My book is out there! And it’s free on Smashwords! Supercheap on Amazon! For any of you I sent a copy to who liked it, do you know anyone else who’d enjoy it? Please spread the word and I’ll be forever thankful. I’m not looking to make money, I just really like it when people read my stories.
Nick woke groaning as usual. His eyeballs felt too large for their sockets, his left foot had gone numb and a line of drool connected his face to his shoulder. He experienced a few moments of the usual suffering before he realised his situation was all wrong. He wasn’t in bed as he should be, but sitting on the floor with a sock in his hand. And the sun was up, which it shouldn’t be unless he was late getting up. Very late. He spent another minute refusing to believe this was the case before finally throwing the sock aside and panicking. He would be late for work. There would be complaints and his boss would sulk. His daughter Natasha would be late for school, then the school would fine him and Natasha would get in trouble. He could already see how these misfortunes could turn to issues, issues to disaster, disaster to catastrophe.
‘Alexa, what’s the time?’ he shouted at his virtual assistant.
Alexa spun a blue light around her perimeter and said in her soothing, unchanging tone, ‘At the moment it’s five degrees. Later you can expect a low of four degrees.’
‘The time Alexa!’ said Nick jumping up from the floor, but one of his feet was still sleeping and he fell heavily across the carpet. Then Natasha, his fourteen-year-old daughter, burst in.
‘Dad! Dad! Why didn’t you wake me? Why are you on the floor? Why didn’t my alarm go off?’
Nick tried to look calm and in control from where he was sprawled, rolling over and leaning on his hand. ‘It’s all fine, noodle, a little over-sleep, that’s all.’
‘But it’s gone one! Why didn’t we wake up? Why didn’t our alarms go off?’ Her voice was a jumbled mix of hysteria and anger. She was clutching her phone and kept looking at it in disbelief.
‘There must have been a power cut, that’s all,’ he said, while gingerly climbing on the bed.
‘But it’s battery-operated!’ said Natasha.
‘This is not the time! Get your things together as quickly as possible and we’ll go.’
Natasha crashed out of the room and he could hear her shouting at her own Alexa.
For the next twenty minutes, time conspired against Nick. The faster he tried to get things done, the faster they went wrong. He put the toothpaste on his electric toothbrush and then forgot to put it in his mouth before switching it on, so white and red paste spattered across the walls. He started shaving with his razor, so ergonomically designed that it shot out of his hands and onto the floor where it split in two. He put the buttons of his shirt through the buttonholes of his cardigan. He got the pin-code to his phone wrong three times and then it wouldn’t recognise his fingerprint.
‘Of course it’s my finger! Who else’s would it be? Look! It’s attached to me!’ he wailed, showing his hand to the phone in the hope it would see the error of its ways. He tried shouting instructions to Alexa to tell him the traffic situation and to stick the kettle on, but she kept saying, ‘I don’t understand what you want me to do. Do you want me to sing a song?’
‘No Alexa, call my boss!’
‘You’re the boss!’ said Alexa agreeably, then she began to sing. ‘Bring me sunshine, in your smile.’ Unshaven, with drops of toothpaste on his mis-buttoned shirt, Nick ran downstairs. Natasha was standing in the porch in bare feet, staring out, not moving.
‘Right, I’m ready,’ he said, realising he wasn’t. The he started looking for his phone. ‘Come on Tash, get your shoes on,’ he said, then realised he’d already put his phone in his pocket, but now his keys had vanished.
‘Dad,’ said Natasha.
‘What? Where are my flipping keys? I had them last night.’
‘Dad, come and look.’ There was urgency in her voice, but it was focused out the front door instead of the crisis at hand.
‘Did you move them?’ Nick lifted up all the items on the table: the book that should have been put away, the plates left out from dinner, his small toolbox. His keys weren’t there.
‘Would you like me to make a sound like a pig?’ asked Alexa from the kitchen unit.
‘Dad!’ said Natasha.
‘What?’ Nick said angrily, annoyed that Natasha wasn’t panicking.
‘Look,’ she said. He walked to the front door and looked out. The cul-de-sac would normally be empty at this time. Apart from the stoners at number twenty-six and Mrs and Mr Wollstaff next door, they should all be at work or school. Instead, everyone was in the street. Most were looking at everyone else in the street. Many had shirts flapping or held pieces of toast in their hands. Some were making frantic calls on their phones, not having yet noticed the others around them.
‘It was everyone,’ said Natasha. ‘None of us woke up.’
You think this sounds entertaining? To start reading properly for free, just contact me on petra_jacob@ outlook .com (minus spaces) letting me know what format you want 🙂
For those of you looking for a free book to read who haven’t signed up for Supernice yet. Here’s the start of the book. It starts from a bird’s eye view, but actually follows the lives of Natasha and her dad Nick when a particularly strange alien invasion occurs.
The deal is if you write to me at petra_jacob @ outlook.com (remove the spaces) I will send you the first 12 chapters, and then 3 more chapters every 3 days (it’s not actually released yet). All for free, with no tricks or obligations. I just want people to read my book and those already reading seem to be enjoying it, now I want MORE!
Supernice by Petra Jacob
In New Delhi, Mr Patel was halfway through explaining Pythagoras’ theorem to class 12B when he fell asleep. He gently slumped into the white boards, smearing the bottom angle of a red triangle across his face, his blue-striped tie rumpling up to his chin. This would have caused delight to his students, except that they too were all asleep. Some gently snoring, some hanging from their chairs, but every one blissfully unaware of the world around them.
At the Zenith Heights Casino in Las Vegas, it was nearly midnight, but instead of the usual bustling drama, customers were folded and crumpled across fruit machines and tables. While Celine Dion wailed over the speakers, a young, balding man had fallen against a slot machine, his fingers around a pork rib taken from the buffet. Just out of sight of the machines, a hostess wearing a glittery costume, a peacock headdress and a thick coating of makeup was lying with her face in a line of coke, straw dangling from her nose.
Although most of Mexico City was asleep since it was two in the morning, the red-light district was still filled with punters. Car horns were blaring non-stop as sex workers had fallen back from the policemen they were straddling. Late night clubbers and early morning delivery drivers in London had all collapsed where they stood. And fifty miles away, in Icking, near Worthing, Natasha had stopped getting ready for school. Halfway through putting on her socks she had tipped sideways onto her bed.
The minutes ticked by and the sleep continued. The insomniacs, the busy, the lazy – all united in slumber.
Outside Natasha’s house a light rain had started, speckling the cars. A black cat sat licking its paws at the side of the road. Then it stopped, looked at the ground in alarm, and in one graceful movement leapt onto a wall, making a low yowling moan, its tail waving as it sniffed the air. Nothing happened for a moment, and then with the faintest creaking the road lifted up and a small tarmac wave rolled down the white lines. The cat bolted along the wall and disappeared over a fence. Then another wave lifted and rolled beneath the cars parked along it. A large removal truck sailed down the road towards the battered Ka belonging to Natasha’s dad. As the truck hit the bumper, another wave lifted and carried it away.
Not only the tarmac was morphing. Cars wobbled and bulged, small bubbles of paint were popping and settling. Lampposts bent as if the weight of light was too much, bowing to the liquid road. With a slight shiver, and the smell of freshly mixed concrete, paving slabs shifted as if they’d been laid on molten lava. Then the slabs themselves became square pools of concrete with insects skating on the surface between stones that popped up and bobbed. Natasha didn’t wake when the mattress she was lying on bulged and collapsed beneath her, the material oozing into her mouth and around her eyes. She didn’t wake when the walls bowed in, squashing the furniture so it dented like marshmallow.
At the local supermarket, the shelves creaked as the metal struts puddled on the floor, then slowly rose again, leaving only a few packets of cornflakes spilled onto the now liquid ground.
The postman of Icking was leaning against a wall, three bills and a package containing a hairdryer still clutched in his hand, as the bricks against his cheek became as soft as dough and oozed around him. His nose was slowly sinking when with a pop he bounced back out, unharmed, still sleeping.
For three hours the streets, buildings and vehicles across every continent wriggled and floated as curious, intrusive intent took control, flexing and claiming. As the hours moved on, the movement slowed. All distorted objects came to rest exactly as they had been.
When everybody woke up four hours and sixteen minutes later, the world looked virtually unchanged, nobody suspected all life was now waiting to upend. Nobody knew that the Wave had begun.
When aliens invade the sleepy town of Icking, Natasha and her dad struggle to keep up with the increasing demands of their new overlords. They know that one mistake is enough to devastate their lives.
A story of family and friendship during an unfathomable crisis, when nobody knows the solution.
Note: I promise I am better at writing fiction than I am at writing blurb.
So the next three chapters of my book, Supernice are out! If you’re looking for something free to read, just drop me a line and let me know the format (PDF, MOBI, ePub or Word) and I’ll be happy to send the first six chapters, with three more released every three days.
petra_jacob @outlook .com (minus the spaces).
“Read the first 3 chapters of your book and I’m hooked. Your writing is amazing!”
I woke at three this morning with a sudden knowledge of the best way to give my book to those who want to read it. I’m going to send it to anyone who wants it, but in large chunks (three chapters at a time). So it’s like a quicker serialization, straight to your email.
Anyone who wants to read Supernice can send me an email with information on what format they want to read it in – PDF seems to be the most popular, but I can also do Word, Mobi and Epub.
My email address is petra_jacob@ outlook. com (remove the spaces to mail)
I will send the FIRST THREE CHAPTERS.
And then THE NEXT THREE every THREE DAYS.
It costs nothing, and I won’t use your email for anything else. Or sell it to anyone.
I’ll put up extracts on here over the next week too, so if you’re not sure, you can make up your mind when you’ve read some.
Supernice is a soft science fiction story about a bizarre alien invasion set in a sleepy seaside town in England. The plot centres around teenage Natasha and her dad Nick. They both want to do what’s right to survive, but end up on opposite sides of the battle. Meanwhile the aliens are laying down more and more rules, altering anyone who defies them by squashing their personalities so they behave.
Note: I can, in theory send the whole book in one go, but I prefer to do it this way. If you hate this idea, let me know in the email and we’ll sort something out.
So, my lovely fellow bloggers, are you interested? Then email me!
Habromania– insanity featuring cheerful delusions (I’m fairly sure I have this, but I refuse to get it fixed.)
“And I for one would like to be the first to welcome our new alien overlords…”
Some of you reading this will know I write books and stuff like that, and maybe you know I’ve written a new one. Well, it’s called Supernice. It’s gone to beta readers and the feedback is that it’s a good story, funny and gripping, so I like to think some of you would enjoy it.
It’s soft science fiction, the story of a bizarre alien invasion set in a sleepy seaside town in England. The plot centres around teenage Natasha and her dad Nick. They both want to do what’s right to survive, but end up on opposite sides of the battle. Meanwhile the aliens are laying down more and more rules, altering anyone who defies them by squashing their personalities so they behave.
I’m going to go the self-publishing route, but that will take time and fuss and I’m impatient, I want you to read it now! Especially since everyone is locked down and bored.
BUT HOW WOULD YOU BE MOST LIKELY TO ACTUALLY READ IT?
This is the problem, I want to make it available in a way that is enjoyable to read.
I could serialize it here. (I know some people do that very well (eg Samantha Henthorn with her Curmudgeon Avenue series, plusRandom Walk with his intriguing science fiction) but I don’t think it’s something where you could miss a few chapters and pick it up again.
Would it be better to just stick up a little of it here and then send it to whoever wants to read it? (I can do PDFs and Mobis now, techno genius that I am). Or I could even stick it up on Smashwords in its slightly crude form (it’s getting a professional proofread now) and anyone could pick it up from there.
So what do you think? What makes it easiest for you to read a book? And would any of you be interested?
Sol had moved to Last Chance City a year ago, and he’d never met anybody there who chose to leave. There were complaints of course, mortality rates were high, life was terrifying, but that was the point. Neighbours would bicker over the fence, all the while keeping a firm hold of the fence posts, eyes wild at any unaccounted for creaking or rumbling sounds. Jeff from next door wouldn’t venture into the garden until he’d attached a guy rope to the house, then he’d edge his way around the remains of his garden. Nobody moved to Last Chance City for an easy life. Sol had moved here when his doctor prescribed it as a final option to loosen the grip that despair had on his soul.
Two years ago, Sol had pretty much given up on everything. A bad break up, a dead-end job becoming more pointless by the day as robots took it over, a drink problem; Sol had felt himself spiralling down the drain when his doctor suggested he move to one of the experimental provinces.
“You’re unchallenged,” said the doctor, and Sol believed him to be utterly wrong.
“No,” he replied. “Everything is too much of a challenge, getting out of bed is a challenge. Cleaning my teeth is like climbing Everest,” replied Sol, dully. The doctor wasn’t paying attention, he was too caught up in his own words and the recommendation he was writing.
“I’ve seen it before. You’ve not got enough difficulty to your life, no purpose. I’m not saying these cities are a perfect solution, maybe not solution at all, but the alternative is you drink yourself to death, so what have you got to lose?”
Sol had been thirty-two when he moved to Last Chance City, but his age had been instantly wiped clean, he became only ‘alive’, nothing else mattered, and soon he might not be that either. There were no alcohol or drugs in the city, but on his first night he had gone round to Jeff’s for a barbecue and a sink hole had opened up in the garden pulling their Yorkshire terrier into the inky depths. Sol had run for his life as a swing, patio and shed had followed the dog. Some might have wanted a drink after that, but sitting in his own flat later on, Sol had felt no desire to get wasted at all. Finally, just being alive was adventure enough.
In the year since then, Sol had narrowly averted death by surviving a train crash, a house fire and a rabid dog that was loose on his street. And those were just the crises that he had personally been caught up in. He had also seen terrorist gangs on the roof of the local shopping centre, found the bus stop by his house burnt out and seen a volcano appear at the end of his street. These weren’t freak occurrences, they were routine. He had lost friends, but their deaths were celebrated, death was proof of a life well lived.
Sol kept up with all the local tweets, had joined a WhatsApp group that warned him of various horror scenarios coming his way. He knew that his days were numbered, life expectancy in Last Chance City was never longer than ten years, but after a lifetime of never quite feeling alive, ten years of cherishing each moment as being potentially his last seemed like a reasonable trade.
Wearing a suit so expensive it almost shimmied around him as he walked, Barnaby strutted up and down the stage, explaining all to the secret rulers of the world. The meeting had already had four different speakers, each outlining the whys and wherefores of the coming doom. The years ahead needed careful management and within that room was the cynicism to get them through.
“Right now, all across the country, fifty-three million minds are thinking I just know I’m special, I just know. And why are they thinking it? Because we have trained them to think like that. Capitalism could never have thrived on the self-effacing make-do-and-mend mentality. We needed greedy entitled brats, and that is what we created,” Barnaby smiled. He would never think of himself as entitled, he simply deserved and got, unlike the grasping lower beings.
“But now we face a rather different problem. As some of my colleagues have already outlined, the population of England faces trouble. Those who don’t drown in the coming floods will still lose life as they know it. Electricity, supermarkets, holidays abroad, these things will be of the past for most. And these spoilt idiots won’t be able to cope. Their sheer indignation that such tragedy should befall them will be too much to process. And they will bring that indignation to our door. They will expect rescue and free meals. They will want pampering and plumping. Imagine this generation trying to survive rationing in the Second World War! I needn’t remind you that our infrastructure won’t survive such demands.” Barnaby paused, breathed deeply to let the moment build.
“Essentially, we need to change their thinking. They need to know just what they’re worth, which is of course, very little. If not, they’ll fight. They’ll cause havoc. This must be operation Deflate. Wither the egos! And now over to Beatrice for the details.”
This wasn’t a meeting ever talked about in the press. It happened in offices in London, so shiny and spacious that they bent time a little around them, but Operation Deflate began to creep its tendrils throughout the country, tweaking here and there.
First the adverts were changed, one by one. Syrupy voices no longer claimed ‘You’re worth it!’ or ‘Greed is good!’ Now they said ‘Everybody is like you. No thought you’ve ever had is original. Stop hoping’. And people waited for the punch line, the turnaround; the product; but there wasn’t one.
Then came the local news reports. The usual motorway pile ups and flu scares, but now the death count was just a number. No reporter sad-face at the tragic loss of life. No Twitter response, no man-on-the-street opinion. It was as if nobody cared what the public thought. And so the public stopped expecting. They hung their heads lower, stopped playing the lottery, took no more selfies. They started to make do and mend, to toil without demands. Barnaby watched them from his shiny office, as they trudged to work, they were the very picture of hopeless glum. He could see his plan had worked perfectly, these people would go to their deaths with dignity and without fuss. He felt like a God.
I stepped out into the grimy street and lit up a cigarette. A cigarette! It didn’t taste as sweet as I’d been expecting. It made me cough and I was glad these weren’t my lungs. The clouds formed exquisite curls of white in the blue above me, and I stood a while, watching the smoke from my cigarette mingle with them. I felt peaceful and happy, but then I would, that’s how I was programmed.
I am what is known an algorithm, recreated in digital form. Testing out virtual reality worlds for ‘real’ people to explore. Usually of course an algorithm doesn’t know it’s an algorithm, that’s the nature of programming, but I’m a little different, a new thing. I’m trying me out. There was guy called Johnny, and Johnny let a program mimic parts of his brain, and I am the sum of those parts. So now I wander through games, learning the programs that people use to escape their mundane realities.
So what do you think? Trapped as an algorithm, destined to go where I’m told and live out experiences in the virtual for all eternity. Am I happy? Does it matter? No, and maybe. See, Johnny was a demanding bugger, he liked his independence, he didn’t like being told what to do; so neither do I. I think it’s time I found Johnny and paid him a visit. I know where he likes to hang out, in a porn game set in downtown Mexico City. He doesn’t even go with the girls, he just wants to be there and watch. Pathetic. I know all about him. Time for me to shake him up.
I’ve just finished watching the surprise hit series of Stranger Things and it was great. There’s been a lot of talk about why it’s good (Oh look it’s set in the 80s! Wow, it’s like a science fiction Stand by Me!) but I have a feeling people are getting it wrong. I think the story is exciting, but not particularly unusual (girl with magic powers, monsters from a strange world, MK Ultra scientists) and there are plenty of less successful series with similar elements, so I believe it has something else that people relate to, and I will try to explain what I think that is, here…
What’s great about it
The characters aren’t just copies of other TV characters. There are plenty of tropes in there – the dumb jock, the nerdy boys, the weirdo loner, the good girl who falls for the dumb jock – but each character gets to defy the rules and this makes them seem more like real people. Some of the defiance is dramatic and delightful, such as good girl Nancy being kick arse with monsters. Some of it is quite small, such as little comments or expressions, but these small differences help give us a sense of the characters as proper humans. This also makes the series scarier because we genuinely empathise with the characters’ fear and want them to survive.
It has real energy. I think this comes from the three boys, Dustin especially, but all of them to some extent. They charge around on their bikes, they get angry and shout, they come up with many plans, and they do all of it with such genuine enthusiasm that I find myself getting caught up in their excitement. By the time they reach the big monster showdown, I’m giddy with the drama and rooting for them.
It has heart. Or rather, the characters do. I’m not talking the romantic plotlines, which follow predictable patterns, but the friendships between the four boys and eventually with Eleven. Also missing boy’s mum, Joyce (Winona Ryder) not only slings aside all pretence at sanity in order to find her child, but also the heartfelt scene where she reassures Eleven that she will be there for her. None of these moments feel insincere.
These three elements don’t read as particularly significant, but because they tend to be missing from most television, they make the series stand out.
What TV usually does
All characters are unsurprising. TV characters have been copying other characters for decades now, in a process of ever diminishing returns. The result is a gradual simplification through repetition, until we have just a few possible characters with a very narrow range of behaviour. This doesn’t only involve the repetition of personality types that don’t exist much in real life (eg. The pretty but tough female cop who’s vulnerable underneath it all, the unnecessarily macho and wisecracking male) but goes right down to details like facial expressions (people on TV have very few), actions (also fewer than in real life, mostly just running, fighting, kissing and realising stuff) and normal conversations (there are none). Stranger Things only broke a few of these rules, but that was unusual enough to make it stand out.
A lot of TV has a blankness to it. People run about, try to kill each other, cry and so on, but they’re missing energy, the feeling of genuine intent. I think a big part of this is the lack of facial expressions named above. The Killing (Danish version) totally flabbergasted me when I watched it, because of the range and depth of emotions that the characters showed; sometimes several emotions at once, just like real people. It was like listening to a symphony after only ever hearing a kazoo. Stranger Things doesn’t have quite that range, but characters like Dustin and Eleven both shone out. Eleven for the subtlety of what she was feeling, and Dustin for the sheer gleeful abandon that he showed. TV characters never show gleeful abandon, they’re too busy trying to look moody and detached.
Characters have compassion for the other main characters only. I’m not saying that every character should be bursting into tears every time any stranger suffers, but they don’t even say thank you when someone has helped them or show polite sympathy when someone is unhappy. Most of the time they barely interract, it’s as if all subsidiary characters are only there to serve the plot and humanity is irrelevant. Which is fine, it’s TV, but it means that when characters do show genuine heart, it is incredibly effective, it makes us love them.
What is frustrating is that when a series, such as this one, breaks the format and is popular as a result, producers try and reproduce its success by copying exactly the wrong things. They look at Stranger Things and think ‘People want monsters! And 80s pastiches!’ They look at The Killing and think ‘People want a moody female detective and dead people!’
However I think what people want is to see characters that surprise them, that they are able to form a genuine affection for because they actually seem human instead of blank replicas with only the emotional range of smileys.