Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘New Room on the Mimas Moon’…

It’s time for an imaginative challenge. (It’s always time for an imaginative challenge. In fact, time is an imaginative challenge.) Every month, crack dance-commando John Steele (he has a war face and makes us dance and, thus, he’s a dance commando) calls us to action and sets up a fresh Pictonaut challenge. The objective: write around a thousand words of fiction inspired by a particular image of his choosing. I get a kick out of this exercise so I always make sure I come up with something. I recommend it. It’s fun and provides an opportunity to creatively experiment and engage with a challenge with built-in limits or requirements to meet (which I kind of ignore, ’cause I dance freestyle, totally to the syncopated beat of my own drum. I’m sorry, Dance Commando. Please school me and bring me back into line…).

The inspiral moodpiece for January 2014’s Pictonaut is this image by German artist Cornelius Dämmrich and it’s titled ‘Mercury‘…

‘Mercury’ by Cornelius Dämmrich…

I see this picture and am several shades of excited because this picture spells sci-fi. I love sci-fi. I get high – nay, stratospheric – on sci-fi. Furthermore, extra cosmic stimulus has come from watching BBC Stargazing LIVE and reading The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester over the past week. I’m in a very science fiction state of mind and have also been in the scriptwriting mood lately so knocked up this month’s Pictonaut piece as a dialogue. The image suggested scenarios and characters soon followed. Relocating to the Mimas moon of Saturn – because Mercury isn’t very hospitable and because Cassini mission leader Carolyn Porco‘s discussions of Saturn’s rings on Stargazing LIVE intrigued me – I came up with ‘New Room on the Mimas Moon‘. You can read my first Pictonaut piece of 2014 here and I hope you enjoy it…


Things That Are Gonna Be Big in 2014…


It feels good to be in the Future-Now at the beginning of a whole reboot/fresh start/new era. Seizing the spirit of change I will now list my New Year Revolutions and New Year High-Def Resolutions… or not, because it’s actually better to keep them to yourself. Sage advice: internalise your self-improvement schemes and stay pretty quiet about them and you have more chance of actually achieving your idealised goals. You also decrease third-party pressure and are less likely to irritate people with your your pity-parties, your self-loathing and your self-flagellation.(And you’re good, by the way. Best wishes and all power to you as you go about your empowered self-improvement missions.)

Instead I’m going to list the things that are going to be big in 2014. I mean huge. I’ve consulted the Oracles, whispered with the ravens and squeezed my scrying teabags and all of them concur and can confirm that the following things are going to be hot, on trend and oh-so-zeitgeisty over the next year. I suggest you jump on the bandwagon right now and embrace the hip crazes. The things that will be big in 2014 are…

  • Godzilla.
  • Labyrinths and mazes.
  • Artichokes.
  • World War I-era facial hair.
  • Men calling each other “Sister” and women calling each other “Brother” and everyone completely smashing the idea of gender-specific terms of endearment for friends. Believe it, brothers and sisters.
  • Top-knots.
  • Prog rock revival.
  • Amateur astronomy.
  • Amateur astrology.
  • Brutal honesty.
  • Forgiveness.
  • Brown paper bags.
  • Dissonant audio.
  • Séances.
  • Steam.
  • Supermarket sabotage.
  • Overlong shoelaces.
  • Putting vanilla syrup on everything.
  • ‘Adopt-a-Bee’ conservation schemes.
  • Da dance craze dat all demz be callin’ ‘Da Soup-Doop’.
  • Grow-your-own garlic.
  • Big eyes.
  • Minotaurs.
  • Kit Harington.
  • Japanese mythology.
  • The critical re-evaluation of phrenology in academic circles.
  • Wardrobe sharing.
  • Iran at the FIFA World Cup.
  • ‘Reclaim the Comments Section’ activism movements and the consequent prolonged troll battles that follow.
  • Warzone tourism.
  • Corporate assassinations.
  • Sci-fi poetry.
  • Stroking people’s faces (no longer seen as ‘a bit weird’).
  • Diaries as a smarter alternative to stream-of-consciousness venting on social media platforms and on the public spaces of the internet.
  • Presenting Shakespeare monologues in surreal fashion and uploding them on YouTube.
  • Owning a pet sheep.
  • Independent political candidates.
  • Rock Paper Scissors tournaments.
  • Origami.
  • The word “Ishrific!” which means “Whoa! It’s terrifically shit-hot!
  • Elaborate faking of deaths for life insurance scams or for sympathetic tributes on Facebook and Twitter.
  • The flaming unicorn-horned crocodile “ARE YOU FOR REAL?” GIF meme.
  • Storytelling chain-letters.
  • Insomnia.
  • Baristas and other service industry workers adopting kooky pseudonyms and work personas as company policy.
  • Polygamous marriages.
  • Affecting an Eastern European accent.
  • Customised coffins.
  • Coloured cardboard boxes.
  • Tibet.
  • The insult: “You genefreak!“.
  • You, genefreak.
  • Research into gene therapy to modify and perfect your impefect genes, genefreak.
  • Spontaneous unprovoked laughter.

And if the rest of the world fails to turn these things into trending topics and doesn’t catch on to the fact that they’re the cool stuff making 2014 so 2014, I’ll just celebrate them myself until the wider Universe adopts them as well. I’m a futurist and a forward-thinking fashion trendsetter. Mark my word and heed the soothsaying sources: 2014 is going to be an excellent year and it’ll be especially immense for everything in the lengthy laundry list above.

Welcome to 2014, brothers and sisters! It’s gonna be ishrific!” I say in an affected Eastern European accent while pouring vanilla syrup all over an artichoke. Oh my Godzilla, I’m psyched about this future-now. Ha ha, ha ha ha!

Rock ‘n’ Roll, Sonic Sensations and My Retrospective 2013 Musical Mixtape…

Rock ‘n’ roll! I hope you, reader (hey you! Thanks for stopping by!), had a very excellent Christmas. I did (thanks for asking. Sweet of you.) and I’m now in the post-Christmas, pre-New Year place of reflection. I am reflecting. I’m like a mirror. No, I’m like a looking glass. No, I’m now through the looking glass, Alice, and everything just gets curioser and curioser. I don’t know – bear (white rabbit?) with me. Everything is all a bit weird in this still-Christmas-but-not-really-Christmas-anymore phase. It takes time to get into some kind of rhythm and reason, y’know?

Anyway, back to rock ‘n’ roll action after a rest and on to rumination at the end of the year. ‘Tis the season to do navel gazing, drink down some Nostalgia-Lite (it never goes down smooth) and work out what you did over the course of the past 12 months, just because that’s what people do. This stuff gets really boring and self-indulgent really, really fast so I’ll keep it brief because I don’t want to be really boring and self-indulgent and you don’t want me to be really boring and self-indulgent either.

The vital info: last night I joined my Old Man and Sean McGinty on BBC Radio Lancashire again for the final FNAT show of the year. We talked about curry-dusted parsnips, Professor Brian Cox and the phenomenal lack of body odour in Korea (none of them are related but, actually, all of them are related because everything’s connected and we’re all made of the same matter that exploded out of the Big Bang at the very beginning of the Universe and it’s amazing). We also did a fair bit of retrospective stuff looking back at the past year in rock music and if that sounds interesting to you you can find it on the iPlayer for the next seven days.

To prepare for that programme I took a sweep across the year’s sonic landscape and, in doing so, I realised that I haven’t been listening to a massive amount of new music. Altogether it reminds me that my approach to music is still shamefully immature and rigid and that’s a rut I’m eager to get out of. The majority of the time I’m on autopilot, listening to the same things over and over and over again, ad nauseum until I get bored. Too much of a good thing is actually overkill, Liberace

When I do consciously attempt to take control over the reflex insta-groove it takes a while for fresh material and new (or ‘new old’) artists to sink in. I can put this down to several factors: 1. I (ab)use music as background noise and that means that it’s degraded when it deserves to be appreciated properly as something more than supplementary aural wallpaper; 2. I’m using digital streaming services and that means I’m no longer buying CDs and physically handling music which, in spite of the positives (space, instant availability of near-infinite material), also induces passive indifference and decreased imminence when it comes to listening to music; 3. I’d say I’m still slightly hindered by the sensory damage done during a prolonged past period of depression in which enjoyment of music was impossible. I have to work a bit harder to establish a relationship with music but it’s well worth doing ’cause I want to rock out and feel some rhythms.

The moral is don’t get depressed and take time to consciously experience and enjoy music in open-minded, highly-aware fashion. Attempting to take my own advice and embrace aural exploration, I put aside some time and space to go over the new releases of 2013 that I actually got round to listening to. I then picked my top 10 tracks from the records I’ve really dug and compiled my 2013 Primo-Grade Supreme Sonic Splash Playlist Mixtape on Spotify. Here’s a run-down of those righteous jams…

  1. KvelertakÅpenbaring from the Meir album. I can dig Norse metal that makes you want to rip holes in mountains.
  2. Föllakzoid9 from the II album. I can dig Chilean cosmic psych-dirges that make you want to go for a float through interstellar space.
  3. AirbourneReady to Rock from the Black Dog Barking album. I can always dig stright up fist-pumpin’, headbangin’ Aussie rawk ‘n’ roll.
  4. MelvinsDoctor Mule from the Tres Cabrones album. I can dig bizarro bludgeon riffola that makes your eyebrows dance of their own accord.
  5. Monster MagnetMindless Ones from the Last Patrol album. I can always dig more psychedelic space rock jams from the Bull God.
  6. KavinskyProtoVision from the OutRun album. I can dig French electro instrumental concept albums about an undead ’80s Testarossa crash victim who’s come back to haunt his girlfriend..
  7. Queens of the Stone AgeThe Vampyre of Time and Memory from the …Like Clockwork album. I can dig it when QotSA get really dark and broody and produce the most beautiful and poignant soundtracks to an existential crisis.
  8. Dinosaur Pile-UpLip Hook Kiss from the Nature Nurture album. I can dig surging, bittersweet alternative rock anthems that make me want to fall in love with a girl with a lip ring.
  9. PixiesAndro Queen from the EP1 EP. I can always dig Pixies, especially when they do the washy-dream surf guitar thing.
  10. Daft PunkContact from the Random Access Memories album. I can always dig Daft Punk and RAM was my most-played, favourite album of the year. Electric throwback French disco was, thus, my jam of 2013 and the absolute absolute of the whole thing is the final track which sends me a transcendental cosmic trip. I hear this and feel at one with the Universe. Yeah, after the disco comes the deep and metaphysical…

I guess that works as a Top 10 then and probably does a decent job of representing the kind of stuff I’ve been crankin’ repeatedly alongside old familiars and a few ‘new old familiars’. Gigwise I got to see The Sword, Whitesnake, Avenged Sevenfold, Pixies and Airbourne supported by Orange Goblin so they were all a bonus. Back home, I also listened to a lot of movie soundtracks – my personal favourites of 2013 being the Maniac OST – because I love film music and its easier to write and work to scores because there are fewer distracting singalong moments. I’ve also got an extra shot of impetus to seriously delve even further into classical and opera music. That came from watching the BBC documentary series Howard Goodall’s Story of Music and from visiting La Scala in Milano when I was over there in the summer.

I need to open my mind and ears more in 2014, so feel free to throw sounds at me. I’m all amped up for aural exploration and new sonic sensations and I will now go and listen to them and curtail this self indulgent, boring ramble about what I did in 2013. A few more brief retrospective blogposts may surface in coming days before 2014 but I’ll keep ’em brief. Less talk, more rock. Cut the chatter, spin the platter.

Ah enough, I’m getting up and going off to dance to some French disco…