Friday, November 30, 2018

Coming Attractions (& Such)

Tomorrow on SHOWCASE:
“Market Futures,” by M. Ian Bell

A murdered man. An impossibly clean crime scene. Plenty of people with a motive to be the killer, but none with the opportunity, and no one leaves behind a crime scene that devoid of clues. Detective Ellouise Nielson has had some tough cases before, but this one might just set the record...

“Market Futures,” a new futurecrime serial by M. Ian Bell, begins tomorrow morning on SHOWCASE. Catch it!

THE WOLFLING WAR, by Henry Vogel

The fate of mankind will rest in the hands of a young man who doesn’t understand what it means to be human and a young woman who doesn’t understand what it means to be young. Their adventure begins now...

Bestselling SF novelist Henry Vogel is posting the rough draft of his latest novel online while he’s writing it. If you’ve ever wanted to peek over the shoulder of an author at work and offer comments and advice on the book as it’s being written, here’s your chance. The author is listening!

Start here: Chapter 1
 Latest installment: Chapter 39

About that bestselling thing...

Seriously: bestselling. We’ve sold thousands of copies of Vogel’s Matt & Michelle novels. However, we’re aware that some of you out there have not yet been introduced to this series, so...


Also available in audio book and trade paperback formats. Makes a great Christmas gift, or binge-read it yourself. If you already have the first book, the second and third books are waiting for you. Buy all three right now!

Releasing next week:

Sorry, we don’t have an exact release date just yet. We’ll have that in another day or two. In the meantime, the Kindle edition is available now, and for the next 90 days, it will also be free to Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

If all goes according to plan, we should be releasing SS#23 simultaneously in ebook and print formats on December 17. Watch for it!

Thursday, November 29, 2018

On Writing: “After ‘Oath,’” by Guy Stewart

Worlds are supposed to be long-lasting, apparently eternal to those that live on them and even in fact whirling around their stars for a long, long time. This is what I’ve always wanted to do when writing science fiction—create long-lasting worlds so that I could return to them again and again.

Last Saturday’s SHOWCASE story, “Oath”, was the first story to grow from a pair of seeds planted by Bruce Bethke and Henry Vogel. Though “Oath” wasn’t the title then, it eventually became a convoluted intertwining of multiple ideas, characters, and fictional events. It’s not the same story I originally wrote eight years ago.

The whole mess started with Henry Vogel’s Friday Challenge in March of 2010: “Strange Bot In A Strange Land.”
...robots looks and feel entirely human and can do anything physical a human can do... at 18, each person on earth is issued their own companion robot... Each person effectively marries the bot... there are also the Wild Lands... [where]wild humans live almost like animals... a Life Companion and its human have accidentally wandered... outside of the network the Central Computer uses to modify and update all Life Companions…”
Then somehow, that first challenge got tangled up with Bruce Bethke’s March 2011 Challenge, “Seriously: About The Post-Petroleum Future.”
The idea for this Challenge started to come to me as I was driving across Wisconsin a few weeks ago and noting the typically poor condition of the highway surface after a few months of hard winter. Potholes, cracks, frost-heaves, more potholes [...]

Most near-future post-Apocalyptic stories seem to assume the roads and bridges are still there—maybe with a few picturesque weeds growing up out of the cracks, but basically still there—and therefore travelers are not seriously hampered by the terrain. This must be a California idea. (You know, one of those ideas that makes sense only if you live in Southern California?) Here in the Great White North, without constant maintenance, our roads would revert to gravel in just a few winters, even without semi-trailer traffic. [...]

As for the prospects for having working motor vehicles in this post-Apocalyptic future; don't even get me started. Most modern gasoline formulations turn into a sort of gummy varnish if left standing too long, [...].

But then it struck me: why does it have to be post-Apocalyptic? The post-Apocalyptic story line, I think, indicates a general failure on the part of the writer's imagination. Stories about people grubbing for survival in the ruins of our modern technological civilization are in a sense easy to write: all you have to do is imagine the cast and landscape from a Road Warrior movie, add a hero or heroine, stir briskly, and cut to the chases and fight scenes [...]

From the collision of these two challenges, I wrote “Oath” as my entry to a contest I lost—for very good reasons. After that, I wrote “Technopred” and the Life Companions moved off stage, but the Wilds, the wild Humans, the maglevs connecting giant urban areas called Vertical Villages remained. After those two stories, I started to lay a deeper foundation.

I had to understand the forces that had created the situation. The Wilds came about as a result of the coerced relocation of most of the world’s population to the Villages—which is already happening in 2018 ( I skip the messy parts—responses to shortages and government mismanagement (see this:, but as long as we insist on increasing our population, and the young are already moving into the cities, so I just accelerate it.

In my future, we switch power generation to solar where it works, wind where it works, geothermal where it works, water where it works—and then sharpen their efficiencies (and given one small leap in technology: energy storage, i.e. BATTERIES. We need to do something entirely different with that…). We also need to lose our fear of nuclear power—and I have no magic wand to make that happen, but given shortages, people will accept many things that they originally protested. We once embraced it as “the future,” now we run from it like Satan incarnate.

In my future, there are 20,000 Vertical Villages, each holding a half-million people in towers that are built by the release of AI machines sent to deconstruct and recycle every village, town, and city identified as unneeded. Monorails built to run on CHEAPALIN (more about that in a moment) ship recycled materials to the construction sites where Human and robots work side-by-side, creating a visible, clear, intentional link between technology and blue collar workers, a critical link to build and encourage. Like typical urban dwellers, I made the inhabitants of the Villages oblivious to the Wilds and the lands supporting them—though not in active ignorance, but because they no longer think of where their “products” comes from.

I also created a living, post-petroleum genetic amalgam called CHEAPALIN, a patchwork of the DNA of nine organisms. “…the road organism—a bioengineered DNA patchwork of cellulose-producing, heme, eel, ameba, peat moss, alfalfa, leukocytes, iron incorporated in a molecule and a mix of Notothenioidei and Noctilucan cells...acronym CHEAPALIN...[m]odified electric eel cells created current passing through hair-fine iron filaments deposited in the road. A thick black peat pad of iron-rich heme attached to the underside of any car...charged a set of batteries. A magnetic field generated as cars moved over the filaments got read by a microchip implanted in the car’s pad, matching the road’s magnetic field creating a maglev effect. A variety of chlorophyll and alfalfa genes allowed roots growing under the road organism to return nitrogen to the soil, pull up micronutrients and conduct photosynthesis. A semi-transparent, thick cellulose skin protected the whole thing while remaining flexible. A few Notothenioidei genes kept cellular fluids from freezing during brutal winter weather. Noctilucan genes made it glow at night when disturbed. Leukocytes digested roadkill, leaves, branches and old pizza boxes.”

The world that was born out of a post-petroleum future and increasing integration of robots with Humans, has finally grown big enough to contain “Oath” (first published in STUPEFYING STORIES, August 2013), spawning “Technopred” (AURORA WOLF, May 2013), “Invoking Fire” (PERIHELION, June 2013), and the deep past of the Vertical Village universe, “The Last Mayan Aristocrat” (ANALOG, January/February 2017), and actually “Teaching Women to Fly” (STUPEFYING STORIES, September 2010) which is also part of the universe that springs from the Vertical Villages.

There are another six stories that I’ve pretty much set aside; a novel that, now that I’ve discovered its main flaw, I can repair —OUT OF THE DEBTOR STARS—and a YA novel that, while it doesn’t specifically mention the Villages, does take place just after the Villages are complete and Humanity, flush with “saving the planet,” finally turns to really, really exploring the Solar System. You might see it here in 2019 as a serial. There are three stories currently in submission that have grown out of these two Friday Challenges.

Years ago, I made a promise to myself that I would resist the urge to create disposable worlds where I’d write a single story to make a point, then abandon it. Seeded by “Strange Bot in a Strange Land” and crossing in “Seriously: About The Post-Petroleum Future” by Henry Vogel and Bruce Bethke, the progeny have become a complex, rich, and deep world I have started to feel very comfortable in. I expect there are many more stories in this place and for that especially, I thank Bruce and Henry.

In fact, one in submission to Trevor Quachri at ANALOG Science Fiction & Fact, is perhaps the best story I have ever written. I love it because it mixes CHEAPALIN with the time just as rural and suburban areas are being coerced into the Vertical Villages. A bit of roadway escapes a test site and may cause an international incident. The government drafts an online veterinarian consultant in, “Road Veterinarian.” I still like the story title and the idea!

If I sell many more stories and the novels, I may have to arrange for a kickback to Henry and Bruce…

Guy Stewart is a husband supporting his wife, a breast cancer survivor; a father, father-in-law, grandfather, foster father, friend, writer, teacher, and counselor who maintains a SF/YA/Children’s writing blog called POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS; and more seriously, the author of GUY’S GOTTA TALK ABOUT BREAST CANCER AND ALZHEIMER’S. He has 66 publications to his credit, including stories in ANALOG, AOIFE'S KISS, STUPEFYING STORIES, AETHER AGE, AURORA WOLF, CRICKET MAGAZINE, and PERIHELION, and a book that’s been available since 1997. In his spare time he keeps animals, a house, and loves to bike and camp. Guy has been a member of the Stupefying Stories crew since before the beginning, and his Amazon page is here:  

If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy “Bogfather,” which appeared in SHOWCASE just about a year ago, or “Teaching Women to Fly,” which appeared in the very first print-only issue of Stupefying Stories

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Status Update • 11/28/2018

We have a lot of new developments to report, so I’m going to put on my serious business face and cut right to the chase.

» Print Editions: I’m delighted to report that we’ve finally solved the problem of how to generate ebooks and print books from common source files. (And no, Henry, the solution was not, “Buy a Mac.”) Ergo, next week we’ll be releasing Stupefying Stories 22 in trade paperback format, and by the end of December we should have our entire current catalog out in print. If you’re an author with a story in one of the books listed in the right column, we’ll contact you when your book is ready, to confirm your mailing address and then send you your contributor’s copies. If you missed last Monday’s free ebook promotion, be advised that going forward, we’ll be making the Kindle editions free—with the purchase of a print copy. We’ll see how that works out.

» HART’S WAR: If you like Henry Vogel’s Scout’s Honor series, you owe it to yourself to check out HART’S WAR, which is in development editing right now. If you’ve ever wanted to get a look at a novel before it’s released and give the author your personal feedback, here’s your opportunity, as Henry has posted the entire rough draft on his web site. Check it out!

» THE WOLFLING WAR: Since I last mentioned it, Henry has posted two more chapters of his new novel-in-progress, THE WOLFLING WAR, on his web site. If you’ve ever wanted to influence the course of a novel while the author was writing it, you really need to check out THE WOLFLING WAR. The author is listening!

» THE MIDNIGHT GROUND: We’re still looking for a few more beta readers willing to read Eric Dontigney’s upcoming novel, The Midnight Ground. If this jacket blurb interests you and you have time to read and comment on an ARC, email me at
“As middleman to the magical community at large, Adrian Hartworth never sticks around. His nomadic lifestyle keeps him a step ahead of friends, enemies, and all too often, law enforcement. Then he saves Abby Simmons and her grandfather, only to find himself unofficially adopted into their unlucky family. Years of experience tell him that the cancer killing Abby is anything but natural. His instincts say flee.

“Driven by the guilt of a past filled with bad choices, Hartworth delves into Abby’s misfortunes and the town’s dark past. What he discovers lands him at the heart of a century-old battle against an evil he knows he cannot defeat. The man who never sticks around will face a choice: take a stand against a power that will crush him, or a leave a young girl to die and damn thousands in the process.”
» Kindle Unlimited and Other Platforms: A couple of years back we decided to pull our ebooks off all the other non-Kindle platforms, as dealing with the Apple iTunes store, Barnes & Noble, etc., was a royal pain in  the @$$ and to be blunt, a good week’s sales on all the other platforms combined was a slow day on Amazon. Besides, signing up for Kindle Unlimited gave us access to a host of promotional opportunities that Amazon would provide only if we gave Amazon exclusive rights.

Things change. The tracking data suggests that while Kindle Unlimited still helps us sell novels (although not as well as it once did), it actually inhibits sales of Stupefying Stories. Just as people don’t buy albums anymore but rather download individual songs, KU users appear to be cherry-picking just the stories they want to read and ignoring the rest of the issue. This has resulted in a drastic drop in unit sales, and given that our business model is built on selling entire issues, not just a few pages here and there...

Ergo, as books come up for renewal, we’ll be pulling them from Kindle Unlimited and releasing them on other platforms. It’s going to take at least three months to do this, as Amazon requires a 90-day lock on exclusive rights, but by next April we should have our entire catalog out on Kobo, Nook, iTunes, Google Play, and whatever else seems like a good idea.

» Finally, on the Cult of Personality front: While checking the Stupefying Stories 22 listing to make sure it looked okay, I noticed that if I clicked on my name in the list of contributors, I got this list of results—which came as something of a surprise, as I’d spent quite a bit of time pulling together my Amazon Author’s Central publication list. (Amazon at first only wanted to list books I’d written, and not include those I’d merely edited.) When I contacted Amazon customer service to ask about the difference, their answer wasn’t quite, “That’s nice, pops, but what have you done lately?” but it came damned close.

Sigh. A 40-year writing career, down the memory hole.

Looking at the listing again today, I see that Amazon has been gracious enough to allow customers to choose to follow me, if they so desire, but still, mysterious are the ways of the Amazon. (And sad to see that according to their algorithms, Rebel Moon was my most successful book. I guess books that were bestsellers in the years BA {Before Amazon} don’t count.)

Shrug. Enough worrying about Amazon for one day. Back to work.

Kind regards,

Monday, November 26, 2018



To celebrate the release of Stupefying Stories 22, for today only, we’re giving the Kindle edition away FREE for the cost of a click. Download it now from:


(Of course, if you do download it and like what you read, we’d really appreciate your giving it a quick review and a rating.)

And now, the advert copy....

Rampant Loon Press is excited to announce the release of Stupefying Stories 22, featuring the terrific new cover story, THE SHE-DRAGON OF BLY, by Jason D. Wittman. In an alternate timeline in which the Soviet Union won WWII, England is now a Soviet satellite, some magic actually works, and Premier Kruschev is going eyeball-to-eyeball with President Patton, the last surviving member of His Majesty’s Dragonslayer Corps is pulled out of retirement, because it seems dragons are not extinct after all and one has taken up residence in a prominent Politburo member’s country estate. Here there be dragons, indeed!

Also in this issue:

GROUNDSKEEPER • by Kirstie Olley

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 sword swinging, did it ever occur to you to wonder who maintains the labyrinth?


Gef is one of our original contributors, beginning with “A Wolf Like Leroy” in Stupefying Stories #8. “Rain Charmer” is his latest story for us, and it’s a wonderful little contemporary fantasy about... well, about rain. And about being careful what you wish for.

OHŌTSUKU-KAI • by NM Whitley

A terrific next-century science fiction tale set in a world in which the United States is still recovering from the effects of the Second Civil War, the Japanese, Koreans, and Russians are all jostling for position in the Chinese shadow, and someone has discovered a new power source that seems too good to be true...

UPON THE BLOOD-DARK SEA • by Auston Habershaw

Now here be a tale of pirates, dark magic, and darker deeds, spun by master storyteller Auston Habershaw, whose name you may recognize from his appearances in F&SF, Analog, and Galaxy’s Edge, or from his many epic fantasy novels. One of his first published stories, though, was THIEF OF HEARTS in Stupefying Stories #7, and he’s been a frequent contributor ever since.


Pirates, ghosts, and kids on a summer adventure; danger, excitement, and a terrible curse: what’s not to like? Loads of fun.


A paranormal mystery caper set in a world in which parallel versions of London exist in overlapping space/time, but only those with the gift can cross between them. A stolen magical artifact might have the power to destroy them all: let the chase begin!


A terrific hard-SF generation ship story with Mark’s usual totally out of left field “Whoa, didn’t see that coming!” twist. Clever ideas; great fun—albeit with a dark edge that should stick with you long after you’ve finished the story.

GLAMOUR FOR TWO • by Judith Field

Finally, we end this issue with GLAMOUR FOR TWO, another sweet and clever little contemporary fantasy story from Judith Field. We’ve been in love with Judith’s writing ever since THE PROTOTYPE first showed up in our inbox, and subsequently in Stupefying Stories 6. She’s been a regular contributor to both Stupefying Stories and SHOWCASE ever since—we practically created the THEIAN JOURNAL concept around her story, “The Fissure of Rolando”—and if you haven’t yet read her short-story collection, THE BOOK OF JUDITH, this story is a good introduction. If you have read THE BOOK OF JUDITH, you’ll be happy to know that this is her first new “Court & Anderson” story in years.

From magic, to mystery, to science fiction so hard it clanks, here are nine tales to chill, thrill, excite and amuse you.  Always fresh and entertaining, never formulaic or predictable, Stupefying Stories is the great new reading you've been looking for! Download it now!


Sunday, November 25, 2018

OP-ED: “A Generation Ship The Size of a Small Planet,” by Bruce Bethke

Nota Bene: You can blame Guy Stewart for this. A few days ago he sent me off on a quest into the RLP archives to find some things relating to his short story, “Oath,” and along the way I found this one again. I had a vague recollection of having written it, and had always meant to revisit the core idea for a new feature to be called either Tropisms or Books I’ll Never Finish, but after re-reading it now—and especially after seeing the conclusions I reached then—I present it to you now much as it first appeared in 2008, save for some typographical corrections and added illustrations. All attendant ironies remain intact.

The Multi-Generational Con (Part I)

In the course of a discussion of Social Security, a reader named Athor Pel asked a few of my favorite questions.
I’ve been pondering some questions lately.

Why are we willing to pay taxes?

1) that we didn’t vote into existence

2) to a government that we didn’t have any say in creating originally

It was all in place before we were born.

Why should we play the game? 
These are some of my favorite questions, and not because I’m advocating a tax revolt—although I do believe that if we did not have automatic income tax withholding, and if all gainfully employed Americans therefore had to write a check to the government every three months just as we gainfully self-employed people do, then we would have one very angry tax revolt in very hot progress in very short order—

No, these questions fascinate me because of one of the hoary old mainstays of hard science fiction: the generation ship.

The idea, if you’re not familiar with it, goes like this. Since we know that the speed of light in a vacuum, c, is not just the law, it’s the absolute limit, and we know that hyperdrive, warp drive, jump drive, and all the other variously named ways of getting beyond c are merely convenient fictional gimmicks with no basis in reality, the other obvious way for humans to cross vast interstellar distances is by building ships so big they’re self-contained ecologies, and then launching them out with the assumption that the crew will breed, and it will be their many-generations-removed descendants who will actually arrive at wherever it is the ship is going.

Heinlein got a lot of mileage out of this idea. I grew up on his Starship Magellan juveniles and loved ‘em. The problem came when I, as an adult writer, started looking at the idea afresh with the intention of using it in a novel, and I started running into the same sorts of questions that Athor Pel posed.

What exactly is a generation ship? Pared down to its nub, it’s a closed, utopian society, on a mission to some goal that was defined long before the current occupants were born. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that in all my readings of history, I have been unable to find a single example of a closed, utopian society that lasted more than five generations—and that’s using a very lax definition of “utopian.” The Soviet Union, for example, was supposed to be a utopian society, and yet even the Soviet Union, with all its formidable power, did not last five generations.

Five generations seems to be the outside limit. Three generations is when things start to fall apart. The first-generation founders of the utopia usually manage okay, if they’re not complete blithering idiots (see “The Great Hippie Commune Disaster,” 1968), and the founders can usually do a decent job of indoctrinating most of their children and controlling the few nonconformists. But by the time the grandchildren of the founders come along, a lot more people are asking Athor’s questions, and by the time the great-grandchildren reach adulthood, the pressure to either radically change the terms of the mission or else to just tear the whole damned thing down and start over become nearly irresistible.

This does not bode well for the prospects of a successful generation ship on its way to Proximi Centauri.

Which leads to a different line of thought: if you have a ship so large it’s a self-contained ecology, why bother leaving Sol system at all? It’s not as if there’s a shortage of room here. Why not just park the thing, say, three months ahead or behind of Earth’s position in solar orbit, and con the poor buggers on-board into thinking they’re on a centuries-long multi-generational voyage to Farfnargle IV? Or, if you want to get really tricky, just shoot it into a long orbit out to the Kuiper Belt and back, so that the “colonists” think they’re arriving on Epison Whachamacallit when all they’re really doing is finally returning to Earth?

So that’s the root idea. Now where’s the story in this?

Saturday, November 24, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Oath,” by Guy Stewart

Anna Joaquim sighed contentedly, taking Dabney Joaquim’s arm and snuggling closer. She did not have eyes for him, though. Looking into the deep darkness of the Wild Lands beyond the Interstate Rail car window, she whispered, “I love you.”

Dabney knew her action and words were, if not a lie, at least a gross misrepresentation of her feelings. He detected the lack of proper tonal inflection, skin moisture levels, muscle tone and pheromone production present if the words had been directed at him. He’d known since his activation that her deepest desire was to walk the unprotected Wild Lands. It was therefore his desire as well. Every Life Companion had its human’s memories and desires uploaded. Dabney’s job was to make sure his human’s life was completely fulfilled. He bit his lower lip, hoping she wouldn’t notice his non-response. He had no idea how to meet her desire to be in the Wild Lands. He pretended to read his eBook.

He knew he was handsome with his tightly curled black hair, blue eyes and small, upturned nose. Other humans ordered muscle-bound, well-endowed Companions to sweep them off their feet and give them years of fantastic sex. Anna though, had never wanted to send him away for alterations after a few years of Companionship. She’d chosen him, a classic model. He’d satisfied her over a hundred times since their Ceremony. Maybe he could distract her.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Upcoming Releases

We have a lot of projects in development right now, and I probably should talk more about what’s going on behind the scenes here at Rampant Loon Press, but having done so before, I have a profound fear of jinxing books by talking about them too soon.

HENRY VOGEL has no such fear, though. In fact, he’s developed the remarkable habit of writing his books online and posting the first drafts of his novels-in-progress while he’s writing them. If you enjoyed his SCOUT’S HONOR series, you really owe it to yourself to check out HART’S WAR, which is in development editing right now. The entire rough draft is online—this link will take you straight to Chapter 1—where you’ll notice immediately that we changed the title. This is not exactly the book that we’ll be releasing, as Henry has made quite a few changes as he’s worked through the rewrites and revised the ending, but if you’ve ever wanted to get a look at a novel before it’s released and give the author your personal feedback, comments, suggestions, and support, here’s your opportunity.
» HART’S WARRead the rough draft now!
Meanwhile, Henry just posted Chapter 36 of his current work-in-progress, THE WOLFLING WAR, about two hours ago. (Honestly, the guy writes at an unbelievable pace, and I remain amazed by his ability to switch seamlessly between writing a new book while copy-editing another.) Fiction doesn’t get any fresher than this, folks. If you’ve ever wanted to help shape a book before it’s finished, again, here is your chance.
» THE WOLFLING WAR •  “The fate of mankind will rest in the hands of a young man who doesn’t understand what it means to be human and a young woman who doesn’t understand what it means to be young. Their adventure begins now.” 
I wish I could show you the cover art for HART’S WAR and THE WOLFLING WAR, but it’s not even commissioned yet. I can show you the concept sketch for this cover, but can’t say anything more about this book at the moment.

Meanwhile, another piece of cover art I can’t show you because it’s not finalized yet is the cover for our new ERIC DONTIGNEY novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND. Rather than babble about that book, though, I’ll just quote the jacket blurb:
“As middleman to the magical community at large, Adrian Hartworth never sticks around. His nomadic lifestyle keeps him a step ahead of friends, enemies, and all too often, law enforcement. Then he saves Abby Simmons and her grandfather, only to find himself unofficially adopted into their unlucky family. Years of experience tell him that the cancer killing Abby is anything but natural. His instincts say flee.

“Driven by the guilt of a past filled with bad choices, Hartworth delves into Abby’s misfortunes and the town’s dark past. What he discovers lands him at the heart of a century-old battle against an evil he knows he cannot defeat. The man who never sticks around will face a choice: take a stand against a power that will crush him, or a leave a young girl to die and damn thousands in the process.”
At this time I would really love to find a few friendly reviewers to read the ARC and give us some promotional quotes. Any volunteers?

Finally, I’m afraid the Thanksgiving-themed Friday Challenge was a complete bust: we received no entries for it. It’s something of a pity, as I’d already paid for the stock art I planned to use with it, but on the other hand, this bit of CGI really does kind of creep me out. I’m not sure why. The upshot of it is, though, that we’re going to retire the Friday Challenge idea for a while, until we have the time to think of a better way to run it.

And speaking of time: it’s time for me to get back to work!

Kind regards,

Thursday, November 22, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Invasive Species,” by Steve Quinn

“Do you know how many species of post-arboreal bipeds we have on the conservation list?” the vaguely froglike creature asked. It was the size of a rhinoceros and using its tongue to manipulate a three-dimensional holographic listing of species and their home systems.

“Not offhand, no,” Megan said. Her supervisor, the American Ambassador to the United Nations, would probably have found that response far too flip for the situation. However, the nervous breakdown he’d had at First Contact the day before meant he wasn’t saying much at all right now. The rest of the diplomatic staff had done better, at least until they’d learned what the aliens wanted. Suffice it to say that Megan was now on her own.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

For Discussion

Which is the greater virtue: equality of opportunity or equality of outcome? 

I ask because Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s story, “Harrison Bergeron,” has been much on my mind lately: so much so that I just wasted twenty minutes trying to scan a page of it from my 40-something-year-old copy of Welcome to the Monkey House. My computer and scanner aren’t talking to each other this morning, though, so I’ll have to do this the tedious way.

The year was 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Monday, November 19, 2018

A View from the Geek

• "Geeking Is Good," By Eric Dontigney 

When I was a kid, geeking was purely the domain of D&D players, fantasy fiction buffs, and hardcore science fiction fans. At least, that was the general perception. Some of this was simply a byproduct of visibility and intensity. By and large, the groups listed above were populated by social outcasts, kids with lots of imagination and poor social skills, or the painfully bright. It was all of those things for some poor, damned souls. When we finally stumbled upon those of our own ilk, we stuck and stuck hard, never to look back. Geeking, which often intensified ostracization by what passed as the social elite, also meant an end to the absolute isolation so many of us experienced as kids and teens.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Discussion: Input Wanted

I have a problem with prescience: to me, it’s always been useless. There are days it seems as if I’m condemned to live in the future I envisioned, with absolutely no hope of changing its course.

For example, today, I’m going to get all self-referential and—well, reference myself, or more specifically, this interview I did with Lynne Jamneck for Strange Horizons more than 13 years ago.

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

Monday, November 12, 2018

BREAKING NEWS: Disney to Remake Outlaw King!

Just kidding. You can resume breathing. Yes, we did watch Outlaw King this weekend: my wife, because she finds Chris Pine to be pleasing eye-candy, and me—actually, she kind of dragged me into watching it. I’m already quite familiar with the story. Robert the Bruce is a distant ancestor, after all. It was not by accident that my Dad named my older brother Robert, and me... Well, you know.

But once I started watching, I did get thoroughly hooked by the story, and I really enjoyed this movie. Most of all, I appreciated the fact that the filmmakers actually made a significant effort to get the history right, and did not make the traditional Hollywood botch of the thing.

Which got me thinking: what if...

Hence today’s gedankenexperiment*: what if, say, Disney had gotten hold of this property? How would it have been different? Obviously, the first place to start would have been by casting Idris Elba as the Black Douglas, and then giving Queen Elizabeth a big boss-fight duel with the Prince of Wales atop the battlements of Berwick Castle. But what other horrible things would they have done to it, in order to make it a proper Hollywood movie?

The lines are open. Let the conversation begin.

* gedankenexperiment: German for, “no funding available”

Sunday, November 11, 2018

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.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

The Friday Challenge: 11/09/2018 Edition

Posting on Saturday morning, because to be honest, by the time I got done with all the work that absolutely needed to be done by E.O.B. Friday, I just wanted to relax, enjoy dinner, and then kick back with a glass of wine and watch Incredibles 2.

Good movie, by the way. If you enjoyed The Incredibles, this is one of those rare sequels that picks up from where the first one left off and actually improves on it. If you’re overloaded on Marvel superhero movies, then you really need to watch Incredibles 2, to remind yourself that superhero movies can actually still be fun once in a while.

Right. This column is supposed to be about the new Friday Challenge. Back on topic, then.

Being capable of learning from experience, we’ve decided to change things up a bit this time out. First off, the challenge this time is to write a funny flash-fiction story—longer, this time; you can go up to 500 words if you must, although you should probably try to keep it under 250, and if you can do it in 100 words, that’s fantastic—about something Thanksgiving holiday related.*

Friday, November 9, 2018

Bad Imitation Lovecraft Contest: AND THE WINNER IS...

After taking an entire week longer than originally planned to reach a decision, and after doing my best to pawn the responsibility off on someone else recruit celebrity judges to help guide our decision-making, I am delighted to announce two things:

1. That after a surprising amount of debate, we finally have settled on a clear winner for the Bad Imitation Lovecraft Friday Challenge, and

2. That doing the Friday Challenge one more time turned out to be fun, so we’re going to repeat it and issue a new challenge later today.

Before we do so, though, I’d like to direct your attention one more time to the entries we received and the readers’ comments thereon: contest entries and comments. As you consider the entries and read the comments, please remember that the Friday Challenge is both a penny-ante writing contest and an audience participation feature. You need not have submitted an entry in order to read and comment on the entries.

Are we all clear on that? Good. Then, in the thoughtful, considered, and unappealable decision of the judges, the top entries are, in win, place, and show order:

Thursday, November 8, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Nights Over Ganymede,” by Victoria Feistner

Three days of riots.

Three days of burning, coughing gutter-smoke, air-hoarding. Watching gauges on tanks like it’s a bartender pouring your first legal drink. Three days of gunfire, leaping at shadows, holding your breath while the god Jupiter stares down on us.

Jupiter doesn’t care.

Half the time I want to be out there with them, shouting and throwing trash from the barricades. Half the time I’m holed up in my cube, table against the door. Half the time it’s just normal life, and the three halves make as much sense as anything else these days.

The king has to die before the new king can rise; I’ve read history and seen the movie, but living it is another thing all together.

SHOWCASE: “The Last Interview,” by Chris Dean

The man’s face is gone, shredded and pasted into white mosaic. His eyes are blue-pink with despair as he strolls with arms jouncing into my office. He has on the ugliest affable smile I have ever witnessed. It is a puerile, disturbing act, this bravado. “May I?” His tone is perfectly suited. He may, I gesture, and he is careful to place himself into the chair in the most correct manner possible.

He portrays himself as outgoing, dependable, forthright, and many things. Unctuous, sycophantic, and obsequious, that’s what I’m hearing. A talker, this one. The chatter becomes a buzz and his hopping pink mouth a blur. His voice begins slicing and whining like mad. He knows I’m not listening. The festering desperation inside him is starting to spill out.

We both know that he’s begging for his life. For independence. That’s what a job is in the 22nd century and you can’t drive, get credit, or have children without one. I quite literally hold this young man’s future in my palm.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Night Shift,” by David Hann

Rick Clayton wiped the sweat off his brow. It was after eight in the evening, the factory doors were open to the night air, but it was still in the mid 90s. Rick hated July. Rick, to be fair, hated a lot of things. Right now it was humidity, heat, and the weight of the boxes he was shifting that dominated his thoughts, but given time he could think of a great many other things he hated.

“I hate this job,” he said.

“You always say that,” replied Paul Matthew, hefting another box onto the pallet, and sliding it into the correct position. “Next time I’ll let you take the pallet and cling-wrap it. Just for the variety.”

“Why do we have to do this crap anyway?” Rick asked. “Surely machines could do this.”

“Maybe,” said Kari Morris, the other worker packing the pallet with them, “but machines cost more than we do. Besides, folks like us, what sort of job are we going to get if not in a factory? How are we gonna get the money to buy stuff?”

“She’s got you there, man,” said Paul, easing the pallet truck under the pallet before flicking the switch to raise it. “I’m taking this outside to the wrapper. At least it’s a little cooler out there.”

He gently eased the pallet out the door.

“Bet he stops for a smoke,” growled Rick, grabbing a pallet and placing it beside the packing line as Kari picked up the next box and started the bottom layer of the pallet.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Re the Bad Imitation Lovecraft Challenge

As of the Saturday deadline, we’d received six viable entries for the Bad Imitation Lovecraft challenge. Another entry was disqualified for exceeding the 100-word limit—by a factor of 40X, which in itself is impressive overachievement—and as for the Lovecraft limerick we received...

Sunday, November 4, 2018

SHOWCASE: “Hunter’s Moon,” by Edward Ahern

“You headed out tonight, Otis?”

“Got to. Clear sky, full moon. None better.”

“Maybe not. Tom Sizemore went out two year ago, never come back.”

“Tommy was a drunk.”

Otis reached up to the gun rack and lifted off a Savage lever action .308. He was forty years old, and the gun was a lot older than he was. As he mounted a flashlight atop the barrel, he talked to it. “All right, buddy, let’s go jack a deer.”

Marlou knew better but tried again. “Pond’s froze over already, Otis. Wait till it warms up tomorrow morning.”

“And the wardens have finished their coffee. You know better. Deer moving now, enough light to spot ‘em. I’ll hunt from my perch, they’ll never see me till they get shined.”

Otis pulled on insulated hunting boots, lined black pants, an insulated camo jacket and a black stocking cap. He stuffed insulated gloves into his pockets. Bulkier than he liked, but sitting still for hours he’d chill down bad, and if he was shivering he’d be apt to miss. He put a drag harness over his shoulder, grabbed the gun, and looked over at Marlou. They didn’t talk much anymore, just screwed some.

“Be going out the back cellar door, in case somebody’s watching. Don’t turn on no lights unless the wardens show up. If they do, turn on the back door light so I can sheer off.”

“It ain’t worth it, Otis. We’ll get by.”

“Hell we will. We don’t get deer meat we starve sweetie. I’m off.”

Otis went down to the basement and out the ground-mounted cellar door. Despite stepping gently, the autumn leaves rustled as he moved, the only sound in the night still. It was just after midnight, and in the cold, clear winter air the moon drowned out the stars.

Friday, November 2, 2018

One More Bad Imitation Lovecraft Contest Update

Just a quick reminder: the Bad Imitation Lovecraft contest is still open for submissions. The official deadline for submissions is midnight Central time tonight, but as usual, the Snowdog Rule* applies. See this post for more information.

[* Briefly stated, the Snowdog Rule holds that while the official deadline may be midnight tonight, the practical deadline is whenever I wake up and check my email tomorrow, as there ain’t no way I’m staying up to watch for submissions and standing ready to enforce a hard cutoff.]

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Talking Shop

re pseudonyms (cont’d)

One argument in favor of using a pseudonym is that life can get very weird when you become a public figure; even as minor a public figure as a published writer. There is a small but determined subset of the species who seem to believe that because they’ve read and liked something you’ve written, you’re their new best friend, and you would be just absolutely delighted if they were to phone you up at two in the morning to tell you that, or show up on your doorstep one day expecting to be invited in for tea and biscuits, or in one particularly memorable incident, to walk right into your house, in the delusional belief that you would be thrilled to see them and eager to drop everything and start talking about whichever story of yours it was they wanted to talk about.
[Luckily, that particular incident happened many years ago. I wouldn’t try it now. The current Mrs. Bethke is the daughter of a Marine Corps combat veteran who in subsequent civilian life became a career cop, and he taught his daughters to apply .357 Magnum first and ask questions later.]