SO LATE SO SOON: fun, genre-celebrating SF for young readers (of all ages!)

[Harry Tynan posts on our forums as Moose Malloy. Earlier this week, he messaged me about his fun, self-published kid's book, written as a series of bedtime stories for his kid (a tradition I'm very fond of -- it's the origin story of The Borribles!). The book is so much fun that I invited him to write a short introduction and choose a excerpt for your edification. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did! -Cory]

The great Umberto Eco once wrote, in a marvellous essay about Casablanca, that "Two clichés make us laugh. A hundred clichés move us. For we sense dimly that the clichés are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion."

And hey, who doesn't love Casablanca?

I'm no Umberto Eco, but a while back I wrote a science fiction novel out of love for my son and out of love for the SF genre itself. Freed by love, I poured my heart into this short tale of a boy and his dad (plus his two accidental, argumentative clones, plus his dad's childhood dog accidentally yanked forward from the 1970s for their own, very tail-waggy reunion).

For my son's amusement, I unselfconsciously stuffed each of my quick, cliff-hanging chapters with my favourite SF clichés from a lifetime of fandom. I smushed in some 'gritty history' and some light moral lessons and some Shakespeare and some counterfactual frolics. I had huge fun bashing out 500 words nightly on an old laptop after everyone else hit the hay.

I was pretty careful with editing and general quality control. But I let the tale itself go where it wanted. When I read it over I smiled to find influences from stuff I adored -- not only Sheckley and Dick and Zelazny and Silverberg and Doctorow, but also Beverly Cleary, and Treasure Island, and Calvin and Hobbes, and 2000AD and Red Dwarf and arcade games and pop music and every other good thing we turn to for hope and light. I called it SO LATE SO SOON, after the wistful absurdism of the Dr. Seuss verse. Then I printed some copies and gifted them around. Did that a few times. Kinda forgot about it then, to be honest.

Now, I've never made any big claims for this book. For me it is, as Eco says, 'the clichés having a ball.' But it's had a joyful little half-life. Some schoolteacher here in Ireland read it in class. Kids I don't know, cousins of neighbours of my nieces or something, petitioned for a sequel. Well-meaning friends kept nagging me to publish it -- as if it were that easy!

But of course, it IS that easy to self-publish these days. And this week I finally did, on Amazon KDP. It feels great! Right now it's free, so if interested, please snag it here (US) or here (UK) or in your local Amazon region. I'll run more free days asap (KDP limits these, though).

I hope some of you like it. You could start with the extract below, wherein our protagonists use a time-freezing whistle to escape from a medieval court which alleges they're demons.

Finally... I cannot thank Cory and Boing Boing sufficiently for this -- it's a wish come true, realising a childhood dream (to write and share an entertaining story) with my dream audience (the awesome happy mutant community). Buíochas!


FORTY-FIVE

One minute later I was outside again, panting heavily, frightened and excited at the same time. The streets were filled with people stuck in fixed poses; even the horses who'd pulled us here in our cage were poised without twitching, like statues. And around everything, that strange ring of the whistle pulsed like some alien music.

No time to hang about, I told myself. We need to leave. But how? I went back inside the courthouse to assess the situation.

First, I removed the whistle from Marlowe's collar and stuck it in my pocket. No telling when I'd need that again.

Second, I took a good look at Dad, where he was suspended in time, leaning against the side of his dock. No way would I be able to carry him. But I might be able to drag him.

The sound of the whistle, still echoing, rang pure and clear in my ears as I worked.

I pushed experimentally on Ezquerra, who was blocking the steps up to Dad. He tumbled over like a skittle and landed flat on his back with a crash. Terrified someone would hear me, I looked around in a panic for somewhere to hide. But then I controlled myself. Who cared if anyone heard me? They were all frozen. And that gave me an idea. I looked around for the largest people in the room, to lie down beside Ezquerra.

Two soldiers and a judge later, I'd made a pretty soft-looking landing pad just outside Dad's dock. "Sorry, Dad," I whispered as I opened the gate at the top of the steps. He tumbled straight out and landed smack-bang across the judge's belly and a soldier's fleshy forearms. It seemed to me that the sound of the whistle was beginning to fade at this stage, and from the corner of my eye I could see hints of very slow movement amongst the crowd, so it looked like the freeze was wearing off.

That was fine. I was nearly ready anyway. But I needed to talk to Dad. I dragged him, with great difficulty, outside the courtroom door, around a corner, and down a quiet hallway with polished wooden panels and huge pictures of great battles hanging everywhere.

Then I waited.

All around me I could hear the sounds of reality restarting, like one of Dad's old records rotating at the wrong speed. Around the corner somewhere, I heard a footstep. As I watched Dad's face, he blinked. The ring of the whistle was almost completely gone now. And suddenly, time was back to normal -- moving forward at one second per second.

"Dad," I said quickly, "don't talk, let me explain. I froze time using this Silverberg whistle. Lukes B and C and Marlowe are still in the courtroom, which I imagine is going bananas right now, because you and I have just disappeared into thin air... and also, some people have been, uh, rearranged."

Dad's eyes bulged in confusion as I continued, but I put up a hand to silence him. "There's no time to lose. They'll really think we're devils now, with this kind of black magic. We need to escape. But I'm too small to carry everyone."

He nodded to show he understood. "This time, I want YOU to blow the whistle, go back in there, and carry all of us to somewhere safe. It wears off after about ten minutes, so keep blowing it till you're done. Got it?"

There were sounds of shouting and alarm all through the building now. A group of soldiers came tearing around the corner, spotted us, and charged with an almighty roar.

"Got it," said Dad. He grabbed the whistle from me, raised it to his face, and --

FORTY-SIX

Dad got us out of Lisbon. He got all of us out, all on his own.

It must have taken him hours. I woke up a couple of times, emerging woozily from the freeze-sleep, becoming aware of reality crowding in on me once more. The first time it happened, I was bent forward over a low wall, presumably where he'd left me while he went to get one of the other Lukes. There was a slow, low, grinding noise: GGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG... It started to get faster and higher: GRGRGRGRGRGRGRGRGRGRGR... and then it suddenly disappeared as normal time resumed with a POP!

I lifted my head. I felt fine. I was near a busy marketplace. Sounds of life were audible all around me; I wasn't the only person waking up.

"Dad," I croaked. "The whistle."

I was still lying draped over that wall and couldn't even see Dad, but he must have heard me, because next thing I knew I was coming around again on the side of a dusty pathway just outside of the city.

GGGGGGGGGGGGG

GRGRGRGRGRGRGRGRGRGRGR

POP

Luke B was lying beside me and I could see Dad, with Luke C in his arms, staggering tiredly toward us. He saw me watching him, and winked. "You okay Dad?" I asked. "I'll be fine," he answered. "The old dog for the hard road, as my mother used to say."

He'd even rescued one of the backpacks somehow. It lay on the ground beside me. Seeing me looking at it, Dad winked. "Took it from the hands of the boss bishop himself," he said. "He'll be one surprised padre when he wakes up!"

I heard a sneeze behind me and looked over to see a soldier staring in amazement. That was only to be expected. After all, as far as he knew, there'd just been some weird noises and then we had appeared out of nowhere.

"No problem," said Dad, as the soldier started shouting. He lowered Luke C gently to the ground and reached again for the whistle.