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A Dog's Christmas

The Holiday season is here! To celebrate, this year we have made a very spepcial comic strip for the Free Bundle. May this festive season sparkle and shine for your and your family. Merry Christmas!




Fantastic Horizons

Fantastic Horizons

Pulp Magazines are rising from the ashes. Here is the greatest of speculative fiction.

Space Can Be Rough for Colonists in...

Black Rollers

Morglan felt the fine grit on his teeth as he sucked the inside of his mouth for some saliva to swallow. A violent gust from the dust storm, now in its second year, had swept him out of his carrier. He watched its dim shape melt away.

The black rollers. That’s what they called the storms of the Dust Bowl in old America 200 years ago. His thoughts drifted back over the span of ten orbits around V335 Aquilae, what the exo-dreamers had dubbed Sagan’s Star. How had it come to this? They had traveled across the universe to establish the first colony on Sagan 5. It was not the idyllic Earth-type world all had hoped to find, but by the time their expedition blasted off, neither was Earth.

The 6th Ice Age was peaking. The Yellowstone super volcano in old America had erupted, throwing plate-tectonic movement into chaos. The resultant changes in ocean and atmosphere circulation patterns resulted in a dramatic and devastating drop in temperature. In comparison to the icy world Earth had become, Sagan 5 was a paradise.


Linden stood on the ridge of the command hut roof, clinging to a long dead antenna against the force of the storm. She and it struggled to remain upright. The devastation had accelerated at an alarming rate, catching them unprepared. The others had already left. Lindon had stayed at the command hut to coordinate the evacuation. While that was in progress, she had assigned Bosch and Pérez to search for Morglan.

Linden strained to make out the approaching carrier. Seeing them, she pulled up the mantle of her envirohood, and yelled, “Any sign of Morglan?”

“No, ma’am,” shouted Pérez in return, as he steered the carrier toward the blurry figure.

“We’ll never find him. Can’t see a damn thing in all this mess,” added Bosch.

“Have you looked everywhere?” yelled Linden.

“Yeah,” barked Bosch looking at Pérez for support. His companion nodded.

“Around the greenhouse?” asked Linden.

“No way the old man could have gotten that far,” said Pérez.

“So you lazy bastards haven’t looked everywhere,” spat Linden. “Turn that thing around and go check it out.”

“Come on Cap,” whined Bosch, “ain’t no way he made it that far. Besides, everyone else has gone. It’s time we made tracks before we get swallowed up.”

“West, about two klicks,” she yelled, pointing to her left. “Go!”


Morglan drew a ragged breath, lungs gurgling. How were we to know? How was I to know? I was expedition leader, I am responsible, but how were we to know?

For seven years, the colony had thrived on Sagan 5, building their dwellings from bits and pieces of lander craft, native stone and mud. They scratched a subsistence life from the narrow band of semi-arid land that girded the planet’s equator. Virtually all of the planet’s water was contained in its frozen polar caps or the deep aquifers that flowed beneath the surface. Some exoplanet scientists speculated that Sagan 5 had once been totally covered in water. That was before some primordial event resulted in a cataclysmic environmental change.

At first, the colonists made long journeys from the narrow band of arable land around Sagan 5’s equator to retrieve ice, which they stored in holding ponds, using the melt to irrigate their fields. Later, they dug wells from which to draw water.

Every muscle in Morglan’s body screamed for oxygen. His legs, refusing to cooperate, were little more than aching dead weight. The ferocity of the storm crushed him. Almost blinded by its fury, he searched for shelter with his hands as he pulled himself along. The Okies headed west to escape… If I could only rest for a few moments…


Pérez checked his compass as he struggled to keep on a heading toward the greenhouse. The storm seemed intent on sweeping them into oblivion. He corrected course, hunkering down against the storm surge. He leaned close to Bosch.

“Why’d the old fool have to go wander off just when we were getting ready leave?” he rasped.

“I think this godforsaken storm drove him nuts. It’ll do the same to all of us if it don’t kill us first. Hell, we may already be nuts. This storm has been going on for two years. Who knows? We might even be dead and never realize it in all this mess,” Bosch growled. He wiped his visor and stared into the roiling storm.

“See anything?” asked Pérez, keeping his eyes glued to the compass.

Bosch stared ahead. Suddenly, a shape materialized directly in their path. “Watch out!” he cried.

Pérez looked up from his compass just in time to avoid ramming the empty carrier and coasted to a stop. He maneuvered as close to it as the storm would allow, without risking a collision. “Looks empty,” he said.

“Yeah, can we go back now?” pleaded Bosch.

“No. Cap’ll have our hides. We’ll check this out, then head for the greenhouse.” Pérez peered into the murk. “By my reckoning, it’s only a few hundred yards further. There’s always a chance he made it there.”

“Do you think Cap is right?” asked Bosch.

“About Morglan? I think he’s dead and the likelihood of finding him is pretty small.”

“No, about waiting out the storm on the polar caps.”


Morglan’s left hand touched the edge of something substantial. Pulling himself forward, he reached under with his right hand to find a small cavity. As the scud swirled in gusts, he wriggled his head and upper torso inside, leaving his legs exposed. He pulled off his hood, gasping for air.

His thoughts wandered as he struggled to remain conscious. How were we to know? In year eight, Sagan 5 began to wobble on its axis. Slightly at first, the wobble continued to increase in degree of tilt. By the end the year nine, the tilt was enough to trigger the devastating climatic changes which precipitated the onslaught of violent storms. By the end of the year ten, the storms morphed into a tempest without end.

As he struggled to breathe, the inexorable storm continued its assault.


By now, the ridge of the command hut was fully inundated. Linden strained hear the sound of the carrier over the howl of the storm. Pérez and Bosch had been gone long enough to complete their search and return. She hoped they had not died or worse deserted, leaving her stranded. The com in her envirohood crackled, long rendered useless by the static electricity generated by the storm.

Finally the carrier appeared bucking against the storm caps. Bosch threw Linden a line, which she tied off on the antenna to keep it from floating away. She immediately saw the body rolling in the water on the floorboards. “Is Morglan dead?”

“Yeah,” said Pérez, bailing rain water.

“Where’d you find him?”

“You were right,” said Bosch, “he was at the greenhouse. Found him stuck half way through a roof vent. His hood was gone. Musta drowned when the water rose above the roof.”

“Should we leave him here?” asked Pérez.

“No,” said Lindon, climbing in. “We’ll take him with us. Better get going before we get swamped. She grabbed a bucket and began bailing. “Once we find the others, we’ll figure out what to do.”

“He musta gone crazy,” said Pérez. “What was he thinking to do such a thing, Cap?”

“I don’t know,” said Lindon. “Who can tell what goes through a dying man’s mind?”


Paul Stansbury is a life long native of Kentucky. He is the author of Inversion - Not Your Ordinary Stories; Inversion II - Creatures, Fairies, and Haints Oh My!; and Down By the Creek – Ripples and Reflections and a novelette: Little Green Men? His speculative fiction stories have appeared in a number of print anthologies as well as a variety of online publications. Now retired, he lives in Danville, Kentucky.

You can find more from Paul here: http://www.paulstansbury.com
http://facebook.com/paulstansbury


Cover Story

Cover Story

Cover Story

Here we publish stories we feel deserve special attention from the science fiction community.

The Secret Story Behind Charles Dickens, The Man Who Invented Christmas

The world might know him for his best-selling story, 'A Christmas Carol', but not many know about the epic struggle the author went through to have this classic tale published.

Imagine the following: Charles Dickens, writer, barely over 30 years old, well known in his profession by the local papers and colleagues alike, but not as widely known as he would have wanted to, decides his next book should be, in a word, different. His next book, Charles believes, should be a challenge. It should help him break free from his comfort zone.

He rushes with the idea into the offices of Chapman and Hall, his current publisher, whom after having a short meeting with the author and his story, decides against getting involved in such an act of lunacy.

As it turns out, Young Charles Dickens wants to tell a tale of Christmas.

But what Chapman and Hall ignores is that, in fact, this isn’t the first time Charles has thought about writing a Christmas story. He has been secretly working on a narrative that would warm the cold hearts of the British high society without recurring to political essays and is now finally sure to have gathered sufficient strength to test his ink against such an elusive muse.

Years before, in Pickwick Papers, Dickens tells the story of a cynical grave digger, one Gabriel Grub, who, through frightful visions presented by goblins on Christmas Even, is forcefully converted to benevolence before his soul get dammed to hell 1. He doesn’t knows exactly where yet, but he knows that somewhere in there, there is defenitelly a good story.

Armed with just a hunch, Charles Dickens sets himself to self-publish “A Christmas Carol” with borrowed money in exchange for a percentage of the profits.

Describing Charles Dickens as “the man who invented Christmas”, the renowed Welsh journalist, essayist and historian Byron Rogers writes: “In our dreams of the perfect pub it is always the 1830s, on the eve of the Railway Boom, with Christmas not far away. Christmas was never far from him. It is there in his first book and in his last, and for him each year the deadline came for the Christmas story, something he was to ruefully call clearing ‘the Christmas stone out of the road.’ Look at the cards on your mantle piece. Those without robins or shepherds have coaches, inns, ladies in muffs and jolly men in Hessian boots, all these because a young man froze Christmas for us in the 1830s. He was able to do that because for reasons of his own he had largely invented it.” 2

[…]inns, ladies in muffs and jolly men in Hessian boots, all these because a young man froze Christmas for us in the 1830s

Contrary to popular belief, Dickens found no significant problems writing the story. Let’s recall that, despite being portraited as a troubled author in popular culture, mostly because of his relationship with his father, Dickens was a professional writer and knew and loved and respected his craft as most professional artists do.

Before the end of November 1843, the story was finished. Chapman and Hall published the book in December of the same year. Since Dickens had paid for the publishing with his own money, he gave himself the luxury to be involved in every stage of the publishing process. From choosing the color of the cover to the engraved golden letters to the artist who immortalized old Ebenezer Scrooge; John Leech, perhaps the most famous illustrator at the time whose work includes the widely popular Punch Magazine.

A Christmas Carol was an instant hit, flying out entirely out of the bookstores in a matter of days. Sadly, for Dickens, the book was not a success. He had invested money from his own pocket to get it published and expected to receive at least £1,000 on the first 6000 copies but merely pocketed around £230 instead. The next year, despite still being one of the most critically acclaimed books in stores, his entire profits totaled £744.

How can we explain, then, that a man with the most successful book in London ended up struggling with money once again? Easy, Dickens’s choices for the book’s binding and illustrations were so expensive his earnings were diminished, something most self-published authors should also be aware of when publishing their work.

But what if Dickens didn’t choose to have the letters on the cover engraved in gold? What if he went for a stock cover instead of the beautifully one the first edition had? What would have happened if Dickens had decided against hiring Leech to illustrate the story? What would have happened then? Was Dicken’s book a tremendous success because of its timeless story? Or because of an author who madly loved his work to the extent that he invested in the last pound he owned to get the best possible quality for his creation?

There is no question that A Christmas Carol is one of the greatest tales ever written, but the weight of Dickens’ decisions when it came to publishing the book can’t be denied as an integral part of its success. That is the real secret behind the success of A Christmas Carol. Not the story, or the characters, or the ghosts of Christmas we all know and love. These, like we already saw, had been published in a similar fashion before, and by no other than Dickens himself. No, the secret behind its success lies in the circumstance in which the story was published. In the book itself. In the binding. In its illustrations. In the choice of paper and the way Dickens recommended booksellers to place his story on the windows.

The secret behind the man who invented Christmas is that first, he invented the success of the story.


  1. The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton, The Pickwick Papers, (1836). [return]
  2. The man who invented Christmas, Sunday Telegraph (December 18, 1988) [return]

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