PUBLICATION: PofSL story ‘Thing in the Box’ now out!


Diodati 1 - Cover

Diodati 1 – Cover

Diodati Magazine now out – and amongst other great stories it has PofSL story ‘Thing in the Box’. Set in London in the time of the bubble worlds,  roughly in the year 3200, it tells the story of something that shouldn’t be inside the safe zone of the barriers… but how long has it been inside, and why is it here?

Follow Algie the shunter into the grimy shunting yards of old ‘King’s-Pancras’ as he comes to terms with the fact that all pets aren’t cute and cuddly…

Review: PSB’s The Race For Space #PSB #TheRaceForSpace

Ancient Luner Capsule - Tycho Campus Museum of Antiquities (20th Century Collection)

Ancient Luner Capsule – Tycho Campus Museum of Antiquities (20th Century Collection)

“We do not choose to go to the moon in this decade, and to do the other things, not because they are easy, but  because they are hard.” US President John F. Kennedy.

So, we got our copy of PSB’s ‘The Race For Space’ up with the last Tycho Campus supply shuttle. What can we say? Who else but PSB could put President Kennedy’s ‘Moon speech’ to music? Southern drawl meets electronica and merge perfectly in the first track of an album that tracks the ups and downs (we challenge you not to be moved by ‘Fire in the Cockpit’) of our species first steps into space.

This is, in the fullest sense, a classic concept album, complete with ample sleeve notes. From that opening track (‘The Race for Space’) we move on to the first man made object in orbit, and then the the first man into space. If there is one very small false note in the whole album it’s the very start of that ‘Gagarin’ track, that we can’t help thinking sounds like the opening of The Muppets (equally great music, but a bit out of place in this album, as it isn’t even ‘Pigs in Spaaaace!’). ‘The Other Side’ is errie, music for that moment when a distant capsule orbiting the moon is out of contact with Earth, and then, to schedule, re-appears still intact. The story culminates with the pacy ‘Go’. Mission control as a pop track, done in the inimitable PSB style – ‘Was it Dangerous?’ – ‘Yes, it was!’.

That leaves ‘Tomorrow’, the closing track, forward looking, forcing you to remember Kennedy’s words form the begining… ‘Well space is there… and the Moon and the planets are there…’

Get this album and, in 9 songs, you can fly yourself to the moon and beyond.


#SF Publication News: #Diodati takes Thing in the Box

Carriages of The Underground Fair - a feature of Big London life in the era of the bubble worlds...

Carriages of The Underground Fair – a feature of Big London life in the era of the bubble worlds…

The new SF/Gothic magazine ‘Diodati’ has taken Price of Starlight short story ‘Thing in the Box’. Set in the era of bubble words, this is a little tale that gives a glimpse of the desperation and longing of life behind the barriers. ‘Thing’ takes place in London and features the famous ‘Under Ground Fair’ that plied the circle line, bringing a little taste of the country to trapped city dwellers.

Diodati’s first edition is out, free, on their website and on kindle sometime in April. We’ll let you know when it’s time to get your copy.

We’ll end this post, as we usually do, with music. What better than Pentatonik’s ‘Night Raid on London’. Close your eyes, imagine that thrumming drone as the track opens not to be war planes over head, but wood fired shunting engines clanking and rumbling in a dark, cold marshalling yard, and think of a Thing getting out of its box as the music swirls on and shifts up…

Review: listen to Hot Chip’s Huarache Lights #HotChip #HuaracheLights

Random 66 - a real fan of Hot Chip

Random 66 – a real fan of Hot Chip

So, Hot Chip and Huarache Lights. Hit, Miss, or Maybe? Hit, hit, hit! – we at Price of Starlight obviously feel this one is pretty straight forward – as you know, we do love our electronica. If you haven’t heard it, follow the spotify link at the bottom of this post.

Key highlights for us? Super thumping beat that, when heard live, is going to feel like Hotblack Desioto’s ‘Disater Area’ playing through an arms limitation treaty busting sound system on Kakrafoon. Then there are some great lines like ‘we’re places where the things will do the job better’ and ‘machines are great, but best when they come to life’ – both calculated to get our very own Random 66’s metal man vote. Our only small quibble is that it ends quite suddenly, which even having listed to it, oh, a good 100 times, still catches us out a bit. But lets face it, what Hot Chip song wouldn’t be improved by it being twice as long?

So rest assured that the whole project team is grooving round the smooth edged, health and safety approved metal canteen tables up here on Tycho Campus, like the dedicated ‘chippers’ that we are. We’ll be down to the surface as soon as we’ve worked out which venue we’ll be landing at. One with that big sound system, obviously…

Review: Giles Sparrow’s ‘Mars – A New View of the Red Planet’ #GilesSparrow #Mars #Marsbooks

Mars - A New View of the Red Planet by Giles Sparrow. Hardback - £35

Mars – A New View of the Red Planet by Giles Sparrow. Hardback – £35

‘Mars – A New View of the Red Planet’ is essentially a photographic tour around Mars drawing upon some of the most dramatic images from early 21st Century missions to Mars. The book is hardback, big, and suited for coffee tables – though this isn’t to devalue it as a volume. The size is essential to its generally luxurious feel, and makes it a perfect showcase for its contents. The book reproduces stunning image after stunning image of Mars from orbit, and also, most eerily, shots from the surface. Some are false coloured to highlight particular features, but many are ‘white balanced’. This corrects the lighting on the image to show you what the Martian surface would look like through the human eye in ‘earth normal lighting conditions’ – making many shots look like you could simply step into them and start walking. Others are presented to show what the human eye would see standing in the red wilderness as it actually is – dim, dusty and atmospheric. It’s hard to tell which have most impact, but all give you a sense of actually being there.

Mars inside imageIn terms of text and organisation, the book has an initial section illustrating types of surface features (volcanoes, deserts, polar caps), issues current at the time of writing (surface water, the ‘question of life’), and some discussion of dynamic planetary processes (climate and weather). The heart of the book is an ‘atlas’ covering specific areas and features (e.g. Olympus Mons, Elysium Planitia, Ares Vallis), but readers expecting a systematic mapping of the surface will be disappointed.

The book is what it is – a showcase for some amazing images, re-produced in very high quality, and for a cover price of £35, worth every penny. Check out your local ‘Works’ discount bookshop first though, as it can be had there for just £20. I used the money I was paid for publishing my first science fiction short story, Sanctuary Farm (set on Mars), to pick up my volume, and this is one of those books I know I’ll enjoy forever.


Review: ‘The Martian’ – Andy Weir

The Martian - Andy Weir. Kindle £1.99.

The Martian – Andy Weir. Kindle £1.99.

Speaking as a Martian I have a historical interest in twenty first century texts about my home world, and I have been asked to review a few for the Price of Star Light Project. Suitably enough, we’re starting with Andy Weir’s 2011 novel ‘The Martian’.

This is a superficially simply tale from pre-colonisation Mars. One man, a true human named Mark Watney, is stranded on the surface of the Red Planet, but he is determined to survive. His challenge is to somehow survive and engineer his own rescue when he knows he’ll run out of food long before any help can come.

The heart of the book could be heavy going for some – it’s an engineer’s view of life, death, and survival. The challenges are technical – how will Watney feed himself on a barren world, how will he establish contact with an Earth that thinks him dead, how, even if he can survive longer than he has a right to expect, might he actually get home? But the book’s genius truly opens up as very little of what Watney plans goes as he expects. Somehow he still keeps going, and just when the reader might be tiring of Watney’s sole company, the challenges keep coming in the form of problems back on Earth.

Does he live? I’ll leave you to read it and find out – but this is a story of a man fighting remorseless arithmetic in the grand tradition of Tom Godwin’s 1954 short story ‘The Cold Equations’, or Poul Anderson’s novel, ‘Tau Zero’. Sometimes man wins that fight, sometimes not, but this book is a stark reminder of how fragile life is when in an environment it isn’t naturally suited for, and reliant on a frail bubble of technology to keep it safe from the surrounding natural reality.

As a Martian myself, albeit of a much more genuine kind, the great journey across the surface that Watney eventually faces was so vividly written that it almost made me homesick. I was cured of that feeling when, as usual, things started to go wrong for the luckless survivor. At that point the Martian road trip became more reminiscent of a disastrous wild-trek my father took me on at ‘the time of my ‘awareness of nature’s music and the unity of world, tribe and duty’. I never went camping again after that, though I do now speak to my father again, after some years of finding that too difficult.

The Price of Starlight Project team loved this book, with the exception of our Administrator, Ms Valdeck, who pretty much hates most things, and who refused to read it in any case. At a cover price on Kindle of £1.99 you can’t really go wrong, and if your problem is more picking which of the cheaper kindle offerings to invest your time in, this is most certainly worth your while.

M. Tharsis of Mars

After The Fall – The Clans of Mars. A PofSL Mini-Project.

F.O.E. Heavy Lifter in approach to Mars.

F.O.E. Heavy Lifter in approach to Mars. At this time the world below was dominated by three clans – the Wildes, the Kuars and the Murchisons.

Welcome to a new sequence of posts on The Clans of Mars. Following The Fall of 2414 AD the population of the Red Planet crashed as those who could flee evacuated, and those who could not simply died. Out of a period of appalling chaos emerged a small number of scattered survivors, focused upon the failing city of Elysium Station and the Martian capital Down First.

However, across the surface of Mars scattered groups struggled to survive by salvaging what they could from the wreckage. By the time the F.O.E. landed at Down First in 2509 and seized what by then was the last major settlement left, three major clans, each dominated by a particular family and its retainers, had emerged. Ranging from Olympus Mons to the north polar ice cap were the Wildes. South of the Valles Marineris were the Kaurs, and most famous of all, with territory from Arsia Mons in the north to the southern polar ice, were the Murchisons.

Over the next few weeks we will explore each clan, and their key personalities, in detail. For more on the broader history of this period see our brief guide.

The period of The Clans was one of a struggle amongst half-abandoned cities, and the hunt amongst the rubble for what they needed to survive. So what better music to represent their very way of life than Jeezlh from the Solar Fields album ‘Red’? This slow, sweeping rhythm is a perfect soundtrack to a journey out across the shifting sands of a ruined world.

PUBLICATION! ‘Flowers in The Dust’ accepted by JupiterSF

Consensus Wartime Propaganda Poster: Together, Space is Ours.

Consensus Wartime Propaganda Poster: Together, The Solar System is Ours.

I am happy to announce that, following recent acceptances of PofSL stories by Bastion, the project starts the New Year with an acceptance by the superb British magazine, JupiterSF.

Set on Mars, ‘Flowers in The Dust’ is, with no spoilers, the story of a simple encounter between Tilda NewChicago, a city dweller in Down First, and John Harrison, a first colony survivor. It is, of course, more complex than that, and it is an encounter which reveals more about the realities of Tilda’s life, and indeed, life on Mars, than she is comfortable facing. The story is set sometime between 2590 and 2599 AD, during the later stages of the Consensus occupation of Mars, but before the Consensus war fleet departed Mars orbit for the assault on the Asteroid Belt.

‘Flowers’ is to be published in October in JupiterSF’s 50th edition. I am particularly pleased as JupiterSF was home to the very first publication of a PofSL story, ‘Bone Song’, back in issue 27, still available from Jupiter’s website in electronic format from their back issues section.

In the meantime, in keeping with the custom here at PofSL, I have selected some music that I think expresses the spirit of the piece. So in anticipation of the story itself, enjoy ‘Paradise Circus’ by Massive Attack – the lyrics of which perhaps speak of Tilda’s central tension: life on the edge trying to do the right thing, when the temptations of doing what you think is the wrong thing have already defeated you.

FLASH FICTION: Mechanicals Hate Meetings Too…

Traditional Earth snack food.

Traditional Earth snack food.

Random 66 fixed its good mechanical eye on the Director in an effort to look engaged. It sort of listened, too, scanning for key words that would tell it to wake up. As yet no such phrases had been uttered, and Random’s processors idled into other realms.

They were spread through the solar system – humanity. Diverse, fragmenting, adapting to varied conditions. True humans, Martian humans, flying humans. They all bickered though, laughed, and loved. They kept pets too. Dogs, mice, plants that could bite… anything that could be fed, somewhere, they were feeding it. Then there was the physical… doors and windows, roads and farms: basic building blocks of worlds for creatures about 1.5 metrics tall, mostly with two arms and legs. So basic they never even thought about it when they came to make the Mechanicals. Random was most of the above, just metal cased. It couldn’t smile, it didn’t love, but it could sit on seats, and it did like animals.

The Martian, M. Tharsis, was in some dispute with the director. There were always disputes with the director, but there had been a key word… biscuits.

Biscuits. Like chairs, light switches and bread, an unconscious staple of human existence. Lost on a mechanical, but there they were, on a plate – always humans had plates – sitting on a table. They always had tables, too. No one had ever, in millennia, designed anything better than a table to sit at when in a seat. Biscuits, and Martians though… that was something special. Martians needed glucose…. craved it. Place biscuits in front of one and they would eat. It was virtually a reflex, and utterly predictable, but this argument happened every time.

“… can’t go on like this. There are weight constraints, Tharsis. Damn it, do you know how much it costs to ship a packet of those bloody things up to Luna? Crippling… and you just… well… there’s no stopping you.”

Tharsis had one in his clawed hand. “Don’t we have anything more important to discuss Director? Like the fact that we are behind on virtually everything else we’re supposed to be doing?“

“Thank you for your input, but I won’t be distracted. This isn’t about the odd extra biscuit. Eight packets are missing from central stores.“

“You’re blaming Tharsis?” Valdeck, project administrator, flaring nostrils and self-conscious of the bumps on her back where her wings were furled, had decided to strike. “That kind of casual racism-“

“I appointed him!”

“Because you had to – the only one of us you’re happy with is that old Random unit, basically because it never says anything. Would you really have appointed either without the representation edict? Ironic, given that this project is supposed to be a monument to understanding-“

“As Director, I resent the implication that I am a racist, and I suggest you examine your own motives. Just because my father fell in the last war you assume I’m a bigot… and yes, I do know what this project is about. Studying the artefacts of the last two thousand years, though, Ms Valdeck is something that needs skilled individuals. You do that on merit, not because an edict says who’s turn it is.”

“I’m sorry, is this sexism now? It’s just that I note it is me that you are trying to bully. Go much further, Director, and I will invoke HR directives-“

The Martian grabbed another biscuit, and spoke in his measured monotone. “Thank you Valdeck, but I don’t require you to take offence on my behalf. As to merit, I was sent here by my people to serve, and here I am. But I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I did not point out, once again, that we are falling behind on the critical work of the project…”

Bored, Random shut off his direct audio, scanning for key words again. It thought of the farms of Mars where he had worked, growing cows from seed… its years on Earth, helping push back the bounds of the safe havens. It had walked the streets of old New York, a city that had never fallen, and of New London, a city that had risen again. Strangest had been in the asteroid belt and beyond, humans clinging to a way of life – airlocks, air tight bases, primitive computing devices – that would have seemed old fashioned a millennia ago. It was out there, though, that Random had stood on a moon and watched the herds of star seeds feeding on the gas of Jupiter, swelling on it, ready for their great voyages out to other stars.

Then had come this project, an inspirational chance for an old machine to truly understand the fractured multi-species that lived on every rock from Pluto to Mercury, that was the same but different, everywhere. After inspiration, of course, had come reality, and the fact that the only one of them sitting around this table that had seen anything worth seeing was just a metal man in the corner. Then came a key word, the one special word, and Random was jerked back to now: milk!

“… at least six pints missing. I have to remind you all again that these little things are luxuries up here on Tycho Campus. I must account for everything, and I don’t want to have to defend excessive haulage. What anyone can actually be doing it with it-“

Random watched their faces. The director and his accounting, Tharsis the biscuit thief, Valdeck with a principle for every occasion.

“It was me.” It said.

They turned, all three looking at it at the same time, for the first time, and three voices spoke: “You?”

“Yes, me. I had a cat on Earth. I’ve always missed it… I’ve been feeding one, or something like, it down in the loading bay. I had to do something to keep busy whilst you all argued about nothing.”

The Director turned puce and Tharsis laughed, raising his biscuit in salute as Valdeck said: “We should adopt it. A project cat!”

Published Fiction (Free!): Game Four – meet Arthur and Dimple, but give them a chance!

In the Game Zones of NuTopia they are always watching.

In the Game Zones of NuTopia they are always watching.

To celebrate recent success with ‘Mr Cicada’, published in December’s Bastion SF, here’s one from the archives – an old Price of Starlight story, published in PseudoSF, renamed by the editor ‘Our Regularly Scheduled Famine’. I think this was the magazine’s first (and last) edition, published way back in 2004, but it’s still there (for free!) on the web at:

Pseudo SF

The story is set in or around 3250 AD after corruption spread across the Earth, and takes place in the ‘bubble world’ of NuTopia. Sometimes called NuMerica, it was the largest of the shielded spaces where true humans survived, roughly covering the area of old North America, but it’s survival came at a price…

So meet Arthur and Dimple. You may not like them at first – so much so that you may not wish to read on. But give them a chance. He is perhaps the most original men of his time, and she truly loves him. They are good people in a bad place and would you really do any better in the world they are forced to inhabit?

As to music for the short story, is it the ‘New Speak’, the sense of overshadowing threat, or is it the authorities with their instructions and unreassuring reassurances should the worst occur? Not sure, but ‘The War Room’ by Public Sector Broadcasting perfectly says ‘Game Four’ to us…


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