Author Feature: ‘Inventa’ by Ben Curtis

Ben Curtis is a new author whose first science fiction novel Inventa will be out this summer.

It felt as though every cell of her body was being simultaneously pierced by hot, barbed needles. Her fingers and toes were burning. Her back attempted to spasm, but was held in check by the cramping of her stomach. She tried to scream, but all that came was high pitched screech, followed by uncontrollable coughing as her lungs filled with air for the first time in nearly four centuries. The primal scream she sought came soon after, as her body twitched and contorted as though being electrocuted.
It wasn’t her first time, of course, dealing with the aftermath of hypersleep. She wasn’t former military, unlike most of the bridge crew, but she had captained multiple vessels along numerous routes for nearly two decades before being tapped as captain of Inventa.
Her father had started a modest but successful freight company based out of one of the minor stations orbiting Mars. Any time he would allow it, she would come along and pester everyone she could come across, asking questions about everything from substations and engine radiation to why the grates in the mess hall were big enough to let forks fall through. Most ignored her, or gave her a mix of sighs and shrugs, but occasionally a kind technician or engineer would humor her inquisitive nature.
She had always been entranced by space, and space travel. The only thing that she didn’t like, the only thing that she hated, was waking up from hypersleep.
After what seemed like an eternity, her muscles began to relax, and she curled up into the closest thing she could to the fetal position inside the hypersleep chamber. The queasiness started to set in, and it felt as though she were spinning inside her mind.
As the ringing in her ears began to subside, she began to hear a voice. Muted at first, after a few loops of the program, she was able to recognize the unnecessarily upbeat voice of the ship’s V.I. program.
“Captain Muri, you have just awoken from hypersleep. Remain calm. You are aboard the Inventa. The year is 3043. You have arrived in Kepler-452. Once you are able, please acknowledge this message by saying ‘Acknowledge.’ … Captain Muri, you have just awoken …”
“God … God damn it, I’ve shit myself.” Muri’s voice seemed foreign to her. Her throat felt like it was being rubbed down with sandpaper.
“I’m sorry, I did not recognize that. Please acknowledge this message by …”
“Acknowledge!” The scream dislodged some stubborn phlegm that rocketed out onto the digital display above her. The sight of the loogy being backlit by the screen mixed with the scent of her soiled jumpsuit sent her into dry heaves.

A Bite of... Ben Curtis
(Q1) What is your biggest inspiration as a writer?

I always struggle to answer this question. As someone who has dabbled in a handful of different genres, short stories, reviews, critiques and the like, it always changes. If we’re getting down to brass tacks, to the constant, I’d have to say corporations and unions. About four years ago, I was working for a large grocery retailer. I had five different managers, at different store levels, along with the everpresent corporate overlords. We were numbers. Cogs. I don’t ever want to go back to that, and it drives me to write.

(Q2) Which three famous authors (living or not) would you most want to invite to a dinner party?

Samuel Clemens. It might be cliché, but I mean, Mark Twain is THE American author to much of the world, and for good reason. However, I’m inviting SPECIFICALLY Samuel Clemens. Before the fame and bravado, before he became Mark Twain. Preferably he’d be laughably drunk. Then, perhaps, just maybe, there can be the illusion of us being compeers. Alongside Sam would be Christopher Moore, my favorite author. He is always my go-to when someone asks me for a recommendation, and I consider ‘Fool’ and ‘Lamb’ as must reads for everyone. Stephenie Me – stay with me, come back – Stephenie Meyer would also be there. Her success cannot be ignored, and people are still riding the wave of young adult fantasy romance she created. I’d love to get those three people around a table, booze flowing, and just quietly sit there with a notepad.

(Q3) You are stranded on a desert island with a working dvd player and a boxed set of the complete series of which sci-fi series? 

Mystery Science Theater 3000, the original ten seasons. This one was simple, at least for me. Amazing wit, great humor, and a wonderfully over-the-top premise that is truly relatable to me. I was, Hell, I still am THAT GUY. The one who sits in nearly empty theaters at 11am watching notably bad movies, cracking jokes to his friends while deriving great pleasure from the failure of others. I even loved the movie, which I believe solidifies my position as ‘Super Fan Boy’ quite nicely. As far as picking only one episode, wow, I mean, how? How can you just pick one? There are several true classics. I’ve actually been sitting here, staring at my keyboard, for a solid ten minutes, weighing the pros and cons of episode after episode, trying to figure out what I would consider the definitive episode. Ready for the cop-out? There’s two. I know, I know it’s cheating, but come on, there are ten seasons to consider. Both ‘Final Sacrifice’ and ‘Space Mutiny’ are brilliant, and after much internal debate, I feel represent the best of the series. You can watch them, for free, on YouTube, right now. Go. Seriously. Go watch. Right now. This interview will still be here when you’re done. You’re welcome.

About Ben...

In the arid deserts of western Colorado, a man sits in front of a keyboard. A failed comedian, unaccomplished writer, and undistinguished film and music critic, he struggled to adequately describe himself well enough to satisfy the basics of a biography. Perhaps it was nerves. Perhaps it was humility. Perhaps he was distracted by the rugged, yet classically handsome face being reflected by the dimly lit monitor before him. He did have an amazing chin.

You can find Ben on Twitter where you can follow his random ramblings about life the universe and everything!

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Forty-Two

Eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves. But he listened anyway…

The first female voice was laced with casual malice. “My dear, you are under no obligation to be faithful to him.”

A man chuckled. “Indeed you are not. May I offer my services?”

He recognised the third voice and his heart leapt into his throat.

It was his young and lovely wife. Who laughed as he waited for her to betray him.

“You fools. Of course I am under an obligation. He is a kind and faithful husband. And fidelity is all I have to give him.”

He breathed again.

©️jj 2019

Sunday Serial LXV

Sam took the jug from Jim’s unresisting hand. “Right, cappuccino for Patsy. What for you?”
“Oh, can I get cappuccino too?”
“Yeah, sure.”
Sam took two jumbo-sized cappuccino cups from the cupboard and dialled up two measures of espresso for each cup before adding the hot frothy milk. He fetched a smallish tray and put a plate of assorted biscuits and the two cappuccinos on it.
“There you go, mate. Sustenance for Patsy.”
“Yeah, and she’ll scarcely be out of the shower, so my stock will be so high.”

He went off, and Sam found himself chuckling at Jim whistling a merry tune. He grabbed a big umbrella from the boot room and dashed outside to check the postbox. It seemed to be bulging and he grabbed the contents before running back indoors. As usual, it was mostly circulars, with a sprinkling of business stuff, and by the time he had binned the circulars and shoved the business mail in the office for Anna to deal with he was left with four letters: one typewritten envelope and one handwritten for him and two handwritten for Anna. He got himself a coffee and sat at the table. The typewritten envelope turned out to be bumf from a holiday company, which he lobbed into the bin. The handwritten envelope was much more interesting, being from a young anaesthetist he had befriended several years before who was now working with Medicins sans Frontiers, and who had heard of Sam’s marriage. The young woman wrote her congratulations, and sent a picture of herself with a man on whose leg Sam had operated when he was working at the very same hospital. The man was now a husband and father, but he had never forgotten Sam and sent his blessings. Sam smiled. It felt good to have helped somebody. He was just finishing the letter when Anna came in.
“Sit. Have another coffee. Read your mail” he said. “I have a feeling our guests may be busy for a while.”
She grinned, and sat. Sam went to make her second cappuccino of the morning.
“Oh. That’s nice,” Anna said. “It’s from Bonnie’s breeder. She writes about twice a year. This time she has sent a picture of Bonnie’s sister and a litter of puppies.”
“Show me.”
Anna obliged.
“Oh my aren’t they just cute. Did you see Bon Bon when she was that small.”
“No. She was a present from Patsy, and I didn’t meet her till she was sixteen weeks, by which time Pats had house and lead trained her. You were grinning at your post too.”
Sam handed it over and Anna read it quickly.
“Oh Sam,” she said. “What a nice thing to know. You changed that man’s life.”
“Maybe. But it does feel good.”
“I’ll bet. I don’t recognise this handwriting… Oh. It’s from Tariq. Oh my goodness. This is a bit odd.”
“What love?”
“He says he didn’t call because he isn’t sure how secure his phone is. But there’s a Russian gent – name unpronounceable – frequents the S&M clubs who is asking around for info about Jim and his family. Also says the Russian has an unhealthy interest in underage boys. That’s too close to home, that is!”
“It is. And. Coincidence? No. I don’t believe in coincidences. Give Jim the info. It’s somewhere to start looking.”
“You’re right, love. It bears checking. And Jim has the tools and the friends to check it out thoroughly. Now. Do you think our guests will have finished whatever it is they have been doing? If they have, I reckon breakfast omelettes.”
“Good thinking wife. I’ll be a brave man and go find out…”

While Sam made his ostentatiously loud way upstairs, Anna assembled ingredients for four breakfast omelettes. Sam came back, gave her thumbs up  and started to lay the table. She smiled at him and they worked in happy harmony until Jim and Patsy appeared. Patsy was carrying the coffee tray and her cheeks were flushed a delicate shade of pink.

Anna laughed out loud before giving her friend a big hug. “Silly moo. Be proud. Your man loves you, and you love him. As to owt else, Sam’s heard sex noises before and he’s even been known to make one or two.”
Patsy sniggered.
“Oh I missed you when we weren’t talking. Nobody else quite understands like you.”
“Probably because nobody has known us as long as we’ve known us. Now. Sit. Omelette?”
Sam brought toast to the table. “Coffee? Tea?”
“Cappuccino please,” Patsy said.
“Tea for me if it ain’t too much trouble,” Jim rumbled.
“No prob.”

Jane Jago

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Forty-One

She was accounted a plain woman, plain and overweight. Not worth a second glance. None of the wispy nipped, tucked and botoxed women around could begin to understand how she had caught herself  fascinating husband, or how she kept him having caught him.

It would have shocked them to the depths of their shallow souls had they known that how she laughed at their naivety.

She lay in her rumpled bed and looked at the portrait that hung between the windows. Her husband looked too, before he laid an affectionate hand on her ample hip.

“Still as lovely as ever…”

©️jj 2019

The Call of the Wind…

The call of the wind on the darkest night
The whisper of summer breeze
The sound of a skein of geese in flight
The movement of leaves on a tree
The dance of a barefoot child at play
The tears of the sorrowful and strong
The piper greeting the close of day
Are all notes in my lady’s song
Where hands on strings make music bright
Where nightingales serenade the light
Where unseen orchestras play
Where dancing demons skitter by
Where eagles dip their wings and fly
Where the goddess has feet of clay
The whisper of breath across my cheek
The touch of a sound like a bell
Is my lady strong or is she weak
Is this heaven or is it hell
I no longer know and I no longer care
As the song in the winter wind ruffles my hair
And I follow my lady so bright and so fair
And the sound of her singing strips my soul bare
The call of the wind on the darkest night
The whisper of breeze in July
Her song is why I stand and fight
The reason I live or I die

© Jane Jago 2017

Weekend Wind Down – The Portal

It wanted but ten minutes to midnight when Matthias stepped out of his door and sniffed the starlit air. His dogs, Florence and Fido, came out too and sat at his feet regarding the quiet dark landscape through round, intelligent eyes. Matthias lit up his long, clay pipe and smoked  in ruminative quiet for a moment before bending to place one hand on each soft furry head.
“I wonder how many we can expect tonight?”
By way of an answer Florence wagged her tail briefly, and Fido gave a small wuff.
Their master smiled.
“Good dogs.”
It was, he thought, a pleasant night to be standing in the well manicured grass, smoking a pipe, and listening to the small sounds of the night creatures in the trees and the crevices in the dry stone wall that surrounded his demesne.
Somewhere across the silent valley a bell rung, tolling the midnight hour with its melodious chimes. Florence and Fido stiffened, and Matthias knocked the dottle out of his pipe on a convenient stone.
He turned to watch the well-worn path that led uphill from the town and his eyes caught the gleam of a pale light coming his way. What was at first one light, became two, then three, then a dozen, until finally a score or more of the pallid glimmers progressed across the springy grass and through the tall trees to where Matthias stood.
As the first reached him, it changed from an insubstantial mote of light to the figure of an elderly man, bent and soured with age. The dogs barred his way and he looked down vaguely.
Matthias called through the open doorway.
“Who comes to meet Archibald Smith.”
A dozen or so voices replied, so the dogs parted allowing the old man to pass into his new home.
The ritual repeated for each of those who sought entry and it gladdened Matthias’ heart that all had someone to speak for them – meaning he had not any to turn away into the unforgiving sky.
He looked down at the dogs.
“Time to turn in.”
But Fido growled and Florence pointed to where one glimmer of light, paler and more frightened than any that had been before seemed to be trying to hide itself among the tall grass that bordered the wall. Matthias beckoned and it came reluctantly to where he stood beside the square of warm light that marked his door. As the light touched down in front of him it became a very old woman, a woman with no teeth and precious little hair, a woman so wrinkled and wizened and diminished by age that it was difficult to tell what she might have looked like under her loose and greyish skin. But then she looked at Matthias, and the sheer beauty of her grass-green eyes stabbed him in the breast like a sword.
“Why do you try to hide, sister. Is there no one awaiting you beyond the veil?”
“I do not know, sir doorkeeper. I only know that I tremble to think that he who was my husband may see me as I am now and regret awaiting me at the portal for sixty years.”
Matthias smiled his understanding.
“Who comes to meet Grace Sandling?”
“I do,” a great voice from beyond the doorway stirred the air and set the scent of honeysuckle tickling the noses of the dogs.
“Come forth then. It is permitted.”
A tall, strong auburn-haired figure with a neatly trimmed beard and big strong hands walked out into the night.
“My Grace,” he said tenderly and fell to his knees on the award in front of the old woman. “My Grace, come to me at last.”
The woman shook like an aspen tree in the winter and covered her face with her insubstantial hands.
“I am not as you remember me. Cruel eld has robbed me of both beauty and strength. I am ashamed to let you see me thus.”
The man reached out and removed her hands from in front of her face. He looked into her eyes.
“You are exactly as I remember you. Brave and beautiful and kind.”
He carried both her hands to his lips and as Matthias watched the years fell from her, until she stood sword-straight and as lovely as a spring morning. The man offered her his arm and they walked through the doorway together.
Matthias swallowed a lump in his throat before whistling the dogs and walking through the door with them at his heels.
The door closed behind them and the garden and the dry stone walls folded onto themselves leaving only a bare hillside in the cold moonlight.

©️Jane Jago

Jane Jago’s Daily Drabble – One Hundred and Forty

It was Oliver’s turn to check FenceBook for pMails. He ambled across the garden and hopped neatly over the gate. The others went back to sleep.

Oliver came back with ‘smug’ written all across his face. 

“One up for us,” he curled his lip. “We have a new lady in the district, and I got to her pMail before Buster.”

McAllister stood up and shook his ruff.

“Maybe we should all go sit closer to the gate.”

There was an undignified scramble.

Oliver stayed where he was. What was the hurry. He’d already ‘met’ the lady behind the wheelie bins….

©️jj 2019

My Child, You Will Never Know

My child, you will never know
How much I cried inside over your tears
How I always tried to soothe your fears
How much each day I lived my life for you
How all you were, I see in all you do.

But now your fears are fears I cannot see
And all your tears cannot be soothed by me
Alone you face the trials that life has wrought
Alone, I watch you bear what it has brought.

The path you take is now far from your home
You walk through places I can never roam
But still I cry inside at what has come
And still I wish so much could be undone
My child, you will never know…

E.M. Swift-Hook

How To Write Book Reviews – Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

My dear Readers Who Write,

You will know of me as the renowned author Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV and have no doubt heard of the wisdom and erudition I have been putting forth in this highly enlightening series ‘The Thinking Quill’.

It is one’s intention today to depart from the pathways of rectitude and face squarely the chimera that is the erudite composition of a review.

“Now what,” I hear you ask, “has led our Ivy into these shark-filled shoals?” The answer, mes petits, is a review one recently received for that epitome of literary elegance that is the science-fiction classic ‘Fatswhistle and Buchtooth’. Some ignorant pensioner posted her abusive opinion and graded my magnum opus with a solitary gold-star. Her supposed ‘review’ was a single sentence in length: “This is the worst pile of crap masquerading as sci-fi I have read in over forty years.” One realised instantly the poor deluded female must be both menopausal, thus in her dotage, and also clearly the victim of dementia, so generously forgave her on the moment.

But it awoke me to the imperative of inducting the future generations of Readers Who Write into the subtle nemeton of the reviewers craft. No student of Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV should be reduced to the single sentence, no matter how pithy when they are casting supreme judgement upon the literary ejaculations of fellow authors. So, it falls upon me to ensure you are equipped with the knowledge and skill to dissect the entrails of another’s corpus.

Now, there will be those misguided souls among you who have, until now, seen it as their deity-sent duty to encourage the writer and coddle his artistic soul with warming and conspicuously kindly rumination on the opus before them.

I rail against such foolishness. Nay, I cry. Nay, nay and thrice nay. The very existence of the reviewer demands a harsher task. Armour yourself with erudition, take up the sword of experience and the bows and arrows of superior lexicography, and sally forth to slay the mythical monsters of pusillanimous prose, insufficiently exquisite world building, flat ‘realistic’ characterisation, and unimaginative, ‘logical’ plot lines.

Take up your weapons and do battle.

Let your words and wit be as a scalpel with which you excise the necrotising flesh of mediocrity from the bones of boredom, the tendons of tedium, and the entrails of excruciating entropy.

Should any work not meet the most stringent demands of taste, texture and testicular terpsichory, one must be not afraid to consign the script to the dungeons known as ‘did not finish’ and to expostulate one’s redaction as coolly as a surgeon whose sharpened scalpel removes disease to save life.

Take as your talisman the words of that divine dame whose perfect pinkness and portentous prose shows all lesser mortals the direction in which the glorious Muse may be cajoled by an author of superlative talent and all superseding sensibility. Consider the exquisite gentility of her delicately virginal heroines and the craggy, all-embracing masculinity of her manly heroes. It matters not what the genre, take the advice of one upon whose knowledge you may safely depend and use the words of the divine dame as the yardstick by which you judge all literary pretensions.

Once you find a manuscript worthy of your attention, husband your gilded heavenly bodies with care, awarding each and every one as parsimoniously as if it were a child of your own bosom. Let not the spirit of generosity move you to sprinkle planetoids with a lavishness beyond the desserts of that which stands before you.

I present to you my own formula for asteroid assignation.

One heavenly body: some slight little thing. An example being Dying to be Roman, by those dreadful women who I allow to benefit from my enormous popularity

Two sleeping satellites: a book with sufficient eclat to hold one’s grudging respect. An example being  JRR Tolkien’s fantastical travelogue.

Three asteroidal amplifications: a volume where one is sufficiently engaged to need to peek at the ending to ensure one’s favourite characters survive. An example being ‘Game of Thrones’ – who’s bid for more shining lights was only scuppered by a little over fondness for violence within its pages.

Four twinklies: a work of superlative excellence. An example being the understated, linguistically purist, Gorean Saga

Five golden galleons: reserved for the work of the divine dame whose bejeweled pink slippers I am unworthy to kiss.

In conclusion, dear RWW, let your metaphysical pen be as feared in reviewing as it will become beloved in creation.

Lire Bon!

Moonbeam Farquhar Metheringham IV

You can find more of IVy's profound advice in How To Start Writing A Book, the worst ever 'how to write' book. Read IVy's advice with editorial comments on each blog piece by his mother, Jacintha. All courtesy of E.M. Swift-Hook and Jane Jago.

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