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As part of a somewhat expensive Amazon ad campaign, we've dropped the price on The Fugitive Heir to $0.99. If this leads to better follow-on sales of The Fugitive Pair and The Fugitive Snare, we'll leave it at this price. C'mon, buy the complete set!

• All current issues of Stupefying Stories are now available free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. See the right column for links. For non-US customers, these should automatically redirect to your local manifestation of Amazon. If they don't, let me know.

• Yes, we are in fact reading new submissions. Our revised submission guidelines aren't ready for public consumption yet, so you'll just have to send your story to submissions@rampantloonmedia.com and take your chances. One story at a time, please! No multiple submissions and no simultaneous submissions!


As you may have guessed from the new banner, we're consolidating the Stupefying Stories blog and SHOWCASE webzine into one new site. In the meantime, before it's gone for good, you really should check out all the great stories on the old SHOWCASE site.


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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Op-ed • “Notes Towards a Manifesto,” by Bruce Bethke •

It seems I need a manifesto.

I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve gotten along for decades just fine without one. But everyone seems to have a manifesto these days, and I’m beginning to feel embarrassingly underdressed without one. As we’re working to improve sales and develop the Stupefying Stories and Rampant Loon Press brands, people keep asking me, “What does Stupefying Stories mean?”

Um, “stupefy” is a transitive verb. It means to stun, astonish, or astound. So—

“No, no, what does Stupefying Stories stand for? What does it mean? What’s your agenda?”

Ooh. Agenda. I don’t like that word. It makes me nervous. I have come to distrust people who are all about their manifestos and agendas. In my first life, working in grant-funded music and theater, I came to view having an agenda as being a pre-excuse: a way for people to demand that they be judged on their intentions, not results. Announcing an agenda was a way to say, “Ignore the fact that my play is a tedious load of incoherent dreck. Instead, admire the way that it works to subvert the dominant paradigm and makes a statement!

Yeah, yeah, that’s nice. Can I have the last three hours of my life back?

In that life, I learned that people with agendas usually produced a lot of unwatchable plays, unlistenable music, and unreadable fiction—and were happy to do so, because they weren’t at all interested in trying to reach watchers, listeners, or readers. What they were most concerned with was doing something that would appeal to the conceits of the next grant committee they were going to meet, and pretty soon all concern for art and audience went out the window and it was all about nested layers of agendas within agendas.

So in my next life, I went commercial, and was fairly successful at it. I sold somewhere around 50 short stories—yes, I actually stopped counting after awhile—mostly to “pro” markets, both in and out of the SF/F genre. The pinnacle of this career was when I got put under contract by a major publishing house to develop an SF anthology series—

This isn’t my first time in the editor’s chair, you know.

—in a project that was doomed from the beginning, as the publisher had an agenda. I thought my job was to find the best stories I could find, from the best writers I could recruit, and to put together the best books I could produce. The publisher, on the other hand, wanted me to pick stories based on the personal politics of the writers, to snub writers the publisher didn’t like, even if they were producing great stories, and to promote writers the publisher liked, even if they were producing utter crap.

Like most bad marriages, the whole thing eventually fell apart in an argument over money. The publisher had some pretty sketchy accounting practices, and I could see that “my” authors were, if not being cheated, at least being seriously misled. I foolishly believed that I was in a position to do something about that, and tried to do so, but got myself fired instead. The books were eventually released, but with someone else’s name on the cover, and good riddance to ‘em.


And now here we are, years later, in my fifth or sixth regeneration (again, I’ve stopped keeping track), and people are still asking: What’s my agenda?

I’m not sure yet. Most often, I’ve noticed that people who are preoccupied with their manifestos and agendas aren’t really for anything so much as they’re against someone else, and usually for some pretty petty and personal reasons.

I don’t work that way. I’ve tried it. I don’t like the way those kinds of words taste in my mouth.

So what does Stupefying Stories stand for? What does Bruce Bethke stand for? Thus far all I have is a pretty short list:
  • Always be honest.
  • Never be cruel.
  • Never use “I’m just being brutally honest” as an excuse to indulge in plain old schoolyard-bully cruelty.
As I said: it’s a work in progress. I’ll keep you updated.

In science fiction circles, Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his 1995 Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or lately, as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people in the SF world have known about him until recently is that he actually began his career in the music industry, as a member of the design team that developed the MIDI interface and the Finale music notation engine (among other things), but now works in supercomputer software R&D, doing work that is absolutely fascinating to do but almost impossible to explain to anyone not already fluent in Old High Unix and well-grounded in massively parallel processor architectures, Fourier transformations, and computational fluid dynamics.

In his copious spare time he runs Rampant Loon Press, just for the sheer love of genre fiction and the short story form.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction • “The Wishing Hour,” by Romie Stott •

Nira was indeed pregnant, belly an albino watermelon and nipples like dormant volcanoes. When she walked, she waddle-stomped, and when she walked, she burped. She waddle-stomp-burped down the stairs and up again to collect a package from Omaha.

Congratulations on your purchase of auction lot 74, the note read. We hope you find satisfaction in this antique brass teapot, and we hope you will rate us highly in your online feedback. The pot was lightweight and slender and smelled of salt. Nira buffed it with a dry palm and sure enough the kitchen filled with purple smoke and a genie appeared.

“Three wishes,” said the genie.

“Ah, but I’m two people,” said Nira. “Six.”

“One and a half people. Four and a half,” said the genie.

“Ah, so half-wishes can be wished,” said Nira. “And since a wish could encompass the world, to ask for a working toaster would be such a small fraction of the universe it would be almost no wish at all; a thousand such wishes would still round to zero.”

“If one were inclined to think so,” said the genie, who loved haggling as all genies love haggling. For what is wish-granting but a negotiation with the world as it is, convincing the world to sweeten a bargain?

» Read the rest of the story »

Feeding the Muse

Recipe • Low-Carb Enchiladas • by Karen Bethke

There are only so many times you can repurpose leftover baked chicken as chicken noodle soup before you start to wonder, “What else can I do with this?” The great part about this recipe is that while I usually make it with leftover chicken, it works just as well with leftover steak, leftover pork chops or pork tenderloin, or fresh ground beef or ground turkey, and the result is a great-tasting and inexpensive meal that gets a lot of stuff out of the fridge and averages about 15 grams of carbohydrates per enchilada. It does require significant prep time, though.

  • about a pound of some kind of meat
  • one large (1 lb.) can of enchilada sauce
  • one small (4 oz) can of diced green chiles
  • 2 cups (8 oz) shredded cheese
  • tortillas
  • one large sweet onion
  • options: black olives, cilantro, lettuce, green onions, bell peppers, sour cream, and/or guacamole, as your taste, budget, and pantry permit
The secret to keeping this a low-carb meal is in picking the right tortillas. I like the Low Carb Whole Wheat tortillas from La Tortilla Factory, as they’re just 11 grams of carbs per tortilla (less 8 grams for dietary fiber, which nets out to 3 grams apiece!), and yet they don’t taste like recycled cardboard, unlike pretty much every other low-carb tortilla we’ve tried. If your local grocery store doesn’t carry them, they are worth tracking down.

If you’re just full of energy you can grate any type of cheese you like, but I’m not, so I like to buy a bag of shredded cheddar, Monterey Jack, “Mexican Blend,” or basically whatever is on sale this week. Lately I’ve taken a liking to Crystal Farms Shredded 3 Pepper Cheese, as it’s a mix of Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses along with Chipotle, Habanero, and jalapeño peppers. Very handy, and just the right mix of cheesy and peppery for us.

Prep work:
It all starts with the meat. If you’re using fresh ground beef or ground turkey, you must cook it through and drain it before doing anything else. If you’re working with leftovers, it helps to use the microwave to bring it up to room temperature before shredding it.

After you’ve shredded the meat, spoon a few ladles of the enchilada sauce into a large sauce pan, mix in the meat, the can of diced green chiles, and a quarter-cup of diced sweet onion, and sautée over a low flame until the onions are done. While this is going on, dice the sweet onion, green onions, bell pepper(s), cut the lettuce in whatever way amuses you, and chop up anything else needs rinsing, chopping, slicing, or whatever.

When the meat-onion-chile mix is done sautéeing, let it cool to a tolerable working temperature. Start pre-heating the oven to 350°, get out a largish baking dish, and get ready to start assembling enchiladas. It’s important to let the meat-onion-chile mix cool! First off, because you don’t want to burn yourself, and second, because if it’s too hot the cheese will melt, and that makes assembling the enchiladas a really sticky mess.

You may want to spritz the baking dish with a light coating of cooking spray to avoid sticking, especially if you’re using a metal pan, but I use glass baking dishes, so I don’t.

  1. Ladle a thin layer of enchilada sauce into the baking dish, just enough to coat the bottom.
  2. Set your stack of tortillas on the work surface in front of you.
  3. Are you sure the meat-onion-chile mix is cool enough to handle? Okay, then scoop up some of the meat-onion-chile mix and spread it in a line across the center of the tortilla. Add cheese and more diced onion to taste, fold over one side of the tortilla on top of the meat, and then roll the whole thing up like a big fat—er, hand-rolled cigarette. Lay it into the baking dish, seam-side down to keep it from unrolling, and roll the next one.
  4. When you’ve used up all the meat mix and filled the baking dish, ladle the remainder of the enchilada sauce over the top. Make sure you cover all the exposed tortillas, because you want them slightly crispy, not burned. Spread the rest of the shredded cheese over the top.
  1. Bake at 350° for about 20 minutes, until the cheese is melted and everything is bubbling.
  2. Turn the heat up to 400° for last 5 minutes or so, to get things crispy around the edges. Alternately you can pop it into the broiler to get the same results, but be careful. This dish can go from tasty and crispy to smoking ruins very quickly.
  3. While it’s cooking, set the table, and then pour yourself a nice glass of wine. I recommend a tempranillo, although a zinfandel or Bordeaux will do.
When it’s done, put a trivet on the table and serve it right from the dish. Warn everyone that it’s going to be VERY HOT coming straight from the oven, so they should sit back, let it cool, and admire your handiwork before they bite into it. (Cutting the enchilada open helps it cool faster.) Garnish to taste with black olives, green onions, diced bell peppers, shredded lettuce, and sour cream. If you have guacamole on hand that makes a nice topping, but salsa or hot sauce is generally not needed.     

Karen Bethke is a wife, mother, grandmother, and 8-year cancer patient. The product of many generations of Italian family cooking, she’s now on a mission to create low-carb, low-fat, low-sodium, and just generally healthier meals that still taste great.

Karen’s sole publication credit is as co-author of “From Castle Dracule to Merlotte’s Bar & Grill” in A Taste of True Blood, but behind the scenes, she’s the real driving force behind Rampant Loon Press.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: • “No Accounting for Taste,” by Lance J. Mushung •

I sat on a bench on one side of the small, battleship-gray drop bay of my patrol cutter, Oliveria. The last month and a half of the patrol had been mind-numbing, but taking a ship of wasters into custody would soon make it all worthwhile.

Wasters violated the regulations prohibiting the dumping or processing of toxic waste anywhere except on Ogre, a rogue planet at the edge of nowhere. However, with typical perversity, the government had made the regulations difficult to enforce. It stipulated wasters had to be caught red-handed, and that was exactly what I intended.
The other two humans of my crew, Ngoc and Dieter, were sitting on the bench across from me. The faceplates of our sky-blue environment suits were open, allowing me to study their expressions with no trouble. Ngoc’s delicate light tan features indicated satisfaction, the look of a person about to right a wrong. Dieter’s Nordic face looked eager.

I needed no mirror to know my expression. During a drunken celebration right after graduation, I’d overhead fellow graduates talking about me. One had said, “Antha’s face changes from pretty and gentle to feral and fierce whenever she anticipates action.”

Dieter twisted toward Ngoc. “I wonder why the wasters come here instead of just dumping their tox into a star somewhere? There’s much less chance of getting caught that way.”

“You can ask when we have them. All I know is Mother Nature here will thank us.”

I ignored their ensuing chatter and whispered to Olive, Oliveria’s A.I. and pilot, using my suit mic and our private frequency. “I’d like to work on the summary of an arrest report.”

Olive answered in her distinctive melodic voice, “Ready for dictation...”

» Read the rest of the story »

Monday, March 12, 2018

From the SHOWCASE archives...

Fiction: • “The Waters of Oblivion,” by Michael Haynes •

Jackson always calls hyperspace the “waters of oblivion.” It seems an odd affectation, out of character with the rest of his carefree personality. His parents are both dead and he has no close relatives; he’s told me he plans to work the hyperspace runs until he’s thirty and then retire young and wealthy.

I asked him about the phrase once, and he wouldn’t answer me. Two days later ship’s time, after we’d completed the three-jump journey to the Karibib outpost to drop off our cargo, he turned to me and said “I took it from an ancient text.” Then he walked away.

I didn’t realize what he’d been referring to until many minutes later.


Getting ready for a jump is easy. Put in all of the navigational information and the computer does the rest of the work. The jump itself only takes seconds. At least, that’s what all the systems say. But while you’re in a jump, hours or days or even weeks go by in the rest of the universe. And here’s the thing. All those seconds? You feel them.

Doctors and biologists say that’s impossible, that it’s a trick of the mind. That since the body doesn’t go through more than a few seconds of biological processes—respiration, circulation, digestion, and the like—that the brain simply cannot actually be experiencing an extended period of time.

There are armchair scientists and weekend philosophers who debate this endlessly on the nets. Some say it’s proof there exists something separate from our physical bodies that contains our consciousness. A soul. Others insist there must be a biological reason, even if we don’t understand it yet. One of the most notable proponents of this latter view raised money and arranged to have himself brought on board a jump ship as “cargo” several years ago. He returned no less confident in his writings on the topic. And yet, when a soul advocate offered to put up the money for him to make a second trip, he declined.


“How’s David?” I ask my partner via the hypercomm. Jackson is sleeping and I should be sleeping, too. But the ship doesn’t have hypercomm capabilities and the morning will be taken up with the preflight checklist for the jumps to Namanga Station with no time for personal matters. Our son’s first birthday is the day after tomorrow—while my ship will be off navigating the waters of oblivion—and I want to talk to him and to my partner. David was three months old when I left home on a month-long ship’s-time run...

» Read the rest of the story »

Talking Shop

Op-ed • “SF, Diversity and the Author’s Dilemma,” by Eric Dontigney •

A common, and wholly accurate, refrain is that much of contemporary entertainment still aims at a white, male demographic. Movies and TV focus on white men or largely white ensemble casts. Ratings giant NCIS long-featured one of the whitest casts on TV, though a scan at the current roster shows some improvement. A look at any recent highest paid actor/actress lists shows the vast majority are white and highest of the highest paid are always men. The logic is pretty simple from there. If the highest paid actors are white dudes, the top-billed films probably focus on them. The problems in contemporary video games and comics are widely acknowledged. Surely, though, speculative fiction literature does a better job.

You’d think so, but no. SF literature routinely features white men as the POV character or the protagonist. Why is that? Well, published SF literature is predominantly written by white men, usually straight, often living in the US, Britain, or Western Europe. One of the precepts of writing is to write what you know. What these authors know best is being a white, straight, male and living in the developed world. I can speak about this with some authority because I’m one of them.

“Well,” someone might say, “that doesn’t excuse you for not writing more diversity into your fiction.”

You’re right. On the face of things, it doesn’t excuse me. We live in a diverse world. As an American, I live in one of the more culturally diverse countries in the world. I have ready access to cultural traditions that aren’t my own. So, why, under those conditions, am I profoundly hesitant to include characters of diverse cultural backgrounds and experiences? It’s simple.

I don’t want to get it wrong, and it would be laughably easy to get it very wrong.

Having access to information isn’t the same thing as understanding it. Facts and truth are not identical. Here are some facts that I know. Around 20% of women in the US have faced rape and around 80% face sexual harassment. American women make around 80 cents on the dollar compared to men in equivalent positions. Middle-aged women face substantially more difficulty in finding work than men. Middle-aged people in general find it much more difficult to find new jobs than younger applicants.

African-Americans are incarcerated at an absurdly disproportional rate. Sentencing of African-American defendants is routinely harsher than for other groups. Among Hispanics in America, about half report being on the receiving end of discrimination.

Muslims make up about 1% of the US population and about a ¼ of the global population. Buddhists account for about 10% of the global population and less than 1% of the US population. Christians make up around 30% of the global population and 70% of the American population. I could go on, but you get the point. I know some facts about the world around me.

Here’s what I viscerally understand about the vast majority of those facts: almost nothing.

Rightly or wrongly, I’ve been the recipient of white, male privilege my entire life. I’ve never been the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault. I’m unlikely to face job discrimination, at least not until I reach middle age. I can count the number of times I’ve been pulled over on one hand, and it was always for a legitimate reason. I’m not religious, so I’ve never faced religious persecution. It also means I don’t really understand strong faith in other people. I’ve never been arrested, let alone gone to prison. I’ve never had to explain to a child why the color of their skin or their religion makes them a target.

Of course, the ignorance goes deeper than that. Minority groups aren’t uniform. The experiences and concerns of 3rd generation Cuban immigrants in Miami are not the same as those of first generation Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles. The internal familial experiences of affluent, African-American families in Mitchellville, Maryland are not the same as those of poor, African-American families living in Chicago. As someone with a basic working knowledge of the social sciences, I’m aware that geography, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, gender, and religion all inform your life experiences. As a writer, I’m painfully aware of how easy it would be to fall into caricature, stereotyping, or tropes.

For example, Stephen King, arguably one of the best writers of popular genre fiction in the last 50 years, gets taken to task for his use of a trope called the Magical Negro. This is an older black character who possesses spiritual powers and guides a dumber, flawed white character toward success. King didn’t invent this trope, but it crops up repeatedly in his novels. If you read enough fantasy literature, you see corollaries. David B. Coe uses a Magical Native American named Namid’skemu in his Justis Fearsson Files. It probably wouldn’t take much work to dig up a Magical Asian, Magical Latino, or Magical Muslim.

Of course, my job as a writer is to imagine situations and infer character responses. Can I imagine anger at being pulled over for nothing, time and again? Sure, I can imagine it, but I can’t trust that I imagined it the right way. Take it too far and I’m stereotyping the angry black man or the volatile Latino. Underplay it and I’m being inauthentic. Can I imagine the depression and apathy that goes along with not being able to find a job? Yup, I’ve looked for work in a bad economy. Can I give an accurate picture of that for a 52 year-old, Jewish woman in the midst of menopause? I’m not very confident.

Do the white, male, straight writers of speculative fiction have a moral obligation to include diverse characters and, in doing so, make them a given in SF literature? Yeah, we probably do. Are we mentally, emotionally, and socially equipped to write those characters well? The answer is probably not. We run the very real risk of telling minority stories through the white, male lens, misrepresenting conflicts we don’t understand, or unconsciously falling back onto tropes and stereotypes.

For my part, I’m not sure which path leads to the greater evil. Do I do more harm by writing diverse characters and likely getting it wrong in general or specific? Or, do I do more harm by sticking with characters I think I can write with some degree of authenticity?

Eric Dontigney is the author of the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One.  Raised in Western New York, he currently resides in Memphis, TN. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally at ericdontigney.com.

Eric’s last appearance in our pages was “Memory Makes Liars of Us All,” in Stupefying Stories #13, his next will be “Lenses,” in Stupefying Stories #21, and later this year we’ll be releasing his paranormal mystery novel, The Midnight Ground. Watch for it!

“Talking Shop” is an ongoing conversation in which writers talk about the craft of writing, the business of writing, and what it takes to make it as a writer here in the 21st century. If you’d like to join the conversation and write an article, please send a query first to Bruce Bethke at submissions@rampantloonmedia.com.