Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday Flash - Remembrance

"Gran? Gran, are you up here?" Sara poked her head around the door.

"Yes, dear. By the window."

Sara pushed the door open and stepped into the attic. Dust motes swirled in the pale sunlight cutting across the floor from the small window in the sloped roof. Her grandmother sat hunched in a battered old armchair, a mug of tea in one hand and a sheaf of papers in the other.

"What are you doing up here by yourself?" asked Sara. Moving between the teetering piles of junk, she spotted an open shoebox beside the chair. Old photographs and scraps of paper, yellow with age, spilled onto the floor.

"The same thing I do every year on 11 November. Say, do you remember when your granddad died, and I had to move in here? I brought all of those old boxes?" asked her grandmother.

"Yeah – Dad wanted to chuck them but you wouldn't let him."

"No, I wouldn't. These are very special, Sara. I got these from my mother just before she died in '73. They belonged to your great-great-grandmother." Sara's grandmother held out the square of paper. Sara took it and turned it over. Spidery handwriting in faded ink covered the paper. She held it up to the light and squinted.

"I can't read it properly."

"Of course you can't. I'm surprised you kids even know how to do proper handwriting any more." Sara's grandmother pursed her lips.

"We use computers now.”

“Yes, and what will you have to show for it? You can’t keep emails in a box, or treasure your tweet thingies forever.”

“So who was she writing to?" asked Sara, keen to avoid another of her grandmother’s Luddite lectures. To make a point, she peered down at the handwriting. She thought she could make out the date. Nineteen-something?

"That one's actually by your great-great-grandfather, Harry Robson. He wrote that one on 8 November 1917. Two days after the end of the Battle of Passchendaele."

"Where's that?"

"Good God, girl, what do they teach you in school these days? It was also known as the Third Battle of Ypres."

"He was in the army? Wow, that's the First World War, isn't it? I didn't know we had any soldiers in the family." Sara stared at the letter, her mouth hanging open with awe.

"We don't. Harry was a stretcher bearer. Poor man had to run out into No Man's Land to collect the wounded. I don't like to even imagine the horrors he saw. He certainly didn't tell my grandmother about them."

"Have you got a photo of him?"

Sara's grandmother flicked through the photographs in her hand. She held out a small snapshot, the scratched sepia and torn edges trembling between her fingers. Sara looked at the proud young man in the photo, his arm around a smiling young woman. A small boy played with a ball at their feet. The young man had the same eyes as her grandmother.

“The little boy is your great-grandfather, Jack. That was taken just before Harry left for the front in 1917 so Jack must have been about six.”

“Why do you look at these every year?”

Sara’s grandmother held up a crumpled letter. She smoothed the paper against her knee and cleared her throat.

11 September 1918. My dearest Florence, I do not have long, but I could not rest another day without writing a reply to your last letter. Not a day goes by when I do not think about you, and how you are coping without me. At least you have little Jack for company until I return. 

As to the men and myself, we have had many successes this week, but also many losses. I fear each day that I shall lose my humanity, and cease to be moved by the plight of those I bear on my stretcher, but each day I remember to thank them for their sacrifice. I do not envy them their task, although I am sure they do not envy me mine. Can you believe that I have done this for a year?

"However, I have extra reason to thank them, for it is their bravery that keeps our dear little England free. Free for you, and for Jack. It is thoughts of you both that keeps me going, and I am sure it will not be long before I am back with you both. Until then, my love to you both, as always. Yours eternally, H.”

“That’s really nice,” said Sara. She thought of the boys in her class at school, and the crude graffiti that covered their notebooks. She couldn’t imagine any of them penning such a letter.

“It is. This is why I look at these every year. Everyone remembers the fallen, and pays their respects, but I like to remember who and what we lost in my own way.”

“Who we lost?”

“Harry wrote that in a rare break during the Allied Hundred Days Offensive. A week later, he was killed by shrapnel. He, like so many others, never came home,” replied her grandmother. The old woman fixed Sara with a stare. “So just you remember that.”

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

[Review] Shadow of a Dead Star

I first encountered Michael Shean on Twitter, and after several jolly conversations, decided that I'd check out his blog. I did so, to discover he had a book for sale (this is why you should engage me in conversation - it makes me much more interested in what you're actually working on). Shadow of a Dead Star is the first book in his Wonderland cycle, in a genre I can only describe as cyberpunk sci-fi noir.

Set in Seattle in 2078, Shadow of a Dead Star follows Industrial Security Bureau agent Thomas Walken. Walken is the grizzled, cynical hero who fights to keep black-market technology from making its way into the mainstream. When he intercepts a smuggled shipment of little girls hardwired as sex toys, he finds himself tumbling down the rabbit hole into a nightmarish world of synthetic humans, hard-talking hackers and the kind of technology you thought only existed in Blade Runner.

Surrounded by conspiracies and caught on the run between three sectors of Seattle, each as brutal as the other but in completely different ways, Walken's resolve, abilities and strength are severely tested. He's not entirely on his own as his world crumbles around him - fate sends him Bobbi, a sparky young hacker with a sharp tongue and impressive tech skills. Question is, can Walken and Bobbi get to the bottom of the madness before a termination order is put on the Agent?

Science fiction is a genre I enjoy watching at the cinema but it's not usually a genre that I'd read. Luckily for me, Shadow of a Dead Star reads more like a gritty noir that just happens to feature cool technology and sci-fi ideas. It's testament to Shean's skill that everything seems completely plausible - and that I stayed up way too late to finish it, deciding I couldn't possibly put it down and pick it up the following day. It's an engaging read, full of complex characters, and bursting with invention. Whether you like sci fi, noir or cyberpunk, I'd highly recommend it.

NOTE: I've removed the Buy links since the book will be re-published later in the year by Michael's new publisher! In the meantime, Michael is also running a new serial over on Curiosity Quills. The first instalment is here!

Monday, 7 November 2011

Photo Prompt 58

New prompt available!

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The 58th prompt is Robin.


All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!