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Monday, November 23, 2020

Stupefying Stories #23 • T-Minus 7 Days

 

ILLUSTRATION: JEANNE KOSFELD ©2020

Today’s featured author is Terry Faust, another author returning to our pages, and his contribution to Stupefying Stories #23 is “The Secret of Erin Stewart,” a mystery/police procedural story that should touch the heart of any true Minnesotan, you betcha. About this story Terry says—well, he says quite a lot, actually, but his comments include spoilers, so I’ll put them at the end. If I were writing the intro to this story for some other magazine that puts a lot of energy into teasers and jacket copy, I’d probably write...

Welcome to the town of One Harbor Only, a flyspeck on the map of Minnesota’s North Shore. It’s a sleepy little town where Police Chief Hector Truly doesn’t see much serious crime—which suits him just fine, he’d rather be fishing—but when a cashier at the local grocery store suddenly disappears without a trace, his investigation turns up more questions than answers. Someone knows what really happened to Erin Stewart, but who, how, and why? The deeper Hector digs, the more unsettling her secret seems to become...

Something like that, anyway. It could use some editing.

Terry first appeared in our pages in 2015, with “Muse Bovine.” These days his author’s bio reads like this:

Terry Faust writes urban fantasy, mainstream young adult novels, and humorous science fiction spoofs. The first in his series of young adult urban fantasy novels, Bearer of the Pearls: Episode One of the River Rangers, was released by North Star Press St. Cloud in June of 2017. Z is for Xenophobe is a sci-fi satire published in 2011 by Sam's Dot Publishing. His story work has appeared in Stupefying Stories, Tales of the Unanticipated, and Boundaries Without, by Calumet Editiions. He’s had stories in several Minnesota Speculative Fiction anthologies published by Alban Lake.

Terry has been an assistant organizer of the Minnesota Speculative Fiction Writers Network (MinnSpec) since 2005.

 If you’d like a free sample of Terry’s style, allow me to direct you to “Muse Bovine” on our SHOWCASE site. For my money—and come to think of it, it is my money—this is the best story about a writer’s group ever published.

So far....

And now, as promised:

SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!

Terry writes: 

The title is a nod to a selkie folktale turned into a film by John Sayles: The Secret of Roan Inish. To be clear, Roan Inish isn't a person, but rather an Irish island, but both stories involve beings who can change from a seal to a human and back again. Being a lover of the North Shore of Lake Superior, I got to wondering if seals could exist in its chilly freshwater? 

Turns out there are freshwater seals in Hudson Bay and Russia's Lake Baikal. It could happen. That's all I needed to weave a mystery around the disappearance of a woman from a small Lake Superior town.

The fun part was making the protagonist a down-to-earth no-nonsense cop whose imagination does not allow for a supernatural explanation. I've grown weary of speculative fiction stories wrapping up by having the initially skeptical protagonist rub his or her chin and thoughtfully conclude there are more things in heaven than are dreamt of in his or her philosophy. In my story, this is obviously the case, what happened involved something supernatural.

However, being an Iron-ranger, my character's philosophy is extremely utilitarian.  He is not troubled by Hamlet's weighty considerations. He wraps up the case, conceding nothing to the supernatural, and goes fishing. I don't see this kind of ending very often, but I find it more satisfying...as a Minnesotan.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Stupefying Stories #23 • T-Minus 8 Days

 

Today’s featured author is Karl Dandenell. Karl is a relative newcomer to Stupefying Stories with his one previous appearance in our pages being the decidedly cyberpunkish story, “The Carpetbagger’s Ball,” in SHOWCASE #1. For his contribution to Stupefying Stories #23 he’s gone all the way over to the opposite end of SF/F genrespace with a tale of sorcery, scullery, and murderous intrigue, “The Last Feast of Silas the Wizard.” 

Rather than my writing about this story, I’ll let him do it:

“What I can say is that genre fans note the influence of Patricia McKillip and a certain popular BBC Masterpiece soap opera in my kitchen scenes. This story also owes a large debt to the Nebula Award-winning author Rachel Swirsky, who workshopped the first draft of “Last Feast” at FOGcon a few years back. She pointed out some issues around gender and age that would end up being problematic. Finally, “Last Feast” is my first tale with a younger protagonist, and I wanted to explore how Adaryn could be instrumental to the larger plot while avoiding the “Chosen One” trope.

“There’s also a cat, which is pretty much required in my first drafts.”

 

Karl’s current author’s bio reads like this: 

Karl Gustav Schlosser Dandenell is a first-generation Swedish American, graduate of the University of Southern California's Professional Writing program, survivor of Viable Paradise XVI, and Active member of the Science Fiction Writers of America.

His short fiction has appeared in such magazines as Fireside Fiction, Metaphorosis Magazine, BuzzyMag, and Perihelion SF. You can also find his work in the anthologies Strange Economics, Robbed of Sleep, Vol. 5, Reading 5 X 5, and Abandoned Places. For a more complete list, see his Amazon author’s page.

Karl lives on an island near San Francisco with his family and cat overlords. He is fond of tea and distilled spirits.

On a personal note I’d like to thank him, first off for shortening his professional name, because “The Last Feast of Silas the Wizard” by Karl Gustav Schlosser Dandenell would pose some thorny problems with formatting the TOC, but more seriously, for his unfailing behind-the-scenes support and encouragement during these past two very difficult years. There have been more than a few times when an encouraging IM or email from Karl was what made the difference between my giving up or deciding to tough it out and carry on in the SF/F publishing business.

I wish I could point you to a free story by Karl that you could read on one of our web sites, but he’s too new to the Stupefying Stories family to have anything out there. Instead, I’ll point you to SHOWCASE (Stupefying Stories Presents #1), which is FREE for Kindle Unlimited subscribers or the lordly price of $0.99 USD for everyone else. 

Which reminds me: we’d just released the Kindle ebook edition and were working on putting out a print edition of that book when the COVID crisis hit. Add that to the list of things to be done, now that I have plenty of extra time on my hands.
   

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Stupefying Stories #23 • T-Minus 9 Days

 

Today’s featured author is Julie Frost, and the story she’ll have in #23 is “Woe to the Hand,” another of her wonderfully well-written stories of werewolves, vampires, pack dynamics (note the clever way I worked in the link to her highly acclaimed novel), and some of the more disturbing aspects of paranormal romance. These days, her author’s bio reads like this:

Julie Frost is an award-winning author of every shade of speculative fiction. She lives in Utah with her family—a herd of guinea pigs, her husband, and a "kitten" who thinks she's a warrior princess—and a collection of anteaters and Oaxacan carvings, some of which intersect. She enjoys birding and nature photography, which also intersect. Her short fiction has appeared in Straight Outta Dodge City, Monster Hunter Files, Writers of the Future, The District of Wonders, StoryHack, Stupefying Stories, and many other venues. Her novel series, PACK DYNAMICS, is published by WordFire Press, and her novel DARK DAY, BRIGHT HOUR is published by Ring of Fire Press. She whines about writing, a lot, at http://agilebrit.livejournal.com/, and you can look her up on Amazon.

While trying to come up with more to say about Julie I found myself a bit overwhelmed. She’s been part of the Stupefying Stories circle of family and friends since 2012, with her first appearance in our pages being “Showing Faeries for Fun and Profit” in issue #12 (now out of print), her most recent appearance being “Horns of a Paradox” in Stupefying Stories #19 (Still available! Buy it! Please buy it! Or at least take a look at it on Kindle Unlimited!), her next appearance planned to be “Beverly Hellbunnies,” in an issue that’s still in development for Q1 2021—not to mention “Daddy’s Little Girl” in the now out-of-print Putrefying Stories...

For today’s dive into the vault, though, I’d like to bring to your attention “Habeas Felis” on the SHOWCASE web site. It’s a terrific three-part adventure with cats, dragons, and a plucky young heroine. What more could you want? Read it now! And if you like it, share the links!

“Habeas Felis” by Julie Frost • Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3  

Friday, November 20, 2020

Stupefying Stories #23 • T-Minus 10 Days

 

Okay, we didn’t hit the target date of 11/15, but I’m pleased to report that we’re now on a solid track to release Stupefying Stories #23 on Monday, 11/30. The process of copy-editing and quilting together this issue has proven quite a bit stickier than expected, aided and abetted by the fact that the process of my wrapping up things with my soon-to-be former employer has turned out to be a lot more complicated than planned.

One of the unexpected but nice complications that’s emerged in these past three weeks, though, was that in putting together #23, we had a lot of “Yes, this is a great story, but it really belongs in the same issue with this other story” moments. So issues #24 (December) and #25 (January) are practically putting themselves together. I have a high degree of confidence that by #25, we will actually be back onto a stable and predictable monthly schedule.

Either that, or the world will have ended. This being 2020, that is always a possibility.

With #23 moving towards release, then, it’s time to begin talking about the stories in it. First up, old friend Jamie Lackey returns to our pages with “The Unicorn’s Companion,” a charming contemporary fantasy about—well, about a unicorn, obviously, and the very special girl who befriends one. At risk of hubris, if you liked Peter Beagle’s The Last Unicorn, you will really enjoy this one. 

Longtime readers will remember that Jamie first appeared in our pages in Stupefying Stories #4, with the absolutely wonderful story of love and dance, “Music from the Air,” which is on my shortlist for The Best of Stupefying Stories, assuming we ever get our act together enough to produce it. Since then Jamie has remained one of our regular contributors, while at the same time her writing career has really taken off. Her latest author’s bio reads like this:

Jamie Lackey lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their cat. She has over 160 short fiction credits, and has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Escape Pod.  Her debut novel, Left-Hand Gods is available from Hadley Rille Books, and she has a novella and two short story collections available from Air and Nothingness Press.  In addition to writing, she spends her time reading, playing tabletop RPGs, baking, and hiking.  You can find her online at www.jamielackey.com.

However, for a really quick introduction to the amazing Jamie Lackey and her wonderful storytelling style, you could also just pop over to the Stupefying Stories SHOWCASE site right now and read “Under the Shimmering Lights.”

~brb

Friday, November 13, 2020

The Return of The Son of The Friday Challenge's Old College Roommate!


This came up first on Facebook, but after thinking about it a bit longer I decided to put it out here for all to see. This grew out of a discussion of that classic 1956 sci-fi movie, FORBIDDEN PLANET, and how while it was a beautiful film, it somehow just didn’t quite nail the X-ring.

So here’s the challenge.

Imagine that you are a screenwriter, and you’ve just been hired to write the script for the first film in the new remake series, THE FORBIDDEN PLANET TRILOGY. Maybe you're working for James Cameron, Michael Bay, J.J. Abrams, or Peter Jackson—or what the Hell, maybe for whoever it is who’s making films for DisneyMarvelLucas these days—but your first consideration is this: in the original film, to be honest, the ending fell kinda flat.

True, Captain J. J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen) and the surviving crew of the C57D did manage to escape the Id monster and blow up the planet, but it was really more of an escape by the skin of their teeth and slink back to Earth with their tails between their legs ending than an actual heroic and victorious ending. Captain James T. Kirk never would have put up with such a low-key ending. There wasn’t even a climactic hand-to-hand struggle with a boss monster. 

And more importantly—this is crucial in modern movie-making—the ending did not leave room for a sequel!

Since 1956 we’ve learned a lot more about how to give a sci-fi movie a truly satisfying ending. Consider the original Star Wars. Consider Alien. Consider Aliens. Forget Alien 3, that was the downer ending to end all downer endings. Consider The Monolith Monsters. (Sorry, that’s an inside joke.)

The point is, you are working for a director with major mojo and a studio with a budget larger than that of most countries. Cost is no object. Special effects are no limit. Casting options are unrestricted. How would you rewrite the ending of FORBIDDEN PLANET to make it the kind of rousing stand-up-and-cheer blockbuster ending that modern movie audiences expect?

Post your answers in the comments, or on your own website and post a link here. Now ready, set—

WRITE! 

P.S. To give you a head start, I’ll spot you one concept, which you can use, abuse, work against, or ignore as you please:

MechaMorbius

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Ultimate Geek Fu (Reprise) • by Bruce Bethke


A tip of the propellor beanie to old friend Arlan Andrews, for accidentally reminding me that I wrote this for our old Friday Challenge site, damn near ten years ago. It remains as relevant as ever today. Without further ado, then...

Ultimate Geek Fu: January 12, 2011

Today we approach the apotheosis of Ultimate Geek Fu, as we seek the answer to what may be the ultimatest Ultimate Geek Fu question of them all: who exactly is the real spiritual father of Captain James T. Kirk?

Roddenberry himself said Kirk was essentially C. S. Forester's Captain Horatio Hornblower set in space, although in other contexts he also described Star Trek as "Wagon Train to the Stars." Personally I always considered the original show to be darned close to Forbidden Planet: The Series, as there are some remarkable similarities. For example, the United Federation of Planets starship Enterprise, as originally modeled, bears more than a passing resemblance to United Planets starcruiser C57-D, with some extra bits and fins and stuff glued on:


Commanded by the heroic Captain J. J. Adams (Leslie Nielsen!)—


—ably assisted by his loyal crew, advised by his closest confidant, the ship's doctor, and supported by the brilliant engineer -slash- communications officer, Quinn—


—the C57-D prowls about the stars, with the crew watching planets on the big screen—


—dematerializing and rematerializing as needed—


—packing totally cool zap guns—


—and of course, in the end, Captain Adams scores the hot babe.


Seems like a slam-dunk, right? But...

But a few weeks ago I got a new four-pack of old movies. I bought it solely for The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Ray Bradbury and Ray Harryhausen's early masterpiece.


Another time, perhaps, we can discuss the debts that the later Gojira and the much later American Godzilla movies owe to this earlier and in many respects far superior movie. But what I want to talk about right now is a surprise bonus that was also in the box: a wonderful and apparently forgotten little 1956 gem, World Without End.

The story:

An advanced spaceship, returning from a mission to Mars, encounters a mysterious energy storm in space—


—is thrown off-course and catapulted far beyond Ludicrous Speed—


—to crash-land on a mysterious planet—


—where they discover terrible monsters—


—ugly and violent primitive hominids—


—and—gasp!—it's the Earth!


They've been catapulted forward in time to the 25th century! Where the survivors of the great atomic holocaust live underground, in warrens of weird pastel-colored trapezoidal tunnels—


—furnished entirely with Danish Modern furniture—


—in a horrible, cramped, and dispirited world in which the men have de-evolved into pallid, effete, and badly dressed weenies—


—while the women, of course, all look like Vargas pin-up girls.


Equally of course, the women find these manly men from the past to be utterly irresistable—


—while the men take a somewhat different view.


There follow plots, machinations, betrayals, etc., etc., until at last, the studly spaceship captain—


That's right, none other than Hugh Marlowe, who you've also seen in Earth vs The Flying Saucers, The Day The Earth Stood Still, and a host of other 1950s sci-fi and hard-boiled detective movies and TV series. Anyway, Marlowe stirs these effete weenies into action, rouses their long-repressed manhood and self-respect, teaches them how to make weapons and to fight, and leads them back up onto the surface—


—where he frees the slaves—


—defeats the evil Gorn Klingon Sasquatch whatever leader in hand-to-hand combat—


—and brings the blessings of housing projects—


—and public schools—



—to the primitives. And of course, in the end—


—he scores the hottest of the hot babes.

And if that does not definitively establish that Hugh Marlowe is the true spiritual father of Captain James T. Kirk...

Well, then let the arguments begin.

Writing as a Newborn 9th Gendered Polyoriented Alien Wizard • by Guy Stewart



“Samther-Esuel was lucky this world had similar pronouns to the nine he was used to. His current fetish was to be called by a masculine pronoun to go with his nickname, Esam .

“He’d been long-gone, reveling in ‘amispringa’ when he got word that his parents had been executed by revolutionaries. He’d never go back, so what other world than River would suffice for an almost Newborn 9th gendered polyoriented Alien Wizard?

“The last thing had him worried. He’d have to wait to be Newborn, being gender S would morph him toward whatever was dominant here, but Mom’s Alien gave his skin a chlorophyllic tint, though brown freckles and his afro made his larger brain pan less noticeable. The crackling aura of Wizardry might be a problem. He could do simple Magic, but the Alien/Wizard mix had been unpredictable since birth. ‘I have skills!’ he muttered. His problem was that he didn’t know exactly which skills would manifest. He was certain of only one thing: he’d die to take down the exiled coward who’d pulled the trigger on his parents...”


How can I possibly write this story realistically? I’m a big, old, fat, white guy!

But, Blume wrote a near-adolescent boy becoming a peeping Tom convincingly; Shelley wrote a reanimated man who became archetype; Scalzi wrote realistic soldiers, though he’d never been one.

To write Esam, I need tools, and it can’t be easy.

At a 1992 writer’s workshop, Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward write “…one of the students expressed the opinion that it is a mistake to write about people of ethnic backgrounds different from your own because you might get it wrong—horribly, offensively wrong—and so it is better not even to try.”

She and Ward thought it was “…taking the easy way out…” and Ms. Shawl wrote an essay discussing how someone might write about characters marked by racial and ethnic differences. She and Ms. Ward eventually created a workshop to give writers tools to “write the other” as realistically as possible.

Ibram X. Kendi writes in HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, “…[if we act like] a racial group’s seeming success or failure redounds to each of its individual members, we’ve accepted a racist idea.”

For me, these are all aspects of trying to successfully write characters who are different from me racially, ethnically, orientationally, and gender and ability-wise.

Writing through the eyes of someone I am NOT is difficult and takes practice. I’ve started to think that I should work harder at living up to the promise of science fiction.

About that promise, Bruce Bethke wrote

“…science fiction is…the literature of hope…the one idea…all science fiction has in common is very simple, and yet incredibly important…people recognizably like us—are there…That’s the core message of science fiction. Humanity has a future…[we] have a choice…We are not…running the programs installed in our ancestral genes four million years ago…we are not the prisoners of our past. We can learn from our history. We have the power to choose to become better.”

Science fiction—all speculative fiction—has the freedom to explore what MIGHT happen in other worlds. In doing so, we can get ourselves and readers to start thinking about our own future.

But if I were to write from my own personal point of view, I could tell few INTERESTING stories. To be interesting to a reader, a story has to stretch the writer first. A story has to HURT to write; it has to require something of me.

Bruce goes on to say, 

“…I hear the concussion as the Taliban dynamite the Bamiyan Buddhas; and feel the thuds of fists and feet on flesh as the Red Guards beat historians and teachers to death; and smell the smoke as the Deutsche Studentenschaft burn books in the State Opera square in Berlin, and hear the creak of the wheels and the crying of the condemned as the Jacobins drag them in tumbrels to meet the guillotine...”

To write the other, however, we DO NOT tell the story of brave Buddhists; brave historians and teachers; brave librarians; or brave condemned French aristocrats. To write the other, we instead painfully figure out what drove ONE man to the point where he joined the Taliban; ONE woman’s struggle that ended with her in the Red Guard; ONE gay man caught up in the Studentenschaft; ONE trans woman whose only solution was to become a Jacobin…and we tell their story; and we use them to make a difference in the story.

Writing that story, I have assume that my assumptions have been colored by…well, my color, my gender, my orientation, my wealth, my education and other things I can’t even put my finger on. Shawl and Ward note: “If you want to go beyond the level of just assigning different skin tones and heritage to random characters, you’re going to have to do some research.”

In an email, I wrote, 

“Stupefying Stories has always been about making readers think—not with easy, obvious, symbolism, but really THINK about what a story means…and all the while, Stupefying Stories has never ONCE taken itself too seriously.” 

We can use speculative fiction as a tool to explore other worlds—and not take ourselves too seriously—and serve a greater good.

Writing about “the other” shouldn’t be easy. If writing is effortless, then I’m afraid it will be meaningless as well, and meaningless is the last thing we should want to be.

—Guy Stewart 

References:

Kendi, Ibram X. HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST, 2019, One World (p 94)

Shawl, Nisi; Ward, Cynthia WRITING THE OTHER: A Practical Approach, 2005, Aqueduct Press (pp 6, 76)

Bethke, Bruce, WAITING FOR THERMIDOR, StupefyingStories.com, 2020 

 


 

Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife who is a multi-year breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, and recently retired teacher and school counselor who maintains a writing blog by the name of POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS (https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/) where he showcases his opinion and offers his writing up for comment. He has 72 stories, articles, reviews, and one musical script to his credit, and the list still includes one book! He also maintains GUY'S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER & ALZHEIMER'S where he shares his thoughts and translates research papers into everyday language. In his spare time, he herds cats and a rescued dog, helps keep a house, and loves to bike, walk, and camp.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Armistice Day 2020

I sat down to write a column this morning, and the words flowed so easily it began to seem as if I’d written them all before—so I did a quick search, and found that yes, I had. With no apologies, then, here is my Armistice Day column from two years ago. I could spend all morning polishing and revising it but don’t think I could say it any better.  

~brb


Armistice Day 2018



A century ago today, the guns on the Western Front fell silent, and “the war to end all wars” came to an official close. That wasn’t exactly what really happened, of course: on the Eastern Front the Great War segued into the Russian Revolution, followed by the Polish-Soviet War and then the Russian Civil War. On the Greco-Turkish front the fighting continued until 1922, and in a sense the world today is still dealing with the fallout from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire then. If you read German sources, you’ll learn that the German military leadership at the time considered the 11/11/18 Armistice merely an opportunity to fall back, rest, reorganize, re-equip, and get ready for the next war with France.

But never mind that now. Let’s accept that on November 11, 1918, “the war to end all wars” officially came to an end. The older I get, the more poignant this anniversary seems to become to me, while at the same time the more horribly sardonic H. G. Wells’ 1914 propaganda phrase—yes, H. G. Wells, not Woodrow Wilson, coined the expression, “the war to end war”—becomes as well.

The Great War was my grandparent’s war. As I sit at my desk and write this, if I were to look up, I’d see some of the medals my great-uncle won, as an infantryman fighting in the mud of the trenches. Charles Everett came back from his war, but according to my mother, he was never the same again.

The Great War, Part 2, was my parent’s war. I’ve had the privilege of interviewing soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, fought in the island-hopping campaigns of the Pacific, and flew and fought in heavy bombers over Germany. To this day I remain in awe of what they did in those terrible days. My father was Navy: like Robert Heinlein, he was sidelined by a medical condition and never saw combat. My father-in-law was a Marine Corps Pacific theater combat vet; he never talked about what he saw or did. My wife’s Uncle Leon died in the Battle of the Bulge and for sixty years his family didn’t know where he was buried, until a family friend on assignment to NATO headquarters in Brussels happened to find his name on a headstone in the Ardennes American Cemetery.

To me, though, the face of WWII will always be that of my childhood best friend’s father, Ben, who was a Navy landing-craft crewman attached to a Marine division. His service record reads like a list of the Hellholes of the Pacific. On those few occasions when he talked about his time in the Navy—usually, after quite a few drinks—all he could talk about were all the friends he’d left behind, face-down in the sand on some faraway beach. He came back from the war, but never really came back, and before he turned fifty succeeded in committing suicide by hard liquor and chain-smoking Camel straights.  

My teachers’ war was in Korea, and I’ve had the privilege of knowing men who landed at Inchon or fought at Chosin Reservoir. My generation’s war was in Viet Nam. Through the grace of God and a high draft lottery number I missed it, but far too many of my friends and relatives went to the party. Some came back in boxes. Some never came back at all; we only know approximately where their aircraft went down. Some came back damaged, either physically or psychologically, some came back just fine. Two of my best friends seemed to come back just fine, only to explode in cancer years later, probably due to Agent Orange exposure.

I have had the honor of knowing, and sometimes even hiring, young soldiers who’ve come back from Iraq and Afghanistan. All the same, I fear that in years to come, we’ll learn that GAU-8 ammunition exposure was every bit as bad as Agent Orange.

In all these years, though, and after all these wars, I’ve learned that one thing is universally true. Anyone who is eager to talk about his or her time in the service—anyone who talks about the glory of war—anyone who insists that young people (and preferably, someone else’s young people) should be proud to fight and die for their country—

Was probably a REMF.

Those I’ve known who were in the shit—in Normandy, or in the Pacific, or at Inchon, or as a door-gunner on a Huey flying over Quang Tri, or acting as a bullet magnet in Helmand Province—what they always talk about is the friends they left behind.

So here we are, on Armistice Day. When the sun sets tonight I’ll take down my American flag, carefully fold it and put it away, open a bottle of wine, and raise a glass in a toast: to those who never came home.

May there be no more.

Monday, November 9, 2020

No Blog Post This Morning

 

No blog post this morning; I’m busy with copy-editing and book production stuff. However, it is becoming obvious that we have some gaps in our in-house skill set and need to get help in certain areas.

Watch for “Help Wanted” post to go up later today.

~brb

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Congratulations!



To Clancy Weeks, for “State of Grace” in the current issue of Analog. Longtime friends and fans of Stupefying Stories will remember his cover story, “Zombie Like Me,” in Stupefying Stories 20 (January 2018), which yes, you can still buy!

Observant readers will also notice the names M. Bennardo and Gregor Hartmann in the table of contents of the same issue of Analog. M. Bennardo contributed “No Onions” to Stupefying Stories 6 and “Avocado Rutabaga Aubergine” to Stupefying Stories 11, both of which are (sadly) now out of print, while Gregor Hartmann contributed “Notion of Notions” to SHOWCASE in 2016, and you can read that story right here

That’s what Stupefying Stories is all about, folks. If you read what we publish now, you’ll be reading the authors that everyone else will be publishing a few years from now.  

Schedule Update


When I did the Mythaxis Review interview a few weeks ago, I obviously had no frickin’ clue that Otogu the Insatiable, Devourer of Days, was about to drop an enormous cowflop on me. 

In that interview I said we were planning to release Stupefying Stories #23 on November 9. Due to subsequent disruptions of an external nature we are not going to make that date. Instead, we’re now targeting #23 for release on November 16 and pushing to pull it in to November 15.

On the bright side, now that I suddenly have lots more free time on my hands we are moving ahead with plans to release issue #24 on December 1st and #25 on January 1st. In addition, we have several chapbook projects that we’ll be releasing in the coming weeks and months. I’m particularly excited about PRIVATEERS OF MARS by Matthew Castleman and SECOND TO LAST STOP by Evan Dicken. 

Thanks for your support and patience.

~brb

Saturday, November 7, 2020

The State of the Loon: 11/07/2020



The reason for the insane pressure at work and all the multiple deadlines stacked on deadlines these past three months, which consumed so many of my nights and weekends and even forced me to cut a vacation short after two days up at the cabin (I'm happy about that, I can tell you), finally became apparent this past Monday, when the company announced a divisional re-org and cut my department in half. I, being the oldest, most experienced, and most expensive employee in the department was the first to be cut, of course.
 
I don't mind. Looking back on 40 years in the computer industry as a whole and the past 20 years here, all I see is a long litany of times I short-changed my family for the benefit of the company: recitals and plays missed, nights and weekends worked, vacations not taken or cut short, or worse, taken but while schlepping along a laptop and a wi-fi hotspot, because I was on call for last-minute work to make the deadline for some now long-forgottten software release.
 
I won't miss that at all. 
 
The severance package wasn't great, but it's good enough for me to consider this my invitation to retire. As of today I have a lot more time to work on Stupefying Stories and Rampant Loon Press, so that's what I'm doing -- just as soon as I finish breakfast. If you've been waiting for me to reply to an email message, thanks for your patience. I have the time to do that now and will be getting back to you shortly. 

Upward and onward.
~brb

Friday, November 6, 2020

Upgrading Me


I became a cyborg a month ago. It’s not nearly as cool as science fiction promised me it would be.

Nonetheless, it became medically necessary. As we age, different biological subsystems wear out at different rates. At first you adapt, improvise, adjust your behavior, and look for workarounds. Eventually you get to the point where the only thing left to do is to replace the failing part, either with its direct biological equivalent via transplant or with its cybernetic functional equivalent.

Since they are not yet able to 3D-print new internal organs, this means I now have a small sensor module implanted in my right upper arm. 

Actually, the full kit is a two-part system. There’s the sensor, which is surprisingly unobtrusive, and then there’s the readout device, which is about the size of my old Samsung flip-phone. I’ve taken to calling it my R2 unit, as it communicates with me in a language of beeps, buzzes, and squawks. 

There’s the happy noise it makes when everything is proceeding as it should. The alarming noise it makes when my biological indicators are going wrong in one direction; the direction that’s easily corrected. The really alarming noise it makes when my indicators are going wrong in the other direction; the direction that can put me into a coma or kill me. The downright angry noise it makes (and keeps making) whenever I’m not paying sufficient attention to it: I’m never supposed to be more than 20 feet away from my R2 unit, at least not for more than 15 minutes. Then there’s the plaintive little noise it makes when it’s getting hungry and needs to be plugged into a USB port to suckle electricity.

At least it doesn’t talk to me in words. That’s probably coming in the next upgrade. 

The USB port is the most interesting part of the system. Once plugged into an active computer, it goes out to the Internet and downloads a remarkable torrent of data to my doctor’s system, and presumably to my medical insurance provider as well. I guess this means I’m now officially part of the Internet of Things. 

Seems fitting, don’t you think?

~brb

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Introducing Bruce Bethke™ 2.0


Another week, another batch of queries, all along the lines of, “Are you the Bruce Bethke?” 

I’m never sure how to answer that. The snark is strong in me. It can be hard to resist the temptation. 

“That depends. Are you here with a royalty check or a search warrant?”

What they usually mean, of course, is “Are you the Bruce Bethke who wrote the short story ‘Cyberpunk’ back in—” and then they provide a date that’s somewhere within a reasonable range of the truth.

So the short answer is, yes, I am.

The more complete answer is that I wrote the story in the early spring of 1980, and it spent the next couple of months bouncing back and forth between me and the editorial offices of Asimov’s. At first they liked it, but asked for a rewrite of the ending on the grounds that Asimov’s readers would never go for a story that ended with the punk winning. That, and then there was that whole business with electronic banking; that all had to be changed. They told me they’d spoken with a Real Banking Expert, who assured them that electronic banking was only ephemeral and every electronic transaction had to be backed up with an actual physical paper trail within 24 hours or else it would be backed out.

[“Oh really?” said the Time Traveler from the early 21st century, as he logged into his bank account to make sure his payroll direct deposit had cleared, checked his paperless statements to see which bills were due, queued up a few credit card payments while he was waiting for the barista to put his order together, and then bonked his phone on the reader to pay for his extra dark roast grande and morning glory muffin.]

Eventually Asimov’s decided they couldn’t use the story after all and sent it back with a decisive rejection. Thereafter it bounced around the offices of all the other SF/F magazines then in business—Analog, Omni, Fantasy & Science Fiction, a few more whose names I can’t remember and don’t feel like looking up right now—before ending up at Amazing, where it was accepted in the summer of 1982 and finally published in the fall of 1983. Amazing’s practice at the time was to put magazines out on the newsstands two months before the cover date, so while the official publication date is November 1983, that’s more like the “sell by” date on a carton of milk.

And when you consider that the story had been circulating around the industry and in front of one SF/F editor or another pretty much constantly from mid-1980 forward... 



I write all this now because this is often the second question that comes up, as soon as I admit that Yea, I Am Him Who Thou Doth Seek. People then want me to talk at length about the exact and precise provenance of the story, what my influences were when I conceived the idea, and exactly what I was trying to say when I wrote it—usually, it turns out, because they’re writing either a term paper or a thesis on the subject. Frankly, answering those sorts of questions got old a very long time ago, and for a long time the sobriquet of “the guy who wrote Cyberpunk” felt an awful lot like a dead albatross hanging around my neck.

But...

Things change. Every ten years or so I seem to need to reinvent myself, and it’s once again time to do so. Hence, Bruce Bethke™ 2.0. (Actually, I think we’ve reached at least 5.0, but 2.0 gets the concept.) He’s that cartoon character in the upper right corner. I can’t promise to be him 24x7, but I can perform the part upon request.

There is just one thing I ask of you in return. 

Stupefying Stories was never supposed to be about me. It was never supposed to be about an agenda. Stupefying Stories is about good storytelling, pure and simple, and about using the attention that people seem to want to pay to me, because of some stories I wrote back in the 1980s and 1990s, to get them to pay attention to newer and younger writers who are writing great new stories right now.

When I first began my career as a writer, I had the good fortune to learn from a lot of really good people who took the time and trouble to believe in me and help me along. Most of them are dead or retired now, so I can’t pay them back for their kindness and support, but I can pay it forward.

Stupefying Stories is me, paying it forward.

So right here and now, I will offer you a deal. Yes, I am the Bruce Bethke. I am the guy who wrote “Cyberpunk.” And I will be happy to engage on the topic and answer all of your questions as best as my time permits. All I ask of you in return is that you read Stupefying Stories, and pay some attention to the writers whose careers I think deserve a boost.

Sound fair enough to you? Good. Then let’s begin the conversation:

“Hi, I’m the Bruce Bethke™. What would you like to talk about?”

 



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 Finale music notation engine (among other things), but spent most of his career in supercomputer software R&D, doing work that was 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.

Now retired, he runs Rampant Loon Press and Stupefying Stories purely for the sheer love of genre fiction and the short story form. He can be reached either through comments left here, by email through his web site at brucebethke.com, or via facebook.com/bruce.bethke 



 


Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Talking Shop: MacGyver, Mood Congruence, and Building Good Characters • by Eric Dontigney


So, I was reading about MacGyver (the 1980s incarnation) the other day because that’s the kind of thing you do if you’re thinking about Swiss Army Knives, you’re American, and you remember anything about 80’s pop culture. One of the things they mention in the article is that he displays something called mood congruence. The basic explanation of mood congruence is this: a person’s (or for our purposes, a character’s) emotional state shows consistency with the broader situation. For example, MacGyver gets sad when faced with a personal loss.

It seemed like a trite sort of observation at first blush. I mean, obviously, characters’ emotions should reflect the situation they are in within the bounds of their roles. Except, it’s not so obvious. In fact, characters in books, films, and TV shows routinely fail to show emotional congruence. It’s especially bad among “heroes.” How often do we see heroes blithely waltz through absolutely lethal situations with a pithy comment on their lips? How often do we see these characters shrug off the horror of some tragedy with no ill effect?

Don’t get me, wrong. A little gallows humor is a perfectly acceptable coping strategy for characters…in the moment. Compartmentalization is a perfectly acceptable coping strategy for characters…in the moment. Yet, these coping strategies presuppose some emotional awareness on the part of the characters. Without that emotional awareness, you’ve just got an emotional zombie pantomiming the actions of a hero.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how important something like mood congruence is to building good characters. Now, novelists have it a lot easier than people making movies or TV shows. It takes an uncommonly skilled actor or actress to convey that inner awareness and inner turmoil without recourse to clumsy dialogue or even clumsier narration/voiceover work. As novelists, we can explore that ground with relative ease. The real question is why so many of us don’t. It’s pretty common to find protagonists with inner monologues as blasé about pain, suffering, and tragedy as their exterior posturings project.

I’m not advocating that every author must plumb the depths of their characters’ emotional states. That would get tedious, especially in action-driven genre fiction. What I am suggesting is that having characters exhibit a bit more mood congruence, if only in their internal musings, would create better characters. A good character is one that the reader can relate to on some level. We all cheer for Superman because he’s superhuman and accomplishes superhuman feats. But, in the end, he’s not especially relatable. We admire Batman because we can understand and relate to him on some level. Most of us have felt fury at some injustice. We can think to ourselves:

“If I had billions of dollars, I might have gone that way.”

We love MacGyver because he’s a direct reflection of us. He might be smarter than most of us, but that’s it. He’s not made superhuman by solar radiation or afforded the force multiplication of billion-dollar technology. He’s a smart guy who feels the things we expect we’d feel in the same situations. Then, he pushes through those feelings as best as he can to get the job done. When it’s over, though, he’s affected by what he’s seen. He doesn’t shrug it all off like nothing happened. It’s that mood congruence that lets us invest in him in ways that we never can with those emotional zombie “heroes.”

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Speaking of the Mythaxis Review interview

What was meant as a one-line throwaway joke about The Adventures of Mindy the Vampire Shagger has proven surprisingly resonant. Actually, we have great plans for dear Mindy. Therefore, let’s establish this right up front:

Mindy the Vampire ShaggerTM is a trademark of Rampant Loon Media LLC. 

 

Yet another example of our having to act all corporationy. Sigh. 

Speaking of data...


I did an interview with Mythaxis Review last week.
 

Apparently the response to it has been way beyond their expectations. I don’t have current numbers, but the most recent numbers I do have show that it’s had nearly 1,400 views, in four days.

More surprising to me was finding the interview being quoted and cited on other web sites. I am unused to this level of attention, or rather, unused to having people take me seriously. 

If you haven’t read the interview, here’s what seems to be the money quote. The question was about supercomputers, AI, and nightmare scenarios. I’ll skip the tech talk about massively parallel processor architectures, interconnects, and computational fluid dynamics, and go right to the nightmare:

“...for me, the most frightening possibilities are those that involve the misuse by unscrupulous politicians and or corporations of the kinds of insights and inferences than can be drawn from such extensive data mining. The things that are being done right now, and that will be coming online in the few years, should scare the Hell out of any civil libertarian.”

In response to a follow-up question, I elaborated. Actually, this is the slightly further elaboration, that I sent too late to make their publishing deadline.

“What we’re talking about here is a field generally called “big data.” It’s the science of extracting presumably meaningful information from the enormous amount of data that’s being collected—well, everywhere, all the time. “Big data” tries to take information from disparate sources—structured and unstructured databases, credit bureaus, utility records, social media behavior, consumption patterns, “the cloud,” pretty much everything—mashes it together, looks for coherences and correlations, and then tries to turn it into meaningful and actionable intelligence—for who? To do what with it? Those are the questions.

“For just a small example: do you really want an AI bot to report to your medical clinic—or worse, to make medical treatment decisions—based on your credit card and cell phone dutifully reporting exactly when and for how long you were in the pub and exactly what you ate and drank? Or how about having it phone the Police, if you pay for a round of pints for your mates and then get into the driver’s seat of your car?

“That’s coming. In the future you will live your life constantly surrounded by a cloud of tiny AI gadflies, all tormenting you without pause or mercy, because it’s for your own good.

“And that’s the optimistic view. As a fellow from a government agency whose name or even acronym I am forbidden to say out-loud told me, “Go ahead and imagine that you have privacy, if it makes you feel better.” ”

Yeah. Cyberpunk Revisited, indeed. 

Anyway, the magazine is called Mythaxis Review. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s bold, and it’s definitely worth paying attention to what they’re doing. Check it out.

   

THE MIDNIGHT GROUND: after-action report

The final numbers are in. During the course of yesterday’s 24-hour free e-book promo 1,713 copies of THE MIDNIGHT GROUND were downloaded and 4,000 KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) were read. The KENP number tracks the Kindle Unlimited subscribers who don't “buy” the book but rather read it out of the KU library. The book ended up being a Top 10 bestseller in a couple of categories but I don't think it hit #1 in any of them.

Here’s hoping some of those readers post reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. I’m already getting feedback from kind comments and positive reviews posted on other websites, but it’s the number of ratings posted on Amazon that engages Amazon’s automatic push-selling algorithms. The magic number is 50.

For reference, I believe this is a one-day one-title one-author record for us. The Campbellian Anthologies moved more copies faster, but those books were massive multi-author collections that nearly killed our business with Death By Administrative Overhead. (They did kill our original web server with bandwidth overload. That was fun. And expensive.)

As for the KENP: we haven’t seen these kinds of numbers since Henry Vogel’s THE FUGITIVE HEIR series was burning up the charts. This to me is the more meaningful number. It’s nice when people download your e-books, but the KENP proves people are reading them.

Much valuable data was collected from this experiment. I look forward to applying the lessons learned.

~brb