Published fiction

I have had about twenty stories published in various magazines and books. Where the original publication is no longer available, I’ve put the stories on this site. You can also read a selection of my flash fiction (stories less than 1000 words) on this site – many of these have, later, been expanded into longer short stories.

Published fiction includes:

King RookAlbedo One #45
Another Irish story. I grew up on a housing estate that lived, literally some nights, in the shadows of a rookery, which is where this story started. It was nominated for Tangent Online’s 2014 best of the year reading list.

Reviewed by Clancy Weeks at Tangent Online 
In “King Rook,” Martin McGrath weaves a wonderful tale of the nature of free will. Young Mr. Connolly—known as “Tonto”—has lived a life protected, either by the titular King Rook, or his uncle Seamus. Each has both taken and bestowed gifts, never asking permission or offering a choice. Connolly is on his way to university, but before he can leave he must perform one more service for his protectors. I can’t decide if this story fits in the horror category or if it is just straight fantasy, but it doesn’t matter much as it is well-written and finely-told regardless. McGrath paints a very nice picture of life in Ireland, and of the choices people there make every day on the lower end of that society. 

 

And Dublin WeptPandemonium: Big Jim’s Shadow, Jurassic London
A flash fiction piece, set in the Pandemonium shared universe, this is an alternate-ish history and set around the events of the 1913 Dublin lockout – a defining industrial dispute for Irish labour. I got to make (gentle) fun of James Larkin and, for once, to give William X O’Brien (who didn’t run away or get executed) a bit of love. This little volume contains four short stories set around the lockout and you can buy an ebook version for just 99p

The First DanceSolaris Rising 2, Solaris
This was a piece that’s been through a number of iterations before I finally summoned up the nerve to submit it to an editor, so I was delighted when Ian Whates accepted it on its first time out the door. I was even happier when I discovered it was going to be published alongside the likes of Liz Williams, Robert Reed and Norman Spinrad – people whose books I’ve paid money to read. And then the terror set in, because it was going to be published alongside the likes of Liz Williams, Robert Reed and Norman Spinrad…

Reviewed by Chris Holt at Starburst:
It’s difficult to pick out a ‘best’ story when all possess such quality, but there are two that leave the greatest impression. Of all the stories, Mike Allen’s “Still Life with Skull” is arguably the least human, yet it contains much emotion and some of the strangest – and therefore attention-grabbing – imagery I’ve ever read. In Martin McGrath’s “The First Dance”, the technology is relatively simple, a future that could be only a few years away, but it’s endowed with a gentle humanity that’s likely to leave even the most hardened reader with a tear in their eye.
Reviewed by Mark Watson at Best SF
Touching, salutary tale about the a potential future where copyright is king, and where, rather than issuing takedown notices for videos on YouTube, copyright owners are able to take our very memories, where those memories contain their copyright. An elderly man visits someone who can help him have one last moment of reflection – the first dance with his wife. It’s a touching and human take on what might be…

PathfindersRocket Science, Mutation Press

Written specifically for this anthology, I wrote a little bit about the sources of the ideas for this story over here.

Reviewed by Michael Flett at Geek Chocolate:
Mars is also the setting for A Biosphere Ends by Stephen Palmer, a fascinating archive from the records of a smart, driven and wilful artificial intelligence assigned to investigate the total loss of an outpost. Apparently similar to that is the clever misdirection of Martin McGrath’s Pathfinders, though that story gives no clear answers, only sadness, with resolution only through acceptance of the inevitable.
Reviewed by Terry Grimwood at The Future Fire:
Martin McGrath’s ‘Pathfinders’ is an intense, moving story of another Mars mission.
 Reviewed by Lois Tilton at Locus Online:
The Mars outpost at Beacon Valley is no longer receiving signals from Earth, and the problem doesn’t seem to be on the Mars end. The other bases on Mars do not respond, either. The crew is divided, mostly along national lines, about what to do. Chen, an Italian Chinese, is caught in the middle.
Three days later, the three Americans and three Europeans left Mars Base to make for McMurdo. They’d decided amongst themselves that the radio communication changed nothing. They needed to know what was happening. There were some angry exchanges about the division of equipment and food but Chen kept to his room.
Something about this one, set on barren Mars with its winter rapidly coming on, reminds me of outposts on Earth’s polar regions – small groups trapped together in tight quarters with the prospect of eventually running out of life support if not resupplied. Each individual reacts differently under such circumstances, and that’s the story here.

Eskragh – Albedo One no. 39

Connor McCann was my next door neighbour growing up in Dungannon. He was clever and funny and though he was a few years younger than me, we were friends. While at university he went on holiday, had an accident and drowned. This story isn’t about Connor or his family but it is for him and especially for his mother who first took me to Dungannon library when I was a boy and changed my life.

This story received an honourable mention from Ellen Datlow in her 2010 Year’s Best Horror review and was on the Tangent Online 2011 recommended reading list for short stories (receiving three stars). You can listen to me read the story (slightly croakily) here.

Tangent Online reviewed Albedo One no.39 twice. The first is from Kevin R Tipple:
Author Martin McGrath used a tragedy in his own life as inspiration with “Eskragh.”  Family tragedy is also at work in this tale. No parent expects to live longer than their child. Unlike the family in the preceeding story, Thomas’ father knows what happened to Thomas. He just never got the chance to bury his son’s body.
His son and several others had gone swimming in a local lake in Northern Ireland.  Six went in and at when all was said and done only five came out.  Thomas went missing and presumably drowned in the deep waters of the Eskragh leaving one final memento behind.
I‘m at a complete loss as to why this tale was published in the magazine. Despite the fact that the story is well written and is good one, it does not remotely meet the intent of the magazine. There is no science fiction or fantasy component. It could conceivably be argued by somebody that it contains horror in the death of a friend as well as in the slightly ambiguous ending. However, if one were to accept that premise, then it follows that nearly any story in any genre would meet the requirement as would nearly everything in any magazine or newspaper. Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a good story. It just does not fit the stated mandate of the magazine.
The second is from Caroline E Willis
“Eskragh” by Martin McGrath is nearly a haiku. McGrath’s story is the shortest in the issue, and he makes every word count. “Eskragh” is a slow horror piece–the kind in which the story ends without ever finding out if the monster is real.
The narrator’s friend, Thomas, disappears one sunny afternoon while they were hanging out at Eskragh Lough. “Eskragh isn’t a big lake, but it’s deep,” the narrator says. That line repeats throughout the story like a chorus, or the lapping of waves. The timeline of the story also loops back on itself, rocking back and forward through time to the ultimate conclusion of events.
Horror can often be about the ways in which the human mind reacts when confronted with something outside its understanding of the world–an event outside normal causality. “Eskragh” uses that horror to communicate the emotional weight of loss without explanations.
Reviewed by Abbey Otis at The Portal:
I went into “Eskragh” expecting a death mystery that would be resolved with some kind of supernatural occurrence, but that was quickly (because the story is over quickly) revealed not to be the case. Perhaps my expectation was formed by the very overt strangeness of the previous stories, as well as the beginning of the story itself. But Martin McGrath does a good job of taking the discomfort that builds as one awaits the supernatural, and using it to illuminate the unease that comes from the tragedies of completely un-supernatural life. The plot is sparse without being trivial—a boy disappears in a lake; his body is never found. Months later his grief-stricken father dies as well. Through the eyes of a friend of the dead boy, we see the community coping with their loss. Perhaps there is something supernatural here. The unnamed narrator dreams of “something pale and cold” that swims in the depths of the lake. But while McGrath doesn’t decisively settle the issue, the story doesn’t require it.
“Eskragh” draws its strangeness not from the future or the impossible, but the inexplicable that exists in everyday life. It is a reminder that just because things are not otherworldly and magical doesn’t mean they are ordinary, and doesn’t prevent them from being monstrous. The gentle, unnerving exploration of grief pays as much attention to the actions of people at the wake, the small gestures of the grieving parents, as it does to the ominous depths of the lake. The language never takes center stage, but is graceful enough to nicely complement the trajectory of the story. ”Eskragh”’s understated melancholy was a pleasant surprise.
Reviewed by Gareth D Jones at SF Crowsnest:
A mournful tale of a boy lost during a swimming accident forms the basis of Martin McGrath’s ‘Eskragh’. The adventures of youth, the tragedy of loss and the discomfort of unfamiliar circumstances are all exquisitely portrayed.
Reviewed by Joseph Giddings at Rise Review:
“Eskragh” by Martin McGrath feels like a legend or a myth, about a boy who goes swimming and doesn’t return, the lake claiming him for whatever purpose. The story follows his friends and family as they deal with his loss, but his best friend, in an encounter with his father, is given an artifact that gives him hope that his friend is still alive. Armed with this item, he does what he feels he should. Sadly, the story ends with a little more confusion than it should. I didn’t understand why he was going after Thomas. What is going on in the lake? Was the boy the only person lost there, or is he just another in a chain of missing boys? And why does the main character think he can get his friend back, based on the grieving words from the missing boy’s father? A fair story, but be ready to reread it and still be confused.
Reviewed by Gud Magazine:
Martin McGrath’s ‘Eskragh’ is a short piece about loss. It opens with the funeral of the narrator’s best friend’s father. The best friend has already been buried, a year and a half before, or rather buried symbolically after drowning in Eskragh and never being found. The story is written with a nice minimalism and uses short scenes to evoke the grief and bewilderment the characters feel.
‘Eskragh isn’t big, but it is deep’.
The story’s setting, Ireland during the ‘Troubles’, is brought to life rather than merely described, with the ‘fat bumblebees’–British Army helicopters–just part of the backdrop of everyday life.
Author McGrath dedicates the story to a friend of his who ‘went swimning one day and never came back’, and that sense of personal loss infuses this story to great effect. I’m not sure this is either SF or F, but it is powerful.
Reviewed by Lois Tilton at Locus Online:
“Eskragh’s not a big lough, but it’s deep,” everyone always says, deep and cold enough to drown the narrator’s friend Tommy. The death devastates his father, who declares at the empty graveside that “No man should live longer than his children.”
There’s a mystery here, and possibly a miracle about to happen, but the story isn’t clear about that, only about the pain of a lost child.

Seven Swans a-SwimmingDark Fiction Magazine

This flash piece was written specifically for Dark Fiction Magazine’s “Twelve Days Anthology” – a themed collection based around the idea of the famous Christmas carol. This bleak little piece was inspired by an idea from my daughter who reminded me of the legend of Lir. It was both quite strange and very pleasing to hear the story read as part of the podcast version.

Barcode Babes DayBreak Fiction

I was quite nervous when this was published as I thought there was the possibility that some readers would misunderstand what I was trying to do with this story. As it was, no one seemed to pay any attention to it, so I needn’t have worried.

Proper Little Soldier – Conflicts, Newcon Press

This story was written as a more optimistic take on HG Wells’s War of the Worlds, which is one of my favourite novels but I’ve always found Wells’s brilliant destruction of humanity’s vanities a touch bleak – it’s the novel’s great strength but it’s also a bit depressing. This story was originally writen to be submitted to Jetse deVries’s Shine anthology but Jetse – much to my surprise – accepted another story (“Barcode Babes” – see above) to publish on the website he created to promote that book and never got to see “Proper Little Soldier”. Ian Whates, editor of Conflicts, saw the story when I submitted it to a competition for a place in another book he was editing. I came second in that competition but he asked me to let him have it for Conflicts. Funny how things work out, sometimes.

Reviewed by Jared at Pornokitsch:
Martin McGrath’s “Proper Little Soldiers” follows a young woman and her friends as they prowl a post-invasion landscape, fleeing their alien hunters. Mr. McGrath’s succinct prose leaves the horrors of the recent past to the imagination and instead focuses on the current predicament. The aliens hunt by echolocation and the scene where they’ve pinned down the protagonist is one of the most harrowing in the entire collection. Mr. McGrath concludes on a properly cinematic “we will rise again” sort of mantra, including the mandatory partner note of “…but at what cost?”.
Reviewed by Ben Jeapes:
“Two more Earth-bound stories follow: Gareth Powell’s ‘Fallout’ and Martin McGrath’s ‘Proper Little Soldier’ – the latter dealing with that most implausible of Earth-based scenarios, the alien invasion, which always raises questions of why invading Earth would ever be the most resource-efficient course of action for an alien race to take. We just have to assume they had their reasons, but against a background of totally trashed civilisation and alien life forms playing with us for sport, McGrath actually manages to find an optimistic note to end on. If George Orwell could say that the future is ‘a boot stamping on a human face forever’, looking on the bright side, eventually the face will stop feeling the pain, won’t it?”
Reviewed by Mark Watson at Best SF:
“Sometimes a story has simply too strong a resonance with another story, or, in this case, a film, to really be comfortable with. Here humanity has been reduced to a fraction of its previous numbers by alien invaders. Travelling by night to avoid detection, and having to avoid making any noise when the aliens are about, as sound is their means of both finding us, and killing us, a couple come across a young boy who has managed to outwit the aliens. The scene of them hiding in an attic, listening to the booming noises of the aliens, and then, when inadvertently making an noise, having tentacles lash out at them, came across to me as being just too close to Spielberg’s WotW for comfort.”

Soldier of God Fiction Magazine no. 1

Another dead and gone magazine. There are only a few of my stories that I like when looking back on them. This isn’t one of them.

Reviewed by Gareth D Jones at Sci-Fi UK Review:
“An entirely too plausible crusade in the not too distant future is the setting for Martin McGrath’s Soldier of God. It’s full of action and adventure and portrays an air of cynicism and irony that lend it a convincing voice. It adds a nice variety to the collection.”

Palaces of Force – Aeon SF no. 8

I will eventually put this story online, as Aeon SF magazine is no more – but for now you can still buy the issue from Fictionwise (click the above link) and there’s some good stuff in it.

 

Reviewed by Nick Gevers at Locus:
“Meanwhile, Aeon, published by Scorpius Digital, has reached issue eight, and also delivers very literate fiction – if more playful than that in Polyphony. This time, the highlight is undoubtedly “Palaces of Force” by Martin McGrath, an alternate history/secret history involving an apocryphal meeting between Mahatma Ghandi, still a young lawyer, and the doomed Irish patriot Roger Casement on a train to the Paris Exposition of 1889. Set down many decades later by one of Ghandi’s friends, their conversations are eloquent foreshadowings of the technological and ideological dilemmas of the ensuing centuries, and the concluding note is craftily indeterminate. An instructive speculation.”
And by Lois Tilton at The Internet Review of Science Fiction:
A chance encounter brings Mohandas Gandhi and Roger Casement together in a visit to the 1889 Paris Exposition. This secret history has perhaps more force as a Neat Idea than as a story, for in the end nothing momentous comes of the encounter, neither character is noticeably affected by it, and destiny remains unaltered. The two merely harangue one another, with their ideas clashing but their minds never quite meeting. Yet: what an encounter! At what a place and time!
And Aliette de Bodard at Tangent Online
“Palaces of Force” by Martin McGrath starts with a meeting between Mohandas Gandhi, his companion (and the narrator) Sanjit Kamath, and Roger Casement on a train to the Universal Exposition of 1889. It then describes the Exposition and its visit by the three men. McGrath presents an interesting argument about the use of technology and what it would mean for the freedom of the natives in poor countries. However, the trouble is that it’s nothing but the argument. There are vivid descriptions of the Exposition and of nineteen-century Paris that create a realistic atmosphere, but a sense of concreteness was missing. Gandhi and Casement argue about the uses of machines and what it would mean to several countries (India and Africa), but the discussion never rises above an exchange of arguments. It is conducted by completely detached people, without anchor to the plight of Indian or African natives.”

Freedom – Jupiter SF no. 12

Another story that got picked up by that nice man Ian Redman at Jupiter. Buy his magazine, it always features good, solid science fiction.

 

Reviewed by Sue Phillips at Whispers of Wickedness:
“That first story that had captivated me was “Freedom” by Martin McGrath; as fine a piece of Sci-Fi writing as I’ve seen of late. It features Charlie the paracycle and trusty steed of our heroine, Gull, who flies around the lunar city of Freedom delivering parcels. When Charlie is stolen by a computer programmer forced into slavery as a rent boy (Freedom does not live up to its name), things become interesting. The ending was not entirely unexpected, but highly satisfying nonetheless. I won’t spoil it for you.”

The Baby With The Golden Eyes Scheherazade no. 29

Scheherazade stopped publishing shortly after this issue, I don’t think I was responsible but… Click on the link to read the story here. This is also the only story I’ve had published where the magazine paid someone to illustrate it – I was able to buy some of Julia Sexton’s original art from the story at an Eastercon art sale.

Reviewed by Peter Tenant at Whispers of Wickedness:
“Last in to bat, and another highlight of the magazine, is The Baby With The Golden Eyes by Martin McGrath, in which an elderly couple have their desire for a child granted by the discovery of a baby under a bush, but of course the child has to be returned to its rightful parents. On the surface of it, there’s not much to this story, but it scores through the matter of fact narration that treats the miraculous as if such things are everyday occurrences and the keenness of the emotions felt by the two leads, Maire and Seamus, their longing for a child and the realisation that, of necessity, the happiness it brings is ephemeral. Julia Sexton’s illustrations are just right for the family album.”

Men of Ulster – Irish Fantasy Quarterly no. 2

You can still buy an ebook of this issue of a very short-lived magazine from Lulu for the princely sum of £0.45 – but honestly, this might be the worst story I ever had published. Let us never speak of it again.

Falling – Jupiter SF no. 6

I’ve got a soft spot for this story (and for this magazine) so it was nice to see it published. I went to an Arvon course lead by Chris Priest and Alistair Reynolds – two authors I still greatly admire – and this was the story I put up for review. My fellow students seemed to like it but the professionals mauled it. I didn’t write another story for over a year… It is supposed to be a satire on Heinlien-style frontier libertarian sf, but I guess if you need to tell people what it is supposed to be, the story hasn’t worked too well. Back issues are still available.

Home Protection (pdf) – Hub no. 50

This was an unlucky story. It got rejected by a lot of editors who said they liked it but that it didn’t fit in their magazine then the nice people at Hub accepted it (around about when they published issue 2) and then promptly lost it/forgot about it so that it didn’t actually appear until no. 50 – by which stage I’d rather lost faith in it. But it did get some nice responses.

Reviewed by Douglas Hoffman at The Fix:
“The ambitiousness of Martin McGrath’s “Home Protection” shines through on every page. McGrath weaves three interlocking stories concerning the provenance of a certain Colt .45 semiautomatic. Mystery provides the initial hook: who buried the Colt .45 in the middle of a desert, and why? But most readers know (if not literally, instinctively) Chekhov’s maxim, “If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last,” and the resulting sense of dread provides an additional hook. Yes, the gun is Evil. But will it claim its most recent owner, or not? That’s the last hook and the one which will keep the reader turning the page scrolling down to the last paragraph. Nice work, Mr. McGrath.”

One Step Forward Fortean Bureau no. 12

This is another very early story. I’m sure if it hadn’t been for the encouragement I got from people like Jeremiah Tolbert, who was editor of Fortean Bureau at the time, I’d have given up writing pretty early – so if you’re going to blame anyone… I’ve decided to put this up here, since Fortean Bureau is no longer online and the story isn’t available anywhere else.

The Banshee Sang on Tottenham Court RoadFortean Bureau no. 2

Chris Priest once called this story “nonsense” – and who am I to disagree with him. Since Fortean Bureau no longer seems to be online, I’m putting it up here.

The Revolution Will Be Televised This Way Up no. 5

This is a very old story – the second story I ever sent out for publication and the first one to be published – please, be gentle with it.

COLLECTIONS

Illuminations – Odd Two Out anthology

A collection of flash fiction originally published on my old blog was included as part of the Friday Flash Fiction anthology, Illuminations. The anthology raised some cash for NSPCC and there are (literally) a handful of copies left if you want to buy them from the website or download the ebook. You can read the stories discussed here on my flash fiction page.

Reviewed by Alvar Zinos-Amaro at The Fix:
“Stone Must Roll” starts with a description of the Balkans that could just as well belong in a geophysical opinion piece or a political article on socioeconomics. The above-flash-length piece then zooms in on self-made oligarch, Sebastian Syphus, all the while maintaining the same narrative strategy of “mock article,” including a first-person reporter. As a character portrait, in this format, it works well, though I was left with the desire to see how many more stones would roll and where they would roll to.
The narrator of “Dust to Dust” combats extreme physical discomfiture, with at best moderate success. But what is happening on the psychological plane? This tale maintains our interest through terse description and a dramatic setting, turning dust into something more exciting than we might think.
The fate of a “Hungry Girl” is sealed by the narrator of this incisive short. Skillfully taking us in an unexpected direction, it keeps our attention through the non-authorial voice and the immediacy of the situation we witness. Few readers should be left hungry.
“The Unexpectedly Existential Life of Margaret Tome” touches on some interesting philosophical notions in the life trajectory of the titular character and her daughter, Anabelle. Unfortunately, rather than emerging from events naturally, the “observations” are explicitly told to us; things appear to happen in support of the ideas, rather than vice versa. And while the introduction of “factity” was thought-provoking, I was surprised we weren’t told of Sartre’s “bad faith,” since Margaret’s decision regarding her daughter’s upbringing would have provided such an illustrative example of it.
In “Eskragh,” we are treated to not one but two funerals. Despite some distractions caused by the technique (e.g. “his fingers hard as bone and cold as death” not only supplied two clichés but also the added confusion of comparing fingers, which are partially bone, to bone), there were effective moments of atmosphere and the evocation of loss here.
“The Decision that Changed the Life of Fabrice Colliseo” begins with a literary image as old, at least, as the fifteenth-century poet Jorge Manrique’s Coplas a la muerte de su padre (Stanzas about the Death of his Father). The first paragraph belabors the image, robbing it of its simplicity and power, and essentially turning it into an extended metaphor in support of cumbersome metaphysical exposition. Fortunately, the rest of the story improved somewhat, though I never felt like Fabrice’s decision was justified in the context of his psychology or the fictional setting. This piece seemed more like a pastiche of other works than an original ideation; I doubt the decision to read it will change the life of many readers.
The narrator of this tale witnesses a kid becoming a “Proper Little Soldier,” even as an older man makes a tactical error of high cost in the resistance war against the Wellsian pods. The backdrop presents nothing conceptually exciting, but perhaps it doesn’t need to, given the suspense, tension, and pace. This makes for one proper little flash of resistance fighting.
Sept disconnects wires from his head and in so doing begins the painful, disconcerting process of “Leaving the World.” This archetypal cyberpunk premise could have fueled a tale tighter and more kinetic. As it is, questionable logic, gratuitous description, and a lack of emotional investment pushed this toward the humdrum end of the spectrum for me; I think I’ll opt to stay in the World, wires and all.

One Response to Published fiction

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