OUT NOW: Neon Leviathan by T.R. Napper noir SF excerpt

I am excited to see Neon Leviathan by Australian Author T.R Napper finally hit the stands in Australia, the US, Canada, and the UK today! Two and a half years since I first pitched the idea to Tim after being absolutely blown away by his short stories The Line and Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang, and here we are: publication day.

Reviews have been dropping for a few weeks now and we are so keen for you to check out this brilliant and frightening collection about society’s outsiders–the criminals, the soldiers, the addicts, the mathematicians, the gamblers and the cage fighters, the refugees and the rebels. From the battlefield to alternate realities to the mean streets of the dark city, in Neon Leviathan you will walk in the shoes of those who struggle to survive in a neon-saturated, tech-noir future.

So, stay with us, see what’s being said about this book, check out an excerpt of some of Tim’s writing, and grab your self a copy down the bottom of this post.

What people are saying about Neon Leviathan

Check out what people have had to say about Neon Leviathan below:

Tangent Online: “I’m reminded of a quote from Orwell’s Animal Farm, in which the old donkey Benjamin says “Life will go on as it has always gone on—that is, badly.” There are some humorous moments … along with one or two noir-style tales … but every story seems to emulate this one Orwellian quote in one way or another. And that, I think, is the appeal of Neon Leviathan. The malleability of identity and perceived reality aside, life always goes on as best it can. It might not be glorious, it might not be happy, it might not even be what we’ve been made to believe it to be, but—in the end—humans will persevere in whatever way they can, just as they always have.”

Spells and Spaceships: “Above all else, it really made me think. For a book to change your outlook on life is a huge achievement. I almost had the bravery to label it the 1984 of this generation; I genuinely feel this will be seen as a really important work in time to come and the potential for ‘Napper’ to eventually be spoken in the same sentence as ‘Gibson, Dick, Leguin, Huxley, Wells.’”

Richard K. Morgan (Altered Carbon): “Haunting and iridescent – combines the paranoid weirdness of the best Philip K Dick, the chilly but cool-as-fuck future gleam of cyberpunk, and an achingly beautiful literary inflection reminiscent of mainstream heavyweights like Murakami or Ishiguro. T. R. Napper’s futures feel at once gritty and vertiginous and close-focus human in the way only the best SF can manage. Whatever roadmap he’s working from, I can’t wait to see where he’s taking us next.”

Anna Smith Spark (Empires of Dust): “Brilliant. Frightening – genuinely mentally unpleasant, my brain itched as I read it.”

Adrian Tchaikovsky (Children of Time): “Each one of the stories in this collection is a carefully crafted masterpiece.”

For an interview with our brilliant author check out the Civilian Reader.

And without further ado, check out an excerpt of the short story that won Tim the Writers of the Future competition, Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang.

Excerpt: Twelve Minutes to Vinh Quang

The restaurant smelled of anchovies and cigarettes. Lynn hated both, but still, it reminded her of home. Comforting and familiar. The anchovies in the sauce wouldn’t be real of course, and the tobacco almost certainly illegal.

It was three in the afternoon, but the room was still pretty much full. Patrons sipped glasses of tea, shrouded in the smoke and dusk, mumbling to each other in low-pitched conversation. Blinds were down against the windows, the only light emanating from shaded red lanterns hanging from the ceiling, casting the faces around her in crimson twilight.

The only light, that is, bar a government advertisement on the far wall. The picture of a decaying wooden boat on the high seas, the inhabitants of which were anonymous splotches of yellow staring over a thin railing. The holotype glow of the deep blue ocean was overwhelmed by the intensity of the red block letters stamped over the picture:

ILLEGAL

Everyday, middle-of-the-road fascism: it just had no imagination.

A small bell above the door tinkled as it opened, spearing an unwelcome slat of white sunlight into the room. Heat, too, gusting in to swirl the smoke and swing the lanterns. A shadow filled the doorframe, pausing perhaps to adjust its eyes to the gloom within. Maybe just pausing for effect.

An ancient Vietnamese woman behind the back counter came to life, pointing a gnarled finger at the new customer. “Má Măy. Dóng Cưả Lai đi.” [“Close that door. Your Mother!”]

The silhouette shut the door, emerging from the light into a broad-shouldered man wearing an immaculate tailored suit, deep-blue necktie, and an air of contempt for the room he’d just stepped into. He removed the black homburg from his head and ran a hand over his gleaming, jet-black hair, combed straight back. As he did so, Lynn glimpsed a tattoo snaking up under his sleeve.

The man walked to the back counter. Lynn turned to watch as he did, adjusting her silver nose ring with thumb and forefinger. He spoke in hushed tones with the old woman, glanced back at Lynn, then turned and started speaking again rapidly. The grandmother waved him away before disappearing through a beaded doorway to the kitchen beyond.

He walked back to her table, hat in hand, face set. “Mister Vu?”

“Vu Thi Lynn.” She paused. “And that’s a Miz, Mister Nguyen.”

He made a show of looking her over. Her hair in particular came in for close inspection, dyed, as it was, the hue of a fresh-pressed silver bar and molded into a spiked Mohawk. She sported a tiny black leather jacket and a pair of thin eyebrows that could fire withering disdain at fifty paces.

His shoulders were hunched, like a boxer’s. “Is this a joke?”

“What are you having difficulty processing, Mister Nguyen? That I’m young, a woman, or,” she waved at hand at his suit, “that I don’t walk around with the word ‘gangster’ tattooed on my damn forehead?”

His eyes narrowed, lips pressed together. Then the flicker of anger was gone. “Perhaps you don’t know who I am.”

“All I know is you’re late.”

Mister Nguyen placed his hat on the table and played with the large gold ring on his index finger, looking down at her with a studied grimness.

Lynn stifled a sigh at the posturing. “Look, we have business to attend to, and I was led to believe you were a businessman.” She indicated the seat opposite her. “Let’s get to work.”

He nodded, as though to himself, scanning the room as he took his seat. Appeals to business usually worked with these people, imagining, as they did, that they were part of some traditional brand of professional criminality stretching back through time to the Binh Xuyen of Saigon or the Painters and Dockers Union of Melbourne.

“We doing this here?”

She nodded. “I’ve never been here before. There are a hundred places like this in Cabramatta. Neither of us need return here again.”

He looked around the room once more and took a palmscreen out of his pocket. He mumbled into it, pressed his thumb against a pad on the front, and then pulled a thin tube from the top. It unrolled into a translucent, wafer-thin flexiscreen. Soft green icons glowed across its surface. He looked at her. “So, what’s the rush?”

“No questions, Mister Nguyen.”

He clenched his jaw. He knew he couldn’t argue with this statement of professionalism either. “The transaction will take thirty minutes to complete.”

“Thirty minutes?”

Nguyen drew a cigar from the inner pocket of his jacket, and set about clipping the end with a steel cigar cutter. “The government tracks every freewave signal going into Vietnam. Our transaction can’t be direct.” He put the cigar in his mouth, took his time lighting it with a heavy gold lighter. He snapped it shut and puffed out a thick cloud of smoke. “We relay through a few different countries first before ending up at a front factory in Laos, right near the Vietnamese border. My contact there gets word across the border to a small town on the other side: Vinh Quang.” He pointed down at the flexi-screen with the end of his cigar. “The money for the equipment—that’s easy, will only take a few minutes. Unofficially, the Australians don’t give a shit about private funds going to buy weapons for the Viet Minh. The money for people is tougher to get through clean. You know—the whole refugee thing.”

Lynn nodded. She glanced over at the government ad on the wall, red letters glowing fierce and eternal. Yeah. She knew.

Money, of course, was always an exception. Five million dollars and you and your family would be granted a ‘business residency’ in Australia. The government funneled the arrivals into Cabramatta and the nearby suburbs, very quietly, so the general public wouldn’t get too heated up about it.

The rest who arrived by boat were thrown into internment camps for a few months before being returned to Vietnam, where inevitably they ended up in Chinese prisoner-of-war camps.

Nguyen placed the cigar cutter and lighter on the scratched tabletop. “You insisted on being here when the money went through. It takes thirty minutes.”

“You know the saying,” she said, “trust everyone, but cut the cards.”

He shrugged. “Sure. I need to keep the line open, verify who I am, confirm we’re not a part of some Chinese sting operation. If we miss a call, I fail to enter a pass code, they burn the link.”

She nodded.

He puffed on his cigar like a man who believed he was in charge. “You said you wanted to move twenty million. Minus, of course, fifteen percent for my fee.”

“You told me the fee was ten percent.”

“That was before you criticized my clothes.”

“You look like a cross between a pimp and a wet echidna. I think I went easy on you.”

His eyes went hard. He glanced at her hair, opened his mouth to retort, then shook his head. “I did some asking around. Everyone has heard about you. High profile means a higher risk.”

“You didn’t even know whether I was a man or a woman before today.”

“The authorities could be observing you.”

“They’re not.”

He inhaled deeply on the cigar, blew the smoke directly into her face. She closed her eyes for a moment, felt her hand clench into a fist.

Nguyen was oblivious. “Your regular guy got done for tax evasion. I have the contacts. And you’re in a hurry.” He opened his hands and smiled. “The fee is fifteen percent.”

Lynn glanced around the room. A couple of faces were turned in her direction. She shook her head, a small shake—one that could be mistaken for Lynn trying to get the smoke out of her eyes.

She looked back at him. “I want a business residency for two families. That’s ten million. The rest goes to weapons.”

“I assume these families are on an Australian government watch list. They’ll need new identities?”

She raised an eyebrow in the universal signal for obviously.

“You know these people?” he asked.

“No.”

“Then why are you getting them out?”

“You appear to be asking questions again. Now, what did I say about that?”

He brought his hand down hard on the plastic tabletop, causing the condiments on the table to chatter. He took a deep breath. “No respect.”

Lynn sipped her tea, watching him over the lip of the glass.

He took a long drag on his cigar and returned the stare. Then he blinked away whatever he wanted to say and began manipulating the glowing symbols on the flexiscreen, whispering into it from time to time.

Unobserved, Lynn allowed herself a small smile.

Through the nanos attached to her optic nerves, the c-glyph could broadcast data and images that only she could see. Some people would have multiple freewave screens open all hours of the day. Watching the betting markets or reality television or point-of-view pornography. As a general rule, if you were in conversation with someone and their eyes glazed over, or even closed, they were finding some facile freewave feed more interesting than your company.

Lynn tended to keep her visuals uncluttered. At the moment all she had loaded up was the timestamp in glowing green numerals that appeared, to her brain, about a foot away in the top left corner of her vision.

15:33

She marked the time. Thirty minutes to Vinh Quang.

They waited. She turned and signaled the grandmother, ordered a late lunch. A soft chime sounded a few minutes later. Nguyen closed his eyes and put a finger to the c-glyph behind his left ear, listening as it whispered directly into his eardrum. He murmured a response, paused, and then mumbled again.

He opened his eyes a few seconds later. “The money for the equipment is through.”

She nodded, touched her own c-glyph, fingers against the small circle of cool steel. “Anh Dung?” She listened to the reply, nodded once.

“Everything check out?” Nguyen asked.

“Don’t worry, you’ll know if it doesn’t.”

Nguyen slurped his tea and settled into his chair, content to watch the slow burn of his cigar. The minutes stretched out. Nguyen didn’t try to engage her in conversation; the first transaction had gone through smoothly: things were going well.

Until the bell above the door tinkled again.

Two men entered. As the blinding light returned to the dusk of the room, she could see that they weren’t from around here. White men with cheap fedoras, crumpled suits, and the empty gaze of detached professionalism. Government men. They scanned the room, their eyes stopping when they found Lynn.

She held her breath, moved her hand to her belt buckle.

They walked right up to the table, removing their hats as they approached. “Mister Nguyen Van Cam?” Lynn’s hand stopped, hovering above the lip of her jeans, she breathed out slowly.

Mister Nguyen looked up. “Who wants to know?”

“I’m Agent Taylor, Immigration Enforcement Agency.” He flipped out a badge featuring an Australian crest, emu and kangaroo glinting chrome in the red haze. He pointed to the man next to him. “This is Agent Baker.”

Nguyen was silent, his cigar trailing an idle string of smoke to the ceiling.

The time glowed softly at the edge of her vision.

15:51

Twelve minutes.

Buy Neon Leviathan by T.R. Napper

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.