Nominate me for all the things!

Hi there! If you don’t know me, I’m Matthew Claxton, a sometime-SFF writer, who published three stories in pro markets in 2017!

Okay, I’m going to take Normal Matthew away and lock him up for a few minutes. He’s been too conditioned by a lifetime in Canada to effectively brag about himself.

“Is your story good, Matthew?”

“Oh, I dunno, it’s all right I guess, there were a lot of great stories published this year–”

*comically-large-mallet-striking-skull sound effect*

Okay, now that he’s out of the way, let’s talk about my award-eligible stories for 2017!

The Remora

The fuzzy pink robot bear lunged at Fitz, a pastel paw whipping past her jaw and taking a chunk out of the stucco of the boarded-up sushi hut. The bear wore a tiny bowler and sang about compound interest.
Fitz dodged and ducked, and eye-clicked the emergency call button in the lower right corner of her field of vision. Error messages buzzed in her ears. Link still down.
This day was shaping up to be either the worst of her professional career, or the highlight of her obituary, Fitz thought.

Published in Mothership Zeta’s last issue, this story has been in the works for years. It was one of the few stories I wrote during a long, fallow period about six years ago. I re-wrote it from scratch specifically for Mothership Zeta, and their call for fun science fiction and fantasy. Shockingly, I hit the target dead on, and they bought it!

This is a story that is, I hope, about deeper themes while also being filled with cheerful ridiculousness. The singing plush robot murder bears were in the first draft, and by gum they stayed in every draft after that.

This may be the most purely enjoyable story I’ve written. It begins in media res, with our hero Fitz trapped and surrounded by commercial robots re-programmed to murder her before she can turn a pack of thieves over to the authorities.

Things get worse, when she picks up a sort of cybernetic parasite. The remora is a hacker who’s found his way into Fitz’s optic and audio implants. He’s watching the action. He’s making suggestions. He’s going to let her know how he would have handled things. He’ll see how much more interesting he can make this situation…

In other words, you’ve met this guy, if you’ve ever been online.

In real life, we seldom get an ending as satisfying as the one I provided for Fitz.

The River’s Daughter and the Gunslinger God

The river’s daughter heard the new sounds in early spring, when the passes into the valley were still mantled in heavy snow. Hooves crunched through rotten ice, and a voice cursed. The intrusion woke her, in her little hut of birch and pine branches. She waded through the river, catching a fish in one hand for her breakfast, whispering thanks to her father as she bit into silver scales and white flesh. She clambered up the far side of the riverbank and crept through the fern and huckleberry, her footsteps silent as the falling dew.
The voice belonged to a dwarf, the hoofbeats to his red-eyed mule.

Another story that has been taking up space in the back of my brain for years, this tale of gold fever, prospectors, outlaws, boom towns, and old gods is equal parts Deadwood and Norse eddas.

Why shouldn’t dwarves build sluices and stake claims? Why shouldn’t witch-prophets play poker in saloons? Why shouldn’t gods carry six-guns of terrible power?

It’s also, like most Norse legends, a tragedy of greed, love, jealousy, revenge, and sudden violence.

I’m grateful to Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores for buying this story, but unfortunately as they’re a subscription-only outlet, I’m pretty sure this was my least-read story of the year by a wide margin.

I will be posting it on Curious Fictions when its exclusivity period is up. But until then, if you’ve ever thought about getting a Cosmic Roots subscription, give it a read. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.

The Names of the Sky

Zoya wished one of her flying instructors could have seen her land on that muddy field. Always she had been criticized for her landings. “Light as a feather in the air, lands like a brick,” one had written on his assessment. But this time she brought the bullet-riddled fighter in perfectly, despite the dead engine, despite the ruts that tried to fling her sideways. She bumped to a halt where the field ended and a bare-branched forest of white birches began.
Zoya climbed down, shakily pulling off her leather helmet. She patted the Yakovlev’s flank and muttered something between a prayer and the calming words one says to a nervous animal. She scanned the sky above, but it was empty. No pursuing Germans sullied the blushing evening sky. Her own flight had vanished, too.
There was no human sound. From the woods came the raw-throated cry of a raven, and nothing else.

I was in Podcastle! Wooooohoooooo!

This story went through a lot of re-writes before finally coming together. (All praise to my wife for her telling me the first bloody ending was the right one!)

You know about the Night Witches, right?

Wait, you don’t?

The all-female squad of Second World War Soviet pilots who flew bombing runs against the Nazis using outdated biplanes, and scared the Germans so much the invaders called them Nachthexen?

Well, you can learn a little from my story, in which Zoya has to make an emergency landing behind enemy lines. And runs into another, much older Russian witch in an abandoned village.

What does a modern daughter of the Russian Revolution say to Baba Yaga? Especially if Baba Yaga’s great age has finally caught up with her, eroding her memory and magic?

They’re both fliers, aren’t they?

•••

If you think you like the sound of any of these stories, please give them a read/listen! If you wish to nominate for any of the various awards being handed out this year, I would be more than honoured.

And that’s it, my stories of 2017. Nothing on tap for 2018 yet, though I do have a story scheduled to be published by Diabolical Plots in early 2019. (Keep an eye out for “Local Senior Celebrates Milestone” in February!) And follow me on Twitter, where I’m @ouranosaurus.