BIRDIE DOWN – Still free for all…

BIRDIE DOWN is still free for all and averaging 4.20 Stars.
The US-based SciFi website,, says ‘this is the best amateur SF novel I’ve read… Highlyrecommended’ – 5 Stars
Take a look. And if you’re feeling as generous as they were, please pass the word…

SCAT – Smashwords Space Opera Ranking #24/152

SCAT – a complex space opera-thriller that builds and builds until the action leaps off the page, taking everyone into another dimension.

So much for the hype. But how’s it doing in the real world? 

Well it’s averaging 4.67 Stars on Smashwords and is ranked #24/152 in Space Opera sales. Not bad for a first novel. In fact, I’m rather chuffed!

Please take a look and if you’re feeling generous, please pass the word…

Join me on Facebook… drop by whenever you like

Come join me on Facebook at my Jim Graham author page
And whilst you work out how to do that, here’s a copy of my Facebook network. Neat, huh? Looks like a constellation. See that bright star in the centre of the universe? That’s not me. It’s my wife. The centre of my universe.

And the baby clusters? They’re my newly established networks of fellow authors and a few of the readers of BIRDIE DOWN

Courtesy myfnetwork 

Casual Reader Reviews and Feedback

BIRDIE DOWN is a free SciFi ebook available from Smashwords for reading on Kindle, iPad, Nook, and Sony Ereader. It is currently attracting book reviews from dedicated book reviewers, but I’d really like to know what the casual reader thinks of it before I wade into the sequel.

If you read SciFi then maybe you can help. If you want to help, just click the BIRDIE DOWN avatar to the left of this page and then download the book for free from Smashwords. It’s around 250 pages long, and I’m told it’s pacey enough to be read in two or three sittings. If you can then post an honest review on the book’s Smashword page, or post your comments here, you’ll be helping out a newbie Indie writer.


An Extract From SCAT – Scat’s first pathfinder mission

   Scat’s first Pathfinder mission was meant to be a very quick and simple one. He entered the brightly lit, over-sized chamber, alone and suited up as for a Prebos belt-walk. From inside his suit he could hear the roar of the extractor fans as they continuously re-circulated the chamber air. Above him, the furnace was ready to ignite, should the wormhole fail to maintain its positive pressure.
   At the far end of the chamber stood the unopened and spinning disc of transparent liquid-like elements.
   Ratti was conducting operations from the cabin built into the chamber, high up and to the left of the unopened hole.
   ‘Ready, Scat?’
   ‘As ever I will be, Carlo. Open her up.’
   The outer-edges of the disc danced with light. Its inner surfaces shone like highly polished tubular chrome, turning in on itself in a smooth, continuous movement. As the eye opened up, the liquid-like elements appeared to increase in depth, becoming more three dimensional, like a camera lens. As it opened wider, the eye appeared to float, unthreateningly, inviting investigation.
   Beyond the eye lay the surface of a planet, still referred to by its catalogue number, one of several orbiting the smaller of two stars, a typical binary system. He had been told of its precise location and distance from Runnymede but Scat couldn’t relate.
   He was keeping his cool by focusing on the more tangible things. Between him and the hole lay his designated bugbot and a couple of drones; the bugbot fitted out with a range of sensors plus a PIKL and a neural disruptor. He understood these things, so he focused on them. It helped to stop his imagination from spinning out of control.
   Previous drone surveys of the insertion area had recorded distant footage of several ambulatory life forms. They already knew that the planet was covered in a great many different forms of vegetation, some of it quite large; analogous to Earth’s bushes and trees, and that the air was breathable. Several drones had been pushed out into local orbit, storing data for transmission each time the eye opened. They had shown there to be several different climate zones.
   Lynthax had chosen a temperate area, mid-way between the planet’s equator and its northern pole, for the site of its first human visit. Ground insertion was to be onto a secluded glade within a “wooded” area a little way up a hill slope, the other side of which was a large vegetation-covered plain. Despite the drone’s remote encounters with life forms, he was advised that the likelihood of his encountering any of it whilst he spent his planned 15 minutes on the surface was about the same as a summer’s walk through the Yellowstone National park. Scat couldn’t give that comment any context. He’d never been. In any case, he didn’t think anyone on Runnymede could offer any kind of re-assurances about what he might meet.
   As he approached the wormhole, he glanced up at the marble-sized power source, mounted in a ring at the top of a tall rod to the right of the hole. It appeared to be spinning within the ring but without touching it. He pulled his eyes away: Dave had briefed the Pathfinders not to look directly at it and never to touch it. Over a couple of cool and crisp post-training beers the night before, the trainers had told stories of researchers freaking out, security guards refusing to clock on, electrical equipment being drained of power when in close proximity to it. Apparently, no one liked being near the thing.
   ‘Just don’t get close and don’t be drawn to it,’ he recalled Dave as saying.
   But the urge to look at it again was strong so he checked the bugbot for a second time. He then knelt beside the drone to punch in his personal activation code, and willed the eye to open fully to allow him to step through it. Still, the spinning marble drew him in, and again he had to work hard to push it out of his mind. He stood, checked that his belted equipment was buttoned and strapped down, trying hard not to look at the marble out of the corner of his eye.
   ‘Any time you’re ready,’ Ratti said.
   He could feel himself wavering, losing his concentration.
   ‘Damn it, Scat! Focus. Focus!’  he told himself, taking three steps through the hole.
   The new world opened out around him. In an instant, air from the chamber side of the wormhole rushed past him and onto the bushes ahead. He swivelled around to get his bearings and to check how far he was from the tall vegetation behind him, feeling as vulnerable and as disoriented as a dog dumped at the roadside.
   As expected, there was the wormhole, through which he could now see the chamber, and around the other side of it, perhaps 50 metres away, was a bank of thick foliage.
   He fiddled nervously with his solida-graf and located the bugbot that had followed him through the hole. He took local control of it and set it to defensive, cranking it up to maximum sensitivity. He then turned back to the view he had seen from Runnymede.
   He was standing in a glade of flower-like life on solid, dry ground. He knew he was in an area of rolling hills but couldn’t see further than 50 – 75 metres in any direction. The shallow valley was on his left, the vegetation canopy at eye level, sunlight dappling the undergrowth in dark and light patches that moved as the canopy swayed in the light wind. Ferns, bushes, and the larger bushes, which could pass for trees, if one overlooked the multiple trunks, rose up the hill towards him and covered most of the ground surrounding the glade. Through the “trees”, he could just about make out some rocky outcrops.
   Directly above him the sky was blue but tinged with yellow closer to the ground.
   On the other side, to his right, bushes, or trees, nestling in thicker undergrowth, obscured his view of the ground. As expected, the canopy climbed the hill as it rose to its summit.
   ‘No dallying, Scat. Sightseeing is for later on. Just run through the checks, get to the top of the rise, and come on back.’
   ‘Roger that. Just checking for Injuns, is all. Everything working to spec,’ he replied, looking down at his solida-graf. ‘Comms good… Bugbot at 100%… Ground firm… Air pressure at 98% Runnymede normal… Temperature and humidity as expected… Radiation normal… I’ll call the drones through and send them out to the 3 km markers.’
   On Runnymede, the dark brown, oval-shaped drones woke up, drew power from their fuel cells, flipped open their rotor blades and lifted their man-sized bodies into the air. In seconds they were both through the hole, rising to an unfamiliar sky, relaying a stream of data back to Ratti and his assistants.
   Scat look up through the vegetation.
   ‘I’ll start moving up to the skyline. It looks thicker at ground level than we thought. No paths or animal runs. I can’t see the second sun; the atmospheric refraction is too intense.’
   He felt odd wearing a suit in near normal gravity and in an oxygen-normal atmosphere, but moving through the vegetation was cumbersome work so he was grateful for its air-conditioning. Occasionally he would look down at his solida-graf to check that it was still working. Of course it was. There were no immediate threats.       It was quiet because it had nothing to say. He was just nervous.
   After a few minutes of panting, he eventually reached the top of the hill, wishing he’d stayed a little fitter than he was. The trees still blocked his view, but he could see the wood thin out and the ground brighten up some 20 metres further on, just over the crest. To his left a tree rose from the ground, arched above him then plunged back into the ground on his right, sprouting flowers of red and leaves of all colours.
   He pushed on, down a slight incline, then arrived at the wood’s edge to a view he could only describe to himself as stunning.
   The sky above seemed huge and distant, and off to his left was the second sun, a faraway star as bright by day as Venus is by early morning when seen from Earth. The hillside slipped away to a wide expansive savannah, dotted with low bulbous trees, a sea of thick ferns of red, brown, green, yellow, and white flowers tinged with blue. The vastness of the plain gave him a sense of freedom that he hadn’t experienced since his trips across the Gap Plain on Trevon. It was as close to a National Geographic movie of the Rift Valley as he would ever see in his lifetime. He felt right at home.
   ‘What’s the matter, Scat? Your heart rate and blood pressure have become erratic.’
   The question brought him back to mission.
   ‘Nothing. It’s just more beautiful than I expected. Visibility now out to around 20-30 km.’
   ‘Well, it was bound to be an improvement over Trevon, Scat. So, are you ready to breathe local air?’
   ‘I’m ready.’
   ‘OK, take it off.’
   Runnymede had sampled the air and they knew it to be safe, but only to the limits of human understanding. As with all new environments, there were bound to be pathogens that had gone undetected, unfamiliar gases as well. Despite numerous tests on animals on Runnymede, the only true test would be for a man to take a deep lungful in situ, just as they had once done on Trevon, Constitution, G-eo, Runnymede and all the other human habited planets in the OR.  
   Scat took off his helmet and continued to breathe normally as instructed, whilst Ratti monitored his blood gases. The smell of sap, pollen and decaying vegetation, dung and damp, musty, fertile soil saturated the air. There was none of the usual closed habitat smells of solvents, ozone, plastics.
   ‘Seems good, Scat. Nothing of note from your end?’
   ‘No. Nothing. All’s good. The air smells of shit.’
   Ratti didn’t reply immediately. Data from a drone was distracting him.
   ‘We have indications of a large moving mass, Scat. Off to your right. One of the drones is flying intercept. Do you see anything?’
   ‘No. I’ll move around and see what I can see.’
   Scat turned to contour around the hillside, keeping the wood line to his right. More and more of the plain came into view. The colours of the ground ferns seemed to change in waves, back and forth, as they bowed and flickered in front of a gentle breeze. Then he saw them.
   Around a kilometre away, and stretching from extreme left to extreme right horizons, were several tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of four legged life-forms whose mass formed a continuous slash of brown against the colourful ferns. They were walking slowly, 20 and 30 abreast, dipping their heads frequently in a manner that was repeated kilometre after kilometre along its length. He kept walking, hoping to see more from where the hill sloped away more sharply to the plain below.
   His solida-graf began to bleep gently as it received data from the drone. Scat instructed it to throw up the images. As the close-up pulled into focus, he stopped dead in his tracks.
   ‘Do you see this, Carlo? Do you see this?’ he shouted excitedly.
   ‘Not yet, Scat. We’re moving the hole over the hill to get better reception. What do you see?’
   ‘A truly wonderful sight!’
   ‘What is it?’

Extract From SCAT

   The journey from the V3to Go Down City would be a short but spectacular one, so Scat hurried through the shuttle’s cargo bay and into the launch room, grabbing a forward-facing launch seat close to the flight cabin.
   Before him and filling the window to the port side of the flight cabin was a living and shining Trevon. To the starboard was the blackness of space. As they closed in on the planet, Trevon’s horizon flattened out until the brilliant white band of its terminator ran in a straight line from roof to floor. It then appeared to rotate and drop below them as the shuttle altered its approach and offered its heat shield to the thin upper atmosphere.
A frenzy of heat and light wrapped itself around the shuttle, obliterating the view, leaving a visible disturbance in its wake.
   Some 20 minutes later, the shuttle slowed sufficiently for the air to part before it and Scat could then see the sky all around him. The blackness of space was gone and the refraction in the atmosphere obscured the detail he had seen from space. The shuttle continued towards a morning sun that pushed a wave of light across the mostly white and sometimes green Trevon surface, in places scarred and brown where mines dug deep into the crust. A line of clouds obscured the frozen continental seaboard, dissipating over a sea of gunmetal blue.
   Scat’s spirits lifted. If he were lucky, the sky would be clear on the surface, the air sharp and bracing, smelling of decaying vegetation, snow, salt – all natural things.
   At 20,000m, the shuttle extended its wings and slowed from Mach 4 to a sedate 450 km per hour, its flight properties changing from a ballistic missile to that of an air-rider. As it descended through 5000m it buffeted slightly, dipped, straightened, yawed and banked as it lined up on the Go Down City spaceport, only just visible in the haze some 10 km away. Then a member of the crew closed the flight cabin door in preparation for landing, stealing the view away. In no time at all, it was hitting the runway, wheels screeching, cabin rumbling, loose bin lids rattling.
   The three shuttles pulled off the runway to a row of buildings set back from the main terminal and once they had powered down, everyone, including the flight crew, disembarked along a closed and windowless gantry into a small customs hall reserved for Lynthax personnel. Teams of environmental specialists pushed past them in the opposite direction to fumigate the interior.
   In the background, and spread out around the hall, were several groups of Lynthax Security, each trooper armed with a stun gun and, this time, a lethal small arm.
   Off to Scat’s right he could see the supervisors, who, like him, had been led on board the V3 in plasticuffs, being re-arrested. As he looked back at the head of the queue in which he was standing, he saw two troopers waiting, looking at him.
   It would be his turned next.

Another Extract From Birdie Down – the rescue goes wrong

There was a slight thump. The rear door sprung open. A disoriented Smithy fell out into a patch of flattened grass. He found his footing and stumbled his way into the forest, clutching his PIKL to his chest.
Bales watched Day’s impressive display of suppressive PIKL fire. The compound’s rooftop weatherproofing began to smoulder under the barrage of laser strikes. An occasional pulsed energy strike caused blue fingers to run along the balcony railings and arc across the open space between the compound and the outer fencing. There was only a single blue line of defiance, and it came from the main gate, a hundred and fifty metres away. It bounced harmlessly off the cockpit glass in front of him.
Bales engaged the downward thrusters and aimed the nose of the Furtive at the Main Gate. He raised his left flightcontrolskin and pressed the middle finger against the thumb. He pressed down for a short 2000-round burst, pulling his fingers apart as quickly as he could.
The main gate disintegrated into an expanding dust cloud. Large chunks of concrete flew off to bounce across the roof and into the clearing. A breeze then pushed the cloud towards him, obscuring the view.
Bales lowered his left hand and allowed the Furtive to settle back onto the ground.
Day was right. The rail gun was a beaut. He marvelled at how the GCE had engineered something so powerful – yet so smooth, quiet and with so little kick-back. The Furtive had hummed as he fired; it barely vibrated.
He checked behind him. The rear engines had powered up in synch with the rail gun to steady the ship. The edge of the forest smouldered. Perhaps he should have warned Smithy about that. He hoped he was OK.
He looked up at the clock. 30 seconds. No movement out front that he could see, but then the dust cloud was making its way across to him. He raised the nose again and gave the main gate another short burst. The dust cloud thickened. He looked back over his left shoulder at the forest. Nothing.
45 seconds. He looked again. There was still no sign of Smithy, just the smoking trees and a thin dusting of powdered masonry.
50 seconds. There was a rap on the side of the hull. He looked up at the monitor. It was Smithy with another much taller man, both of them holding their hands over their mouths. It must be Goosen.
He popped the rear door.
‘What about the other guy?’ he shouted over his shoulder.

     ‘Couldn’t make it,’ Cummings replied, PIKL arm outstretched. He leant in and held the end of the barrel just behind Bales’ head. He flicked the PIKL to maximum power. Bales froze when he heard it whine in his right ear. ‘Hands where I can see them. And kill the engine.’

An Extract From Birdie Down – the bad guys are on the hunt

Cummings stood inside the forest’s edge and studied the still rippling water. They had just missed him. He flipped the filter down over his right eye and ramped up the thermal imaging in his left.
Coming from bright sunshine into such a gloomy environment had left Sparks all but blind. He fished around in his trouser pocket for a night scope. As he waited for it to boot up, he unfocused his eyes and looked for movement in his peripheral vision. Still he saw nothing. Hemmings shrugged in the gloom. It was like entering a cave.
Cummings flicked his filter up. There was nothing to see, just a wall of trees.
‘This way,’ he ordered.
Cummings broke away to the left and followed a spit of dry ground around the edge of the pool, looking down at it for signs of foot prints. He continued for a few hundred metres as it curved around the far side.
Sparks followed Cummings closely, looking out across the pool through his scope, trying not to bump into him whenever he stopped to check a piece of ground.
The lower half of the image began to sparkle. He stopped and looked into the pool with a naked eye. It was moving of its own accord. The fish were beginning to thrash.
‘Sir. Sir!’
Cummings stopped in his tracks, hoping Sparks had seen them. He looked to where Sparks was pointing. He saw the fish.
‘Ignore them,’ he ordered. ‘Just turn your sonics up. Now follow me.’ He set off again, annoyed to have wasted a few precious seconds.
Sparks and Hemmings followed Cummings less eagerly as he made his way around the last half of the pool. They constantly looked up at the now stirring canopy.
Cummings stopped, kicked at an empty airbed and placed his hands on his hips. Sparks and Hemmings sighed with relief, hoping Cummings would call the hunt off. But the relief was short-lived.
He pointed across to a pool that lay fifty metres or so off through the trees. Or maybe it was the edge of the river; it was difficult to say – anyways, it was brighter.
‘That way,’ he said. He set off at a run, splashing across the water, heedless of the growing noise above them.
Sparks shook his head and made to run after him, but something hit him on the shoulder. Hemmings froze, staring at Sparks’ back and then at the water. Sparks turned around.
The pool behind them was already foaming. The branches above them were swaying and starting to sag. Another black ball hit the water beside him. It re-emerged and then scampered away on the surface. Then another. And then another.
It was raining rats.
Hemmings screamed, bent over and clutched at his leg below the knee. He started to dance in a frantic effort to tread water.
Sparks took a step backwards and looked down at his own legs. Below the surface he saw rats tearing into his boots.
Cummings jumped up and spun around, cursing under his breath. The water below him boiled. He roared in pain as something tore into his calf.
The sonics weren’t penetrating the water.
Hemmings slipped. He thrashed as he tried to stand. Sparks wanted to help, but the rats were now ripping into his trouser legs and taking bites from out of his boots. He snatched down to push them away. They grabbed at his hand. He pulled it out of the water and the rats let go.
Cummings staggered towards the river line. Sparks tried to follow. Hemmings continued to thrash about on his back.
Out in the river the water pushed and sucked at Sparks’ legs. The rats let go and sped away on the surface, back into the forest.
Cummings growled and cussed. He raised a leg as high as he could to inspect his wounds but stumbled backwards. Sparks caught him before he was swept downriver. He looked back into the forest. There was no sign of Hemmings; no pleas for help; just the shrill noise of rats as they dropped into the pool and the constant thrashing of water.
Cummings steadied himself and took a deep breath. He raised his pain threshold. Sparks could only grin and bear it.
‘What use are these friggin sonics if they only work above water, eh?’ Cummings asked, grimacing between sharp stabbing waves of pain.
‘None, sir. You think they’ll be of use against them?’ He pointed across the river.
One by one, large brown reptiles slid into the water, attracted to the high-pitch squeals of the rats descending into the pool behind them. Their tails whipped left and right as they powered themselves across the river.
‘I doubt it,’ Cummings replied, taking a first shot with his PIKL. ‘Back to the Farm. Quickly.’
‘What about that Scatkiewicz guy? He must be close,’ Sparks asked. He then turned awkwardly in the swirling water to face the forest. ‘And what about Hemmings, sir?’
Cummings switched to the company net. He cussed as his right leg gave way again.
‘Hemmings is gone, Sparks. You fancy going back in to confirm it?’ He broke off as the companynet came to life. ‘Muldrow? Wake the medic up and get your butt into the air.’

It Ain’t Half Bad…

I’m not much into stats, but earlier today I was reviewing Birdie Down’s progress on Smashwords where it is a free-to-read. I’ve got to say I’m not disappointed: it’s climbing the rankings and now sits at #413 out of a total 1250 or so SciFi freebies available on the site. That’s not bad considering I published it only two months ago.

The book averages 4.25 stars and has received four reviews, which range from ‘this is the best amateur SF novel I have read’ and ‘fantastic read’ through ‘Graham doesn’t disappoint’ to ‘for a book written in 5 weeks, it ain’t half bad.’ I’m not sure what to make of that last one, but it did go on to say ‘it’s not something to avoid.’ So there you have it. No excuses. It’s free, and the worst review so far says there’s no reason not to take a look. You can either click the Birdie Down book cover to the left of the page, or use this link: at zero cost.

For everyone who has (taken a look, that is), many thanks for spending some time with it. I hope you enjoyed it. If you could now post a review you’d be doing me a big favor. I suck at the promo side of the Indie business, and need all the help I can get. Besides, reviews are helpful to other readers, too. Even a Two Star review helps (not sure about One Star though;-) as it shows the reader at least finished the book!

My very hot and humid Malaysian holiday finishes soon. I’ll be clearing the miniature ants out of the key board (just got a couple during the previous paragraph) and will crack on again with Petroff’s Pogrom. The plot line is gelling, I’m ready to develop a couple of the characters a little further and some scenes are already imagined, so I can’t wait.

All I need now is for the markets to behave themselves for a while – and for the day job not to get in the way.