Friday, May 26, 2017

Rocket's Red Glare

Who says short fiction is dead?  Not Kieth West:
"From distant galaxies to the mean streets of Hollywood . . . from the war-torn skies of France in 1918 to the far side of the moon . . . The stories in Rocket’s Red Glare exemplify the adventure, courage, and sense of discovery so vital to the American spirit. Whether daring to cross interstellar space or battling alien conquerors when they come right to our own back yard, the characters in these tales never give up, never stop fighting for their country, their lives, their honor. Featuring all-new stories by Sarah A. Hoyt (part of her USAian series), Brad R. Torgersen, Martin L. Shoemaker, Lou Antonelli, James Reasoner, and more, Rocket’s Red Glare is packed with space opera excitement, dazzling scientific speculation, gritty action, and compelling characters."
 I've got a copy burning away on my Kindle - can't wait to read it, because there are a lot of great names on that cover.

Get your own copy here.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The Scythe of Kronos (Cold Stars Book 2)

I picked up a copy of this on the recommendation of Jeffro over at the Castalia House blog, and once again he did not steer me wrong.  The Cold Stars series is less a long string of novels and more a string of short stories all set in the same universe.  It's a bit like a one man Berserker series with a few threads running through the background, but a primary focus on one story at a time.

The first tale in the series is actually The Thorne Legacy, which presents a sad sack corporal deliberately sabotaging his career because, "Screw you, Dad!"  When the big bad shows up, he doesn't necessarily see the error of his ways, but he does redeem himself by the end.

The star-drive conceit is a nice touch - an hour of subjective time for the star-farers costs them twenty hours of time in the outside universe.  It's a hand-wavey way to deal with relativity that opens up a lot of potential for drama.  Although FTL is present, there are no hop-skip-and-jump voyages.  Even a short round trip will see the star-farers returning a day later.  Which allows for considerable tension as a ship races to a planet, knowing that they will get there too late to do the defenders any good.

It also means that those travelling on starships age slower than their ground-pounder cousins, which results in space marines being 'men out of time'.  It means that space travel is conducted only by those who leave nothing behind or who have nothing to lose.

It's an interesting series, and one that I'll be watching as it develops.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Rock of Bronze

It's official, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson will play the titular role of Doc Savage on the big screen.  Apparently, it's been official for a while now, and I'm late to the party.  My guess is that the news washed over me because I have so little faith in Hollywood.  Much as I love the series and the concept, it's hard to feel anything other than resignation when you read the Rock's announcement:

HE'S A F*CKING HILARIOUS WEIRDO! Confidently, yet innocently he has zero social graces whatsoever due to his upbringing so every interaction he has with someone is direct, odd, often uncomfortable and amazingly hilarious.
That in and of itself isn't so bad, but once you start pulling on the string the whole thing starts to unravel.  I have two fundamental objections:

Maybe I'm reading it wrong, but what I read between the lines there is that the production team is planning one of those 'hilarious' deconstructions.  This isn't a case of making a perfect specimen of mankind and then giving him the glaring weakness of having zero social skills, it's a case of taking the perfect specimen of mankind and mocking not just him, but the idea behind him.  The underlying message of Doc Savage is one of aspiration - this could be you.  The underlying message of this movie seems to be, "don't be this guy".

My second objection admittedly relies on a meta-analysis of the situation.  The dozen or so Doc Savage novels that I've read focused on the Fab Five.  Doc gives them something to look into, they bumble around, figure it out, have varying levels of success, and then Doc shows up near the end as a walking personification of the deus ex machine and sets things right.  You don't pay The Rock 20 million dollars for 20 minutes of screen time.  That means this Doc Savage movie will be all about the doc, with the Fab Five given supporting roles.

It may well be true that there are a number of books where Doc was featured from cover to cover - there were 181 of the dang things after all - but the one's that I've read and enjoyed were all about the Fab Five, and until I see that cast list and see an indication that they won't be given short shrift, and that this isn't another Land of the Lost - The Mockening, I'm withholding my excitement.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Available Now: A Moon Full Of Stars


With only a month left in the hunting season, a young man faces the final days of his rite-of-passage.  Rome always dreamed of being a hunter for the village.  The hunters are daring men who get to explore the world beyond the small mountain valley that shelters the village, but to become one a boy must prove his skills by consistently returning with sufficient meat to earn a permanent place among the hunters.  If he fails, then he will be consigned to work the fields as a humble farmer.  For an adventurous youth like Rome, that would be a fate worse than death.

But fate is fickle and one day while returning with his best kill ever, Rome discovers that monstrous raiders have ransacked his home and carried off his friends and family.  Now, with only the aid of his chief rival, Rome must head west into the irradiated lands to seek out powerful artifacts that might give him the power to rescue his kinfolk from the hands of the mutant slavers.  And so Rome embarks on a journey that takes him farther than his dreams of being a mere hunter ever could.

This post-apocalyptic story features the sort of action and heart you've come to expect from my stories, including a healthy dose of adventure, exploration, romance, and the sort of bonds of brotherhood that are so often overlooked in today's sci-fi literature.

The official release date for A Moon Full of Stars is May 23rd, but you can pre-order your copy at Amazon.com today.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

StoryHack, Issue Zero


Bryce Beattie recently put out the first issue of his action/adventure magazine as a proof-of-concept.  As a contributing author, for me to write a review of the magazine would be a bad idea.
 
But I'm going to do it anyway!

First, thought - don't take my word for it - download and read a copy for free.  Then you can decide for yourself whether the second issue KickStarter is worth backing.

StoryHack Action and Adventure has two things going for it:

1.  A central focus on action and adventure.  The contents cross genre lines with the first issue including pure fantasy, magi-tech, biblical fantasy, sci-fi, and even one story set in the contemporary real world.

2. Bryce's own vision.  One issue doesn't provide enough data to get your arms around Bryce's tastes, but you can get a feel for it.  My guess is that, as with Cirsova, after a few issues are out, regular readers will be able to point to a story and say, "That's a Bryce story."  The edges will be fuzzy, but there will be a certain feel to the kind of story that might appear in StoryHack.  Based on the limited size of the data set, it looks like they will be fast, furious, and fun, with just a hint of deeper meaning or passion to them.

The decision to include stories from a variety of genres was brilliant.  As a 'page one and straight on through til morning' reader, it was fun not knowing what each kind of story was going to be.  You may want to take a page from Cirsova and include a one sentence teaser before each story.  I never read them, preferring to go into each story blind, but (particularly when you've got a cross-genre magazine) a lot of readers appreciate that little warning about what to expect.  The hard copy/pdf has a blurb in the table of contents, but you don't have that in the Kindle version.

StoryHack: Year Zero also includes a few unexpected laughs in the form of Bryce's own advertisements.  In a normal magazine, these would be considered filler, but in Bryce's hands they provide a laugh, and more importantly, they provide a chance for the editor to engage directly with the reader.  What could have been wasted ink becomes a way for the reader to get to know Bryce a little better and begin establishing a relationship with him. 

That may not seem like much, but consider that most collections are a reflection of the editor.  The best magazines were synonymous with their editors, and you know from the editor's name what kind of story you're going to get.  Gernsback was pure pulp.  Campbell was men with screwdrivers.  Damon Kinght was lipstick smeared pigs in fancy ball gowns.   Both Gernsback and his stories were bold and daring.  Both Campbell and his stories were smart and technical.  Both Knight and his stories used pseudo-intellectualism to hide his incompetence. 

Pretty soon we'll have Bryce Style fiction, and that fiction will be a reflection of Bryce's personality. This is one reader that hopes those little injections of Bryce won't disappear once every column inch is bought and paid for.

 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Cirsova, Issue 5

Issue 5 of Cirsova represents a return to form after an average outing with Issue 4.  While Issue 4 included a few gems, it also suffered from the inclusion of far more stinkers.  Frankly, the double issue was a mistake - at half the size it would have offered the same value for the price by cutting the dross.  Issue 5 on the other hand is strong from top to bottom, with stories by several of my favorite authors:

  • Schuyler Hernstrom brings the heat with another grim faced barbarian encountering ancient future-tech in a quest to save his village.
  • Misha Burnett continues to show the world how to give the old New Wave spin on things a fresh face.
  • James Hutchings reminds the world that there's life left yet within the Homeric epic genre with more of the John Carter saga. 
  • Brian K. Lowe's outing doesn't quite rise to the level of his fantastic Invisible City, but he's another author that has yet to let me down.
  • Michael Tierney manages to present a heroic Sacagawea who doesn't feel like a forced "U Go Grrl" within that sadly neglected setting for fantasy - the American frontier.  Okay, so it wanders from the frontier back to Madison's Washington D.C., but it still counts.
Even the stories in this issue that didn't pin my ears back left me feeling satisfied.  Lynn Rushlay, Jay Barnson, and Louise Sorensen's tales only suffer from being sandwiched so close to works by the authors listed above.  They are all fun stories that round out the issue without feeling like additions made just to fill space and pad the word count.

Beyond just proving that Cirsova can survive a dip in quality and come roaring back, this issue made me sit up and take notice of something that has happened over the last year.  After a decade long spell of having roughly one go-to author names (Glen Cook, for the record), I now have more than I can keep track of.  I was eagerly anticipating this issue not just because I trust the editor, but because I really enjoy the authors on the cover.  They give me something positive to look forward to, and that's something that I haven't had in a long time.

It's a great sign, this return to fun, and the rise of a new culture of writers dedicated to 'Cirsova style fiction' serves as a much needed corrective to the market.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Accidental Diversity

My current work in progress, tentatively titled Adventure Constant, features a hero of undefined race (character insert vagueness for the win!) fighting the Nordic villain and his middle-eastern henchmen through sea caves.  He is hard pressed and facing Certain Doom, when his adventure team buddies show up.  They consist of a Hawaiian warrior complete with leiomano (pictured below), a British spy, and a rifle wielding samurai.

My hero wields one of these made of steel
I didn't set out to make an international team of heroes, it just sort of worked out that way.  The hero's spaceship crashed into the Pacific Ocean and he washed ashore on Waikiki Beach in the middle of a kidnapping attempt.  There's really only one kind of princess you'd expect to find on Waikiki Beach, and that's the Hawaiian kind, and it's only natural that her chief guard would also be Hawaiian.  When the duo hare off to Shanghai to rescue her, it only made sense for them to find an ally in a samurai serving the Shogunate as a sort of knight errant.  When they fight off the French-Algerian pirate serving the Haitian Pirate Prince, it only made sense for the prisoner they inadvertently rescue to be a captured British secret agent.

To be fair, because this is an alternate-earth tale, the whole point is showcasing how different nations developed.  The two best ways to do that are to write a globe hopping adventure and to include people from lots of different countries.  My novel hits three tropic islands in two different oceans and the hero touches down in Asia, Central America, and New York City.  That's a whole lot of mileage.  The climax of the adventure also occurs in the alt-earth's version of the United Nations, which provides an excuse to mention every nation in a way that is completely natural and unobtrusive.

These things don't need to feel forced.  It actually makes for a better story when they happen organically.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Star Smuggler: Actual Play

I've been tinkering with a little (free) print and play game made available by DwarfStar Games called Star Smuggler (available here)In it, you take on the role of Duke Springer, star smuggler.  You have a ship, a full load-out of fuel, 2000 spacebucks, and 120,000 mortgage on your Antelope-class spaceship.  It's a clever game with lots of neat little surprises, and I recommend it to anyone with a hankering for solitaire sci-fi hankerings.
 
It's pretty much Traveller: The Solo (not that Solo) Game.
You can expect a more detailed write-up on the rule set itself at the Castalia House blog in a few weeks.
 
Here, I'm going to talk about me and my problem with solo rule sets.  It's not a complaint, it's an admission of my own weaknesses as a gamer.  I play too fast. 
 
Without somebody sitting by my side, forcing me to slow down, take my tame, make sure I've considered everything, I tend to race ahead, too eager to get to the next thing.  Particularly with solitaire games that include a dose of repetition, I want to speed through the checkboxes, finish the turn so I can find the next new discovery.
 
I'm also limited in my play time, so games that require extensive book-keeping and cross referencing just don't get played correctly.  In Star Smuggler, you wind up with a lot of conditional payloads - X is worth Y if sold to Z but only worth A to B unless you get it there by C in which case it's worth D.   When you only have an hour to play each week and wind up with a hold full of 10 trade goods like that it makes you long for a phone version of the game that can do all the remembering for you.
 
Star Smuggler is a great little game, and one you can dive into without reading the rules, but it really challenges me to slow down, write that down, look over everything twice, and only then make a decision. 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

New Release: Crazy Horses


Crazy Horses is now available on Amazon.com.

David J. West is the king of the weird west.  But he writes too fast. I haven't found time to read Scavengers yet, let alone free up space for the second book in the series. But you can now get both books in the series for just a couple of bucks.  His short stories are great, and if you love weird west tales, you should give him a look.

Monday, May 8, 2017

StoryHack!

Looking for some fast action at the lowest price possible? Bryce Beattie has a deal for you.  It isn't clear how long this deal will stick around, but for now you can get the first issue of StoryHack for free.  My own contribution features Karl Barber, modern day adventurer, stalking the bottom layers of a vast child-trafficking ring.

 
With stories by Alexandru Constantin, Jay Barnson, David Boop, Steve Dubois, Julie Frost, Karl West, David J. West, and yours truly, you can't go wrong.  This one features a little true-world fiction, a little fantasy, a little modern day magic, and a little science fiction.   Download it today, and get ready for the crowdfunding campaign to make this magazine a part of your regular reading rotation.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Work In Progress - An Excerpt

My latest book is coming along swimmingly. The tentative title is "The Adventure Constant", and it features a man flung into a far future (or is it an alternate earth?) by a malfunctioning FTL drive. Here's a little sneak peek:

It didn’t work.

That was all Jack could think during the long, blistering journey back through the Earth’s atmosphere. His small capsule burned its way down into the depths of Earth’s gravity well, battering him worse than any opponent ever had in the boxing ring. The heat grew stifling, the tiny capsule began to glow red with the heat, and the roar of his passage deafened him.

Doctor Abduraxus had gotten something wrong, probably for the first time in his life, and now Jack was paying the price for it. It was all Jack’s fault for volunteering to test Earth’s first faster than light space drive, but damnit, the rest of the firsts were already taken. Other astronauts had claimed first bootprints on Mars, Venus, all of the better moons of Jupiter. His college roommate, the Hermit, had even survived the three year flight to the last planet in the solar system. He had returned from Pluto alive and no more crazy than the day he had left. 

Which left the first FTL flight as pretty much the last frontier left for NASA’s problem child. Jack had leaped at the chance, the only one willing to trust the calculations and designs of NASA’s eccentric wunderkind, Doctor Abdurax. The old Egyptian engineer had almost single handedly reinvigorated NASA with projects so revolutionary that few other scientists even understood the underlying principles that he utilized, let alone decipher the strange fractal designs that seemed to lie at the core of all of his breakthroughs. No one could argue that his designs didn’t work – they had put men onto every extra-terrestrial body worth naming or mapping. Thanks to the good Doctor, humanity had finally spread out, establishing small permanent stations on the earth’s moon, Mars, on a few of Jovian satellites, and in large stations latched onto the larger asteroids.

Squeezing his eyes shut tight and clenching the armrests of his crash couch, Jack cursed the Doctor and his bad luck. Had it not been for that coincidental meeting in the late night hall, he wouldn’t even be here praying for a landing he could walk away from.

His body jerked forward as a boom sounded. The first chutes had deployed, and only the six point harness kept him from being flung headlong through the front of the craft.  

At least the noise dialed back from a deafening roar to a low rumble. He checked the displays and found them all dead. Every screen and every light was dark. He flipped a few switches at random, to no effect. He didn’t even bother fiddling with the control stick. With the capsule jettisoned free of the FYN-X, he never did find out what those stood for, the stick wasn’t connected to anything anyway. 

He folded his arms and slumped back into his crash couch. There was nothing to do but wait for the –

The bottom dropped out of the world, as the initial deceleration chutes burned up in the upper atmosphere. They had done their job, though, slowing him down enough for the Earth’s gravity to welcome him home. Jack’s last meal made a break for it, but Jack swallowed hard and tightened his gut. A few seconds into free fall the secondary chutes deployed with a loud thump, and gravity reasserted its mastery over his tiny craft. The capsule grew quiet, with only the occasional creak of the chute’s straps reverberating through the capsule.

Jack knew that the ship would drift for a few minutes before splashdown. That gave him a few minutes to draw the revolver Dr. Abdurax had shown him just before the FYN-X lifted off. It had been stashed inside a small compartment along with a knife and scabbard. Why the Doctor had designed such a space inside an experimental craft was a mystery that Jack had no time for. The mission occupied all of his attention for the next four hours, and it wasn’t until just now that Jack had time to even think about the thing.

Turning the revolver over in his hands, Jack checked the load, six bullets, spun the cylinder, and checked the safety. It was a good quality hand gun, but why on God’s green earth had Abdurax felt the need for such a thing?

His thoughts were interrupted by a long, low tearing noise. The capsule lurched to one side. 

That wasn’t right.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

THIS is Pulp


After slogging through a few less than stellar attempts at pulp and a pair of Hugo worthy novelettes, it feels fantastic to soak up some Schuyler Hernstrom.  It isn’t just palette cleansing, it’s soul cleansing.  It’s writing so rich that I find myself stopping just to prolong the pleasure. 

I had completely forgotten that Cirsova 5 included The Last American, a story by Herstrom.  Here’s the heroism.  Here’s the hope.  Here’s the nature red in tooth and claw and one man struggling to save his woman from powerful enemies against all odds.  When it comes to moments of transcendence, there are few better than Hernstrom.  Take the moment of the barbarian’s departure from The Last American:
He took a knife from his belt and cut away the flag with a length of cloth from the sleeve and turned to Tyur.  He tied the thing to the hunter’s thick arm.  Tyur looked down in awe.
“But I am not of your blood…”
“All who fight tyranny are of my tribe.”
That gave me chills.  It’s powerful writing that reminds you of what America can be, of what you can be.  It makes you feel better about the world and desire to do better in it.

This is the sort of thing that I look for in my fiction.  This is why I’m a proud flag waver in the Pulp Revolution.
The preceeding story, The Queen of Shadows was pretty darn good too, but it’s the story of a hive mind alien slaughtering humans, from the hive mind’s point of view.  Although a fine story, “hive mind hurting humanity” also describes all of the Hugo worthy works approved by the puppy-kickers, too (Zing!).  In all seriousness, it might have been better to have read The Queen of Shadows after reading The Last American.  Hernstrom brings the heat on the threat of the hive mind just fine without the savagery of The Queen of Shadows.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Dancing Around in a Suit Made of Pulp's Skin

We were analyzing the submission guidelines for one of those modern day pulp magazines that just doesn't seem to get it.  A few objections were made, speculation ran wild about what sort of stories they would wind up with, a good time was had by all.  Then the astonishingly well read Kevyn Winkless threw out a heck of a summary.  It's one of those comments that the world needs to read, but would normally disappear into the black hole of G+ comments.  This comment deserves a better fate, as it so succinctly (and amusingly) sums up my own beef with so much of the people milking the term "pulp".


Kevyn writes:
Actually, I think what's going on here is a bit more complex:
  • they think they like pulp when really they like 1980s era DTV pastiches of 1960s era B-movies.
  • not actually grokking the nuclear power core of pulp writing, they view it as akin to a downloadable skin for their fruit based communicator
  • viewing the elements of pulp as being no more than a set of decorations they not unreasonably want to specify which decorations they want and which not.
  • but they haven't thought deeply about either pulp or their own convictions - this leads them to both fumble when it comes to praxis and to lack confidence that writers will/can give them what they seek.

So much insight I can see my own gall bladder from here.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Writers of Romance Required Reading

John C. Wright is a giant among current writers.  Even as the most nominated author in Hugo history, his talents are sorely under-appreciated.  His recent essay, Ugly and the Beast is a clinic on how not to write stories. 

If you want to understand story structure, characterization, and the subtle art of a slow burn romance, this essay presents a specific case-study in how to do it well (animated version) versus how to do it poorly (live action version).  It's a fascinating side-by-side comparison, and I'd rank it right up there alongside Plinkett's original review of A Phantom Menace as a masterpiece of cinematic analysis.

An excerpt:
Everything that in the original was of due proportion, here was dialed up to eleven, but at the same time made simplistic and stupid. It was not enough that Belle be bookish in a town that did not understand her, as in the original; here she is hated for daring to teach a little girl to read, she is a fighting visionary, but accused of witchcraft by the yokels. It was not enough that Gaston be selfish and vain. Moderns like the vices of selfishness and vanity. Here he is a murderer. And so on.
How bad was it? Let me count the ways...
Belle was an angry and independent modern woman, and never shown to be someone capable of falling in love based on something below surface appearances.
Maurice, the father, here is dignified and sober, hence never shown to be the lovable fool who needed Belle to care for him, and not someone anyone would believe was crazy.
This portrayal means he is not lovable, hence Belle’s offer to stay in his place and take his punishment had no motive.
But then again she does not make that offer. Instead, being a modern woman, she merely pushes him out of the jail cell with her brute strength. Why the Beast who was master of the house would allow this was unclear.
And then Maurice is dragged off, but no reason is given why he does not turn around and come back in. Since he is not foolish  in this version, but competent, his going for help is an unmotivated act, perhaps even cowardly.
Gaston here is not an alpha-male, handsome and strong and adored by the villagers, hence not someone they would follow into the enchanted castle of a beast. When they do, it is unmotivated.