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OUT OF PHASE with Alex Woolf

Hive Mind: The Inspiration

Alex Woolf

When I was about eight my family went on holiday to the South of France, and in the garden of our rented villa, I witnessed a massed attack by a swarm of ants on a large green gecko. It was hideous, yet also fascinating to watch them gradually dismember the poor reptile while it was still alive, and carry pieces of it away to their nest. I remember trying to imagine what it must be like to be that gecko. What really impressed me was how the ants operated as a highly efficient and ruthless team. They seemed almost to possess a collective intelligence.

Small things on their own are weak, I realized, but when they act collectively and in large numbers, they can be seriously formidable. A swarm of ants operates in many ways like a single organism, but with the distinct advantage of being dispersed. This organism can, if attacked, scatter, only to reform later. You can wipe out half its mass and it will regenerate. We are lumbering, vulnerable beasts by contrast. Actually, those thoughts probably came to me a lot later – that day, I was probably just thinking things like ‘Cool!’ and ‘Yuck!’. But the memory of the ants and the gecko stayed within me and, decades later, provided the seed out of which this story grew.

Because my mind tends to follow a science fictional bent, the ants naturally became miniature robots – a horde of tiny machines with an antlike collective intelligence. Instead of killing geckos, these robots could work for us, their creators. We could use them to serve our medical needs. Imagine it! They could patrol our insides, quietly repairing and maintaining our bodies, driving out germs, protecting us from disease, keeping us in perfect physical condition.

At around this stage of my thinking, another memory flashed into my head – this time from when I was about 25 – a passing remark from a girl I knew back then. She said: ‘Sometimes I feel as if my brain is my enemy.’ At the time, I thought this quite a bizarre notion. Surely you are your brain, so how can it be your enemy?

The two ideas – medical robots and enemy brains – combined.

Why, I asked myself, should these robots stop with the physical body? With their powerful collective intelligence, surely it wouldn’t be long before they started to sense that our minds could also use some help. They’d feel it their duty to protect us from crazy ideas or harmful thoughts that could lead us to hurt ourselves or others. To ensure our continued health and happiness, they would slowly but surely start to take control of our brains. Of course this would happen very subtly, without their human masters even being aware of it. Before long, it wouldn’t be clear who we are any more. Who is thinking our thoughts or making our decisions? And does it even matter? After all, everything seems just fine.

I realized, by now, that I had the makings of quite a powerful dystopian fantasy. But it needed a plot. Someone had to discover what had happened and then decide to fight against it. I had to ask myself what would people be like in this strange new world I’d dreamed up. What would be the psychological effect of having tiny robots scurrying about inside you? Pretty soon, I had a sense of my main character, Jem, and what job he did, and I began to write the story. The result, as often happens, turned out quite different from my original vision, but overall I was pretty happy with it, and I still am. I have no idea what my eight-year-old self would have had to say about it – though he’d probably have liked the scene involving the ants.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR — Alex Woolf is a published author of over eighty books, both fiction and non-fiction, mostly for young adults. His fiction writing credits include a time-warping science fiction trilogy, Chronosphere, and Aldo Moon and the Case of the Ghost at Gravewood Hall, about a teenage Victorian ghost-hunter, described by bestselling crime writer Peter James as ‘a real delight, witty, ghostly and at times deliciously ghastly.’ His horror novel Soul Shadows, about shadows that come to life, has been shortlisted for the 2014 RED Book Award. His latest novel, a steampunk adventure called Iron Sky: Dread Eagle, published in September 2014.

Website: http://alexwoolf.co.uk
Twitter: @RealAlexWoolf


OutOfPhase_Front_CoverHorror and science fiction blend seamlessly in the twelve stories contained within this anthology. Whether it’s mutation, creation, invention, machinery gone awry, or space/time travel, each of the authors included took on the challenge of weaving a tale that not only stood up against scientific possibilities, but will scare the proverbial pants off readers.

Imagine a world where the skies are protected from giant insects by men and women who climb into flying steel contraptions. Or perhaps you like the idea of nanobots quietly working in the background to effect positive change, only to find out that maybe those changes aren’t completely beneficial. How about genetic manipulation gone horribly wrong? Fiction that may not be too far from fact…

All of these terrifying, yet thought provoking scenarios are part of this collection of tales that definitely have some genuine kick!


Dead Serious: A Story of the Invaders — Paul M. Feeney

Hive Mind — Alex Woolf

The Unity Contagion — B. David Spicer

SkyDogs — Richard Farren Barber

Grey Sands — DJ Tyrer

Waiting Time — Rivka Jacobs

First Second — Jason D’Aprile

Idle Puppet — Dev Jarrett

Face Value — P.N. Roberts

The Forgotten Ones — J. D. Waye

What Really Happened on Green Moon 764… — Sergio Palumbo

Under The Twin Eyes — Matthew Smallwood


Out of Phase is available on:

Amazon: US | UK | Australia | Canada | Germany | Italy | France | Spain | Japan | Mexico | Brazil | India | The Netherlands

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