Getting to No. 1

By Shaun A. Saunders

sfgenreOK, I’ll admit it: as I sat in the back row on the first day of lectures, I was scared. Who wouldn’t be? This was the Fibonacci School of Business, the world’s top executive education provider, and there I was, a mere marketing manager from FabCola, surrounded by a sea of hardnosed vice-presidents, their postures secure, faces smug. They knew it all, their faces said.

At first I did wonder what they were doing here if they did know it all. How silly of me. It quickly became obvious that the puffed shirts in bland suits really wanted to know if someone else knew it all. There were two kinds of vice-presidents, too. The first came from the school of hard knocks, where they did everything themselves, and still had time to engage in extreme sports on the weekends. These guys were tough as nails. They’d walked barefoot twenty miles to school as kids, ate coal dust sandwiches and made their first million selling yesterday’s newspapers to kindly old folk walking past their house.

The other group spoke with a plum in their mouth, or a pole up their arse — it was hard to tell exactly what physical inconvenience made them strangle the life out of each and every vowel. While the hard knockers wore don’t fuck with me, I’m tough expressions, the plums were sleek, their gestures soft. Everything — and especially anything concerning lesser people, which basically meant everyone else — was a private joke to them. Where the hard knockers would answer a question with a derisive grunt, the plums would wax on and on and on, without really saying anything more than the hard knockers.

When a hard knocker scored a point, they’d parade the victory like a great warrior returning from battle, skulls of the vanquished hanging from their belts, a guffaw and a fist slapping the desktop. The plums were subtle in their conquests: a glimmer of a wax figure smile, a slight arch of the eyebrow, their togas secure, arms posed. If a hard knocker lost a point, they’d scream, the injuries nearly fatal. The plums retreated inwardly, to those quiet places of their childhoods, huddling, waiting for the storm to pass, sucking their thumbs, hoping no one noticed.

The hard knockers and the plums. The best of the best.

The lectures were different to anything I’d attended in my undergraduate days, not so long ago. We were taught the wisdom of the great ones: Niccolo Machiavelli, Baltasar Gracian, Sun Tzu, Otto von Bismarck, Tacitus and Plutarch to name a few. Don't embarrass the boss in public; keep your motives to yourself and don’t trust allies; always appeal to self-interest — people only want to know what's in it for them; obliterate the competition but don’t get blood on your hands and never pick a fight with someone who has nothing to lose. I clung to every word, and so did the hard knockers and the plums, determined to plumb every nook and cranny in the dark arts of deception. If there was another way to cajole, mislead, betray, swindle or cheat their fellow man they wanted to know it.

The last slide always finished with ‘Courtesy of the Bureau of Consumer Confidence’, the sole corporate sponsor of the program. Word was that the BCC used the leadership program as an unofficial recruiting opportunity. But no one seemed to know whether this was true or just another industry rumour: the BCC didn’t disclose membership details to anyone, with attendance at the program by invitation only, the proceedings considered strictly commercial-confidential.

Still, after observing the way the hard knockers and the plums approached each of the assessments and challenges in the three-day program, I began to think that they’d already decided to bet on the same horse. I couldn’t be certain, though, because both groups had such large egos that even sitting at the head of the reserved rectangular lunch and dinner tables became a matter of fierce competition between and within groups, with members at opposite ends of tables vying for leadership during the meal. At these times, some of the hard knockers, desperate for approval, became more like plums, overtly conscious of their elbows and how they chewed their food. In turn, the plums, arbiters of what constituted fine breeding, sometimes relaxed etiquette with a casual hand gesture or refilling of their own wine glass. It seemed that for both groups, being even more of what they were was not always enough, so they briefly, sometimes painfully, became a bit of something else.

Not belonging to either group, being neither hard knocker nor plum, and hence a threat to no one, I had the advantage of being able to blend easily into the obscure middle ranks of any meal table.

In between lectures, we’d work on case studies, sometimes individually, sometimes in pre-selected groups. No grades were ever given — the hard knockers and plums were above that. Instead, the results from a case would be presented to the whole group, and the lecturer of the moment would act as a moderator, of sorts. Truth be told though, there was no real variety in the responses: both the hard knockers and the plums wanted to destroy the opposition and just about everyone else, including the tea lady if she showed any promise of rising about her station. Everything and everyone were just pieces on a bloody chessboard to be used, abused, and discarded at will. Only the outward expressions differed: the plums would allow a condescending smile as they plunged the dagger home; the hard knockers would froth spittle from the edges of their mouths, their grins fixed, eyes glazed. But both groups enjoyed it the same.

My role in the group works was that of coffee-fetcher, typist, graphics illustrator and the like. So while they talked, and talked, and then some more, I did the work. Dog work. I was ‘tabula rasa’ they told me, both the hard knockers and the plums — a blank slate. I was too young and inexperienced to contribute anything of use: just be glad for the opportunity, each side said. No one ever did say what the opportunity was; I guessed it was something to do with being in their presence. Perhaps they thought that if I stood close enough, quiet enough, patiently enough, I might distil some rough approximation, understand a bare glimmer, of the greatness that surrounded me.


The paintball battle on the third afternoon was no different — the plums I’d been assigned to used me as a decoy. I reckon the hard knockers realised all too well what the ruse was, but they still pumped a dozen splashes of red into me just the same. I think both teams revelled in these sacrifices, so long as it was someone else taking the hits.

On the fifth and final day there was an unexpected change to the official program, with intense one-on-one ‘mentoring sessions’ to be held with BCC representatives. After the announcement at breakfast that morning, hard knockers and plums alike whispered much, said little. These were the interviews, I heard them say. Although these people were near the top of their respective companies, everyone knew that the BCC was the new kid on the block, with a couple of fingers in every pie, and strong ties to Eternity Bank. And what pies they didn’t have slices of were either rotten, well passed their best before date, or on their shopping list.

The stakes were high. For the first time, I felt real tension at the table.

After breakfast, there was another announcement: at regular intervals throughout the day, four names at a time would be read out, and those named would be escorted to another section of the grad school campus for what we were warned would be the most rigorous session in the course thus far. And potentially the most rewarding. That comment had both groups licking their lips: there were prizes to be had, their hunches had paid off. Finally, we were instructed to pack our bags immediately for the porters to collect, as once a round of mentoring sessions were complete, that group would depart from the campus, their studies in leadership complete. This was never going to be the kind of course where certificates were handed out on the final afternoon; everyone knew that from the start.

The breakfast table chatter grew louder: there were interviews, the hum repeated.

At nine am the first four names were called out: two hard knockers, one from construction, one from garbage, and two plums, a banker and a media vice-president. Triumphant, the four walked out of the waiting lounge with their escorts. Elsewhere, shoulders slumped, injuries sustained. Even the plums left behind were biting lemons. As for myself, I figured I was lucky just to be here, and harboured no delusions that I was going to be offered a job. My interview, if that’s what they were, would be short and sweet. Maybe some of the others were getting interviews, after all they were industry big shots, and all here today in this one place. What a coup for the BCC if they could pick from the cream of the crop!

My journey, though, was over. I didn’t bother to continue with the charade. None of the others were talking, and even if they had been in the mood, they wouldn’t have spoken to me. Instead of pretending to read Business Week I put MyPod plugs in my ears and tuned out. Two hours later, another four execs left for their interviews. Two hours! I settled down in my chair. At this rate, at least I’d get another gourmet lunch before my time was up, and afternoon tea too!

As the day wore on, and successive batches of names were read out, those executives leaving the lounge had less spring in their steps, their togas not sitting as comfortably, an after-taste of coal dust replacing filet mignon and dainty cucumber sandwiches.

At a few minutes before five in the afternoon I pocketed the MyPod. The remaining other three candidates were destroyed, but when my name, Trevor Blainey, was called, I stood up straight, head high, and walked smartly out of the lounge with my escort. In defeat, I would show my true measure.

“Have a seat Trevor,” said the unnamed BCC executive at the head of the table in the interview room, his voice kindly. The five other anonymous execs at the table murmured hellos as well, and their faces actually did seem friendly. I probably noticed the warm reception more than usual due to the simple fact that it had been the first time in five days that I’d been granted recognition as a human being rather than a sacrificial gopher. About a second later I also reached the conclusion that the news must be bad. The exec-in-charge’s next words confirmed it:

“Trevor, thanks for waiting all day, “ he said, a picture of geniality. “In your case, this next and final phase won’t take long.”

A greying exec seated on my right took over. “You see, Trev, you really have nothing to offer us.”

“Tabula rasa,” I interjected.

“Yes,” agreed an exec on my right. “Well put: tabula rasa indeed.”

The head of the table spoke again. “This puts you in a very different situation to the other course members we’ve screened this afternoon. They had much to offer, and in times to come, will be able to offer us much more.”

“But not you Trev,” said the grey haired exec, watching me closely.

Another exec spoke up. “We’ve watched all the candidates very closely over the past week,” he explained, “especially you.”

That got my attention. Why bother paying anything more than lip service to a mere marketing manager? I never liked being under the spotlight, under scrutiny, and began to worry what sort of report might find its way back to FabCola.

The executive continued, his next words confirming my fears. “In the classroom discussions and presentations, the teamwork exercises, even the paintball afternoon, you never once stood out.”

“You didn’t excel at anything,” another chimed.

“In short,” concluded the head of table, “you were unnoticed and undervalued by all the other candidates. You flew right under the radar, made an impact on no one. Congratulations Trevor, you got the job.”

Then the BCC executives at the interview table stood up in unison, clapping their hands, congratulating me.

Somehow, for some reason, I won.


Over port and cigars later that evening, all was made clear to me.

“Trev, what you need to understand is, at the BCC we don’t need ego jockeys, no matter what side of the rail lines they come from.”

“You don’t?” I asked, my mind slightly numb from the shock turnaround at the interview and now the alcohol.

The exec, the same still unnamed person who had previously chaired the interview panel, replied flatly, “No Trev. At the BCC, we shape opinion, and the class members you’ve been interacting with over the past week, well, they’ve already been shaped. By us, by other marketers, by their own insecurities. Their personalities have crystallised: they know everything, or so they believe, and their private insecurities, their individual frailties of character, stop them from seeing that. There’s no place for them here.”

“Then why invite them in the first place? They must have some use; I don’t believe that you’d go for all this expense and effort just for me.”

The exec laughed. “You’re right Trevor. It wasn’t just for you. But again you’ve demonstrated your worth to us: if any of the other members from the course were in your shoes now — FabCola forbid — they’d have reached a very different, a very self-centred conclusion. But not you.”

Pieces of the puzzle began to form, fall into place. I have to admit I liked the picture it formed. “The interviews weren’t interviews were they? Not for the others, anyway.”

“No Trev, they weren’t.”

“It wasn’t about them, ever, was it?” I continued, my thoughts racing. “Well, not as they understood it. I was tabula rasa, but their slates were full.”

The exec leaned forward in his chair, eyes twinkling. “Go on,” he urged.

“And we were all supposed to be leaving straight after the interviews, our bags already packed.” I sat back in the chair, looked up at the ceiling of the college dining room. “If I were a betting man, I’d say that they probably haven’t got home yet, maybe haven’t even left the college.” I sat up straight again, looked the exec, my new employer, in the eye. “I’d even go so far as to bet that there’re lots of rooms — maybe even whole levels — in this college that we didn’t get to see this past week.”

His smile got wider. “And? What comes next? I can hardly wait for the answer!”

His grin was infectious; I couldn’t help but smile myself. “Oh, I’d say that they’re still guests of the BCC, undergoing a, oh, what might you call it? A download?”

The exec nodded. “Download is perfectly acceptable.”

I thought back to the lectures. “Obliterate competitors, but don’t get blood on your hands.”

“And always appeal to self-interest.”

“So when my classmates do finally leave, they’ll think they were actually offered a job, but declined?”

“Close, but no; they’ll think that they were wined, dined, and flirted with, with the door left open for future discussions.”

“Which we’ve agreed to call downloads.”

“Correct.” He flicked cigar ash off his suit jacket, blew a smoke ring to infinity. “But as you said, you’re not a betting man, are you?”

I stood up. “No,” I agreed. “I’m not. I prefer to know all the percentages, the odds, beforehand, and even then, I’d rather let someone else be the hero. And I only believe what I see.”

The exec stood up also. Waving his cigar nonchalantly, “Well then Trev, as part of your induction, I think it’s time that you toured the basement levels, also known as the Marketing Research Centre. There’s much you can learn from us, our techniques are far, far more advanced than those used by our competitors. There’s a whole new toolbox for you to become acquainted with. Besides, after what you had to endure over the past week, I’ll think you’ll enjoy this tour very much.”

He was right. I did.

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About the Author

Shaun A. Saunders

Shaun Saunders lives at the beachside suburb of Merewether, in Newcastle, NSW. He particularly enjoys Asimov's Foundation universe, and stories from the 'golden age' of SF. He is a regular contributor to AntipodeanSF, and winner of 2003 & 2004 AntiSF awards, and the inaugural 2005 SFSSC. His novel Mallcity 14 has been favourably compared with both 1984 and Brave New World.


AntiSF & The ASFF

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The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF's Production Crew

nuke conflux 2017 200Ion Newcombe is the editor and publisher of AntipodeanSF, Australia’s longest running online speculative fiction magazine, regularly issued since January 1998, and conceived back around November 2007. He has been a zealous reader and occasional writer of SF since his childhood in the 1960s, and even sold a few stories here and there back in the '90s.

“Nuke”, who it turns out loves editing more than writing, lives in the New South Wales North Coast holiday destination of Nambucca Heads, where he is self-employed in IT training, computer support, desktop publishing, editing, writing, and website implementation. He is also the resident tech-head, skeptic, and board member of community radio station 2NVR, where he produces a number of shows including The AntipodeanSF Radio Show.


mark web 200Mark Webb's midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and cliched alternatives. Evidence of Mark's attempts to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at

One of Mark’s very best forms of writing procrastination is to produce the eBook series for AntipodeanSF, which he has been doing since issue 175.


In The Next Issue...

Coming In Issue 264

Anna's Mother
by Vicky Chapman

By Marcus Rockstrom

Human Cruelty
By Steve Bellavia

Jesus the Man
By Eugene Samolin

Morpheus Rising
By Kevin J. Phyland

By Malena Salazar Maciá - Translated by Toshiya Kamei

Nothing Unusual Happened on the Way to the Office
Colin L. Howe

By N.M. Cunningham

By Deborah Sheldon

Single Journey - Multiple Travellers
By Ed Errington

The Circle of Gods
By Botond Teklesz

The Last Message
By Zac Gilfridus

The Contributors

daniel veron 200Daniel Verón started writing at the age of ten, and an early story of his was selected for a UNESCO anthology, but he also spent a lot of time researching "space issues" as he was growing up.

He subsequently formed the Enigma Group of Investigation of UFOs and other Mysteries, which for many years produced radio programs on different topics and today owns collection of sci fi sagas, fantasy and terror stories plus essays on scientific topics and the world of the future.

Daniel also gives talks on the sci fi genre and exhibits books at various book fairs. He was recently credited as the creator of "cosmological sci fi" based on discoveries in the field of quantum physics coupled with philosophical speculations to give an explanation of the origin and end of the universe.

matthew legge 200I am a fan of horror movies, architecture, poetry and art. My hobbies include collage, drawing and sometimes building miniature model houses.

I enjoy writing short stories in my spare time with ‘Planet MXCIV’ being my first of this genre.

It has been a fun process writing in this style and I look forward to seeing what I can create in the future.


Sarah Jane Justice 200Sarah Jane Justice is an Adelaide-based fiction writer, poet, musician and spoken word artist.

Among other achievements, she has performed in the National Finals of the Australian Poetry Slam, released two albums of her original music and seen her poetry and prose published in Australia and internationally.


Nick Lee's favourite authors include Frank Herbert and Roald Dahl. He enjoys reading many genres. He tends to write short sentences. He is a fan of Oxford commas and single spaces after periods. He always, however, defers to editors' preferences. Those preferences are likely on display in this brief biography. Nick's creative writing style is influenced, for better or worse, by his experiences writing opinion pieces, business briefs, and academese.


Ben F. Blitzer penned his latest story, “Otherworldly Matters,” shortly after dreaming it in its entirety.

His most recent contributions for AntipodeanSF were “Dear Friends” and “The Darkland Crier.” He lives in Western Australia.


roger ley2 200Roger Ley enjoys writing in a variety of speculative genres.

This story is from his anthology, 'Dead People on Facebook'. His other books include, ‘Chronoscape,’ a science fiction novel about time and alternate realities, ‘The Muslim Prince: What if Diana hadn’t died?’ an alternative reality, techno thriller and ‘The Steampunk Adventures of Harry Lampeter.’ Harry is an irreverent James Bond type of character, an iconoclast and anarchic urban adventurer. Basically, he’s a lot of fun.

Find Roger at: <>.

Roger’s Amazon author page: <>.

His YouTube playlist: <>.

ishmael soledad 200I've read and watched sci-fi all my life and I thought it was time to give back instead of just taking.

My stories have appeared in Aphelion, Antipodean SF, Far Cry Magazine, Planet Web Zine, Schlock! Webzine, and Unrealpoloitik!

I have published two short story collections — Hawking Radiation, and Sex and The Single Cosmonaut — and I am currently working on my first novel due for release later this year.

You can connect with me on Twitter <@Ishmael_Soledad> or my blog at <>


George Nikolopoulos is a speculative fiction writer from Athens, Greece, and a member of Codex Writers' Group. His short stories have been published in Galaxy's Edge, Daily Science Fiction, Factor Four, Grievous Angel, Helios Quarterly Magazine, Unsung Stories, Best Vegan SFF, The Year's Best Military & Adventure SF, Bards & Sages Quarterly, Havok, SF Comet, Mad Scientist Journal, Truancy, Digital Fiction QuickFic, The Centropic Oracle, StarShipSofa, 600 Second Saga, Antipodean SF, Manawaker Studio's FFP, Fifty Flashes, 9Tales from Elsewhere, Event Horizon 2017, and many other magazines and anthologies.


botond t 200Sometimes I can see what others don't.

Sometimes I listen to the silence and Iknow there is way too much of it down here in the countryside.

All the trees grass wooden gates and sleepwalkers are letting me down.

Very rarely I go out to thefront yard in the night and look at the stars. And I can feel in my guts it is allgoing to sink down the drain.

I look at the photo of my nephew whom I have not seen for 5 years.

I look into the mirror and see my white hair at 45.

Then I stare at the cross on the wall and I want to puke.

Somebody has already decided for me in a nice kind of way.

Too many pieces of the puzzle missing.


Wesley Parish is an SF fan from early childhood. Born in PNG, he enjoys reading about humans in strange cultures and circumstances; his favourite SF authors include Ursula Le Guin, Fritz Lieber, Phillip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard and Frank Herbert. He lives in Christchurch, NZ, is an unemployed Java and C programmer, and has recently decided to become a mad ukuleleist, flautist and trombonist, and would love to revert to being the mad fiddler and pedal steel guitarist..  "Where oh where has my little pedal steel got to ... ?"


david-scholesDave has written over 250 speculative fiction short stories. Some of these are included in his nine collections of short stories (all on Amazon). He has also published two science fiction novellas and been published on a range of speculative fiction sites. Including: Antipodean SF, Beam Me Up Pod Cast, Farther Stars Than These, 365 Tomorrows, Bewildering Stories, the WiFiles and the former Golden Visions magazine. His latest work “Contingency Nine and Other Science Fiction Stories” was published in October 2019 and he is currently working on another collection of science fiction short stories as yet unnamed.


Shaun Saunders lives at the beachside suburb of Merewether, in Newcastle, NSW. He particularly enjoys Asimov's Foundation universe, and stories from the 'golden age' of SF. He is a regular contributor to AntipodeanSF, and winner of 2003 & 2004 AntiSF awards, and the inaugural 2005 SFSSC. His novel Mallcity 14 has been favourably compared with both 1984 and Brave New World.


AntipodeanSF August 2020


Speculative Fiction
ISSN 1442-0686

Online Since Feb 1998

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AntiSF's Narration Team

pixie willo 100Pixie is a voice actor, cabaret performer & slam poet From the Blue Mountains in NSW.

She enjoys writing short fiction, plays for radio and stage as well as her own brand of weird poetry.

She hosts the 'Off-Beet Poetry Slam' held bi-monthly in Katoomba.

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carolyn eccles 100

Carolyn's work spans devising, performance, theatre-in-education and a collaborative visual art practice.

She tours children's works to schools nationally with School Performance Tours, is a member of the Bathurst physical theatre ensemble Lingua Franca and one half of darkroom — a visual arts practice with videographer Sean O'Keeffe.

(Photo by Jeremy Belinfante) 

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garry dean narratorGarry Dean lives on the Mid Coast of New South Wales Australia, and has been a fan of SF for most of his natural life. Being vision impaired, he makes good use of voice recognition and text to speech in order to write. Many of his stories have appeared in AntipodeanSF over the years, and his love of all things audio led him to join the narration team in 2017.

You can read examples of Garry's fiction on his website <>

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marg essex 200Margaret lives the good life on a small piece of rural New South Wales Australia, with an amazing man, a couple of pets, and several rambunctious wombats.

She feels so lucky to be a part of the AntiSF team.

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mark english 100Mark is an astrophysicist and space scientist who worked on the Cassini/Huygens mission to Saturn. Following this he worked in computer consultancy, engineering, and high energy research (with a stint at the JET Fusion Torus).

All this science hasn't damped his love of fantasy and science fiction. It has, however, ruined his enjoyment of rainbows, colourful flames on romantic log fires, and rings around the moon. He has previously been published in Stupefying Stories Showcase, Everyday Fiction, Escape Pod, Perihelion and also on AntipodeanSF where he is part of the narration team.

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ed erringtonAlthough a writer of the baby boom persuasion, Ed has not boomed for quite a while.

He lives with his wife plus a menagerie of non-domesticated — native Australian animals intropical North Queensland.

His writing within the ‘real’ science fiction context of COVID-19 is intermingled by long night sky vigils — searching for pesky aliens intent on maintaining their social distance to the nth degree.

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geraldine borella 200Geraldine Borella writes adult short stories and stories for children and has been published in anthologies for both. In 2018, one of her children’s short stories placed second in The Buzz Words Short Story Prize and she won an ASA Emerging Writer’s Mentorship. She currently works part-time as a hospital pharmacist and as an online creative writing tutor.

She’s fascinated by stories that expand upon today’s technology, addressing the moral and ethical issues that might arise. Equally, she enjoys the creative freedom that writing for children allows. Right now, she’s writing a young adult novel, reworking a middle grade novel and writing adult short stories when inspiration strikes. She lives with her husband, Tim, in Yungaburra, Far North Queensland and dreams of one day taking a European gap year.

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tim borellaTim Borella has never lost his childhood passion for SF and writing in general and has been lucky enough to have worked most of his life as a pilot — in other words, he’s never properly grown up.

He lives in country Far North Queensland, has won awards for songwriting, and has had various other writing achievements, the most recent being an honourable mention in the 2018 international Literary Taxidermy Short Story Competition.

He also has bachelor degrees in science and teaching, and has completed a couple of as-yet unpublished SF novels. He’d dearly love to spend more time writing, but will have to continue juggling for another couple of years until the kids have fully left the nest.

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lauriebell 2 200Laurie Bell lives in Melbourne, Australia. She was that girl you found with her nose always buried in a book. She has been writing ever since she was a little girl and first picked up a pen. From books to short stories, radio plays to snippets of ideas and reading them aloud to anyone who will listen.

She is the author of The Butterfly Stone (YA/ Fantasy — available now) and White Fire (Sci Fi — available now)

You can read more of her work on her blog Look for her on Facebook <> or Twitter: <@LaurienotLori>

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alistair lloyd 200Alistair Lloyd is a Melbourne based writer and narrator who has been consuming good quality science fiction and fantasy most of his life.

You may find him on Twitter as <@mr_al> and online at <>.


The AntipodeanSF Radio Show

AntiSF Radio Show

antipod-show-50The AntipodeanSF Radio Show delivers audio from the pages of this magazine.

The weekly program features the stories from recently published issues, usually narrated by the authors themselves.

Listen to the latest episode now:

The AntipodeanSF Radio Show is also broadcast on community radio, 2NVR, 105.9FM every Saturday evening at 8:30pm.

You can find every broadcast episode online here: 

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