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Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Notes towards a manifesto • 5

 

The Department of Useless Prescience checks in, reinforcing the idea that I am trapped inside a time loop. As I was writing this morning’s post I began to get a profound feeling of déjà vu all over again, so I checked and—yep.

From the July 2005 issue of Strange Horizons, with a few pertinent edits:

Lynne Jamneck: What's your opinion on the current state of SF writing?

Bruce Bethke: I believe you've actually asked at least three questions here. In terms of pure writing, the current state is better than it's ever been before. Compare any current issue of any major magazine to the clunky prose produced by the Grand Masters during the Golden Age or the psychotic fugues whipped out by the Young Turks during the New Wave, and I think you'll agree that for sheer literary quality, there are more highly skilled writers working now than ever before.

In terms of the market, on the other hand, things right now are as bad as I've ever seen in my adult life. From what I've read, you'd have to go back to around 1960 to find a time when the paying market for new SF was as tough.

What this means for writers, then, is that there are a lot of very talented people doing a lot of extremely good work, and publishing it in some pretty marginal venues. It's a difficult time to be trying to earn your living as a professional science fiction writer.


Lynne Jamneck: Are you seeing any interesting avenues in which the genre finds itself expanding?

Bruce Bethke: I think it's a mistake to talk about “the genre” as if it were a monolith. There may have been a time when it was possible for a dedicated fan to read a good sampling of all the new SF being published, but that time—if it ever really was—was long ago. What we’ve been going through for at least the last 30 [~brb: make that 45] years has been a sort of literary cladogenesis, with “the genre” fragmenting into dozens [hundreds] of related but distinct daughter-genres and microgenres.

The interesting part of this is that, between print-on-demand publishing, e-publishing, web publishing, and all the other emerging technologies, it's now at least semi-practical to publish fiction that has no hope of ever appealing to a mass audience. If you wanted to, say, launch an e-zine devoted exclusively to publishing stories about promiscuous centaurs living in trailer parks in Alabama, you could do it, and do a very professional-looking job of it. Not only that, but thanks to the Internet, you would actually stand a pretty fair chance of reaching the 500 people in the world who want to read nothing but stories about promiscuous centaurs living in trailer parks in Alabama. So there's more fiction being published than ever before.

The downside for the writer, though, is that there's no money in it. The general interest magazines appear to be following the general interest anthologies into extinction, and extreme specialization and small-niche marketing seem to be the shape of things to come. Readers now have unprecedented power to find only exactly the types of fiction they want to read, without risk of accidental exposure to anything else. I suppose they've always had this power—I can think of entire years when I subscribed to Asimov's and only read two or three stories in each issue—but at least with a general interest magazine, there was always the possibility that after you'd read the Michael Swanwick and Lucius Shepard stories, you might take a chance on Karen Joy Fowler.

But this trend towards extreme narrowcasting—it's both fascinating and disturbing. When readers can exercise such fine control over the input they receive, how does a writer crack through that protective shell?

And more germane to Rampant Loon Press and the future of Stupefying Stories: how does a publisher do it? 

—Bruce Bethke 

___________________________________


In the meantime, while you’re pondering the answer to that question, please take a moment now to make an affordable donation to the Campaign to Save General-Interest Magazines from Extinction, by clicking the following link:

stupefy (ˈstü-pə-ˌfī) to stun, astonish, or astound

Edited by award-winning author Bruce Bethke, STUPEFYING STORIES is a bold attempt to grow a new general-interest science fiction and fantasy magazine from the ground up. For the past ten years we've been a part-time purely-for-the-love-of-it affair publishing on a wildly erratic schedule, but our goal is to grow to become a regular monthly magazine that pays pro rates—

And here's the radical part: we want to do this not by chasing after foundation grants, asking people to contribute to our crowdfunding campaign, or begging passers-by for spare change, but by selling books and magazines that people LIKE TO READ!

Available on Kindle, in paperback, and free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Why not take a minute now to check us out?  

Monday, June 14, 2021

Notes towards a manifesto • 4


In another of my recent web chats, I was asked once again to recount the saga of how “Cyberpunk” went from being a new story, fresh and young and full of hope and promise, to at last becoming a published story, a bit jaded, weary, and battle-worn by the time it got there. 

In somewhat compressed form, the tale goes like this: in the early spring of 1980 I wrote the original version of the story, which ended with the paradigm shift and the words, “Dad, there’s going to be some changes around here.” I immediately sent it off to George Scithers at Asimov’s, who hung onto it for a bit longer than usual, then sent it back with a letter detailing everything that was wrong with my story but inviting me to rewrite it and resubmit. In particular he wanted me to fix the ending, on the grounds that Asimov’s readers would never go for an ending in which the tech-savvy teenage punk was able to win because he understood the emerging new technology far better than his father did.

I thought about that for a bit, then slapped on a coda in which Mikey gets his comeuppance and gets packed off to a military boarding school. I resubmitted the story to Asimov’s, and this time it stayed there for quite a bit longer than usual, then came back with a note from Scithers saying that while the story was improved, he’d run it by a real mainframe computer expert, and the whole idea of punk kids running around causing serious trouble using cheap computers the size of notebooks was just too far-fetched to be credible.

After Scithers at Asimov’s rejected the story a second time, I shrugged, then sent it to the next magazine on my target list: either Analog or OMNI, I can’t remember which and don’t feel like looking it up right now. The point is, between the summer of 1980 and the summer of 1981, every editor at every major magazine then in the science fiction publishing business got the chance to read this story.

And every one of them rejected it, usually with some variation on the “Real close, nice try kid,” brush-off.

In the summer of 1981 I sent the story to Amazing Stories. Founded in 1926 by Hugo Gernsback—the Hugo Gernsback, for whom the Hugo Awards are named—by 1981 Amazing was the Nora Desmond of science fiction publishing; a once-grand old lady lately fallen on hard times, and no longer considered even close to being an “A-list” market. What I didn’t know then was that there was also a lot of turmoil going on behind the scenes, as the magazine was in the process of being acquired by TSR (the makers of Dungeons & Dragons), and the editorial staff was struggling with continuing to put out a magazine while also wondering whether they’d still have jobs once the acquisition was complete. (It turned out the answer was no, they didn’t.) 

My story sat gathering dust at Amazing for about a year. In response to my ever-more-frantic queries I received a series of ever-more-promising replies from a soon to be unemployed assistant editor, until finally my last shit-or-get-off-the-pot query produced a reply from none other than George Scithers, just hired away from Asimov’s. Scithers informed me that the outgoing editorial staff had thrown out every manuscript they’d been holding for further consideration and I should consider my submission lost. However, if I wanted to resubmit the story…

I shrugged, thought ‘why not?’, and sent a fresh printout of the manuscript to Scithers, who loved it, had to have it, and in July of 1982 finally bought it. It was published in the November 1983 issue of Amazing—strictly speaking, AMAZINGTM Science Fiction Stories combined with FANTASTICTM Stories; the magazine by that point was quite a conglomeration of merged trademarks—which was on the newsstands in September of 1983. 

And the rest, as they say, is history.

¤     ¤     ¤

Looking back from the vantage point of now, the lesson here is simple: everything changes. Writers change and grow. (At least, I hope you do.) Readers change. Publishers change. Markets change. Magazines change.

Even editors change.

In 1980, George Scithers was the four-time Hugo Award-winning editor of Asimov’s, the top magazine in the field. (Although Ellen Datlow over at OMNI probably would have argued with that.) In that role George’s job was to keep Asimov’s the best-selling monthly magazine in the industry, and between the magazine’s reputation and Davis Publications’ generous budget he had first pick of the best stories being produced by the best short-story writers then working. The 1980 George Scithers had no trouble filling every issue with first-rate stories by “big name” authors.

In 1982, George Scithers was the new editor at Amazing, and his job was to use TSR’s enormous budget and marketing power to dethrone Asimov’s. The problem was that because of Amazing’s dodgy reputation and faltering circulation, a lot of “his” writers chose to stay with Asimov’s rather than follow him to Amazing. He would have to start over and develop a new talent pool.

In short, the 1980 Scithers didn’t need to take risks, he just needed to keep doing what he’d been doing all along. The 1982 Scithers absolutely had to take risks and be open to finding new talent, because that was the only way he would be able to grow his magazine’s circulation.

That, in a nutshell, is what turned a story that was unacceptable in 1980, and rejected by every major editor then working in the business, into the legend that was born in 1983. Not one word of the story changed.

The only thing that changed was the relative career situation of the editor who had rejected it twice, and then on the third try bought and published it.

Submitted for your consideration,

—Bruce Bethke

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Stupefying Stories Reviews: Love, Death, and Robots


I’ll watch anything if you don’t waste my time • by Pete Wood

I had serious déjà vu with two movies I streamed last week. Triangle (2009) tells the story of five shipwreck survivors who are rescued by a deserted ocean liner. Great premise. They wander around the ship, behaving stupidly, and really bad things happen over and over and over again. I’m not going to rehash the plot or waste your time with a review, but the film had a great hook, a great nugget, until it became repetitive. Encyclopedia Brown or Fred and Velma would have figured out how to get off that damned ship in half an hour. It didn’t take 100 minutes to tell this story. I eventually just fast forwarded through large chunks of the movie to see the resolution.

Same experience with Winchester (2018). Amazing premise. True premise. A premise that hooked me when I was eleven years old to the extent that I convinced my parents to go a hundred miles out of our way on a California vacation so I could tour the real Winchester House. The widow of the founder of the Winchester Rifle Company believed she needed to keep adding onto her house or the spirits of the victims of all those Winchester rifles would—well, she didn’t want to find out what they’d do. A great hook for a Ripley’s Believe it or Not article. Not enough for a two-hour movie, even if you add dimwitted characters and the same jump scares repeated ad nauseum.

What I’m getting at is that not every idea can sustain a movie or, God help us, a miniseries. Netflix seems to specialize in dragging out ideas that might make good Twilight Zone episodes. Behind Her Eyes, Oxygen, and Stowaway were padded beyond belief.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate everything done by Netflix. If you want to watch a good Netflix series, check out Money Heist—the first season only; or the Queen’s Gambit; or the best time travel show ever made, Dark.

Or Love, Death, and Robots. This animated Netflix series will not waste your time.  Almost all of its 26 episodes clock in at around ten minutes or less. Just about any episode has more authentic characters than Oxygen or Stowaway or Winchester or Triangle combined. Like it’s great granddaddy, The Twilight Zone, it realizes you don’t need length to tell a compelling story. Most Twilight Zone episodes sucked you in with plots under 25 minutes. Love, Death, and Robots doesn’t wear out its welcome either.

Pop Squad, for example, might remind you of Bladerunner. In a dystopian future, elite polite officers seek out illegal children. No spoilers here, but the story is haunting and the characters reactions to their plights are logical and believable.

Zima Blue packs in more theology and philosophy into its short running time than most big budget films. You’ll want to rewind this one and watch it again.

In Beyond the Aquila Rift, a ship’s crew awakens from suspended animation in uncharted space. This might be the show’s best episode. Its economical story telling is in sharp contrast to bloated space adventures like Prometheus. And it’s infinitely better than Prometheus.

Look, I don’t have a short attention span. I have no qualms with watching long drawn-out story arcs. I enjoyed all seven seasons of Mad Men, for God’s sake. I just can’t stomach bad story telling. I didn’t fast forward to the ends of Winchester and Triangle, because I lacked patience. I zipped to the ends because the films were wasting my time. I never skipped ahead in Bladerunner or Total Recall or a single episode of Mad Men.

Love, Death, and Robots debuted in 2019 and is the brainchild of animator Tim Miller. Miller directed a couple of episodes and wrote six more. The show is largely a group effort with a rotating gang of directors, writers, and talented voice actors.

Not every episode of the series is a gem. Some have issues, but you won’t squander an evening finding that out. For every bad episode of the show, there are five or six compelling ones. Some are based on stories by the likes of J.G. Ballard and Harlan Ellison.

Love, Death, and Robots works because it doesn’t milk a premise. So many bad movies have characters behaving implausibly and not asking intelligent questions just so the plot can drag on. Not so with Miller’s series. Characters act like most people would. They don’t go into the basement. They don’t split up so they can be picked off one by one. They ask intelligent questions and have a self-preservation instinct. You know, like real people. They figure things out and don’t waste your time.

And in the process, something magical happens. The characters transcend being in cartoon shorts. They become multi-dimensional and sympathetic. I didn’t give a crap about any of the characters in Triangle or Winchester, but emphasized with every character in Love, Death, and Robots.

That’s good story telling.

—Pete Wood


¤     ¤     ¤


Pete Wood
is an attorney in Raleigh, North Carolina, where he lives with his kind and very patient wife. His first appearance in our pages was “Mission Accomplished” in the now out-of-print August 2012 issue. After publishing a lot of stories with us he graduated to being a regular contributor to Asimov’s, but he’s still kind enough to send us things we can publish from time to time, and we’re always happy to get them








________________________________


Do you miss Firefly? Do you like The Expanse? If so, then The Privateers of Mars is exactly what you need. [...] Structured as three loosely interconnected short stories, it reads like three episodes of a great science fiction show that you wish someone would make.”

—Amazon reader review




 

Friday, June 11, 2021

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Roxana Arama




Pete Wood writes:

When I created this contest, I expected nothing but tongue-in-cheek takes on time travel tropes. While several writers didn’t disappoint with humorous entries, the variety of the stories surprised me. It never occurred to me that my writing prompt could inspire a serious story, a literary story.

Roxana knocked it out of the park and she had some tough competition. Her depth of character and pathos in only five hundred words is a feat. I hope you like her story as much as I did. I think we’ll be hearing more from her.



 

The time machine had been in my garage for months, but I never touched it. I’d read too many sci-fi stories of messed-up timelines. My father left it to me together with a manual and two letters. One, marked the year I turned eight, 27 years ago, said, “Come visit, son!” plus time-traveling instructions. The other, written just before his death, only said, “You were right. Please forgive me!”

I barely knew the guy. Mom and I moved away after their divorce, and he was too busy with his research to video chat once a week with his five-year-old son. When we moved back, he tried to contact me, but by then he was a stranger. When he died, I felt nothing. My anger with him had died long before that.

For months, that human-sized box had been taking up space, so I finally wrote an online ad, “For sale: Used time machine. No refunds!” I’d sell it to a scientist for research and donate the money to an animal shelter. No hits though—people thought it was a joke. No one had managed to build a time machine, but I suspected my dad had. The ad was taken down the next day. The site admins thought it was code for crime.

But now I was determined to get rid of it. I was unscrewing its door hinges when I heard noises outside. A buyer maybe? I hadn’t done too much damage, so I opened the garage door and called out.

A man walked in. Familiar look, though his clothes were out-of-date. Next thing, he bear-hugged me.

I pulled back.

“It’s Dad.” He wiped his eyes. “No, call me Josh. We’re almost the same age.”

It was Dad alright. He looked like the pictures I grew up with, of the great scientist whose work was more important than his kid. Seeing him here was messed up—but proof his invention worked.

He looked around. “That’s my time machine! Older… and with a broken door? Then, why didn’t you come? Got my letter? I’ve been waiting a whole year.”

“A whole year? Tough.”

“I finished it three years after your mom said screens were bad for kids’ brains and ended our video chats.” He smiled. “I traveled with it and watched you grow.”

“Don’t remember you anywhere.”

“I made my will and waited for you. I thought you’d understand, as an adult, how much a father would miss his son.”

I shrugged. “Fathers and sons? No idea.”

“We can now catch up on lost time—”

“Josh, stop. Stay away from me. And my timeline. Better still, take the rest of your life and figure out how your four years of hardship compare to my growing up without a father.”

He looked crushed. After he left, as I screwed the hinges back in, I realized he’d actually taken my advice and reflected until close to his death. Ever the scientist, he’d left the first letter in his will—for timeline continuity.

¤     ¤     ¤

 


Roxana Arama is a Romanian-American writer and a member of Codex Writers’ Group. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, her work has been acknowledged in several literary contests and magazines, and she maintains the website Rewriting History: How writers turn history into story, and story into history at www.roxanaarama.com. She lives in Seattle with her family. Follow her on Twitter at @RoxanaArama.





_____________________________


stupefy (ˈstü-pə-ˌfī) to stun, astonish, or astound

Edited by award-winning author Bruce Bethke, STUPEFYING STORIES is a bold attempt to grow a new general-interest science fiction and fantasy magazine from the ground up. For the past ten years we've been a part-time purely-for-the-love-of-it affair publishing on a wildly erratic schedule, but our goal is to grow to become a regular monthly magazine that pays pro rates—

And here's the radical part: we want to do this not by chasing after foundation grants, asking people to contribute to our crowdfunding campaign, or begging passers-by for spare change, but by selling books and magazines that people LIKE TO READ!

Available on Kindle, in paperback, and free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.
Why not take a minute now to check us out?  





Thursday, June 10, 2021

Re “The Pete Wood Challenge”

Just in case you missed "Would you like fries with that?" week here on Stupefying Stories, this is a link to all eleven microflash stories we published that week—albeit in LIFO order. We'll have to find a way to fix that.

https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/Want%20Fries%20With%20That%3F

If you missed "Wish You Were Here" week here on Stupefying Stories, this is a link to all ten microflash stories (I'm told they're probably termed "drabbles") we published that week. Despite the name, only one of these stories had anything to do with the old Pink Floyd album. 

https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/Wish%20You%20Were%20Here

Right now we’re running "Timey-Wimey Week." We've published four stories so far—all longer than the previous weeks' drabbles—and if I've coded this right, this link should also take you straight to the fifth story (which all modesty aside, is a real knockout), when it goes live at 0700 CDT tomorrow morning.

https://stupefyingstories.blogspot.com/search/label/timey-wimey%20week

If you’re looking for an explanation of The Pete Wood Challenge, and particularly if you’re looking for official rules, I’m afraid you’re going to have to track down Pete and ask him. I think he’s making it up as he goes along. 

—brb

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Vivek Mittal




This week The Pete Wood Challenge stems from a simple want ad, like you might see on Craigslist: “For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!” We’re doing something a bit different this time, though, in that we’ve selected fewer but longer stories, and we’ve saved the best for last. Today, second place goes to Vivek Mittal, for a story about…

Well, as Pete Wood puts it, “This is my second favorite story because it thinks small. Vivek Mittal presents the dangers of time travel and a neat little Paradox on a small scale with some authentic characters. No need for a big twist where the Nazis win World War II. Well done.”

Sounds interesting? Then read on…

—brb


 


“And you want how much for it?” The buyer’s wrinkled clothes reeked of cigarettes. He showed up the day after I posted the ad in the outpost dining area. Just in time.  

“I’d be happy with $50K.” I scratched the fresh scab on my face. I didn’t want to bring attention to it yet, but couldn’t help it. 

“That’s a lot. What did this thing do to you?” He pointed up, then down my body.

“It didn’t do anything to me. I just got a bit carried away.”

He hesitated, then said, “What did you do then?”  

“I made some changes.”

“And…?”

“It’s fixed.”

“That’s weird. Anyway, does it work?”

“Yes. A lot.”

“How far back can it go? The other models I’ve looked at go back max 5 years.”

“Oh this one, it goes backwards and forwards, up to a hundred years.”

“What? That tech is out already?”

“Not exactly. I modified the machine based on the time travel wiki…and other sources. You could probably modify it further once you buy…”

“No, no, the way it is seems fine. I don’t have time for all that.  Plus I’ve got kids, so I can’t be tinkering around with radioactive parts. Speaking of which, is it sealed?”

“Yes, I did it myself.  What do you plan to do?”

“We’ll go back to see my mother. She passed last year. I’ve been saving up since.”

“Sounds simple; it’s a good idea. Don’t do what I did.”

“What did you do?”  

“I saw some old friends, and did a few other things.”

“How long were you gone?”

“About a year. But when you travel as much as I did, your body, it takes a toll.”

“What did you, uh, fix?” He was starting to see the connection.

“I should have more in the bank by the time I’m done.”  The buyer’s eyebrows shot up.

“How so?”

“It’s all planned out.  Excuse me.”  I spit out some blood. Then felt a new sore opening on my chest. “For one, by arranging this meeting.”

“What do you mean? I just answered your ad.”

“I needed someone trustworthy to buy it and someone that could pay me what it’s worth.”

“We just met; that’s bullshit.”

“This is just the first of many meetings. So do we have a deal?” I looked up and waved to a man walking towards us with a slight limp.

Ignoring me, the buyer said, “Shit then, tell me whats going to happen in the next ten minutes. Can you do that?”

“Let’s just say it may not be what you expect.” As the man came into view, I could see a face pockmarked with scabs, burning cigarette in hand. The buyer knew who it was even before turning around. 

The future version of the buyer told him matter of factly, “Just get the stupid thing. It’ll be worth it.” 

¤     ¤     ¤

 


Vivek Mittal is a dad, attorney, and writer. He attended Voices of our Nation (VONA) in 2020 where he was mentored by Tananarive Due. He has taken workshops with Neelanjana Banerjee, D’Lo, and Sehba Sarwar. Much of his work is speculative, though not all. His work has appeared in a STEAM multi-issue zine collaboration with NExSci, in The Aerogram, and in the Asian Pacific American Law Journal

When not writing or working, he explores the wonders of the world with his partner and two kids. 





________________________________



Okay, Bruce Bethke here, editor of Stupefying Stories and CEO of Rampant Loon Press, and I’m going to make this pitch very simple, direct, and personal. If you like cyberpunk fiction, the guy who wrote the original “Cyberpunk” story 40 years ago (me) thinks you need to read “Eddie’s Upgrade” by Kevin Stadt, just one of a dozen great new stories in Stupefying Stories 23.

And keep your eye on Stadt. He’s a writer to watch. 

Stupefying Stories 23: available now in paperback, on Kindle, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. Buy it now.



Wednesday, June 9, 2021

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Duke Kimball

 



We’re doing something a bit different with The Pete Wood Challenge this week: fewer but longer stories. This week we’re presenting five stories, a new one each morning, all of which stem from a simple want ad, like you might see on Craigslist: “For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!”

And with that we turn it over to Duke Kimball

—brb


 


“Does it work?”

“Tranny’s busted.” The old man spat, eyeing Mac distrustfully. “No reverse.”

Mac shrugged. “How can you tell?”

The machine didn’t look like much. Certainly didn’t look like a car. Or a plane. It looked like an old rusted propane tank with a hospital bed bolted to the side. Made Mac’s Buick Electra look like a damn spaceship.

A few levers on a panel, which sat below a flat pane of opaque black glass. One of them had been snapped off midway, a jagged piece of metal with a big strip of duct tape over it. Presumably that one was reverse. Mac prodded it. It felt seized.

The old man shook his head. “Look. It moves through time, but it ain’t going backward. Just forward. So if you want it, you better not want to come back.” He took a flat brown bottle from his back pocket and took a pull off it. 

Mac checked his watch. 1:30. “Little early for that, ain’t it?”

The man scowled, turned away. Mac grabbed him by the shoulder. “Alright, old timer, no offense. If they got these in the future, can’t I just get it fixed?”

The old man barked out a wheeze of a laugh. Like the machine with the hand-painted sign in front of it, it seemed seldom used. “Not if I did what I came to do” He pointed at it. “That thing is dangerous. Ain’t nobody should have that kinda power.”

Mac raised an eyebrow. “Why sell it then?”

The old man took another pull off the bottle, draining it. he tossed it behind a bush by his busted-down porch, and Mac heard the crash and tinkling of glass on broken glass. “Need the money, I ‘spose.”

Mac sighed. Fiddled with his wedding ring. Eyed the suitcase in the backseat of the Buick. “No coming back, huh?”

“You heard me.” The old man’s eyes softened, just a little. “Shouldn’t be too bad there though. I hope.” He glanced back at the run-down shack, the ramshackle barn behind it. “I’m happy here, though. It’s… simple.”

They took a long minute, listening to the birds and insects chitter around them. Mac found the old man’s eyes unsettling. Something in them didn’t belong in a broken old man. They had a youthful fire buried in them. 

Mac coughed. “I think I need some time to think about it.” He moseyed back to the car before waving at the old man, who watched the young fella get in the convertible and drive back off down the old dirt road. And then he spat.

“They always do,” he mumbled.

He took the time to kick another dent in the side of the damned thing before shuffling back into the house. 

¤     ¤     ¤

 


Duke Kimball
is a literary boat captain who doesn’t currently own a boat. His work has appeared in places like Mysterion, Star*Line, and Strange Horizons. He lives in Lansing, Michigan, with his wife Michelle and a dog named after a cheese factory.

 

 

 

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Gustavo Bondoni

 


We’re doing something a bit different with The Pete Wood Challenge this week. Fewer stories, but longer stories. This week we’re presenting five stories, a new one each morning, all of which stem from a simple want ad, like you might see on Craigslist: “For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!”

And with that we turn it over to Gustavo Bondoni, an Argentine author who writes primarily in English, a very successful novelist and short story writer, and someone whose work has already been published in fifteen countries and seven languages. This is his first appearance in our pages—although not his first appearance in our submissions inbox, and after taking a quick look at our archives, I do wonder if he ever sold that one about the baby that barks…

—brb


 



“But it was boring!” the pimply woman whined. “Just a bunch of people plowing fields and milking cows.”

“That’s not my fault,” I replied. “The time machine worked exactly as advertised. Besides, I told you: no refunds.”

“Be reasonable,” the bald man said. “We spent most of our savings on this thing. If we can’t get our money back, we’re screwed.”

“I’m not in the financial advice business,” I replied, but their crestfallen expressions got to me. “Why did you need to go back? Are you writing a paper? Studying ancient cultures?”

“We wanted to film old-timey people fighting battles and stuff.”

“And why would you want to do that?”

“A guy on YouTube says you can get a huge number of hits with things like that.”

So, they were morons. It wasn’t a crime, but it wasn’t a reason to give their money back. “What year did you go to?”

“June, 1875.”

“Why?” No major wars that I could think of.

“It was an old-timey time,” the woman replied. Her face indicated that it should have been obvious to me.

“And where did you go?”

“Um…” the guy said. He turned to the woman.

 She turned red. “Middlesex.”

“England?” I asked.

“Massachusetts.”

I tried to think of what might have been happening in rural New England at the time. Precisely nothing.

“But why? Why would you go there, then?”

The bald guy replied. “Well, you know: middle… sex.”

“Oh, God.”

“Don’t judge,” the woman said. “We need to make ends meet. It sounded like there could be some interesting old-timey stuff to film… well, you know.”

“Look, I’ll take the machine off your hands. I won’t give you any money, but at least you can free up this garage.”

“Screw you,” the guy replied. “We’re keeping it. You won’t fleece anyone else.”

I sighed. So that’s the way it was going to be. “How about this? I’ll give you a good date and year. Really interesting times.”

“What’s the catch?” 

“No catch. Here, I’ll set the machine for London in 1665. Make sure you visit the brothels.” I winked at them. “That’s where you’ll get the kind of film you want.”

Skepticism had turned to enthusiasm. They might be idiots, but they knew what a brothel was.

“By the way, do you know what a bubonic is?”

They shrugged.

“Well, no worries. Have fun in 1665.”

They pressed the button and disappeared.

When they didn’t reappear immediately, which was the default for the return trip, I shook my head sadly. “Idiots.”

I’d need to fly to London to retrieve the machine. I’d set the coordinates for a maintenance space under a road, which I knew was still there.

The nice thing about a time machine that only travels into the past and returns is that it always comes back to me, even if the buyers get themselves killed, as they invariably do.  

I’d sold this one sixteen times already. 

¤     ¤     ¤

Gustavo Bondoni is novelist and short story writer with over three hundred stories published in fifteen countries, in seven languages.  He is a member of Codex and an Active Member of SFWA. His latest novel is Test Site Horror (2020). He has also published two other monster books: Ice Station: Death (2019) and Jungle Lab Terror (2020), three science fiction novels: Incursion (2017), Outside (2017) and Siege (2016) and an ebook novella entitled Branch. His short fiction is collected in Pale Reflection (2020), Off the Beaten Path (2019) Tenth Orbit and Other Faraway Places (2010) and Virtuoso and Other Stories (2011).
 
In 2019, Gustavo was awarded second place in the Jim Baen Memorial Contest and in 2018 he received a Judges Commendation (and second place) in The James White Award. He was also a 2019 finalist in the Writers of the Future Contest.
 
His website is at www.gustavobondoni.com


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Calling all heroes...


A beautiful princess, kidnapped and locked away in a sorcerer’s tower. A deadly labyrinth, filled with traps and monsters. So, Mr. Handsome Prince, before you go charging in there with your mighty sword swinging, did it ever occur to you to wonder who maintains that labyrinth?

Find out in GROUNDSKEEPER, by Kirstie Olley, just one of the terrific tales in STUPEFYING STORIES 22!

Available now in paperback, on Kindle, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.



Monday, June 7, 2021

For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds! • by Ray Daley


We’re doing something a bit different with The Pete Wood Challenge this week. Fewer stories, but longer stories. This week we’ll be presenting five stories, a new one each morning, all of which stem from a simple want ad, like you might see on Craigslist: “For Sale: Used Time Machine. No Refunds!”

And with that introduction we turn it over to Ray Daley, who is already well on his way to becoming a Most Frequent Contributor…



Mister beaten up shoes came back again today. His fourth time in the last two days.

“She’s still for sale then?”

I nodded. “Just like yesterday, and the day before. No takers yet.”

“Sign says used? How, exactly?”

Was he stuck in his own time loop? He’d asked me that on the previous three visits. “Went to the future, eighty-three days. I just wanted to check if something had happened or not. It also works in reverse, as it got me back here.”

“Can’t you see who’ll buy it?” He was checking out the main control panel. Again.

“I told you before, don’t touch unless you’re buying it. Sold as seen. And no, I can’t use the machine to do that. You can’t use time travel to influence events. What happens happens.”

I caught him this time. I’d had my suspicions before but only heard the sound. His foot, hitting the machine. The stupid fool thought he could kick the tyres? It didn’t even have tyres. Which might explain a few things.

“I’m still not sure. I might come back tomorrow. If it hasn’t sold. Would you take eight hundred in cash?”

I nodded. I’d listed it for a grand, willing to go down if people brought cash.

I watched him tramp off in a cloud of dust, waiting for it to settle before checking the machine.

¤

I found the crack, a tiny split on the seam, around the rotor cover. I checked the control panel. Yep, it was leaking random time. 

So, Mister beaten up shoes was stuck in his own time loop. The random time had leaked on his shoes, trapping him in a singularity. That was going to be a problem.

“Or not?” That was a familiar voice. I turned around. It was me. Ah, time travel, you crazy mistress! “You travel to before he arrived, perform a triple seal weld on the seams. It won’t crack then. It splits relative determinism, but beaten up shoes will finally make his decision afterwards.”

I wasn’t about to ask how he knew. He’d come from a time where it’d already happened. And not upset things, either.

“So, I go back in time? I’ve only ever done that once. As you well know.”

Best I got going then.

¤

A guy in beaten up shoes rocked up today. “Time Machine for sale? Sign says used? How, exactly?”

“I had a potential buyer kick the thing, split a seam, leaked random time, stuck him in a loop. I had to go back in time, repair the fault before it happened, and stop him from doing it. By the way, don’t kick the machine. Please?”

He raised an eyebrow. “How did you…? Never mind. Sign says a grand. Would you take eight hundred in cash?”

I just put out my hand. The damn thing is his problem now. Then. Will be.

Whatever. Damn time travel. More trouble than it’s worth, if I ask me. I have, and it was. You know what I mean.

¤     ¤     ¤



Ray Daley
was born in Coventry and still lives there. He served six years in the RAF as a clerk and spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet and has been writing stories since he was ten. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitchhiker’s Guide fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986. Tweet him @RayDaleyWriter or check out his web site at https://raymondwriteswrongs.wordpress.com/



 

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In a world...


Where the Soviet Union won WWII, England is now a Soviet satellite, some magic actually works (sometimes), and Premier Kruschev is going eyeball-to-eyeball with President Patton—

The last surviving member of His Majesty’s Dragonslayer Corps is called out of retirement, because it seems dragons aren’t extinct after all and one has taken up residence in a prominent Politburo member’s country estate. Read the rest in THE SHE-DRAGON OF BLY, by Jason D. Wittman, just one of the terrific tales in STUPEFYING STORIES 22!

Available now in paperback, on Kindle, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

 

 

 

 



Sunday, June 6, 2021

Clash of the Schlockmeisters 5 • You Can't Go Wrong with Marvel!

It’s said the West was built on legends. Tall tales that help up make sense of things too great or too terrifying to believe. One such legend comes from the strange and distant land of Hollywood, where it’s accepted as God’s own truth that it’s impossible to do very wrong if you base your film on a successful Marvel® comic book property.

Yeah. Right. 


At first I’d planned to make this week’s clash a head-to-head battle between Ghost Rider and Howard the Duck, but really, the field of botched Marvel adaptations is just too rich to limit it to just those two. Admittedly, slagging the 1979 version of Captain America or the 1977 version of Spider-Man is kind of like beating up a kid in a wheelchair, and until this morning I didn’t even know there was a 1944 version of Captain America, but…

Dolph Lundgren as The Punisher? There was a 1990 version of Captain America? The last X-Men movie was released in 2020? There was a Ghost Rider 2? 

Who knew?!?!?!

So today I’m throwing the discussion wide open. Which of these, or any others you can think of, is in your considered opinion without question the worst adaptation of a Marvel comic book ever brought to the screen?

Well, yes, going strictly by box-office failure it was Man-Thing, but aside from that one, which of these films made you say out loud, “My God, has anyone involved with making this picture actually read the damned comic book?”

Or contrarily, is there any film here that you feel unfairly gets a bad rap? 

Have fun, and see you tomorrow.

~brb


Saturday, June 5, 2021

Notes towards a manifesto • 3

 

In one of my recent web conferences I was asked, “What one piece of advice would you give to new writers?”

That one caught me a bit flat-footed. I tap-danced around the point and eventually gave my usual flippant reply, but seriously, I don‘t know that I can distill it down to one piece of advice. 

I have a lot of advice I could give, that I usually find it best to keep to myself. The reason is that it’s all based on my experiences as a beginning and developing writer in the land of long ago and far away, and that world doesn’t exist anymore. 

You, writing now, are trying to build your careers in a new world, one very different from the one in which I planted and grew my own writing career. For one thing, it is truly a world now, not just a single country on a single continent. 

When I was a short story writer in the 1980s, there were around a half-dozen genre magazines in the U.S. that paid “pro” rates to authors and sold around one hundred thousand copies each, every month. (The numbers were continuously in flux as new magazines were being launched and old magazines being put out of their misery all the time.) 

More significantly to me, it was overwhelmingly an American market. Due to the requirement that would-be contributors had to type and mail paper manuscripts to submissions editors, UK, Australian, and European writers were pretty much excluded from the American market, so there were far fewer writers competing for those publication slots. Editors couldn’t just stick to buying stories from well-known big-name authors, either. There simply weren’t enough well-known big-name authors writing new SF/F short stories to keep the magazine publication pipelines full…

Because all the well-known big-name authors were off writing novels, as that’s where the real money was.

The novel market then was very different, too. Back then there were at least a dozen major publishers with healthy lines of hardcovers and mass-market paperback originals, all competing for shelf space in the indie and chain bookstores. This led to a standard career progression almost every genre writer followed: 

  1. Write short stories until you break into the “pro” magazine market.
  2. Write and sell more short stories until you became a well-known name.
  3. Sign the standard “Rich & Famous” contract with a book publisher.
  4. Graduate to writing novels and never look back!

Again, this was overwhelmingly an American market. There was another world out there, of foreign publishers and translations and reprint rights and all that—and to tell the truth, there were years I made a lot more money off foreign translations and reprints than I did off new American sales—but still, the business of SF/F publishing was overwhelmingly an American genre.

But that’s all gone now.

So that’s the first piece of advice I would give to new writers. Never forget: it’s a world market now. 

...to be continued...

—Bruce Bethke

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