Angry Robot Books just turned 5, and to celebrate, AR is doing some fun posts around the web and also offering some great giveaway. Tim Waggoner has written an awesome guest post, and we’ve got 5 copies of THE NEKROPOLIS ARCHIVES to give away to 5 lucky winners (the omnibus includes Nekropolis, Dead Streets, and Dark War)!
So, welcome Tim to the blog, and be sure to check out #AngryRobot5 on Twitter so you don’t miss out on other posts and giveaways!
I’ve encrypted this message into my latest Angry Robot novel Night Terrors, using a code sufficiently complex enough that with any luck They won’t discover it when editing the manuscript, but not so complex, I hope, that someone out there won’t be able to decipher it. If you’re reading this right now, it means I’ve succeeded. If you’re not . . . Never mind. I’m not going to go there. I have to believe that my message will make it to the outside world. It’s the only thing that’s allowing me to hold onto the last ragged scraps of my sanity.
I’m not sending this message to save myself. It’s far too late for that. I’m writing this to those of you who might be thinking about submitting novel manuscripts to Angry Robot to be considered for publication. For the love of all that’s holy, DON’T DO IT! Several years ago, I submitted Nekropolis to Marc Gascoigne – or at least something that presented itself as a human being with that name – and it was accepted. I was thrilled, of course. What writer wouldn’t be? But then it started. First came the emails.
Hey, Tim! Just a quick note to let you know that you really need to be getting more sleep. We prefer our authors to get a minimum of eight hours uninterrupted sleep each night. It keeps their minds sharp when they sit down at the keyboard and start typing. And we want you to produce the very best work for us that you’re capable of.
The thing is, I’d never mentioned a single word to Marc about my sleeping habits. And this email wasn’t an isolated incident by any means. Over the next few weeks, I received a regular stream of messages regarding Angry Robot’s stance on proper nutrition, exercise, and even bowel movements. Writers want to be viewed as valued partners in the publishing process by their editors, but I think you’ll agree that Angry Robot’s interest in such intimate details of my life was not only intrusive but downright creepy. Still, a certain amount of eccentricity is only to be expected from those in the arts, and it wasn’t as if I didn’t possess my own share of idiosyncracies. Besides, the Angry Robot crew are British, and I figured there were probably some cultural differences at work that I wasn’t aware of.
Then the texts started coming.
I was working on Dead Streets, the sequel to Nekropolis, but it wasn’t all I was doing. In addition to being a writer, I’m also a college professor, and I had student essays and stories to comment on. And the occasional anthology invitation would happen along, and I’d take a break from writing Dead Streets to compose a short story for another editor. I was in the middle of writing one such story when my phone buzzed. I picked it up and read the text I’d just received.
We appreciate that you’re a busy man with a lot on his plate. But we expect you to be busy for US. xoxoxoxo
That was the first, but it was far from the last. They were all variations on a theme.
Do one thing at a time, and do it well.
Focus, focus, focus!
There are many temptations in this world. Do not give in.
I ignored the messages and continued juggling my workload as best I could, until the day I received the following.
We can see you’re having trouble prioritizing. We can help.
The anthology invitations dried up overnight, and editors that I had worked with for years would no longer return my emails or accept my calls. Whenever I tried to post something on social media, I’d lose my Internet connection, no matter where I was or what sort of device I was using to connect. Even my family began spending less time around me, until I barely saw them, and when I did, they refused to make eye contact or speak to me.
And then I was fired from my teaching job. More precisely, I was summoned to the college president’s office, shown a video of a near-exact doppelganger of myself engaging in unspeakable activities with a group of students, faculty, and various farm animals, and informed that if I didn’t immediately tender my resignation, the video would be released anonymously to the press. The president had my letter already written, and all I had to do was sign it. His hands trembled as he passed the document to me, and his downcast gaze was haunted. I wondered what They had done to get him to cooperate. Something similar, I assumed.
I returned home that day, defeated and in shock, only to discover that not only was my family gone, everything except my computer, my desk, the refrigerator, microwave, and a mattress had been removed from my house. I no longer had television or wifi, and the only food and drink in the place were frozen packets of bland mush labeled NUTRIENTS and bottles of clear liquid labeled HYDRATION. One thing had been added to the house, though: there were now security cameras in every room.
I tried to leave, but the doors would no longer open, and the windows – which had been normal when I’d walked in – were now barred. My phone buzzed as a single-word text came in.
I tried to write, I really did. I hoped that if I finished Dead Streets and the last book in the contract, Dark War, this madness would end and I could return to the life I’d known. Or, if that wasn’t possible, at least I might be free to leave the house. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t concentrate and the words refused to come. My phone started ringing at that point, the calls coming from CALLER UNKNOWN. I didn’t answer. After two dozen voicemails, none of which I listened to, I put my phone into the microwave, set it on HIGH and set the timer to cook for an hour. Then as the machine sparked and crackled, I went into the bedroom and flopped down on the bare mattress – They hadn’t left me any sheets – and I wept.
I must have fallen asleep, for when I next opened my eyes, the bedroom was pitch black. I sat up, heart pounding, every sense alert, for although I couldn’t see anything, I knew I wasn’t alone.
“We can see that your current situation isn’t working.”
The voice sounded hollow and cold, an echo in a frost-covered tomb.
“And for that matter, neither are you.”
The second voice was dry and brittle, old bones splintering.
Other voices – too many voices – laughed at the joke.
“But we can fix that,” the first voice said. “All you have to do is come with us.”
“It won’t hurt,” the second voice said, and then added, “Much.”
Laughter again, and then what I had taken to be darkness – but was, in fact, something far worse – came rushing toward me from all directions, and I screamed. Or at least, I tried to.
I don’t know where I am now. I can’t move, can’t speak. I’m enclosed in some kind of metallic cocoon with plastic tubes jutting from my body, delivering nourishment and removing waste. Metal rods have been inserted into my head, and wires run from them out to machinery that I cannot see. I can feel that machinery, though. It siphons the thoughts from my mind, draws stories out of me word by word, and sends them to my masters, who in turn send them on to you. I’m not the only one, though. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see silvery blurs that I think are more cocoons. How many there are, I cannot say. Dozens? Hundreds? More?
So if you are able to decipher this message, and you have any desire to write stories of your own, I beg you, do not put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. And if you can’t stop yourself, if you just have to write, do not try to get the finished product published. But if you must share your work with the world, if you’re that pathologically determined to be a writer with a capitol W, then at least heed this: DO NOT SEND YOUR FICTION TO ANGRY ROBOT!
You have been warned. May my dark lords spare your wretched souls.