Sunday, October 31, 2021

Lastday: Stupefying Stories #21


This is it. STUPEFYING STORIES #21 goes out of print forever in about 12 hours. This is your last chance to get the Kindle edition for free. All you need to do is click the link. How much easier could it be?



Saturday, October 30, 2021

Assorted Reminders and Updates

STUPEFYING STORIES #21 goes out of print forever on Monday, November 1, which means you now have about 36 hours left in which to grab the free Kindle edition. Don’t miss your chance to get the collection that reviewer Hamilcar Barca described thusly: 

“All of the tales are well-structured and well-written. I was pleasantly surprised that none of the writers were "weak links", nor did any of the stories feel like they were "mailed in". Perhaps that merits a tip-of-the-hat to the editor, either for his selection of the writers or for demanding a certain level of quality in the entries.” 

Perhaps indeed.



I know, you’re thinking, “I can’t possibly in good conscience take a free e-book from a struggling small-press publisher. I want to throw some spare change in their tip jar or something.” Well, the good news is that while we don’t yet have a Patreon or GoFundMe account, we do have the “or something” part of it covered, in the form of the Support Stupefying Stories Fund, care of Rampant Loon Media LLC. All contributions sent to the Support Stupefying Stories Fund go directly towards paying the authors whose work you’re enjoying in our magazines and our virtual pages—literally, all donations go straight into the PayPal account from which we pay our contributors.

Support Stupefying Stories! 



“Hold on a minute!” I heard someone in the back say. “I’ve watched public television. I know how this works. Shouldn’t I get a coffee mug or a tote bag or something?” Well again, we aren’t quite to that point, but we do have a little something to sweeten the deal. If you donate now at the $7.50 level—it used to be the $5.00 level, but the USPS raised the media and printed bound material postage rates a few weeks ago, the bastards—you’ll receive a copy of REBEL MOON, signed by yours truly, as a token of our appreciation. Be sure to include your mailing address and any requests for personalized inscriptions in your donation note, and sorry, U.S. addresses only. The overseas postage rates are prohibitive.




“I don’t know,” I heard Phil say. (No, not you, the other Phil.) “Doesn’t that seem a little, well mercenary? After all, we are all artists here. Isn’t there some other way I can help out?”

I’m glad you asked! We are in fact looking for more people willing to help us in our mission to bring great fantastic fiction to new readers. In a generalized sense we are always looking for content creators who want to contribute articles and reviews to this web site, especially as it continues its evolution towards becoming the new & improved SHOWCASE, but in a specific sense we have a number of projects in development (e.g., RINN’S RUN) that would benefit greatly from having people on board who can a.) read, b.) think about what they’ve read, and c.) clearly express what they’re thinking about what they’ve read. 

Does this sound like you? Then line up, sign up, and—



The Spooky Season: Let's Talk About Zombies! • by Ray Daley



While I'm mostly known for writing science fiction, one of the other hats I wear is that of a horror writer. I love me a good horror film, be it haunted houses, undead armies, crazed slashers or whatever. There's nothing like a damn good scare.

I saw my first X-rated horror film when I was 13—The Sword & The Sorcerer. Let me tell you this, a guy gets his head shoved into a working grindstone and another man de-crucifies himself. It's got quite a decent amount of gore sprinkled over what is essentially a dark fantasy film. Worth a look if you like gory movies, some good demons, dark magic and a frankly amazing triple-bladed sword.

However. That's not what I've got you here to talk about this time. I wanted to discuss zombies.

The undead, shambling, reanimated corpses who frequently hunger for brains.

Most folks should be familiar with the King of zombie films, George Romero. The man who coined the line, "When there's no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

That's probably what most people think of when asked to form a mental picture of a zombie.

Originally, zombies came from Haitian voodoo culture, using black magic to reanimate a dead body, although the word can be traced back to West African roots where it meant god or fetish (an object which has supernatural powers). In English, the word zombie (spelt zombi) was first recorded in 1819. We've been curious about them for a damn long time!

So what is wrong with movie zombies?


SHOWCASE: “REVIVAL” • by Bruce Arthurs


When the dead came back, they turned out to be assholes.

“Wake up, dude.”

I cracked an eye open, groaning, hoping it wasn’t cops. Roscoe, the mutt who stays with me for some stupid dog reason, was sitting up beside the shopping cart. The cart was jammed out of sight between two bushes growing by the funeral home. I’d worked my way behind the bushes a few hours earlier and gotten as comfortable as you can, sleeping on cold ground.

“Hoo’zat?” I muttered. My mouth tasted foul. Goddamn that cheap wine.

Roscoe turned towards me. “Stay quiet,” he said. “Things are happening.”

My dog was talking. “Things are happening” seemed like an understatement. A dream, I figured, or maybe DTs, so my dog speaking to me didn’t alarm me that much.

But Roscoe waking me made me one of the first people to see the dead come back. The side door to the funeral home squeaked open, and two dead people walked out. One wore a suit and tie, the other in just a hospital gown. They smelled, of blood and rot and embalming fluid. The smell would lessen over time, but I didn’t know that then. They didn’t lurch or moan. They didn’t mutter “Brains-s-s-s” like they were in some stupid zombie movie. The dead sauntered out that door. Like they owned the world. Like they knew secrets the living didn’t. Like they were better than us.

And they were smirking. Yeah, smirking. I got to hate that smarmy know-it-all expression on their faces. Everyone got to hate it.

One of them, the good-suit one, saw me lying behind the bushes. He spat cotton gauze out of his mouth and spoke.

“Bum,” he said, and laughed.

“Worthless bum,” the woman in the hospital gown added. They both laughed. They started to walk away, but then the guy turned back and spoke again.

“Your dog is ugly too.”

Roscoe growled. “Assholes,” he muttered. I petted him and told him to calm down. Maybe because I thought I was dreaming or the booze was finally melting my brain, or maybe because I was used to that sort of treatment, but both of us got back to sleep pretty quickly after the dead people walked away.

It wasn’t a dream. By the next afternoon, more than just recently-dead began coming back. Graves were clawed open from the inside. Cremation urns shattered, the ashes whirling around like a desert dust devil until they found a source of water; the slurry and mud formed into misshapen doll-like things that changed into meat and bone, and grew, and became full-sized and whole again.

A lot of the dead were in rough shape, but they…

I don’t know if “healed” is the right word. Besides the creepy reformations of the cremated, the dead sweated out embalming fluid, missing limbs regrew, and they looked more and more normal over time.

But they didn’t act normal. They walked around, looking at the world through eyes filled with contempt. When they didn’t ignore us, they derided us.

I saw a wide-eyed woman run up to a dead man on the street. “Daddy?” she cried. “Daddy, is that you? Daddy, come home.”

He looked at her with a withering look. “Do I know you?” he said. “Do I want to know you?” Glee lay under the contempt in his voice. He was enjoying his cruelty. And then he said, “Are you worth knowing… Mary?” and turned and walked away from the woman. Her face crumpled, and she fell to her knees on the sidewalk, weeping.

Roscoe and I went to her. Roscoe pushed his head into her lap and did the Sad Doggy Eyes thing. I patted her shoulder and offered her my cleanest handkerchief. She hugged Roscoe for a while, then stood and walked away silently, head down.

I thought becoming able to talk might mean Roscoe would have some answers about the returning dead. He didn’t have that much to say though.

“Jeez, dude, you’re asking a dog for advice.”

“Is God doing this? Is there a God?”

“No fucking idea. I can lick my own balls. That seems like a good argument for Intelligent Design. Not sure what it says about you.”

“So why are you able to talk now?”

“I’ve always talked. Maybe you never listened before. Let’s find something to eat.”

Then the dead began to grow wings, and we finally got some half-assed answers out of them. “So we can fly to Heaven. ‘Cause we’re going to Heaven and you’re not, losers.”

That was just too damn much for a lot of people. There were just too many assholes in the world now. They started hunting the dead. They shot the dead. They cut them down with swords and axes and chainsaws. They hung them from lampposts, doused them with gasoline, and set them ablaze.

The re-deadified just came back again. Limbs rejoined, wounds and bullet holes closed. Ashes drifted into clumps and piles again and sucked moisture from the ground again and turned back into meat and bone again. The dead gave us the finger and laughed.

Lots of people killed themselves after that, thinking they could come back, grow wings, and go up to Heaven too. But they didn’t come back. They only rotted and stank. The dead laughed about it. “Too late! Sucks to be you!”

Roscoe and I moved into a house left empty after the owners’ suicides. People had stopped caring much about paperwork and titles and that kind of shit by then. There were blood spatters on the bedroom walls, so I slept on the living room couch instead.

I woke to Roscoe’s growls one morning to find a dead woman sitting in the chair across from the couch. Her half-grown wings bunched up behind her. It looked uncomfortable. Good.

She said the dead needed to be left alone; we living people had to stop killing them over and over. When all the dead’s wings were fully grown, they’d fly up to Heaven together and never come back again. But they all had to go at the same time.

“Sure, maybe,” I replied. “Maybe you could shut the fuck up and not be such assholes until then?”

She laughed. She laughed hard, and ugly, and mean. “What do you think Heaven is?”

Lots of people received that message. The deadhunters put their guns and chainsaws away. It took several weeks, but all the dead had their full wings, finally. Some wings were pure white, but most were shades of gray and brown, like big fucking pigeons.

When they rose into the air, wings spread broad and beating fast, they dimmed the sun with their numbers. Then turds and piss rained down from the sky, and everyone watching ducked for cover. Just like damned pigeons after all. They rose higher and higher, getting smaller and smaller, until they couldn’t be seen anymore. No one saw the skies part, or visions of pearly gates, or a big suburb of mansions in the sky. The dead just went away, and have never come back.

If what the dead said was true, that Heaven is a place where you’re free to be an asshole, where it’s okay to be your worst self, to be mean and cruel and selfish, maybe it’s a good thing that the living left behind are cut off from any chance at going there after we die.


Roscoe and I sit out on the front porch in the evenings; we’ve made friends with some neighbors. I got by for a while doing odd jobs, then got work stocking shelves at a grocery store. I don’t spend my paychecks on booze. Well, some. But I drink less than I used to, and bathe more often.

In a world without hope of Heaven, it turns out we try to be a little kinder to each other. That’s the favor the dead did for us. I don’t know if that’s the lesson we were supposed to learn, or if there was ever supposed to be a lesson at all, but we learned it anyway.

The neighborhood got together one weekend, with ladders and brushes and rollers and a whole big-ass load of paint. We spent the day on the big flat roof of the local mega-mart. People brought fried chicken and potato salad and home-made ice cream, soda for the kids and beer for the grownups. Some guys even brought up guitars and drums and an amp and we had music and dancing going on, being careful where the paint hadn’t dried yet.

Dogs don’t climb ladders very well, so I slung Roscoe across my shoulders and carried him up the ladder that way. “You’re pushing that unconditional love for an owner thing a little hard, dude,” he said. But he was a hit with the kids, and kept them away from the wet paint.

“What do you think, Roscoe?” I asked at day’s end. The sun was setting, but there was enough light left to make out the humongous lettering written across the wide roof.

He looked at me with disdain. “Dude, I’m a talking dog. A talking dog. What makes you think dogs know how to read?”

So I read the words out to him: 


“I think it’s time to go home, dude.”

I took a last swig of beer and thought about how maybe dogs had good advice for us after all.

“Yeah, let’s go home.”


Bruce Arthurs has been writing occasional fiction since 1975, with scattered stories appearing in scattered venues over scattered years. He also edited two anthologies and wrote an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation ("Clues", 4th Season, 1991). In 2012, after a long hiatus, he began writing fiction again while recovering from a badly broken arm. (He does not necessarily recommend this as a cure for writer's block.) Half a dozen new stories have been published since, with more awaiting publication. He lives in Arizona with his wife Hilde, several housemates, a small mob of cats, and can most easily be found online as @BruceArthursAZ on Twitter.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Talking Shop: Eric's Writing Challenge Update 16

To date, I've written about 82150 words toward the 87,500 word goal. That puts me about 94% of the way toward meeting the goal. I wrote about 4500 words on the urban fantasy over the last couple of weeks. That works out to about 2250 word each week or around 320 words per day.

Yeah, the writing challenge update is lot less exciting now that the first draft of Rinn's Run is complete. Still, I expect that people are wondering about the drop-off in productivity. There are practical and psychological factors in play. Let's dissect those a little. 

Finishing the first draft of Rinn's Run and being so close to meeting the writing challenge goal has taken a lot of the mental pressure off. Before, people were waiting for a completed book. I had tens of thousands of words to write. I was doing it all publicly. Now, the draft is done. I've written most of the tens of thousands of words. Unless I get hit by a bus or lightning or some other terrible and unforeseeable thing happens (knock on wood), hitting the writing challenge goal is a forgone conclusion. It's a lot harder to keep churning out 500 or 1000 or 2000 words a day without some of that pressure bearing down on you. There's probably a lesson in that for me and anyone else who procrastinates.

On the more practical side, moving directly from a novel you just completed to a partially completed novel in a completely different genre and told from a different POV is a bit of an adjustment. I ended up killing some time going back to check earlier chapters for details I thought I remembered. Then, I stopped doing that and just went back and read what I had from the beginning to help recapture the voice and remind myself of the plot threads I had going on. Honestly, it's been more work than I expected, which slowed things down. It also gave me a pretty clear picture of how much revision is in store. Perspective and a few years of practice means things that seemed good before seem only acceptable now. 

At this point, though, finishing it has become something of a point of pride for me. I will finish that book come hell or high water.


Eric Dontigney is the author of the highly regarded novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND, as well as the Samuel Branch urban fantasy series and the short story collection, Contingency Jones: The Complete Season One. Raised in Western New York, he currently resides near Dayton, OH. You can find him haunting obscure sections of libraries, in Chinese restaurants or occasionally online at

Q: Why is Stupefying Stories #21 available only on Kindle?


As the free ebook promotion runs its course and the hours to its going out of print tick away—we’re now at T-minus 60 hours and counting—another pair of questions about STUPEFYING STORIES #21 have come up again. Why is it available only on Kindle? Why isn’t there a print edition? 


The answer, unfortunately, is pretty simple and stupid. SS#21 was the first book we did using the then-new Kindle Create software. I chose that application because a.) it promised seamless integration with Amazon’s KDP publishing platform, b.) it promised a much easier path to producing print editions by using common source files, c.) at the time, putting the e-book exclusively on Kindle offered a lot of advantages for promoting and marketing the book, and d.) our previous experience with non-Kindle platforms was really frustrating.

To be blunt, it was a lot of work to produce and deliver different output files for Nook, iPad, etc., and that extra work did not pay off. At the end of the day, the reality remained that a great month’s sales on all the other platforms combined was a slow day’s sales on Kindle.

So I produced SS#21 using Kindle Create, and found that while a.) above was true, b.) had some major bite-your-head-off bugs. So the answer to the second question is that we did produce a print edition, but it looked like total crap, so we didn’t release it. Instead we put it aside, with the intention of getting back to it and fixing it “later.”

And then the cascade of catastrophes that was the end of 2018 and nearly all of 2019 happened, and fixing SS#21 dropped off my radar. 

It’s a shame that it did, because if I’d been paying attention to SS#21, I’d have noticed this reader review, which I am going to steal and reprint in its entirety, with a few things emphasized. 

Hamilcar Barca
4.0 out of 5 stars
“It’s like Waiting For Godot but with supply airplanes.”
Reviewed in the United States on January 6, 2019
Verified Purchase

Stupefying Stories 21 is comprised of nine tales, each by a different author, all of approximately equal length, being about 20 pages apiece. It is an incredibly fast and easy read, so if you have a book report due tomorrow and haven’t even started to read anything, this is the one to choose. You can easily finish it in a single sitting, although I preferred to savor it by reading it one story per sitting.

All of the tales are well-structured and well-written. I was pleasantly surprised that none of the writers were "weak links", nor did any of the stories feel like they were "mailed in". Perhaps that merits a tip-of-the-hat to the editor, either for his selection of the writers or for demanding a certain level of quality in the entries.

Only one of the stories is in the first-person POV (My Disrupted Pony). There is just a smidgen of cussing, and I only recall one roll-in-the-hay. I liked the concept of a reverse camera, and enjoyed being introduced to Lok’tus and Chickenpeckers. Ditto for the music nods to Jim Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, and Beethoven’s 'Fur Elise'. They all resonated with me; and anytime you mention Jackson Pollock or throw in a bit of French, you've got me hooked. Finally, I hadn’t thought about the (now defunct) DEW Line in ages; thanks for reviving that bit of nostalgia.

I’m a bit leery of mentioning my personal favorites from any anthology book, because everyone’s literary tastes are different. Nevertheless, here are the ones that stuck out in my mind, in no particular order.

'The Phoenix of Christ Church'. Because I'm partial to time-travel stories.

'Tendrils Beneath The Skin' and 'Wayfaring Stranger'. Because both stories ask tough, situational-ethics-type questions.

'The Crippled Sucker'. Because there are very few writers who can make playing poker on a train into a fascinating story, and that was the case here.

Your faves will almost certainly be different from mine. Another reviewer here at Amazon cited 'My Disrupted Pony' as a stand-out story, and I certainly can’t disagree with that choice, or any other selection.

4+ Stars. I can’t think of anything to quibble about in Stupefying Stories 21, except for: at only 9 stories and 213 total pages, it was over far too quickly. Another half-dozen tales would’ve been nice. Then again, if that means adding a bunch of short stories that don’t measure up to these 9 in quality, I’d probably be griping about that. We readers are a picky lot.
Why, warms my cold and leathery publisher’s heart, that review does.  A pity I didn’t read it until this week. It also raises some points that are very germane to our plans for 2022, but that’s a topic I’ll begin talking about next week. For now…


Thursday, October 28, 2021

Q: Is Privateers of Mars a comic book?


This question has been asked before, but now that it’s been asked again I suppose I’d better answer it. No, PRIVATEERS OF MARS is not a comic book or graphic novel. Structurally it’s three sequential short stories that add up to the length of a novella. I rather liked the way one reviewer put it: “it reads like three episodes of a great science fiction show that you wish someone would make.”

I can understand mistaking it for a comic book. The cover art is almost exactly what I thought I wanted at the time; an action scene that captures the energy of manga or anime. It ties in with what I thought would be my advertising hook: “If you liked Cowboy Bebop, you'll love Privateers of Mars.”

It doesn’t really work for selling a prose adventure story, though. 

That said, I do think that PRIVATEERS OF MARS would make a great graphic novel or limited-run comic book series. If I knew someone who knew something about comic book scripting and art, and if I had a better idea for distributing it than to fling it out on Amazon and hope that someone notices, I could be interested in moving in that direction.

Hmm. Now that I look at the listings again, I notice that the titles, subtitles, and descriptions for the Kindle and paperback editions are different and must be entered separately. Shrug. One more thing to fix. 

In the meantime…


T-minus Four Days and Counting

First item on the agenda: the “get it now before it goes out of print forever” free e-book giveaway for STUPEFYING STORIES #21 continues, from now through midnight on October 31st. If you want to read my complete eulogy for the book you can do so at this link, but if you just want to cut to the chase and download the e-book now, here’s the Amazon link.


Hmm. Right now SS#21 is a Top Ten Bestseller, as it’s ranked #9 in Science Fiction Anthologies. A pity it never ranked that high while it was for sale. I’ll have more to say about that in a minute, but before then…

Second item on the agenda: we continue to tinker with and refine our sales presentations, as described in “A Tale of Two Book Covers.” Is anyone else as interested in this process and the lessons learned as I am? We have not yet changed the cover art for PRIVATEERS OF MARS, but after significant discussion we have changed the subtitle and description. The title and subtitle now read like this: 


A Swashbuckling Tale of Space Pirates, Crazed Tyrants, and Deadbeat Clients

And I’ve changed the description from the original chunky block of dull gray text to this:

Meet Jacob Rhys: scoundrel, brawler, gambler, drunk, and licensed privateer working for the Free Mars State—until the authorities on Ceres seized his ship…

When shipyard engineer Valerie Morton found him a week later, face-down in a bar, she showed him the official report on what was discovered in his ship's cargo hold. As Rhys read the report he began tapping nervously on the grip of his sidearm. Then he suddenly stopped tapping and looked up at her.

"I'm getting my command crew back together," he said. "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.

Rhys smiled. "Good. Welcome to my crew."

What happens next? Join Rhys and rest of his slippery crew and begin the adventure today! If you liked COWBOY BEBOP, you'll love PRIVATEERS OF MARS!


If you’d like me to talk more about the process we went through to improve the book description I’d be happy to do so, but I’m afraid I’m more interested in talking about it than anyone else is in listening to me talk about it.

And oops, time’s up. More to follow…


Wednesday, October 27, 2021



We have a lot of things going on behind the scenes here at RLP right now, so here’s a quick mid-week roundup.

STUPEFYING STORIES #21 has reached end-of-contract-life and goes out of print on Monday, November 1. If you haven’t looked at this issue yet, this is your big—and last—chance. For the next five days we are giving away the Kindle edition FREE, for the cost of a click. But act now, because come next Monday, it’s gone forever.

C’mon, you can take a risk on a free ebook, can’t you? 


Eric Dontigney has just turned in the first finished draft of his new space adventure, RINN’S RUN, and we’re looking for beta readers to give it a quick read and tell us what they think of it. What works, what doesn’t, what runs too long, what could afford to run longer; all that sort of high-level stuff. We’re not looking for fine-detail proofreading at this time. We have a pretty good core group of beta readers lined up already, but we’d like to add a few more, just in case anyone needs to drop out. If you have some time free in November, and wouldn’t mind getting some free books in the bargain…


THE LOST PLANET is now out in hardcover! I know everyone thinks their baby is the cutest one in the world, but this is our newest baby, and it’s a beaut! If you want to read the sci-fi action/adventure that reviewers have compared to the great YA (but adults love ‘em too!) novels of Andre Norton, Poul Anderson, Gordon Dickson, and of course, Robert Heinlein, check it out! And now that it’s out in hardcover, I have to add: 



THE PETE WOOD CHALLENGE resumes next week. I don’t mind saying that the medical crisis of the past four months has been hellish and has thrown a whole toolbox full of monkey wrenches into our plans here, but in the meantime, Pete has been off in PeteSpace, busy putting together a full month’s worth of new flash fic, drabbles, short stories… And a podcast?

Stay tuned for more details! And while you’re waiting, if you’re wondering just what exactly The Pete Wood Challenge is, here’s a quick roundup of what we’ve done so far. Enjoy!


Bruce Bethke

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Talking Shop: About False Starts


An aspiring writer asks (truncating and paraphrasing now):

People always say, ‘Go with your gut feeling.’ But what if my gut feeling tells me to trash the whole stupid thing and start over?

It sounds like you’ve run into the “pantser” vs “plotter” dichotomy. Ask yourself, how do you begin to write a new story? 

Do you just have an idea spring semi-formed into your mind, and then you park your butt somewhere and start writing, trusting that you’ll figure out where the story is going eventually if only you keep beating on it long enough? Or do you begin by first developing some rough concept of the plot and where it’s going, and then start writing to put flesh on the bones?

If you write “by the seat of your pants,” you’re going to produce a lot of false starts that end up going nowhere. The trick is to produce an enormous number of them, and to learn to recognize very quickly when a story idea is going wrong, when it’s not worth your time to try to fix it, and when you’re better off just dropping it and moving on to your next idea.

Think of it in biological terms. Some species are successful because they produce thousands of offspring, only a few of which to survive to adulthood. Others produce very few offspring, but invest a tremendous amount of time and energy into raising each one. 

Both strategies work. Which analogue better suits your talent and temperament? 

Personally, I began as a pantser, but over time evolved into a plotter. My best stories—in terms of being the ones I’m most proud of, the ones that were most commercially successful, and the ones that were written with the least amount of floundering and flailing around—were the ones where I began with the ending, and then worked backwards chronologically to sketch out a plot that led to and supported that ending. Then I began to write the story proper, to flesh out and develop the plot. 

I didn’t always reach exactly the ending I’d started out for. Sometimes the characters hijacked the story while it was in progress, said in unison, “This is stupid!” and took the story off in a new direction, arriving at a completely different and much better ending than the one I’d initially had in mind. But I sold and saw published every story I wrote this way.

One warning: where you’re a pantser, there is a tremendous compulsion to save every false start you’ve made in hopes that someday you’ll return to it, figure out what went wrong and how to fix it, and buff up that piece of old junk until it becomes a bestseller. 

Don’t do this. Once you discard a false start, discard it. Otherwise you’ll end up like me, with filing cabinets and hard drives filled with decades of accumulated false starts that began with great promise and then fizzled out.

For the record, I have never had an old half-finished manuscript suddenly germinate in the dark and become a successful story. I have, however, wasted an ungodly amount of time looking for one false start or another, only to eventually find it and realize that I remembered it as being much better than it actually was. In every case I’d have been better off if I’d started over from scratch with what I remembered as being the good bits in the original story idea, not the manuscript I’d actually written.

Submitted for your consideration,
Bruce Bethke



CREATING ALIEN ALIENS: Part 2 – How Do I Present Alien Aliens So Humans Can “Get It”? THEME…

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction.

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...

I’ve ended up going on with the idea of creating “alien aliens” by reading some classic short stories in which alien aliens were front and center. So far:

“Can These Bones Live?” by Ted Reynolds (ANALOG, March 1979) – in which a Human has to plead for the resurrection of a race of extinct aliens after dreaming about the greatness of the aliens. She also ends up asking questions about the aliens who have the power and eventually about an alien people who the powerful ones respect. This gives a fascinating view of what different sapients might find important. (Nominated for several awards)

“Slow Life” by Michael Swanwick (ANALOG, December 2002) – in which astronauts are exploring the oceans on Saturn’s moon, Titan. A perfectly rational scientists gets into trouble and starts to have weird dreams, eventually believing that some form of intelligent life who live in black smoker type stacks in the methane oceans of the moon are communicating with her through dreams. (Won Hugo for best novelette of that year)

“Camouflage” by Joe Haldeman (ANALOG, March-May 2004) – Two aliens landed on Earth a long, long time ago and eventually take on Human form and live a small portion of their eternal lives on Earth. (Won James Tiptree, Jr award and 2005 Nebula for best novel)

“Blood Music” by Greg Bear (ANALOG, June 1983) – A scientists injects himself with his own cells, enhanced and transformed into colonial sapient beings, alien in every way but origin. In the magazine story, they might have been stopped; in the novel, they weren’t. (Story: Hugo 1983, Nebula 1984; novel nominated for both plus British Science Fiction Award).

Recently, I have read all of David Brin’s UPLIFT books and stories, which are full of aliens of every variety. Julie Czerneda works with aliens in all but her fantasy novels with various levels of “out-there-ness”. CJ Cherry has spent 20 years exploring the society of the “alien” atevi.

What ALL of these have in common may seem obvious to you, but it was a startling surprise to me…

I finally figured out that aliens are best presented and realized when they are metaphorical representations of the Humans they interact with.

Of course, this raises the question: “Is this what REAL aliens will be like?”

The answer (also “Of course!”) is: “Are you kidding?”

They won’t be like Shram, T’Pol, The Horta, Alien, Jar Jar Binks, Solaris (though this one comes close to being really “alien”), ET, or even Esen-alit-Quar, who, while physically alien, has a personality that’s as Human as mine.

They’ll be alien. Most likely incomprehensible. Alien.

So, once we reach the year that we make Contact, what do we do? Probably spend forever trying to figure it out. It’s unlikely that there will be a Federation we can join; probably not an Evil Empire to fight or even a Rebellion we can join; we’ll probably continue on the same way we are going today. They won’t be our Alien Saviors or our Alien Enslavers. They probably won’t even notice us.

So the function of aliens in science fiction is to explore HUMANS; us. Not figure out what will happen at First Contact. Nothing will happen. It’ll hit the headlines, then vanish from our normal navel gazing life. Even the ones who SWEAR they’re ready and are smirking at the rest of us will move on to the next "interesting thing".

So. How do I create aliens to explore Humans? They have to interact with Humans and be a metaphor of something profound that I’m trying to say. Something related to my themes: Education. First contact. Faith in God. How we interact with very alien. Domestication. Technological solution to problems today. Self-sacrifice.


I do NOT have these down yet. In fact, I’m not even certain these are the themes I’m working on. But, I AM working on them. It’s just going to take time to learn to focus!

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.

Monday, October 25, 2021

And now it's time to say goodbye...


STUPEFYING STORIES #21 has reached end of contract life and is going out of print. I was really proud of this issue: it has a really strong selection of stories and I spent a small fortune on the original art for the cover story, “DEW Line,” by K. H. Vaughan. That’s why I’ve posted the art here sans lettering. This one would have made a good poster. Please take a moment now to click on it and view it in all it's full-sized glory.

SS#21 has been getting a lot of reads on Kindle Unlimited lately, which is great, but it’s another victim of my three-years-and-done contract. That contract seemed like a good idea at the time. Seems stupid now. I actually discovered that this one had hit end-of-contract-life by accident, as I was checking our backlist to see which books could be taken off KU and put into wider distribution. I had always intended to go back and re-release this one in both paperback and on Nook, Kobo, et al. Too late now. 

So here’s the deal. For the last five days of this month, from Wednesday, October 27, to Sunday, October 31, SS#21 will be free to download onto your Kindle. But as of Monday, November 1, it goes out of print forever. 

Kindle download page link


Sunday, October 24, 2021


It’s our first HARDCOVER, and it’s a beaut! THE LOST PLANET is now live on Amazon

Never mind the “Not for Resale” banner in the photo: that’s something Amazon slaps on proof copies to make sure we can’t pre-order copies for a launch party before the book goes live on Amazon. (Grumble, grumble.) 

The point is, the book is real! It’s really really real! THE LOST PLANET in hardcover looks like a real book to be taken seriously! It has a nice, crisp, colorful front cover, an actual honest-to-gosh back cover with jacket copy, a sharp spine, tight binding that’s going to last for years, a great interior design with first-class typography…

Sorry, I’m running out of superlatives, so I’m just going to post a collage of photos of the actual physical book and remind you one more time: 


Saturday, October 23, 2021

Movie Review • “DUNE: It's Got a Lot of Problems..." by Ray Daley



So I recently got to see the new version of Dune. I'd seen all the trailers. I was looking forward to it but had a few reservations.

Reservation 1 - The Star

Timothée Chalamet as Paul Atreides. He looks about fourteen and is so skinny it appears he’d probably snap in half in a brisk breeze. He does not look like the saviour of a planet, not by a country mile.

Reservation 2 - The Length

It was fairly widely known we weren’t getting the entire first book of Frank Herbert's Dune in this movie, despite the fact it's longer than the 1984 version, which managed to do that.

So, with a couple of reservations, I watched the film. And it's got problems. Well, if you're watching with a critical eye, it certainly has.

I'll go ahead and hope you're already vaguely familiar with either the book or the 1984 movie. The 2000's miniseries is actually Children Of Dune, so can be ignored. Dune is essentially the story of a white saviour coming to free indigenous people. It's also a serious case of cultural appropriation, which everyone seems to gloss over as well.

So what are these problems?

Dune falls down hard in a couple of fairly important places.

Friday, October 22, 2021

A Tale of Two Book Covers (Part 1)

I’ve been taking a really deep dive into marketing lately, to try to learn what we’re doing right, what we’re doing wrong, and where we can improve. The objective of Rampant Loon Press is to get people to buy and read books, after all. That’s our entire, fundamental, raison d'être. If people aren’t reading what we publish, nothing else we do matters.

And to be blunt, sales are a pretty damned good metric for measuring whether or not people are reading and enjoying what we publish. “Likes” and good reviews are all well and good, but numbers are what matter. And our sales numbers are not what I want them to be.

To improve our marketing, then, I have been sitting through a ghastly load of marketing webinars lately. I’ve already developed some pretty strong opinions on what makes for a good webinar. Most of them more honestly should be labeled infommercials, as they have about ten-percent useful content and ninety-percent saccharine enthusiastic fluff combined with pressure to upsell you to the next webinar, where the presenters promise to actually deliver all the information they’d said they were going to deliver in this webinar but didn’t. Fool me once…

Once in a while, though, I get into a webinar in which I learn some useful things and leave with some solid insight into what we’ve been doing wrong and how we can improve. Among other things, one of the areas in which I’ve realized I have been doing things really wrong is in our approach to cover art. 

For example, consider PRIVATEERS OF MARS. While I am not 100-percent satisfied with this art, I thought it got pretty close to the concept I thought would sell the book. If you read the book, this art suits it. The reviewers pretty much all got the concept: this is a sci-fi space western and a novella for people who still miss Firefly and Malcolm Reynolds. I think my favorite reviewer comment was that this book reads like three episodes of a really great TV series you wish someone would make.

If you read the book…

That’s the rub. The print edition makes a great artifact. If you were to see it on the racks in a bookstore somewhere, you’d probably want to pick it up and take a closer look. Once you skimmed page 1, you’d probably be hooked on the characters and the story and want to buy it.

A bookstore. How quaint. 

Unfortunately, here in the second decade of the 21st century most people will never get even close to a physical copy of the book, much less to clicking the Look Inside link. (Which by the way looks like complete crap. Amazon has changed the way they render Look Inside content again, so there’s another thing to fix.) The way most people will be exposed to the book will be in the form of a thumbnail, about this big.

What do you see? A brownish blob on a brownish background, with the word “Mars” as the only thing that’s readable? Not exactly enticing, is it? 

Now compare that to this mock-up cover, which I whipped together in about ten minutes using stock art. Between these two thumbnails, which one says “science fiction action/adventure” to you? Which one makes you somewhat more likely to click through to the Amazon sales page, to take a closer look at the book, and at that point, to finally see the opening line of our sales pitch?

Meet Jacob Rhys: scoundrel, brawler, gambler, drunk, and licensed privateer working for the Free Mars State—until the authorities on Ceres seized his ship…  

I liked the original cover. I liked working with the artist, to get a unique, commissioned piece of art that (mostly) represented what I thought would entice people to take a closer look at the book. 

But if I want to sell books in the reality of Amazon’s world, the cover is the first thing I need to change. Perhaps to something more like this: 

Go ahead. Click through. Never mind the “Look Inside” mess; it doesn’t look like that on my Kindle. (If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber and it does look that bad for you, please, let me know.)

Cover art. Just one of the many things I’ve learned I need to change if we’re to improve sales and reach a bigger audience. Stay turned for more. 

—Bruce Bethke


Thursday, October 21, 2021

Help Wanted: SF Readers


Eric Dontigney has just turned in the first draft of his new unabashed space opera, RINN’S RUN. From what I’ve seen of it thus far it’s pretty exciting, but I haven’t had time to read the entire manuscript myself.

Ergo, I’d like to do something a bit different this time. What I am looking for now are four or five people willing to read the manuscript and form a focus group. I am not looking for a close proofreading at this time; this is still a rough draft. What I’m looking for are people who:

  1. Like science fiction. If you prefer fantasy or paranormal romance or something in the vein and don’t usually read SF, this is not the book for you.

  2. Have a little time to spare. This is a full-length novel, about 85K words long. This is not something you’re going to knock off in an afternoon.

  3. Are willing to think in developmental editing terms. As I said, this is a rough draft, so I’m not looking for detailed technical copy editing at this time. What I’m hoping to find are people who are willing to breeze through this manuscript and then answer a few pretty fundamental questions.

    1. What works?
    2. What doesn’t work? 
    3. What bits need further development because they’re either unclear or too short?
    4. What bits need to tightened or cut out because they’re unnecessary or too long? 
    5. And the big one: does the ending work? 

I realize this is asking a lot, so to sweeten the deal, I’ll send a print copy of Eric’s previous novel, THE MIDNIGHT GROUND to everyone selected to join the focus group, and a signed print copy of RINN’S RUN to every member of the focus group once the book is ready to be released.

Does this sound like something you’d want to do? If so, drop me a line at brb [at] rampantloonmedia [dot] com, and we’ll get the ball rolling.


—Bruce Bethke

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Think Before You Kill • by Marie Brennan

Some authors really enjoy killing characters, and some kinds of story practically require it. But any time you start offing people in a tale, you run the risk of yanking away one of the main supporting beams of the audience’s interest. Many of us engage with the mystery or threat through the conduit of one or more characters, and once those characters are dead, we find ourselves with little reason to care anymore.

So how do you get away with a high body count—and more, how do you make that effective? It’s easy enough to bump off nameless mooks, but also pretty meaningless. We can tell who’s cannon fodder, and we don’t bother getting attached to them. But when you’ve got an ensemble cast of developed characters, and you then start picking them off, it can be powerful storytelling…assuming you don’t lose your audience along the way.

Three principles may help. 

  1. The first is to make it clear to the audience what kind of story you’re telling. Sometimes genre alone will do this for you: if your novel or film is advertised as a war story or slasher horror, then we can guess going in that not everyone will survive to the end. There’s still a risk that our favorite characters will die too early, but at least we won’t be blindsided when it happens. When it comes out of nowhere, too often it feels like the author was going for pure shock value, which is rarely as effective as those authors seem to think.

    When genre alone isn’t enough to wave the flag, it’s worth looking for other devices to signal what’s coming: a frame story, a reference to a prior massacre under similar conditions, an ominous prediction by one of the characters, or anything else that cues the audience’s expectations.

  2. Second, think carefully about who you’re killing. There are some unpleasant patterns around who tends to die early, predictable enough that they’ve been mocked by countless parodies: the Black friend, the gay guy, the girl who’s had sex, and so forth. If you repeat those patterns, there’s a portion of your audience who will quit. They’ve seen it before, and they’re beyond tired of it.

    But this principle isn’t just about the unfortunate habit writers have of tossing in a few diversity tokens and then whacking them. Lots of stories still have Generic McStoicson as their main lead, on the theory that he, as an “everyman,” is relatable to everybody. In practice, though, that guy is often thunderously boring. What life and flavor the story has comes from the characters around him. Once the curtain has dropped on the rest of them, the audience is left with nothing but the protagonist-shaped piece of cardboard, and they start wondering why this guy gets to survive while all the more interesting people die.

  3. And finally, give careful thought to how the characters die. If you’re felling them in mass quantities, then obviously the story won’t have room for the kind of impact—the shock and grief and mourning—that can follow on a single death. The members of your ensemble may go out quite quickly, and sometimes they’ll go out senselessly, because not everyone gets an ending full of meaning and moral.

    Still, you can and should bear in mind what the audience wants for those characters, and not thwart that desire without good reason. Both the page and the screen have far too many examples of intelligent, capable, ferocious women who turn helpless and pathetic the moment their demise is required to further the hero’s story. Don’t ignore someone’s strengths because it’s more convenient that way. And distribute the senseless deaths with a sparing hand; if we’re invested in a character, losing them for no better reason than “it ups the stakes” or “it shows that death can strike at any time” will be deeply unsatisfying. It calls to mind the reaction of the grandson in The Princess Bride: “Jesus, Grandpa, what did you read me this thing for?!”

    In some ways, the most satisfying deaths can be the ones that go in the other direction. The character who’s been helpless and pathetic all along, but who finds a moment of unexpected strength right before the end? That speaks to us. So does the moment of bonding or support between two characters who have loathed each other all along. Those deaths are memorable because they add something to the narrative, instead of merely taking something away. They leave us feeling like we’ve gotten a return on our emotional investment.

Even with these principles in mind, though, a story that reaps its cast like grain at the harvest still won’t work for everybody. Not all readers or viewers are on board with a story that will slowly whittle the ensemble down to a lucky (or unlucky) few survivors. Some are on board…right up to the moment when their favorite exits stage left, and even if the exit is a good one, that wound proves too much for them. No matter how hard you try to make your whole cast well-developed and interesting—including your central character—you’ll never catch all readers in your net.

That’s all right. Not every story is for every reader. And there are no doubt good stories that violate all the principles above and still manage to work, at least for some portion of those along for the ride. But keeping an eye on these guidelines will increase the chance of keeping your audience to the end.


Marie Brennan is a former anthropologist and folklorist who shamelessly pillages her academic fields for inspiration. She recently misapplied her professors' hard work to The Night Parade of 100 Demons and the short novel Driftwood, and together with Alyc Helms as M.A. Carrick, she is the author of the Rook and Rose epic fantasy trilogy, beginning with The Mask of Mirrors. The first book of her Hugo Award-nominated Victorian adventure series The Memoirs of Lady Trent, A Natural History of Dragons, was a finalist for the World Fantasy Award. Her other works include the Doppelganger duology, the urban fantasy Wilders series, the Onyx Court historical fantasies, the Varekai novellas, and over sixty short stories, as well as the New Worlds series of worldbuilding guides. For more information, visit, her Twitter @swan_tower, or her Patreon at

cover art for THE NIGHT PARADE OF 100 DEMONS by Marie Brennan

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

CREATING ALIEN ALIENS: Part 1 -- The Premise and Groundwork

Five decades ago, I started my college career with the intent of becoming a marine biologist. I found out I had to get a BS in biology before I could even begin work on MARINE biology; especially because there WEREN'T any marine biology programs in Minnesota.

Along the way, the science fiction stories I'd been writing since I was 13 began to grow more believable. With my BS in biology and a fascination with genetics, I started to use more science in my fiction. 

After reading hard SF for the past 50 years, and writing hard SF successfully for the past 20, I've started to dig deeper into what it takes to create realistic alien life forms. In the following series, I'll be sharing some of what I've learned. I've had some of those stories published, some not...I teach a class to GT young people every summer called ALIEN WORLDS. I've learned a lot preparing for that class for the past 25 have the opportunity to share with you what I've learned thus far. Take what you can use, leave the rest. Let me know what YOU'VE learned. Without further ado...

I have created three universes.

In the first, it’s Humans alone. We genetically engineer ourselves to fit the varied environments we encounter. The overarching conflict is between the Empire of Man and the Confluence of Humanity. The first considers someone Human if they are 65% or more “Original Human” DNA based on the completed Human Genome Project competed in 2003. If you’re less, you’re considered Sub-Human. The second sees ANY genetic manipulation to be A-OK.

In the second, it’s us and mobile plants. Humans have gone deep into space and encountered the WheetAh, mobile plants reminiscent of a mobile giant saguaro cactus crossed with a pitcher plant. The conflict is as obvious as it is inevitable – we eat plants. They eat rodents; hence the pejoratives each lays on the other. We call them Weeds; they call us Weasels.

In the third, we are junior members of the Unity of Sapients, some fifty extremely different intelligences (I can’t say species – as in Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus Species – as there are smart minerals, arthropods, collective, herd, and individual intelligences in the Unity. We haven’t even been certified sapient. (definition: adjective – having or showing great wisdom or sound judgment; Orig –1425–75; late Middle English sapyent < Latin sapient- (stem of sapiēns, present participle of sapere to be wise, literally: to taste, have taste), equivalent to sapi- verb stem + -ent- -ent

So, I’ve written stories in all three universes. How many in each have been published?

Confluence/Empire: I’ve written seven; only one has been published.
WheetAh: Written two; one published.
Unity: Written seventeen, four published…which seems good, until I point out that the four published stories didn’t contain aliens.

So, I CAN’T write believable aliens very well.

Why not?

Writers who have written believable aliens: David Brin, Julie Czerneda, Hal Clement, James White, Alan Dean Foster, CJ Cherryh, Larry Niven, Octavia Butler, SL Viehl, and others that escape me; clearly depict them. But HOW?

I’ve been doing some superficial analysis and it seems that when Humans and aliens interact closely and the alienness is narrowed down to one or two SPECIFIC differences; the ones that somehow cause the problem; that’s when the aliens are acceptable.

For example, CJ Cherryh’s atevi. Basically giant Humans with golden eyes and coal black skin, bipedal, five digits, and sexually compatible with Humans (though not reproductively compatible). They have one clear difference: they have no concept of love. In place of love, they have a profound sense of association. All large, mammalian life forms on the Earth of the atevi have this same biological urge – to associate under one strong leader. The single Human who interacts with them, Bren Cameron, understands this and can speak their language fluently – but he still makes mistakes when under pressure to assume that the atevi “feel” about him as he does about them. This creates countless situations of tension and have driven the story line for some TWENTY novels over a quarter of a century of time. The reason I go back repeatedly is because I want to see what happens next as the Human population grows and the atevi advance in technology and eventually reach parity with Humans; and possibly visit Earth.

Another example is James White’s famous Sector General novels. Twelve novels spanning over thirty years of writing, they depict the life of a small group of Humans on a massive space station away from the “main thoroughfares” of a vast interstellar civilization as they interact with countless alien cultures and medical personnel. Languages, medicine, morality, humor, and emotions are touchstones – and points of conflict – for the series.

So – what have I learned with my brief analysis?

1) Aliens and Humans HAVE to interact closely; intimately. (I tried this with “May They Rest” and it was quickly bounced by five magazines as well as my favorite, to which I’d sold several stories…) In “A Complications of Sapients”, my character and an alien, “cockroach” sapient interacted VERY intimately – and didn’t sell…

2) I need more aliens than Humans. I did this in “Peanut Butter and Jellyfish”, podcast from CAST OF WONDERS. It took place on a trimaran carrying cultural exchange WheetAh. Humans needed to be at a disadvantage. The aliens were at an advantage.
 It was published.

3) It needs to be a BROADLY threatening situation. I think I did this in “The Princess’s Brain”, but I’ve got to go back ad reread it. I DID do this in “The Krasiman, Monkey Boy, and the Frogfather”, but that didn’t sell, either.

So, I’m ready to try something new. Using what I've learned from Lisa Cron's book, WIRED FOR STORY, as well as seriously studying the successful aliens published in books and online and paper magazines...should give me an alien story that will sell. We shall see!


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.