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Monday, March 30, 2020

40 Hours Left!


Just a quick reminder that you have less than two days left in which to take advantage of our 99-cent sale on Henry Vogel’s Scout novel series—


Or to get Stupefying Stories issues #16 and #17 absolutely free, before they go out of print forever at midnight on March 31st.



P.S. So why the cat? Because a.) nothing attracts eyeballs on the Internet like a photo of a cat, and b.) because we already paid for this illo when we bought it to use it with Jason Lairamore’s story, “This Cat Must Die!” on the old SHOWCASE webzine site, so we may as well get some more mileage out of it.

P.P.S. Speaking of the SHOWCASE webzine, that returns beginning this week, and we may even have the site redesign finished in time for the rollout. Watch for it!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Advice for Writers: Three Movies



As we transition from normal life to cowering in terror and hiding indoors mode, Friday dinner-and-a-movie night has transitioned from “What’s playing at the local twenty-screen cineplex?” to “What’s streaming on Netflix or Amazon Prime that we haven’t watched a dozen times already?” Two weeks ago, when this change in lifestyle really began, my wife had already chosen the movie before I asked the question, and with her usual puckish sense of humor she’d picked out—

The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Based on the pioneering 1969 novel by the late Michael Crichton—that’s Doctor Michael Crichton, by the way, MD Harvard, who did post-doc work at the Salk Institute before turning to a career as a novelist and screenwriter—this nearly 50-year-old movie remains a surprisingly taut and effective thriller. Despite my having read the original back when it was this exciting new first novel everyone was talking about written by this new guy no one had ever heard of before—actually, it was Crichton’s seventh novel; he’d been writing novels under a variety of pseudonyms for a few years before The Andromeda Strain and had three more such novels in the publication pipeline when The Andromeda Strain became his breakout bestseller—

And despite my having watched the movie in the theater during it’s original theatrical run, and several times since in various video formats—

This one still works. It sinks its hooks into you early, builds slowly, layer by layer, establishes characters whose fates you care about, and everything in the film goes towards hitting a nail-biting dramatic crescendo at just the right time, followed by a short denouement that wraps up those few loose threads that still matter. Admittedly, there are some clunky moments in it: for example, when one of the characters gets to deliver a grumble about “The Establishment” that must have seemed terribly relevant back in 1969 but seems pretty fatuous now, or the occasional use of split-screen in what seems to me an ostentatious Sixties art cinema technique, but to an audience raised on 24 and CSI might seem perfectly normal.

Still, it works, and fifty years later, it still seems fresh and original. Recommended watching.

So to compare and contrast, the next week, my wife picked out—

Outbreak (1995)
Oh. My. Fricken. God. All-star cast. Made on a budget of $50 million. Ostensibly based on Richard Preston’s bestselling non-fiction book, The Hot Zone, although having read Preston’s book I believe the only thing this movie has in common with that book is the occasional use of the word “ebola.” Not to put too fine a point on it, this movie is such an enormous, expensive, stinking steaming pile of formulaic crap I had to go back to IMDB twice, to make certain I hadn’t missed Roland Emmerich’s name somewhere in the credits.

Interestingly, while Outbreak and The Andromeda Strain are almost exactly the same length, watching Andromeda seemed like an accelerating headlong rush to a dramatic climax, while Outbreak felt like a slow and extremely painful slog through the swamp of timeworn screenwriter’s clichés. Which got me to wondering: just why is it that The Andromeda Strain seems so very good, while Outbreak seems so very, very, very bad?

The answer, I think, lies in what I wrote above: The Andromeda Strain takes the time and takes special care to establish characters whose fates you care about. Everyone in this movie, even in the minor bit parts, is in the story for a reason, and you find yourself rooting for them to succeed, or at least to survive. The major characters are for the most part military and scientific personnel, facing a crisis of catastrophic proportions, and for the most part they face this crisis with the serious intelligence, dedication, and competence I’ve seen time and again in these kinds of people.

In contrast, the major characters in Outbreak are also a mix of military and scientific personnel, facing a similar crisis of catastrophic proportions, but—well, to be blunt, they face it like a bunch of actors. They scream. They shout. They posture, threaten, and issue ultimatums. They argue about their personal relationship problems at the most inopportune possible times. There is not one single character in this movie who behaves as if he or she is rational, much less an intelligent professional facing a life-or-death crisis. This movie is two straight hours of drama queens in slap fights, and it’s exhausting to watch.

You know what I said earlier about the characters in The Andromeda Strain all being people whose fates you care about? By the 90-minute mark in Outbreak you’ll be wishing all these characters would just catch the virus and die already, and then you’ll want to withdraw and nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

So for last night’s movie, my wife picked—

Contagion (2011)
Which was probably a mistake.

It seems like a promising movie. Good cast. Good script, from what I saw of it. Really well-done multi-threaded storylines narrative technique.

But to be honest, we didn’t even make it to the halfway mark in this one. Perhaps it was simply because by this point we were suffering from disaster movie fatigue. Or perhaps it was because at some point I switched to my Team America voice and began saying “Matt Damon” every time his face popped back on-screen. But in any case, watching this movie very quickly devolved into a Mystery Science Theater 3000 sort of experience, as we filled in the obvious gaps in the dialog with snarky and sarcastic quips, and then it became impossible to take this movie seriously. The commentary during the Gwyneth Paltrow autopsy sequence in particular was brutal, in very poor taste, and (to us at least) very funny.

Any time you’re watching what’s supposed to be a thriller but finding yourself laughing more than gasping in shock and fright, it’s time to turn off the movie and go play Scrabble.



So given that I set out to write an advice column for writers, what are some lessons to be learned from these three movies?

1. Your readers need to care about the fates of the characters who inhabit your story. If they don’t care about your characters and what’s to become of them, they’re unlikely to care about anything else that’s going on in your story, no matter how brilliant your writing skills.

2. Positive engagement is stronger than negative. In The Andromeda Strain, you find yourself rooting for the characters. In Outbreak, you’ll mostly find yourself rooting against characters. Donald Sutherland’s General McClintock, in particular, is damn near a mustache-twirling villain straight out of a silent movie. It’s easy to make your readers hate a straw-man villain, but it’s weak and lazy writing.

3. Don’t be so in love with your original concept of your characters that you’re afraid to change them. In Crichton’s original novel Dr. Peter Leavitt is pretty much a spear carrier, there to advance the plot by making one key mistake at a crucial moment but otherwise irrelevant. For the movie, the character was changed to Dr. Ruth Leavitt and given a backstory, and every time I re-watch the movie, I appreciate her more. The addition of a tired and cynical middle-aged woman to an otherwise all-male cast rescues the movie from being a manly men doing manly things sausage fest, which I’m sorry to say, the original novel kinda was.

4. Model your characters and their dialog on real people! That is the single biggest problem with Outbreak. Everyone in it speaks and behaves like an actor who knows they’re playing a role in a movie, and it’s all conflict and drama, all the time. If you find yourself giving your character lines that sound like they could be dialog from Outbreak, throw them out! They’re no good!

5. Finally, sometimes a story, no matter how good in concept and how well-executed, is just the wrong story at the wrong time, like Contagion. I predict that in about six months YouTube and Netflix are going to be flooded with low-budget “last person on Earth” movies shot using iPhones on selfie sticks and with all the fine production values of The Blair Witch Project, and at about the same time every fiction magazine slush pile in America will be overflowing with stories set in post-Apocalyptic wastelands following a viral plague. Don’t be the person who writes one of those stories or makes one of those movies. There’s already an adequate supply of “me too” formulaic dreck in this world. Don’t add your contribution to that vast and stinking heap.

Kind regards,
~brb

Friday, March 27, 2020

Free e-books! Who can resist free e-books?


All good things must come to an end, or in the case of these two books, reach the end of contract life and go out of print. Ergo, from right now until midnight on Tuesday, March 31st, we are giving away the Kindle editions of Stupefying Stories #16 and #17 free for the cost of a click.

But get ‘em now, because come Wednesday morning, they’re gone forever. 

CONTENTS:

#16 - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XD4QXD3

I LIVE THE WARRIOR’S LIFE • by Robert Lowell Russell

No one knew how Mel summoned Brother Crow to this world, but the trickster was delighted to help Mel with his practical joke. Then, because Crow loved a good prank, he left the door to the spirit world open, and everything changed…

THIS IS NOT WHEN YOU SAID THAT YOU WOULD MEET ME • by Robert Dawson

When she went into cryosleep, her husband promised to wake her as soon as they found a cure. He was a sweet and loving man, but he’d always been the forgetful sort.

IRENA PESTROVICH • by Thomas K. Carpenter

She was a special kind of FBI agent, with a special set of skills—which was good, because this was no ordinary murder.

ONE SAFFRON THREAD • by Sarah Bartsch

It’d been years since the Royal Mages had visited the orphanage, seeking children with the gift. Sativa would do anything to make sure she was the one they chose.

LONG COLD WISH • by Laura DeHaan

Never, ever, drink from a wishing well. You just don’t know what else might be down there.

PROVINCIAL AFFAIRS • by Alter S. Reiss

The Lady Adinara Rvellin was a complete disgrace to the Imperial Service, and she worked very hard to make sure everyone knew that.

THE BUSINESS OF RATS • by Sandra M. Odell

Ratty Tomlin had never met a rat he couldn’t catch. Then he took the Beckett and Brownman job.

THE MEMORY OF WORMS • by Karin Terebessy

As her father’s illness grew worse, they hid the scissors and the kitchen knives. But the valaška remained, mounted in its place of honor above the mantelpiece.

CATCH OF THE DAY • by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

After crash landing on an Earthlike alien world, survival should have been easy. All they had to do was catch a fish…

#17 - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XPGZFW5

FISH AND FOOLS • by Beth Powers

“Oftentimes, I ask a listener to select the staff and thus guide the tale. But on nights like this,” the howling wind obligingly rattled the tavern windows as the Carving Bard paused to select an arrow-straight length of silvery wood from her bundle, “in places that border the wildlands, one tale always screams to be told...”

THE LIBRARIAN AND THE TROLL • by E. G. Cosh

Winkleton Manor was the sort of place where absolutely nothing disrespectable ever happened—until Maud McInerney-Smythe left an old volume of Scandanavian poetry unread for just a little too long...

STAR COME OUT • by Joanne Rixon

These are the machines that keep me alive: the CPAP machine that keeps me breathing while I sleep, my customized electric wheelchair, and my speech-generating vox system. To me it’s the difference between life and death, between being and nothingness. When people hear me speak, they pity me. I don’t need their pity, though. I’m a poet with a robot voice. How cool is that?

FINDING GEORGIA • by Christian Riley

Her name is Georgia, she’s my peach, a laugh sweet as honey and with eyes like wine, they could make you handsome drunk just looking at them. She knew that about herself, my wife did. And I think that fueled her, kept her spirit on the move. Perhaps that’s why she was always running...

THE RANSOM OF PRINCESS STARSHINE • by Amy Thomson

Vartan guided his horse closer to the sound of girlish laughter coming from just beyond the willow copse. He motioned to his warriors to spread out. With luck, the girls would think the horse was a browsing joota, and he could kidnap a fine bride for his brother...

THE JAGUAR’S SON • by R. Y. Brockway

Arnold was just getting used to the fact that he’d never see his mother again when the University called about the matter of her office. When he found the old photo in her desk’s bottom drawer, he knew he’d found something special—and a mystery...

FOREST OF LIGHTS • by R. L. Bowden

He didn’t look strange to start with, but I guess that comes down to the blinkered vision you adopt on public transport in London. The kind that means you can spend an hour crushed against another human being, so close you’re tasting each other’s breath, but you’re barely able to recall the colour of their hair or what they were wearing... When you're talking to the police, afterwards.

THE WITCH’S KEY • by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

In the maze under the bright sunless sky, the witch gave me an easy way out. All I had to do was follow the cat—obey the rules—and stay alive...

THE PRACTITIONER • by James Khan

At 8:07 A.M., the Rumpke landfill stood as the second largest in the United States. It reached 1,672 feet at its peak, could be smelled from a mile away, and seen from as far as two. It was such a landmark that the citizens called it Mount Rumpke.

At one second after 8:07 A.M., Mount Rumpke ceased to exist. In its place stood a meadow of lilies...

99-cent Sale Extended


As more people fall under mandatory stay-at-home orders, we’ve decided to extendethe 99¢ sale on the first four Scout books. Get a planet full of adventure for a total of $3.96!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

BOOK RELEASE: SCOUT’S TRAINING, by Henry Vogel

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51jWBZ1kTWL.jpg
Rampant Loon Press is delighted to announce the release of the fifth novel in Henry Vogel’s best-selling Scout series, SCOUT'S TRAINING. The story thus far:

“Lieutenant Chris Marlow and airship pilot Jade Cochran believe they know their future—work, marriage, and a family. They joined Dr. Agrilla’s annual medical mission as a break from their routine...

“Then a raider airship dove out of the clouds, its crew intent on capturing the outmanned flyer. The young couple must fight for their lives, and pray they still have a future together!

“But their fate is written in the stars, not the skies of their home world. It brings challenges and dangers undreamt of by the teenagers. Facing the gulf between steam-age Aashla and the space-age Terran Federation, will Chris and Jade fall prey to the machinations of those who want lost colonists to stay lost?

“Far from home, far from David Rice and Princess Callan, Chris and Jade will discover if they are ready for…Scout’s Training.”

Available now in trade paperback or in ebook exclusively on Kindle.  

Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1938834712 
Ebook:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B085HGJV7Q

(Some day these two book listings will be joined, but as of right now they aren’t, because Amazon.)

If you have not already read the rest of Vogel’s Scout series, SCOUT’S TRAINING does stand on its own, as it introduces new characters and begins a new story arc—I did at one point suggest that we call this one Scout’s Honor: The Next Generation, and Henry was not amused—but on further reflection we decided that the obvious way to introduce this series to new readers was by offering special limited-time bargain pricing for the rest of the series.

Therefore, for the next 7 days, you can get all of the previous books in the Scout series for the special book-launch price of just 99-cents each! Collect the entire set!  Starting with...

https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51KuJ8CafCL.jpg SCOUT’S HONOR
The best-selling novel that began it all! When Terran Scout David Rice crashes on the long-lost colony world of Aashla, he is thrown from the space age to the steam age in the blink of an eye... And then his life got really difficult! 


Told in a relentlessly fast-paced style, Scout’s Honor is an exciting homage to the classic tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Leigh Brackett, as well as the cliffhanger-driven energy of the early science fiction movie serials. If you long for honorable heroes and feisty heroines, treacherous villains and loyal companions, get Scout’s Honor and join David’s adventure!

Buy it now! - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JXLCXDY


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51E9BxOKG2L.jpgSCOUT’S OATH
Picking up where Scout’s Honor left off, David Rice thinks he’s finally found true happiness and his proper place in Aashla’s complex, honor-driven, and often all too deadly society. But in winning the woman of his dreams he has made powerful enemies, and now those enemies want revenge! Can a plucky princess, a crusty doctor, a young thief, an old pirate, and a slightly unhinged airship pilot rescue David, stop a war, and save the world?

Yes, of course they can, we wouldn’t have much of a series if they didn’t, but all the same it’s a wild and fun ride!

Buy it now! - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TH859HA


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/514CKDFbhVL.jpg SCOUT’S DUTY
After pledging his life and sword to Princess Callan and Aashla, David believes he’ll never see another Terran again—until the night the skies are lit by laser weapons fire, as another starship tries to blast its way through Aashla’s deadly planetary rings. The attempt fails, but as David and Callan rush to the crash site they realize they aren’t the only ones who witnessed the disaster. Looters are already on the scene...

For on a world of swords and steam-powered airships, even a wrecked starship contains secrets that can overthrow the world!

Buy it now! - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017081LFC


https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51btot3JSlL.jpg SCOUT’S LAW
After two thousand years of isolation, the lost colony world of Aashla has at last rejoined the Terran Federation. Callan and David made that happen: now they lead a mission to ensure that Aashla’s unique culture isn’t overwhelmed by the vast and technologically far superior Terran Federation. But when a routine inspection of a Federation scientific outpost unearths a mass grave, and an unnatural storm knocks David and Callan’s airship out of the sky, they are forced to confront their worst nightmare. Someone has smuggled forbidden galactic technology onto Aashla, and the trail of murder and destruction has only just begun!

Buy it now! - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MSKV5MV

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

SHOWCASE #1: Why did you...?



https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51cW5yAzmDL.jpg
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9

Buy it now! A paltry $0.99 USD! Free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!

Okay, the book has been out for a few days now; long enough for email to begin trickling in, asking the usual, “Why on earth did you pick that story?” questions. Interestingly, though, thus far there is no strong consensus as to which story is that story.

So here’s why I picked that story.

“The River of Time Joins the Sea,” by Probert Dean

I picked this one because it has that slippery, elusive, hallucinatory New Wave vibe that I for some reason associate with J. G. Ballard. Time has become stuck, and the definition of reality is contracting and changing even while the story is in progress. I love stories like these—in small doses, once in a while—that play with your perceptions and expectations. Besides, it has an absolutely brilliant first line: “It was raining the day the future started.”

“The Mandala Doors of Hafshamn Syniad,” by Jeff Suwak

I picked this one because it’s a strong, solid story with an engaging focal character and a really satisfying plot. It’s a tale of magical vengeance and justice, and better yet, it borrows from a different set of folk tale traditions than most of the magical fantasies that come through here. It’s a good read, plain and simple, and I would not be averse to seeing more stories set in this world.

“The Carpetbaggers Ball,” by Karl Dandenell

Imagine a world where the dissolute and depraved über-rich can upload and download their consciousnesses as easily as you can change your clothes, and where they can rent the bodies of the young and healthy poor to wear when they want to throw a really good party, then leave someone else to deal with the hangover...

This story hits me where I live, combining near-future tech with a decadent social landscape and a focal character who learns, grows, and changes as a result of what happens in this story. This is the sort of story that I find in my inbox, read, and say, “Damn, I wish I’d written that one!”

That’s the secret of selling a story to me, folks. All you have to do is write one that makes me, Bruce Bethke, cyberpunk legend, Philip K. Dick Award-winning author, etc., etc., read all the way to the end and then say “Damn, I wish I’d written that one!” It’s that easy.

“Finding Spring,” by Sipora Coffelt

I’ll admit, living in Minnesota, I was probably predisposed to like this story. It opens with an engaging and likable p.o.v. character, obviously living in some sort of bleak, frozen, post-Apocalyptic and post-20th Century American landscape, who is about to go on a journey of discovery whether she wants to or not. At first I was slightly afraid that this was going to turn into yet another climatepunk global warming we’re-all-doomed screed, but Valentine’s voice was so charming, she drew me in.

Then, as the author slowly revealed the true nature of the Apocalypse, I really began to get into this story, and by the time we got to the ending...


So why did I choose to put these four stories together into the same book?

That’s tomorrow’s post.   

Buy it now! A mere $0.99 USD! You can’t even get a cup of coffee for that! Free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9

(I’m still working on this whole “relentless promotion” thing.)

Monday, March 2, 2020

SHOWCASE #1: Afterthoughts



https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51cW5yAzmDL.jpg
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9

Buy it now! Only $0.99 USD! Free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!

Now that the first issue has made it out the door without leaving too much wreckage in its wake, it's time to pause a moment and reflect on lessons learned. First off, if you're disappointed because you missed the free ebook on release day: don't worry. There's another one in the pipeline for March 15th. Watch for it!

Secondly, this one definitely would have benefited from more time spent on proofreading before we released it. The proofreading got shortchanged because we were focused on fixing more crucial problems with our book production process right up until the day before we uploaded the thing to Amazon.

Fortunately, this being the 21st Century, we don't have to wait until the next print run to fix all the typos and formatting glitches. We're already working on fixing all that, and will be uploading a fresh file to Amazon this coming weekend, at about the same time as we will be uploading the files for the print edition.

YES! THERE'S GOING TO BE A PRINT EDITION!

And eventually, once we get all the glitches in our production processes identified and fixed, we'll be releasing the print and ebook editions on the same day Until then, though--

Buy it now! Only $0.99 USD! Free for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08598CJG9