Sunday 27 May 2018

Review: The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi

The People of Sand and Slag The People of Sand and Slag by Paolo Bacigalupi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This short story is available on the author's blog

It envisages a future when mankind is no longer vulnerable to disease and injury thanks to having been augmented and adjusted by "weeviltech" implants. Living in a wasteland, eating sand and slag. Gone is much of what today makes us human. The first part of this story could be any sci-fi military operation, hunting down the "hostile". but then the crew find a dog, a real live unaugmented dog. They are not even sure what it is, how could it survive in such a habitat? As they wait for the scientist to come to establish it is a dog, they begin to understand how vulnerable an unaugmented animal is. ****SPOILER ALERT ****The scientist confirms "it's quite certainly a real dog. But wat on Earth would I do with it?" He held up a vial of blood. "We have the DNA. A live one is hardly worth keeping around" and when the crewe ask what they are supposed to do with it, he replies "Turn it back to your pits. Or you could eat it....I understand it was a real delicacy. There are recipes for cooking animals." . They decide to keep it, It intrigues them. The discover it can learn tricks, obey commands, and display affection. But it is not a happy ending for the dog, it is too fragile, required too much attention, and was too expensive to keep. Ultimately however it is the humans one feels for left with the memory of "when the dog licked my face and hauled its shaggy bulk onto my bed, and I remember its warm breathing beside me, and sometimes, I miss it."

ashramblings review 3* I'm not a great lover of war stories full of references to military tech and manoeuvres whether in the sci-fi arena or not. So the first part of this story is a difficult read for me heavy as it is on the soldiering aspects, but when the twist comes it transforms into a story about what consitutes being human juxtaposing the flimsiness of flesh and blood with regenerative augmented imortality.

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Friday 25 May 2018

Review: The Tamarisk Hunter by Paolo Bacigalupi

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This story is available online on the author's website at

I'm just reading his futuristic eco-thriller Wind-up Girl and this is the first short story by Paolo Bacigalupi that I have read. Once again he tackles the theme of change, this time climate change, drought and its impact on the land, lives and society.

Lolo and Annie scrape a living in a not-to-far-off future where the American West is gripped by Big Daddy Drought. Lolo makes a living as a 'water tick' - someone who tracks down and kills off Tamarisk trees. "A big tamarisk can suck 73,000 gallons of river water a year. For $2.88 a day, plus water bount, Lolo rips tamarisk all winter long." Yes there is water, but it is all siphoned off to the cities in California. Towns have bankrupted, dried up and been deserted as people move south to the cities or further north where there is water. This story reminded me of the movie thriller Chinatown where the water department is drying up the land so it can be bought at a reduced price. Ultimately all the tamarisks will be found, water ticking will be a thing of the past and Lolo's life will irrevocably change.

****SPOILER ALERT **** But Lolo's smart. Lolo has a plan; a plan to ensure his livelihood, his family's survival; a plan to ensure he'll never run out of tamarisk to find and that him and his wife never get flung of their land as Annie's family had been before. However, fate is like a scorpion; it always has a sting in its tail.

ashramblings 4* Bacigalupi paints an eco-inspired future in all its hardships that anyone living or visiting drought struck lands can relate to. His reader will be in empathy with Lolo's attempts to 'beat the system' and be heartbroken at the stories denouement.

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Thursday 24 May 2018

Standard Roses by Sheila Ash

There were three each year
standing proud
like buttons on the military waistcoat of our front lawn.

Roses - dad’s pride and joy -
standard style, shaped like the lollipops on sticks
that came with sherbet from the village shop.
Gobstopper delights of Apricot Abundance
and sun-centred, pink-edged Peace.

On Gala days,
their stakes supported the Wallace banner
its rebellious display flapping in time to our steps
as we paraded past
in our best dresses to picnic in the park.

Bordered by regimented rows of gladioli and dahlias
the garden’s familial sweetness permeated all things
imbuing my soul with his everlasting love.

I never knew the work they took,
where they came from or where they went,
but each summer
as regular as trips to the beach
they blessed our garden

Then robbed of him
their familiar presence haemorrhaged away
till all that remained was a blank canvass of expressionless lawn
and memories smelt in every rose.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Monday 21 May 2018

Trapped by Sheila Ash

imagePhoto: The Labyrinth by Robert Vickrey

Trapped –
by walls of words
which cut and hurt.
Venomous tongues lash like vipers -
left and right and left again.
Surround-sound echoes
assault the mind incessantly.
The nervous inner voice calls -
barely coherent, barely heard,
amidst the deluge of distortion.
A corner glimmers hope of escape
through the chaos
crashing to face instead
the mirror of self-doubt.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Billie’s Blue by Sheila Ash

Billie Holiday

The minor key refrain
Echoes the tears in her heart
As she sings in the segregated bar.

The piano keys
Combine in rainbowed harmony
With saxophone and double bass
As the Gardenia fluoresces in the dark.

Lady Day’s single octave
Emoted with the spectrum of life’s pains
Blossoms into a garden of everlasting glory.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Saturday 19 May 2018

Nostalgia’s Rainbow by Sheila Ash

Lichen encrusted black stone dykes line the fields and roadside verges of my youth
whilst at my childhood home, the red lion rampant flies over dad’s dahlias.
On the kitchen sill trail necklaces of silver foil, milk bottle tops
and at the doorstep a saucer of setting red currant jelly is buzzing with bees.

The sphagnum green bog squelches under my hiker’s boot
which later strives to avoid the blue gentian cracking the limestone of the Irish Burren.
Sun kissed daffodils defiantly herald Spring in Avon Park after the quake
as elsewhere an unruly pink briar rose scrambles over once-formal box hedges in an unattended English garden.

Dawn emerges across the serene cerulean waters of Makemo Atoll
as slowly as the orange sands of Moul N’Aga make their passage across the Algerian Tadrart.
In the Roaring Forties snarling gales are smothered by the molten lead quiet of the storm’s eye
even as the purple twilight of an Antarctic sky prepares to dance like a sugar plum fairy across the meringue peaked snow.

© Sheila Ash 2018

Friday 18 May 2018

The Caterpillar by Sheila Ash

Caterpillar (locomotion) 04

It moves along from head to toe
Bendy like a jelly throw
Up and down and down and up
Looping over, twisting up.

It crawls the stem and creeps the leaf
Nibbles edges with its tiny teeth
Bending that way, curving this
Till locked within its chrysalis.

It hardens fast as if it’s dead
Its dormancy spun by a golden thread
Till with a burst of bold bravado
Ecolses to a beautiful imago.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Imago - the final and fully developed adult stage of an insect, typically winged.
Eclose   - (of an insect) emerge as an adult from the pupa or as a larva from the egg

On Watching a Blackbird Sing by Sheila Ash

Blackbird, singing

His insistence calls
From high upon the garden gate.
Down in my bower
I sip my tea.
We wait
Both looking for his prospective mate.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Day’s End

Feet up, mind emptying of stress
Looking forward, always best

© Sheila Ash

Sunday 13 May 2018

The artist by Sheila Ash

Ferenczy, Károly - The Woman Painter (1903)

Ferenczy, Károly - The Woman Painter (1903)

The artist holds her palette in her hands
Standing statuesque
Lost in inward gaze

The artist holds her palette in her hands
Squeezing tubes and stirring
With spatulas, with sable brushes

Colours lustrous, radiant and blazing
Partnering her frenetic dance
Her inner vision

A metamorphosis
Arising from canvass and toil
From oil and paint, brushstrokes

The artist holds her palette in her hands
Standing still as a statue
Lost in her inward gaze

© Sheila Ash, 2018
The inspiration for this poem came from reading Langston Hughes' poem "Trumpet Player"

Saturday 12 May 2018

The Cromarty Firth by Sheila Ash

A graveyard of metallic ghosts
Mothballed scaffolds from the Age of Oil
Derelict transformers
Surrealled in estuarine mists
Await dismantling
In Dali-esque grandeur.
© Sheila Ash, 2018
I remember seeing how many of these were lying in the Cromarty Firth when I visited there in 2016.

Friday 11 May 2018

Review: Jazz Poems

Jazz Poems Jazz Poems by Kevin Young
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After a long wait I finally got a copy of this Everyman Anthology of Jazz Poetry. Loving the music I thought this is a book that needs a place on my shelves. Delving in last night for the first time, I was not disappointed. I found old favourites and some new delights.

One of the new delights was Langston Hughes's poem The Trumpet Player.

This poem encapsulates the personal and collective experience of African Americans in a portrait of a jazz trumpeter - stanza 1 is about weariness from the slave experience, stanza 2 is about change specifically the taming of natural hair, stanza 3 is about jazz music, stanza 4 is about desire, to see moonlight on the sea, stanza 5 is back to him playing, carried away by the music, and stanza 6 about how music smoothes away all his troubles.

What strikes me is the structure, the minimal punctuation, the smoothness of its reading. There is the repetition of the opening lines The Negro/ With the trumpet at his lips making it like a musical refrain,

After first reading I am in awe at the final two stanzas - how he inverts the more normal sentance structure in

(The Negro)
Does not know
Upon what riff the music slips
It's hypodermic needle
To his soul -

and how he turns the needle into a positive vehicle for deliverying the suppression of his troubles, rather than the destructive delivery of escapism via drugs that plagued many a musician.

Trumpet Player

The Negro
With the trumpet at his lips
Has dark moons of weariness
Beneath his eyes
where the smoldering memory
of slave ships
Blazed to the crack of whips
about thighs

The Negro
With the trumpet at his lips
Has a head of vibrant hair
Tamed down,
Patent-leathered now
Until it gleams
Like jet-
Were jet a crown

The music
From the trumpet at his lips
Is honey
Mixed with liquid fire
The rhythm
From the trumpet at his lips
Is ecstasy
Distilled from old desire-

That is longing for the moon
Where the moonlight's but a spotlight
In his eyes,
That is longing for the sea
Where the sea's a bar-glass
Sucker size

The Negro
With the trumpet at his lips
Whose jacket
Has a fine one-button roll,
Does not know
Upon what riff the music slips
It's hypodermic needle
To his soul -

But softly
As the tune comes from his throat
Mellows to a golden note.

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Wednesday 9 May 2018

Thoughts on difference inspired by a single red apple by Sheila Ash

A wonky carrot
disrupts the perfect symmetry
of supermarket veg.

The stray Fuji
inserts a sweet note
into the tart concerto of Granny Smiths.

Tempting fingers,
this Lolita openly flaunts
the prospect of forbidden sweetness.

This flagrant anomaly fishes for our eyes.
Like William Carlos Williams’ wheelbarrow
it reels us in. Unwittingly
complicit in its subterfuge.

In our aversion to nonconformity
apparent in this apartheid of apples,
we repatriate the single itinerant invader
back into its homeland,
securing borders between baskets in the grocer’s shop. 

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Three Moments of Madness by Sheila Ash

The vestige of yesterday’s anger
rests uneasy in the morning calm
- a bloodstain on the bar room floor.

Awkward silence stresses the breakfast table -
the tell-tale scars
of word inflicted wounds, unbandaged.

Her one night stand
lingers on, unapologetically
snuffing out embryonic loves.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Monday 7 May 2018

With one by Sheila Ash

With one spot, the itching starts.

With one look, a world shatters.

With one irresponsible tweet, a career is ruined.

With one thud, a door closes.

With one piece of disinformation, the opposition is discredited.

With one suspicion, distrust breeds.

With one fake news story, an election is swayed.

With one doubt, love withers.

With one whistleblower, the wrongdoing exposed.

With one word, a heart is broken.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Saturday 5 May 2018

More Qit’a by Sheila Ash

The past with all its tortuous turns
lies rooted at this edge, where time
hems future’s folds
unseen beyond today’s precipice.
Her carer thinks it is just a stone
gathering dust up on the shelf

Not cherished key to moisten memories
of windswept love on Beadnell Bay
Red rust dust clings like the Sahara in luggage;
as childhood dreams of Martian Adventures;
to the unused tools in his silent shed.

© Sheila Ash

Friday 4 May 2018

Review: Backup Man by Paul Di Filippo

This is the third of Paul Di FIlippo’s short stories I have read in the past couple of days. Unlike the previous two which were published back in 2000, this one appeared in 2016 and is available online at 

Gone are the digs at the publishing industry, editors in particular. What takes its place is a brisk paced, action packed sci-fi noir tale. Here from the first sentence the reader is  transported into another world, the world of biopunk where new words leap at you of every page. It begins “I was waiting patiently in a bar for a woman, a moldie and a splice, playing the AR overlay of that ancient heist film Rififi on my memtax, which I’d just upgraded to the newest model of ling contact lenses, all jelly proteins laced with silicene circuitry and an RGB chromatophore micromatrix.” Well my spell check even had difficultly recognising biopunk and Rififi never mind moldie, memtax, silicene, chromatophore (really!)  and micromatrix.

***SPOILER ALERT ***  Scavengers Yola, Rowley and Huggit storm the bar looking for Dean Prosnitz, who has stolen the Golden Cow – Earth’s best hope for recolonising the Second Dustbowl that once was the American Mid West. The cow’s gut flora hold the shut off signal for the plague which has laid to waste this area. The NU authorities have decided to stage a “lottery-cum-scavenger-hunt”, the finder of the said golden ticket ie the Golden Cow would be entitled to 1% of the hundreds of millions in Land Rush application fees to be taken from new settlers of the reclaimed area. The trio think they’ve found him, but it is in fact our clandestine narrator posing as Prosnitz and waiting for the 3 to appear. He doesn’t have the Cow but has keyed it to his suite so he is the only person who can wake the cow up and set it on its pooping way across the Dustbowl.  The real Prosnitz and the Cow are long gone into Maccanoville, circa the old Detroit.  The four of them team up and go in guns blazing to rerieve the Cow.  Needless to say they don’t trust each other and once they have found the Cow things come to a head as Prosnitz/the narrator refuses to start the Cow, intent on “taking the Cow back to the Mint” After dealing with the trio and exceeding his instructions our narrator finally “wakes up” the Cow.  However it is all a con, the Golden Cow is no golden goose, there is no golden egg, no pot of gold royalties coming the way of the competition winner. It has merely been a test of social media marketing. Our narrator, identity intact, powers down the Cow and contacts his bosses at the Security Intelligence Service to “let them know their duplicitous Sweepstakes, derailed by Prosnitz’s larcenous derailment", could be rebooted”  without anyone being any the wiser of their ‘scam’ .

ashramblings verdict 3* satire on the gullibility of Joe Public to social media marketing. The story has some nice touches  - Di Filippo again links his ending and his title very well - but in other places seems somewhat contrived – the device of keying the Cow to his suite key - why wouldn’t the trio just kill him for his suite key? And what exactly is his suit key anyway?

Review: This is my gun, This is my pen, sir! by Paul Di Filippo

Cartoon angry army drill sergeant shoutingThis is another short story by Paul Di Filippo from his collection Plumage from Pegasus. The story can be found online at 

A coach load of novice editors arrives at their training facility and are met by God aka Michael Korda who flip flops between pleasantries and sergeant major commands mode “YOU MAGGOTS CAN CALL ME GOD!”

***SPOILER ALERT**** Di Filippo takes a poke at editors generally “let me particularize just a few of the visiting editors who have graciously consented to enlighten you. We’ll hear from Bill Burford of the New Yorker, who’ll instruct is in how to manufacture superstar writers out of wet behind the ears, squeaky-voiced creative-writing graduate students”

ashramblings verdict 3* As a writing student you are always told to consider your title last, after writing the story, so it doesn’t dictate how the story plays out.  This story is a classic example of this. From a reader’s perspective, one reads the title at the beginning and may have even forgotten it by the end. In this story the ending is an unfinished sentence, which leaves us wondering  what was said. Until the penny drops and we realise it is the title itself. Neatly done.

Thursday 3 May 2018

Review: The Factchecker Only Rings Twice by Paul Di Filippo

This old story comes from Di Filippo’s collection Plumage from Pegasus and is available online at
The title grabbed me from the get-go,  immediately tickling my sense of humour and of intertextuality.  This is a short story about an established sci-fi writer now having to write under a new regime, COSTIVE, the Consortium of StoryTellers Insisting on Verisimilar Exactitude, which stifles writers’ creative and imaginative qualities.
On a frustrating day when writing is not coming easy, our narrator has a visitor, one Nelson Nibbler,  a COSTIVE operator, flashing his id and requiring revisions to a pre-regime change story  ****SPOILER ALERT**** The ridiculous changes required are outlined, and are met at first by surprise, then irony on our narrator’s part. Nibbler is totally unaware of the destruction his changes are making to the fabric of the story.
I loved the narrator’s explosion about what happened to a whole series of famous sci-fi writers after COSTIVE’s demands for scientific accuracy in speculative fiction – for example Stephan Baxter is writing for Coronation Street’.
Nibbler asks the author to supply peer reviewed citation to support his description of hyperspace as 'an uncanny otherworld, a violent conglomeration of sense-twisting hallucinatory whorls and streamers, a maelstrom of nauseating otherness.'  The narrator’s desperate cry of "Of course not! I made it all up for the sake of the story! The drama, man, the drama of it!"   is only met with the ultimate derision "As we thought. In that case, we're going to have to amend that passage to 'a hypothetical landscape whose qualitative essentials have yet to be determined.' "
His frustration finally get the better of him but once he deals with Nibbler, he returns to his computer and starts a new story with his poetical sensibilities renewed.
ashramblings verdict 5* I was completely with this narrator, both physically, emotionally and politically in the moment with Nibbler.Excellent.

Double dutch by Sheila Ash

First there is one. It’s easy to cope
Then there is two in double dutch ropes
Then we double up for a double tuck
Two jumpers jumping for a double duck.
The double dipping speed of the swishing ropes
Is rhythmically kept by the musical trope
Stakes raised up by a rival pair
Tension filling the evening air.
Doubling up the players with each new round
The neighbourhood crowd looks on spellbound
Practice, practice to get this right
double-double dutching on a Saturday night.

© Sheila Ash, 2018

Fast and furious

Double Dutch (detail), 2016 by Robin Rhode