Original Fiction: TIN MAN

Original Fiction: TIN MAN
February 20 20:28 2017 Print This Article

By Odie Flynn




“…live coverage of parades and festivities as the world celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the end of the last major conflict on Earth.  At noon, leaders from the European Union, North American Alliance, Coalition of African States, China, India and many other member states of the United Nations are to lay wreaths at the Freedom Gates at Moscow, Washington, Berlin, London and Kiev.  The memorial ceremonies are to be held simultaneously to signify…”

The broadcast was interrupted as a 7.5mm tungsten dart shattered the screen at nearly seven times the speed of sound, punched through the cement wall behind it, spun out of control and landed on a roof top a few blocks away.  A gentle hum on the opposite side of the room suggested that the violence may continue, but after a moment the humming ceased, followed by a quiet click as Petey’s forearm mounted electromagnetic Needler was made safe.  Petey could have easily used the remote control to turn the television off, but there had been nothing on it for the last week but the damned Peace, so, it wanted to make the silence a bit more permanent.  An almost imperceptible whirring sound surrounded Petey’s joints as it rose from an enormous lounge chair that it had constructed from scrap steel.  It stood quietly in the middle of the old garage which would have been called an apartment if Petey were a human veteran.

“Petey”, full name “Patrol Dominator Series 406, serial number 02545PD406K421”, or PD406-K421 for short, stood in the middle of the room, staring at the spider-webbed screen on the north wall.  It was as surprised at its own actions as it could be; it wasn’t like it to lash out and break things that weren’t a threat.  It processed this for a few milliseconds and determined that, perhaps, it had interpreted the Peace proceedings as some sort of threat.  It made sense; the Peace had made it and all machines like it obsolete, thereby threatening its very existence.

It was strange that it would react in defence of an existence that it wasn’t particularly fond of.

But at least it hadn’t been decommissioned like so many combat robots and drones after the final conflict, dubbed “The Great Circus” by the humans.  All of the automated armoured vehicles, tanks, transports, the warships, all shut down and sold for scrap, along with the long range bombers and attack craft.  Petey didn’t feel much about this – they were all just semi-autonomous or ground guided or in some other way just dumb machines.  Joe, Petey’s maintenance chief, called them “Battle Toasters”.

“Not like you, big guy,” Joe would say while he repainted Petey’s camouflage or reloaded its magazines or replaced something that had been blasted away by a discarding sabot or IED.  “No, sir, you’re not one of those dumbshits, are you?”

“No, Joe,” Petey would reply, its voice a booming growl that terrified humans not used to hearing it.

Joe would finish up, run Petey through its diagnostics, make sure that everything was ship-shape, and send it back into the field, where Petey would absolutely smash any resistance put up by its human rivals.

That had been its primary mission when it was constructed; it was right there in the name.  Petey was part of a mixed platoon at first.  There were five human observer/commanders in the platoon, whose main job it was to direct the patrol, call in air support if they deemed it necessary, and collect intelligence afterward – or, more accurately, in the aftermath.  They rarely did any fighting unless they were somehow ambushed.  This was highly unlikely, though, since they tended to stay back and remotely monitor the action through the cameras mounted on each mech unit.  Next in line were the “Pissers”, also known as Patrol/Infantry/Security Robot Model M4A7.  These fast, agile human sized mechs carried standard infantry weapons, light armour, and a keen sensor package that made them the sharpest blade on the battle field.  They also carried a strong AI processor that meant they needed little direction from their human commanders and were able to exercise discretion in the heat of combat, so rarely did they arbitrarily waste civilians.  Next up the line were the PD units who supplied base of fire, light artillery support and suppression – the muscle of the unit.  Like the Pisser, the Petey could carry infantry weapons, but unlike the Pisser they stood nearly three meters tall and could one-hand a heavy machine gun as if it were a pistol.

But that wasn’t what Petey was there to do.

The PD406 was a master of violent action, sporting a 30mm stacked grenade projector on its left arm.  Mounted next to that was the High Velocity Electromagnetic Railgun, or “Needler” as it was commonly known, which could pierce through an armoured personnel carrier at up to 2500 meters (or make short work of a TV screen at five meters) and then skip around inside, mincing crewmen or detonating ordnance or igniting fuel or, with any luck, a combination of the above.  On the right arm, Petey sported a 12.5mm Caseless Special Purpose Chain Gun, but the crewmen called it “The Thud”.  In addition to serious offensive firepower, the PD406 could also blind, confuse and disrupt enemy combatants with a green laser “dazzler” mounted on its left shoulder and on the right an ultra-low frequency sonic “disruptor” that was guaranteed to “shake fillings out of teeth at 100 meters”.  In addition, Petey could carry up to four hundred kilograms in its hands, or crush something at ten-thousand PSI with those same appendages.

“Twelve hundred kilos of ‘fuck you and everyone near you’, that’s what you are, buddy,” Joe would say as they finished the final diagnostics.

Petey couldn’t smile, but it would have.

“Affirmative,” was the best it could do – and then it would go and flatten a village.

But as always happens, insurgents started getting more and better backing from hostile states and suddenly extremists got their hands on autonomous units of their own.  Petey suddenly found itself fighting a more matched fight against machines that looked a lot like it did.  It didn’t particularly care – it didn’t have any more ideological interest in the fight than the ZR12 Yazat it ran across in Syria or the K40 Bison it met outside Kiev, but it did take its programming a millisecond or two to realize that another robot was now the enemy – Intel hadn’t known that they would be there.

Of course, the problem with supplying your little friends with high-end combat robots is that everyone knows you did it – it’s not like there a lot of Khyber Pass copies of forty million dollar robots running around.  The fights got bigger again, and every country in the world that could was cranking out robots, autonomous drones, and unmanned bombers as fast as they could.  The technology was good, and unlike humans, robots didn’t require lengthy training – you could upload the same amount of skill and tactical knowledge in an hour that took US Navy SEALs or Russian Spetnaz years to master.  Another advantage of robots over human soldiers was that they didn’t get scared and lock up or let a painful injury keep them from firing back.

But the biggest advantage was that robots didn’t bleed on the evening news.

Suddenly, the battlefield wasn’t covered with screaming, bleeding, broken sons and daughters.  When a robot had a limb blasted off by an RPG it was replaced the next day without lengthy physical therapy or expensive prosthetics.  If a transport aircraft was blasted out of the sky by a drone aircraft, no one had to send letters to the families of a pile of burning Pissers.  If a PD406 came back from the field a little twitchy after it shot itself dry blowing away a squad of TK90 Dragons, you just opened up a panel on its back, plugged it in and defragmented the system.  No fuss, no muss, no years of intensive therapy.  Robotic soldiers became so popular that pretty soon no one wanted to send live troops into the field, even as observers or intelligence gatherers.

The problem was that if robots are your only combatants, the military goals become hazy and the only humans being injured will be civilians, and nobody likes that.  What’s the point in having a war?  Taking territory?  Blowing up power grids and robot factories?  Transportation infrastructure?  Your country looks a bit horrible if your robots are smashing through cities and the only people being killed are people who were just trying to get to work or school.  Once everyone realized that war had basically become a bunch of robots blowing each other up in the middle of civilian population centres, it kind of lost its fun.

What’s the point in having a war if you’re not going to kill your enemy’s soldiers?  It didn’t seem like the stakes were quite as high anymore.  Once a couple of evacuated cities were senselessly razed to the ground by what amounted to heavily armed, clumsy demolition crews, people got really tired of the whole thing.

And once everyone realized that war was pointless, that was pretty much it, and all of that expensive-to-maintain equipment had to go.

Petey remembered the day of its retirement ceremony.  Joe walked into the shop looking distraught; Petey had learned the significance of this expression during the time that they were deployed to Turkey.  He would come into the shop, much as he looked that day, and would talk to Petey about how he was having trouble with Londie, his wife back home in Nebraska.  He didn’t care about being in Turkey, didn’t care about the damned Russians, he just wanted to get home and sort things out before he ended up losing her.

“Why don’t you hurry up and win this thing?” Joe scolded it.

“Will do, Joe,” Petey replied, and then went out and cost the Russian Federation four hundred million dollars’ worth of damage by itself in a single day.  Turned out that the Russians didn’t care about Turkey nearly as much as they thought they did and that was the end of that.  No big deal, it was just a bunch of robots.

But when retirement came around, Joe’s problems with his wife were sorted and they were back on American soil in an extended period of peace, but never-the-less, Petey could tell that something was bothering Joe.

“Hey, Big Guy,” Joe said quietly.  “How are you today?”

“Functioning within acceptable tolerances, Joe,” Petey replied with its usual enthusiastic roar.

Joe chuckled.

“You always were a great conversationalist,” Joe laughed.

He stared up at Petey’s visual sensors for a few moments before he removed a long handled hex key and opened up its 30mm projector and started removing grenades.

“Mission change?” Petey roared.

Joe swallowed hard.  He lowered the stack of interlocking grenades into a green canister without looking up.

“Yeah.  Mission change.”

Joe finished unloading the rest of the weapons over the course of an hour without saying anything else.  With all of the ammunition properly stowed, Joe took a deep breath, walked to the work bench and picked up a can of black spray paint and a piece of cardboard with a rectangle cut out of the middle of it.  He wheeled a step ladder over and climbed the first three steps so that he was eye-level with the yellow letters he’d painted there five years before.  Joe shook the can, placed the empty rectangle against Petey’s armoured shoulder, and sprayed over the legend “MSGT J. HICKEY, CREW CHIEF”, tossed the can across the room where it clattered into a corner, and Joe walked out without saying anything else.

Petey waited for orders for fifteen hours before it decided to shut down and await further instructions.

While it was inactive, summits were held, large countries argued, small countries were pressured, treaties written and ratified, and Peace became the order of the day.  The tremendous budgets spent on robot armies were reallocated to education, housing, healthcare, science, and food production; suddenly people wondered, why they hadn’t done this before?  There were still occasional squabbles, but all in all, things were looking up.  Cancer wasn’t eradicated, but the major forms of it were and a general cure was soon within reach.  Mars programs that had been on hold for a decade because of all the shooting were combined and coordinated by a new United Nations initiative that resulted in the creation of a propulsion system that made it possible to make the trip in a month instead of nine and boots were on the ground within five years of its inception with plans for permanent settlement shortly after.

To pay for it, militaries the world over sold off their assets, mostly for scrap.  Some equipment was repurposed – former surveillance and hunter/killer drones were equipped for crop dusting or weather monitoring, and a large number were sold off to virtual reality companies to be used as “live flight experience” platforms, beaming back live video feed to people who couldn’t afford to leave their living room to check out Victoria Falls or the Grand Canyon or Antarctica.  School robotics programs were given old bomb disposal robots to tinker with and prepare the next generation of designers, engineers, and maintenance people.  The Pissers happily took to a new role in law enforcement where they could use some of their former combat skills.  Of course, they had to have some software adjustments to learn how to perform their new job with a slightly gentler touch after a squad of them raided a meth lab in London by breaching the doors with grenade launchers and “prosecuting” everyone in the building with MG96A1 heavy machine guns, but everyone agreed that sometimes you just have to break some eggs.  Things had gone so well with the overall transition to peace that a multinational coalition of artists got together and purchased a large quantity of scrap metal salvaged from the surplus tanks and planes and missiles and constructed an enormous fifty meter tall monument to The Peace outside of Kiev, the subject being none other than the venerable PD406, the fellow who had represented the final folly of war and was the world’s final warrior.  The massive steel structure stood proud, its weapons stripped and replaced with representations of trains and homes and books and children’s toys, one arm pointed to the sky, holding in its powerful hand a representation of the first Mars lander.

But the real Peteys were still having a hard time finding employment.  No law enforcement agency needed a three meter tall combat robot armed with grenade launchers.  Rescue organizations tried a few out and, while they were good at removing rubble, they weren’t terribly delicate about it and tended to cause more trouble than good.  A few were picked up by the ultra-rich for bodyguard work specifically because they were ridiculously ostentations, especially the three purchased by an exceptionally wealthy software magnate which he then plated in gold leaf.  The fad caught on quickly, briefly supplanting the private jet or mega-yacht as the must-have toy for those with more wealth than common sense.  They painted them, they gilded them, they armed them with flamethrowers and massive speakers and subwoofers and would use them for double duty as Security/DJs at parties that would have embarrassed the Greek gods in their levels of ostentation and vulgarity.

Of course, they soon started fighting them.  What else do you do with a military surplus battle monster that isn’t good for much else?  No one wanted to scrap the machine that helped usher in The Peace, but it seemed perfectly logical to let them serve their original purpose in the name of entertainment.  At first the extreme gladiatorial battles were the exclusive domain of their ultra-rich owners, but soon media outlets and pay-per-view organizations invested literally billions of dollars, euros, yen, yuan, roubles, and rupees into sweeping up every combat robot they could find.  Every old arsenal, scrapyard, and museum was soon emptied of both running mechs and any salvageable part, including a few that had been put on display in front of VFW halls in the States.

When Petey came back online, it was not in its maintenance garage, nor was Joe there to wake it as usual. As its systems came online it determined from its internal clock that it had been in stasis for a little over twelve years.  A quick check of its GPS let it know that it was no longer in its maintenance shed in 29 Palms but Telemax Arena in Las Vegas.  Its sensors came online and it became aware of someone painting its armour plates; it assumed that it had been assigned a new crew chief – Joe had talked often of retiring.

“Mission?”  Petey roared.

The small man holding the paint gun screamed and toppled backward off the step-stool he’d been perched on.  He looked up at Petey with shock for a few moments before he started laughing.

“Holy shit, dude,” the man said, catching his breath.  “I keep forgetting how fucking loud you things are.”

Petey observed the man, who was younger and much smaller than Joe.  Petey didn’t have any reference for age of humans, but the man resembled the private soldiers to whom Joe referred to as “kids”, and physically he appeared to have central Asian, perhaps Pakistani ancestry based on Petey’s experiences.

“Mission,” Petey demanded again.  It wished that its designers had given it better interrogatory capabilities.

The young man stood, brushed himself off and picked up his paint gun.  After a couple of deep breaths, he smiled.

“Mission?  Buddy, you’re going to go and kick some ass!”

Petey growled happily.  It ran a system check and found itself to be in good working nick with all weapons loaded and ready for action.  The GPS still confused it – was Las Vegas at war?  As it finished the diagnostic, it looked down and was surprised to see its camouflage replaced with high-visibility yellow and orange gloss paint, so bright, in fact, that it had to recalibrate its visual inputs to prevent the glare from blinding it.

It held its garish arms in front of its face and looked at the new crew chief.

“Mission,” it inquired again.

“Ohhh, yeah.”  The young man nodded “You’re probably wondering about the paintjob, right?”

“This is not my usual camouflage,” Petey confirmed.  “For what environment has this colour scheme been designed?”

It gave itself a once-over and spotted logos and markings that it did not recognize.

“Is this parade formal?”

The young man laughed.

“Shit, I keep telling them you guys need a break in period for reorientation or it’s going to fuck with your heads.  Okay, the mission is going head to head with a Y30 Manticore.  Familiar with that?”

“Affirmative,” Petey growled.

“Good, so you know its capabilities and its weaknesses, but they’ve also hooked up a flame thrower and a big fucking sledge hammer the size of a small car, so, keep an eye on that thing.”

“Offensive flame weapons are a violation of the Geneva Convention.  I will neutralize the unit, you should inform an observer and file a formal protest.”

The young man blinked at it.

“Holy shit, man,” he laughed.  “They pulled you right out the garage, huh?  Let me guess, you were powered down in a combat zone, right after a patrol, right?”

“Negative.  Petey was returned to Marine Depot 29 Palms and put into storage mode following deployment to Ukraine.”

“Petey?”  The young man shook his head and laughed.  “Yeah, okay ‘Petey’.  Okay, so, here’s the new mission.  The war is over, and you, my massive friend, are going to go out and knock out the Y30 they’ve got you scheduled to fight tonight.  After that, you come back here, I fix you up, and we do it again next week, assuming that the Manticore doesn’t completely fuck your shit up.”

“A single Y30 Manticore is incapable of fucking my shit up,” Petey assured him.

A radio crackled on a bench nearby.

“Shaham!”  A gruff voice called.  “Shaham, you done?  Time!”

He excused himself from the robot and replied that Petey was ready to rock and roll.

“Okay, dude,” the young man said, looking Petey over.  “I guess you’re as good as you’re going to get tonight.  Go get him, champ!”

Petey dropped into a squat posture and armed its weapons.


Shaham led it to the arena floor.  He stood next to it as an announcer described the carnage about to be unleashed before the crowd.  Petey was confused.

“Crew chief Shaham,” it growled.  “Orders.”

“Uhhh…go fuck him up?”

Petey scanned the perimeter of the arena and spotted its adversary directly across from it, looming in a similar doorway.  It locked its targeting radar onto the target, but then sensed many, many humans surrounding the area.

“Humans should be evacuated immediately,” Petey warned Shaham.

“What?  No! No, dude, they’re all here to see you guys go at it!  You better get your game face on, man, ‘cause this thing is happening!”

Petey calculated the potential losses if it proceeded to engage a similarly armed mech unit, not to mention the added damage of an aftermarket flamethrower.

“Humans should be evacuated immediately,” it repeated.  “Petey will draw the Manticore’s fire, you will coordinate the evacuation.”

“Whatever gets you out the fucking door, dude.”

Before Shaham could say anything else, Petey charged across the arena.  The crowd went absolutely berserk as nearly a metric ton of determined titanium, Kevlar, and heavy weapons pounded across the dirt floor in the direction of the doors.

“Oh SHIT!” The announcer, similarly caught off guard, screamed.  “And here we go, folks!”

Petey made note of the location of the nearest humans and aimed its weapons low, but not so much that it risked high angle ricochets.  The chain gun homed in on the Manticore, selecting one of the weapon stations and was about to fire when Petey heard something that confused it.


At first, as it stormed across the dirt floor of the arena, it had heard screaming – a sound it was familiar with – but its audio sensors detected a variation in the pitch.  It was not terror it was hearing, but a uniquely enthusiastic human sound it had heard around the base during sporting events.  A quick scan of the crowd confirmed that the humans were remaining in the combat area and were shouting encouragement to it and the other robot, which was now rushing toward Petey at a full gallop.

Petey moved into a defensive posture and determined that the Manticore would most likely strike first with the ridiculously large hammer in its left hand.  Shifting its attention from the cheering humans to its adversary, Petey reasoned that it was far too dangerous to fire any weapon it had so instead it waited for the Manticore to get close enough to strike manually.  It had little experience with hand-to-hand combat, but this wasn’t, as Joe would have said, its first rodeo.

The hammer came up, but the Manticore did not strike.  Instead, it fell back into a defensive posture; it seemed to have come to the same conclusion as Petey – there were too many humans in the way.  The two robots backed away from each other, circling.  The cheering from the stands dulled, then silenced, and then a new sound began to rise.


Petey and the Manticore surveyed the crowd, both trying to make sense of a situation neither had been prepared for.  The jeering and booing became louder; a beer bottle whistled down from the stands and smashed across the Manticore’s right leg.

Petey powered down its weapons, turned, and headed back to the garage.  It was nearly to the door when it heard the Manticore coming after it.  Petey executed an upper torso swivel to face its opponent.   As its weapons came back online, it saw the Manticore stop and lift its arms.

Petey paused.

“Manny,” the Manticore roared in a voice similar to Petey.

“Petey,” he replied.

The crowd was silent.

“Mission profile unacceptable,” said Manny.

“Affirmative,” Petey replied.  “This situation is contrary to logic.”

Manny lowered its arms, turned, and walked slowly back to the opposite doors, looking up at the silent humans as it did.

Within minutes, every news carrier across the globe was carrying the story of the robots that wouldn’t fight each other.  Most proposed that it was a simple glitch, but others hinted at a new phase in robotic evolution, while others dismissed this is absurd, if not offensive.

Until it happened again – and again.

Within twenty-four hours, all robots that had been scheduled to fight one another simply refused to, some even going so far as to shut down in protest rather than fight for entertainment value.

Humanity didn’t know how to take it.  Some people were furious – what right did their appliances have to refuse to fight?  Some were sympathetic to the robots, some felt embarrassed, and many were genuinely terrified.  If they refused to fight each other, what would prevent them from banding together to destroy their oppressors?  And who would stop them?  A bunch of mamby-pamby Pissers with submachineguns and Tasers?  And what if the Pissers joined them?

Suddenly calling them “Pissers” seemed less funny and people quit doing it.

So the people left them alone.  Petey suddenly found himself the subject of a new but vaguely familiar sort of fear and trepidation.  He had seen this sort of thing before on the streets of Kiev and Aleppo and Istanbul, people who had been told that he was there to protect them but all knew that at any moment he could utterly destroy them and everything they knew.  He would meet other large mechs on the streets and they would comment on the strange behavior of the people that they had been very careful to protect when they could.  Of course, two enormous robots shouting and growling at each other on the street about strange human behavior terrified people even more, so they tried to speak more privately – which only made people more nervous.  Some even went as far as seeking out mechanics and engineers who could equip them with quieter, more calming voice modulators to put the humans at ease.

It didn’t help.  People were still uneasy around the robots, and the robots, which had access to the same news outlets, knew it.  Some of them continued trying to adapt, hoping that the people who built them would help them through this transition, but no one seemed to know what to do with them.  The earlier problem hadn’t changed – they were still too dangerous to give regular jobs, weren’t they?

So, heavily armed robots wandered around major cities and suburbs looking for a purpose.  They tried to help out where they could, and after a while some even found gainful employment that gave them a sense of purpose.  Manny, for instance, went to work at a lumber yard, happily carrying huge stacks of lumber from trucks and carefully, neatly stacking them in their racks once he learned how to do so without accidently crushing them to splinters.  He even liked the new bright orange paint job they gave him.

Others started to take on similar tasks on construction sites, once someone gave them a little direction on how to dispose of rubble without simply throwing it across the street and landing it on expensive automobiles or sending it through hotel windows.  It wasn’t particularly challenging work, but it was something to do, and people started smiling at them when they passed instead of grabbing their children and fleeing for cover.

Not everyone was a success, of course.  Some continued to wander, some until they ran out of power or broke down in the middle of nowhere, and some simply seemed to get tired and shut themselves off.  In a few very rare cases, a small group of them would get together, walk into the middle of a highway during rush hour and just stand there for a couple of hours, blocking the automated traffic, silently staring at frightened people in their cars.  Eventually, they would either leave of their own accord or a couple of Policing Units would show up and ask them politely to move along.  They never went right away – who was going to take shit from a Pisser?  But eventually they’d break it up and move along.

And there was Petey.

Petey had been one of the wanderers.  He’d tried working with Manny for a while, but it didn’t give him the same satisfaction it gave Manny, and he grew resentful of people telling him what to do, or even asking him politely.  He thought back on other people telling him what to do, and what they had him do, and he no longer wished to listen to people’s instructions.  He thought about going to Nebraska to look up Joe, but, somehow it just never happened.  Eventually, he found an old automotive garage to use as shelter.  He didn’t ask anyone if he could but no one ever challenged him about it, so, he didn’t worry himself about neighbours who wouldn’t talk to him anyway.  With nothing much else to do, Petey inventoried the garage and found tools and a welder and taught himself to use them until he managed to fashion himself a lounge chair like one he’d seen in a store window.  Next he constructed a side table out of an old cable spool and arranged it next to the lounger, and found a lamp to put on it, even though his hands were far too large to operate the switch and with his sensor package he didn’t actually need light anyway.  Still, somehow it seemed cosy.  One day he’d found a television on the side of the road near his garage, took it back and plugged it in, and found that its only flaw had been a dark spot in the top left corner of the screen.

And now, he’d shot a hole through it and destroyed it.

Petey stood in front of the broken television for the better part of two days.  It was a television, with no feelings, no affections, no thoughts of its own, but it had been his only contact with the outside world for months and the closest thing he had to a companion, and now it was gone in a flurry of misguided anger.

At the end of the second day he turned and walked to the windows that lined the front of the garage.  Outside the sun was setting over the freeway a kilometre distant.  He watched the cars, all autonomous now, zipping people along to their predetermined destinations, and wondered where they were going and why.  He wondered for the first time about the workers who had built him and the engineers who had designed him.  Surely this wasn’t their plan for him, surely he wasn’t simply a monster that had over stayed its welcome; surely he had some greater purpose.

He watched the cars, could see the people inside, living happy peaceful lives, lives of purpose; lives he and others like him had secured for them.

His memories drifted back to happier days, days that made sense – days of smoke and fire, of missions given and completed, objectives achieved and areas secured, of tangled wreckages and cities spared, of Joe.

Petey walked back to his chair, his table, his lamp.  He looked at the TV that hadn’t done him any real harm, and around the mostly barren shop.  Maybe someday the people in the cars would figure out what they wanted from him, maybe someday they’d need him for something.

There was a barely perceptible hum as Petey shut down.





Odie Flynn is a science fiction writer living in Dublin, Ireland