Saturday, April 30, 2022

A little something for the weekend?





Remember when Marvel movies were fun? Remember when we all used to look forward to the next Marvel movie, because it was going to be exciting, different, and a great way to take your mind off the hook and get lost in pure heroic escapism for two solid hours? Remember when Marvel/Disney/Sony/Whatever was not pounding out four theatrical movies, plus four TV series, plus three direct-to-streaming movies, plus two holiday specials, every frickin’ year?

[Holiday specials?!?! Yeah, seriously. The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special is going live on Disney+ this coming December. At last we’ll know the answer to the question we’ve all been wondering about for the past 44 years: can anyone make a bigger turkey than the legendary 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special? Stay tuned…]

Most importantly, though, remember when it was possible to watch, enjoy, and make sense of a new Marvel movie without having watched at least three other movies beforehand? 

This is where Spider-Man: No Way Home fits into the Marvel Cinematic Ecosystem. If you have not at the absolute minimum watched Spider-Man: Homecoming and Spider-Man: Far From Home, this one will make no sense at all. Give it a miss.

If you have watched the previous two, and feel a bloody-minded determination to finish out the series, then know that to understand most of what’s going on in this one, you should pop a 55-gallon drum of popcorn and also watch, in this order, the following movies:

  • The Avengers
  • Captain America: Civil War
  • Spider-Man: Homecoming
  • Doctor Strange
  • Avengers: Infinity War
  • Avengers: Endgame
  • Spider-Man: Far From Home

Ideally you should also have watched all three Tobey Maguire Spider-Man movies, both Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man movies (a.k.a., “The Spider-Man movies almost nobody watched”), and what the Hell, throw in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, too. (Although this last one might leave you with a profound feeling that No Way Home would have been better if both Peter Porker and Miles Morales had been given at least brief cameos in it.)

And then, by the time you have watched all of these movies, either your brain will have turned into feta cheese, or else you will have realized that by the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, the filmmakers have painted poor pitiful Peter Parker into such an impossibly tight corner that the only way they can get him out of it is by resorting to the sort of Colossal Magical Timey-Wimey Cosmic Reset that Marvel doesn’t seem to mind doing all the time, but that to me always feels like a cheat, just one thin step above, “And then it turned out, it was all just a dream.”

In 2004, Toho Studios released Godzilla: Final Wars, which was intended to be both a 50th Anniversary Godzilla’s Greatest Hits sort of movie and also the final film before they retired the character for a decade, to retool him and come up with the truly weird Shin Godzilla.

Think of Spider-Man: No Way Home as Spider-Man’s Final Wars. It’s loud. It’s fun. Peter Porker—er, Parker—gets to fight all his greatest villains, even the dead ones, one more time. But let’s face it: 25-year-old Tom Holland is getting a bit long in the tooth to continue playing high school student Peter Parker. Perhaps it’s time to wrap up all the story arcs, close out the series, let him swing off into the sunset, and then give the character a few years’ rest before starting over again, preferably with Miles Morales.

Hey! Didja hear there’s a new Doctor Strange movie coming out next week? Are you excited about it?

Yeah. Me neither.

~brb

Friday, April 29, 2022

Dawn of Time • Episode 4: “As American as robots and apple pie”



Written by Pete Wood

Continued from Episode 1 | Episode 2 | Episode 3

The story thus far: 32nd Century high school student Dawn Anderson is having a really bad day. Needing a better grade in History, she “borrowed” her father’s TimePak to take a short jaunt back to the 20th Century, only to make a perfectly innocent mistake involving a stolen handgun and a too-hot McDonald’s cherry pie. Now, instead of returning home, she is bouncing from disaster to catastrophe, each one worse than the one before. After being chased down the streets by a bunch of clowns, narrowly avoiding becoming dinosaur chow, missing out on participating in the Chicxulub extinction event, and making a new friend just in time to save her from drowning on the Titanic, she’s landed in what seems to be a nice, safe place, only to hear


“Exterminate all humans!” a metallic voice blared from some unseen loudspeaker.

Had we messed up 3204? I looked around in panic, then I relaxed. This was the robot uprising of 2347. Every school kid knew about it. Or was supposed to. I wished I had paid more attention in class.

Smoke and fire everywhere. An ice cream truck, its music playing insanely fast, headed straight for a crowd of kids. They jumped clear.

Stella tugged at my sleeve. “Perhaps we could find a house?”

“You can’t trust the robot butlers and maids,” I said. “All the robots rebelled.”

“You sure about that?” Stella asked.

Come to think of it, I wasn’t sure about that. I remembered something from class. The household bots hadn’t joined in the revolt.

I dragged my new kid sister to the nearest house, one of those classic hovering domes they hadn’t made in centuries.

I told Stella about the Timepak and the Titanic as we sprinted to the house. I thought she got it.

We made it to the front stoop. Lucky for us, the doors opened, and we entered a foyer. A fire crackled. Classical music played.

A sleek white robot glided over. “Welcome strangers,” it cooed. “May I be of assistance?”

“Do you have apple pie?” I asked.

“I regret that the Cuisinator 2400 is at market. Due to the um, unpleasantness outside. Some robots don’t know their place. I do not know when the maid will return.”

“You got chocolate milk?” Stella asked.

The robot bowed. “Certainly.”

A light shimmered. A figure appeared. Becky Heston in her stupid cheerleader outfit. God, I hated Becky Heston.

She smirked. “You’re so easy to track, Dawn.”

I forced a smile. “Hello, Becky.”

She held out two McDonald’s apple pies. “I hope you stocked up.”

“Could we borrow one, please?” I asked.

“Sorry. Can’t spare any dessert, sweetie.” She tapped her time belt. Nothing but smoke.

“You got the power. I have the machine,” I said.

Fine!” Becky sighed and gave me a pie. The other went into her backpack.

A tiny light sparkled in front of Becky. Something flew out and hit her. Hot gooey apple pie dripped down her face and onto her uniform.

“You did that on purpose!” Becky snapped.

I couldn’t stop laughing. Neither could Stella.

“I have no idea where that pie came from,” I managed to say after a few seconds.

“You lying tramp,” Becky said.

“Honestly, Becky, I had nothing to do with it.”

The robot butler appeared with a damp towel and chocolate milk. “Oh, my goodness,” it said. “Apple pie all over your face, Miss.”

Becky snatched the towel but did not thank him. Stella grinned and accepted the chocolate milk. She thanked the robot several times.

 Becky wiped off her face and blouse and threw the towel on the floor.

“No wonder they’re so upset outside,” the butler muttered.

Stella, Becky, and I locked hands. I flipped the switch and the machine took us—

Somewhere colder than the worst winter. Ice. Howling wind.

And Becky in a cheerleading skirt.


 

Next week: “Episode 5: The cave that time forgot”

 ________________

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


 ________________

PLEDGE BREAK

Dawn of Time is supported by the generosity of readers and listeners like you. If you appreciate the kind of programming we’re bringing you, please show it by clicking this link or the button below to make a donation today. All major credit cards are accepted, and all donations go directly towards paying the authors and artists who create the content that you’re enjoying on this site. Literally, all donations go straight into the PayPal account from which we pay our authors and artists.

 

HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth – SEASON 2, EPISODE 15 Invisible Boxes and the Rules For JUMP!


Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see, share the link with a friend – and you’ll have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, and it won’t interfere with your Homework Schedule.)


“Ambient crickets,” Emerald said a week later as she stepped into her room. She shed the brown coverall, kicking it across the room where it landed in a smelly ball like four others she peeled out of over the past eight days.

“Emerald, all you have to do is drop the coverall in the recycle chute and it will be cleaned and returned to you in...”

“There’s ten more in my closet. Why do I need to...”

“My sensors detect notes of stress and my heuristic program has learned that you are approaching another crying spell.”

“I don’t like talking!”

“Acknowledged and understood. Based on information in the autism database, this is not unusual behavior. However, I must also point out that in the microsociety of SOLAREX, such behaviors might be considered significant...”

“Just because I won’t talk to you about my problems, you’re telling me that I am likely to become a social pariah or a sociopath?”

“You know that that is not what I’m trying to say. If there’s one thing my heuristic programming has come to understand is that you are neither stupid nor unintelligent.”

Emerald snorted and after pulling a knee-length T-shirt over her head and dropping into the circular chair, she said, “What’s the difference?”

“‘Stupid’ means ‘lacking ordinary quickness and keenness of mind; dull; foolish; senseless; tediously dull, especially due to lack of meaning or sense; inane; pointless; annoying or irritating; troublesome’. Your personality, responses to me, and your Intensive Training Team for Young Adult Career Tracks,” officially, they were called ITTYACT’s though everyone pronounced it “ityacked”, “had been assigned the responsibility for planting, maintaining and harvesting an entire ten-hectare sugarcane field.” GADI paused, then continued, “Except for asking, ‘What’s the difference?’, you have presented no evidence that you are ‘stupid’. ‘Intelligent’ means ‘having good understanding or a high mental capacity; quick to comprehend, as persons or animals; displaying or characterized by quickness of understanding, sound thought, or good judgment; having the faculty of reasoning and understanding; possessing intelligence’. You repeatedly respond to your surroundings in a way that indicates that you are intelligent.”

“I have to study.”

“That is true, but not the subject of this discussion.”

“Then the discussion is...”

“We need to discuss what stops the coveralls from hitting the wall.”

“What?”

“Your coveralls behave as if they have collided with a solid surface when my sensors register that they are fifty centimeters from the wall. Do you have an explanation?”

“They hit the boxes.”

“What boxes?”

“The boxes that are stacked against the wall.”

“I do not detect boxes stacked against the wall.”

“Scan my room in visual mode.”

There was a pause. “I can see them. But I cannot sense them in any other way, though I am now scanning on all available frequencies. They are invisible in infrared, ultraviolet, or any other part of the electromagnetic spectrum including AM radio waves and hard X-rays as well as ultrasound, sonar, infrasound. As for thermal imaging, they do not register any difference from the wall they are next to. There are no magnetic field variations of any sort when I pass an magnetic field through the wall behind them. The boxes that are clearly visible in the extremely narrow band of Human vision are invisible to any other part of the electromagnetic spectrum.”

“Why?”

“Unknown.”

“They’re full of junk!”

“The efficiency level of their camouflage would argue against your simplistic denial,” said the Global Audio Diary Interface.

Emerald didn’t say anything, staring at the stacks of gray plastic moving boxes in front of which, her four sets of dirty coveralls had piled up.

Why would Mom and Dad – Dad most likely – stealth shield a bunch of plastic boxes? Mom had never been practical in stuff like that. Dad was the one who’d originally dealt with the soldiers. Mom was the brains of the outfit. Dad programmed the 3V simulations based on Mom’s descriptions. Dad was the realist, Mom the dreamer. “What’s in those things?”

“I cannot speculate without input.”

Emerald sighed and plopped back into the chair. She really didn’t want to know what was in them just now. Probably more of their precious artifacts from the Chicxulub Crater. Like her tektite necklace.

“What’s on 3V?”

“Anything you want.” There was a long pause, then GADI said, “Don’t you want to talk about the boxes anymore?”

She scowled and looked around the room. “Are your visual spectrum sensors still active?”

“Yes.”

“Turn them off.”

“Done.”

She looked around the room, trying not to look at the boxes then said abruptly, “What’s Jump?”

Despite GADI being an artificial intelligence and easily able to answer instantly, there was a short pause. It said, “Jump refers to a team sport of Brazilian origin played using a rubber disk called a ‘sprite’, a secondary disk called a ‘youfoh’ and a long-handled stick called a crosse or jumpstick. It is played in the United States of North America, the Union of South American States, the Pacific Rim Coalition as well as Reorganized New Africa – where it is now played to the exclusion of football. It is a contact sport which requires padding such as shoulder pads, gloves, helmets and rib guards. The crosse is used to catch, carry, and pass a disk called a ‘sprite’ and is strung with wire mesh designed to catch hard passes and hold them. Each team attempts to keep their sprite to themselves – but professional rules allow holding possession for only thirty seconds – somewhat like American basketball. The other team tries to steal the sprite. A second disk ricochets from the walls of the playing sphere. It is called a ‘youfoh’ and is sensitive to shifts in gravity and randomly changes color to match one of the two opposing teams. The teams vie for possession of the youfoh while being in possession of the sprite. If a team captures the youfoh when it is their color and they are in possession of the sprite, the youfoh stops changing color and they try to throw both the sprite and the youfoh through one of four white-rimmed hoops.

“The playing field is a stone sphere lined with squares of gravity plating hammered into foil that are kept at Earth standard gravity at the beginning of each half. After the game starts, the gravity over each plate can change randomly from negative 2g to positive 2g.

“Defensively, the objective is to dispossess the other team of both their sprite and youfoh for five minutes through the use of stick checking and body contact or positioning.” GADI paused then added, “It is an extremely rough sport. Broken limbs are not uncommon and all players are required to wear a specialized gravity deflection helmet.”

“Is that why they all look like their heads are swollen?”

“That is an interesting and uninformed observation.”

Holding out her hands, Emerald shook her head. “People my age spend all of their free time watching this stupid game?”

“The game does require a large amount of skill and high athletic quotient. Many find it interesting or entertaining.”

She looked at her hand. She sighed and stretched her fingers. Her hands hurt, though not as much as they had at first. The palms were red and raw from weeding on the plantation and crushing any beetles she found. That was revolting enough, but if she had to listen to one more lecture from Daniel… 

______________


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-shCROTG0xHA/Vf23FAhb2QI/AAAAAAAAX80/aEG8ZyFwyhA/s320/Heirs%2Bof%2Bthe%2BShattered%2BSpheres%2BEmerald%2Bof%2BEarth%2B%2B%2B%2B300dpi.jpg

Thursday, April 28, 2022

TV Corner: Halo – It’s Not Actually Bad • By Eric Dontigney

Video game adaptations are, at best, a mixed bag. Some rise to the level of okay, such as Doom, the 2018 Tomb Raider, and…well, those Sonic movies seem to have won people over. Unfortunately, for every decent video game adaptation, you get a Super Mario Brothers (sorry,
Bob Hoskins), or a Street Fighter (sorry, Raul Julia), or the 2007 Hitman (sorry, Timothy Olyphant…but I loved you in Justified). So, whenever I heard talk of a Halo adaptation, I was justifiably wary. As someone who played the original Halo: Combat Evolved on a PC, I can say that there is a lot to love about playing Halo. It’s a lot of fun.

Yet, it wasn’t exactly deep on a story level. You’ve got a protagonist who you never see outside his armor and operates just this side of being a functional mute. Your real touchstone is the onboard AI, Cortana, and even she’s pretty thin in that first game. To Microsoft’s credit, they have fleshed out the backstory in subsequent games and tie-in media. Even so, a deep backstory isn’t guaranteed to produce a great adaptation. For example, I really enjoyed Assassin’s Creed…as a fantasy-action film. It’s always fun watching Michael Fassbender dig into a role with a lot of physicality. Yet, it was pretty lousy as an adaptation. I don’t know who to blame for that one, the studio or the screenwriters, but they abandoned the existing canon for an…original?...sure, we’ll say original story that left a lot to be desired.

So, when Halo the show stopped being something geeks talked about on message boards and became something that was really happening, I wasn’t exactly thrilled. I discovered it was happening around the time it was debuting, so maybe I lucked out there. The casting gave me some sparks of hope. Pablo Schreiber had some cachet with me from his performance as “Mad” Sweeney in the American Gods adaptation. Natascha McElhone as Dr. Halsey was an inspired choice. She has a gift for the kind of layered performances you’d need for the morally bankrupt Halsey. Danny Sapani as Captain Keyes. Well, I don’t think that guy has ever been bad in anything he’s done. The cast really sparkles from top to bottom.

Still, the proof is in the pudding, as they say. I went into watching Halo with as open a mind as I could. I knew going in that they were going to have to have Pablo Schreiber take off the helmet and talk. You can have a silent, practically invisible protagonist in a video game. You can’t do that in a medium where people must talk to each other on camera. Overall, I’ve been impressed with it. They took the obvious step of walking back the timeline to before Master Chief crashes on a Halo installation. That let them build in some of the backstory about the Spartan 2 program and what Halsey did to make it happen. It also provided an opportunity to explore the relationship between John-117, Halsey, and Cortana.

The story doesn’t hew precisely to Halo game storyline, which it never could. The video games aren’t episodic in nature, so trying to adapt them that way would have doomed the project from the start. Instead, the writers aimed to create plausible storylines around the existing canon. The production values are excellent for a TV science fiction show. They aren’t perfect, but that’s to be expected when you need to CGI ALL of your bad guys. The plotting isn’t perfect, either. The weakest part of the show, in my opinion, is the running subplot with Kwan Ha Boo, a rebel teen, and Soren-066, a renegade Spartan. While both Yerin Ha and Bokeem Woodbine put in good performances, their story seems terribly disconnected from the much more compelling Master Chief storyline. There are still 3 episodes left this season, so maybe they’ll pull those storylines back together. For the moment, though, that subplot feels like a distraction from, rather than a benefit to, the show.

For the Halo game purists out there, this show will probably annoy you because of the inevitable liberties it had to take with the source material and Master Chief. For people looking for good sci-fi entertainment, this show hits most of its marks. With a second season already slated, you might as well jump on board for the ride.

________________

Stupefying Stories is supported by the generosity of readers like you. If you appreciate the kind of programming we’re bringing you, please show it by clicking this link or the button below to make a donation today. All major credit cards are accepted, and all donations go directly towards paying the authors and artists who create the content that you’re enjoying on this site. Literally, all donations go straight into the PayPal account from which we pay our authors and artists.

 __________________________________________________

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 ericdontigney.com.


SHAMELESS ADVERT: If you like Harry Dresden or John Constantine, you’ll love THE MIDNIGHT GROUND. READ IT NOW!

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Releasing May 1st!


After more than seven months on the Kindle Vella “Most Faved” list (Vella is way too edgy and hip to have something as mundane as a “Bestseller” list), and spending all of that time in the Science Fiction Top 5, Henry Vogel’s latest novel, The Hostage in Hiding, is at last coming out in a complete and standalone edition.

We are doing something different this time, too. Instead of going with our usual Amazon-only release, The Hostage in Hiding will be available on Kindle, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, and about thirty other ebook distribution channels we never knew existed, as well as in paperback and—this is the really exciting part—in a proper hardcover, with a dust jacket and everything!

We do not yet have pre-sale links for the ebooks, but the trade paperback and hardcover listings are live now, and Amazon is taking pre-orders. Check it out!

» Hardcover - https://www.amazon.com/dp/1958333026/

» Paperback - https://www.amazon.com/dp/1958333018/

Talking Shop: Character Description • By Eric Dontigney

Description is a tricky beast for all fiction writers. That goes double for character description. We’ve all read that book where the characters are described in such exacting detail that we’ve lost the thread of the story by the time the writer wraps it up. On the opposite end of the spectrum are those books with characters so thinly described that they only exist in our imaginations as ghostly specters with one or two defining characteristics. While you can argue that there is no Right level of description, I’m in the camp of people who believe in a minimalist approach to character description.

Readers will fill in a lot of details without your assistance. Let me prove it to you.

Sandy and Paul sat at the table and chatted while they waited for their pizza. Paul idly played with the red pepper and parmesan shakers that sat on the checked red tablecloth.

In those two sentences, I gave you a wafer-thin description. Yet, I bet you conjured up a pretty clear image of the table the two of them were sitting at. I suspect some of you imagined a four-legged table, while others imagined a pillar table. I didn’t describe the chairs at all, but I expect some of you pictured slat-backed wooden chairs. Others probably imagined those aluminum piping style chairs with the vinyl seat cushions. I only mentioned the shakers, but I bet you imagined those squat glass shakers with the metal tops. Did you see the napkin holder in your mental image? Maybe a waiter in the background talking with other customers? Were there booths? Did you see bright lighting or was it a low-key place with mood lighting?

My point here is that you can imply and let people’s imaginations fill in a lot of the details. Unless those details are crucial to the story, there is no reason to expend paragraph upon paragraph describing them. The same holds true when you’re dealing with character descriptions. Yes, you need to provide some details. You don’t need to paint a picture so detailed that the reader sees exactly the same character that you see. In fact, it’s counterproductive if you do. Letting the reader fill in some of the details helps them invest in the imaginative process. So, what kind of details do you need?

You need the obvious stuff. Are they male or female? Tall or short? Athletic, average, going to seed? As a rule, most people will toss in a few other salient details like eye color, hair color, and identifying marks. Does your character have a prominent scar? You should mention that. Do they wear their hair long or short? Sure, toss that in. Once you get beyond those kinds of details, though, you risk impinging on the reader’s ability to layer their own ideas onto the picture you’re drawing. Instead of going into extensive detail, give the reader a direction.

You can say something like: “He was handsome in a rough-hewn way,” or “She had a dancer’s body.” Rough-hewn and dancer’s body will mean different things to different people, and that’s where the magic lies. They can imprint their version of rough-hewn or dancer’s body onto the frame that you’ve built for them. Suddenly, they become the reader’s characters, instead of your characters. While it’s not enough on its own to keep readers invested, it’s one way you can invite readers into the creative process and get a little more of their psychological buy-in with the story.

________________

Stupefying Stories is supported by the generosity of readers like you. If you appreciate the kind of programming we’re bringing you, please show it by clicking this link or the button below to make a donation today. All major credit cards are accepted, and all donations go directly towards paying the authors and artists who create the content that you’re enjoying on this site. Literally, all donations go straight into the PayPal account from which we pay our authors and artists.

 __________________________________________________

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 ericdontigney.com.


SHAMELESS ADVERT: If you like Harry Dresden or John Constantine, you’ll love THE MIDNIGHT GROUND. READ IT NOW!

 

Monday, April 25, 2022

Status Update • 04/25/22

 

Wow. It’s only been three days since I posted the Pledge Break, but the outpouring of support has been—well, humbling, to be honest. Astonishing. Breathtaking. I had no idea that so many people care so much about Stupefying Stories and want us to continue. 

Thank you.

As of this morning, Stupefying Stories 24 is now fully funded, and we’re close to having enough donations pledged to do Stupefying Stories 25. At the risk of committing a terrible act of hubris, I’m beginning to think that if we can keep this drive going, we can raise enough to do Stupefying Stories 26, and then—

Well, our goal was always to grow Stupefying Stories until it becomes a magazine that pays its authors “pro” word rates and can help get them the recognition they deserve. (Awards committees and anthologists always take pro publications more seriously.) But we’ll drive off that bridge when we come to it. Today, let’s focus on:

» Stupefying Stories 24 is fully funded and GO for launch on June 1st!

» Stupefying Stories 25 is close enough to fully funded now that I feel comfortable committing to launching it on September 1st.

» Stupefying Stories 26 is our stretch goal. Assuming we can raise the funding, we plan to launch it on December 1st.

Remember, this is only possible because you made it possible. THANK YOU.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to work on putting out a magazine.

Still shaking my head in utter amazement,
Bruce Bethke  

________________

Stupefying Stories is supported by the generosity of readers like you. If you appreciate the kind of programming we’re bringing you, please show it by clicking this link or the button below to make a donation today. All major credit cards are accepted, and all donations go directly towards paying the authors and artists who create the content that you’re enjoying on this site. Literally, all donations go straight into the PayPal account from which we pay our authors and artists.

Any suggestions as to what you’d like to see at the “coffee mug or tote bag?” level?

Sunday, April 24, 2022

BLASTING INTO YOUR UNIVERSE ON MAY 1ST!

 

Coming in seven days on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and every other platform we can find! Available in paperback and hardcover, too!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

A little something for the weekend?

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin muzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a colored poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a meter wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black mustache and ruggedly handsome features. 

No, it was not Freddie Mercury. It was Big Brother, and if you have not by now recognized this as the opening of George Orwell’s 1984, shame on you. I think every April should be National Re-read 1984 Month, and instead of watching a movie this weekend, why don’t you do something really radical and subversive and read a book

Personally, I recommend that you read 1984, if you haven’t already, or re-read it, if you haven’t read it since you were in school. If I ever teach a course that attempts to talk about all that is good, brilliant, and important about science fiction, 1984 will be on the required reading list. 

Now go thou and read. And remember:

WAR IS PEACE

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH


Friday, April 22, 2022

Pledge Break

 

Come on. Out of the hundreds of writers who have been published in Stupefying Stories in the past decade, there must be at least one person out there who knows how to run a successful crowd-funding campaign and who is willing and able to help us raise the $1,000 we need to publish Stupefying Stories 24.

If that person isn’t you, then I’m going to pull out my old public radio hat, dust it off, put it on, switch to my on-air voice, and tell you that Stupefying Stories and Rampant Loon Press are supported by the generosity of readers and listeners like you. If you appreciate the kind of programming we’re bringing you, please show it by clicking this link or the button below to make a donation today. All major credit cards are accepted, and all donations go directly towards paying the authors and artists who create the content that you’re enjoying on this site. Literally, all donations go straight into the PayPal account from which we pay our authors and artists.

Please don’t make me escalate this to the coffee mug and tote bag level.

Dawn of Time • Episode 3: “Have buckwheat, will travel”

 


Written by Travis Burnham

Continued from Episode 1 | Episode 2

The story thus far: 32nd Century high school student Dawn Anderson is having a bad day. Needing a better grade in History, she “borrowed” her father’s TimePak to take a short jaunt back to the 20th Century, only to make a perfectly innocent mistake involving a stolen handgun and a too-hot McDonald’s cherry pie. Now, instead of returning home, she is bouncing from bad to worse. Case in point, after narrowly avoiding becoming yet another fossil in the Chicxulub impact crater, she’s landed comfortably on the deck of a luxurious ocean liner, only to hear

“Hurry, Miss, we have to get to the lifeboats. We’re sinking!”

I moved toward a lifeboat, but it lowered away. Scratch the lifeboat escape. The eight-piece band played a ragtime number, “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” which rang through the cold, night air. I recognized the song thanks to my Music teacher.

The deck began tipping, followed by shrieks.

I needed TimePak fuel, fast.

Stopping a steward, I asked, “Point me to the dining room?” He eyeballed me as if to say are you seriously hungry right now? But then said, “‘A’ deck. Left at the bottom of the stairs. The Verandah Café.”

Thankfully, there was an à la carte table laid out. Reaching for the food, I noticed a foot under the tablecloth. A foot attached to a girl a bit younger than me, knees pulled to her chest. She had rich dark hair cut into a style that didn’t seem fashionable for the time.

I waved at her. “Hello.”

“Hi,” she replied. She raised her chin high in a display of courage, but her bottom lip trembled. She looked with interest at my time suit and I remembered that maybe I’d been fashionable for 1975, but certainly wasn’t for 1912.

“I’m Dawn,” I said.

“Stella.”

The ship listed to the side even more. Stella squealed. Icy water swirled around my calves. The revolver felt heavy in my waistband, but offered no comfort.

I grabbed some buckwheat cakes and rolled in spoonfuls of marmalade, but paused before dropping the food into the slot. Why did I keep ending up in these terrible situations?

A wall of water began rushing forward, picking up a baby grand piano like it was a toy. It was heading right for us.

We’d learned about disasters in History class, but the statistics hadn’t fazed me. Stella wasn’t a number, though. I thought of all the other people on board. They weren’t numbers either any more, but there was no way I could save them all.

I wasn’t allowed to change the past, but there was no way that Stella was going to survive the Titanic, so saving her wouldn’t change anything, right? As long as we returned straight to 3204, we shouldn’t mess anything up.

I used my circuitry loupe and examined the TimePak’s inner workings. “Maybe the Situational Transmogrifier has one transposed diode?” I muttered to myself.

I reached out for Stella and she grabbed me. The past and the future, holding hands. “Hold tight, Stella, this is going to be a wild ride.” Using micro-tweezers, I flipped the diode around. “This is either going to be loads better… or exponentially worse.”

Just as the band above begin the first notes of the hymn, “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” I dropped the makeshift McDonald’s pie into the TimePak’s slot.

Flash! Bang!

Wherever we were, the floor was level.

Sirens screeched.

“Exterminate all humans!” a metallic voice blared from some unseen loudspeaker.

 


 


Next week: “Episode 4: As American as robots and apple pie”

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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.



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HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth – SEASON 2, EPISODE:14 Intensive Training Team 12: First Day - Sugarcane Field

Almost-thirteen Emerald Marcillon lives with her parents, who have dug up evidence of aliens in Chicxilub Crater in Yucatan, they have found artifacts that point to a long-ago alien war. An alien artificial intelligence called Inamma has survived that war. It tries to steal the artifacts that when assembled, can destroy all of Humanity. But it can’t find them and kills Emerald’s parents. Emerald escapes and is taken into Earth orbit to the SOLAR EXPLORER. Inamma follows Emerald into space, and the ship’s captain, who is also her great-aunt, tries to hide her from Inamma. Emerald holds the key to the artifacts. Emerald is not the best at making friends, but manages to make a few on SOLAR EXPLORER. When her friends and crew members find what Inamma is, they fight together to protect the artifacts.

(I’m posting Fridays, because if you like what you see, share the link with a friend – and you’ll have Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday to read it, and it won’t interfere with your Homework Schedule.)


He gave her a long look. “Rashida must have been pretty sure of you to make you memorize a ship’s map.” Emerald shrugged, obscurely pleased. “Our plantation is on Level Ten, Nile Sector and it takes up about thirty units – that’s like a hundred acres american and forty hectares universal.”

“What do we do with it?”

“Farm it.”

“Do we get to eat the sugarcane?”

He stared down at her. “Do you even know what sugarcane is?”

Emerald set her lips. Finally, she said, “Yes. They grew it on the Yucatan. But why are you growing it on SOLAREX?”

“Want a lecture or should we keep pretending this discussion is a lame excuse for conversation?” He grinned down at her.

“Lecture – then I don’t have to listen to you trying to be funny.”

He snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. “OK, here’s what: we grow sugarcane not only for the sugar, but to get soda and ethanol for general purpose use in labs and habitation units. Sugarcane is a C-4 plant.” He stopped abruptly.

Emerald looked up at him, saying, “And?”

“Just wanted to see if you were falling asleep yet.”

“I snore when I fall asleep. What’s a C-4 plant?”

“It can convert up to two percent of incident solar energy into biomass.”

“Translation?”

He paused, scratched the dark scraggly hairs on his chin. Emerald doubted he was almost eighteen. He only looked a little older than one of the boys from Telchac Puerto who worked for Mom and Dad. Used to work for them, she corrected herself. Daniel said, “Most plants on Earth are C-3 plants, which means they use the carbon dioxide in the air and water to make enough sugars to keep themselves running and give off oxygen. Only about five percent of the plants on Earth are C-4 plants like sugarcane. It can take up the same amount of carbon dioxide and store it as sugar rather than using it. They don’t need as much water as C-3 plants do, either.

“Also, the bagasse – which is what’s left over after cane is crushed – is made into feed for the ship’s livestock or burned for heat and electricity. Some of it’s diverted to be made into paper and cardboard, too.”

“Nobody makes rum, here, do they?” Emerald said.

Daniel gave her a hooded look. “Of course they do. Just because people are in space doesn’t mean they’re not going to drink.”

Emerald nodded. “Great – we’re bringing alcoholism to the stars.”

He paused before answering, “You’ve heard all this before, haven’t you?”

She shrugged. “Mom and Dad talked about a lot of stuff at the dig site. They didn’t always argue, especially when they were talking about SOLAREX. Great aunt Ruby used to talk to them every once in a while, too. That’s when her and Dad would get into big fights.”

“So they didn’t think SOLAREX was a good idea?”

“Mom and Dad had pretty strong opinions. After Dad said SOLAREX stole his aunt from him, she didn’t talk to him for like two months.” She shrugged again. “The first couple of times TV Azteca sent someone out to interview Daddy, he was pretty critical of the whole SOLAREX thing. They stopped sending people after that.”

“Why’d they send you up here if they hate it so much?” Emerald looked to see if he was baiting or taunting her then closed her mouth with a snap and looked at the floor. Instead, he’d had a far-away look, almost as if he were asleep or unconscious. Daniel looked at her finally and frowned. “What’d I say?”

She was saved from answering when the bolus came to a stop and the doors squelched open on the edge of an immense cavern. The bright light was the first thing that struck her, then the humid, hot air, thick with the smell of decaying plants. It tasted like unsalted Chicxulub. She looked up. The ceiling was covered with recessed floodlights, pouring bright, hot light down on the fields. Narrow pipes crisscrossed it as well, looking like a fire sprinkler system. From ventilation ducts running alongside the pipes, every few meters she could see vents. The plants underneath them shivered and shook. Green, segmented, bone-like sprouts of sugarcane fountained with narrow, dark green leaves from the soil to thigh height. An unsalty, humid scent of rotting jungle; manure smell; semi-sweet stench of boiling plants; hint of chemical smell from a portable latrine. These were almost the same smells from the night her parents were murdered by the knife-footed robot and triggered a sudden cascade of memories.

Emerald stopped walking, her breath catching in her throat and sweat popping out on her skin. Grief over her parent’s murder mixed violently with terror when she remembered the sound of knives driving into sand.

Daniel stared at her, and after a few minutes, he walked past, spread his arms and said, “Welcome to paradise! Come on in and meet the inmates.”

Emerald didn’t move, blinking back tears instead as her pulse thundered in her ears and she tried to concentrate on something else. Anything else.

“Emerald? You OK?” Daniel said lowering his voice, mockery vanished as he turned around. She looked up slowly, opened her mouth and tried to speak. Nothing but air came out. He stepped toward her. She stumbled into the bolus backwards until she pressed against the wall.

Horrific claustrophobia hit as kids of multiple ethnicities, ranging in age from twelve to seventeen gathered behind Daniel. They all wore the same long-sleeved brown coveralls. They also wore rubber boots and heavy gloves. Anyone with long hair had tied it back, and three of them wore neon orange bandanas – the same color as the jump team on the 3V. Taking one more step forward, Daniel touched the outside wall of the elevator just as the doors began to close. They popped open again. He lowered his voice, “Hey, these guys are OK. Nothing to be afraid of.”

Over his shoulder, Emerald saw at least one person she was going to be afraid of – the girl who’d blocked her kick in the hospital.

The former victim started first in surprise, then glared angrily and turned to a black girl standing next to her, whispering something. Emerald imagined what. The black girl scowled, crossed her arms over her chest and glared at Emerald, too.

With her escape route cut off, her only alternatives were to bust out crying or face them with bold insolence. She chose silent defiance. Taking a deep breath, she marched forward, came to attention, shot the two girls an equally acid look and said, “Let’s get the orientation over with so I can get to work.”

Daniel frowned, looked over his shoulder at the two glaring girls then back at Emerald. “I guess you’ve met some of Team Twelve?”

Emerald nodded as the bolus door closed. Daniel said, “The one hatin’ on you to the left is Ayaka Kobayashi, she just turned thirteen. So did her friend, Izegbe Etuk. Zadok Szpilman is the blond kid on the right – he’s thirteen, too. The next one is Mikhail Gorbachev who’s fourteen.” A boy with close cropped, dark hair smiled and nodded to Emerald.

“Elisavet Moroshek – we call her Eli ‘cuz she hates it. She’s fifteen,” she had shoulder-length, dark curls. He pointed to the last boy, “Søren Ouyang hardly talks and is sixteen.” The short guy was skinny as a rail, with almost-white blonde hair, smiled a bit, blushed, and looked away.

Beside her, Daniel touched his chest, “...and me, Daniel Clayton, leader of the pack and your host for the rest of your life, I’m practically eighteen!”

Søren piped up, “You turned seventeen six weeks ago. You’re barely older than me.”

Daniel lifted his chin and said, “The operant word there is ‘older’. I’m Team leader, you’re not.”

Søren glanced at Emerald, lifted an eyebrow at Daniel. She took a deep breath and held it. Maybe she wasn’t the only one with enemies.

Nobody offered a verbal welcome; they just stared around her.

To the left was a long, brick house with a roof. She pointed and said, “What’s that?”

“The boiling house,” Daniel said. “Beyond that is the manure pit. That’s the wonderful smell floating on the air. It’s our source of fertilizer. You ignore it after a while. The building on our right is the shredding barn where the cane is taken by the robot carts, chopped up and washed repeatedly. The liquid is pumped to the boiling house where we clean it up and turn it into syrup. That gets pumped downstairs to be refined into whatever they’re going to use it for. The men’s and women’s bathrooms and locker rooms with hot showers are in there, too.” He glanced down at her with a peculiar look. “You’ll come to appreciate hot showers after you’ve worked here a while.”

Emerald scowled then asked, “Why have roofs if we’re in a cave?”

He looked up at the ceiling then at a watch stuck to the back of his hand. “If you wait about half an hour, you’ll find out. And you’ll see what the boiling house is used for in a month or so. The manure pit is the main source of recyclable fertilizer for the cane field.” He walked in long-limbed strides to the barn, saying, “Wait here.” Ducking inside the barn, he was back out in a moment. He handed a flat e-reader to her. “Your textbooks are in there and so is the syllabus for the academic part of ITT.”

“The what?”

“You think we just do hard labor?” He snorted. “We’re not criminals, just teenagers -- mostly. Ship decree is that we work and study. You should also know Team Twelve has both a production and academic tradition to maintain.”

“A tradition?” Emerald scoffed. “You’ve only been in space for a couple of days.”

“Speak for yourself sister. I’ve been here for thirteen months. Ayaka and Izegbe have each been here for nine.” He twitched his head sideways to the team. “The shortest time anyone else has been here is four months.” He looked out over the sugarcane. “We share this agriculture space with Team Four, but we’re going to make sure that the vice captains see us as the leaders in brawn and brains.” He turned to her. “Everybody gets assigned a locker for your boots, gloves and machete – plus your lunch if you want to bring one. The e-reader you need to take back to your unit with you. You won’t need it here anymore unless someone specifically assigns it to us. The showers are only for after work. Your locker is thirty-six. Get your boots and gloves – you might want to ask one of the other girls and see if they have a bandana you can borrow for today. Otherwise, I’d bring one every day if I were you. The lights are actually sun tubes that capture and funnel sunlight from the asteroid’s surface. You can get sunburned if you stay for too long directly under one of them.”

Emerald blinked and waited for Daniel to go on. When he stayed silent for more than a few moments, she said, “Anything else?”

He waited then said, “You’re not going to complain?”

Emerald took a deep breath, held it, and considered what she might say. Finally, she let out the breath and replied, “Would anything change?”

Daniel shook his head slowly. “Nothing.”

Emerald nodded. “I’ll go get my gloves, boots, and machete.”

“You won’t need the machete ‘til harvest.”

Emerald nodded, turned, and trudged away. It was going to be a very, very long twelve years.


Guy Stewart is a retired teacher and counselor, with science fiction for young people and adults published in ANALOG Science Fiction and Fact; podcast at CAST OF WONDERS; and in CRICKET the Magazine for Children. For links to his other online works, go to https://faithandsciencefiction.blogspot.com/. For an interview with me about EMERALD OF EARTH, try this: http://www.writersandauthors.info/2015/09/interview-with-guy-stewart.html

Image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-shCROTG0xHA/Vf23FAhb2QI/AAAAAAAAX80/aEG8ZyFwyhA/s320/Heirs%2Bof%2Bthe%2BShattered%2BSpheres%2BEmerald%2Bof%2BEarth%2B%2B%2B%2B300dpi.jpg

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Tips from a Pro: Eric Dontigney - The Writer’s Mindset

It’s an odd sort of thing to think of oneself as a professional in the world of writing. There are few, if any, clear lines of demarcation. After all, consider all the novelists who moonlight as college professors, lawyers, or scientists…wait, maybe I’ve got that relationship inverted. Oh well. The point is that it’s hard to know when you’re a pro. Writers don’t really get licenses or certifications the way you see in other professions. Frankly, that’s a real problem in the credential societies that most developed world countries have become. 

At best, you get writing adjacent certifications. Copywriters can take courses around certain kinds of writing or skills that support their writing. Maybe you head over to HubSpot Academy and get certified in their Content Marketing course. For speculative fiction writers, maybe you try to snag a spot in one of the big workshops, like Clarion, Taos ToolBox, Gotham Writers’ Workshop, or Odyssey. If you love capital L literature, you get yourself an MFA at the low, low price of lifelong debt. 

Yet, none of these degrees, certifications, or workshops actually make you a professional writer. They might help you skill up in certain ways, and there is value in that. Honing your craft is part of the process. But…but, the primary difference between the amateur and professional writer is what I think of as the Writer’s Mindset. There isn’t anything mystical or magical about the writer’s mindset. You don’t need a guru to get there. You don’t even need to firewalk to get it. In fact, it’s almost hideously mundane. 

The Writer’s Mindset is about treating your writing career as a career. It involves annoying things like going to work every day. You must check your email and reply to clients or editors in a prompt manner. You meet deadlines. I know, I know, that sounds a lot like work and almost nothing like that Romantic Ideal of sitting around on a couch and waiting for the muses to strike you with brilliance. Yet, if you look at people who make a successful go at writing for a living, in any area of writing, this is how they handle their business. 

Stephen King talks about it in his memoir, On Writing, with his 2000 words per day goal. Kevin J. Anderson, the author of something like 150 books, advises people to not make excuses and get on with the writing. David Badalucci talks about setting goals and developing good habits, like blocking out time every day for writing. In other words, professional writers don’t treat their writing like a hobby. As a general rule, people take time for their hobbies. They make time for their careers. You can blow off your hobby as often as you want, but you can’t blow off your job very often before you won’t have it anymore. 

Feeling discouraged, yet? If not, good for you. It means you’re at least open to the idea that writing professionally is work, and you’ll have to make some sacrifices along the way. If you are feeling discouraged, it means you probably bought into some of that Romantic Ideal thinking, but all hope is not lost. You can adapt how you think about things. That’s the miracle of neural plasticity at work. Of course, I’ve been talking about all of this in general terms. I can hear you saying, “Great generalizations. But give us specifics, Dontigney!”

Okay, that’s fair. Here are some specifics that can help you adopt the Writer’s Mindset. 

  1. You must set a writing schedule.
  2. You must keep to your writing schedule, barring a genuine emergency. I’m talking blood spurting, house on fire, we must go to the bomb shelter because bombs are literally falling from the sky right now, kinds of emergencies. The kind of emergencies that you would leave a day job to go handle. If it doesn’t rise to that level, it’s probably an excuse. 
  3. The phrase “writer’s block” must leave your vocabulary. Every other kind of professional does their job on demand, which means that you can as well. 
  4. You must investigate your industry. This is for fiction writers, so think things like agent preferences, editor preferences, and industry trends. This information may not alter your current writing projects, but it may inform subsequent projects.
  5. If you get a (reasonable) deadline from an editor, meet it. Meeting deadlines makes you the “no-hassle” writer. People like working with the “no-hassle” writer. Nobody likes working with a prima donna. (Caveat: this does not apply to film-to-book adaptations. Read about Bruce’s experience with that here.)
  6. Accept that not every writing day is going to be fun. It will feel like work sometimes, maybe often, and you need to keep doing it anyway. 

Now, mind you, this advice is aimed specifically at people who want writing as a career. It’s okay to treat writing as a hobby. A lot of people do. The tradeoff you make with that choice is that very few people ever manage to make a living at their hobby. Making the transition means incorporating some of the less pleasant aspects of day jobs into what was your cool, fun hobby. If you can come to terms with that, you have a shot at becoming a professional writer. 

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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 ericdontigney.com.


SHAMELESS ADVERT: If you like Harry Dresden or John Constantine, you’ll love THE MIDNIGHT GROUND. READ IT NOW!

The Road Ahead | The Class of 2032


I was reading an article in The Atlantic the other morning. A Stanford psychologist did a study of more than three million pop songs released between 1959 and 2010, in an attempt to find out why some artists hit the public consciousness with a dazzling flash and then disappear, never to be heard from again, while others stick around for long, steady, and successful careers. His conclusion was that there are two distinct phases in a creative artist’s life, exploration and exploitation, and the difference lies in how the artist manages the transition.

  • In the exploration phase, the aspiring artist is free to take risks, to experiment, and to try to find that ineffable something that sets them apart from everyone else and makes their work fresh and surprising.

  • In the exploitation phase, the successful artist, having now found that something and caught the public’s eyes and ears, sticks to it with fierce tenacity and never again surprises or disappoints their fans.

This is an extremely simplistic model, rife with opportunities for argument. Still, the finding intrigues me. I have always been far more interested in exploration and experimentation than in exploitation. Perhaps it’s a personality flaw, but I truly hate to repeat myself. To me the idea of writing one story that really clicks with an audience, only to find myself then condemned to spending the next forty years rewriting that same damned story over and over again, sounds like one of the torments of Hell that Dante thought was too horrible and subsequently edited out of The Divine Comedy.

Or a succinct description of Isaac Asimov’s career.

Today, Stupefying Stories stands at a crossroads, and the road ahead is decidedly unclear. A month ago it seemed too clear: Karen’s medical crisis back in February turned out to be not any of the things they’d thought it might be, but a symptom of her cancer returning. A month ago, the road ahead looked very much like this:

At that time, it seemed the only sane and sensible thing to do was to wind Stupefying Stories down as gracefully as possible and then try to guide it to a soft landing, in hopes that some of the wreckage might be salvageable later.

Today, a month later, things look somewhat better. We have a treatment plan and are pursuing it. There is a glimmer of hope. I am spending a lot of time driving around to various hospitals and clinics and sitting in waiting rooms, while Karen undergoes one or another outpatient procedure…

But what the heck. I do have a good laptop computer, and there’s this stack of manuscripts sitting here, waiting to be copy-edited. So why not work on trying to keep Stupefying Stories going?

As with any traumatic experience, the recent near-death of my indie publishing dreams has given me cause for reflection. If I were picking through the wreckage, what are the pieces I would hope to find and salvage? What exactly have I been trying to do here, these past twelve years? What do I think I can do, going forward? What are the parts of this job that I have really enjoyed doing, that I seem to do fairly well, and that I would choose to continue to do, if possible?

Looking back at the work of the past twelve years—at the fifty or so books and hundreds of standalone short stories we’ve published—a few salient points begin to emerge from the datasmog. I was never able to manage the transition from exploration to exploitation in my own writing career. Why did I think my career as an editor and publisher would be different? I have never been any good at self-promotion, and it seems my incredible gift for unsuccessful self-promotion is a sort of field effect that extends to cover those near me as well. (Sorry, Henry, Eric, and Judith.) I have this weird ability to come up with ideas that others can exploit with great success, but seem unable to keep any of them for myself.

Likewise, I have an impaired ability to ask for help. It’s not born out of pride or a desire to control or anything like that; it’s born out of my innate curiosity and constant love for exploring and learning. Just the other morning, I put on my to-do list: “Learn about podcasting.” (It’s for Dawn of Time. I’ll explain later.) Why did I phrase it that way? Why didn’t I write, “Find someone who already knows about podcasting, and is willing to advise and help, or better yet, do?”

Add that one to my growing catalog of character flaws…

*   *   *

As this introspective journey concludes, an elusive but common thread begins to glimmer into view. My constant interest in experimenting and discovery, coupled with my profound dislike for doing again what I’ve already done before? My greater interest in exploring than exploitation? My gift for coming up with new ideas that others can exploit successfully, but that I remain unable to exploit myself?

New ideas? Or new people?

Looking back at our collective history, it becomes clear that what Stupefying Stories has proven to be very good at is finding, coaching, and encouraging new writers. We began as a writer’s workshop. We seem to have a proven ability to find and publish now the writers everyone else is going to be talking about and publishing in another five to ten years. Not coincidentally, this is the part of the job I most enjoy doing, find most rewarding, and would most like to continue doing. Raising up a crop of new talent is fun.

I also know from personal experience how incredibly much it means to an aspiring creative to have someone who should know say to you, “You have talent. You have potential. You’re not ready to be the headliner yet, but you definitely belong up there on that stage.” 

And then not just to say that, but to put their own time and energy into putting you on that stage, even if the theater is a bit run-down, the ushers smell funny, and there are more empty chairs than people in the audience. Someone who should know is taking you seriously.

That’s what Stupefying Stories is all about. We’re not Carnegie Hall. But we’re a pretty darned good First Stage. 

*   *   *

If I was still working in public radio, this is the point where we’d cut to the pledge break. Thankfully I turned off that career path ages ago, but the idea is not dissimilar. I like Stupefying Stories. I think we’ve done some really good things over the years. I still enjoy the work, and I’d like to keep it going. (And maybe raise up a small crop of new editors, while we’re at it.) But to keep Stupefying Stories going, I need your help.

The financial model on which I originally built Stupefying Stories is unsustainable. We can get into the nitty-gritty of it another time, but the gist of it is that to keep Stupefying Stories going, we need to either win the lottery, find a lunatic billionaire sugar daddy (but Elon Musk’s attention is elsewhere right now), or switch to a crowd-funding model for future issues.

And at this point, I’m going to sign off, and put one more thing on my to-do list:

[_] Find someone who already knows about crowd funding, and is willing to help and advise, or better yet, to do


Thanks for reading,
Bruce Bethke