Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint, about rewiring things and punching people, and now I'm working on a new one called Heat Signature, about sneaking aboard randomly generated spaceships. Here's some more info on all the games I've worked on, here's the podcast I do, here are the videos I make on YouTube, here are some of the articles I wrote for PC Gamer, and here are two short stories I wrote for the Machine of Death collections.
The winners have been announced for that short story competition I entered a while back, for a collection of stories based around the idea of a machine that can tell you how you’re going to die. They all sound extraordinary. When the winner-notification date came and went without e-mail, I tried and failed to imagine what the winning stories were like, and the selections really show how small-minded I was being.
One of these is about paramedics in the future. One’s about a magician. There are stories about class, revolution, family, the third world, and one that’s just a series of personal ads. And one, inexplicably, is mine. They told me two or three days after I was entirely sure it had been rejected, which I can now confirm is the best way to win something.
The editors – Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics, David Malki of Wondermark and Matthew Bennardo of the world – had planned to self-publish the collection, but have apparently had some interest from actual publishing houses since. So I imagine they’re going to shop the manuscript around for a while and see if someone who could get it out to more than just Amazon.com will snap it up.
Either way the text will be free online, and eventually as an audiobook – sorry, podiobook (spit!). On my contract I waived the right to insist on reading it myself, because I couldn’t decide whether it would be more exciting to be on an audiobook in person, or to have someone good reading my thing. Instead I’m going to audition to read my own, and let them decide. If my voice really is as grave and dull as it sounds to me, hopefully they’ll tell me so and get someone else to do it. I’ve shot myself resoundingly in the foot, of course, by implying my narrator is North American.
What I didn’t know until that announcement post was that all three editors of the collection are including a story of their own. Since Ryan North basically invented a new grammatical logic for the English language in Dinosaur Comics, this is rather exciting. Inevitably his story has the best title of the lot – MURDER AND SUICIDE, RESPECTIVELY – and an immediately enticing concept: two scientists realize that the Machine may allow them to send messages backwards through time.
These three are in addition to the 29 chosen submissions, from 681 entries, so the final book with be 32 stories of something like 4,000 words each. Mine is one of the longer ones, at 6,600, and earned me the king’s ransom of $45, so I’ll be quitting my day job shortly and vacationing on the moon.
That fee is only for the First English Anthology rights, so I can still keep it online here, and will do so until the book itself is out and the whole text of that is online – when I’ll probably link to that instead. I’m imagining it’ll be something like a year before that actually happens, which sucks because I badly want to read almost all of these.
More Machine of Death
Suki Bapswent: I did enjoy your story, and it's resoundingly good news for you that it's been selected. Congratulations. I started one myself (a 30's-style gumshoe detective story), soon after I first read about the project here, but work commitments lead to my not finishing the damn thing. I wish I had now. But again, well done that man!
Tentaculat: Well done.
bob_Arctor: Yeah well done, read the story, very good indeed.
Grill: Yes, congrats! Would you kindly take up a writing career for a living?
Tentaculat: You inspired me to write my own short story. I thought it was going quite well until I'd read what I'd written the next day, and without being engrossed in it I realized it was shit.
What disappointed me the most was that I was unable to use the word "fuck" in a satisfactory manner. Your story opens and ends with the word "fuck", and I suppose by observing this I was trying too hard to shoehorn "fuck" into interesting places.
No I'm not going to send it to anyone, it's shit! I'm off to watch Battlestar Galactica which is excellent and far better written than anything I could come up with. A big plus is that the characters use a variation of the word "fuck" in the same manner as that not-safe-for-TV word. They say: "Frack you! You motherfracker!" And: "You wanna frack with me?" And simply: "Frack!"
"Frack". It came from the den. I'd later learn that this was preceded by a much quieter "Oh Frack, oh-". Not bad eh?
Tom Francis: Hey, one of these is by Randall Munroe, the XKCD guy!
Jason L: This has been stewing for some time. I hope you're aware of Ryan North's limited comic series The Midas Flesh, currently on issue 3 of 8. I'm still barely in the medium and double-dip on exactly two other books; to my surprise it joined them. It's different from his other stuff in that it starts off with a huge and prolonged act of narrative cruelty - the destruction of Earth for no reason by the nice guy we've been introduced to - and in that the main characters are a bit flippant and callous about this awful event, presumably due to youth and living in a pretty callous world.
The other half from the macabre rhythm of the story is stereotypical North: swearing turned to new purpose by shifting down an order of magnitude, linguistic experimentation, friendliness, slapstick and a series of rigorous logical extrapolations from given premises.
It's lovely too, but art's hard to talk about. I think the reason it hooked me must be that against all my expectation it has suspense and therefore suits the serialised format. I'm coming to appreciate ever more the art of inspiring the desire to know what happens next, and I've been consistently eager to get to the next page and agonised by each issue-end cliffhanger in this.