Available at bookstores and online retailers
After much discussion, it has finally arrived!
Behold: Cthulhu Deep Down Under – Volume 2, featuring yours truly with my story Where the Madmen Meet.
This one has truly been a long time coming, and it is a story that I am extraordinarily proud of, and a book that I am truly pleased to be a part of, filled as it is with great stories by excellent authors. A big thank you to IFWG Publishing Australia for putting the book out.
If you’re a fan of existential dread and cosmic horror with an Aussie twist, I heartily recommend you pick this one up!
About Cthulhu Deep Down Under – Volume 2:
H. P. Lovecraft pioneered a fusion of terror and science fiction themes, and is widely credited as having invented the sub-genre of ‘cosmic horror’. While America’s New England was the focus and setting for many of Lovecraft’s tales, the Southern Hemisphere held a fascination for him. Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica were featured locations in his Mythosian novellas.
In tribute to this, presented here is an assortment of the finest Australian dark fiction, bringing you a second volume of Lovecraftian stories of wonder and dread. Featured are new tales by ROBERT HOOD, LEE MURRAY, KIRSTYN McDERMOTT and SILVIA BROWN.
Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2 takes us back below the equator, into the bizarre and headlong towards horror. From mist-shrouded peaks and canyons of Melanesian islands, through rainforests and scorching deserts of the island continent of Terra Australis, and across the Tasman Sea to the inhospitable hinterlands of New Zealand.
Tales of terror by:
About my story, Where the Madmen Meet:
A special forces soldier returns home to his wife and kids, but what begins as a joyous reunion quickly turns to dread as Stephanie Lilyman realises that her husband Tom has come back from war a changed man, and not in the way she may have expected…
(warning: this story deals with themes of domestic violence)
Previously on From Scratch, I changed my mind a million times, indicated I’d soon be writing about this story, and had every intention of submitting it to that short story window I found….yeah, about that.
Everything went a little bit awry with my plans to submit my sci-fi story, but in the best way possible. You see, I set out to get my feet wet with writing short fiction again after taking a too-long hiatus thanks to focusing on a novel I wasn’t enjoying writing, and thus actually not accomplishing much of anything at all.
So the deadline? Missed it. The word count? Blew out. The fantasy story I was also planning to write? Never got around to it.
None of this is bad though!
Instead of an 8000 word short story that was water-themed, I instead wound up with a 20,000 word sci-fi novella that I think is legitimately the best thing I’ve ever written – certainly I like it more than I’ve liked anything else I’ve done, and it hasn’t taken my usual ten edits to get it to the stage where I’m not embarrassed by it either. Hell, I wrote it from start to finish pretty much non-stop and knew exactly where I was going with it pretty much the whole time, which never happens with me.
What started out as a simple heist story is instead a good chunk of meaty story, a military space opera influenced by Star Wars and Firefly and all the other usual suspects, but with a focus on what I hope are interesting characters and a unique scenario that elevates it into something different while also walking the line between action, humour, tension, and cool space ships shooting at each other.
So yes, unfortunately I missed the short story submissions window I was aiming for. Instead, I’ve now got my sights set on the TOR novella window opening in early May. I think I’ve basically got zero chance of success, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having a crack.
Wish me luck!
Finally, to show the difference a bit of time makes, here’s the intro to the story – now called Calayasii – from the latest edit. You’ll notice that it is fairly similar tonally, but there have been quite a few little changes here or there compared to the earlier draft:
The starfighters of Corsair squadron skimmed an ocean the colour of smoked glass, leaving chaos in their wake.
‘Incoming fighters: state your business.’ The query from Holy City Flight Control stabbed into Ayla’s mind. Most chip communications were not so intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.
‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.
‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. Illusory lights floated into existence before her eyes, pink orbs illuminating a path toward the Holy City. ‘Hangar alpha-four, landing pad eighteen in City West. Deviate from the designated flight path and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters.’
‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie. ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’
Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being any shade of blue Ayla had ever seen. Lies within lies within lies.
Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and kept her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the water below.
It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.
Yakuza Kiwami (PS4)
An honourable mention only because I just haven’t played enough of it yet, otherwise it might have made the list.
Runner up (for similar reasons): Dishonoured 2 (PC)
Dawn of War III (PC)
Somehow Creative Assembly took the worst parts of the two games preceding this one and created something that was very pretty, but ultimately kind of shallow and not particularly enjoyable to play.
10. Persona 5 (PS4)
A contender for most disappointing game, Persona 5 makes an incredible first impression through amazing music and presentation that oozes style. However as the game goes on, the flaws become more apparent: companions are shallow with only a couple being interesting at all; dungeon design goes from being quite cool to utterly abysmal; and, worst of all, the translation into English is garbage, robbing a lot of the dialogue of any charm it may have originally possessed.
Persona 5 is still a good game, but it pales in comparison to Persona 4 on every level except the presentation, which is a real damn shame.
9. Horizon: Zero Dawn (PS4)
I’m not a big open world guy, but Horizon managed to capture my attention through a combination of a really well-realised setting and an excellent protagonist. The story moved well, and the gameplay was pretty satisfying and presented a nice challenge. Horizon was an entertaining and extremely pretty game and I look forward to seeing where the inevitable sequel goes.
8. Sonic Mania (PS4)
I grew up as a Sega kid and Sonics 1 through & Knuckles hold a special place in my heart. Mania represents a return to form for Sonic games after literally decades of utter shit, and was a great and surprisingly challenging nostalgia trip.
7. XCOM 2: War of the Chosen / Long War 2 (PC)
I’m going to cheat here and use place two major pieces of content for XCOM2 under the same heading.
Long War 2 is a massive mod that fundamentally alters the way XCOM2 plays, adding in a tonne of new content and complexity that makes the fun but flawed original game substantially more interesting, not to mention challenging.
War of the Chosen is a massive official expansion that fundamentally alters the way XCOM2 plays, adding in a tonne of new content and complexity that makes the fun but flawed original game substantially more interesting, not to mention challenging.
Of the two, LW2 was definitely the more complex and interesting, but I really liked the additions that War of the Chosen made. It’s a real shame that it seems the the two expansions will never be truly integrated with each other.
6. Hand of Fate 2 (PC)
Hand of Fate 1 was a great concept, combining rogue-like facets with a mix of collectable card game, RPG, and arena combat. Hand of Fate 2 expands and improves on this in every way and is a fantastic game to sit down with for a half hour burst or for several hours as you try to conquer the various challenges. Even losing doesn’t feel too bad, as every run will see you unlocking new cards to ensure that things go differently next time.
5. Pyre (PC)
SuperGiant continues to hit it out of the park by creating weird genre mixes and adding in their unique style. Similar to Persona 5, Pyre has a unique and gorgeous graphical style, matched by incredibly good music by Darren Korb. Unlike Persona, however, the writing is as good as the presentation. The gameplay is no slouch either, mixing visual novel aspects with a surprisingly deep religious rite version of basketball…kind of? It’s hard to explain, but Pyre is definitely worth dipping into and finding out first hand.
4. Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)
This game was worth buying a Switch for.
Super Mario Odyssey plays the way you remember Mario 64 playing, and combines the best parts of that game (and mediocre sequel Sunshine) with bits and pieces of the rest of the franchise, and then tops it off with a bunch of changes and that Nintendo polish to make what is easily the best 3D Mario game. The possession mechanic is heaps of fun, the worlds are all unique and mostly interesting, and the game oozes charm.
3. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (PC)
Wolfenstein: The New Order was an amazing game and the sequel continues literally minutes from where the first left off, leaving the fight against the world-conquering Nazis behind in Europe to instead take the fight to an America that has capitulated and collaborated. What follows is a game that is both surprisingly emotional and, sadly enough in these times, rather cathartic in unabashedly portraying Nazis as evil and worth fighting against.
Thankfully, Wolfenstein II has the chops to let you mangle Nazis with dual shotguns while also just-about-perfectly walking the line between poignant examination of how American society could embrace Nazism and an absurd, darkly humourous alt-history 1960s where the Nazis won and built a space station on Venus.
2. PLAYERUNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS (PC)
Mr Unknown loves his all-caps apparently.
What is there to say about PUBG, really? The game is a phenomenon that does nothing original, instead cribbing parts from a bunch of older games and mods (ARMA, DayZ, etc). What it does do is put those disparate influences together pretty much perfectly. Everything in PUBG feels just right – the maps are incredibly well designed and memorable, the guns feel good to shoot, the vehicles are just the right type of shitty, and the game covers everything from horror game in Solo as you know you’re being stalked by someone, through to a fun hang out with a group of friends in Squad. You can take it as seriously or as lackadaisically as you like, and no matter what you’ll have fun.
No multiplayer FPS has grabbed me like this since probably Team Fortress 2. I’ve put hundreds of hours in already, and I’ll be putting in hundreds more getting murdered with my crew.
1. Yakuza 0 (PS4)
Like many Westerners, I’d heard about the Yakuza series over the years, but had never imagined playing one. That all changed when Giant Bomb began playing through Yakuza 0 in their excellent Beast in the East series.
It took me maybe three episodes before I decided to buy the game and I am so happy that I did. Yakuza 0 is simply incredible. It tells a fantastic crime story, has a great combat system, and there’s so much to do that it kept me going for more than 30 hours.
Yakuza 0 isn’t just my game of the year for 2017 – it’s legitimately one of the best games I’ve ever played, and is the reason I’ve picked up Kiwami, will be picking up Kiwami 2 and Yakuza 6, and will continue to play each new remake and original game.
Celebrate the launch of Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook with editor Christopher Sequeira and contributor Meg Keneally!
It is the year 1890. Brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes, and his trusted colleague and biographer, Dr John H. Watson find themselves in Australia – half a world away from their customary English environs – after resolving a case of major international significance at the request of the highest authorities. Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook is a treasure-trove of historical and literary delights,with 16 new cases written by a stellar line-up of great Australian mystery and suspense writers.
Contributors include yours truly, Kerry Greenwood, Meg Keneally, Lucy Sussex, Kaaron Warron, L.J.M. Owen, and many more.
DATE AND TIME
Thu. 2 November 2017
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm AEDT
The Galeries Level 2
500 George Street
Sydney, NSW 2000
Just a quicky to apologise for the lack of updates recently – I’ve had that fun combination of battling illness and work that has made my writing time dry up a little.
However, coming down the pipe shortly is the next installment of From Scratch, an update on what I’ve been reading, and most excitingly of all, information on the release date AND book launch for Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Case Studies in November at Kinokuniya Books in Sydney.
Exciting times! Stay tuned.
Previously on From Scratch, I managed to avoid making a decision on which story idea I wanted to go with, and instead decided to write both!
I’ve since worked a whole bunch on my still-as-yet-untitled sci-fi story of space pirates hijacking holy water, and I’m very happy with how the first draft is coming, even though I’m already over the maximum word count despite probably only being 3/4 of the way there. Even better, I’m reasonably sure I’ve got a tonne of stuff to remove, and that I’m going to have to insert a bunch more into the early parts of the story to plant enough seeds for the later plot points to pay off (once I’ve confirmed what those are!).
Does all of this sound kind of chaotic? It is! That’s because I, with this particular story, decided to go back to where I began as a writer:
I decided to pants it.
There is a writing methodology that is all about the meticulous planning: the author writes a short overall plot description (like my earlier pitches), expands this out into, say, a page or two of plot summary hitting the key points, and then expands this out in turn to be a chapter by chapter or scene by scene summary forming a novel framework. In the case of a short story, you’d generally not go further than the page or two of summary, although you might go further down the rabbit hole with detail there if the story was particularly complex. Obviously, this is a broad guidelines – it varies by author or project, but the key rule is taking a structured, planned approach toward your work, giving you a framework where you are essentially “filling in the gaps” until the story is done.
That is the literal opposite of what I’m doing.
Instead, I decided to write by the seat of my pants. This has traditionally been my chosen method of writing, with the end result being a whole bunch of partially completed projects and relatively few finished ones. Basically, I sit down with an idea, and just write. As the words come out, the skeleton of a plot starts to form, and I can organically respond to it, following it to a conclusion.
With my new story, this has actually been working really well. I have an idea of how I want it to end, and I’m enjoying exploring the different ways of getting there, even as I rapidly realise there’s whole chunks I’ll need to rewrite.
A lot of people I speak to about writing are blown away by idea of drafting and redrafting. The idea that you can type the last word and know that you’re probably only a quarter of the way there (if that) frustrates a lot of people, never mind the utterly alien concept of handing said work over to someone else to read and dissect and send you back to rework whole chunks of the story.
This is a necessary process for all writing styles, but it is particularly so when writing without a solid plan. As someone without an artistic bone in my body, I’ll nonetheless liken it to my probably misconception of sculpting. I have the roughest of designs in mind. I get the base structure into place and begin to visualise where it will end up, and then I chip away until I get there in the end.
This story is taking shape so far, and I am actually feeling pretty confident it’ll be something decent in the end.
With that in mind, here’s the intro to the story – again, this is the first draft. It’s probably garbage, is subject to change, read it at your own peril, etc, etc:
The sky was the dull sheen of gunmetal, mirrored perfectly by the ocean. The four fighters of Corsair squadron skimmed above the water, leaving chaos in their wake.
The query from Holy Ter City flight control stabbed again in Ayla’s mind – most chip communications were not intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.
‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for emergency refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.
‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. ‘Landing pad eighteen in Ter City West. Deviate and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters’
‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie. ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’
Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being cobalt or any other shade of blue. Every single thing about this damn mission was lies within lies within lies.
Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, current revolutionary, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and decided to keep her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the smoked glass surface of the water below.
It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.
More about the story itself…next time, on From Scratch.
Previously on From Scratch, I pondered which of the two water-themed story ideas I would go with:
- A melancholy dark fantasy story about a healer betraying her friends to defend helpless civilians who hate her and are doomed anyway; OR
- A space pirate adventure revolving around an attempt to steal a tanker full of holy water from the home planet of a xenophobic empire of whackjobs.
Option 1 appeals to me as a writer – dark and brooding has mostly been my go-to, and it would be a story set in a world I’ve spent a fair bit of time fleshing out for myself.
Option 2, on the other hand, is a setting I’ve only really thought about. I’ve written the first chapter of a potential future novel in this same setting, and I’ve doodled a whole bunch of spaceship designs during meetings at work, but otherwise it’s a blank slate in a new setting in a style that I haven’t really ventured into (barring some Warhammer 40,000 fan fiction back in the day, which was tonally very different to what I’d be aiming for here).
After much pondering (it took minutes, I swear!), I made the decision to not make a decision. Instead, I’m just going to write both of them.
To be honest, there’s a couple of reasons for this – I could say that both interest me equally, although that wouldn’t be entirely true. I could say that both are gateway stories into linked novels I’ve been planning to write, which would also be true. I could even say that I miss writing short stories (which is 100% true), so why limit myself?
The real reason is that I have missed writing like this. For the first time in literal years, I am feeling inspired – like I cannot wait to drop whatever else I am doing so I can sit down and get more words down. I’m craving the redrafting; the cutting of whole pages of beloved text simply because it doesn’t quite work. I want to ruthlessly edit and get criticism from my beta readers and all of that good stuff.
Thinking about this process has made me realise just how much of a misstep focusing on writing my novel to the exclusion of all else has been. I’ve always been the kind of guy who functions best with multiple projects going at once – I’ve been one for laser focus. Focusing on rewriting and redrafting Freeburn, as useful as that has been for nutting out solutions to problems I was having, has also led to me basically not writing anything new except the odd sentence here or there for a very long time. Obsession with getting it right has led to me resenting it a bit, and my writing process has suffered as a result.
Freeburn is on the back burner for now, and I think it will be the better for it. In the meantime, I have begun writing the as-yet-untitled tale of Captain Ayla Neshitani and her band of roguish space pirates, and I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft. I’ve even managed to fit in a pretty decent cloaca joke that I’m hoping will make it through to the final version.
I’m very excited to discuss this first story in more detail…next time, on From Scratch.
Yakuza Zero has been my gaming saviour in these dark, internet-less times in this Sweeney household.
I’d heard of the series before, of course – quirky open-world Japanese crime dramas that had been going since the PS2 era, but had never really taken off outside of Japan. It was a series I’d never had an interest in and had taken nothing but the most cursory glance at in the past.
That all changed once I started watching Giant Bomb’s great Beast in the East series, in which Dan, Alex, and Vinny have been playing through the newly released prequel, Yakuza Zero. Initially starting out as almost a joke, the guys quickly got way into what the game was offering.
So did I.
After a couple of months of watching them play it, I wound up picking the game up myself and delving into the neon-lit underbelly of 1980s Japan. For a game that hadn’t at all been on my radar, it got its hooks in fast.
Following the stories of protagonists Kiryu and Majima, Yakuza Zero weaves a surprisingly complex tale of melodramatic organised crime, the bonds of brotherhood, real estate (really), and ripped motherfuckers in pastel suits and turtlenecks with chains on the outside.
Playing like a small-scale open world game (with two distinct locations alongside the two distinct main characters) with a simple but satisfying combat system that is somewhat similar to the Batman games, the really impressive part of Yak0 is the way it almost flawlessly balances the disparate parts of both its gameplay and, crucially, its tone.
At points, you will fighting your way through hordes of rival gangsters, filled with emotionally charged threats and brutal combat. Yet, when you feel like diverting from the main plot, you’re just as likely to find yourself helping a little girl (who insists on calling you “daddy”) win toys from a claw machine, or running a real estate business, or partaking in some incredibly (incredible) karaoke.
The tone of the game walks the line between serious, melodramatic, humorous, and outright goofy with a deftness I have pretty much never seen in any game, and sometimes manages to hit all four in the same scene. What is truly remarkable is the fact that so much of this is sold by the excellent localisation via subtitles – the Japanese voice-acting seems topnotch, but the translation is fan-fucking-tastic at translating the context and humour, something that other recent Japanese games (looking at you Persona 5) have been a lot more hit or miss about.
I spent 69 hours immersed within Yakuza Zero and it was absolutely worth it. In a year that has already been huge for video game quality, Yakuza Zero is my current front runner for game of the year by a mile. It also has me intensely curious about the upcoming remake of the first game, as well as the upcoming Yakuza 6.
Worth checking out, even if it isn’t the kind of game you would normally play. Don’t believe me? Check out this (spoilery) image:
This is an image of a middle-aged Yakuza riding a motorcycle down a sewer tunnel while dragging a lead pipe against the tunnel wall. He’s very angry with you.
Seriously, this game is fucking awesome.