What others are saying…

From the steampunk styling of Three Men in a Blimp – To Say Nothing of The Automata, to the more traditional “little green men” (okay, big multi-coloured furry beings) of The Woman Who Wasn’t A Shave Tail, I loved this book, despite not being a science fiction fan, and would recommend it to anyone who likes a good story, well written, that will make you laugh, cry and think.

— Andrea Gilbey, England
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I received a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion, and I liked it so I’ve bought a copy, too. In particular, I wanted this collection because it promised more stories of the mermayds (first seen in Marian Allen’s novel Eel’s Reverence, which I liked a lot and the author assures me will be rereleased soon). Even if you’re not familiar with Allen’s previous work, though, this collection is still well worth reading.

— Heidi Vlach, Canada
Read the rest of the review.


Solo for Multiple Instruments
In space, you agree to have your social circuits muted. But what if you still hear voices in your head?


She stared at her image on the thin barrier between the inside and the outside, at herself-that-was-not-herself, and her heart pounded , reveling in the presence of another consciousness.

“Hello,” she said, suddenly fiercely curious about this new acquaintance. “Pleased to meet you. I would offer to trade profile locations with you, but that’s a thing of the past, isn’t it?”

“Ah, Dieu!” Anouk called from the doorway. ” Don’t start talking to yourself, my friend. That way lies madness.”

~ ~ * ~ ~

Out of the Frying Pan
Extreme cooking.


Strangers at the beginning of the show, Bissa and I had outlasted and outcooked all the other women. The actual air pressure, 92 times that of Earth, and the heat, nearly 1,000 degrees, were mostly offset by the ship’s insulation and our distance from the surface of the planet, but the controls were set to continually ramp down. Every second, the pressure was a tiny bit stronger and the heat was a tiny bit worse.

Doesn’t matter how hot it is: water won’t boil with air pressure that high. It takes instinct and science to cook in those conditions, especially when the conditions constantly change.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Prime Date
The birth of a legend.


We were all laughing when we heard this loud snap and the head poked through the door.

The room went nuts! Naturally, we knew what pterosaurs look like — pterodactyls, as the slang calls them — we’d spent long enough trying to raise viable clones, but we didn’t expect to see one in the hall. The head looked enormous, sticking through the cafeteria door, sniffing for more waffles.

Dr. Giznikk stood up and shouted, “Who left the nursery bay door open? Who?” As if knowing would solve the problem.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Treasure of the Terra Madre
What do you want to be when you grow up?


Houston hefted the small but heavy mounted sphere, marveling at how much weight such a small thing could have. He put it down and turned it on its axis, slowly, drinking in its beauty.

Most of it was deep blue. Daddy said that was water on the real thing. Daddy said the weird shapes and blobs and blips in other colors were land, and the different colors told you who the land used to belong to. It was also divided into grids by intersecting bands of gold; Houston thought those were probably like the walls of their family cubicles.

None of it belonged to anybody, now, Houston supposed, since there was nobody there anymore. Just to be sure, he asked, “Who does the Earth belong to now, Daddy?”

~ ~ * ~ ~

Best Ride in Space
Solid comfort.


“She was one of the first colonists to leave the solar system,” the captain would say with pride. “One day, she’s rocking little me in that chair, the next I know, she’s a passenger on this very ship on her way to The Ark for ‘The Ride To Take Humanity To The Stars.’ She’ll outlive me by at least a century. Crazy, huh? So she brought along a few things from home, but it turned out she overestimated the room she had in storage and she had to leave the chair behind. So I kept it.”

~ ~ * ~ ~

Not quite Earth normal.


It had been worth it. More than worth it.

Still, sometimes the safety suits made his shoulderblades itch. Sometimes the collar, with its emergency automatic atmoshield generator felt like he had a piece of plastic trash around his neck, strangling him.

Doc Aimanov always knew when Craw had had enough, and ordered him to take some time to recuperate.

“You’re no good to the patients when you’re like this. Go get it out of your system.”

~ ~ * ~ ~

Line of Descent
Family values.


A mermayd’s breeding habits were nobody’s business, but. . . . Next year, the oldest Silverside tad would be a breeding adult , and that worried a lot of people.

Grunion swam closer to his older nursemate and murmured, “Goby, Goby, Goby.”

Goby put an arm around the tad and patted him on the shoulder.

“I want to go home,” Grunion said.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Out of the Cradle
Listen to your elders.


I had been warned many times to stay clear of the strand, but I was sure my elders were just timid or dull or stupid, or were mindlessly repeating meaningless nonsense just because they had been told it when they were young. I could see the water roll onto the shore, then drag out to sea. It looked like it would be tremendous fun to ride a wave in and back — and absolutely safe.

I rode in, but my expected easy landing was a savage thump! The air was forced from every bladder in my body and I was left gasping on the damp sand . Panicked, I thrashed and flopped, and felt myself fall blissfully into salt water.

But I was not in the ocean. I was in a tide pool, cut off from safety by a wall of rock. Worse, I was not alone. With me was one of our young’s deadliest enemies — a crab. It was over twice my size as I was then, and I was completely at its mercy.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Blood of Mermayds
Mermayds. Can you ever trust ’em?


When I brought his food and drink, he flicked a finger toward my bracelet and said, “A gift from your mermayd friend?”

“I made it out of copper wire and red coral. One of the mermayds traded it to me for a month of meals.” It had been Loach who did the trade, but I wasn’t about to give his name.

“Do you know what they call red coral? ‘Blood of Mermayds’. People used to think that’s what red coral was. More precious as jewelry than as life fluid.”

“Depends on whether you’re a mermayd or not,” I said.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Becalmed At Sea
It would be so easy to just do nothing….


Blennie wanted to leave the boat’s occupants behind and forget they existed, but Marlin had taken him in after the . . . incident, and deserved better.

“I’ll stay,” he said.

“I’ll be quick.” Before the last echoes of his words had faded from Blennie’s ears, Marlin was out of sight.

Blennie floated in place, flicking a webbed hand or a fluke now and then to counteract a pressure fluctuation.

After one such correction, a realization akin to joy flooded him: He could follow Marlin and tell him a breeze had come up and the boat had sailed away. By the time the gathering was over , the humans would all be dead.

~ ~ * ~ ~

SMILE, Mr. President
Bully! Just bully!


“Nothing to be afraid of,” Roosevelt called to them. “That’s what it does. Perfectly safe.” He, himself , stood next to the machine without flinching. Although the other League members knew Roosevelt would stand next to the machine even if he knew it might go off like a bomb, they re-seated themselves and attempted not to fidget.

Another small explosion. Another. Then, more and more quickly, more and more explosions. With each one, the pistons moved the rods, faster and faster, until Roosevelt adjusted the throttle to control the speed. From the smokestack came a thin black smoke and only the finest ash. From the back of the new pipe array shot small white irregular globes. The smell was divine.

“Popcorn!” Sir Beauregard pounded the table. “Popcorn, by Fulton!”

~ ~ * ~ ~

Three Men in a Blimp, To Say Nothing of the Automaton
With apologies to Jerome K. Jerome and the entire Steampunk community.


“Yes, you unmitigated ass,” I said, “a balloon! A dirigible! A blimp! An airship, you fool!”

Minor’s jaw dropped at the beauty of the thought. “Where would we get one?”

Conkers said, “We would rent one, you know.”

“Who would fly it?”

“Old Bill would,” said Conkers.

“Old Bill ?” The disbelief in Minor’s voice would have hurt me deeply, if I hadn’t said the same thing at the same time in the same tone.

“Of course!” Conkers looked at the two of us as if we were idiots. “Old Bill can drive a steamcar without putting it into the ditch above twice in ten miles. If he can do that, it should be child’s play for him to drive something that doesn’t need a road.”

Minor and I were much struck by the simple good sense of Conkers’ logic.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Dog Star
Dogs save the day!


The creature lay, a tiny hairless humanoid in silver skivvies, pathetically helpless at our feet. It lifted scrawny arms and waved them feebly. Each arm ended in hands, large in proportion to the rod-like arms, each with three fingers and an opposable thumb.

“How do I carry it?” I asked my companion. “I’m not putting it in my mouth. I don’t know what it is, and Dog knows where it’s been.”

“Lie down next to it and let it climb on your back.”

So that’s what we did. I lay down on my side, and Fiona nudged it up against my fur and held it close to me until I rolled upright.

“Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrip!” Fiona ordered, and I felt a slight tug as the creature took double-handfuls of my fur.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Sure Thing
You can bet on a friend.


He was a sucker for a racetrack tout; bet a hot tip every race and lost every time. He’d just paid another ten bucks for another one.

I whistled the Greenhorn phrase for Don’t start.

He clacked his bill twice then held it open a couple of seconds, working his round pink tongue.

Between the Earth American he’d learned and the Greenhorn whistles he’d taught me, we did okay on the farm. Harder for him than it was for me, though, because I always been a good whistler, and he had to make lip sounds without any lips.

“Man go,” he said.

“What man goes where?”

“Man-go. Mango.” He shook his racing form at me and handed it over.

There was a circle around a horse in this race — the last race — named Mango, at 11-1.

“Oo, too,” Pete said.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Successful dieters need not apply.


The papers gave nothing away. They were health histories, HIPA forms, employment histories , interest evaluations, and personality tests. Nothing about the organization.

After about fifteen minutes, the man at the door closed it and said, “Anybody finished filling out the papers?” Some hands went up. “Anybody started?” A few more hands. “Okay, if you’ve started or finished, please move to the next room.”

When they were gone and the door had shut behind them, he said, “Those are the first wash-outs. We’re not looking for the kind of people who would fill out papers without knowing what the papers were for. As for the rest of you, welcome to the first cut for the Support Program. Here’s what we do: We train you to go into dangerous situations and retrieve people. Might be hostage situations, might be a fall in hard-to-reach terrain, might be the debris of a wreck or a collapsed building.”

More than one voice couldn’t help saying, “Fat people?”

“Fat people .”

~ ~ * ~ ~

Western Star
Virtual reality can be a little too real.


The smell of hot dust and drying horse droppings filled the mask. He tasted whiskey and unfiltered tobacco, with the foul undertone of medium-rare steak. He should have specified he was vegetarian, but he hadn’t expected the reality to go as far as this.

He shifted his weight from foot to foot and felt himself stride, spurs jingling, down the street he saw passing to either side. The sun was high and hot.

A horse neighed farther along the street. A man in black stepped from behind the horse, shaking his gloved hands to limber them.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Aardvark with an Arrow
Everybody had aardvarks that year.


I just happened to be window-shopping at the pet store when ReeMarie popped in on a whim.

The aardvark on display was still a cuddly baby, mostly hairless, all wrinkly, with those big rabbit ears and no claws to speak of yet, so its little pink paws looked like stubby fingers.

“I thought they had hair,” ReeMarie said, pulling her head back from the display tank and scrunching up that handsome nose of hers.

“They do, when they’re grown,” I said. “Hair, and claws that can rip through concrete. They weigh up to 150 pounds, full grown.”

I hoped all that would discourage her, but she said, “You seem to know all about ’em. You work here?”

“No. I work . . . elsewhere.” I worked at a fast food joint, but I didn’t need to tell her that. “I just always liked aardvarks.”

“Before my song?”

“Yes.” Then , being no fool, I added, “More, after your song, though.”

~ ~ * ~ ~

Reading from the Book of First Bambi
Based on a true story.


1. In the land of Corydon, there dwelt a man who kept a garden.

2. He had a dog who rolled and dug in the freshly turned earth, and the man cursed him roundly.

3. He had tomato plants and kale and cabbage and asparagus, and insects did eat them and lay eggs between their leaves, and he cursed the insects.

4. He had strawberries and beans, and rabbits did eat the plants, lo, even down to the soil line , and the man cursed the rabbits.

5. He had cucumbers and squash, and turtles did eat them, and he cursed the turtles.

6. He had blueberries, and deer did come up, yea, even within sight of the dog, and ate the blossoms off, and the man cursed the deer.

7. He also cursed the dog again, for good measure.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Slob v Snob
Like the main character, I dislike dystopian, post-apocalyptic stories. So I wrote one.


They began a rhetorical call-and-response ritual, the overture to the main feature: violence.

“Whadda we got here?”

“Wull, it looks like one o’ them fancy Bookers.”

“Naw, he ain’t no Booker.” A grimy hand, one grimy finger extended, poked him in the chest. “You a Booker? Eh? You read?”

“I bet he reads them hard books.”

“That right?”

Irony being a bitch with a sense of humor, the Hocker who had asked about hard books was struck in the head by one, and stumbled into the street.

~ ~ * ~ ~

The One and Only
It’s great to meet your idol.


I was like, OMG! Rani Barlow? Are you punkin’ me? Really? Really? Because I am such a fanboy!

She was really nice! She gave me her contact info, and I called and we Skyped. I was actually, really, literally talking face-to-face with Rani frickin’ Barlow!

When she gave me her address and asked me to come out there, I couldn’t believe it. She said she’d rather come meet me halfway so we could see each other sooner (!!), but she was taking care of her mom and some other people (I told you she was nice!) and she couldn’t leave them.

So I headed out there, gassing up the car when I found a pump that worked, switching to another car that still had gas when I didn’t have any luck with gassing up what I was driving.

Every day, I updated my blog about my adventures, just for Rani. Every day, we talked when she wasn’t taking care of her sick people.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Til Death Us Do Part
Who was she, now? Really?


Had it happened? Had nascent Adharas been dis-materialized, and the signal resent?

And how did they know — How could they know — about all the possible differences?

A chime signaled the readiness of her personal effects: the one-day wardrobe she had ordered, the single-use cosmetics, the wedding ring surrogate.

Ten minutes after leaving Indiana, Adhara stepped into the thin London sunshine.

A line of robbies — Britain’s name for what Americans called robocops — held back the vocal protestors who still greeted everybody who left the transport station with shouts of “Golem!” and, most inexplicably, “Get! a! soul! Get! a! soul!”

~ ~ * ~ ~

Snow On the Screen
Inspired by a spam comment.


Emerson draped a muffler over himself and tied it under his control panel.

“Now, don’t overdo.” His wife, Sylvania, said the same thing every time he went out to shovel the walk. She added, as she had taken to doing the last few years, “Neither of us is getting any younger.”

He didn’t need her to tell him. The foil extensions on his rabbit-ear antennae ached whenever the weather changed. He was always losing his off-on knob and having to crawl all over the floor to find it, and his fine tuning knob had been gone for decades. Back when he was still in service, his boss had kept a pair of pliers up top, right behind the reproduction statue of End of the Trail.

~ ~ * ~ ~

A Long Time Coming
Another gift from the spam file.


Elgin had taken a great deal of teasing from his mates about his coming banishment to a diet of snails, and looked forward to rubbing their snouts in their error.

Mrs. Meachum smiled weakly. “I do wish we could find work in England. Commuting is so tiresome.”

Elgin scoffed . “Oh, Mum! Imagine if we had to do it by road! The Channel Streamer is faster than driving from one side of London to the other.” He said this as if they hadn’t all read the brochures and contracts, hadn’t all watched the recruitment video together, hadn’t been discussing it endlessly for months. “And, since it rides above the water, it’s unaffected by rough weather and the gyros won’t let it tip or sink.”

Together, the Meachums and the members of the surrounding crowd who had been enjoying Elgin’s parroting of the video all said, “There in a flash, back in a flash. Voila!”

~ ~ * ~ ~

The Woman Who Wasn’t A Shave-Tail
Justice is served.


Before we left the ship, she glued this stuff on her face — she learned how to do it from her make-up artist — made her look like a shave-tail with a muzzle job: Not quite Terran, not quite Marneri.

We met in the mess again, again with the slave-collars glittering on the table.

“How do I look?” she asked.

“Disgusting,” I told her . “I can hardly stand the sight of you.”


“So you’re a wealthy shave-tail and we’re your slaves. Can we do this and go home?”

“Well, actually . . . .” Connie picked invisible lint off her crimson blouse. “I can’t get too close to her, or she might spot the fakery.” She handed a fancy collar to Tosun, and another to Raj. The third, she picked up and fastened around her own neck. “Besides, you’re the businessman, O Master.”

~ ~ * ~ ~

In love and out of luck.


“But you don’t understand! Our families cast us out for declaring our heartbond before time. We have nowhere to go!”


A flake of white fell, then twenty, then icy wetness descended in a million relentless kisses.

Jamal pounded on the door. “A blizzard is coming! It’s snowing! It’s just a few hours! Please!

Brinna pulled her cloak more tightly around her. “Let’s ask for shelter somewhere else. Surely, somebody will take us in.”

But the first place would not, nor the second, nor the third.

~ ~ * ~ ~

No matter how many arms you have, driving lessons are driving lessons.


He faced stiffly sideways, one eye pointed ahead and the other behind. Prime tentacle on the brake, secondary on the speed; two backmost on steering; leftside and rightside curled around the braces to hold himself in place, and the final two free for emergencies.

Kkakk said, “Now ease forward on your speed while you lift. Don’t hold the brake at the same time! That’s it. Gently. . . .”

Akkooo was sure Bikkkk rose faster than this, but he didn’t want to look like a squirt-tail, so he went as slowly as he could without killing the engine.

“Now, forward. Slowly, if you please.”

I could propel myself faster than this!

“You’re thinking you could propel yourself faster than this,” said Kkakk, nearly causing Akkooo to clip the edge of a coral shelf.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Leaving the Turtle
Safety isn’t always safe.


I walked closer to the shuttle and said, in the language of Earth our First Mothers had brought with them and passed down to us, “Welcome to Peace. We remember Earth. Welcome, Sisters.”

I looked back at Bal, who gave me a grudging nod.

A hatch opened in the side of the shuttle, and a ramp unfolded. A figure came down . A figure with thick facial hair on . . . his . . . chin and upper lip. A figure with no breasts. A male. A human male.

Behind me, there was a soft wave of nervous laughter and murmurs.

A wave of relief followed, as two people came after him. The three were dressed alike in trousers and shirts, as our First Mothers dressed, according to the stories. Naturally , they would send the male out first, to make sure it was safe for people.

~ ~ * ~ ~

Other Earth, Other Stars



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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