Bizarre Bipeds

What IS humanity's place in the Universe?

A collection of stories to challenge and amuse

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This book was a finalist in its category of EPIC's e-book awards.

Buy this book
My other anthologies:
Striking Back from Down Under
Through Other Eyes
Read the first chapter of Liberator
Reviews

Bizarre Bipeds is a collection of four stories:

  • Liberator is a novella, which takes you to a world where the peaceful life of the people is destroyed by invaders from outer space. These monsters enslave the people, and commit incredible cruelties, just so they can have free labour in their diamond mine. It takes a very special person to bring them to justice.
  • Dummies in Dimensional Drive is a light-hearted love story, with a few twists. Environmental catastrophe has destroyed much of humanity, and the remainder live in savagery. The Galactic Council comes to offer help, and have terraformed Venus as the new home for some sixty million humans. Jim is one of those chosen, and he uses his quick wit to ensure that the sexy-looking girl who had been about to kill him will come too...
  • A Different Invasion shows that what you look like doesn't matter. Trevor turns out to be a horrible-looking alien, but Luci ends up liking him anyway.
  • Cooked was written specifically for this book, although I've been carrying the idea around in my head for years. A person who normally lives in the centre of the Galaxy blunders into our planetary system. All it wants to do is to go home, for which it needs to organise an enormous nuclear explosion. Some humans respond to this visitation with interest and friendship, but the official authorities take a more warlike stance. The visitor is very thankful for the human reaction, and shows its gratitude...

     

       After you've read these stories, you will never think of humans in the same way again.

       The book is in electronic format (PDF file).
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    Liberator

    Part I: Mirla and Gatol
    1. The Coming of the Monsters

    Mirla

       The terrible times started on a beautiful afternoon.

       Mirla lay on the soft long grass of a wide forest clearing. Her three baskets overflowed with juicy yellow cutberries, ready for jam making. Grandmother wouldn't mind that she took a little rest in this peaceful place.

       She gazed up at the patch of pale blue sky, encircled by the gently waving fronds of the tall tubetrees. A tiny fluff of cloud drifted into her view, changing shape as it floated by. With a little effort of imagination, she made it into Gatol's likeness: his muscular little shape, with the sturdy legs and the arms he waved so readily when he got excited. She smiled at the memory of the last time he'd shared a joke with her. His arms had been all over the place then. And he was such a good hunter already, though still only a boy on the verge of manhood.

       She'd been thinking a lot about him lately, perhaps ever since her Transformation. She was almost certain that he liked her a lot. Almost.

       He'd danced with her practically all the time at the Midsummer party...

       A sound got in the way of her pleasant musings: a deep roar started as a faraway murmur, but rapidly grew into a mind-numbing agony that shook her whole being. It sounded louder than the worst thunder she'd ever heard, but went on and on and on and got louder all the time.

       She did her best to shut off all her senses, made a ball of her body and even used her hands to try and mask out the roar, but the horrid noise was just too loud. Nothing in her life had ever been this distressing, giving her pain beyond pain all through her body. Everything became a blur, until she thought she'd pass out.

       After a torture that seemed to last forever, Mirla felt the ground shake under her.

       The sound stopped at the same time, and the normal quiet of the forest returned, like an emptiness that sucked at her being. Trembling, hardly able to keep her balance, she stood up, then she couldn't help vomiting.

       Well, that was all the cutberries she'd eaten, gone to waste.

       The scary thing was that, on thinking back, she realized that the sound had ended above the village. Was some monstrous flying beast attacking her home, her loved ones? She thought of her two little sons, and her breath caught from worry.

       She picked up the baskets, one in each hand, and started hurrying back. She had no doubt about the direction, although there was no path. She knew this part of the forest well.

    Gatol

       Radon, who was the male partner of Gatol's sister, said with a smile in his eyes, "Watch again, young fellow."

       He's not that much older, Gatol thought, but Radon certainly was very good at flint knapping, so he dutifully watched.

       Radon held a knobby lump of flint tightly with his thighs. He carefully placed a specially shaped bone tool against a knob, and sharply hit the other end of the bone with a large wooden mallet. The knob flew off.

       Gatol bounded over to pick it up. It had a sharp, curved edge, nothing like the blunt splinter his own effort had produced.

       "It's all in the angle you hold the splitter," Radon told him, but Gatol waved a hand.

       "Listen!"

       "What... oh you're right, there is something."

       The two young men were in the village clearing, surrounded by many others, enjoying the life-giving sunshine. Over the buzz of conversation, over the playful shouts of children, Gatol heard a hum. It was a steady noise, unchanging in pitch, nothing like any other sound he'd ever heard before. And it got louder and louder with great speed.

       Gatol didn't like this. Something dangerous was coming, he just knew it.

       "Everyone, listen!" he shouted.

       A few people near him stopped talking, but who pays attention to a youngster?

       "Run!" he shouted. "Get out of the village!" He did so himself, as fast as he could, Radon just behind him.

       The noise was really terrible now, and everyone else reacted to it. A few followed Gatol's example, bounding away in every direction, but most people used their hands to try and mask out the sound. They cowered down wherever they happened to be.

       Gatol nearly reached the edge of the forest, but by then the roar sounded so terrible that he collapsed. He simply couldn't move, even breathing became an impossible chore, and he hurt all over.

       The sound stopped, to be immediately followed by a mighty bang as when a huge rock is dropped. The ground shook, so much that one of the tubetrees fell, barely missing him. Had it been falling onto him, he wouldn't have been able to get out of the way, as he was still paralyzed by the effects of the noise.

       Somehow he managed to stagger to his feet, and was assailed by a horrid stink. Looking down, he saw that he had dirtied himself. How awful, like a baby! Nor was it the pellets of normal body wastes, but a disgusting soft, sticky ooze. Just behind him, Radon also stank, and so did everyone else near them.

       But something even more terrible captured Gatol's attention.

       Sitting in the middle of the village, encircled by the ring of huts, squatted a huge yellow monster. Its top towered over the peaks of the huts.

       There were people there just before, Gatol thought. Terrified, he saw rivulets of yellow blood flow from under the thing. It had squashed maybe a quarter of the village! His neighbors, friends, maybe even relatives, were killed, suddenly and with almost no warning. This just couldn't be!

       A grating sound came. The monster opened a mouth, and an object slid out of it: a downward extending, shiny gray something. The end of it thumped onto the ground, and Gatol saw, horrified, that it cut somebody in half. That was Willa, a woman who had just managed to stand, only to be struck by this thing.

       Gatol was torn--flee, or go back and help? And then it was too late to do either.

       A buzzing sound came from the opened mouth of the monster, and one after another, nine shapes flew out, and then, after a short gap, another one. Even in his distress, Gatol noted that they looked vaguely like people, and yet very different. For one thing, they were larger than any person he'd ever seen. Each of them held something like a stick in two hands.

       The one in the lead pointed with her stick. A tongue of fire came out of the end of the stick, a loud bang sounded, and the chest of a woman quite near to Gatol exploded.

       Other bangs came, and tongues of flame from the flying monsters' sticks, and other people died.

       Gatol took a step toward the forest, but had forgotten about his ooze-filled lower garment. It had come partway down his legs and tripped him. He fell.

       This turned out to be lucky: a whistling sound passed close over him, and he saw the nearest tubetree have its middle blasted out.

       The tree toppled over, to lie across the one already felled by the vibration of the monster's landing.

       Gatol lay on the ground, too frightened to move, although the stink made him want to gag.

       One of the flying monsters zoomed over his head, and waved the end of its stick at him. Gatol saw that the flying creatures had formed a wide ring, and were herding everyone in toward the huge yellow monster. Maybe they intended to feed the people to it?

       He hitched his lower garment up with a careful finger, not wanting to dirty his hand, and stood up.

       Gipok, over on the other side of the clearing, suddenly raced for the creek, obviously bent on escape. A flying monster across the creek shot him. Gipok fell, his chest a bloody, gaping hole.

       Haborla, one of the senior women, started to walk very slowly toward the creek. Gatol liked her a lot, and in his mind said good-bye to her. But nothing bad happened. She waded into the water, and started to wash herself.

       Moving as slowly as he could, Gatol joined the others to walk toward the creek too.

    Jackson

       A few minutes before this time, David Jackson had felt great. Nothing was ever as exciting as piloting a shuttle at low altitude. He zoomed over a landscape that looked like an overgrown bamboo field. Behind him, Hardy said, "A bit more to the left, pal," then to everyone, "Just remember, it's a bad idea to leave any of them alive. We don't want other packs to know how we operate. So it's capture or kill."

       Thierry's high voice answered him, from Jackson's right. "Look, we've all been briefed. Just shut up and enjoy the ride."

       Jackson saw sunshine flash on a ribbon of water, and a circle of what looked like pointy triangles--had to be the nests of this pack. He neatly brought the shuttle to a standstill over the nesting site.

       "They're not running," Hardy said, surprise in his voice. "Take us down, Jacko."

       Jackson did so, plumb in the center of the circle, though he'd seen quite a crowd of shapes huddling there. Oh well, if the beasts didn't have the sense to get out of the way, he just had to squash them like bugs. He lowered the ramp as he felt the pleasingly gentle touch of landing, and followed the other nine out, grabbing his rifle on the way. He already wore his jet strapped to his back.

       An incredible stink hit his nose as he emerged into the outside air. It was diarrhea magnified a thousand-fold. He retched in response. These animals would be no use if they stank like this.

       Several were running now, or more exactly, bounding away like kangaroos. He fired up his jet and soared off the ramp, blessedly above the stink. He sprayed bullets toward a speeding green shape and saw its midriff explode. Good shot. He spared a glance around: the others had zoomed outward. He copied them, and soon they had a wide circle around the site. Only dead animals were beyond them.

       He clicked on his com. "Hardy, I won't live with this stink."

       The xenobiologist answered, "Jacko remember, the samples we'd captured for analysis didn't smell at all. I think they shat themselves because of some aspect of our attack. My theory is that it's due to the noise."

       Suddenly one smallish shape got mobile, making for the creek in great bounds. Hovering over the far shore, big George brought it down with a single shot. He asked, "Now why would noise make them shit themselves?"

       Hardy explained, "Even on Terra, there's a kind of mouse that has a fit from loud noise. Anyway, I'll investigate it once we get them back to Base. If it's true, noise will give us a disciplining tool."

       The remains of the herd were all stirring. Jackson saw a large one slowly inch toward the creek. It waded in, and very obviously started to wash itself. Thierry commanded, "Don't shoot, let them clean themselves up."

       Others followed, all moving very, very slowly. "They've got the message," Hardy said, his voice sounding pleased even through the com. "They're showing us that they know: running leads to death. And this proves they're trainable. At least as smart as a dog, I'd say."

       "I think we can go in," Thierry told them after the last of a long string of bizarre three-legged shapes had finished washing in the creek. Keeping in line with the others, Jackson jetted slowly forward. He saw Thierry's hand move over the controller hooked on his belt, and the hold door swung down.

       The smell was still there, but reduced to almost bearable. Still breathing shallowly, Jackson tried to seem as dangerous as possible while flying toward a group of green animals. They shuffled away from him, and therefore toward the shuttle.

       He heard the crack of a rifle and glanced away to see that Hardy had shot one of the group he was herding. The others crowded inward. Good idea, he thought, and shot the one nearest to him, which happened to be the smallest of them. The rest of his group bounded toward the center of the circle, setting up a chattering wail.

       Soon the entire remains of the pack were squeezed against the shuttle, though they clearly avoided touching it. "Cover me," Hardy requested, then flew low over the herd. They cowered down, each strange shape becoming about half its usual height. Hardy stopped at the foot of the ramp, then lowered himself and used his rifle to prod a large animal--over two feet high, even crunched down like this, so probably a four-foot specimen. The beast stumbled and took a couple of steps up the plasteel incline. Hardy pushed at the next one, and this thing also moved up. Within a few minutes, a steady stream of freakish green shapes started steadily shuffling along, to disappear within the hold.

       Thierry ordered, "Search the huts. We've got enough for this trip, just kill any you find hiding there."

       In ten more minutes, Jackson was back behind the controls, and took off for Base.

       George said, "I find it hard to come to grips with their looks." Jackson felt in full agreement.

       Hardy had settled his bulky body back in the navigator's chair. He was in his element as he replied, "Actually, they're wonderful. Look, the green skin color, you know what that is? It's chlorophyll, not the exact chemical formula, but similar and doing the same job. These beasties make food from sunlight, all the same as plants. And like I said after I'd cut up the first one, their brain is in the chest cavity, right next to the heart. Much better than the way we're built. That's why there's no head. And having sensory pods you can pull in makes you safer from damage than our setup with eyes only protected by a thin layer of skin."

       "But three bloody legs and three bloody arms!" Tim objected.

       "Well, the triangle is the strongest shape there is. A tripod is far more stable than two legs. They can oppose any two hands, and any two of the three fingers on a hand. And they can see, hear and smell in every direction at the same time, and also they breathe through the holes in the sensory pods, which means no choking problems. One of the silliest aspects of the human body is how the digestive and respiratory systems have the same entrance."

       "OK, OK," Thierry interrupted, "get off your hobbyhorse. We're nearly there."

    Mitchell

       John Mitchell sat at the back of the control room, where the others wouldn't look at him. He managed not to cry--barely. I've killed! he thought again, his innards churning.

       The other nine partners were all so much older than him, so much more experienced, and anyway Hardy was a xenobiologist, an expert on alien life forms. Who do you think you are, John, he thought, a snotty-nosed eighteen-year-old kid, doubting a man like him?

       But the locals had huts, wore clothing, obviously had reasoning ability. God help me, I hope they don't prove to be sentient!

       To distract himself from the repeating torture of his thoughts, going round and round and round, he closed his eyes and visualized the computer screen back in his room, just a few steps away, but not accessible during flight. He put on it the current problem he was working on, something Peter the architect had given him to do: designing the sequencing of building operations for the castle. His fingers pushed imaginary buttons, without speaking aloud his inner voice gave instructions to the computer in his mind, and the display changed exactly as it would in reality. His solution was pleasingly elegant: instead of solving Peter's problem, he designed a program that would do the job.

       It came as a jolt when the shuttle landed. He opened his eyes, then quickly recapped his work over the last few minutes, or however long the trip had been. He had no idea. Later today, he'd remember it all and key it into the computer, ready to be tested.

       The others were filing out through the door, each with rifle ready. John hung back, not wanting to threaten or perhaps even kill more of the cute little green beings, but Hardy turned back. "Come on, kid," he said, "there's work to be done."

       John picked up his rifle but left the safety on. He followed Hardy out, feeling dwarfed by the older man's height and bulk. Dutifully he jetted up off the ramp and pretended to guard the crowd of pitifully drooping shapes as they walked out of the hold. They may be entirely alien, he thought, but look how they hold their bodies. I can see they are terrified, and grieving, and disoriented. Oh, why did I think mining would be an adventure?

       But he knew the answer. There were no girls here to laugh at him, no crowds to give him a feeling of panic. He didn't need to try and make conversation. As long as he did his work, the others left him alone. And he knew that programming was the one thing he could do better than anyone else.


    Reviews

    Bent Lorentzen
    Mike Kechula
    Michael Thal

     

    Michael Thal

       Bizarre Bipeds is an anthology of four science fiction stories written to open the eyes of readers to consider humanity's place in the universe. Author Dr. Bob Rich threads a link through all of the stories engaging readers to pause about our place in the galaxy and what other alien races must think of us.

       In "Liberator," a peaceful world inhabited by tranquil sentient beings is upended when monsters from the stars--Earthmen--massacre villages and abduct survivors as slaves to work in their mines to harvest diamonds. The author expertly shows the cruelty and actions of "pocket Hitlers" who use power to hurt others. He adeptly creates a messianic character, Trom, who is born in captivity, and through his drive and intellect finds a way to save his people.

       Aliens representing the Galactic Council invade Earth in "Dummies in Dimensional Drive." Their goal is not to conquer, but to help humanity escape from its dying world.

       In "A Different Invasion" aliens take the form of humans to observe us and assist us through our growing pains. Finally, in "Cooked" an alien born of the stars ends up in the galactic boondocks trying to find its way home. To get enough power to feed itself, it must destroy a few moons and perhaps a planet or two. Unfortunately for humans, one of those planets is Earth.

       Bizarre Bipeds is a cogent work of literature, showing readers that humanity can't be alone in the universe and that the universe has a code of behavior we humans need to respect. Dr. Rich's book is a worthwhile read for all of us.

    Michael Thal is the author of The Abduction of Joshua Bloom, Goodbye Tchaikovsky, and the Koolura Series. He was an inspiring teacher until severe hearing loss forced him to retire. This motivated his wonderful Goodbye Tchaikovsky.


    Bent Lorentzen

       There's an old sketch from Monty Python which satirizes David Attenborough's melodramatic way of coming up close to nature, The Legendary Walking Tree of Dahomey.

       Then there's an ancient African culture that has a name for human beings. It's not easy to pronounce, but basically it translates to "trees that walk."

       Bizarre Bipeds instantly tickles your funny bone without a shred of melodrama and feeds your intellect without a hint of complexity, as you get personal and dirty with the Greenies Yes, it will give you a whole new way of understanding this thing that's been coined since Global Warming and long before: "Green"

       Don't worry, this book doesn't come close to being a boys with their toys science fiction. This is one that any female worth her soul, any male with gonads... and quite literally every manner of gender self-identification conceivable will enjoy without maligning the gender of others, even if in flux.

       Bizarre Bipeds captures the reader instantly and on every level with tension that doesn't hurt or bind. The book's primary story, basically a novel, reveals these Greenies being exploited much like the Conquistadors crucified the soulless natives of 16th century Mesoamerica. I'm going to let that phrase hang for a moment by also confiding how Bizarre Bipeds treats the reader to a multiple course meal designed not only to satisfy every conceivable palate, but in fact help in discovering tastes never even dreamed of.

       Why?

       Well, I certainly don't want to reveal all the secrets in Dr. Bob's repertoire of writing, his incredible tour de force within Bizarre Bipeds, of peeking into the minds and psyches of beings so alien and bizarre that you suddenly and without difficulty find yourself inside that alien mind looking out at... well, someone else rather bizarre. You are inside an alien looking at yourself, and without emotional entanglement.

       Now, I've read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in my time and only Ray Bradbury ever came close to pulling that one off. Bob does it pretty instantly, effortlessly and completely free of Bradbury's often misty eyed moment of a thunderous inner-self Jungian God clap to herald the mind-shift moment of enlightenment. This is the ultimate in grasping this thing so hard to analyze in its degrees and scales within the relativity of the human ego: intelligent self-awareness.

       Having the ability to write this way is in itself a good enough reason to instantly stop what you are in the middle of... yes, that means you who's reading this review on your 3G mobile while sweating on the treadmill. It's almost Christmas, or whatever you want to call it. If you love your boyfriend, wife, husband, mistress, chick, son, daughter or even if you only love that green thing growing over there by the window, buy this book instantly and download it. It will immediately give your loved one, and I hope that means you who's reading this review, an incredible experience rarely found in the written art, self-insight, but without the slightest bit of the author's shadow in it, and hardly even your own. It's very uncanny.

       But even if that's not a good enough reason for recommending this genre to my intelligent readership here, getting acquainted with author Dr. Bob Rich ought to. Bob, a respected psychologist from Down Under, evokes one's own inner morality and empathy about nature's diverse expressions but without the slightest shadow of a didactic voice or even the hint of a dogmatic codex. His stories simply evoke the ones that lie genetically dormant within the you, reader, and if such functional features of your brain anatomy sit all too dormant, my guess is that Bob's writing will still be a hell of a good read.

       Only in the brief but unobtrusive author's notes at the ends of each story does one get a peek at Bob's heart and motivations

       Speaking of that, the other stories in his book will tantalize you in some most surprising and often sensual ways. You won't be disappointed in taking a short moment out of your day and downloading or otherwise buying this book.

       Here's what Bob said makes him such a good author when I asked him the other day in an email:

    1. I have poor visual imagery. I am a word person. Whatever experiences I have are in words. So, I have become very good at translating the inexpressible into words.

    2. I am not really a human, but a visitor to this planet. I am always the outsider, the observer -- but with extremely high level of empathy.

    There is more. Read the full version.

       I edited Bent's wonderful fantasy book Krona for the publisher a couple of years ago. I will now re-read it. Wait for the review in the next issue.

       Bent Lorentzen, a Danish PTSD-psychotherapist, biologist and anthropologist, is the author of The Kingdom of Denmark (non-fiction), Dragon's Moon (Dream Realm Award finalist) and Krona, Dragons of Nistala


    Mike Kechula

       What-if questions are the foundation of all speculative fiction tales. Dr. Bob Rich of Australia must have asked himself some fascinating what-if questions before he wrote Bizarre Bipeds, a 136-page book consisting of four intriguing stories: Cooked, A Different Invasion, Dummies in Dimensional Drive, and Liberator.

       Here are some what-if questions I suspect crossed his mind before he created these well written, entertaining and unforgettable tales:

  • What would be the impact to the universe if altruistic Earthlings used nuclear devices to free a stranded alien on another planet?
  • What if a spacecraft loaded with criminals from Earth are unleashed on the populations of peaceful planets?
  • What if Earth is dying, and an alien rescue craft appears that offers free rides to other parts of the galaxy?
  • What if great humanitarians in the mold of Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Martin Luther King were dispatched from another planet to heal mankind?

       Merely asking oneself these what-if questions doesn't make for a complete story. That's just the beginning. The tales have to be plotted, characters have to be developed, a degree of tension has to be introduced, engaging dialog has to be prepared. And it takes a master to weave all these things together into stories that grip a reader's attention and don't let go. Rich is such a master. In fact, I came away wishing I'd written such a terrific book.

       Frankly, if I knew a Hollywood producer, I'd pass him the novella-size tale, Liberator. This 55,000-word story begs to be turned into a movie, and is so detailed and well written, it's ready to go. The only thing missing is the musical score, but considering what a creative guy Rich is, I wouldn't be surprised if he's already composed it.

       I think Liberator has far more depth than Star Wars and would give psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists much to ponder.

       Liberator has everything that makes for great sci-fi movies, including themes of good vs. evil and transformation. The most entertaining aspects of this tale are the wonderful descriptions of a place that many of us would like to live, a place where folks routinely call others, "dear, darling, love." Anybody that good just has to be exploited by nasty folks, and Rich supplies us with a cast of bad guys that would have you throwing popcorn at the screen every time you see their faces--if this were a movie. In fact, they're slave masters, which makes them absolutely disgusting. And Rich exploits their horrible evil to the nth degree.

       Lots of sci-fi would lead us to believe that anything in outer space that's green just has to be nasty. But Rich has reversed this idea by making his characters, the Greenies, really neat folks who anybody would love to have for neighbors. When taught English, they speak in a way that's so charming, always putting the verb at the end of the sentence. While reading their dialog, I had to marvel at how much effort Rich had to expend to make this work and do it so well. That alone shows how much thought he put into this story to make it unique.

       Without giving away the plot to the story with the wonderful alliteration for a title, Dummies in Dimensional Drive, I'll say this: if I'm ever invited aboard a spacecraft, and it's anything like the one In Rich's tale, I can't wait. In fact, I wouldn't mind if they forgot invitations and abducted me today! I wonder if it would help if I had a T-shirt made that said, PLEASE ABDUCT ME, in giant, glowing letters?

       I heartily recommend Bizarre Bipeds to anyone who enjoys speculative fiction of the sci-fi genre. And I sincerely hope movie-makers take a close look at Liberator, a tale told by a master storyteller, Dr. Bob Rich.

    Mike is the master of flash fiction: bite-sized but complete stories of two to three pages. It is remarkable how much world building, characterization and action he can get into such a small frame. He has published hundreds of these gems in a wide variety of outlets. Recently, 71 of these, each with a clever twist, were published as Area 51 Option by Books for a Buck.

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