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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Today's Big Surprise

 

It seems that once you put a print book on Amazon, the listing exists forever. Because of a little surprise in this morning’s sales report I went back to see if the listing for this book still existed, and to my surprise it not only does, there are some optimistic souls out there who are asking hundreds of dollars for it.

Er, actually, we still have a few dozen perfectly good new copies sitting in the warehouse, in the box in which the printer delivered them to us lo these many years ago. If you’d like to get a copy of the original trade paperback incarnation of Stupefying Stories, buy it only from K&B Booksellers, and what the heck, I’ll ever sign it for you. 

Sheesh. More than $900 for a new copy? I’ll have to talk to “K” and see if we can’t raise the price. 


Book Release: THE WATCHERS OF MONIAH

 

No, this book isn’t one of ours. But Barbara V. Evers goes back a long way with us: her first appearance in our pages was “Lifesource” in Stupefying Stories #6, and she did a stint with us as a slush pile first reader, somehow surviving with her sanity intact. She did in fact offer THE WATCHERS OF MONIAH to us first, but we didn’t have the time and budget to do the book justice. 

So here you go: THE WATCHERS OF MONIAH. We didn’t publish it, but we wish we could have. Check it out!

Monday, December 14, 2020

Day One

Today, after 40 years in the computer industry and 20 years in supercomputer software R&D, I’ve begun my new life. I will confess it’s really strange to wake up on a Monday morning to the alarm not going off and to my not having an urgent need to log in and see what crisis new erupted over the weekend and what someone needs me to do about it.

This is going to take some adjustment.

While I’m making these adjustments, I’d like to direct your attention to a comment made by Ray Daley a few days ago on another post, that is much too good to leave moldering and forgotten in the comments section on a low-traffic blog. Along with this, I’d like to invite you to share your thoughts with me. How do you answer the question, “Why do you write science fiction?” (Or as a less-than-tactful co-worker once put it to me, “Why do you write this sci-fi crap when you could be writing real literature?”)

If you’d like to share your thoughts on the subject, ping me in the comments section or drop me an email.

And now, over to Ray:

Those writers we enjoy, who are our route to the world of what I lovingly call "made-up crap", those are the giants whose shoulders we stand on. They raise us to the heights our dreams drive us to aim at.

I blame Douglas Adams. I was 9, I bought Hitch Hikers, the 1st book I ever got with my own money. My life was Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker), Space:1999, Star Trek, Blake's 7.

With the 1st Space Shuttle launches, the future was now.

As a young boy, I was given all the room I wanted by a teacher to write whatever the hell I wanted to. Sure, it might have been a weak rip-off of the last Doctor Who episode I'd seen, but it was me throwing every ounce of my imagination into it.

Douglas Adams was one of many who piggybacked me towards my dreams. And every time I write a new story, I honour his memory.

—Ray Daley

Friday, December 11, 2020

LAST CHANCE • Free ebook giveaway!

 

STUPEFYING STORIES #18 has reached the end of contract life and is going out of print on Tuesday, 15 December. Ergo, for the next four-point-something days we’re giving the Kindle edition away absolutely free, for the cost of a click. 

Check it out! Tell your friends! Download it today, because at midnight on Tuesday, 15 December 2020, it goes out of print forever!

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078G83JHV

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Why write science fiction?


In case you haven’t heard, Chuck Yeager checked out for the last time yesterday. This morning I intended to re-run an article I wrote about 15 years ago on the subject of his remarkable life and career, but can’t find it now. 

That’s the problem with having had a 40-year writing career. You collect an enormous pile of crap, all of it in a terrible state of disorganization, because you’re always too busy working on your next project to have the time to go back and clean up the mess left behind by your last project. So while I know I wrote that article on the late General Yeager and his career, and I know it was published somewhere, this morning it remains lost. 

In the meantime, though, my search for it turned up this piece from 15 years ago, which seems worth resurfacing and is perhaps even more relevant today.


 

This must be one of those Interviewing 101 questions, because, like poorly refrigerated leftover chicken, it keeps coming back up.

   “When did you first discover that you liked science fiction?”

I’m never quite sure how to answer this one. Do I dare give the honest answer and say that it was when I was 4 years old and Ruff and Reddy got abducted by the Munimula Men? Or maybe it was when I was 6 or 7, and got hooked on Supercar and the vastly superior Fireball XL-5? Or perhaps these two just explain why I find Team America so gosh-darn ROTFLMAO funny.

Was it when I was 8 or 9, and discovered those dusty old hardcovers of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and The Swiss Family Robinson up in the attic? Or maybe it was when I was 10 and finally got my own library card, and discovered that Llewellyn Library had two whole bookcases full of Jules Verne, Andre Norton, Madeline L’Engle, and Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov juveniles—including the full-length versions of those Heinlein serials that Boy’s Life was rerunning!

Perhaps it was when I was 11, and read War of the Worlds and The Time Machine for the first time. Or maybe it was when I was 12 or 13, and discovered Ray Bradbury. (I wrote a lot of Bad Imitation Bradbury when I was in junior high.) Maybe it was when I was 14 and first read The Lord of the Rings, or then again maybe it was when I was 15 or 16, and discovered Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, and Kurt Vonnegut.

One thing I know for certain. It was definitely not from watching Star Trek.

Maybe it happened in my later teens and early twenties, when I discovered Philip K. Dick, Tom Disch, Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, John Sladek, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg. (Or God forgive me, Keith Laumer and Ron Goulart.)

Or perhaps we are asking the wrong question here. Maybe I never “discovered” science fiction at all. Maybe my interest is the natural result of having lived through a half-century that could only have been predicted, explained, and described by the branch of literature known as science fiction. Maybe it’s the side-effect of having watched the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs unfold as news, not as history, and of being more excited about Chuck Yeager and the Mercury Seven than the starting lineup of the Milwaukee Braves. (Okay, so I vaguely remember Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, and that new kid they signed—Henry Aaron, I think. Very promising. Did he ever amount to anything?)

There, that’s it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The next time someone asks me this question, I’ll answer that it’s all Ted Turner’s fault, for moving the Braves to Atlanta. Deprived of the usual boyhood athlete-heroes, I had to idolize test pilots and astronauts instead, and thrill to their exploits in the pages of National Geographic and Aviation Week & Space Technology.

What’s your excuse?

Sunday, December 6, 2020

The State of the Loon: 12/06/2020

 

I should probably start making a point of posting these status updates every Sunday morning—which means writing them and putting them in the publication queue on Saturday evening, so hmm. More planning required. I have not had the luxury of having time to do “planning” since mid-2019, I think. I’m told it’s quite a useful thing to do and can be very productive, provided you have the time to both do it and then to follow-through on the resulting plans.

The most salient bit of news to report is that this is it. After 40 years in the industry and 20 years with this company, my career officially comes to a close this coming Friday. A tremendous lot of last-minute business is trying to cram itself into this last week, so if I seem distracted, I am. 

On the Rampant Loon Press front, this means I have decided to slide the release of Stupefying Stories #23 to Tuesday, December 15. Otogu the Insatiable, Devourer of Days, is demanding too many sacrifices this week. By slipping the release to 12/15 this gives me time to get the print edition finished, proofed, and uploaded to Amazon, and ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies) sent out to all the contributors and potential reviewers, without killing myself. If Otogu is kind I will even have something like a mailing list up and functional in time to send out the release announcement. Having an RLP mailing list has long been a goal of ours. Now at last we have the time to do it. 


By pure coincidence, Stupefying Stories #18 reaches the end of its contract life and goes out of print on 12/15/20. We’ll have to do something to mark its passing—probably a free e-book giveaway—but as of this morning I haven’t decided…

Never mind, I just decided. Beginning Friday, 12/11/20, and running through Tuesday, 12/15/20, Stupefying Stories #18 will be a free download. And on 12/16/20, it goes out of print.

Therefore, here is your last chance to pick up:

AI, ROBOT • by Joel David Neff
PRINCESS NICOTINE • by John Skylar
A RING, A RING O' ROSES • by Simon Kewin
FROZEN TEARS • by Frances Silversmith
350 K IN MY SHADES • by Karl Bunker
SLOW STEPPER • by Juliana Rew
THE NORTHERN RECESS • by Fred Coppersmith
WHAT THE WITCH WANTS • by Aislinn Batstone
THE LIFE TREE • by Jamie Lackey

Hmm again. Interesting collection. For my money (and it is my money, isn’t it?) “AI, ROBOT” should have been on the shortlist for a plethora of awards but wasn’t, and I just love “350K IN MY SHADES.” There are a couple of stories in here that were originally picked up for theme anthologies that were subsequently strangled by Otogu halfway through development, so it makes for a strange mix, but I find it ironic in the extreme that this book contains stories by Jamie Lackey and Fred Coppersmith, just as we’re about to publish new stories by Jamie and Fred in issues #23 and #24. 

Anyway, that’s Stupefying Stories #18, going out of print next week, so get it now before it’s too late.

*   *   *

Meanwhile, what I set out to write about this morning was last week’s sales report. I’m pleased to report that the PRIVATEERS OF MARS launch went quite well, and to my surprise the print edition is selling much better than expected. This gives me the germ of an idea for future book launches, but we’ll have to conduct a few more experiments before I’m ready to begin drawing conclusions. 

I am also really pleased to see that creating the STUPEFYING STORIES PRESENTS catalog page has already paid off, in that we’re seeing more interest in JIMI PLAYS DEAD and THE BOOK OF JUDITH than we have in some time. This makes me happy because The Book of Judith was a true labor of love that got great reviews in the UK but almost no attention in the US, and I still believe in the book and want to turn that around. Again, I’m now beginning to get a glimmer of an idea as to how to do that. 

*   *   *

Finally, I am delighted to report that THE MIDNIGHT GROUND has at last hit the milestone of 50 published ratings on Amazon, and the average rating is 4.5 stars. Publishing lore has it that 50 reviews is the magic number, after which Amazon notices that a book exists and begins to help promote it. We shall see if that is true, but in the meantime, I’m also very happy to see that the daily KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) number remains high. A good KENP number indicates that people aren’t just buying it: they’re reading it. 

Attaboy, Eric!


And now, back to work.

~brb

Friday, December 4, 2020

What we need is a great big banner!


 P.S. Buy the book! Or if you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you can read it for free!

Currently ranked #19 in “90-minute Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Reads.” Who at Amazon thinks up these categories?

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Privateers after-action report: Day Two


This is very cool. Matt Castleman’s article on why and how he came to write Privateers of Mars is featured on John Scalzi’s blog this morning. If you ever feel as though you’re running short of ideas and/or motivation, it’s well worth reading.

A near-lifelong, almost forgotten about idea of author Matthew Castleman’s ended up turning into his newest novella, Privateers of Mars. Read on to learn how a child’s drawing transmuted itself into a published work...”

Read the rest at https://whatever.scalzi.com/2020/12/03/the-big-idea-matthew-castleman/ 


 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Privateers book release: after-action report

 

With PRIVATEERS OF MARS released and selling, it’s time for some reflection on lessons learned.

1. It was nuts to plan to release both PRIVATEERS OF MARS and STUPEFYING STORIES #23 on the same day. Admirably ambitious, yes, but nuts all the same.

2. I must remember to build time into the schedule to absorb the shock of unforeseen external developments. We had all our ducks more or less in a row for finishing up SS#23 over the holiday weekend, but real life intruded. Assertively.

3. I must remember to build more time into the schedule for the dreary tail-end pipeline processes of publishing. I’ve become so accustomed to being able to click the Publish button and have content go live in seconds on other platforms that I forget that publishing to Amazon requires extra patience. Next time I need to allow at least two days for “soak time” after I upload the book to Amazon and before I announce that the book has been released.

4. Fortunately, there is a relatively easy way to build in that buffer time: create the print book listing first, and upload the print content first, and then create the ebook listing and upload the ebook content. Amazon’s sloth-like print approval process not only builds in the requisite soak time automatically, it has the unexpected benefit of linking the print and ebook listings right from the start. No more waiting a week for Amazon to figure out that they’re the same book and then to link the listings!

5. Consequently, rather than burn the midnight oil to rush SS#23 out this week, I’m going slide the SS#23 release into next week. Precise date TBD. Stay tuned.


6. I really need to do a better job of selling the Stupefying Stories Presents concept. SSP is our experimental platform: in this line-up you’ll find standalone novellas, single-author collections and story cycles like The Book of Judith and Privateers, overt experiments like Jimi Plays Dead, one-shot theme anthology projects put together by guest editors (yes, Guy Stewart, that means you), and even some genre-germane non-fiction titles. In short, SSP is our platform for publishing things that don’t fit into the context of a regular monthly SF/F magazine (which is, after all, what we’re trying to make Stupefying Stories evolve into), but that are too good not to publish.

Fortunately, as the Amazon marketplace continues to evolve, they’re giving us better tools for promoting this idea. E.g., the new Stupefying Stories Presents catalog page. I’m rather pleased with how it turned out.


a. One thing the catalog page does for us that I really like is that if you open the listing for any one of these titles, you get a banner of links to the other titles in the collection.

b. One unexpected discovery was that if you’re not using the catalog page to promote a series of books that must be read in sequence, Amazon doesn’t give a fig about volume number. I guess that simplifies cover art considerations.

7. Finally (for now), I really need to do a better job of selling the co-op publishing concept. For example, the reason why Privateers is priced as it is is because Matthew Castleman agreed to take a smaller payment up front in exchange for a much larger share of the sales. To me this seems to make perfect sense: I’d cheerfully pay a little more for a book if I knew that that extra markup was going directly to the author.

But then, I’m an author, so perhaps my perspective is skewed.

That’s all for now. Upward and onward,

~brb



Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Just released! PRIVATEERS OF MARS, by Matthew Castleman

 

Meet Jacob Rhys: 

Scoundrel, brawler, gambler, drunk, and licensed privateer in the employ of the Free Mars State, until the authorities on Ceres impounded his ship. When shipyard engineer Valerie Morton found him face-down in a dive bar a week later and showed him the “official” report listing what was discovered in his ship’s cargo hold, Rhys read it—and as he read it, he began tapping nervously on the grip of his sidearm. 

Then he stopped tapping and looked up at Morton.

“I’m getting my command crew back together. We are, handily, short an engineer. Do you have strong aversions to petty or grand larceny, extortion, card cheating, recreational and spiritual drug use, sexual practices that may involve recreational and spiritual drug use, and ubiquitous, often unnecessary violence?” 

After a slight hesitation, Morton shook her head.

“Good. Welcome to my crew.”

 

PRIVATEERS OF MARS
64 pages of old-school non-stop pulp sci-fi action by Matthew Castleman!

Available TODAY in paperback, on Kindle, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers!

Reviewed in the United States on December 1, 2020
Reviewed in the United States on December 1, 2020


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