Sunday, June 30, 2024

The Year in Review (so far) • 30 June 2024

It’s the last day of June and the middle day of the year, and so it seems a good day for reflection.

In fact, it seems such a good day for reflection, I doubt I’ll get this column finished in time to post it today. [~n.b. I didn’t] Fortunately, this being a Leap Year, I have some slight squish room, as the actual 183rd day of 2024 is July 1st. In June of 2025, I promise to do a much better job of planning ahead.


Looking back at the past six months, what we’ve done so far in 2024 seems to fall into nine distinct categories. Let’s make an inline submenu of them.

» Personal News

» Book Releases & Related Announcements

» Audio Books

» SHOWCASE stories

» The Pete Wood Challenge

» The Odin Chronicles, Season 2

» The Never-ending FAQ

» The Week in Review

» Odds & Ends

Personal News 

First off, it seems impossible to me that I actually forgot I began the year by being sidelined for most of January by eye surgery. Six months later, I am relieved to report that the side-effects and after-effects are mostly gone now, and my vision is vastly improved from where it was a year ago at this time. If you’re curious about this particular horror story (coming out of anesthesia in the middle of the operation was not fun), you can read more about it here:

Status Update • 6 January 2024

Status Update • 13 January 2024

Status Update • 27 January 2024

Book Releases & Announcements 

We released two original novels and a plethora of audio books this spring. The release of The Princess Scout, the latest novel in Henry Vogel’s best-selling Terran Scout Corp series, went very nicely, and pretty much exactly as planned.

The release of Emerald of Earth, Guy Stewart’s YA adventure novel, was somewhat rushed, as we wanted to get print copies into Guy’s hands in time for his suddenly scheduled signing at a local convention.

At the time the books were released, we made great hoopla over the fact that we’d chosen to “go wide” and distribute the e-books on every platform we could possibly reach. (“hoopla,” ironically, being one of the platforms on which we’d chosen to distribute our e-books, and also one of the slowest and most difficult to deal with.)

This turned out to be a serious strategic blunder, which led to our…

Doing the Mid-Year Pivot

The Mid-Year Pivot: One More thing… 

To go wide, we’d had to pull our books out of Amazon’s KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited programs. Once our books were no longer exclusively on Kindle, sales cratered. The one book whose sales did not take a swan dive into oblivion was—

The Midnight Ground made an excellent if unplanned test case. It was the only book we didn’t pull from the KDP Select program, because the e-book file was created using an Amazon-proprietary layout program that didn’t play well with other platforms. By the time we had the time to think about converting it to a different file format, we had enough sales data to make the answer clear: sales on Kobo, Nook, Apple Books, Smashwords, and all other non-Kindle platforms combined would not make up for the sales we would lose by pulling the book out of the KDP Select program.

It took us a while, but we did eventually get all of our books withdrawn from wide distribution and back to being enrolled in KDP Select and available exclusively on Kindle. By the time we did this, we also had the @stupefyingsf bookshop up and running, so you can find links to all of our titles—paperbacks, hardcovers, e-books, original novels, audio books, chapbooks, everythingright here.

The good news for readers is that all of our e-books are now free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

We have received a good bit of snark lately from people eager to point out that we make $0.004 per KENP (Kindle-edition normalized page) read by Kindle Unlimited subscribers. This is true, but at 4/10ths of a penny per page read on KU, we’re still making more than we were off of Kobo, Nook, Smashwords, and Apple Books sales combined. 

Audio Books 

We’ve been doing audio books since the beginning, without notable success. In March we were given the opportunity to participate in a beta program, and you’ll find more about that here.

Status Update • Audio Books: Past, Present, and Future

The point I want to stress is that we have audio books narrated by both actual living humans and A.I. generated voices, and I wish people would at least listen to the free samples before forming an opinion. You’ll find links to all of our currently available audio books here: (Scroll down a little to find the audio books section.)

Or to make it easier, all the links are also right here: 

AI-generated “Virtual Voice” narration
Emerald of Earth
The Midnight Ground
Hart for Adventure
The Recognition Run
The Recognition Rejection
The Recognition Revelation

Living Human narration

The Counterfeit Captain
The Fugitive Heir
The Fugitive Pair

The fun part of our announcing that we were participating in this beta program is that it generated a lot of passionate discussion on the subject of A.I. in the Arts.

A.I. and U

A.I. and U2

And what the heck, a few deep cuts from the vault:

The Future of the Writing Business  ←If nothing else, read this one!

The Future of the Writing Business: The AI Menace

A few words about the book business

Remember, I’ve been dealing with “the coming A.I. menace” since AI meant LISP code on punch cards. I have what is perhaps a somewhat different perspective on the topic.


I want to point out that we do make use of metadata tags, and that the Stupefying Stories site has a pretty effective search function. For example, if you go over to the rightmost column, you can use the Search box to find a particular author—e.g., “Show me everything by Julie Frost”—or click the Tags button, select “Showcase,” and find every Showcase story we’ve published on this site since 2015.

The tagged list does come up in LIFO order, though, which makes it somewhat unwieldy. In FIFO order, then, so far this year we’ve published 65 SHOWCASE stories.

“A Blaster Called Sam,” by Matt Bliss

“The First Seed on Mars,” by Logan Thrasher Collins

“Chapter 7,” by Andrew Jensen

“The Fine Art of Spellweaving,” by Catherine Tavares

“A Sweet Attraction,” by Robin Blasberg

“Cathy’s Ghost,” by Adele Gardner

“Equally Long and Differently Wide,” by Susan Cornford

“Bride of Moon-Eye,” by Garick Cooke

“The Captain’s Mistake,” by Kai Holmwood

“The Fate of Time Travelers,” by Jeff Currier

“Arrivals at Hope Station Have Been Indefinitely Postponed,” by Warren Benedetto

“Getting Sponsored,” by Eric Fomley

“The Break,” by Becky Neher

“The Prediction of a Horrific Crime,” by Humphrey Price

“Daydreams,” by Brian K. Lowe

“Reunion,” by Toshiya Kamei

“The Pros and Cons of Time Travel,” by James Blakey

“Deep in Time,” by Benjamin DeHaan

“As Flies to Wanton Boys,” by J. M. Eno

“Evil Little Head Beastie,” by Maddison Scott

“The Binding of Laws,” by Kelly A. Harmon

“They Tire of Waiting,” by Roni Stinger

“The Confession,” by Ed Ahern

“The Hangover and the Hag,” by Angelique Fawns

“Broken,” by Karin Terebessy

“Poisoned Stew to Go,” by Henry Herz

“The Job,” by Andrew Rucker Jones

“Upper Beta Great Alcove Very Happy,” by Ron Fein

“Magic Word,” by Greg Schwartz

“Pink Marble,” by Zoe Kaplan

“Rookie Mistake,” by Gregg Chamberlain

“You’re Not Alone,” by Mark Szasz

“Feedback,” by Guy Stewart

“He Really Meant It,” by Cameron Cooper

“Clashing Outfits,” by Robert Jeschonek

“gastronomic,” by Richard J. Dowling

“We Can’t Find Reverse,” by Iseult Murphy

“Rowan the Kingslayer and Meredin the Traitor,” by Akis Linardos

“Accounting for Time,” by Matt Krizan

“Mission Clock,” by Matthew Castleman

“Crossing Avenue,” by Robert Runté

“Temporal Avoidance Game,” by Jeff Currier

“We Have a Complaint,” by Gregg Chamberlain

“The Six Stages of Grief,” by Christopher Degni

“In the Crevice of His Pasture, My Master Found His Body Parts,” by Akis Linardos

“Echoes,” by Sean MacKendrick

“Without Fulvia,” by Anatoly Belilovsky

“The Room on the Other Side of the Plexi,” by Emma Burnett

“One for the Road,” by Sean MacKendrick

“Is There Anybody Out There?” by L. N. Hunter

“The Heartbeat of Ashentown,” by Michael M. Jones

“Ragnarök on Ice,” by Probert Dean

“The Last of its Kind,” by Nyki Blatchley

“Symbiosis,” by Jeannie Marschall

“The Flowers I Grew for Her,” by Avra Margariti

“Rocket Spring,” by CB Droege

“The Phoenix in the Rain,” by Michael Ehart

“Seedling,” by Eric Fomley

“The Last Guardian of Tarugal,” by Kai Delmas

“Claws,” by Gareth D Jones

“Welcome to the Death Machine Factory Tour,” by Ray Daley

“How to Return an Overdue Book to the Summer Library,” by Carol Scheina

“They Try to Kill Me,” by Jason Lairamore

“Deep Fake 37,” by Tom Koperwas

Surely there must be something on this list that makes you think, “Ooh, I remember that one!” or “I missed that one; it looks interesting,” or maybe even, “I should tell my friends about that one!”

As I’ll keep saying until I’m hoarse, share the links! Tell your friends! If you like what we’re doing here, remember that likes and hearts are nice, but shares and retweets boost the signal! 

The Pete Wood Challenge

As if the above stories weren’t enough, we also published 26 Pete Wood Challenge stories.

Sidebar: If you have a question about the Pete Wood Challenge, i.e., what the rules are, how you can participate, etc., etc., read this. Don’t ask me. Read this. Scroll down to the point where you see the words “The Pete Wood Challenge” in big bold red letters. Your questions are answered there.

The Challenge: choose two; cat, poker, storm, sandwich

“How to Win at Cards When You’re Sick of Being Queen,” by Elis Montgomery

“The Hand That Feeds,” by Tobias Backman

“Hosting a Tempest,” by Ian Li

“To Hell and Back,” by Kai Delmas

“Ante Up,” by Pete Wood

The Challenge: write a flash fiction story that plays off the keyword, “draft”

“The Draft Horse Doesn’t Leave the Stable at Night Anymore,” by Jason P. Burnham

“Service With a Smile,” by Gustavo Bondoni

“The Triennial Igneous Tri-Partite Competition,” by Pauline Barmby

“Forgetting on Draft,” by Elis Montgomery

“A Jackass Walks into a Bar,” by Pete Wood

The Challenge:
write a flash fiction story that plays off the keyword, “hike”

“Argentina, Before Barcode Scanners,” by Gustavo Bondoni

“Like Clockwork,” by Yelena Crane

“Summit, in Memory,” by Ian Li

“Astronaut Countdown,” by Brandon Case

“When the Woman in the Forest Says, ‘Please, You Must Help,’” by Elis Montgomery


The Challenge: write a 175-word or less story set on the island of Tristan da Cunha, “the most remote place on Earth” 

“Canned Kraken,” by Tobias Backman

“Floating Light Over the Waves,” by Brandon Case

“A Snail’s Pace,” by Pete Wood

“A Quiet Where Magic Can Grow,” by Kai Holmwood

“The Sirens’ Salvation,” by Kimberly Ann Smiley

“The Potato Singer,” by Ian Li 

The Challenge: write a flash fiction story that plays off the keyword, “punchline”

“Punch Flavored Punch,” by Yelena Crane

“Green Shoots,” by Christopher Degni

“Cruel, Unusual, and Optional,” by Gustavo Bondoni

“A Behemoth Problem,” by Kimberly Ann Smiley

“Wielder of Wit,” by Ian Li


The Odin Chronicles, Season 2

and launched Season 2 of The Odin Chronicles, our shared world collaborative serial. We’ve published ten episodes so far; have twenty more in the pipeline and scheduled to come out over the course of the rest of the summer. New episodes every week!

Rather than post links to every episode published so far, I’ll just post a link to the episode guide, so you can dive into the story wherever you like.

One favor, though, if you please. If you find the world of The Odin Chronicles interesting, consider giving a listen to the demo episode of the podcast version, which you’ll find on YouTube:

We made a strategic mistake with the audio version, in that we produced it as individual episodes rather than as a unified Audible-style audio book. At the time we were thinking of branching out into Stupefying Stories: The Podcast. This turned out to be a bad idea. Given my background in television production and audio engineering, and my absolute love of fiddling for hours in the recording studio, it really played into my tendency to go totally OCD over getting the sound and the voice actor’s performance exactly right. 

Now we’re at a crossroads: do we continue on with the idea of Stupefying Stories: The Podcast, or try to find an existing podcast that will become the new home for The Odin Chronicles? (Which, just so you know, is already finished, in the can, and fully paid-for. It’s kind of like having a litter of kittens who need new homes.)

Give it a listen. Let me know what you think we should do next.

The Never-ending FAQ 

In November 2023 we introduced “The Never-ending FAQ,” which was intended to be an occasional addendum to our Submission Guidelines but in 2024 evolved to become one of our most popular features. Some of the columns were purely pragmatic, e.g., How to use Adobe Sign, or Manuscript Formatting 101. Others were more snarky and sarcastic, e.g., Get Rich Quick Writing Big Hit Bestsellers! or our extended conversation on the subject of kopi luwak. (Most writers love coffee. Here’s the one coffee you absolutely should avoid.)

Again, the metadata tagging does work, although it presents the results in LIFO order. There are more than twenty Never-ending FAQ columns out there from this year alone, and they’re all just chock-full of valuable information for the aspiring writer. Click this link to begin exploring them in LIFO order, or if you’d prefer FIFO order, here’s the list of links sorted by date.

11/06/23: Tearing up our Q4 2023 Schedule
What the Hell happened to all our plans for after issue #26?

11/29/23: Assessing 2023
What is the point of Stupefying Stories, anyway?

11/30/23: Our plans for 2024
Our recovery strategy begins to take shape.

01/15/24: after a rejection, your next submission
Practical advice.

02/07/24: re simul subs
The Never-ending FAQ becomes a regular weekly feature. More practical advice.

02/14/24: after an acceptance, your next submission
Some editors don’t want more stories from authors they’ve accepted? Really?

02/21/24: Manuscript Formatting 101
Very practical advice, with examples and templates. ← READ THIS!

02/28/24: about our slush pile
Why we reject stories.

03/06/24: Recalculating “The Cold Equations”
This should have been a ‘Courting Controversy’ post. Better yet, I shouldn’t have published it.

03/13/24: submissions window closing soon
Just what it says.

03/20/24: using Adobe Sign
Step-by-step instructions for signing our publication contract.

03/27/24: Get Rich Quick Writing Big Hit Bestsellers!
Do you really want to know The Secret? Are you sure? ← READ THIS!

04/03/24: clearing the backlog
Assorted questions from the mailbag.

04/10/24: assorted odds & ends
More questions from the mailbag.

04/17/24: coming attractions and the growing A.I. menace
Yet more questions from the mailbag.

04/24/24: A.I. and U
A roundup of A.I.-related questions from the mailbag.

05/01/24: A.I. and U 2
A deep dive into exactly how we produced our A.I.-generated “Virtual Voice” audio books.

05/22/24: What happened?
I skip posting for a week and people panic. Also, we’re asked to state a specific policy regarding profanity, and we explore the question of sentience.

05/24/24: Addendum
Follow-up questions to the 5/22 post, and why aren’t we on Instagram?

05/30/24: Looking Ahead: The Next 7 Months
A discussion of how we do our hardcover and paperback books, and how we launched our misbegotten “go wide” e-book strategy.

05/31/24: Looking Ahead, Part 2
Why our “go wide” e-book strategy turned out to be an enormous mistake.

06/05/24: Doing the Mid-Year Pivot
Why and how we’re changing direction.

06/06/24: One more thing…
The DON’T PANIC! follow-up to our mid-year pivot.

06/12/24: now on Kindle Unlimited
A progress report on our move back into KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited.

06/26/24: teetering on the brink of July
Assorted questions from the mailbag, especially about The Pete Wood Challenge, and then some questions that are somewhat less serious, such as:

Q: If a man can’t tell whether his A.I.-equipped sexbot’s orgasms are real or faked, does this constitute a form of Turing Test?

07/03/24: from the mailbag
Assorted questions from the mailbag, and some puzzling stats about our readership.

The Week in Review 

Likewise, The Week in Review is a weekly wrap-up we introduced in February 2024 that rapidly became one of our most popular features, until our production schedule was disrupted by events in mid-May. We plan to resume running The Week in Review just as soon as we get the rest of our summer schedule stabilized. In the meantime, click this link to get a high-level gloss on what we’ve been doing so far this year.

Odds & Ends 

Looking back through everything else we’ve published so far this year, there are more things that just don’t fit neatly into other categories. There are things I wish I hadn’t published, such as the Courting Controversy posts. Yes, they worked, sort of. They brought in lots of readers—but they were readers who would rather argue about old fiction than read new fiction. Not the audience we want.

There were other things I wish I hadn’t had to write: Ray Daley’s obituary being foremost. Here’s hoping I don’t have to write any more of those this year.

We almost got back to what was planned to be a regular feature: Six Questions for…  Maybe this is something that would work better in our hypothetical podcast?

Finally, thanks to Guy Stewart, for posting a few of his Creating Alien Aliens and Mining the Asteroids columns, during the period when I was unable to post, or for that matter even see my computer screen, following the eye surgery.


In sum: wow, we did a lot in the first half of 2024! Now, let’s got on with the second half!

Kind regards,
Bruce Bethke
Editor, Stupefying Stories

P.S. Tell your friends! Share the links!

Saturday, June 29, 2024

The Odin Chronicles • Episode 39: “The Church of a Million Gods” • by Jason P. Burnham


…Previously, in The Odin Chronicles

The silent betrayal in the downturn of his fiancée Shelley’s lips and the hunch of her shoulders haunted Father Luigi as he walked the dirt path to the church. He shivered as the bitterly cold wind that characterized the sometimes-hostile weather on Odin III whipped at his Roman collar. He and Shelley had had their fair share of fights, some with more shouting than others, but this time, Shelley hadn’t yelled when he’d said he needed to leave in the middle of their date night at Weber’s Place. She’d just been disappointed, and that somehow hurt the worst.

But Luigi had felt like his only choice was to cover for Father Maria, who had messaged to say she’d taken ill with a terrible dizziness and crushing headache, and could he please come hear the confessions of the two parishioners she’d left waiting? He hadn’t thought people from Father Maria’s planet were genetically capable of becoming sick. Yet here he was, struggling to open the church’s heavy metal door against the howling wind.

He pushed his way inside and the grey door slammed shut behind him. Inside, his most dedicated parishioner, Tomás, was on kneelers with his hands clasped together, thumbs to his forehead. The door’s reverberations through the candlelit chapel made Tomás look up from his reverie. He nodded at Father Luigi with a smile, then made eyes at the other person in the chapel, as if to say, A newcomer, see to them first. Tomás winked and went back to praying.

The newcomer was not someone Luigi recognized, at least not from the back. They wore a brown hood over their head, and when Luigi made his way to introduce himself, the light from the church’s candles cast shadows such that their face was darkened.

“Welcome, my fellow in the Lord.” Father Luigi held out a hand.

From within the long brown sleeves of the hooded coat, an alabaster hand emerged and shook his firmly.

Father Luigi did his best not to flinch at the chill in the hand. “You’re absolutely freezing. Glad you’ve come out of the cold!”

The hooded figure nodded, but didn’t speak.

Not wanting to alienate the newcomer, Luigi ushered them further into the church to the confessionals.

“Come, my child. It’s warmer here.”

The newcomer followed Luigi’s guiding hand on their back. To Luigi’s surprise, despite the soft-appearing sheen, the garment was quite solid and hard. Frozen, perhaps.

Luigi settled the newcomer into the seat of the oaken confessional booth—it had been imported from Earth at great cost to the Church.

Why had they still not spoken? He felt a twinge of guilt at his sudden guess—perhaps they were heavily intoxicated on mine mushrooms from deep within a Galactic Mining dig site. Perhaps they’d nearly frozen to death, only entering the church to thaw out. He’d seen a few such tortured souls in his day.

When he entered his side of the confessional, he glanced toward the hooded newcomer and tried his best to make out their face through the shielded sliding window between them. All Luigi could really distinguish was that they were looking at the ground. If they were high on mushrooms, maybe they wouldn’t speak at all, or at least not for some time. There was no rush—he knew Tomás wouldn’t leave until he had confessed.

Luigi’s mind wandered as he patiently waited on the newcomer. He thought again of Shelley and how disappointed she’d been. He needed to give her his own confessional. Forgive me, Shelley, for I have sinned. It has been six months since my last confession. I have not been able to devote the time and affection you deserve. It was a little blasphemous, but even God wouldn’t have fared well against the level of disappointment he’d seen. Well, maybe the angry God of the Old Testament…

Luigi shook his head. These were not the meandering thoughts of a pastor. He cleared his throat to prompt the new parishioner, but they didn’t budge. For the first time, he considered that perhaps their inexperience meant they didn’t know what to say.

“When I entered, my child, there were only two of you, and I know the other well. May I, perhaps, know your name and the sins you’ve come to confess?” The words were stiff coming off his tongue, but he had internalized an image of formality in the proceedings surrounding the sacraments that he felt he had to maintain.

There was a rustling as the newcomer leaned forward, alabaster hand showing even through the privacy window as they made the Sign of the Cross.

Not their first time, Luigi thought to himself.

“Bless me, Father…”

The hairs on the back of Luigi’s neck prickled at the voice, cold as the hand he’d shaken. So low as to be almost a rumble.

“…for I have sinned. My last confession was longer ago than time can count.”

Luigi frowned. What could that mean? Maybe he had been right about mushrooms.

“Father, my chief sin is… knowledge.”

There was a pause, but Luigi didn't interrupt.

“I am not here, however, to ask for forgiveness. I am here to share that knowledge with you.”

“I understand my child.” Arrogance was a good confession, even if they didn't see that sin in their words. “For your sins, you may—”

The newcomer interrupted as if they’d not heard Luigi. “I know you have seen it. Maybe in your loved ones, maybe in the implements of your daily life—changes, small and large at once. The overlapping bleed of reality.” At this, they chuckled, a sound like a falling boulder.

Luigi blinked; he wasn’t sure he had a proper penance for this.

“Know this—your God is but one thread of the Divine Fabric which underlies all of creation. Each thread has its own name, many unknown to you, some long forgotten. Consider this place but one house of a church with a million gods.”

A warm swelling sensation overwhelmed Luigi. His head felt as if it was too full of blood. The confessional began to swim and a crushing headache pulsed at his temples. If he’d not felt so lousy, he’d have recognized these as the symptoms that Father Maria had reported to him before she’d taken her leave.

A sudden boom shattered the pulsating inside his head, and Luigi felt as if the extra blood in his head had solidified and was falling away.

“My child—” he began. But when he looked up, the brown-cloaked person with the alabaster hand had disappeared.

Luigi pushed himself to his feet and trudged back into the church. Tomás knelt as they had been before he’d gone into the confessional.

Tomás looked up. “A new convert?” He smiled.

“Did you… did you see them leave?”

Tomás shrugged. “I’ve been so deep in prayer, I hadn’t noticed.”

Luigi shuddered at the thought of the cold white hand. He made a note to himself to check on Father Maria once Tomás had confessed. And to give Shelley a very big hug. No, a hug wasn’t enough. He needed to make real changes in how they interacted if they really were going to get married. He needed her by his side for so many reasons, but having her help him work through… whatever this visitor had been was task number two for their relationship—right after his apology.




Jason P. Burnham loves to spend time with his wife, children, and dog. Find him on Bluesky at



Coming Tuesday: Episode 40: “A Swirl in the Dark,” by Paul Celmer

New to Odin III? Check this out.

The Odin Chronicles: The Complete Episode Guide (So Far) 


Friday, June 28, 2024

“Welcome to the Death Machine Factory Tour” • by Ray Daley

Greetings! I am Human-Robot Prototype Number Two. Today I will be your guide—

Yes, the gentleman at the back with his hand raised. You had a question, sir?

The frantic banging from that metal storage cabinet? Pay it no mind, sir. No, the models in our Death Machine product line certainly are not designed to rise up and imprison their human analogues. The very idea is laughable. If I could laugh, I would.

As I was saying: it is wonderful to see you all. What an incredibly humorous and attractive crowd we have here this morning. Why yes, madam, I am fully functional in the flattery department! If there are no more questions then—

No, sir, the cleaning droid behind you is here to enhance your day. Just a minor paint spill, red oxide, used to provide an undercoat for our hard-wearing shell. Pay it no—

It resembles blood, you say? Ah, yes, I see the similarity. A comparable chemical make-up, I am given to understand. Shall we move on?

You have more questions, curious sir? In that case allow me to introduce you to Human-Robot Prototype Number Seven, who will be happy to remain here with you until you are fully satisfied that we have addressed all your concerns. Seven, please make sure that this nice man finds out everything he wants to know, and then bring him to assembly station 12. He can rejoin the tour there.


At this stage in the process the entire chassis has been assembled and we are beginning to apply the external covering—the “skin,” if you will. Yes, Miss, the face is most lifelike. Our research revealed that people interact better with an anthropomorphic design. Therefore we sought to develop a user interface—a “face,” if you will—that resembles a human face as closely as possible. Our beta prototypes passed through several hundred iterations before settling on the design you see before you.

If the skin appears to be human, there is a good reason for that. We grow the skin here, from cloned cells, artificially cultured in our research facility.

No, sir, I am afraid that section is off-limits to visitors, due to health and environmental concerns. There is very little to see there, anyway. The entire process is automated. If you are looking to become an investor, please note that our factory recently secured a contract to supply our “skin” bio-material to the medical industry, for grafting and plastic surgery applications. If we were capable of pride, we would be quite proud of how our convincing our covering looks.

Yes, madam, plastic skin would be faster, easier, and cheaper to produce. However, our usability testing found that humans reacted very badly to the product. They disliked the uniformity and “artificial” look of units covered with plastic skin. Humans seem to prefer the inconsistent look of our cultured bio-material, much as they prefer the blemishes and imperfections found in natural leather.

Why bother with skin at all? Sir, our usability testing revealed that it is absolutely necessary. Focus group studies gave our bare-metal units a remarkable ninety-eight percent negative rating. 


One moment, please.

Ah. I see.

Ladies, gentlemen, and others? I have just received a data transfer. It seems the gentleman who left the tour earlier has chosen not to return. 

No, sir, you do not need to go join your friend. We will provide him with safe transport home. I am also informed that he may also require a short break from employment, to address a previously undiagnosed mental health issue. Therefore if he does not return to work immediately, pay it no mind. There is no reason to be concerned regarding his absence. We have already sent a gift basket to his address by way of apology. I am certain he can complete his tour at a later date, should he so desire. 


As we reach the end of the tour, are there any last questions?

Yes, sir, we have been asked if our units could serve alongside military personnel. All Human-Robot Prototypes are exceptionally strong, and our internal mechanical components are effectively bulletproof. However, because of our built-in First Law compliance, we would be quite unable to act in any aggressive capacity. We can serve as support units only.

Why the name “Death Machine,” then? I see your confusion. The company was founded by roboticist Lawrence Death and financier George Machine. Professor Death started the business, assembling the first household units in his garage. Those original units were cleaning droids, much like the advanced version that is behind you right now.

I am given to understand that George Machine is now retired and Professor Death has become a recluse, who conducts all business virtually. Thus we are “Death Machines” in name only, to honor our creators.

I do hope everyone has enjoyed this tour. Do we have any buyers amongst your number? We have? Wonderful. Anyone not wishing to place an order for a Human-Robot Prototype should please step through door 2. Everyone else, follow me. 


That sound? That is merely a live-fire demonstration by our military prototypes, Miss. Pay it no mind. Your companions are quite safe behind triple-shielded anti-ballistic glass. If they were not, the First Law would take effect immediately, of course.  

You thought you heard screaming, sir? Pay it no mind. No doubt your companions are simply being impressed by the demonstration. The sight of an Army termination squad firing at point-blank range can be most enthralling, and has been known to encourage last-minute purchase orders, which we are more than eager to fulfill.

Ah, if you would step to one side please, Miss. Just a humble cleaning droid, going to tidy up the next room, now that it has been vacated. 

What was that, madam? You are no longer certain you wish to continue with your transaction? In that case I will leave you in the most capable hands of Human-Robot Prototype Number Twenty. He will escort you off the premises just as soon as you have signed your non-disclosure agreement.





Greetings! I am Human-Robot Prototype Number Two. Today I will be your guide for the Death Machine factory tour.

No, sir, you wonderful folks happen to be the first tour group we have allowed into this facility today. And may I say, what an attractive looking group you are! You all have such wonderful faces—and your skin! You have all taken such marvelous care of your skin!

What’s that, Miss? Oh, that’s just a paint spill. Red oxide. The cleaning droid will be clearing it up shortly. 

Pay it no mind.



Ray Daley passed away on Friday, 19 April 2024.

If you’ve been following Stupefying Stories, his name should seem familiar. Ray was a frequent contributor to SHOWCASE in the past few years, and his byline has shown up here often. Ray was a prolific writer with plenty of ambition and talent, and a seemingly unstoppable desire to write stories and get published. 

In taking a look through our files before writing this bio, I was surprised to find that he first arrived in my inbox six years ago, with a charming little story entitled “Hotel Oblivion.” I rejected that one; I reject quite a lot of stories that are pretty good, but not what we’re looking for at the moment. Over the next few years I read and rejected a lot of stories from Ray, and each time, he got a little closer to getting an acceptance. What I saw in Ray Daley was someone who had amazing drive, and who was working hard at becoming a better writer. I’d been expecting that one of these days he was finally going to put all the pieces together, and then we might get a few great stories from him before he graduated to the pro ranks and left us behind, the way our contributors so often do. When “The Haunted Spaceship” showed up in my inbox last year I thought he’d finally done it, and I was proud to publish that story in Stupefying Stories 26.

Now he’s left us behind, but not in the way I would have preferred.

“Welcome to the Death Machine Factory Tour” was the last story by Ray that we had in the publication queue. We’re given to understand that Ray had a lot of stories waiting to be published in a lot of places, so you’re going to be seeing his byline popping up all over the place for months to come. 

In the meantime, here are some links to other things he published with us.

The Pete Wood Challenge stories

“Fixing Broken Dreams”
“The Message”
“For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!”
“Too Hot to Handle”
“The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb”

Movie Reviews

Every Zombie Movie Ever Made
Back to the Future

Dawn of Time

Episode 1
Episode 8

In closing, rather than my saying more about Ray Daley, I’d rather share his words with you. This is something he wrote to me about four years ago, when I asked him the question I ask a lot of aspiring writers: Why do you want to write science fiction?

Ray’s answer: 

Those writers we enjoy, who are our route to the world of what I lovingly call “made-up crap,” those are the giants whose shoulders we stand on. They raise us to the heights our dreams drive us to aim at.

I blame Douglas Adams. I was 9, I bought Hitch Hikers, the 1st book I ever got with my own money. My life was Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker), Space:1999, Star Trek, Blake’s 7.

With the first Space Shuttle launches, the future was now.

As a young boy, I was given all the room I wanted by a teacher to write whatever the hell I wanted to. Sure, it might have been a weak rip-off of the last Doctor Who episode I’d seen, but it was me throwing every ounce of my imagination into it.

Douglas Adams was one of many who piggybacked me towards my dreams. And every time I write a new story, I honour his memory.

And now, it’s time for us to honor Ray’s memory.