AJ Reid

Writer of Speculative Fiction and Masher of Notes for the Broken-Hearted

Social Distancing: A Smaller Hell?

Covid-19 has already wrought widespread panic. Now, we must acclimatise to the idea that we might all be spending lonely periods of time indoors. We want to protect our vulnerable loved ones and, according to experts, social distancing is one of the most effective methods of achieving that.

As a writer, I spend most of my time alone at a desk, working on nightmarish visions of the United Kingdom such as The Horseman’s Dream – a 20-year-long project about flooding, VIP child abuse, quarantine and most importantly, a sinister government using technology and propaganda in psychological/spiritual warfare against its people. So, for someone like me, social distancing is not such a stretch.

But it will take some serious adjustment for most of us. As a small token of encouragement, I’m offering A Smaller Hell for free (or pay what you want) on Smashwords.

Don’t forget that all the stories and poetry here are also free. Just click on the story/poem you want to read and enter your email in the adjacent box. You will receive a password immediately. Simply type this into the password box and the story/poem will be revealed. Interactive Fiction experiences don’t require any registration, download or password shenanigans, so try them first if you prefer. Same with the music player.

With regard to the current crisis, please make good decisions. Don’t take unnecessary risks. From the bottom of my heart, I wish everyone the best of luck, but that’s only half the battle. Be smart. Make your own luck. Let’s be paranoid now and laugh about it later, rather than glib and dead/unable to laugh about anything ever again.

One of my favourite sayings is that poetry will save us all. If you’ll allow me to expand this to Netflix and e-books, I think I might be on to something.

Bunker down. Read. Learn an instrument or a new language. Play music. Don’t panic or you’ll make bad decisions. Supply good information and clear advice to the elderly and vulnerable. Make sure they can contact you in an emergency.

Lastly, don’t, under any circumstances, trust our so-called leaders to keep you or your loved ones safe. Forget The Horseman’s Dream, this is The Objectivist Eugenicist’s Wet Dream, which is why we currently have the hashtag #BorisTheButcher trending on social media.

Take care, good people. X

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“Egg” Shortlisted for Dinesh Allirajah Prize

Pleased to announce that “Egg” has been shortlisted for the Dinesh Allirajah Prize hosted by Comma Press and UCLAN!

In this Artificial Intelligence short story, the steel-shelled anti-hero travels from the ashes of his creator’s mansion to a Pacific paradise with the aid of various humans along the way.

Thanks to Comma Press, UCLAN and all concerned. It’s a real honour to have been shortlisted and I wish the best of luck to my fellow shortlistees!

“Egg” is scheduled for publication in the Comma Press Anthology out later this year.

In the meantime, check out some of my other short stories, poetry and interactive fiction.

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Hashtag Junket Wins Writing Magazine Short Story/Flash Fiction Competition

2020 is off to a flying start with another writing competition win, this time for a 500 word story called “Hashtag Junket”. It takes place on an island to which an actor has been invited to promote their latest film.
Or so they think.

Writing Magazine hope to publish the results in an upcoming Competition Special: I will update as I receive news.

Thanks to all the staff at Writing Magazine and my readers for their support.

Don’t forget to try out the new Interactive Fiction experiences.

Or check out a novella about hierarchy and corruption in a small-town department store A Smaller Hell.

Read last winning story Chop Chop, also in the Mar 2020 issue which is available now from newsagents, supermarkets and other magazine retail outlets.

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Short Story “Chop Chop” Wins Writing Magazine Competition

Pleased to announce that “Chop Chop” has won 1st place in Writing Magazine‘s Single Character short story competition.

Writing Magazine described the story as “chilling” and will publish it in the March issue.

The idea came from a 5 a.m. walk in the snow, at which time the local butcher was the only other person awake. As I watched him work, I considered that routine and loneliness could make for an explosive reaction if left long enough in the dark. Could butchers grow to hate meat and how might that manifest in psychosis?

I’m happiest with my work when I’m still sorry/glad for the characters long after I’ve finished typing and this was certainly true for the butcher. His story is about the cages that people build for themselves and how our culture happily provides the materials.

Although it’s a bit dark, it has a positive message through catharsis … I hope. Huge thanks to all at Writing Magazine for my first writing competition win of the new decade.

Hope you all enjoy the story and Happy New Year!

Short Story/Poetry/Artwork/Music Links

Check out some of AJ’s other stories here.
Poetry here.
Doodles, preamp circuits and blues jams here.

(Don’t forget to check out the new Interactive Fiction!)

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FREE Dark Interactive Fiction: Ludovico

This FREE interactive fiction verges on the indecent, but I think war is indecent. Warmongers and bullies of all kinds should fear that one day they’ll have to take their own medicine. I hope technology makes that deterrent a reality soon.

It’s the same notion that underpins The Horseman’s Dream: that a tech-enhanced form of empathy could make or break the world. In Ludovico, we are dealing in straight recordings of neurological and psychological experiences, whereas in THD, they are actual live dreams, gamed for entertainment and propaganda.

If you’re of strong disposition, a fan of dark fiction and a hater of war, I urge you to click on the link below. If not, perhaps a different Interactive Fiction experience would be more suitable.

#NoMoreWar

LUDOVICO

Don’t forget to check out free interactive fiction experience KODIAK too!

In this free interactive fiction experience, you play the role of a lonely, starving bear with a big heart. When a vulnerable human wanders into your territory, you must choose whether to submit to your primal urges or seek a higher purpose.

Click here for Interactive Fiction adventure KODIAK.

If you fancy checking out some weird doodles and handwritten poetry, follow me on INSTAGRAM.

For general soapbox rants, RTs of artistic and scientific interest and general fluff, follow me on TWITTER.

If you’re interested in pursuing further information on warmongering, I suggest you turn off your TV, put down your newspaper and check out the following:

CND

John Pilger

Craig Murray

If you’re in the mood for some anti-war poetry, try STILL. Or there’s some video poetry here AT THE GATES.

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FREE Interactive Fiction Adventure: KODIAK

Free Interactive Fiction KODIAK is now up and running for anyone who fancies a go at being a bear! Since it’s my first attempt at IF, it’s only short, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.

(Not suitable for young children)

Click HERE for weird doodles and poetry.

Click HERE for more IF experiences.

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Interactive Fiction Experiences

Interactive Fiction Experiences are my latest obsession. As a kid, I was enthralled by Ian Jackson’s/Steve Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy books and more recently, their app adaptations. I recall writing my own short one about zombies that fed not on flesh, but on energy, and could not be distinguished from normal human beings. Can’t pretend certain teachers didn’t provide ample inspiration.

When Charlie Brooker’s “Bandersnatch” episode of Black Mirror came along, I began thinking about the process again and saw an opportunity to engage a new audience with my stories, just in a different format.

I’ve been working from 4am every day on the Interactive Fiction adaptations for a week and there are now four in the pipeline:

A Smaller Hell

Tread carefully in the role of an abused employee caught up in the spectacular downfall of their perverted boss. One wrong step in the department store this Christmas could land you in the shoplifters’ padded room. Or worse, your boss’s office after hours.

Kodiak

A vulnerable woman wanders into a lonely, hungry bear’s territory. You must fight your savage instincts to save her life and your soul. As this mysterious and deadly spirit animal, your task is to decode your dreams and fulfil your true destiny.

Diary of a Caveman

There’s not much down for you as a hospice resident abandoned during a nuclear missile strike, but you’ll do anything to survive: take refuge in a fishing boat, an island cult, the mountains, abandoned petrol station, decontamination camps … “World War 4 will be fought with sticks and stones.’ – Albert Einstein

Ludovico

You’re a psychiatrist at the end of his rope. A recent bombing campaign by the corrupt government killed your family and you see no other way to change things. The experiment is necessary. You don’t want this to happen to anyone else. Now that you have the man responsible for these war crimes in your makeshift warehouse lab, what will you do with him to convince him never to repeat these horrors? Will you inflict horror of your own and risk losing your soul or will you follow the moral and scientific laws to which you’ve adhered your whole life?

I really can’t wait to share them with you. I’ll be publishing the Interactive Fiction Experiences on the website and making them available for free to all members (just enter your email in the form and you’ll receive a password for access to all stories, poetry and games – I’ve had to do this so that I can still enter my work into competitions that stipulate online publishing as a reason for disqualification).

If you enjoy what you read/see/hear, it’s up to you whether you donate. That’s it.

A Smaller Hell

I should also mention that the novella of A Smaller Hell is Pay What You Like on Smashwords until Christmas, so download yours ASAP and get yourself in the festive spirit.

Here’s what some reviewers had to say:

“AJ Reid’s novel is a travelogue for all of us. It’s a reminder of what’s available above and below ground, should we have the misfortune to encounter it. The plot weaves its way around the rooms like the acrid smoke of an over active crack pipe. The resulting humour is never forced nor generic, but it evolves and catches you by surprise. Dramatic irony is alive and well and living in A Smaller Hell. “

“A highly enjoyable tale with a bit of everything; love, crime, black humour and magic. Engaging writing with strong characters, all set against the evocative background of a department store in the north west of england. AJ Reid is a superb storyteller and this book had me gripped right up to Christmas. Would certainly recommend in the festive season and all year round for that matter! “

“This book offers everything you might expect from an adult-rated novel, yet the author still manages to convincingly incorporate the most beautiful love story into the mix. This is sophisticated work.”

“A hot-and-cold tale of darkness, light and the tribulations faced by those willing to stand up to cruelty in the name of love, ‘A Smaller Hell’ will leave you feeling like you have been punched in the face with words. I highly recommend it. “

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/958121#

UPDATE: First two Interactive Fiction Experiences now LIVE. Check out Ludovico and Kodiak HERE.

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The Horseman’s Dream and Dartmoor

The photo could have come straight from The Horseman’s Dream: a white colt galloping across a stormy Dartmoor.


Looking at the rest of the photographer’s work, it was clear that it wasn’t a one-off. His feed is full of powerful, nuanced wildlife photography. I strongly suggest you go there now and give him a follow.
https://www.instagram.com/thealphador/

That night, I dreamt vividly about the photograph and The Horseman’s Dream. I wandered Dartmoor with the horse just like John Muldoon, searching for a meaning. Next morning, I woke up to a kind message, saying I could use it for the cover if I liked.

Whoa.

Bearing in mind that The Horseman’s Dream is about the significance of dreams and communication through them, I was a bit freaked out. In a good way, of course.

After chewing the Instafat a little with The Alphador, he seems like a top guy as well as a supremely talented photographer, so please give him a follow and check out his stunning work. You won’t be disappointed.

Oh, and feel free to check out my scribblings, fixings and noodlings, while you’re over at Instagram.
https://www.instagram.com/aylareidthis/

If you’d like to find out about the origins of The Horseman’s Dream, click HERE.

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A Smaller Hell Now Available on Kobo only £1.99

Pleased to announce the launch of A Smaller Hell on Kobo this week. With a fancy new cover and sleek edit, it has been tempting new readers into the spider/fly dynamic of Doyle/Black, which bears ever greater relevance as we uncover yet more sordid conspiracies amongst the powerful. Hierarchy and authority lead people to this madness. Take a chance and find out just how mad Dianne Doyle gets …
https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/a-smaller-hell

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A Special Kind of Actor

The craggy face of Rutger Hauer glared back at me from the battered VHS case.

‘Don’t let your mum find it. I want it back when you’re done.’

‘She’ll find it. She finds everything.’

‘Hide it under your bed.’

‘First place she looks.’

‘Dammit. She’ll kill me too if she finds it. She’ll know I gave you it.’

‘Is it that good?’

Simpler times, perhaps. This exhange took place almost 30 years ago between me and another 11-year-old boy, furtively examining VHS contraband in the shade of a giant oak tree. School was out for summer, but for us, it was forever: our last day of primary. Ties loosened, shirts unbuttoned and laces undone, we were finally free and Rob T lived up to his term-long promise that he would bring in this film for me.

‘You’ll shit yourself.’

‘Cool cover.’

‘Watch it when your parents go out.’

‘I don’t want to get in trouble.’

‘We could go to mine and watch it. My parents don’t get home from work until seven’

Back at Rob’s, we settled down with a plate of barely warmed fish fingers and tomato sauce and pressed play. The scratchy white lines fizzed and flickered across the screen as the tape got going, indicating that it had been watched almost to the point of wearing out.

‘It gets better. Probably just needs tracking.’

The Hitcher

This was no X-rated “adult film”, nor splatter/slasher gore horror. This was something different. I could hear a message in the film, something more profound than “Don’t pick up strangers”. The Hitcher was a brutal, cathartic experience that made me value peace and resent violence. After the final credits rolled, I couldn’t wait to see my family to make sure they were all still in one piece and hadn’t picked up any hitchers in the two hours I’d been at Rob’s.

It was probably the first time I had seen an actor convey his message with such startling presence. Rutger Hauer as a mysterious homicidal nomad is a performance I will never forget. His ability to slow down time onscreen was matched only by Reed, De Niro, Nicholson, Day-Lewis etc.

What made Hauer such a great villain was the ever-present slivers of endearing humanity he would weave into the performance, confusing the audience by earning their sympathies and respect one minute, their abject disgust the next.

Similarly, his heroes were often shot through with irritating flaws, sometimes full blown personality disorders. Still, we loved them. We wanted them to overcome adversity all the more because they were like us: imperfect.

Split Second

I can’t wrap up this short tribute without mentioning Rutger Hauer’s greatest unsung work: a little-known sci-fi thriller that brings to mind Bladerunner and Alien. Split Second is far from being a perfect film, but there is much to recommend it. The scene between Hauer and Kim Cattrall is particularly memorable because of the unexpected tenderness therein and reminds us how powerful he could be as an actor, even in the midst of a rather chaotic narrative, so if you’re a comic book/graphic novel fan still unsatisfied by cinema’s adaptations of the form, you could do a lot worse than to check out this highly enjoyable flawed gem.

There are not many actors or artists out there as memorable as Hauer. I’m grateful, as I am to all actors with soul, for the inspiration. He altered our collective consciousness with an ad-lib, ffs (see Blade Runner roof scene). That takes some doing.

Thank you and happy trails, Mr. Hauer.

For more thoughts on film, click HERE.

For Rutger Hauer IMDB, click HERE.

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