Tag Archives: alien invasion

Flash Friday – ‘Hands Across the Sky’

Gemini V, August 29th, 1965. Public Domain Photograph courtesy of NASA.  Image sourced: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Gemini V, August 29th, 1965. Public Domain Photograph courtesy of NASA.
Image sourced: flashfriday.wordpress.com

Hands Across the Sky

Re-entry was moments away, but Rick seemed troubled.

I glanced over. I couldn’t talk through my helmet, but of course Rick – or whatever his real name was – didn’t need one. His exoskeleton was better than anything we’d ever come up with.

He blinked, and lowered his orbs. I looked back at the bank of switches overhead. Everything seemed normal – except my co-pilot.

We’d worked hard to build trust with the Grac. Rick had been chosen to come back with me instead of Michael Bell, who’d stayed behind; ambassadors. Symbols of inter-species cooperation. Insterstellar peace.

Splashdown was imminent. We braced.

Seawater rushed in. I smelt my first Earth air in God knew how long. I lifted my face to the sun.

And something – something large – blocked it.

‘Welcome, Joe Ronson,’ a huge voice boomed. Grac. I looked up. The sky bristled with alien craft. I spun to face Rick, who blinked again.

‘You made Earth sound so good,’ he muttered, shrugging.


So, this week’s Flash! Friday competition centres around the image above – the re-entry of the astronauts from the Gemini V mission, which landed back home on this day in 1965 – and the inclusion of an alien. Not the simple mention of an alien, mind, but an actual flesh-and-blood (or bone-and-aether, or shell-and-ichor, or whatever) alien. As usual, you’ve only got 140-160 words to do all this in, and as usual it was a challenge – but a lot of fun.

In other news – well, I’m dealing with a huge dollop of self-censure this morning, as I left my editing in a precarious place yesterday evening. I reached a point where I just couldn’t take any more (after about six straight hours of work, mind you), and even though I knew I’d be kicking myself this morning I had to throw in the towel when I did. So, as predicted, this morning my leg is sore from kicking and my brain is sore from thinking and my heart is sore from all the excising of my precious, precious words.

But that’s the name of the game, right? Have a good (and, hopefully, alien-free) weekend, do plenty of reading, and I’ll see you all back here bright and early tomorrow morning for an old-school book review.

I, for one, welcome our mighty Grac overlords... Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc

I, for one, welcome our mighty Grac overlords…
Photo Credit: kevin dooley via Compfight cc


Wednesday Writing

There didn’t seem to be a Wednesday Write-In today, so I decided to improvise. One random word generator later, and the following words were mine:

Guarantee :: oar :: napkin :: silo :: slippers

Keep reading to find out what I made of ’em.

Image: dreamstime.com

Image: dreamstime.com

The Bearers

It all kicked off the mornin’ Daddy found an intruder in the silo. I knew somethin’ was wrong by the way he came walkin’ out of the barn – he looked like someone had glued his teeth shut, and he was in desperate need to yell.

‘Margaret,’ he said, comin’ up to the kitchen door, and leanin’ in. ‘Get my gun.’ His voice was quiet, which is how I knew he was real mad.

‘Now, Gus,’ said Mama, shufflin’ over to him. Her slippers whispered across the linoleum, and her arms went out like a statue of Ol’ Mary, except her robe wasn’t blue. ‘There ain’t no guarantee -‘

‘I asked for my gun, Margaret,’ said Daddy. ‘If you don’t fetch it for me this minute, I’m gon’ be forced to track through the house with my yard boots on, and there won’t be nothin’ you can say about it.’

‘Daddy, what’s goin’ on?’ I asked, wipin’ my mouth with my fingers as Mama left the room. I always got myself in a buttery mess when Mama made pancakes for a breakfast treat.

‘God’s sake, Lily! Use a paper napkin, or a washcloth, or somethin’,’ snapped Daddy, wrinklin’ his nose at me. ‘You’re raised better’n that.’ I hid my face as Mama came back, carryin’ Daddy’s shotgun. It was open, lyin’ broken over her arm like a freshly killed deer.

‘You can get your own cartridges, Gus Lamping,’ she said, handin’ him the gun. ‘I ain’t goin’ to have nothin’ more to do with this.’ Daddy grunted as he took the weapon from her, which would have to do for ‘thank you,’ I guessed.

‘Daddy! I’ll get your cartridges,’ I said, slidin’ down off my chair. ‘Please?’

‘Lily-Ella Lamping,’ he snapped, not lookin’ at me. ‘This ain’t no thing for a girl to be gettin’ mixed up in.’

‘Aw, please?‘ My heart was slitherin’ down inside me like it was losin’ its grip. ‘Daddy, I wanna see! Is it – is it one of them?‘ Sometimes, I wondered if the disease, and The Bearers who spread it, were nothin’ more than a fairytale Mama and Daddy’d made up, just for me.

‘Whatever’s in that barn is not for your eyes, child,’ said Mama, gatherin’ up her collar and holdin’ herself close. ‘You stay in here, with me.’

‘Yes, Mama,’ I said, watchin’ as Daddy slipped out through the screen door, trudgin’ around to the lean-to. I wasn’t supposed to know where his cartridges were kept, but I did. I imagined him findin’ the box, and rustlin’ around in it while keepin’ one eye trained on outside, and loadin’ the gun without even havin’ to look.

I watched, real careful, as he slammed the door to the lean-to shut. He raised the gun to his eye – judgin’ the distance, I guessed, between the house and the barn, just in case one of them things decided to spring out through the barn door – and then he shook himself, just a little, like a person does when they get cold, suddenly.

‘Jesus Almighty,’ gasped Mama. ‘Lily-Ella, you get away from that window. Right now!’ I blinked, and kept my eyes on Daddy.

He turned to face me, smooth-like and strange, just as a boat that’s lost an oar is likely to. He looked in through the window, and his eyes met mine. The whites of them had turned to red. He settled his grip around the rifle, and poised to aim.

Lily!‘ screamed Mama, runnin’ to me. ‘Get down!

The blast of Daddy’s shotgun and the impact of Mama’s arms came so close together that they were all mixed up in my head. She dragged me down off the chair and we hit the floor in a tangle of limbs.

‘Lily,’ I heard Mama gasp. ‘You gotta run, baby. You gotta run!’

‘Mama, what’s happenin’?’ I could feel her blood, hot and everywhere, spreadin’ across the floor beneath us. Her breath smelled strange. Her eyes were wide, and blue as the dawn.

‘I am your Mama, Lily-Ella,’ she gasped, pink bubbles foamin’. ‘Nobody else. You gotta remember that, baby.’ As her eyes slid closed, Daddy’s shotgun spat one more time, and then there was silence.

Feelin’ like a badly-made doll, all sewn up wrong, I inched my way back to the window. Beyond the broken shards of it, my Daddy’s broken body lay, his own shotgun lyin’ inches from his pale fingers.

The barn door creaked, and my eyes skipped up before I could think better of it.

I saw a man, as like my Daddy as his twin would be, and a woman like my Mama on a good day, wearin’ a dress so pretty that it shone. Her hair was neatly styled, and she was clean – so clean. She smiled with a bright ruby mouth, and opened her arms like they were made for runnin’ into.

‘Come on, Lily-Ella,’ she called, and it was my Mama’s voice only better, shinier, more happy. ‘Come on over here. Mama’s waitin’.’

It was an effort to close my eyes, but I did it.

Mama’s in the kitchen, Daddy’s in the yard, I sang to myself as I slid to my knees and out of sight. I knew that they didn’t need eyes to see me, though – I knew, even through the wall, that they could hear my heart. Feel my blood pumpin’. Hear my breaths, fast and cracklin’. They were comin’.

But they can’t hear my thoughts, I realised. If Mama and Daddy taught me right, and I know they did.

I looked, and saw that Mama’d left the gas stove on, keepin’ warm for the pancakes she’d planned to make for Daddy. I knew, too, that she kept her lighter in the pocket of her housecoat, even though she hadn’t been able to get cigarettes for years – not since the Bearer Invasion, when the world had gone to hell.

I wiped my eyes.

‘Mama!’ I called, getting back to my feet and starin’ out at the creature wearin’ her beloved face. ‘Hey, Mama! I’m here! Come get me!’

It smiled, and I smiled right back, my Mama’s blood still warm upon my skin.





Book Review Saturday – ‘Ender’s Game’

*Takes a deep breath*


Some of what I’m going to say here in this review may offend die-hard Orson Scott Card fans, and it may even cause some of you to think I don’t deserve the right to call myself an SF fan. However, I’m not going to sugar-coat my opinion. I know that ‘Ender’s Game’ evokes huge devotion among some of its readers, and that dissenters often face scorn, but heck – this is my blog, and I’ll say what I like.

I did not enjoy ‘Ender’s Game.’ I’m sorry, but there it is.

Image: sarahsaysread.com

Image: sarahsaysread.com

Note that I used the word ‘enjoy’. I didn’t enjoy the book, that’s true – but I do appreciate it for what it is, for what it’s trying to do, and for some of the things it anticipated about the world, particularly in terms of computing and the internet. I didn’t enjoy its brutality, its coldness, the writing style employed by its author and the – to my mind – disturbing lack of connection between the characters, and the lack of humanity in a book which takes the idea of ‘what is humanity?’ as a central concern.

‘Ender’s Game’ was a strange book, for me, insofar as I really thought the idea behind it was brilliant, and so much of what I was reading intrigued me. However, there was so much about it that I just couldn’t get on board with – no matter what the author himself says in his ‘Introduction’ to my edition (people who don’t ‘believe’ the way he’s written the children in this book simply have no idea how gifted children behave and act and think, apparently) – that it failed, for me, as a story.

Ender (Andrew) Wiggin lives with his parents and siblings – an older brother Peter and an older sister Valentine – and, as the story opens, we learn that he is being monitored via a machine in the back of his neck, and that – at six – it has been in place for a long time, longer than either of his siblings had theirs. His brother had his removed at five, and his sister at three. Ender, then, is special. For his brother, this is a cause for violent, jealous anger and for his sister it is a source of concern; Ender is a ‘Third’, a child who was born after his parents sought, and received, special permission to conceive and carry him. Thirds are not supposed to be gifted, or talented, or special. Yet Ender is.

The world in which they live exists in the aftermath of a massive invasion of alien enemies, the first of which happened some seventy years in the past, and the people of Ender’s world – a future version of Earth – are waiting for the next wave of attack from these aliens, called ‘buggers’. They are preparing to repel them, and have been working on ways to fight them for generations. Ender’s monitor – which all children have to wear, until the powers that be are satisfied that they have learned enough about the child and how he or she thinks, feels and acts – is designed to spot future battle commanders, children with the potential to be great fighters. Ender is taken from his family by a colonel from the International Fleet, or I.F., and brought to Battle School in order to learn how to kill the ‘buggers’.

So far, so good.

Ender in his flash suit, from the movie 'Ender's Game'. Image: blog.zap2it.com

Ender in his flash suit, from the movie ‘Ender’s Game’.
Image: blog.zap2it.com

The book then begins to take us through Ender’s training, and I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I found a lot of it impossible to imagine. I haven’t yet seen the film of ‘Ender’s Game’, but I’d certainly like to, if for nothing else than to see how a film director imagined the battle room, and the simulations of warfare, and the ‘flash suits’ the boys have to wear (for, despite the fact that girls are technically ‘allowed’ to train at Battle School, very few of them make it in due to their naturally peaceful and conciliatory inclinations – imagine me rolling my eyes here, if you like.) I did enjoy reading about how Ender gets to grips with null gravity, and how he works out a better method of attack than was previously used, one which leaves the body of the fighter at less risk of being shot by enemy fire, but really I got tired of the repetitive training sequences after a while. I’ve read many books about interstellar warfare, and I have a good imagination, but Mr. Card’s descriptions were beyond me.

Alongside Ender’s amazing military and tactical ability – bear in mind, of course, that he is six years old, turning seven and eight as he progresses through the ranks – his sister and brother are, back on Earth, turning themselves into political orators in an effort to overthrow governmental control and establish themselves as powerful players in world politics. They take the screen names ‘Demosthenes’ (Valentine) and ‘Locke’ (Peter), and soon become widely known, and their writings avidly read. They are barely teenagers, something which Valentine keeps mentioning (even, weirdly, noting that she has not yet started menstruating, so how can she possibly write a weekly column for a major newsnet, which I found disturbing. Why would any twelve-year-old girl say such a thing?) I really enjoyed how Card anticipated things like blogging and anonymous internet users exercising huge power over thought processes and web culture, years before anything like it existed in reality, but again it all seemed so unreal, unbelievable and ridiculous to imagine two pre-teens doing all this that I couldn’t really lose myself in the story. Ender, Valentine and Peter’s parents are so unimportant in this book that I really don’t see what would have been lost by aging them all ten years – they’d still have been remarkably young to be so intelligent and accomplished, and it would have seemed a little more believable to the reader.

So, the story progresses in a rather predictable way – the ending didn’t take me by surprise at all, though that’s not to say it wouldn’t have been a shock ending to its original readers, back in the 1980s – and we follow Ender’s story and that of his siblings to their adulthood, and a spark of hope for the future is planted. Or, at least, the kick-off point for this book’s stack of sequels, if you’d rather be cynical about it. I thought the concept behind the ‘buggers’ was interesting, and I was sorry that more wasn’t said about it (though, of course, I haven’t read the sequels yet), and I worried a little about where this book stood on the question of ‘gung-ho’ humanity, destroying everything around it just because it can.

I’m not sorry I read ‘Ender’s Game.’ It’s a classic, a Hugo- and Nebula-award winning book, and I didn’t really feel I’d earned my stripes as a reader of SF without having had a crack at it. However, part of me wonders why it is so successful. The children – no matter how gifted or brilliant they are – act and speak and think like middle-aged men, and I just couldn’t buy that; there is no character development; everyone, even Ender, reads like a flat cardboard cut-out, despite the fact that Card’s book tackles huge questions like the morality of war, and the idea that ‘might is right’, and the philosophical struggles inherent in everyone’s maturation process. However, all this depth, all this thinking, all this layering, is done in huge paragraphs of exposition and explanation, instead of through dialogue between characters or something that could’ve helped a reader get a handle on the people in this novel, and that left me cold. I was completely indifferent to Ender’s fate, and even though I warmed to Valentine (who is shown as having a heart and who loves her brother deeply – the very ‘weakness’ that marked her out as unsuitable for Battle School), and I liked Ender’s friend Alai, a non-white character who is shown, through his (rather stereotypical) speech to be religious, I couldn’t have cared less about anyone else.

The book struck me as racist, and sexist, and strange (lots of scenes take place where the children, for no good reason, are naked); it was coldly intellectual and – in my opinion – not the sort of book I’d have read with enjoyment as a teenager. The concepts, the science, the military strategy, and the setting are all top-notch, but the writing just didn’t do it for me. I accept its place in the canon of SF masterworks, but I reserve the right to dislike it, and so it goes.

Read some Robert Heinlein or Philip K. Dick or even Ursula Le Guin instead, is my advice.

Wednesday Write-In #42

This week’s words, via CAKE.shortandsweet, were:

scrape  ::  cuddly  ::  reduction  ::  octopus  ::  plain

‘He wasn’t as cuddly with me as normal, do you know what I mean? He was sort of… fractious? Moody, nearly? That wouldn’t be like him.’

‘That’s fine. Can you take us back a little, though? To the onset of symptoms? Take your time.’

‘Sure. Yes. Well, it all started to happen when he came home, that first day. He’d been out with his friend Neil, and when I saw him that evening he had a scrape across his knee. I didn’t know what had caused it or how he’d hurt himself, but…’

‘Which friend, for the record?’

‘Neil (surname redacted).’

‘Where does Neil live?’

‘His parents have a farm about two miles up the road. Greg would often walk there and back – it’s a quiet stretch. We thought…’

‘That’s fine. So, he came home with a leg injury, and then what?’

‘A leg injury? Look, he’s eight! Scraped knees are part and parcel…’

‘Mrs. Barker? Answer the question, please.’


‘Mrs. Barker? Do you need a recess?’

‘No, no, I’m… let’s just get this done.’

‘Fine. In your own time.’

‘Right. So, Greg came home. He was limping a bit, so I brought him in and washed the knee. It looked like a scrape, that’s all. Just a tiny scrape. It was red and inflamed, but the wound looked clean and so I thought it’d be fine. Like I said, he was a bit out of sorts, but I thought he was just sore and upset, you know, from his injury. Anyway, I bandaged it up and made him eat a plain supper, just toast or something. I don’t remember.’

‘Fine. Did you have any cause for concern at all at that point?’

‘No. None. Well… He took his toy octopus with him to bed, which was a bit strange, now that I think back over it. He hadn’t been too interested in that thing for a year or so before… before…’

‘Yes, thank you, Mrs. Barker. Now, if you can, take us through what happened the next day.’

‘I… God. I woke early and went to check on Greg. There’d been a reduction in the redness around his knee, and I remember… I remember how pleased I was by that, like it was a sign he was getting better… If I’d known then what it actually meant…’

(sounds of weeping)

‘Mrs. Barker, if you need a recess, just…’

Jesus! I just want this over with! Can you stop asking me if I need a break!’

‘Mrs. Barker. Please, remain calm.’

‘Calm? Sir, if you’d seen what I have, calm would be the last thing…’

‘Mrs. Barker, I have to ask you to refrain from shouting.’


‘I’m sorry. I forget, sometimes, that it’s been tough on us all.’

‘Yes. Yes, it has. Now. We were at Day 2?’

‘Day 2. Sure. Well, Greg woke up fine, and his knee looked better. He had most of his movement back, and little pain, and he seemed… he seemed happy. Himself.’

‘When did that change?’

‘At around lunchtime. I know, because…’

‘Mrs. Barker?’

‘My…  my husband had just sat down to his meal when we heard the explosion. The first one. And so he was there… he was with me when we ran outside to check if the children were all right…’


‘Mrs. Barker, if you’re having difficulty…’

‘…but the children were gone. There was just Greg, and he was… he wasn’t my son, not any more, not then. Now, I know it had already taken him over. But all I saw then was my baby, in the centre of a ball of fire, fire that was bright and red and taller than the house. I could see his little legs and arms, and the back of his head, but there was a flame, all around him. I could feel the heat of it on my skin. I was just about to run to him when he turned, and he looked at his dad and me, and he smiled. He smiled through the fire. And then he…’

‘Mrs. Barker, could you speak up, please? For the microphone?’

‘He threw a ball of flame at his father, and I heard my husband scream in agony. And, God forgive me, I ran. I ran and left him there. I ran…’

(sounds of weeping)

‘Okay. Let’s leave it at that for today, Mrs. Barker. Thank you for your help. Let the record show that interviewing on Day One of the Invasion Inquiry concluded at 7.37pm; we’ll pick this up in the morning.’

(Recording Ends)