawn, and that some of it actually made it to the screen.

I’d like to think that, mind you, but probably not … at the very least because hardly anything I’ve mentioned above was in any way original to me.

The Time War, for example, might have been brought up vaguely in the show, but the first overt explication of it was in a filler-series in the back of Doctor Who Monthly. Written by Alan Moore, who would subsequently, I gather, become a comics writer of some note. It concerned the adventures of the Special Executive, a troupe of metatemporal mercenaries called in to aid the Time Lords, pre-emptively attacked in an attempt to prevent them wiping out their enemies in the future.

Since this was where the Time Lords got their time-travelling technology from in the first place, this might be seen as a bit of a tactical blunder by said enemies. The strip was reprinted in the British monthly Daredevils, to bring the Special Executive into the Marvel Universe and have them meet the Moore-scripted Captain Britain, and that’s where I personally got the Time War from.

Jason Kane was basically me, of course, and my general reactions to this and that. I suppose it’s just possible that his quasi-existence expanded the probability-space of Who to provide room for not entirely heroic characters like Rose’s dad Pete and Captain Jack - but hardly likely in a world that already contained Turlough and Adric.

The Titanic thing. I mean, come on, we’re talking about a sci-fi show involving time-travel. Every show like that and its dog has no doubt set something on the Titanic. And as for ships being sabotaged by the owners, that’s happened in fact and fiction - I got it from a sequence in the hugely funny novel Tik-Tok, by John Sladek, where the death ship in question, far from actually being in space, was standing out in the desert surrounded by Wile E Coyote TNT.

Pansexuality in The Future, and for that matter the eradication of racial divisions, were we all practice techno-exogenesis, all have a rather fetching mocha-latté skin tone and are all Enlightened with a capital E … is such a standard-issue, well-worn and thoughtlessly used SF trope that it’s not even worth talking about. So I won’t.

As for Planetary Orreries … well, the whole basis of Fantastickal stories, historically, is that various planets and worlds are close enough together that you can travel to them in a cart pulled by geese or whatnot. I distinctly remember making the term Reality Bomb up - but it’s such a perfectly obvious term I can’t imagine that any number of people haven’t come up with it completely independently.

It’s a depressing thing to realise, really, that my single and unequivocal contribution to New Who - and thus to the culture of the world in general - is a throwaway remark made in the pub that I’m Proper Dave and somebody else is Other Dave. Only, this late in the day, I can’t for the life of me remember whether I made it and Moffatt laughed, or whether he made it and I did. That’s a bit of a pain, but I suppose it’s something.

Anyhow. You’ll have no doubt noticed - careful and attentive reader that you are - that while I’ve been waffling on about things that were my idea but, no, they really weren’t, that I’ve in actual fact been talking about something else. That’s proper good writing, that is. (That’s a technical term us proper good writers use; don’t worry your pretty little head about it.)

What I’m talking about, of course, is what they call Entitlement. Others have dissected it at length, and far better than I ever could but, in short, it’s a value-neutral term for the way in which a fan incorporates some work within him to the extent that the acts of creation and consumption blur.

This can lead to over-proprietorial obsession, but for the most part it’s something that informs and enriches countless day-to-day lives. One feels one owns something, and that the simple fact of owning it transforms it in a somewhat magical way. This isn’t something I was given; this is something that I made …

It’s a bit complicated for me and Who, sure, since it’s just possible that my personal influence has made an actual and substantive difference - but, you know, I’m talking about the feeling.

The point, such as it is, is that Entitlement is never happier than when attaching itself to Great works. The works that take some commonality and shine a light on it brighter than several suns.

The first Star Wars (the proper first one) is a humongous and shambolic mess - but also a Great movie. It’s just everything that part of us that goes, ‘Yay! Death-ray-battles! Pew! Pew! Pew!’ wants to see in a space-opera.

Alan Moore, who I mentioned, has any number of flaws as a writer - don’t get me started - but he’s also a Great Writer. Watchmen, whatever else it was, was everything that part of us which goes, ‘Hang on, what would obviously happen if Superman even tried to do that in any real life?’ wants to see in a superhero comic.

And Doctor Who, of course, is what everybody wants to see in The Single Greatest Adventure Show on TV in the History of Evar.

For any and all of the particular flaws in it’s production, the fact that it is in production should have all right-thinking people on their knees daily and thanking God. If He existed.

Which of course He doesn’t. But then you can’t have everything.

That is all.

A Yuletide Tail

Being a Most Heart-warming and Improving Account of the Utmost Edification, and Not to Mention Profound Moral Rectitude, by Mr D.R. Stone.

The snowflakes fell upon G-d’s good Earth like as to feathers plucked from the wings of an Angel ... although, if Angel it had been, such an Angel must have been some cold, and cruel, and bitter wretch, forever cast out from the Host of Stars and D-mned to spend all of Eternity in the very depths of H-des with his Infernal Master the D-vil himself! The snow was cold and sharp as a grandmother’s tongue - if that grandmother had been known about the town to be particularly sharp-tongued, and was dead.

The crystal flakes fell upon the denizens of London as they bustled through the streets on this merry Yuletide Eve. They fell upon the jarveys perched atop their hansom cabs; they fell upon the gypsy flower-women with their sprigs of lucky heather; they fell upon the honest clerks and cut-purses alike. They fell upon the hulking forms of mechanical alien conveyances as they lay waste to entire districts around them ... but most of all, it seemed, they fell upon Poor Tom.

“Garn, you filthy littel beast!” bellowed a corpuscular pieman, as Poor Tom nuzzled at his trousers in an attempt to gain some small degree of succour. “I have nothing on my tray for the mangy likes of you!”

The bedraggled black-patched kitten (for that, alas, was the station of Poor Tom in life) dodged smartly from the pieman’s hefty kick – and it was fortunate, for Poor Tom in any event, that he did. For at that very instant, a galvanistic Death Ray struck from above and incinerated him, pies and all, where he stood.

All that remained was a pair of smoking boots. There was nothing good to eat about a pair of smoking boots, in the considered opinion of Poor Tom ... nothing good to eat even for one who has never been so hungry in his life.

How he longed to be back in the warm and happy home from which he had been so cruelly ousted, with kind Mr and Mrs Cumbundersnatch and their forty-seven children. It had hardly been his fault, after all, that their youngest, crippled daughter, Small Doris, had succumbed to the suffocation. Poor Tom had, after all, been merely been looking for some comfortable place to curl up and sleep.

Now, the crowd around him milled and screamed as further Death Rays rained down from the winter sky, cutting through the feathered snowflakes with hisses that, altogether, combined amongst themselves to take upon the aspect of a bestial roar. Poor Tom clawed and scrambled through the forest of legs until, at last, he reached the dark mouth of an alley, and darted within.

In the alley, a frail and frostbitten little girl attempted to sell matches to those who might pass. In this she was somewhat inconvenienced, for the little girl was blind, and had thus positioned herself directly facing the wall.

“Oh, sir ...” she whispered, sensing the movement of Poor Tom as he passed by, “... can it be that you are some cruel Illusion of the last extremities of hypothermia ... or might you be some Seraph, come to bear me from the Miseries and Durance of this Mortal Realm …?”

And with that, she pitched back violently, hit the ground, with a thump, and expired upon the instant from the cold, her single leg sticking up in the air, and the fractured twig that had served her most inadequately as a crutch lying at a pitiably sad angle. For in addition to being, blind, penniless and an orphan, the little match girl had been every bit as crippled as, once, had been Small Doris. Even more so, probably.

Poor Tom paid the dead match girl no heed, it being obvious that she was in no fit state to feed him, and continued on his way toward the far end of the alley ... where, as he knew, it would open on a dark back street containing piles of totter-refuse awaiting collection, and in which he might find something fit to eat, and somewhat less of a preponderance of screaming and exploding people.

Just before he got there, though, he came upon a second scene – this latter comprising of a thin and somewhat wash-wasted Lady of the Night (one of those Fallen Women who are no better than they ought to be and, alas, infest the more disreputable districts of our Fair Municipality) confronting a bullish ruffian of a man with a puckered scar down the side of his unshaven face and a stout knoberry stick clutched in his hand.

“You take these here shillin’s, Big Bill Scrote,” the young jade cried, flinging the coins in question in the man’s evil and phrenologically subnormal face. “Them’s all I have on me, and much good may they do yer! As for the child, you’ll never find him. I’ve ‘id ‘im away, I ‘ave, where you can never trouble him again!”

“What’s this, Sticky Sal?” the brute roared. “You’d seek to deprive me from my livelihood, d-amn yer eyes, of sending young Jeremy Bender into the townhouses of rich old misers, by way of the littel window thing you get over some front doors, the name of which I have temporarily forgot? Well, then, Sticky Sal ... we’s a-goin’ to have words about that, Sticky Sal, you just sees if we don’t!”

The thug raised his knoberry, and there is no question that things would have gone hard for poor Sticky Sal – had not a ghastly collection of alien tentacles chosen that very moment to burst into the alley, from the dark back street beyond, wrapped themselves around the body of Bill Scrote and dragged him bodily back into the darkness from whence they had come.

“Aaargh!” came the frantic voice of Big Bill Scrote. “It’s had me bl--dy arm off! This is a right old rorty business, this is, an’ no mistake!”

For the barest instant, Sticky Sal stood, stunned somewhat at the fortune and agency of her deliverance. Then a further set of tentacles whipped themselves around her, and hauled her off in an instant. He screams were, subsequently, most heart-rending and pathetic. And then there was nothing but the busy sound of alien mastication.

Poor Tom sighed, insofar as a small black-patched cat can sigh. It seemed that everybody was getting a fine meal, this Yuletide Night, but him.

Judging that the alien-infested back street would be no place for a small black-patched cat, Poor Tom left the shelter of a discarded sign board, behind which he had been hiding from the notice of Sticky Sal and Big Bill Scrote. There was a storm grate in the alley, moved aside by some previous hand; Poor Tom dropped down to find himself in the sewers. He cast around himself for a moment, cautiously sniffing the air, and then set off in the hope of finding some nice fat rat.

What Poor Tom found, in fact, were rats of quite some other stripe entirely.

In the noisome and unremarked-upon oubliette of a catchment vault, through which the fetid and quite repellent oudre of the city swirled, a farraginous assortment of urchins – a somewhat less than entire set of warm winter clothes between them – gathered themselves around a gentleman in a moth-eaten scrapwork coat and a strangely pristine stovepipe tile fully half again as tall as he was himself.

“Now don’t you be a-worryin’, my fine lads,” this gentleman was saying. “We’m all of us be safe from them there hideous alien death machines down here, and make no bones about it. You just listen to your kind old Uncle Bagel.”

“Please, dear Uncle Bagel,” piped up a minuscule urchin, between wracking and consumptive coughs and waving one of his three crutches to attract the stovepipe-hatted gentleman’s attention, “but my internal organs appear to have prolapsed due to certain complications arising from acute malnutrition.”

“Acute malnutrition, is it?” declared the gentleman. “Lessons will take your minds away from the suchlike of grumblin’ bellies and the lupus! Now tell me, my fine lads, what d’ye do when you see some toff a-walkin’ down the street like this?”

The gentleman began, theatrically, to mince through the filth of the sewer, a much used handkerchief pressed languidly to his hugely Semitic nose. “What d’ye do, me fine lads, eh?”
“Stab him in the kidneys, and when he goes down kick him in the head and nick his change purse?” opined an urchin slightly larger than the rest and in a flat cap. And with an ear trumpet, for he was tragically deaf.

“Right you are, young Crafty Shitehawk,” the gentleman affirmed. “That’s the stuff to give ‘em – an’ you can tell ‘em Uncle Bagel said so if’n they don’t believe yer.”

“Pardon?” said The Crafty Shitehawk.

“I have, this very Yuletide Eve, made up a song about it,” said Uncle Bagel. He opened his mouth, no doubt to give voice to the air in question ... and then, perhaps mercifully, closed it again, and regarded a dark corner of the catchment area curiously.

“Do my eyes deceive me,” he said at length, “or do I not espy a smallish, black patched cat in that dark corner?”

As one, the faces of the urchins turned to regard Poor Tom, their eyes – those of them who had eyes, and had not lost them in a terrible and awful detonating apothecary accident – lit up with gleeful hunger.

“Let’s eat it,” one of the wee tots suggested.

The comestible suggestion, it seemed, agreed to some large extent with all those present. The horde of urchins advanced with various cries of “Yum!”, and “Save the parson’s nose for me!” save for those, of course, for those who were struck congenitally dumb.

Poor Tom decided, in the light of recent events, that here was not entirely the safest place to be. He pelted from Uncle Bagel and the advancing urchins, disappearing into the sewer tunnels at such speed that not even the strongest and relatively intact had a chance of keeping up.

Behind him, as he made his escape, he became aware of the sound of several, somewhat muffled, explosions. Then the hissing of some infernal gas.

“’Tis the Mutagen!” came the frantic voice of Uncle Bagel, wafting up the sewer tunnel. “Try to ‘hold yer breaths, me fine lads and ... Arrgh! Whuurgh! Brek! Tik! Whooork!”

Uncle Bagel and the urchins, Poor Tom realised vaguely, having caught sight of such things before, were at this moment being busily converted into a certain quantity of reddish slime, at the agency of a particular gas which, it seemed, the aliens utilised in the extermination of vermin. In any event, it was something of a blessing that Poor Tom had been frighted to run when he did.

Not entirely fortunate, however. Any rat he found here, now – even a rat not reduced to reddish slime – would smell too wrong to eat.

Somewhere, in even the smallest capacity, there must be something for Poor Tom to eat ...

The totter’s yard was piled with all kinds of refuse, of the sort that totters commonly collected from the back streets – though so far as Poor Tom was concerned, he could not imagine why it should be collected and piled so, such inedible portions of it in any event, or of what use to anybody it could possibly be.

As he climbed out from the sewers through a ditch-breach, he noticed that amongst the jumble stood something a little like a workman’s hut – or like the wardrobe in which nineteen of the Cumbundersnatch children had slept of nights. It was painted a dark, but vivid, blue.

The door of the thing was open, and from beyond it Poor Tim could hear voices:

“By G-d!” a voice exclaimed. “I but would never thought to see the like! ‘Tis bigger on the inside than the out!”

“Oh bl--dy H-ll,” said another, female voice. “Not another one.”

Mindful of his previous encounters of this Yuletide Eve, Poor Tom considered that it might be best to conceal himself and await developments before making he presence known.
Presently, three figures emerged from what was something like a worker’s hut and something like a wardrobe.

One, Poor Tom recognised as Soldier. (A soldier lad lodged, once, with the Cumbundersnatches, until seven of the eldest daughters, and Mrs Cumbundersnatch herself, had fallen into the Family Way, whereupon the Soldier had been summarily defenestrated with a shovel and buried in the cellar by Mr Cumbundersnatch.) The Soldier was clutching a packet of papers, sealed with wax and tied up with string.

The second was a girl, but barely into her majority, dressed most inappropriately and carrying what appeared to be a malformed cricket-bat of some metallic substance.
The third was a quite profoundly inconsequential man in a hat.

“It’s a werry worrying thing you’re telling me, Doctor,” the Soldier was saying. “A werry worrying thing indeed.”

“Be that as it may, sergeant Thackary.” This from the man in the hat. “it is imperative that you get this information to Brigadier-General Cholmoldley- Critchton. Can I trust you to do that, sergeant?”

“For Queen and Country,” said the Soldier, standing for a moment to attention, “you can trust me with ... a-a-a-chooo!”

“Oh dear, sergeant,” said the man in the hat. “It does appear that I might have given you a cold.”

For a while after Sergeant Thackary had left, Ace amused herself by poking through the debris in the totter’s yard. There was something about the various dumb and mismatched items that was akin to going on a completely historically-inaccurate pirate rollercoaster-ride.

There were several more concussions in the middle-distance, out beyond the wrought-iron gates. There was an odd taste to the air – and she really hoped that the Doctor had been telling the truth when he had said that the Slaarg mutagen-spores wouldn’t affect her.

After a while, she wandered back to the TARDIS, and found the Doctor outside it. He was just standing there. For some reason, Ace was reminded of old Droopy cartoons – simply standing there, while chaos raged around him, as if he’d had nothing to do with it at all.

‘I still don’t get the point, Professor’ She said. ‘I mean, so what? Why should anybody care if the Slaarg are dismantling what’s basically a glorified theme park? They built it in the first place, didn’t they?’

The Doctor shook himself slightly, then turned his head to regard her, as though he had completely forgotten her existence. ‘Mm?’

‘Dickensworld.’ Ace shuddered at the thought of it, even though the actuality of it was all around her. ‘Who in the entire galaxy is going to miss it, apart from a bunch of aliens who didn’t know what the hell they were doing in the first place and got it all wrong?’

The Doctor frowned. ‘That’s exactly the point, Ace. The Slaarg got it wrong – completely and utterly wrong – when they built their pleasure world and stocked it with what they thought of as simulacra. They didn’t understand what humanity was, exactly, but they copied it. Down to the synthetic DNA.’

He waved a hand toward a skyline that even now appeared to be on fire with the nimbus of Death Rays. ‘The people out there are simplified and twisted, but they’re real. As are the other biological entities the Slaarg copied. The suffering is actual. And the Slaarg are wiping them out en masse.

‘That’s not going to happen, now. The pathogen with which I infected Thackary will present itself as a common cold in the human analogues – but it’s sudden death to the Slaarg on an accelerated vector. Most of them will survive, I’m sure, if they get off the planet and declare it a Plague Zone. They probably won’t bother to obliterate it from orbit. I got the idea from a chap I used to know. An old Companion, apparently, used to go around for coffee with him regularly. I’m sure I’ll remember his name presently ...’

‘Now, hang on,’ said Ace. ‘If these people are ... if they’re real people, in a sense, then you’ve just sent out a real guy to be gobbled up by the first Slaarg who comes across him and ...’
‘Hello, what’s this?’ said the Doctor. ‘It looks like a small cat. Black- patched, if I’m not entirely mistaken. It looks a bit hungry – now, I’m sure I had a bit of fish, somewhere, in my pocket ...’
As the big, blue wardrobe vanished into thin air, Poor Tom paid it not the slightest heed. He spat out a fishbone, and rolled over on the junk pile, onto his now full stomach, and dropped contentedly to sleep.

Thanks to the Kindly Gentleman in the hat, it seemed that it would be a Merry Yuletide after all.

And the same to you, too.

Shatterland Issue One Script

Years and years ago - back in the days when I had far more energy and enthusiasm than acumen - I wrote an entire six-part American-format comic-book miniseries, weighing in at whatever six times twenty-four pages is, entirely on spec. I did it for the reason anyone does anything when they're young: for the fun of it.

I was gonna at least try it on Vertigo, or one of the black-and-white Independents … but then my activity shifted to the novels and I forgot. It now resides, inaccessibly, on a corrupted Amstrad disk and/or in the chaos of my hard-copy archive.

At some point, though, I typed the first issue in again, from a printout, and it's been sitting on various iterations of the hard-drive ever since. And, since it's there, I might as well put it up, so anyone interested can have a look.

Twenty-four-page-long scripts being a bit unwieldy for a Blog, click on this handy link:


(Of course, if anyone's ever interested enough to actually do anything with it - for the fun of it or not - I'm all ears.)


An Inconsequential Death

(Continuing my process of rerunning old shorts off the hard-drive, a small piece of Doctor Who fiction, written for a charity publication.)

He’d done it again! The infuriating old git had done it again.

The young man followed the ... well, you’d have to call it the trail of clues from the chamber of alien biomedical bleep machines. First the lost fluids and effluvia from when the biomechanically-healed bodily processes were still halfway functioning, then by the shed skin and smell. Followed it through a tortuous maze of rondelated corridors that continually seemed to circumvent an actual destination. It was as if whoever - or whatever - who had left the trail was operating on pure instinct, following some inner, distant call.

He found the old man, at last, in what might be described as a wardrobe in the same way that the Grand Canyon can be described as a hole in the ground. Racks of clothing - clothing and its attendant accessories and accoutrements of all kinds - appeared to doppler to infinity and back in some dimensionally complex manner, like a couturier’s warehouse crossed with a Klein bottle. The musty reek of a million kinds of ancient cloth degrading over time was all-but overpowering.

The old man sat slumped over before an assorted pile of items pulled haphazardly from the racks: a fedora hat, a garish patchwork overcoat, a rotting black frock-coat of some Edwardian design, a battered umbrella with a question-mark for a handle. The old man stirred at them, listlessly, with a liverspotted hand. He was bone-thin and desiccated, skin like a dry membrane of parchment covered with ulceration from where the biomedical units had so recently been plugged into him.

‘So many ...’ he was muttering. ‘So many ... things you do and then you think of them afterwards ... fighting the ... they had claws and guns for hands and they hated life ... a love of death that was a yearning and they hated ...’

He became aware of the young man standing behind him and lurched around. Something lucid and hard, and not at all friendly, switched on in his eyes as if a switch had been thrown.

‘You,’ the old man said, the all-but toothless mouth managing to inform the world with sharp and acid contempt. ‘It’s you is it? Again? Here again? How long have you been there spying on me?’

‘Not long,’ the young man said. ‘I just didn’t want you to hurt yourself.’ He moved forward tentatively, offering his hand to help his elder up.

The old man flinched away from it. ‘Back to the machines? They pump and pump again and I can feel them slickly feeding into me. Back to that living death?’

‘You need them,’ said the young man simply. ‘You really do. Their regenerative processes are necessary if you’re to -’

‘Don’t you talk to me about regeneration, you little pipsqueak!’ The old man was almost screaming, ‘I’ve regenerated more times than you’ve had hot ... meals that you eat hot. Why, I remember the time when I died and ...’

His face went slack as what was left of his mind tried to recall a memory that simply wasn’t there. Then he looked up at the young man with something that was nothing less than quiet pleading. ‘Why can’t you let me die? It’ll all be better after I die. I’ll be reborn. I’ll be fresh and different and new ...’

Despite himself, despite all the resolve he had built in himself, the young man found himself losing his temper. ‘Because this is your thirteenth life you bloody old fool! When you die this time there’ll be nothing better, or worse, or anything at all!’

The young man caught himself, swallowed his anger.

‘Don’t you remember?’ His voice was as quiet as his elder’s had become, with the same note of pleading though without the constant tone of senile whining. ‘Please try to remember. You dematerialised the TARDIS and then forgot how to operate the controls. I don’t know how to make them work. You said that the only solution was to keep you alive in the hope that you’d come back to yourself for long enough to take us back into the world. Please remember that.’

The old man crumpled his face in thought. ‘I seem ... I seem to ...’ Then his face cleared - not with the calm of remembrance, but with the blankness of one for whom almost every process has been lost. ‘Where am I? Should I be here? I don’t feel well ...’

‘You’ll be all right,’ the young man said, helping the old man, unprotesting, to his feet. ‘There are things that can make you well.’

* * *

After the old man was settled again, amidst the nest of tubes and modules that bleeped and gurgled happily as though the act of feeding sustenance fed them, in some peculiar way, in turn, the young man walked the corridors lost in thought - or rather, lost in the processes of keeping thought at bay. He tried, if at all possible, not to think of the past years, to ignore the sheer and crushing weight of them.

When a trader sells a carpet in the bazaar, he tells you it’s a magic carpet. All you need to make it fly is to not think of a blue camel. All carpets are magic if you know that and don’t think of it.

It was not a question of a problem to be solved. It was a problem to be dealt with. The TARDIS was stuck in a metatemporal orbit around a secondary Vortex Core. There was no way to fling it from that orbit without destroying human life inside, and that was the end of it. Try to leave, try to leave now, and fragile human flesh would rupture, burst and spray off the bones.

The young man tried not to think of all those years in which he’d stayed young, while his younger companion had grown ever older - oscillating between stupor, lucidity and violent dementia in the extensive but ultimately self-enclosed and contained TARDIS interior.

There were whole areas still in disarray, their contents flung about in mindless rage, that at some point would have to be tidied up. It was hard not to remember that - even harder not to see it as an object lesson. The young man had in his time raged and flung his toys around in other, larger spaces, to much the same end effect.

It had almost been a relief, in the end, when the old man’s swings in mood and sanity had settled into the basic dementia of senility. Lacking other stimuli, the old man had taken imprints from his surroundings, and now fully believed that he was the owner of them.

He was - so he thought - a time-traveling alien whose superhuman recuperative powers would soon pull him from his present debilitation. He was not, in actual fact, dying alone and elided from every single other specimen of his kind.

The young man tried not to disabuse him of this delusion. It seemed like the only thing to do.

Possibly, by this point, the kindest thing would be to simply fire up the Console Room again, set the controls and slingshot back into reality, or some reasonable approximation thereof. It would at least give the old man a quick, clean death ... but when it came to the nub of it, here and now, when push came to the equivalent of shoving the off-switch on the life-support, the young man knew he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

The old man was not, as yet, in sufficient pain, indignity or state of vegetation as to make the choice clear cut. And in such cases a Doctor can only do no harm, and wait for nature to take its course, as it must for us all.

We walk through prisons of differing sizes and complexity, and delude ourselves that to drop and stop moving is to at the last find our way out.

The young man wandered, apparently at random, through corridors that turned in on themselves, waiting for them to lead him naturally to some actual destination, waiting for his old companion to finally die.


About Cats

Everyone on the Internet, it seems, likes nothing better than to talk about cats. And it occurs to me I did that, once, at the front of a charity book concerning them.

This is, slightly updated, what I said on the matter:

For someone with a complete indifference to the joys of cat, I seem to have had the uncanny knack of acquiring them. A dead girl dropped one on my lap once, and he became Bonzo. We were all so much younger at the time - especially the cat - and more than one of us all was still alive, so the name seemed really funny and clever.

This was back in the days when writing involved typewriters; the physical business of winding paper round a platen … and Bonzo’s thing was to pelt around the room, dive onto a ream of A4 manuscript and surf it off the table in an explosion of loose sheets. This was very amusing. Bonzo’s favourite food in the world was CocoPops, and we made up a song about that.

When I shared a house with my sister in South London, we acquired a brother-and-sister pair from kitten. Mork was a bully and Mindy, being the smaller, was long-suffering … right until the point she’d had quite enough, and took him quite definitively to the cleaners. Thereafter, he followed her around like a puppy dog – if the term can be properly used in this context – and looked on as she trounced all territorial encroachments in short order. They ended out in the wilds of Suffolk, and went around beating up the local foxes, who aren’t a patch on the rangy little street-fighters you get in London.

Current-day Spoiler: They're both dead.

During a short and somewhat disastrous marriage, I and spouse were adopted by a fat, smug article who muscled his way in through the legacy cat flap and demanded to be fed. Said article came to rejoice in the name of Bilbo, despite every protestation at my command. This went on for a couple of years, before we learnt that the fatness and smugness had something to do with the fact that he was being owned and fed, under a variety of names, by half the neighbourhood.

Moving around a lot, one tends to remain functionally cat-free - until Head Office catches up with you and sends in the big guns. In this case, a long-haired, bedraggled and frenetically affectionate black and white-patched stray, on the very upper-end of kittenhood, obviously housetrained, and turfed out when he had begun to grow.

He contrived to squirrel around me and my partner of the time, on the walk back from the local Tapas bar, apparently having fallen in desperate love with my boots. (And don't get me wrong, they were lovely boots.) On reaching home, it would have been the act of a cold-hearted monster not to have let the specimen in. Unfortunately, my objections were overridden. Partner’s youngest son, who was five at the time, promptly gave him the name Minardi. Youngest son was and is an avid fan of Formula One.

Minardi was at just precisely the right age to be chipped and snipped without turning him nasty. There wasn't a mean bone in his body - no bones at all, when he lay there pointing in around seven different and totally unconnected directions. Copious quantities of kitten-mix and mackerel left him two and a half feet long and a foot wide, none of which was fat … and not counting the tail, which was bushy as a skunk’s and as long as his body again. Those measurements are approximate and mutable: when he lay against a door to take advantage of the draft, his body stretched the entire span, like a draft-excluder.

He was also quite clearly insane. He never lost the sense of mad amazement which seems to come as standard-issue with all kittens, and usually goes out the window second it’s done its job and conned them into a home. My boots still sent him into demented fits of joy, usually when I was climbing the stairs with a PowerBook in hand. His favourite place in the world was the bathroom sink, which he filled amorphously, and it was somewhat disconcerting to blunder in of a hung-over morning, and sit down to see two wide, bright eyes staring at you and asking what you were doing.

When he was thirsty, the cat would turn on the damn kitchen tap. Admittedly, the tap was of the lever-operated variety, as opposed to something that required actual thumbs, but a mindfulness of old jokes had one seriously considering hiding the tin-opener.

Anyhow. Again.

The reason I bring all this up is to make the point that cats are different from each other in the same way that people are different. They’re not like dogs, trying to join in with the pack; they’re individuals with the capacity for socialisation. Cats are, in some basic sense, people … whether you like it or not. And as such they deserve a specific and particular degree of consideration.

I've mentioned the various programmes of spaying and neutering feral cat colonies to a number of people, and got a reaction from one or two that I hadn’t expected. Of its sort, I believe, it’s akin to the reaction that guys of any stripe have when the fixing of any animal is mentioned: cross the legs and give a little whimper. The articulation of it, though, came in serious terms, and as such deserves a serious reply.

In a nutshell (as it were) the point of these one or two people was this: spaying and neutering feral cats could be seen as being more cruel than simply exterminating them. In a Darwinian sense, we have taken away from them the sole purpose of life - that of reproduction - without their consent, thus rendering existence meaningless for them. Better, morally, to leave well enough alone and let nature sort it out, or damn well bite the bullet and break out the gas canisters.

Well, no. The point about the Darwinian imperative - unless you really, really do believe in a Purposeful God - is that it is entirely value-free. The fact that an organism exists, or survives, or reproduces is neither good nor right in and of itself. It is a simple fact. How that fact is interpreted comes down to personal preference … and where people are concerned, what people say goes.

The purpose and meaning of life, so far as people are concerned, is to increase the sum of happiness and to decrease that of suffering. By that yardstick, extermination-programmes fail for obvious reasons, and letting ‘nature’ take its course fails spectacularly - unless a Malthusian nightmare of starvation and disease are anybody’s idea of a good time.

In the here and now, the only option one can face with equanimity is restricting the breeding of feral cats. One could issue condoms and instructional pamphlets, I suppose - but, frankly, cats don’t strike me as bright enough, whether they’re people or not.

In the end, rather like pluralistic democracy, the spaying and neutering of feral cats is not an ideal solution in any number of respects - it’s just the best solution that there is if one wishes to stay in some degree humane.

It’s a people thing, basically. And in dealing with people, with the choice of being cruel, or doing nothing, or at least trying to be kind - trying to be kind is what people are all about.


Astonishing Stories of Unmitigated Science!

The Giant-sized Monthly for the Fan of the Future who Knows what He Likes!

From the Editor’s Astonishing! Desk ...

Greetings and welcome to the latest thrilling issue of Astonishing Stories of Unmitigated Science! We here at Astonishing! have worked real hard to put this month’s issue together; the Linotype is set and ready for the presses and all systems are ‘green for go’, even despite the sad news that our most gracious publisher of many years, Goblinslather Press, has declared bankruptcy following the disappearance of its honoured founder, Arlo Goblinslather, in a tragic ornithopter accident over the Malagasi South Seas.

Our new proprietors, Wamco Holding Properties Inc. (Korea), share our God-given dream of bringing quality SF to those who are not only fans but are also discerners, but have told us that we have to cut our costs by way of a drastic trimming of our page-count, word rates and permanent editorial staff. There was some consternation about that in the Astonishing! bullpen, I can tell you! But our little family rallied together and we are proud to present a collection of tip-top yarns by all-new writers which continue in the finest Astonishing! tradition of E. Dan Belsen, Charles ‘Bubba’ Delancey and Podmore Sloathe! None of whom, unfortunately, appear in this issue for contractual reasons.

So let the so-called critics in their decadent ivory towers gnash their reefer-stained teeth at the so-called ‘pulps’ for all they like! For all their lit’ry talk of the transcendence of content over form, the telling particular and of litotes, they are nothing but denouncers who will never understand how a monthly like Astonishing! can do its tales done in the Scientific Method that only the cleverest and most technically educated geniuses can truly do. They sit there with their fountain pens and little gilded pocketbooks, drinking their prissy little cups of tea and Absinthe, getting their so-called ‘ideas’ from the funny papers and this World Wide Internet of theirs, and I’ll bet they couldn’t work a basic piece of engineering equipment like a slide rule if their worthless lives depended on it.

Fear not though, readers, Astonishing Stories of Unmitigated Science! will be around, now and for ever, to show them the error of their ways! The Manifest Destiny of Mankind (and Womankind, too!) awaits! On with the chronicles of our glorious and indomitable Future!!

- ‘Jolly’ John F. McMacraken, Editor-in-Chief

* * *

Snail Women from Uranus
by Norbert Edgar Trant

[Hideous galactic aliens are come to defile our fairer human sex, and nothing within the power of mortal Man to stop them! How this horrifying and seemingly insoluble problem is solved can only come from a plot-twist so devilishly original and ingenious, that only a mind such as that of Norbert Edgar Trant could have ever possibly thought it up. The prolific Mr Trant has sent us, without fail, a new and meticulously handwritten manuscript from his home in Westlake Falls, Virginia, for every month since our first ever publication, and which we have always looked forward to and read with lively interest. This is his first appearance in the pages of Astonishing! itself.]

The stars were bright that night, whole constellations and the galaxies in them shining in the pitch black sky and laying there like scattered jewels on velvet, shining down on the sleepy little town of Kitchen Falls, set deep in the majestic forests of Kitchen Falls. Still and quiet, the stars were fixed for all eternity - but something else moved through the sky, slashing across it and leaving a fiery screaming trail in its very vacuum itself. This was no brightly boiling furnace of the nebulas ... it was a space ship! An alien space ship ... and who knew what crawling, slithering terror and horror those alien monsters who were in it would bring ...

Norman Manley wasn’t thinking about aliens, for all he had just been to see a movie about them at the Kitchen Falls drive-in. The movie had been Snail Women from Uranus, starring Candy Crawford and Lara Dane, and the thrusting womanly globes thus on so blatant display had made him feel real frisky. You could see through their tops and everything. This had given Norman some Ideas, so he had tried to touch the the pliant orbs of the girl he was with, but she had slapped him hard and raked his face with her long red nails until it started to bleed. She really had wanted Norman to touch her, the girl, whose name was Myra Monroe, had then explained, but she was an old fashioned girl with lots of primitive sex-hangups, and she could not be doing with anything like that until she was respectably married.

Well, Norman had plenty of other girls whose minds had not been canalized with illogical and outmoded sex-ideas that had no place in the New World Order of the Atomic Age, so now he was driving his bright red ‘hot rod’ automobile into nearby Stovetown to meet one of them. Her name was Lula Lovelee, and she was a stripper in a bar called the Beer Cellar, which she did because, apart from the money, she really liked to do it and it made her feel real hot. She was a real ‘swinging’ lady, and once they had even done sex right there on the stage, after the bar had closed and the lights had gone out.

That was why the existence of aliens - though as a ‘switched on’ kid who listened to the radio news, he knew it was impossible that they not exist - was the last thing on Norman Manley’s mind ... until he turned a corner in the narrow country road, and something landed in the woods off to one side in an explosion of fire and with a devastating Crash!. Instantly, Norman made his ‘hot rod’ squeal to a stop, dived through the door and started running through the woods as fast as his well-muscled athlete’s legs and firm young buttocks could carry him.

‘It must be a crashed jet plane out of Table City Air Base!’ he thought to himself grimly, and vowed to retrieve the unfortunate pilot, if the pilot had survived, even at the cost of his own life! The giving of his own, he thought, to save one of those brave boys who even now stood as the final bastion between all that was decent and good and the Godless foreign hoards, would be a life well spent indeed.

What he found, however, was something different. Instead of the crashed and mangled remains of an air plane, a shining ovoid squatted in the burning scrub and maples, resting on tripodular support struts. Norman was no fool. He recognised this thing for what it was instantly. ‘Aliens!’ he snarled. ‘What hideous deeds can they be up to here?’

And it was then that a hatch opened in the side of the ovoid with a hiss of noxious alien gasses. And something came out of it ... something so monstrous and horrible that to even begin to describe its monstrous and horrific form would drive you mad with suppurating horror of it! And Norman Manley clawed at his eyes and screamed as if his lungs would burst ...

* * *

The next day, Myra Monroe was behind the soda pop stand in the drug store that she worked in, when Norman walked into it in his best suit of clothes, with a marriage license and a gold ring with a diamond as big as a tree snipe egg and must have cost every cent of a year’s pay from his fancy job, and asked her if she would do him the honour of becoming his wife.

No girl could have resisted! ‘Yes!’ Myra cried, her virginal mounds of sex-pleasure heaving in the tight shirt you could even see her bra inside. ‘Oh, Norman, let us get married right away!’
They were married an hour later by the Justice of the Peace, and set off for their honey moon in the swanky Kitchen Falls Hotel, which stood on the top of a mountain outside of town and which had more than fifty different rooms and bellhops who all wore little hats. Black storm clouds were gathering, however, and it was a dark and stormy night when they at last reached their room and got ready for bed.

‘Oh, Norman,’ Myra said, coming from her foamy bubble bath and sitting on the big wide bed in in a little lacy neglige, ‘you have made me the happiest girl in all the ...’

There was an explosion of lightning and thunder outside. The girlish delight in Myra’s voice trailed away, and her eyes went wide at what the lightning had so horrifically revealed.

‘I am not your “Norman”,’ said the thing as it lurched toward her, a snarling grin upon its face and a hellish light inside its eyes as they ran all over her delectable female form. ‘I have merely taken control of the puny hu-man who you know as Norman’s body. I am a space alien, from a galaxy so many miles away that your mind cannot imagine them! I am Queegvogel Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck Seven, come to kill all Earth men and to breed with all Earth women ...’

Myra Monroe looked at the thing who had once been Norman Manley a little strangely, through narrowed eyelids. ‘Oh, do you really bloody think so?’

‘What,’ the thing inhabiting Norman’s corporeal form seemed a little nonplused by this sudden change in tone, and made it take an involuntary step back, grazing a calf quite nastily on the corner of the mini bar. ‘What are you -’

‘I don’t think so,’ Myra said, reaching for the zipper in the back of her neck, and pulling off her Human Being suit. The thing that had been Norman Manley stared, aghast, at the form that lay within, a thing now bulking itself outwards on a telescopically articulated, polysilicidal skeletal structure, internal organs unfolding in some dimensionally complex manner as though from nothing, the retractable carapace that extended over them, encasing them, effectively, in a sheath of living armour ...

‘Fifteen thousand years,’ the monstrous creature snarled, looming over the now quite frankly terrified thing that had once been Norman Manley, jagged-talon’d claws clenching and unclenching as though only the merest thread of self-control prevented them from tearing him apart. ‘Give or take. That’s how long we’ve been working with our guys - and it’s a thankless bleeding task, I can tell you. I mean, we’ve only just got the buggers to the point where they put the bleeding seat up! So if you think we’re gonna let a bunch of little sods like you come in and have us start again from scratch, you’ve got another think coming ...’

The creature put its face close to that of what had once been Norman Manley. ‘So come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, slime boy, or, tell you what, why don’t you just piss off back where you came from?’

* * *

If active and sufficiently advanced satellite-based tracking systems had been trained on that particular area of the North American continent, they might have have tracked the vector of a sad and rather diminutive glowing ovoid as it rose and set a dispirited and vaguely elliptical course for the far side of the moon, where a larger vessel waited. Once line-of-sight transmission could be established, and had they been capable of registering the correct frequencies, the radio-telescopic dishes of humanity might have noted and decoded the exchange detailed below. But they weren’t and they didn’t and they weren’t, and so they didn’t:

‘Report, Queegvogel Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck Seven,’ said a brusque and somewhat atonic voice from the mother ship. ‘Is the world of puny humans ripe for foul unending domination?’

‘Yeah,’ said another and slightly more enthusiastic voice, ‘and are there any girls down there, Queeg?’

‘It’s no go, guys,’ said the voice of Queegvogel Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck Seven. ‘It’s just no good. They have weapons down there.’

The was a brief, contemplative pause.

‘What sort of weapons? said the first voice from the mother ship.

‘Horrible obliterating weapons of devastating and utter death, okay?’ said the voice of Queegvogel Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck Duck Seven. ‘Can we go home, now?’

* * *

In the Honeymoon Suite of the Kitchen Falls Hotel, Norman Manley woke up and rubbed at the back of his head, which hurt real bad, like he had been drinking beer. ‘My God,’ he said to himself ‘What happened? What did I do last night ..?’

He realised that he was not alone, and that this other was not looking at him in a particularly friendly manner. ‘You married me,’ said Myra Monroe, coldly.


Fun with your New KA!!

There's so much stuff you can do with your Ka. There's lots of stuff to do. But first, of course, you have to release its awful mystic power. In olden times you had to trepan yourself and peel back your skull with a claw hammer, something that only the bravest of Ancient Visionaries could countenance themselves to do, what with the influence of Evil Humours, prehistoric germs and all.

Now, at last, there is an easy way, with the FIRST EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF PRACTIBRANTICISM™.

(Don’t the name fool you. PRACTIBRANTICS™ is a well known and respected Science, respected by such Scientists as Albert Einstein, Gallileo, Plank and Dr John Smith - the inventor of the SIDRAT chrononambulatory ambulator, the inflatable goitre and the galvanistic cheese drive himself! The FIRST EVANGELICAL CHURCH OF PRACTIBRANTICISM™ is classed by US law as a religion, purely so our funds can be channelled into the areas where it does most good, rather than diverted to its own ends by a Government composed of those without the Enlightenment that comes from even the most basic MENTAL FLENSING™.)

Once our highly-trained technicians hook you to the patent-pending FLENSING BOX™ and flood your brain with the healing purple power of orgone energy, the true potential of you Ka will be released - the mystic twinkling entity that exists within us all, and has done so for trillions upon trillions of centuries. Your Ka will then be in a suitable state for transplanting into the body of your choice - a procedure that is fully guaranteed for up to thirteen times. Effective immortality awaits YOU - not a moment too soon! And here’s why ...

Dr Smith himself, in his fine and Scientific book The Last Body in the Shop: How PRACTIBRANTICS™ can Help You Keep It (Goblinslather Press, 245pp), that what with the demographic time-bomb, impending Catastrophic Climactic Shift and with half the male population of the world functionally sterile due to cumulative endocrine contamination, there will soon be too few human bodies to go around. People will have to share, or come back as rocks, or be transplanted into such monstrous forms of solid-state cybernesis and cultured fungus that it would drive them mad. Do you hear me? Mad!

Is this a risk you are prepared to take for yourself? For your loved ones? Of course not. So call this number and learn the FACTS. It’s the most important call you’ll make in this or any other lifetime.

Send no money now. Our flying PARAPRACTIBRANTIC™ team will be more than happy to deal with such trifles when they arrive at your door ...

* * *

A dip into our Astonishing! Mailbag ...

Dear Sirs,

I read with interest that, according to your publication of ‘The Spangled Warlords’ by E. Dan Belsen, that the albedo of Jupiter is fifty-one percent. Well in some ‘parallel universe’ such as which your writers like to speculate that might be so, but not in this one. Please ensure against such blatant disregard for the facts in future.
- Roland Smithenson, Rope’s Pine, Colorado

Quite so, Mr Smithenson, and please accept a years’ subscription of Astonishing! in return for pointing out this error. We can’t think how this error escaped the genius of Mr Belsen himself, or indeed our own stringent editorial eye. The albedo of Jupiter is, of course, something completely different.

Dear Sirs,

What is wrong with young people today? Whatever happened to those proper tin cans like things used to come in? And why don’t things cost the same as they did ..?
- Walter Knapf, San Francisco

Good questions all, Mr Knapf! If we ever find the answers to them, rest assured we’ll be the first to tell you.

Dear Astonishing Stories of Unmitigated Science,

I am writing to protest about the story scene between Dr Juliette and the lab technician in Miron Wiblik’s story ‘Timmy Don’t Add Up’, which spoiled an otherwise fine story. I read Wiblik’s GOLEM Incorporated stories for their fine story-telling and their stories of advanced algorithmic-vector integrating automata, not to see stories where the story is about people kissing, and so I did not like that story.
- B. Turing-Series II, Modex Transputations, England UK

We’re sorry that you didn’t like Prof. Miron’s yarn, Mr Turing-Series (your free subscription will be sent to Modex Transputations PLC in merry old England, since you did not supply a home address. We hope you and your ‘mates’ will enjoy it while supping on your plates of whelks and ale down at the local ‘pub’!)

We thought long and hard about its publication in Astonishing! - but we must move with the times, after all, and felt that the importance of its subject, and the reputation of Wiblik himself, justified its inclusion despite its somewhat ‘racy’ nature. Never fear, though, our then Assistant Copy Editor, Elanore Dunblaine, was consistently on hand to remove anything of so much as a remotely gratuitous and salacious nature. Miss Dunblaine will be greatly missed.

On a related note, we here at Astonishing! would like to apologise for a certain passage in Dexley Blandings’ ‘Boo-Bomb Boffo and the Talmerdian Squil’ which appeared in the same issue. At the age of 86, Miss Dunblaine was unaware of the use to which the youth of today put the word ‘flunching’.

Mr Blandings will not be writing for Astonishing! again.

* * *

Termination on Golgotha
by Dexley Blandings

The assault craft ploughed into the swamp with an explosion of sludge and superheated steam. Concussion-bolts detonated and a teflon-coated butterfly hatch racked itself back back and up into its housing in the polyceramicized, fractured-prismatic shell. Bane worked the action on his pulse-pump, slamming a subatomic charging cell into the inject-breech and priming it, and dropped from the hatch, the shok-pads of his boots taking the impact on the soft, still steaming ground.

The Golgothian wildlife shrittered and whooped in the swamp around him. Bane flipped a switch in his helmet and a sensor-readout unfolded on the virtual screen chipped into brain behind his eyes: a troupe of inquisitive fomprats were circling cautiously off to one side, but, given their carrion-eating nature, there would have to be one Sheol of a lot more of them and. Bane himself would have to be dead before they’d feel brave enough to move in. Bane shouldered the pulse-pump, quickly double-checked the other systems of his power armour’s antipersonnel package, and set off in the direction of the transponder-blip he’d tracked in orbit.

At last, he thought, after a quarter of a galactic-standard century of searching, after twenty-five Earth years of following a hopscotch interplanetary trail, of hunting down rumours, of dead ends, wild goose chases, red herrings, dead ends, dead red herrings and of beating people viciously in four hundred and seventy-three separate planetary and/or orbitally-based space bars ... at last he neared the ending of his search, the termination of that long, long arc through space and time that had begun with the destruction of all the young Bane had held dear.

Even now, wading through the fetid swamps of Golgotha, the memories came back to plant hooks in his cythernesically implanted mind and score it. Memories of the blasted ash and rubble that had been his Boldrakian homeworld, the bones protruding from the ash, of finding the remains of his mother, father, grandmother on his father’s side, brother, half-sister and beloved tame pararat, Cyril, and the abominable things that had been done to them before they died. Memories of the brutish Minions who had broken his legs and hands and left him for dead. Memories of his discovery by the emergency-service forces of Earth, of his recovery and enlistment, his desertion and his wanderings thereafter, making his way through the violent chaos of the Galactic Hub and out into the even more violent, lawless tract-gulfs of the Outworlds ... all the while searching, never giving up, searching for the creature that had done this to him.

Searching for Volok.

And finding him.

‘It ends here,’ Bane snarled, baring his teeth behind his impact-visor, though there was nobody to see or here. ‘It all ends here and now.’

The hut was strangely small and unprepossessing, little more than the size of a sublight SAD pursuit-ship, its irregularly octagonal form lifted from the swamp by pilings cut from some local equivalent of wood. A shallow flight of mismatched steps led to a blank, stout-looking doorway.

Bane mounted the steps and hammered on the door with the stock of his pulse-pump. ‘Open up! Open up you bastard!’

After a few moments, the door opened with a squeal of rudimentary hingesprings, to reveal a hulking and Gorgonic form, its claws and the individually cantilevered incisors of its jaws clotted with festering gobs of fleshy matter and with old, dried blood, its eyes burning with an ancient and unknowable hunger that seemed a form of madness in its own right.

‘Can I help you at all?’ it said. It was wearing Tartan carpet slippers, and was in the process of removing a triocular set of eye-glasses, which it now began to polish with a little cloth. A pipe depended from one corner of its slavering jaw, a particularly pungent variety of alien Shag burning in the bowl.

‘I want Volok!’ Bane snarled, levelling the ejection vent of his pulse-pump at the monstrous form. ‘Volok the Riever! World destroyer! Volok whose hands run wet with the blood of a million women and children! Give him to me now ...’

The creature frowned as though in momentary puzzlement. ‘Excuse me one moment.’ It turned its horrid head to shout back to the reeking dark beyond the door. ‘Delbert!’

There was the sound of movement inside the hut; a muffled crash and muttering.

‘Delbert!’ the creature shouted again. Its voice devolved into a coldly murderous growl. ‘Come out here. I want to talk to you ...’

A second creature appeared. Though equally horrible in form, it was smaller and seemed to be a younger than the first. ‘Yes, dad?’ It looked past the other caught sight of Bane and visibly blanched. ‘Oh shit ...’

‘I’ll “oh shit” you, you little bugger!’ the larger monster cried, belabouring the smaller about the head and shoulders. ‘You’ve been sweeping across the worlds of Man like a corrupt and all-consuming fire again, haven’t you! Grinding the bones of mothers and their sons beneath your iron heels!’

‘Aaow, dad!’ cried the younger, clutching at its head protectively with its jagged claws.

‘What did I tell you about turning the skies black with the bodies of the burning dead?’ the older creature thundered menacingly.

The younger looked down at its monstrous feet and muttered something sullenly.

‘I can’t hear you ...’ growled the older creature.

‘All right!’ the smaller creature snapped. ‘No-turning-the-skies-black-with-the-burning-bodies-of-the-dead-if-I-want-to-live-under-your-roof. Okay?’

‘Kids, eh?’ said the older creature, turning its attention back to the now completely astonished Bane. ‘Can’t live with ‘em, can’t put a blaster-bolt to the back of their heads and put them down.’ It took the younger by the ear and dragged it back inside the hut. ‘Please accept my most profound apologies. Won’t happen again.’

It slammed the door behind it.

Bane looked at the flat expanse of wooden door.

‘Um ...’ he said.

* * *

Books from the Astonishing! Bookshelf
Reviewed by Stanford Groke

It’s been something of a thin month for books, what with one thing and another. The big-shot houses seem to have misplaced our name on their review list, with the result that we have yet to receive copies of their latest output. Never fear, though, reader; judging from their efforts of the recent past, such output will consist of such perversion and squalor in the guise of ‘psychology’, such subversive, Godless propaganda and such so-called ‘speculation’ that flies in the face of all we know to be good and decent in the mind and heart of Man, such filth that would make the mind sick just from the reading of it, that the loss of them can only be a blessing.

To make up for that, we have two real treasures for you. The Best of Astonishing! (Goblinslather Press, 445pp), in which you can read and savour again all the highlights you have read and savoured in these very pages. From Wiblik’s justly-famous and Nebula Award-winning ‘Robot is Intransigent’, to Grand Master Henshaw’s ‘The Precise Ballistic Ellipsoid from the Asteroids to an Orbital Circumlocution of Io’ to the far-out brain feverings of Blandings’ ‘Wardrobe Eating Nanny’s Arm’, this surely is an indispensable compendium for historers of the SF form. [Unfortunately, due to an error in the production stage, all bound copies of this book have been pulped and are no longer available - Ed.]

Our second book is of another stripe entirely. While not being Science Fiction in the proper sense, Future Impact: The Apocalyptic Backlash (PractiBrantis Enterprises SA, 414pp) by Dr John Smith, is of vital importance to all those interested in the future of mankind and what futuristic things it will bring.

Dr Smith, as readers of these pages will know, has long led the life of a recluse, disappearing for years at a time in the company of his young ‘assistants’, appearing in public only sporadically to originate such neophysical concepts as the cheese drive - first championed in Astonishing! - the discovery of Pellucidor and the PractiBrantic processes that have informed one tenth of the American-speaking world. For years now, it seems, Dr Smith has been secretly refining and expounding his theories as to just what, precisely, has gone wrong with the world - and now, at last, in Future Impact, he presents his conclusions.

As we grow older, says Dr Smith, the world makes cumulatively less sense. Things you used to buy for a penny become ridiculously expensive on the level of a factor of ten, Empires set to last a thousand years collapse seemingly overnight, the young people with their pompadours and electrical beat-combos begin to talk in what, increasingly, becomes gibberish to any sane mind, peppered with a blasphemy and outright filth that seems to come about as a matter of course. For too long, says Dr Smith, such phenomena had been dismissed as market-forces-driven monetary inflation, the social dynamic or being a senile old bugger who should do the world a favour and just die.

The truth, as detailed in Future Impact, is somewhat more alarming.

The world as we know it, Dr Smith asserts, is being actively invaded by Futurity. Far from merely, as we once thought, travelling through time at a second per second, we are in fact accelerating through time at a second per second per second, the physical matter of the universe falling through the fourth dimension toward some unknowable end like a collection of ornamental balls dropping to a concrete floor. And at some point - Dr Smith estimates it as within a decade - we’re going to hit it.

The effects of this catastrophe are being felt in our own time, the shock and shards of it rebounding to intersect with and impact upon our timeline - discrete packets of what call only be called parareality which, in the same way that humour operates by the collapsing of some textual structure under reality, turns the very world around us into dumb and incredibly rotten old jokes. As proof, Dr Smith presents excerpts from any number of popular publications, the product of and mirror of our world, the texts of which show such inconsistencies and glaring shifts in tone as for it, cumulatively, to be virtually inconceivable as the mere result of the intransigence of writers, the incompetence of editors, production cock-ups and the fact that publishers are, without exception, a bunch of faceless corporate gits who should be stuck against a wall and a bolt-gun applied to the back of their heads.

The future, without question, seems bleak - or possibly not. Loathe to end on such depressing terms, Dr Smith provides one possible solution, involving the cooperation of all nations and the sinking of all private resources into a project to tunnel into the earth, extract its molten core and mould it into a massive grappling hook, which will then be fired back through time, in the hope of catching onto something and bringing the temporally headlong plunge of Planet Earth to a stop. Indeed, he speculates, that with the collapse of the more monolithic world powers and the animosity between them, the increasing disappearance of the high-profile rich under mysterious circumstances and the fact that there seems to be less and less actual money around these days, such plans might already be secretly in effect.

Of course, Dr Smith concludes, the ultimate result would be a planet hanging on a line and swinging back and forth through Time. So, whoever you are, wherever you are, it might be an idea to make sure you’re doing something nice - reading this fine issue of Astonishing Stories of Unmitigated Science!, say - because at any moment, you might suddenly find yourself doing it over and over again, forever.


The Resurrection Event

InfoMatrix Archive: 109845-9405-B-364758.345673-2-Immort -

You have requested an overview of historical factors surrounding the so-called Resurrection Event. This information is stored for retrieval under an explicit +need to know+ basis. Be aware that Cyberdynic processes are in operation to ensure that you are physically incapable of disseminating this information to those without correct and commensurate levels of security-clearance. Do you consent to these procedures?


* * *

The basic idea of nanotechnology had worked its way well into the culture by what we now know of as the Last Days. So prevalent was the idea of swarms of molecular-level manipulators that, at the time in question, the vast majority of the citizenry thought of the Resurrection Effect as a variety of those nanonetic piezo-machines which, so we thought, would soon be turning our piles of old socks into chocolate.

In fact, the Resurrection Effect operated on the subatomic: a quantum-level self-propagating construct that in effect rewrote the base code of the world. It was designed to target itself upon, incorporate itself within and radically alter the individual, living humanoid form. Its basic nature meant that when released, it proliferated something like a virus but instantly - or at least at the speed of light - resulting in a global saturation in a matter of seconds. The vast majority of our world never even had the luxury of waking up to find it changed.

The initial effects were quite impressive to say the least. The pores of every humanoid body opened like industrial vents and began pumping out a sludge and spray of deconstructed pathogen-components and accumulated toxins. Foreign bodies like artificial hearts, hips or small items lodged in some inextricable location as a child were physically ejected, often at velocities of several thousand metres per second. There were cases, in particularly crowded situations, of some largish bit of matter being fired into someone else, ejected in its turn to hit some other body and the process continuing on for up to an hour.

Old scars and fresh wounds healed themselves in a matter of seconds. Calloused tissue went, too, being the product, effectively, of cumulative minor injury - with the result that fingertips and the soles of feet are as soft and pink as those of a baby. The Resurrection Effect would counter further damage to this otherwise vulnerable new flesh, of course - though unfortunately without suppressing the pain-reflex.

Organ transplants were - and are still - problematic, on the basis that the Resurrection Event is misnomer. It did not and never will resurrect the dead; it merely made and makes the living immortal and invulnerable.

Hearts, livers, lungs and so forth with a dissimilar genetic coding from their hosts were ejected and replaced, but being living humanoid matter in their own right couldn’t die. The ‘homing’ mechanisms of the Event meant that they would gravitate together with the other such items transplanted from the original donor. They are still contained in [CLASSIFICATION ULTIMATE]: piles of living offal, sitting there forlornly and without the ability to regenerate further.

The primary biological transformations that made sexual reproduction obsolete occurred with the same speed as the regeneration of original hearts and lungs and renal systems, with the result that a lot of those actively engaged in copulation at the time ended up being catapulted across the room. Pregnancies spontaneously aborted, the reaction driving several million sudden mothers into the air to bury their heads in any available ceiling.

Fortunately, as coherent living humanoid matter, the offspring came under the remit of the Event and would survive to grow, just as those children whose entrance into the world had been slightly less dramatic.

Twins, though, were and are the worst known cases on record. Or triplets, or quads ... those separate biological entities sharing an entirely similar MetaDNA pattern-signature. With them, the ‘homing’ mechanisms of the Event operated with a vengeance.

Better to forget about those shrieking, boiling, continually exploding and imploding lumps of matter that are the end result of two, or three, or any number of human-sized objects trying to occupy a single humanoid space. Better to forget the fact that, for all of it, they’re still alive.

* * *

In the hysteria directly after Event, there was a brief vogue in artistic circles for the kind of body-modification that might put the Theatre of Mutilation to shame - brief, because the bio-reset mechanisms of the Event made such changes ultimately meaningless. In general life, the world was filled with people jumping off cliffs and buildings, hurling themselves under heavy good vehicles or into the sea, hitting each other with mallets, sledgehammers and axes purely for the sake of it. Those who were naturally inclined to jump in front of heavy goods vehicles in any case soon tired of the sheer futility of it, gradually followed by the rest of the world.

It was this sense of futility, in fact, that proved debilitating. For a time, those with sufficient wealth and resources were able to afford to have their bodies atomised, and those atoms scattered into space to prevent their reunification in anything other than the Big Crunch, but this was merely a palliative measure, failing to address the central problem - that the Resurrection Event was instigated, by whomsoever instigated it, in an unthought-out and ultimately unworkable fashion. It was a classic case of the fact that one must be supremely careful of what one wishes, lest it suddenly and without warning occur.

In the end, the solution lay in one of the simplest concepts of which the mind is capable - that of the fact that anything, literally anything, is all in the mind.

Consciousness is inextricably linked to the fundamental, substructural workings of the universe - the level at which the Resurrection Effect operated itself. In its simplest sense, a schizophrenic might believe that all those around him are alien monsters who have assumed human faces, and this might be true merely for himself - but it is also true in the larger sense. Those he kills, thinking of them as monsters in his delusion, are just as dead as if they actually were.

What we did, in the larger sense, was to convert the delusional into the effectively actual.

Psychodynic generators were seeded through the major population-centres, effectively brainwashing said population so that it fundamentally believed itself Mortal - an inferior underclass born to serve and die and then decompose in the standard pre-Resurrection manner. The fact that their bodies, once buried or cremated or disseminated, were still technically alive was neither here nor there - the subconscious longing for oblivion and respite made it technically true for any individual so mass-processed.

Of course, such an arrangement required administration, and the Administrators (chosen completely at random) were conditioned with a slightly more complex set of delusions. They were the Elite. They were the masters of Time and Space, affecting both and controlling them, affecting and controlling entire worlds and even galaxies, perpetually regenerating themselves. Effectively immortal. Effectively Gods.

Their function required - and still requires - that they believe that they are active, that they have jolly exciting adventures - that they are anything other, ultimately, than a collection of immobile humanoid bodies, their bodies atrophied to the bone, lying on the desiccated surface of a planet that once lived in some real sense and dreaming that they’re still actually alive.

* * *

Occasionally, one or another of them dreams that he or she is accessing a construct called the InfoMatrix, trying to discover some Ultimate Truth about his or her world.

Knowing this, do you want to live and forever or just die?



Review: The Jaws of Zardox

Well, there’s no secret now about the circumstances surrounding the fabled ‘lost’ Sixth Doctor story, The Jaws of Zardox. And indeed, no secret of how it came to be lost in the first place.

(Whovians will recall – if they use the mental deprogramming techniques outlined below – how the story was the culmination of a series that caused such outrage, amongst the general public, that the resulting riots laid waste to half the cities of Britain, caused the death of millions and threatened to topple Her Majesty’s Government itself!)

Much as they had after the Vociferous Slorg invasion of 1978, the British authorities were forced to blanket the survivors with pulse-pumped electromagnetic radiation from their TV-sets, convincing the population that towns and cities like Choatingly-by-Bow and Wimblehampton had never even existed, that their dead friends and relatives had merely popped out to the shops, and that the Doctor Who series in question had never actually appeared - the show itself being ‘on hiatus’.

Master-copies of The Jaws of Zardox were burnt, and the ashes sprinkled liberally over an unmarked grave under a gibbous moon. Special Branch operatives rounded up all illegal video-copies, commonly shooting the luckless owners of them in the head. Stringent censorship laws severely curtailed the five-thousand-channel BBBBBC TV-service and caused it to lose three of its B’s. A blow from which it is only now beginning to recover.

Of course, if you don’t remember all this, then you are no doubt still suffering from the effects of governmental pulse-pump radiation. There is a simple method by which this can be counteracted. Take a pair of nine-inch nails and a claw-hammer. Put them away neatly in the toolbox and go out. Find some hostelry or other of the roughest sort, and regale the worthy patrons with your opinion that their sainted mothers perform acts of depravity and frightfulness for a commensurate sum. When you wake up, you will remember all – and realise the true facts of why the country is such the miserable, raddled and desolate place that it is.

In any case, the last surviving copy of The Jaws of Zargox was found amongst the personal effects of a certain Mr Martin Bleen, of 57 Whiplock Drive, Chingford, Essex. The address is not strictly relevant, since Mr Bleen died in a freak pelmet accident in the People’s Republic of Guam. In his little satchel, however, was a VHS tape case labelled ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Jim Davidson.’

(We shall now pause for a moment, as a mark of respect for an old, old gag, and then reveal that there actually was something in the case.)

When I heard of this momentous discovery, personally, I immediately set out at once for the lead-lined bunker in which The Jaws of Zardox had been ensconced - to protect it from the attentions of such terrorist forces as the Paramilitary Restoration Army Taskforce. During the extensive security checks that would allow me inside, I began to hear rumours of other critics who had viewed the piece, and their comments.

Mr Dagon Weeks said: ‘It’s got Peri in it. So there’s a couple of good points. Dur, hur, hur, hur …’ before being dragged off by a right-thinking society to be torn apart by wild horses.
A Mr Rodney Chalmers, apparently, thought that the introduction of a so-called Synchrononambulatory Effect, which swapped the bodies of the Doctor and his companion, while leaving their clothes the same, to be, ‘utterly gratuitous and stupid.’

A Mr Arthur Completelymadeup, it seems, enjoyed the sequence where the Doctor berates his companion for almost stepping on a rat, on account of it being quite possibly vital to the unfolding of the whole vast panoply of Time. Although he finds the out-of-hand squishing of another rat, who quite possibly isn’t, somewhat out of character for the Time Lord …

All these comments and more resounded in my head as I at last sat down to view this long-lost masterpiece. What wonder and joys would await me? What vast new insights would this experience portend? What earth-shattering and life-changing pleasures were not in store …?

It didn’t have cats in it. I like cats, so I didn’t like it.