Telescoping Time (Earlyworks Press,2012)

Two men in badly fitting suits came into the bar and walked over to my table. They said, are you the writer?

I said, I’m a writer.

They said, you wrote a story called The Cover Story?

I said, that’s right.

They said, that’s a strange story.

I said, it’s science fiction.

Is that a fact? the big one said.

I said, I wrote it for a competition…

Publisher Kay Green says:

“When Earlyworks Press ran an international competition for stories about communication with aliens, a certain entry entitled ‘The Cover Story’ caused considerable controversy. Was it about visitations by extra-terrestrials… or was it about something else?

The judges weren’t sure – the choice was between shortlisting the story or a disqualification with merit. The second option proved too illogical to record so it was shortlisted, and came in second.”

When I was a student I worked the twelve hour nightshifts, weekends, at a motorway service station in the far north of England.

Fifteen miles from the nearest towns and high up on a moorland hillside, what traffic there was rose to meet us from the utter blackness of a mountain backdrop above which the constellations wheeled slowly from left to right. Into our pool of light on the petrol forecourt the lights of approaching vehicles seemed to fall like falling stars, or docking space-ships. It was easy to imagine, far beyond the frontiers of street lamps and house lights, that we were on some inter-planetary asteroid. The fact that one of my regular co-workers brought in plastic bags full of science fiction paperbacks may have helped too.

None of which led me to actually write much sci-fi myself, so when my story, The Cover Story, won a prize in the 2011 Earlyworks Press Sci-fi challenge, I was mightily chuffed! I quite like the story, especially my favourite line, which is quite short, and you will find, near to the end. My story though, doesn’t do half so much imagining as other contributors to the eventual anthology: Telescoping Time. (Earlyworks Press, £7.49 + pxp)

These nine stories are packed with ideas: Rosemary Goodacre’s Technology Margin, in In Their Image, for example, and Tetra’s touch, with the meaning it carries in Andrea Tang’s Stars in the Water. Imagined worlds, and imagined species present us with difficulties, not merely of communication, but with the recognition of our visitors, of their recognition of us. Andrew Irvine raises this in his Searching for P’tach, whilst in The Decision, by Chris Sanderson, it is a personal recognition of difference that has to be made. Cross-species relationships, as opposed to encounters between populations, feature in several of the stories. I rather liked the ‘She-he’ in Haze, by K S Dearsley, and Melian isn’t merely another human dressed up in fancy words, but a quite different sort of being. There are low politics, such as in Peter Rolls’ Protocol 909, and high ideas, like those in Robert Leonard’s How Do You Feel, which examines the meanings of words, and the way in which the nature of language itself is central to how we might communicate with ‘the other’, wherever he, she or it might come from. R.J. Allison’s Last Contact, which kicks off the collection, takes a similar tack, but with the emphasis on that leap of faith we need to make to open a connection, to join ‘the conversation’.

Kay, from Earlyworks Press, has kindly provided the links you need to get hold of this anthology, in whichever of its manifestations takes your fancy:

ebook UK

ebook US


It’s noticeable how stories don’t always come from where they’re going to. The uninvited guests in The Cover Story arrived when I was recalling the 1960’s Alex Harvey track, Framed. In fact I was tempted to pun on the opening of the song; a close call! Once they’d arrived though, the story sort of unravelled itself! But perhaps the ending still owes something to that Sensational Band.