Monday, May 31, 2021

Wish You Were Here • 1

Today, the first installment in the second iteration of The Pete Wood Challenge. This week we will be presenting ten microflash stories—apparently these are properly referred to as “drabbles;” I didn’t know that—all of which spring from a simple challenge: to write a 100-word story that revolves around the line:

“Wish you were here.”

 Today, the first two. Enjoy!


 “ARE THERE CATS ON MARS?” by Jonathan Worlde

Eight months to reach Mars from lunar base Angelou. Rochelle planned to view the complete films of Kurosawa and Ingmar Bergman; write the first draft of a Mars colonization novel; and get to know the dozen other scientists. A sociologist sent to study interpersonal relations in the five-hundred person colony, her two months on Mars would be career-defining.

A week into the trip, she could choose one recipient to send a vid-gram. Instead of her troublesome boyfriend Carlton, who picked a fight the night before she left, Rochelle beamed her smiling face to Mindy, her cat: Wish You Were Here.

¤   ¤   ¤

Jonathan Worlde’s
neo-noir mystery novel, Latex Monkey with Banana, was winner of the Hollywood Discovery Award with a prize of $1,000. Recent short fiction appears in The Raven Review, the 2020 anthology Ghost Stories of Shepherdstown, and in Cirque Journal. He is also a traditional country blues performer under the stage name Paul the Resonator, whose CD is Soul of a Man.


“Machine Learning” by Sylvia Heike

I know Ayla misses him—the husband she lost. Wishes he were here instead of me. In his image, I was created. Beneath the skin she touches, craves, I’m gold and wires and a neural network of signals and impulses, trying to be what she needs.

She says my name. I call her my sweetest, my darling, my only one. She rests her head against me. I hold her close. Her whole body trembles as she creates her silent rivers, making me freeze.

I’m still learning how to be him, but I think he would say, I miss you too.

¤   ¤   ¤


Sylvia Heike
is a speculative fiction writer from Finland. She likes hiking, nature photography, books, bunnies, and birds. Her stories have appeared in Flash Fiction Online and elsewhere. To find out more, visit her website,, or follow her on Twitter @sylviaheike




Sunday, May 30, 2021

Clash of the Schlockmeisters 4: It's Not Easy Being Green

2011 saw the release of two movies that really deserve to be considered together.

A long time ago, when we were reviewing the then just-released The Lone Ranger, Henry Vogel asked:

“...whenever a property like this gets unearthed and made into a movie, I have to wonder: are they venerating their sacred cow or grinding it into burgers?”

Today’s selections are definitely two all-beef patties on a sesame seed bun. Regarding Green Lantern, the best thing I can say about it is that it serves as the set-up for some jokes in Ryan Reynold’s subsequent Deadpool movies, including a really funny Easter egg in the end credits for Deadpool 2. But as for The Green Hornet...

Pete Wood tells me that I’ve been too grouchy and negative lately, so I’m really trying to find something positive to say about it.

Still trying...

Um, it almost succeeded in introducing the King of Mandopop, Jay Chou, to American audiences? 

Sorry, that’s all I’ve got.

Okay, over to you. In your considered opinion, which of these movies is the more cringe-inducing to watch now, and does either of them have any redeeming values? 

Have at them, have fun, and see you tomorrow.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Stupefying Stories Reviews: OXYGEN and ARMY OF THE DEAD

It’s Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of summer vacation season in the US. What the heck are you doing sitting indoors, doomscrolling the Internet and binge-watching movies on Netflix?

Nevertheless, it appears that you are, so for your viewing pleasure, first Pete Wood reviews OXYGEN, and then Bruce Bethke reviews ARMY OF THE DEAD. Enjoy!

OXYGEN • review by Pete Wood

Beware spoilers ahead! Ye been warned!!

Netflix unleashed Stowaway, a movie probably based on Tom Godwin’s 1954 short story The Cold Equations, earlier this Spring. The story of a teenager girl who sneaks aboard a spaceship that can’t accommodate the weight of two people has never made a whole lot of sense to me. Twenty-five years ago, I and the rest of the science fiction literature class at N. C. State hated it. But it’s canon for a reason. It’s more or less a philosophical exercise on the inflexible rules of physics.

And it’s short. It doesn’t drag out the plot.

Stowaway, about a man who somehow (don’t ask) gets knocked out and wakes up on a mission to Mars with only enough oxygen and supplies for three, goes on and on and on, milking a pretty thin premise for almost two hours. The 1989 episode of the New Twilight Zone clocks in at twenty-two minutes and has the decency to give credit to Godwin’s story. Netflix’s takes bundles together endless idiot plot devices to drive home its point with countless sledgehammers. Maybe that’s why it has a 5.6 rating on IMDB.

On May 12th Netflix released Oxygen, an almost two hour film that might have ten minutes of plot. You’ll be grateful for the remote control. A woman (Melanie Laurent of Inglorious Basterds) wakes up in some sort of pod and spends the first ten minutes freeing herself from some sort of bandage/straightjacket malarkey that only exists so that she can spend  ten minutes escaping. She has no idea where she is, and she spends the next eighty-five minutes panicking and banging on her pod and making phone calls to unhelpful bureaucrats and asking questions of evasive A.I.s until the big reveal in the last five minutes. Laurent does a good enough job, but the writing sinks this movie.

Oh yeah, outside the pod the oxygen supply is rapidly dropping, as the A.I. keeps reminding her, while it plays hide the ball with every other piece of useful information.

The movie plays hide the ball with everything else. The big reveal is of course that the poor woman is in a suspended animation chamber on a colonization spaceship. A meteorite has hit the ship and if she leaves the pod she’ll die.

Not that the A.I. bothers to tell her that.

Nope. Instead, she calls people on the pod’s phone where the future’s equivalent of 911 assumes she’s joking about waking up in a pod with no memory. The idiotic operator even threatens to arrest her for making a false police report.

Because, you know, that’s how 911 works. Operators argue with callers rather than dispatching help and trying to solve problems. I live in the 919-area code and a few years ago local calls had to dial 919 without the 1 to place a call. We had a rash of misdialed emergency calls. And the police checked out every misdial in person. That’s what emergency responders do. They ask questions later. Only in mediocre movies do emergency responders argue, in order to drag out the plot. Like in the 1998 slasher flick Urban Legend, when 911 argued with a caller about whether or not that was really blood she saw spurting out of a murder victim. Only in the movies.

Of course, in Oxygen, it turns out that it’s a fake 911 operator, which is even worse. No help is coming because she’s in deep space.

Now I ask you, what is the point of hiding information in this situation? Why wouldn’t the A.I. just announce to her that she’s on a deep space flight? Why wouldn’t there be a latch on the inside of the pod which she could have opened in the first minute of the movie?

Because information is only hidden in bad movies to drag things out.

I saw a TV show, whose name escapes me, where police inform a neighborhood that a sexual predator has moved in but they can’t divulge the name. Naturally, the neighbors turn on each other and attack the wrong guy. There is no reason to not cough up the criminal’s name. In the real-world sex offender registries are common and a very useful tool. If you want to stretch out a razor-thin plot, giving out half-assed information will get you there.

Gradually discovering information is the heart and soul of good movies too. But characters have to behave logically. The situation has to make sense.

I watched And Then There Were None, the 1945 adaption of Agatha Christie’s murder mystery, for the fourth time recently. It is the best murder mystery ever written and this version is the only one that does the novel justice. Don’t bother with any of the remakes. Ten people are trapped on an island off the coast of England where a murderer is in their midst: a simple premise that has been copied endless times. No hiding the ball here. The characters act sensibly, and the action and the final reveal makes sense. Be warned. It’s a very British film, where characters still sleep in their pajamas in separate bedrooms even while a murderer is on the loose. But that’s part of the fun.
Memento, the 2000 film by Christopher Nolan, is the model for the slow reveal. Insurance investigator Guy Pearce tries to solve a murder but has no short-term memory. The film is told backwards, with each scene taking place earlier in time. The protagonist doesn’t remember the earlier events. A tour de force with an ending you won’t forget. And no hiding the ball or stretching out the plot.

The movie Oxygen is just insulting and a waste of your time. The 2017 episode of Doctor Who, “Oxygen,” is not. The Doctor and his two companions materialize on a spaceship in a capitalist dystopia. A greedy corporation charges its workers for their oxygen consumption. It’s a fun and thought-provoking tale.

And no hiding the ball. 

—Pete Wood



ARMY OF THE DEAD • review by Bruce Bethke

Let me be the first to congratulate writer/director Zack Snyder on producing the first fully actualized exercise in hip-hop film making. Roland Emmerich has repeatedly tried to create new films by splicing together samples and loops lifted from earlier films, but Zack Snyder has actually done it. If there is a single original idea, image, scene, line of dialog, or bit of business anywhere in this movie, I must have missed it.

If you’ve always wondered what it would look like if someone did a three-way mash-up of Dawn of the Dead, Aliens, and Die Hard, this is the movie for you. Throw in generous helpings of 28 Days Later and possibly actionable steals from Fallout: New Vegas, along with smaller bits and shots lifted from other films and the obligatory “ticking clock to Doomsday” primary plot driver, and the stew is complete. This is a film that will have you saying, “Ooh! Ooh! They lifted that shot from Apocalypse Now!” And, “Hey, that’s Paul Reiser’s character from Aliens!” And, “Omigod, they lifted that scene whole from Terminator: Salvation!”

If you like your thrills completely programmatic and predictable, from the opening scene to the final frame before the end credits roll, this is the movie for you. If you like to play the game of “Guess which character is going to regurgitate which clichéd line of dialog next,” you’ll have endless fun with this movie—and I do mean endless. This one is two and a half hours long. Zack Snyder apparently knows how to make movies. He just doesn’t know how to end them.

In the long hot summer to come I can see ARMY OF THE DEAD turning into a popular party drinking game. Get a bunch of friends together, put this movie on the big screen, and whenever someone spots an obvious steal from Aliens or Die Hard, everyone has to chug their drink.

Betcha you don’t stay sober past the obligatory, “Omigod, the ticking clock has accelerated!” scene.

—Bruce Bethke

Friday, May 28, 2021

The Last Dangerous Would You Like Fries With That?


Today, the fifth and final installment of the first iteration of “The Pete Wood Challenge.” This week we have presented ten, count ’em, ten microflash stories, all of which sprang from a simple challenge: to write a 100-word story that revolved around the question:

“Would you like fries with that?”

Two Monday, two Tuesday, two Wednesday, two Thursday, and today, the Big Bang Burger Wrap-Up with a special surprise bonus! Enjoy!



“Fixing Broken Dreams,” by Ray Daley

Its eyes were dark. I checked the internals, some wires were loose, easy to mend. “I think he’s broken?”

I checked the linkages again, sure, they needed a little oil. The damn thing must have been at least 100 years old. I could just about make out flecks of red and yellow paint.

Becky’s heart was set on seeing it go again. “Dad! Make it work properly!”

Can’t disappoint my Princess. I’ll fix it. I’ve no clue what its original use was. Right now, it’s just a broken-down clown which asks, “Do you want fries with that?”


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


“Outcast,” by Eric Fomley

“I’m leaving, old friend,” Shasta said, as she brushed ivy from the ‘bot’s face. “My tribe outcast me.”

The ‘bot’s yellow eyes hummed to life, dimmer now than what Shasta remembered as a child. It leaned against the cracked tile wall in an ivy cocoon.

Shasta hadn’t been here since she was a child, when the bombed-out BurgerMates was the place where the metal god lived. Not just a shard from a shattered world.

“Order whenever you’re ready,” it croaked.

Shasta smiled. “Thanks for always listening.”

“Do you want fries with that?” it asked.

But Shasta was already gone. 


Eric Fomley’s
work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Flame Tree, and The Black Library. You can read more of his work at or follow him on Twitter @PrinceGrimdark.





And now as a special surprise bonus, Pete Wood answers his own challenge, with:

“Untitled,” by Pete Wood 

“Do you want fries with that?” the cashier asked Jim.

Jim wasn’t that hungry. He didn’t need the combo. “No, thanks.”

“That’ll be $21.35.”

Jimmy blinked. He couldn’t afford that. “For a burger?”

“You got the time travel combo. Five minutes back.”

“I didn’t order it.”

“You will.”

“Don’t get the time travel combo,” Future Jim said from behind him. “It’s a rip-off.”

The cashier rolled her eyes. “Somebody still owes me $21.35.”

Future Jim and Present Jim argued about the order.


Pete Wood
—ah, by now you must know who Pete Wood is. Pete didn’t give this one a title, but I wanted to call it, “Another Weird Little Timey-Wimey Story by Pete Wood,” because he’s given us so many of them over the years. For example, “Bully,” which is still available on the old SHOWCASE webzine site, “Special Delivery,” still available on the even older “crevasse” version of SHOWCASE, or “Timeless Bore” on the original weekly webzine version of SHOWCASE. 

You see now why I need someone to help curate that content, Pete?


In a world...

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

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

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


Ask Dr. Cyberpunk • with your host, Bruce Bethke


In lieu of a column, an invitation: why don’t you join me this evening at Balticon 55, where I will be talking (briefly) about—well, whatever it is the audience wants to talk about.

Balticon 55 is a virtual con this year, so admission is free, but you do need to pre-register if you want to attend any of the Zoom sessions. If you have the time I recommend it, as there are loads of good things on the con schedule:

I’m booked for the Cyberpunk Open Discussion, which starts at 7pm EDT, 6pm CDT, 4pm West Coast time—sorry, Kevin, I have no idea what the start time in Seoul would be; it’s already Saturday over on your side of the planet, isn’t it?—and to pre-register, all you need to do is click this link:

Come on! Join me! It’ll be fun!


Thursday, May 27, 2021

Penultimate Fries

Today, the fourth installment of the first iteration of “The Pete Wood Challenge.” This week we are presenting ten, count ’em, ten microflash stories, all of which sprang from a simple challenge: to write a 100-word story that revolved around the question:

“Would you like fries with that?”

Two Monday, two Tuesday, two Wednesday, two today, and tomorrow, the Big Bang Burger Wrap-Up. Enjoy!



“The Dying Pool,” by Melissa Mead

“Do you want fries with that?”

The spirit of the dying pool pleads, beseeches, but the parched, delirious travelers only see it offering what looks like a cup of their favorite beverage, frosty with ice. In reality, they gulp down the pool’s tainted water and die in minutes.

Each time, the spirit weeps. The antidote would save their lives and end the curse. The spirit would be freed. The pool would be renewed. If only someone, just once, would ask for the fries!


Melissa Mead
lives in upstate New York with the imaginary people in her head. Her web site is here:

“High School Drama,” by Paul Celmer

Norm, the new kid at Riverdale High, studied the menu at McDonalds. Two cheerleaders sipped milkshakes in the back.

“Here’s some advice,” I said. “Talking physics all the time is weird.”

“Parallel universes aren’t weird,” Norm said.


“What you guys having?” the cashier said.

“Cheeseburgers.” Norm seemed pissed at my disbelief. “Want to see a parallel universe?”

“Sure,” I laughed.

Norm twirled something on the counter.

My eyes fuzzed.

“You want fries with that?” a purple reptile with red fangs croaked to the thing that had been Norm.

And all one thousand of its wriggling tentacles pointed at me.


When not traveling to parallel universes, Paul Celmer is a technical writer in Durham, North Carolina. His recently published flash science fiction includes “Spooky Action At a Distance” in Daily Science Fiction and “The Last Rosy-Fingered Dawn” in Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores.







Now take a look at our magazine, okay? It’s out in paperback, on Kindle, and free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Yet more “Would you like fries with that?"

Today, the third installment of the first iteration of “The Pete Wood Challenge.” (Trust me, that sentence will make sense by Friday.) This week we are presenting ten, count ’em, ten microflash stories, all of which sprang from a simple challenge: to write a 100-word story that revolved around the question:

“Would you like fries with that?”

Two Monday, two Tuesday, two more today, two more tomorrow, and the Big Bang Burger Wrap-Up on Friday. Enjoy!



“Untitled,” by Travis Burnham

Elmo shuffled around the Albuquerque Deity Convention, lonely and looking for love. The God of Thunder, predictably, had already hooked up with the Goddess of Lightning.

Elmo’s latest attempt had been approaching the Goddess of Automobiles, all sleek lines and beauty in her black sheath dress. He was rebuffed with an incredulous laugh. As the God of French Fries, Elmo wasn’t in high demand.

Flopping down on a couch, Elmo looked to his right to see a dejected but attractive redhead.
“What’s your domain?” he asked.

She frowned, then reluctantly replied, “Goddess of Ketchup.”

Elmo smiled. “You want fries with that?”

Travis Burnham’s
work has found homes in Far Fetched Fables, Hypnos Magazine, Bad Dreams Entertainment, South85 Journal, SQ Quarterly, and others. He is a member of the online writers’ group, Codex, and has an MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College. He also recently won the Wyrm’s Gauntlet online writing contest. Burnham has been a DJ on three continents, and teaches middle school science and college level composition. He lives in Lisbon, Portugal with his wife, but grew up in Massachusetts, is from Maine at heart, and has lived in Japan, Colombia, and the Northern Mariana Islands.

“Two All-Meat Zombies,” by Gretchen Tessmer

“Oh, honey, I eat flies with everything...,” the old lady zombie says. The cashier, in his blue uniform and golden arches cap, is listening, but wide-eyed.

His manager warned him. These are not the first undead customers to show up in the middle of the night, looking for a snack after some free-range, apocalyptic street-grazing. She adds, “I’ve got one of those iron stomachs. Flies, worms, cockroaches, anything really...”

Beside her, the younger zombie-girl gives a long-suffering sigh, mumbling, “He said ‘fries‘, Gran,” before apologizing to the cashier, “Dead flesh in the ears, ya know? But yeah, fries are fine.”

Gretchen Tessmer is a writer based in the U.S./Canadian borderlands. She writes poetry and short fiction, with work appearing in Nature, Daily Science Fiction, Cast of Wonders, and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, among other venues.

Now take a look at our magazine, wouldja?

Write and Wrung Out • by Beth DeVore


Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Heads-up: Balticon 55


I’ll be putting in an appearance at Balticon 55 this coming Friday, 5/28—by Zoom, of course, as this year it’s an online-only con. Attendance is free for anyone who wants to attend, but it’s my understanding that you need to register in advance in order to get into the Zoom sessions.

The main link for the con is here:

The program guide is here: 

I’ll be posting more information about my schedule when I know it. In the meantime you might want to do a bit of browsing through the schedule, as there are some panels that are of interest to writers, and Stupefying Stories contributor Jennifer Povey will be doing a reading. 

(Drat. SS#19, which contained her story “Soulless Machine,” is out of print. I really liked that one.)

More info to follow as it becomes available. 

—Bruce Bethke

UPDATE: It looks like this is the advance registration link:

Again, "Would you like fries with that?"


Today, the second installment of the first iteration of “The Pete Wood Challenge.” (Trust me, that sentence will make sense eventually.) This week we are presenting ten, count ’em, ten microflash stories, all of which sprang from a simple challenge: to write a 100-word story that revolved around the line:

“Would you like fries with that?”

Two yesterday, two more tomorrow, two more the day after that, and… well, you get the idea. Enjoy!



“Untitled,” by Carol Scheina

“Do you commonly ask if people want fries with their afterlife?” The old woman’s eyes twinkled with a smile.

Duane flinched. “I apologize. A lifetime of working fast food before I died. It sometimes slips out.” He continued listing the various afterlife accommodations. “Combo #11: endless koi ponds with a lily pad habitat. Combo #12: our giant forest package, as opposed to our regular forest package—”

“Actually,” the woman interrupted, “I’d like whatever place has fries in it. That sounds heavenly to me.”

Duane’s heart quivered. Maybe he’d finally found someone to spend eternity with.

Carol Scheina is a deaf speculative fiction author whose short stories have appeared in Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, The Arcanist, and other publications. You can find more of her work at

“Untitled,” by K. S. O’Neill

Mr. Green-face stares at me placidly.

I am a god, I remind myself. My duties are serious. After all, someone must care for the souls of beloved pets, no?

Which brings us to Mr. Green-face, so loved by a tiny girl in Alabama that on expiring he appeared here, in front of me. In a heaven of cats and dogs, my first frog.

“Okay, Mr. Green-face. A swamp, heat, humidity. Lily pads, muddy water, check.”
Mr. Green-face burps and frowns.

I wrack my brain. What else does a frog want?

“Mr. Green-face, would you like flies with that?”


K.S. O'Neill is three Shoggoths in a trench coat, probably.

Assertions and Observations • 2

This is the future of fiction publishing. Seriously.

Whoever figures out how to make in-book purchases work is going to make a fortune.

I’m going to skip over a whole lot of research and case-building and begin with the conclusion. If it seems necessary I will backfill later, if I must, but the key points are these:

» I love books. Some of my best friends are books. But books, as you know them, are ancient artifacts. I won’t say they’re doomed—that’s far too dramatic—but they are headed towards becoming an evolutionary dead-end, purchased only by libraries, schools, and dilettantes.

» The people you need to be selling content to, if you are going to develop and grow your audience, are under 35 at the oldest and more likely under 30. These people will buy and read books, if the subject interests them, but it’s not their first choice for how to spend their entertainment dollars. Or second. Or probably even in the top ten.

» The crucial point to remember is that these people are digital natives. They have never known a world without social media or streaming video. An alien observer might conclude that they are cyborgs, with a large portion of their intelligence offloaded into their phones and information from the global hive mind being streamed into their minds as needed through their earbuds and tiny screens.

» While digital natives can read if they must, and will watch non-interactive movies from time to time, albeit usually in a social context, their primary sense of narrative and story has been formed by playing video games.

So let’s consider: what precisely is a novel? Three-hundred-some pages of prose printed on pulp paper, with a lurid full-cover cover and a self-contained story arc? A few hundred kilobytes of data on a hand-held device, that seeks to replicate the print-book experience in a more portable but more ephemeral form factor?

No. It’s a gateway into the world of the story.


Writers like to believe that their fans are their fans. We can argue about it later, but the evidence is pretty clear. People who consume fiction content are overwhelmingly fans of:

1.) the world of the story

2.) one or more prominent (and usually heroic) characters in this world

3.) the person whose vision created this world (a.k.a., the “Producer” or “Director”)

4.) the people who actually wrote the parts of the story they like (a.k.a., the “Content Developers”)

So forget about “taking the novel into the 21st Century” or any of that fatuous and pretentious nonsense. In fact, forget about the novel, period.

The serious money lies in owning and building the map of the world.

No, not “world building,” as fiction writers tend of think of it, and definitely not in drawing actual maps, even though we all grew up entranced by the maps in The Lord of The Rings, to the point where for a time it seemed impossible to find a fantasy novel that did not have a map in the front matter.

What I’m talking about here is a cognitive map, and it must be dynamic, expandable, and above all, something readers can interact with. If you’re familiar with software, think of it as being like the map of the help system for a software product that’s still evolving. If you’re familiar with gaming, think of it as the map you might develop as you’re exploring a dungeon.

Except there is no fixed end point to the adventure.

Here’s where in-book purchasing comes into play. For a base price, you will buy the bare-bones framework of a “book,” and if you want to read that and just that, it will take you in a fairly linear way to a conclusion that is sufficiently satisfactory to make you want to look at buying the 2.0 version when it comes out. But remember: the linear, bare-bones book is only the gateway into the world of the story.

And the story never really ends.

There’s a secondary character you find interesting? For a small price, you can unlock extra content and go off on a branch that follows her story. There’s a place in the story that you found more interesting than the characters you’re following did? For a small price, you can unlock extra content and go off on a side quest. You wish you could hear the music that the writer is describing in the ballroom scene? For a small price...

You get the idea? A “book” is no longer a self-contained linear narrative with a story arc and a beginning, middle, and end. It’s a map of an imaginary world that grows organically over time, and seamlesssly crosses over into audio, video, animation, graphic novel, social media, and fanfic.

That's right. Fanfic. In addition to buying extra content, your readers will be able to earn extra content, and even to contribute extra content. At the simplest level: solve a puzzle; reveal hidden extra content. Actively participate in the social media side: earn extra content. At a higher level: write a piece of fan fic, and if it’s good enough to be accepted as canon, earn a lot of extra content credits. Write a piece of fanfic that attracts enough loyal readers, and it can become a new development branch and you too can join the team as a co-developer of The Story That Never Ends.


The mechanism for purchasing extra content needs a bit of finesse. People balk at spending actual cash to buy in-game content, and paying your fanfic developers in negotiable currency introduces ugly accounting and tax issues. Instead, you’ll conduct all transactions in in-game tokens—

No, not tokens. Amazon has made a mistake by calling their Vella transactional units “tokens.” That smacks of Chuck E. Cheese. The units of exchange must be part of the game. If you go into the bookworld of something like Star Wars, you’ll use your dollars or Euros to buy the “Imperial credits” you’ll use for all subsequent in-book transactions. In something like the bookworld Star Trek, you’ll use “Federation credits.” And if you want to take your credits with you when you change bookworlds, you’ll need to go through the Ferengi Interplanetary Exchange Bank to convert your currency… for a small price…


As should be obvious by now, this is a huge project. There is no single “author” anymore. No one person could possibly create it all or continue to create fresh content. You will need a Producer to be in charge of running it; a design team to create the initial expandable map of the world; a core team of Content Developers to create and maintain the initial content, with sufficient redundancy to keep the thing from falling apart if key people quit. Different parts will need to be written by different authors, just by virtue of the sheer volume of content that will need to be produced. As I said, no one person could possibly do this—

Except me. I could do it—if I had nothing else to do, and about a half-million in seed capital to lay the groundwork and turn the vision into a serious project plan and a working prototype.

Now, who’s ready to invest?    

—Bruce Bethke

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Pete Wood Challenge • "Would you like fries with that?"

Way back before the Dawn of Time there was a writing contest -slash- workshop called The Friday Challenge that encouraged people to try their hand at writing fiction, by spotting them the beginning of a story and then posing some form of the question, “What happens next?”

The Friday Challenge was a lot of fun—and a lot of work—and eventually became more work than fun, so we had to let it go… but not before we’d gathered a dozen of the winning entries into the original version of Stupefying Stories, which you can still find on Amazon for ridiculously inflated collector’s prices.

Or in a box on a shelf in the back of our stockroom, if you’d rather buy it directly from us. So if you’d like to buy a copy, drop me a line at and I’ll be happy to work out the details with you.

In the meantime, as the years rolled on we from time to time talked about bringing back The Friday Challenge, because it was so much fun, but could never figure out a way to do it that would not also be an ungodly amount of work.

Until Pete Wood stepped in, and proposed a new thing, which I hereby christen “The Pete Wood Challenge,” to differentiate it from The Friday Challenge. I will leave it to Pete to explain the rules, if he so desires: all I care about is that he has found a way to get people to write good little stories that we can publish, all springing forth from a simple challenge. Therefore, this week we will be presenting ten, count ’em, ten microflash stories that all began with a simple challenge: to write a 100-word story that involved the line:

“Would you like fries with that?”

Here are the first two. Two more tomorrow, and two more the next day, and… well, you get the idea. Enjoy!



“Untitled,” by Anatoly Belilovsky 

“Was it my accent?” I said.

The woman from MI5 shook her head. “No, I must say, your Cockney is excellent. You must convey my congratulations to your training officer. If both you and your TO are still alive when your sentence expires.”

I closed my eyes. The prospect of a twenty-year stretch in the Boris Johnson Memorial Detention Center...

“What gave me away?” I said, not really expecting an answer.

She grinned. “Well, cowboy,” she said, “around these parts, we call them chips.”

Anatoly Belilovsky was born in a city that went through six or seven owners in the last century, all of whom used it to do a lot more than drive to church on Sundays; he is old enough to remember tanks rolling through it on their way to Czechoslovakia in 1968. After being traded to the US for a shipload of grain and a defector to be named later, he learned English from Star Trek reruns, apparently well enough to be admitted into SFWA in spite of chronic cat deficiency. He has sold original and translated stories and poems to NATURE, F&SF, Analog, Asimov's, Daily SF, Podcastle, Kasma, UFO, Stupefying Stories, Cast of Wonders, and other markets. His Twitter feed @loldoc is equally divided between punditry and puns.

Anatoly’s first appearance in our pages was “If This Be Magic” in the now out-of-print Stupefying Stories #2, but “In Vino Veritas” is still findable (for now) in SHOWCASE #7 and his delightfully horrific tale of coming to America, “Tempora Mutantur,” is in SHOWCASE #9. We are delighted to welcome him back.

“Ringing in Her Ears,” by Ephiny Gale

Before she died in apartment 27, Nellie worked long shifts at the nearby fast food joint.

Sometimes she worked the back and burnt her fingers sliding patties off spatulas, and sometimes worked the front where customers complained the prices had changed since 1990.

Nellie always returned home with the beeping ringing in her ears. She still hears it today: the beeping grill and the fryer and the whole goddamn kitchen.

The new residents of apartment 27 don’t hear the beeping. But they do smell the grease of Nellie’s clothes, and they hear her sometimes: “Do you want fries with that?”


Ephiny Gale is the author of more than two dozen published short stories and novelettes that have appeared in publications including Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Constellary Tales, and Daily Science Fiction. Her fiction has been awarded the Sundress Publications' Best of the Net award and the Syntax & Salt Editor's Award, and has been a finalist for multiple Aurealis Awards.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Assertions and Observations

As threatened promised, here’s some of what I’ve learned from my deep dive into publishing market research. In no particular order and with no apologies for any overt cynicism:

• Children love stories. They love to have stories told to them, they love to have stories read to them, and as they grow up, they love to learn to read stories by themselves. If you have never seen the joy on a child’s face that comes when they realize they can read a story all by themselves, I feel sorry for you.

• But then, something goes wrong. By the time most children graduate from high school, they have had the joy of reading beaten completely out of them. As a writer, there is nothing you can do to change that. For a long time I believed there was something I as a publisher could do to try to change that, but I’ve since regained my sanity. The problem is systemic.

• Those few young people whose love of reading survives high school will have it further warped in college, by being repeatedly bludgeoned over the head with “important” literature to the point where they are nearly incapable of reading fiction for pleasure. 

• And then real life kicks in, and what free time they used to have for reading for pleasure is dramatically curtailed. They develop a sort of critical tunnel vision. By the time the reader is in their 30s, it’s almost impossible to get them to look at new fiction unless it promises to deliver exactly the same experience that they already know they will enjoy.

• The universe is not making any more readers your age. In fact, there are fewer people your age every day.

• There is usually a good reason why “they don’t write ‘em like that anymore.” Typically it’s because no one reads ‘em like that any more.The problem is compounded by the fact that literature is durable. Those dwindling numbers of readers who really do want to read old Heinlein juveniles can go back to their dog-eared copy of Rocket Ship Galileo any time they like. Or get it on Kindle, if they need a large-print edition.

• The book-buying and book-reading population is in constant churn. New potential customers are coming into the market and old readers are aging out of it every day. 

• The new readers coming into the market every day are shaped by their culture, not yours. They really don’t give a fig about what you liked to read when you were growing up.

• The sweet spot, such as it is, is readers between their early teens to their early thirties. After age 30, getting their interest is exponentially more difficult as they get older, unless you want to produce fiction product that promises to deliver a pre-sold entertainment experience they’re certain to enjoy.

• Therefore, your target market is people who have come of age in the past twenty years, at the outside—or to define some boundaries, between the inauguration of Bush the Younger and the end of the Trump presidency. To them, the Clinton presidency is ancient history, and anything before that is simply out of their realm of experience.

To be continued...




Friday, May 21, 2021

The State of the Loon • 21 May 2021

Challenging days turn into weeks, and then grow to fill a month. RLP sales remain wildly erratic, and the deeper I dig into trying to figure out what’s gone wrong and how to fix it, the more cynical I become. I understand the issue now. I just don’t like the conclusions that flow from having developed that understanding.

I’ll have more to say about this in the next few days, but not today.

For what it’s worth, as of today the Plan of Record is that we will release Stupefying Stories #24 on July 1st, 2021—after we have made the changes we clearly need to make in our marketing strategy. Those changes need to be in place first, or else we’re just flinging the book out there and hoping someone notices. While that approach has worked for us in the past, the past is a different country. We don’t live there anymore.

Accordingly, we are making some fundamental changes in the way we go to market, and we need to have these done before we release SS#24. Otherwise, I may as well pile the money up in the chiminea and set it on fire.

On the home front, this month has also been challenging and frustrating. My wife resumed IV chemotherapy on May 3rd and my calendar quickly filled up with appointments, consultations, further testing and medical imaging workups, etc., etc., etc., etc. We spent a good deal of time learning about kyphoplasty, the fascinating straight-outa-sci-fi medical procedure depicted in the above illustration. Basically, kyphoplasty involves drilling into your vertebra, inserting and inflating one or more tiny balloons to restore the vertebra to some approximation of its original shape, and then injecting the bone full of acrylic cement to fill the voids and stabilize it.

Ultimately, though, we were informed that she is not a good candidate for this procedure. Kyphoplasty apparently works best for patients who have suffered traumatic injuries due to recent accidents. For someone whose spine has been turned into Swiss-cheese by years of cancer and radiation treatments, it’s a low-percentage procedure.

And life goes on...

—Bruce Bethke

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Write and Wrung Out • by Beth DeVore


Monday, May 17, 2021

The State of the Loon • 17 May 2021

Spring returns to the North Country. I know I’ve written this line several times before, but this time it seems to be for real. At least, the weather service assures us that last week’s frost was an unseasonably late anomaly and this time it really is safe to replace all those garden plants that froze to death last week.

I suppose the uncertainty of the arrival of spring here is why I feel such a strong affinity for “Finding Spring” by Sipora Coffelt, which if you have not read it yet you will find in SHOWCASE #1. If you have not read it, please give it a look. The book is only $0.99 to buy or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

If you have given SHOWCASE a look and liked it, please give it a rating. Ratings and reviews help sell books. If you like and support what we’re trying to do here, please, help us sell books.


Spring here in the North Country is the time for rebirth, renewal, rediscovery, and finding new directions. For example, that columbine in the garden. Discovering it prompted a short conversation, amounting to, “Where the heck did that come from? Did you plant it? I don’t remember planting it.” Nonetheless, the bees seem to like it, so it’s going to stay. We’re very big on bees around here.

Spring also brings cows, frolicking in the pasture. I know it’s kind of frightening to think of animals that large frolicking, but they do. Cows can be quite playful, actually. Think about that the next time you’re eating a cheeseburger. 


SHOWCASE is much on my mind this morning because I’ve been spending a lot of time researching and reevaluating how we go to market. The deeper I delve into it, the more bottomless the rabbit hole seems. There has been a tremendous amount written about how to sell books successfully on Amazon; so much so that I’m beginning to think the real secret is to write a book on how to make big money selling books on Amazon. There certainly seems to be a bigger market for those kinds of self-help books than for actual original novels, much less for short fiction.

Lately we’ve also been taking a long, hard look at Kindle Vella, which if you're not aware of it is something you should be, as Amazon will be putting a lot of promotional muscle behind it in the coming months. Vella essentially is a new platform for delivering serialized work in small chunks and collecting micropayments. At first we were hoping we could use it as a vehicle for continuing SHOWCASE in a new and preferably non-money-losing way, but the deeper we dug into it, the clearer it became that it would not serve that need. 

We will be using Vella to serialize THE HOSTAGE IN HIDING, the latest novel in Henry Vogel’s Fugitive Heir series—oh yeah, and here’s a sneak preview of the cover art—but we have some reservations. Amazon seems to be going out of their way to make it difficult to connect “the Vella experience” to any existing novels that are already available on Amazon. They will be making it very difficult to release the completed novel as a normal book once it has been serialized on Vella. And in case you were going to ask, they have absolutely forbidden serializing any novel that has already been published in any other form.

So much for my dreams of getting some value from Headcrash while I’m going through the painfully slow process of converting it to ebook.


Finally for today, a number of people have written to ask if or when we are going to reopen to submissions, or if we have already opened for submissions without announcing it.

We are not open for unsolicited submissions at this time. The confusion stems from my giving both Pete Wood and Guy Stewart permission to run contests, the winners of which are to receive token payments and publication on the Stupefying Stories web sites. We already have the first batch of winners, from a flash fiction contest that Pete ran on a writer’s site that he belongs to, and some of these people have reported their wins as sales on various submission tracking sites.

So to reiterate: we are not open to unsolicited submissions at this time. We have not decided whether we will have an open reading period this year. At the moment, my focus is mostly on taking care of the writers who have signed publication contracts with us and who have been waiting patiently for us to publish their stories, concurrent with figuring out how to do a much better job of selling what we publish.     

After all, there isn’t much point in publishing fiction if it doesn’t get into the hands of people who want to read it.

—Bruce Bethke

P.S. And check out and maybe read some of our books, wouldja?


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Help Wanted: Curator(s)

As we’ve been floundering around and going off in six different directions simultaneously, a number of projects have fallen by the wayside for lack of time and someone to work on them. One of them is a bit awkward, and it is—

Well, to be honest, in the past eleven years we have published hundreds of stories: so many so that we’ve actually lost track of what we published when and where. Our several misfired attempts at launching a webzine version of Stupefying Stories didn’t help much, either.

Therefore, what I’m looking for now are one or more volunteers willing to go crawling through our web sites, tracking down and capturing the links to the stories we’ve published. What I’d like to end up with is something like an updated version of this—which, unfortunately, we stopped updating in 2013.

Rampant Loon Press Catalog

What I liked best about the old RLP catalog was that you could find stories by publication date or author name. I think that’s a good feature and would like to expand on it. 

If you feel like volunteering for this, note that the job is complicated by the fact that you’ll find stories on the original SHOWCASE site: 

The “crevasse” version of SHOWCASE (so named because it was stark, white, and stories fell into it and disappeared, never to be seen again): 

The WordPress version of SHOWCASE:

And on this blogspot site:

Most of the stories on the blogspot site should be tagged with the “Showcase” label, so that this search string finds them, but I wouldn’t want to bet that they all are:

Anyway, that’s the job. The good part of it is that you’ll get the chance to read around 200 stories that you probably haven’t seen before. The bad part is, there’s probably enough reading here to keep you busy all summer. 

But then, is that really a bad thing? 

If you’re interested in volunteering for this, let me know.

—Bruce Bethke

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Write and Wrung Out • by Beth DeVore


Thursday, May 6, 2021

A Twelve-Step Program for Writers • Part 6



In 1997, in a few minutes of whimsy, I knocked off twelve lines of highly concentrated and somewhat snarky advice for writers seeking to develop or repair their writing careers. To my surprise these words of wisdom remain available on the SFWA web site. To my even greater surprise Guy Stewart has taken the time and trouble to explicate them in depth. Herewith, Guy’s Commentaries.

—Bruce Bethke

The sixth step:

We are entirely ready to let someone else take the blame for the way our last book tanked.

As I only HAVE one book, I can’t exactly address this. My ONLY book is still being sold even though (as I talked about earlier), the contract I signed was essentially a work-for-hire and they continue to print copies (it’s ranked #1,775,076 today!) and sell it. So I can’t actually say it tanked…it’s just that I signed a stupid deal and have absolutely no one to blame but myself. I stopped promoting the book ages ago because I have little desire to lend my name to a poor deal I made when I was young.

So then, I’ll move on to the present. I have a science fiction manuscript that made it out of the slush pile at BAEN BOOKS. My agent is confident that VICTORY OF FISTS will sell somewhere. (It never did…) I had a short, kids’ science fiction story in the January issue of CRICKET MAGAZINE, and have had several more as well as appearing a half-dozen times in ANALOG Science Fiction & Fact. So what’s up now?

I’m looking at my platform whilst reading the book CREATING YOUR WRITER’S PLATFORM ( in which Chuck Sambuchino forces me to ask the question: “What is my visibility as an author?”

That’s what a platform is.

It’s relation to the sixth step of the Twelve Step Program should be obvious, but if it’s not, it goes something like this: If you’re invisible as an author, then your book will tank.

Apparently, the halcyon days of book promotion tours on the publisher’s penny are gone forever. In fact, as far as doing tours at all, there are fewer and fewer places that a flesh and blood writer can go to. If there’s nowhere for a writer to go, then how do we let people know that we’ve written a book?

One way, I suppose would be to talk to all the people you see, but as a writer sees few people in a day, that’s sort of a moot point. How about the people you email, text, FB or otherwise interact with in cyberspace? How many of you have been to a webinar? (Scary fact: the dictionary program of Word RECOGNIZES THE WORD WEBINAR AS A REAL WORD AND IT IS ALREADY A PART OF THE STANDARD DICTIONARY!) How many of you even knew what a webinar was in 1990? (According to the online dictionary, the word is a portmanteau of “webcast seminar” and was coined in the early 90s.)) How many of you have led a webinar? (I can now say that I have – several times.)

With the birth of the cyber platform comes the necessity of having some sort of online presence. That of course, has created an industry dedicated to creating a class of cyber etiquette for authors. How many times can I mention my writing before my friends and online contact begin to block me—or worse yet, start to mark my FaceBook posts and emails as SPAM or junk?

So, in this cyber world, is Bruce’s Sixth Step even a valid statement anymore, because the only answer possible is that I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN PROMOTE ME!


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 ( 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.


NEXT TUESDAY: Step 7, We humbly hope our new publisher will not find out what we said about our last publisher. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Write and Wrung Out • by Beth DeVore


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

A Twelve-Step Program for Writers • Part 5



In 1997, in a few minutes of whimsy, I knocked off twelve lines of highly concentrated and somewhat snarky advice for writers seeking to develop or repair their writing careers. To my surprise these words of wisdom remain available on the SFWA web site. To my even greater surprise Guy Stewart has taken the time and trouble to explicate them in depth. Herewith, Guy’s Commentaries.

—Bruce Bethke

The fifth step:

We have proclaimed to God, to ourselves, and to anyone else who would listen the exact nature of the many failings of our former editors and publishers.

Before I go on here, I should say that I have a deep and abiding respect for Bruce as a writer, an editor, a teacher, and especially as a friend.

I hesitate to presume anything so rash as that I “know him”. Our lives have intersected a number of times, in several ways, and at more than a few venues. We’ve lunched together, worked together, and argued. But I cannot presume to know him because much of our relationship is mostly through the Internet these days.

On the other hand, I do know that he has a razor sharp sense of humor, a critical and perceptive eye, and I take anything he says seriously.

However, I do NOT take everything he says at face value!

When WORKING together, I interpret his comments to mean exactly what he says. In personal commentary, I ALWAYS take his comments to be carefully and clearly expressed. When we discuss the state of the world however, I take what he says as I would take a grain of sand (some would say “salt”, but I’ve learned his crystals aren’t that small, so I’ll say sand here and imply that it is a granite crystal): a possible irritant designed to elicit honest discussion or to simply make me think.

A bit of background before I go on: I am the oldest child in my family, first born male child and a son of privilege. I married into a family in which I was the last adult before the children were counted and figured sometimes I BELONGED at the children’s table at Thanksgiving.

As the usual oldest, I was always cast as the part of a parent, or the shoemaker or the princess’s father in high school. I had one friend who was older than me and mobs of friends who were younger. I was consistently cast in the role of “mentor” and have been my entire life. I had no older brother; I had no one to kick my metaphorical ass when I made stupid choices or decisions.

From the beginning, Bruce became my mentor. He’s not a lot older than me (I got to be a grandfather first!); but as far as writing and life experience, he is indeed my mentor. His wife was diagnosed with breast cancer before mine was and as a result, he was able to pull me up beside him and be a shoulder on which I could lean. He was an “award-winning author” first; published first; created a genre-defining word first; and was an editor first.

All of this I say to point out that I don’t take EVERYTHING he says as serious and sometimes have to search a bit to find the meaning.

The meaning here, if I may be so bold as to speak it, is that we should refuse to burn our bridges no matter how awful our experience. By this I do NOT mean that we be doormats to whims of agents and editors, I mean that gossip, slander (even if it’s true), and bad-mouthing someone is NEVER appropriate; not because “today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner” (in case you were wondering, it’s a line from WORKING GIRL) but because nothing ever happens in a vacuum and everything is fodder for character building.

Bruce is a smart man; he has learned from experience. He takes what he has learned and passes it on. Sometimes he passes it on without embellishment and sometimes he makes me dig for meaning. This is a “dig for meaning” kind of wisdom.

And if it wasn’t meant that way? Meh. That’s how I’m going to take it!



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 ( 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.


NEXT THURSDAY: Step 6, We are entirely ready to let someone else take the blame for the way our last book tanked.