Wednesday, 8 December 2021

A story for Christmas

 Here's a story. It's not sci-fi and it's not fantasy, just a Christmas story. Hope you enjoy it.

Theodore Grimaldi Lights Up

by Mjke Wood

“Sophie, what’s Grimaldi up to?” said Gwen. 

Sophie looked up from her computer and smiled. She beckoned her friend inside. Gwen slipped through the doorway of the legal secretary’s office and leaned against a cabinet. Gwen had noticed Grimaldi’s odd behaviour, days ago: smiling, being pleasant, and she had to know what it was all about.

Sophie held a finger to her lips and whispered. “Keep it down. He’s in his office.” She nodded towards the closed door. “I don’t know what’s happening, Gwen. He’s been like this all week.”

“Come on, Sophe, you must know something. Everyone’s talking about it downstairs. Rob says he even heard him humming Jingle Bells in the corridor. Like he was cheerful or something.” 

“All I know is, he’s been coming and going for days. He hasn’t given me any work to do since Thursday. And he’s been moving boxes. He comes in with a box, then a few minutes later he takes one down to his car. And another thing,” she added, “he’s signed the Christmas Holiday rota.” 

“What? He’s agreed it?” 

“Hardly looked at it. Didn’t seem to care. Just signed it.” 

“But he never agrees the holidays. He always has to knock someone back. It’s tradition. He hates Christmas.” Gwen’s voice had climbed an octave. Sophie flapped her hands and shushed her, nodding towards Grimaldi’s office door. 

Which opened. There was Theodore Grimaldi himself, carrying a large cardboard box. He was the ultimate grey man. Grey suit, grey hair, grey pallor… The other partners called him the Old Grey Litigator.

“Ah, Miss Quinn. No work today? That filing cabinet struggling to stay upright without your assistance?” 

This is more like it, thought Gwen. Here comes the bollocking. Normal service is resumed. 

“Well, if you have a minute, Miss Quinn… er, Gwen, would you and Sophie mind terribly helping me down to the carpark with two more boxes? They’re on my desk. They’re not heavy. It would be kind of you. Thank you, ladies.” 

Grimaldi turned and disappeared down the stairs. 

Gwen and Sophie stared at each other. Had Grimaldi just been nice to them? Theodore Grimaldi was not a Christmas person. He usually celebrated the season of goodwill by sacking at least one of his legal team. Before last Christmas, Grimaldi, Buttersmith and Dean, solicitors at law, had been Grimaldi, Buttersmith, Price and Dean. But Price had been caught aiding one of his clients in a thoughtless act of compassion. Rumour had it he was now clerking at the branch offices out in Mold, above the fish and chip shop.

Gwen picked up one of the boxes. It was even lighter than Grimaldi had suggested. The lid was sealed with tape. She shook it. It felt like... She didn’t know what it felt like. 

Sophie went out with her box leaving Gwen in Grimaldi’s office. Gwen looked around, just a glance. She felt guilty enough even being alone in here. 

Standing on the floor, in the corner, another box. Same as the others, except… 

The lid was unsealed.

Gwen looked over her shoulder towards the door. She listened. She calculated. Grimaldi had been gone... What? Thirty seconds? One minute to the car park, half a minute to unlock the car and put the box in the boot, another minute to return. Okay.

Gwen crept over to the box. She looked over her shoulder once more, her ears attuned for any sound. She reached out with her foot and, all careful and casual, she lifted one of the flaps – just an inch or two. She took a peek inside. 

What she saw amazed her. 


“So, why are we here, Gwen? What’s this thing you have to show us?” Sophie spoke from the back of the car. She was squashed-in between Connie and Tom. Rob sat in the front with Gwen. 

“Wait,” said Gwen, rubbing condensation from the windscreen with her sleeve. Her de-misters hadn’t worked for weeks. “I promised you a spectacle. Be patient. I am about to deliver.” 

“That’s Grimaldi’s house isn’t it?” Rob pointed to the grey building that brooded over on the other side of the busy traffic roundabout. They were parked in a tree-lined side road, concealed by shadows, but they had a good view of the main road. Darkness gathered. Rush hour was cranking up. A twinkling line of headlamps stretched back towards town. The air was foggy with exhaust from many cold engines on this muffled December evening. 

“Just wait,” said Gwen. “Not long, now.” 

Each of the five watched. They hardly dared breathe. The minutes on the dashboard clock moved like syrup. 

“I’m starting to get cold, Gwen.” Connie blew on her hands and rubbed them together. 


And then it happened. 

There was an audible woosh. There was light. Lots of light. Colour. Strobe effects. Elves. Reindeer. A giant, pulsating Christmas Tree. 

The grey Grimaldi mansion had become Vegas, or Blackpool, and with a bigger carbon footprint than East Coast USA. 

A shimmering red sleigh came swooping down over the road, suspended on wires. It bore an illuminated automaton Santa, ho-ho-ho-ing at a thousand decibels, a unearthly noise that drowned out the traffic, a noise that would leave everyone with rock-concert-ears for a week. 

And then, there was Grimaldi himself, barely recognisable. Where was the fabled, Old Grey Litigator? This Grimaldi was wearing two things never before seen on his person: a Santa hat... and a smile. 

“Merry Christmas,” he shouted, to the passing, bug-eyed motorists. Me-rry Christmas.” 

Five legal execs sat in the car and goggled. 

“He’s gone and done a Scrooge on us,” said Rob. 

“He’s lost his marbles,” said Connie. 

“Well, I think it’s wonderful,” said Sophie. “It’s a miracle, that’s what this is. A Christmas miracle.” 

And then came the first accident. A three car shunt. Then another. And another. Carnage. Broken headlamps. Steaming radiators. 

Grimaldi was there before the first wheel rims had even stopped rolling. His face was suffused with joy. 

“Grimaldi, Buttersmith and Dean,” he shouted, handing out business cards. 

“No win; no fee. Me-rry Christmas.”

Thank you to for the image.

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Songs in a Lesser Known Key - on Pseudopod

Imagine a musical key so dangerous it's been erased over time.
Imagine a song so dark it was banned by governments.
But someone's playing it again, in that forgotten key.

Dare you listen?

Songs in a Lesser Known Key, a story that's more true than you might imagine. Hear it told on Pseudopod - the sound of horror.

Attention! Not one of my usual light and fluffy stories. This one's way dark, and comes with an explicit warning.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Old Man in a Spacesuit – New Cover


I really should make an effort to keep this blog up to date, because now I'm late announcing that Old Man in a Spacesuit has a spanking new cover. It's from Kritzelkunst (Doodle Art) in Germany.  

I was never fully happy with the old cover. Probably because I designed it myself. I am not a cover designer, and yes, it showed. But this one?

 I love it.

The expression on HBs face is worth a thousand words. He seems to be saying, "Okay, so I'm here on Mars. Don't expect fancy speeches or even a smile. I don't have to pretend that I like this, but I'm here, and that's how it is."

If the previous cover didn't grab you—and who would blame you for that?—then maybe this one will.

Try the book, on Amazon, here.

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Old Man in a Spacesuit

I launched a new book this week. Old Man in a Spacesuit is a near future sci-fi, that's light hearted, but also has a serious side.

Harry Burton – HB to his friends.
Ex-author: old, knackered, and psychologically fragile.
As a candidate for First Man on Mars, HB isn’t just the wrong stuff; he’s the wrong stuff that got lost in the post.

But they’ve sent for him anyway.
Others, too. Others nearly as unqualified and unwilling as him.
And while HB would rather sit in a coffee shop and pretend to write…
He’s curious.

You can find it on Amazon here.

This one started out in the Odeon cinema in Bromborough, a year or so ago. I was looking a film post that showed an old cowboy, I don't even remember what the film was, and I started imagining the character in a spacesuit. I filed it away. Then a few months later I found myself in Utrecht, in the Netherlands, and came back to that Old Man idea. I started creating a character who lived in Utrecht. I decided which street his house was in. I walked the route he would walk, or cycle, into town. I had coffee in the coffee shop that would be his regular haunt (after a bit of geographic relocation). Then I wondered about the circumstances that would get Harry Burton into space. I got on a train to Cologne and Frankfurt, a trip Harry would make.
And it all came together.   

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Ad Astra

Went to see Ad Astra yesterday. Yeah, I know, I'm a little late to the party, but I'm an Odeon Silver Cinema addict, where those of us of a certain age, and can do daytime cinema, go to watch a film that came out a few months earlier for just three quid, and there's tea and biscuits thrown in for free. What's not to love about that? 

Anyway, I digress. Ad Astra. Brad Pitt et al. It's had mixed reviews. I went along with a nagging feeling that I'd be in for a long afternoon, wondering when it might end. I got a surprise. I loved it! Sure, there are issues: like how come the 1/6 lunar gravity only applies outside? Ditto for Mars. And if they could build a radio transmitter that reaches up to LEO why not strap a lift (elevator) on the side and save on a few trillion tonnes of rocket fuel? And then there's... Okay, there were other things. But I'm staying off that road, because the film, overall, as an entertainment, was so good. The images and moodiness. The music. The sense that there are goodies and baddies in the near future, but who are they and what do they want? Which are we? The psych testing – something that will be coming to an app near you, soon, I'm sure of it – and the general sense of disorientation that pervaded the whole thing. This was a film in which to immerse, to lose a whole afternoon. Great stuff. Wish there were more like it.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Sansevieria slickerii

I found this in Ikea of all places. It's a Sansevieria. Okay, it's not quite the same species as the Sansevieria slickerii that appears in The Spherical Trust – I'd have to travel two hundred light years to Pinky Space to find one of those. I'm not sure if they'd have a branch of Ikea out there, either.

Anyway, when you come across the plant that forms the main plot focus for your series finale, and it looks kind of alien, much how you imagined it, and even though you're only there for the veggie meatballs and maybe for a new drainer for the kitchen sink, well, you just have to buy it don't you?

It's sometimes called Snake Tongue, and... yeah I see it.

Monday, 23 July 2018

The Size of the Universe

I'M IN OXFORD at one of my favourite museums, the Oxford Natural History Museum. Apart from the fact that it is a beautiful building, it's also full of the most fascinating collections. I could spend weeks here, looking at all the fossils and crystals and bones... Every time I visit I find something new.

I just noticed this (see photo below) which seems oddly out of place here, amongst all the ammonites and sabre-toothed tigers, but maybe this is the perfect place for it, after all. There's a model of the sun sitting on the balcony. Nothing special, just a football-sized golden globe. But then on the opposite balcony is a case with a model of the Earth and the Moon, which are to scale in terms of size and distance from each other, and also to scale in terms of their distance to the sun model on the other side of the museum.

In the photo, I've tried to show all three. The Earth and moon are at the bottom, tiny dots – the Earth is the size of a petit pois pea – held on bits of wire; it's the dark area of the photo, with the circle showing the Moon's orbit. Now look across the gallery, between the third and fourth columns counting from the left, and you'll see a golden ball, the sun. That is to scale. Impressive, huh?

Next month, 4th August, a spacecraft will be making that trip. The Parker Solar Probe will be launched on a Delta IV Heavy and by 1 November it will make its first close pass, about 30 solar radii from the sun's surface, then getting closer and closer with each orbit until it's about 6km from the surface, and within the sun's atmosphere, the corona. I was impressed by that even before I saw the scale model of the distances involved.

There's one other fact that really blew me away though. At these scales, if we wanted to include Alpha Centauri, our nearest stellar neighbour, where do you reckon we would have to position the model star? Across town in the Ashmolean? No. How about where I'm staying, in Abingdon, a half-hour bus ride away? No. Okay, then, what about putting it in London, in the Science Museum, about 50 miles away? No, not even close. At these scales, we'd need to position our Alpha-Centauri model about 1 million kilometres away. That's about three times the distance of the Earth to the moon. And Alpha Centauri is our nearest star.
Oh yes. Space is big!
This has nothing to do with Alpha Centauri. It's a T Rex, and too cool to leave out.