Wednesday, February 8, 2023

BUY THIS RIGHT NOW!

 

THE BOOK OF JUDITH
Sixteen Tales of Life, Wonder, and Magic
by Judith Field

I have been a huge fan of Judith Field’s stories ever since “The Prototype” first showed up in our slush pile, and subsequently in Stupefying Stories #6. She writes wonderful little stories about life, love, and characters who find magic in even the most mundane places, and she has been a regular contributor to Stupefying Stories, SHOWCASE, and assorted other one-off projects ever since. I keep hoping she’ll turn up with a rough draft for a full-length “Court & Anderson” novel one of these days, but that prospect seems increasingly unlikely. It appears to have something to do with her day job, which involves pharmacy, emergency medicine, and saving lives and all that.

Let that be a lesson to you. I’ve consistently found that the most interesting stories are those written by people who have interesting Real World lives, and who are only writing science fiction or fantasy on the side. Their fiction output tends to be low and slow, by professional writer’s standards, but when they do write something, it’s because they have something interesting to say.

THE BOOK OF JUDITH was definitely a labor-of-love project for us. While it gets good reviews, when people look at it, it’s never sold in the numbers I thought it deserved. I’ve always attributed that to the cover art, which is actually germane to “The Transit of Mars” but just doesn’t pop as a thumbnail on Amazon, as well as Amazon’s bizarre practice of hiding U.K. reader reviews from U.S. customers. We had been talking about pulling this book from release, either to reissue it with a new cover and new interior design or else to replace it with a wholly new book, which would include all the stories by Judith that we’ve published since THE BOOK OF JUDITH was first released, but those plans have been not merely on the back burner, but in a Tupperware pod in the back of the freezer owing to the events of the past three years.

As we work to revive Rampant Loon Press from hibernation, this is one of the projects we’re thawing out and giving a fresh look. While we’re doing that, you might want to give it a look, too, just in case you have any suggestions as to how we might improve it. Right now it can be yours for the lordly price of a mere $1.99 USD, in the Kindle edition, which thus far is only edition.

Mind you, if we do pull it from release to rework and reissue it—especially in print and Kobo editions, as Judith has requested—it will be far more expensive when it emerges from its chrysalis.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Recommended running screaming from



Combining the worst aspects of JUSTICE LEAGUE and SUICIDE SQUAD, the latest entry in the DC Cinematic Universe, BLACK ADAM, is an object lesson in how to spend a quarter of a billion dollars to make a tedious, uninteresting movie that seems to be much longer than its two-hour running time. The only worthwhile thing in this movie is Pierce Brosnan’s turn as Doctor Fate. I don’t think Pierce Brosnan could deliver a bad performance if he tried.

Wait, I spoke too soon. Brosnan was painfully awful in Mama Mia. Okay, amend that to, “I don’t think Pierce Brosnan could deliver a bad performance if he tried, provided the part doesn’t require him to sing.” Seriously, the guy can’t carry a tune in a bucket.

The only way BLACK ADAM could have been worse is if the script had required Pierce Brosnan to sing. If your choice tonight is between watching BLACK ADAM or cleaning the litter box, clean the litter box. Your cat will thank you.

Yes, I know I ran this review as part of a mass review a few weeks ago, but this one is so bad, it’s worth warning people twice. 

“The Linen Closet Nexus” • by Karl Dandenell


The intruder entered the event window at 8 minutes and 57 seconds.

I crouched in the linen closet, my augmented hearing cranked up to painful levels. Dr. Cora Taylor was showering in the nearby master bedroom and that noise almost covered the metallic scrape of the intruder popping the lock on the patio door. Almost.

It had to be her. This was the last accessible temporal nexus prior to the 2028 nuclear attack on Seoul, and the intruder and I both knew it. She must intervene here, in 2025, when a violent electrical storm has pummeled nearby San Diego and opened a fifteen-minute event window.

My team studied this nexus for six months. We combed through the temporal fabric around the event window, found it taut as the sails of square-rigger running before a hurricane. It was a clear sign someone had tried to translate in using a poorly calibrated platform. But the Agency audit showed no sanctioned activity here.

The Agency has always controlled translation technology with an absolute fervor, lest someone discover its secrets and threaten its dominion over the authorized timeline. We temporal support personnel lived under equal scrutiny. Once you joined the Agency, your retirement options were banishment to a remote island or death.

The intruder had taken another option. Ten years ago, she’d failed to come home for dinner. She wasn’t in her office, or anywhere else within the facility. Somehow, she’d managed to disappear. While the Agency viewed the situation as a failed espionage attempt, I took her disappearance as a personal betrayal of our marriage vows.

They hunted her for years. She was eventually declared missing, presumed dead. The squeak of the patio door sliding across its muddy aluminum track told a different story.

I’d kept an ember of hope burning this past decade, saying nothing, but watching and listening, pouring over every scrap of intel. When the report for this nexus appeared in my feed, that hope flared magnesium bright.

My team submitted a mission plan, which called for a single agent to translate back. A full intervention team and their gear, I argued, would likely rupture the already stressed temporal fabric.

The Agency agreed and asked for a volunteer.

I put my name forward. As the team’s leader, it was my risk to take. I also didn’t trust anyone else to deal with this unauthorized traveler, though I kept that thought to myself.

They reviewed my psych records but there was nothing beyond the mild depression common in our ranks. There was also no indication of suicidality or any other disqualifiers. They gave me the task.

Fortunately for us, Dr. Taylor lived in a period of unprecedented voluntary surveillance. We easily located a floor plan of her condo and constructed a highly accurate behavioral algorithm based on her phone’s GPS, her shopping patterns, and her social media activity. I knew how long it took her to dress. I knew she preferred to buy lunch rather than pack a sandwich. And because there was only a five-percent chance she would access this closet today, the Agency built a translation platform in 2064, aligned to this exact point, where Dr. Taylor kept spare beach towels.

I armed myself, stepped onto the platform, and translated downtime.

*   *   *

The shower cut off, the wind shifted, and in the relative quiet the intruder’s footsteps echoed loudly. They passed through the kitchen and into the study without hesitation.

When Dr. Taylor switched on her hair dryer, I dialed back my hearing and tiptoed downstairs. Drawers opened and closed in the study. I eased through the doorway and pointed my stunner at the intruder’s back.

“Raise your hands very slowly and turn around,” I said quietly. She complied. Dr. Taylor’s gun lockbox sat on the desk behind her. Inside was a .32 revolver, which she’d purchased after an attempted carjacking.

“Hello, Cora,” I said. She was much, much older than I remembered, her hair white and her face drawn. Years on the run without rejuv drugs had taken their toll on the physicist.

“Dan,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “How did you get here?”

“The storm gave us an opening. The same one you used.” I examined her spine, curved by osteoporosis. “How did you build a platform?”

“It wasn’t easy. And everything took longer than I thought.” She held up a liver-spotted hand. “I had to teach myself the engineering and print the components in secret. I honestly wasn’t sure it would work, especially given how many years I had to translate.”

I gestured toward the lockbox. “Did you think you could kill her? Kill yourself?”

“She isn’t me, really,” she said. “And even if I believe she is, I can’t let her finish the work.”

“She has to.” I kept my voice calm, thinking of the closing event window. “If she doesn’t, the Agency won’t exist. And a lot of people will die.”

She frowned. “Like Michael.”

“I’m sorry about that. Truly.” Seven years from now, in the authorized timeline, I would sabotage a military transport. It would crash outside of Beijing, killing several high-ranking party members and 36 bystanders, including Michael Wu, Dr. Taylor’s future lover in a different timeline.

“He was innocent.”

I nodded. “He was. And so are the two million people who will burn if China smuggles a nuclear weapon into South Korea. The authorized timeline must be preserved.” I triggered my weapon. The stunner overloaded her nervous system and she dropped to the floor, strings cut.

I returned the lockbox to its drawer.

The platform arrived upstairs with a smell of ozone. The wind rose in pitch, and the lights went out.

The event window had only thirty-nine seconds remaining. Barely enough time for one person, let alone two.

I hefted her limp body and ran.

___________________

 


Karl Dandenell’s short science fiction and fantasy stories have appeared in numerous publications, websites, and podcasts in England, Canada, and the US. He and his family, plus their cat overlords, live on an island near San Francisco famous for its Victorian architecture, accessible beaches, and low-speed traffic. His preferred drinks are strong tea and single malt whiskey. You can find him online on his blog (www.firewombats.com) and lurking on Twitter (@kdandenell) and Mastodon (@karldandenell)

If you enjoyed this story by Karl, be sure to check out “The Carpetbagger’s Ball” in SHOWCASE #1 and “The Last Feast of Silas the Wizard” in Stupefying Stories #23.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Creating Alien Aliens 21: Aliens From Alien Worlds? REALLY...

I’ve been teaching a class for gifted and talented children for almost thirty years called ALIEN WORLDS. It’s a popular class. I teach it twice each summer and also frequently teach the class for the kids during an annual conference for the parents of GT kids.


I used to let the students, who range in age from nine to thirteen, just choose an imaginary star with an imaginary star system. Of course, I started the class in 1997…since that time, we have grown the Open Exoplanet Catalog (http://www.openexoplanetcatalogue.com/) from nonexistent to containing 3468 confirmed exoplanets and they have to pick the star system they’re going to “grow” from those. In fact, the Catalog has become so much a part of our culture that the spellchecker on this laptop accepts it as a word – and I didn’t have to add it as I did in the past.

The discovery of new star systems makes it into the news regularly with the most recent splash being the Trappist System (40 light years away): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TRAPPIST-1, as well as the biggest splash before that, Kepler-60 (2500 light years away) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler-90), and the “first” among the splashes, Kepler 186 (500 light years away) with its Earth-sized planet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kepler-186), and Gliese 876 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gliese_876).

I started teaching the class using a book called HABITABLE PLANETS FOR MAN (http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/commercial_books/2007/RAND_CB179-1.pdf) and still use several graphs from it to this day in my Power Point lecture.

I begin this class with a discussion in which I ask the question, “How many of you actually believe in aliens?”

The kids are somewhere between enthusiastically waving their hands in the air and scowling at me. I usually smile and backtrack and say, “OK – how about this. Raise your hand if you believe,” (I flash an image of Gram-stained bacteria), “that there is microscopic life ‘out there’ that didn’t originate on Earth?”

They’re much more confident when they raise their hands now. I flash the next image, the bizarre Hydnora africana and ask if they believe that there might be alien plants. Most of the them are fine with that. When I get to animal life, I flash an image of the star nosed mole. They laugh, but are a bit less certain. Finally, I show a full Gray, bulging eyes and bulbous head and all, no UFO present, but might as well be one in the background. By then, half of the students have dropped their hands. It’s a lot of big leaps to go from alien bacteria to intelligent alien life. Then I ask them if we have found real, certifiable evidence.

One or two might mention the fossilized “Martian bacteria”, but I point out that the consensus that it’s the result of chemical reactions and not the remains of life is pretty solid in the scientific community (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Hills_84001). So…other than reports of alien abductions (which always gets a good giggle from these critical thinkers), I tender to them that there is NO EVIDENCE of life off of Earth.

“What about water under the ice of Europa?” one of the kids offers. I nod, then point out that unlike Minnesota, where a cold winter may cause the ice to reach four or five meters thick, the ice on Europa is estimated to be between 75 and 100 KILOMETERS thick. They can’t take their ice augers and drill through the surface of Jupiter’s moon!

Now don’t get me wrong, I badly want to see evidence of aliens, but as a science teacher, I teach FACTS. Speculation is fine for messing around with, but when you talk FACTS, you’re talking SCIENCE. So, when we talk about habitable planets, we have to be careful – we’re talking habitable planets for us, not the homeworld of the Klingons (Omega Leonis (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omega_Leonishttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klingon) or the Eclipsing Binary home star (Eclipsing Binary Star M31V J00442326+4127082) of the Xandar Empire in the Andromeda Galaxy.

Aliens, despite Jody Foster’s (often misattributed to Carl Sagan) protestation to the contrary that “If we are alone in the Universe, it sure seems like an awful waste of space”; are not proven by making loud proclamations that space would be a waste if we were all that there is. The statement doesn’t produce any evidence that we are not the only technological civilization in the known universe. In fact, the evidence indicates that we are the only technological civilization. Sagan hedges his bets by stating in a COSMOS episode that the nearest technological civilization is possibly two hundred light years away, but more likely 1000 light years away. There is no way for him to be wrong in any sense of the word because the potential for gathering evidence either for or against his proclamation is miniscule. So, he opts for inspiring without having to make the sacrifices necessary to see his words through to the end; unlike president Kennedy, who put American dollars where NASA could use them in order to send Humans to the Moon the first time.

The industry, economics, and pure cash built around our profound belief in the existence of intelligent alien life (https://www.inverse.com/article/25908-hunt-for-aliens-grassroots-movement-funded-by-billionaires) surpasses the net worth of the planet’s religious institutions. (Wealthiest organizations, religions: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wealth_and_religion) vs net earnings from extraterrestrial (invasion ONLY) movies (http://www.boxofficemojo.com/genres/chart/?id=scifialieninvasion.htm). To put it into cash numbers: Religions approximately $1 trillion = Alien (invasion only, since 1985) $5.8 trillion dollars.

While I AM a religious person, I am also consumed by my love for aliens. I often wonder how I'd react if I met an actual, factual, living, breathing alien. I've pretty much lost interest in "alien invasion" movies that offer no insight or appear to have been discussed seriously or thoughtfully (example: STAR WARS I: Phantom Menace -- Were they REALLY serious when they created most of the characters in that movie? Did they even THINK about how stupid...ahem. Sorry. I'll take my aliens from "Arrival", thank you very much -- alien, difficult to understand, but THOUGHT PROVOKING!

I hope there are more of that type in someone's pipeline. Better yet, maybe an alien starship will appear, hovering over Montana or Wyoming sometime soon: a 12 hour drive would get me there, no problem! I'm sure I'll be humming a song from someone's close encounter all the way.

Image: https://68.media.tumblr.com/d740caf10011fae3eb89c340a2c0ad31/tumblr_oixik2Srjt1w0f40yo1_500.gif

Thursday, February 2, 2023

BUY THIS RIGHT NOW!

 

Welcome to the premiere only issue of Stupefying Stories’ experimental testbed publication, SHOWCASE. Edited by award-winning author BRUCE BETHKE, here for your reading pleasure are four sparkling short stories that demonstrate just what our special brand of fantastic fiction is all about, packaged together at a special bargain price. Featuring:

  • THE RIVER OF TIME JOINS THE SEA, by Probert Dean
  • THE MANDALA DOORS OF HAFSHAMN SYNIAD, by Jeff Suwak
  • THE CARPETBAGGERS BALL, by Karl Dandenell
  • FINDING SPRING, by Sipora Coffelt

Buy it today, because as of February 28th, it goes out of print forever!

_____________

Sigh. SHOWCASE has always been a pet project of mine, albeit a somewhat neglected pet with matted fur and nails that desperately need to be trimmed. As Jimi Plays Dead demonstrates, I have always been a fan of the idea of putting short fiction out in “hit single” and “EP” packages, because that’s how I learned to love music: by trying lots of artists, in media priced to fit a teenager’s budget, and by listening to everything, until I found the styles and recording artists I wanted to focus in on.

Apparently no one else likes that idea, though.

SHOWCASE began life in 2013 as a weekly webzine, which published a lot of great content but in a format that looked terrible on cell phones and didn’t draw in many new readers. It also had the added disadvantage of being coupled with the Stupefying Stories online community bulletin board project, which quickly became a spambot nightmare and had to be shut down. To my surprise the SHOWCASE story index still exists, though, and if you have some time to spare you might want to take a look at the story index and see who we were publishing ten years ago, and maybe even read a few of their stories.

> LINK to the original SHOWCASE story index 

In 2014 we migrated SHOWCASE to our new “crevasse” site, so named because stories fell into it and were never seen again. Again, there is something resembling an index, and you might enjoy taking a look at it before it goes away.

> LINK to the crevasse version of SHOWCASE

Later in 2014 I finally broke down and spent the money to develop a full and proper WordPress site, and in that form SHOWCASE ran from October 2014 to June 2017, with a half-hearted attempt at reviving it in 2019. While we published a lot of good stories there, in a really good-looking format, once again, the comments section became a spambot and moderation nightmare and the very existence of the site seemed to generate a lot of confusion. Was Stupefying Stories a magazine, a webzine, or what? 

> LINK to the WordPress version of SHOWCASE

Eventually the only thing to do that seemed to make sense was to shut down the WordPress site and consolidate the archive content on this site, StupefyingStories.com, while spinning off SHOWCASE as an EP format magazine. That plan got as far as producing SHOWCASE #1 before 2019 fell on us like a ton of bricks.

And now it’s reached the end of contract life and is due to go out of print at the end of the month. So take a look at SHOWCASE #1, will you? It’s just 99¢ to buy, or free for Kindle Unlimited subscribers. And right about this time of year, I always enjoy re-reading “Finding Spring,” by Sipora Coffelt. Maybe you will too.

Thanks,
~brb


Updating contact info again

URGENT UPDATE!
Because this old post from 7/12/2021 keeps bubbling back to the top, it's necessary to update the update. In 2022 our ISP unilaterally decided to move all our email accounts to Microsoft Exchange, which had the unintended consequence of rendering all our @rampantloonmedia email accounts unreliable at best and also accidentally erased several thousand archived email messages. Going forward our preferred email address is stupefyingstories@gmail.com. Email sent to the old submissions@rampantloonmedia or brb@rampantloonmedia email addresses may get through, but all other @rampantloonmedia email accounts should be presumed to be defunct.

The Facebook and Twitter links remain viable. No, I am not going to add a TikTok account.

__________

Some weird things have been popping up in the various RLP mailboxes lately, so this seems like an opportune time to update our contact info.

Submissions and queries about submissions:
     »
submissions@rampantloonmedia.com
     (although we’re not open to new unsolicited submissions right now)

Feedback not related directly to a specific submission:
     » feedback@rampantloonmedia.com

Queries about novella- or longer-length submissions:
     » queries@rampantloonmedia.com
     (although we’re not looking at taking on any new long-format projects right now)

Contact me directly:
     » brb@rampantloonmedia.com
     (although I reserve the right to lock this account down if it gets spam-bombed
     into rubble again, like my last publicized “direct” email address did) 

Stupefying Stories on Facebook:
     » https://www.facebook.com/StupefyingStories/

Bruce Bethke on Facebook:
     » https://www.facebook.com/Bruce.Bethke
     (see above comment about my direct email address)

Stupefying Stories on Twitter:
     » https://twitter.com/StupefyingSF | @StupefyingSF
     (follow us on Twitter and we’ll follow you)

Along with giving up on my long-standing resistance to Twitter, I’ve also given up on my long-standing resistance to having a tip jar. If you support what we’re doing here but already have all the books and magazines you’ll ever be able to read in this life, please consider throwing a buck or two in the tip jar to show your appreciation and help to support our mission.

Thank you,
~brb

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Status Update • 1 February 2023


This is the cover art for Stupefying Stories #24. It seems a fitting image to capture the essence of where we are as of today: climbing up out of the wreckage and looking around, trying to get our bearings and figure out the direction in which we should go.

One year ago today…

Fortunately, I keep a pretty good calendar. Unfortunately, the past year’s notes make incredibly damned depressing reading. One year ago today, things here seemed to be under control and Rampant Loon Press seemed to be making forward progress. 

A week later, Karen was in the infusion room at the oncology clinic when she had an allergic reaction that put her straight into the ER in critical condition, and then into the ICU for a week. This was how we learned that her cancer had mutated again, the chemotherapy drug she’d been on was no longer effective against her cancer and was in fact now dangerously toxic to her, and the cancer had metastasized into her liver.

The next two months were just one appointment after another, one specialist after another, one hospital outpatient procedure after another. The chemo toxicity had damaged her heart; we needed to determine how badly and whether her lungs were involved as well. In one particularly ghastly turn of events she developed an autoimmune reaction to her implanted chemotherapy port and it began to push up through her skin, and so she needed surgery to have it removed and replaced. They were able to stop the spread of the cancer in her liver, but in April found it had metastasized into her cerebellum and was inoperable, so she needed immediate radiation therapy to keep it from getting larger or spreading.

By the end of April, though, the radiation had been deemed a great success and we seemed to have a new chemotherapy treatment plan that was working, so we made plans to get Stupefying Stories #24 out the door. The stories were copy-edited and approved. The authors were paid. The book was in layout and production, with about two weeks’ work remaining, and we set a release date of June 1st.

I’m not quite sure what happened in late May and June. My notes are sketchy and fragmentary. It appears that in and around various doctor and clinic appointments I spent a lot of time dealing with the fallout from our ISP’s unilateral decision to move our email hosting to Microsoft Exchange, in the process rendering all our various @rampantloonmedia.com email addresses unreliable. 

[Nota bene: if you’re trying to contact me, use stupefyingstories@gmail.com. It’s the one email address that’s most reliable now.]

By July, things were going very wobbly on the rails. In hindsight it’s clear that the events that would lead to Karen’s final medical crisis and death were already in progress, it’s just that no one seemed to have a clear grasp of how all these things that seemed to be minor and easily treatable in and of themselves (and yet were inexplicably unresponsive to treatment) were interrelated. I do wish, though, that when a certain specialist told me Staphylococcus aureus is a relatively benign skin bacteria and Karen couldn’t possibly have an MSSA infection deep inside her pelvic bones, I’d slapped that doctor so hard I’d made her head spin on the top of her spinal column. 

“Look at her chart, you blithering idiot! Look at how many bone biopsies she’s had in that area! What do you think ‘benign skin bacteria’ do when they get carried along down into a patient’s bone marrow by a biopsy needle?!?!?!”

July was bad; August was worse; September was a horror story. In October Karen went into the hospital through the ER again, for what turned out to be for the last time. On November 30th she was discharged to home hospice care, and on December 3rd she passed from this world in the way she’d wanted to leave: peacefully, at home, and surrounded by family.

_______________

It’s been two months now since Karen died. People seem to have trouble understanding that she was not “just” my wife, she was my partner, in just about every way it’s possible for two people to be partners—and that includes in the editorial processes and business activities of Rampant Loon Press and Stupefying Stories. It’s taken me two months just to work through all the urgent and immediate activities that must needs follow someone’s death. I am only now getting time to take stock of RLP and Stupefying Stories and ask myself: what the Hell was I doing before this whole s***storm hit, and what do I want to do now and going forward? 

Well, first on the docket: getting the next few SHOWCASE stories lined up and in the queue to be published. (Seriously. They’re good. You should click on that link and see what you find.)

Secondly, getting Stupefying Stories #24 buttoned up and out the door. The authors have already been paid. The money is spent. No reason not to release the book. I’m looking at a March 1st date for the release, to give me time to ramp up a promotional campaign for it. Following that I’m looking at a June 1st release date for Stupefying Stories #25, as the issue is already fully funded, thanks to the generosity of our donors. Then, after that… we’ll see what happens.

Third, I need to get Guy Stewart’s Emerald of Earth out in book form, and re-sync with Pete Wood regarding all these Pete Wood Challenge stories that are floating in limbo. I’m sure there are other projects hanging fire out there that are not at the front of my mind right now; I’m going to need a little time to remember and get things moving forward again. 

Please be patient with me. As far as RLP goes, I’m trying to replace a business partner who was irreplaceable. This is not going to be easy.

Kind regards,
Bruce Bethke


Tuesday, January 31, 2023

BUY THIS RIGHT NOW!

 


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 dark and dirty adventure of tomorrow today! If you liked COWBOY BEBOP, you’ll love PRIVATEERS OF MARS!

______________________

Readers say:

If you like the words “space” and “pirate” and like those words better together, this book is for you. The character- and world-building is top notch, and the writing is just overall FUN! Eagerly seeing where this compelling and crass, but somehow lovable, crew is off to next.

Buy the book!

Do you miss Firefly? Do you like The Expanse? If so, then Privateers of Mars is exactly what you need. Castleman combines the down-on-their-luck-crew feel and humor of Firefly with the kind of near system space travel and background politics that drive The Expanse. Structured as three loosely interconnected short stories, it reads like three episodes of a great science fiction show that you wish someone would make.

Buy the book!

Are you looking for a fun relaxing read? Do you enjoy Space, pirates, sci-fi, or any combination of those? Then this book is for you. I really really enjoyed reading this and absolutely hope that there will be more to come.

Buy the book!

This was a perfect before-bed page turner. Hilarious and witty, it got me laughing aloud multiple times which is sorely needed right now. Great little sci-fi adventure with action and intrigue! I especially loved the spectrum of diverse characters. Enbys in spaaaaace!

BUY THE BOOK!

What a delightful action-adventure/sci-fi romp. Castleman combines buoyant humor with a carefully curated set of favorite science fiction tropes, building a compelling world inhabited a lovable cast of rogues that you can't help but root for. The three stories in this volume suggest a much broader universe, which, as a reader, I can only hope Castleman will populate with these misfits and their antics. A strong visual component, especially to the fight scenes, and whip-smart, TV-ready dialogue make this a cousin to shows like Firefly and The Expanse as much as to similar fiction. On the whole, well-crafted, highly recommended escapism!

SERIOUSLY, BUY THE BOOK!

Great read. The story flows really well and never lets up on the action. Great characters and witty dialog throughout.
This was so much fun to read! The worlds the characters travel to are each exciting and creative, as is each character. I seriously could not decide which character I liked the best (side bonus: no sexist tropes of female characters!) and the end twist was super unexpected. I’m not the biggest fan of sci-fi as a book genre, but this blends genres into an adventure that I think everyone would enjoy. Great for all ages too!

Just buy the #(@*$&!!! book already, okay? 

Seriously, I’d like to publish more books like this one, but first I’d like to feel confident that people want to read more books like this one.

Monday, January 30, 2023

BUY THIS RIGHT NOW!

 



Remember 45 r.p.m. records? Remember how when you bought one, it was like rolling the dice? Sure, the “A” side was always the hit single you wanted, but the “B” side... who knew?

Here now for your entertainment are two stories by award-winning science fiction writer
Bruce Bethke, packaged back-to-back together in a special “hit single” ebook. The “A” side is Jimi Plays Dead, Bethke’s much-loved and Nebula-nominated story of the obsessed guitarist who will do anything to sound just exactly like Jimi Hendrix.

The “B” side, though—here’s where you’re taking a chance.
Buck Turner and The Spud from Space is Bethke’s published but forgotten tale of airports, garage bands, kids with dreams of making it big, and of an alien who comes to Earth seeking intelligent life but through an unfortunate miscalculation makes the mistake of landing near Hollywood. It is also, according to Bethke, who spent a decade in the music industry before he switched to writing fiction, at least partially absolutely true in places.

So the “A” side,
Jimi Plays Dead: guaranteed smash hit, you’ll love it. But the “B” side, Buck Turner and The Spud from Space: is it brilliant? Is it daft? Is it just begging to be optioned and turned into a direct-to-Netflix movie?

Read it now and find out!

__________________


In science fiction circles Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people inside the SF/F fiction bubble have known until recently is that he spent most of his career in software R&D, doing things that were fascinating to do but are almost impossible to explain. What even fewer people have known is that he actually got his start in the music industry, as a composer, performer, and a member of the design team that developed MIDI, among other things, and he has an enormous repertoire of stories that begin, “This one time, this band I was in…” all of which are far too raunchy to tell in any medium his children might someday read.

Yes, he still has his 50-year-old cherry red Gibson SG with P-90 pickups, as well as his original “Gray Meanie” ARP 2600, and he fully intends to get back to doing music, one of these days…

Saturday, January 28, 2023

“Recursive Stack Overflow” • by Allan Davis Jr.

 


squaark


Virus? Design flaw? Sunspot interference? What about a biological virus that infected the interface and acted like a programmed virus? The list of possibilities was endless.


Greg stared at the computer as it finished the bootload procedures. He sincerely hoped he wasn’t the only wirehead working on the problem, and that someone could track it down, and quickly.  People were dying. 


People were being eaten


He swallowed hard, past the lump in his throat. 


Statistics rolled across the screen. Wireless data nodes and their status bytes scrolled by in an endless, barely organized stream. Each node represented an MMIIP—a mind-machine interface implant package—nanotech circuitry, encapsulated in a surgical steel housing and surgically attached to the bone at the base of the skull. Magnetic induction “broadcast” the nanovolt signal to the nerves in the brain, and a properly trained brain could interpret those signals into visual, or sometimes even non-visual, data.


Each node, then, also represented a person. And according to the statistical analysis his computer was generating, fully 84.673% of those people were in serious trouble. 


There were three classifiably different attack vectors at work.


The first, and possibly the most fortunate, were losing coordination. Greg had passed five traffic accidents getting home. Something was interfering with their fine motor control.


The second grouping was made up of...well, catatonics. They weren’t mobile, weren’t even responding to external stimuli. He glanced over at his girlfriend, who hadn’t moved since he returned home. She was sitting in the shadows just out of his reach, staring out the window.


And finally, the third group...


squaaark


Greg shut his eyes against the blast of white light and white noise, and cursed. When four people in line at the coffee shop had started convulsing, he had shut off his implant out of sheer reflex. And when those four people started eating the catatonic ones, he had run for home.


It was the first time he had touched the steering wheel in nearly three years.


Obviously, he hadn’t been fast enough. His implant was infected too. Yes, “infected” was the right word...call it a hunch, but he thought it was a virus. He activated the double-firewall on his computer, and reached for the wire.


Wireheads were laughed at by the rest of society. Everything was wireless, so why tether your head to a computer?  Most wireheads were serious tech geeks—interface programmers, or, like Greg, software testers, who needed to segregate the software from the interface to test it.


Of course, he never thought he’d be debugging his own interface.


Data scrolled across the screen, but it wasn't making much sense. Greg fought to remember the parameters for the optical interface, and finally looked it up. 3074 bits wide with seven parity bits; that was the data stream into the optic nerve. There, now the data was more orderly.


squaark


The blast of static hit without warning, causing his legs to spasm and fingers to go numb. He blinked away the migraine, and as soon as his eyes would focus again, scrolled back the buffer.  There it was—random data, something he could actually trace. He backtracked through the logs, trying to see the source of the garbage data, all the way back to the module it came from—the LifeWare 87C!


LifeWare chips were a godsend for EMTs. The chip monitored and recorded the last several hours of biometric data. If anything—blood sugar, blood pressure, pulse—slipped outside the normal range, it would alert the owner. Too far outside, like a heart attack, and it would alert the EMT system—and they had a custom chip that could read the LifeWare data from ten feet away.


The chip was so cool, in fact, that the government decided that one would be in every install. Tripled the cost of the system, of course, and guaranteed that everyone had one. And now his was not only interfering with his other systems, it was messing with his brain.


That was supposed to be impossible. “You can’t write to meat,” they said. “Wetware isn’t a standard I/O device.” This was a good thing. If the brain was just another piece in the system, then data could be written to it—and overwrite anything that was already there. Scientists still didn’t know enough about the deep inner workings of the brain to deal with editing data at the neural level. “Your implant can broadcast, and you can train your brain to read the signals—but that’s a ‘pull’ and not a ‘push.’” 


Greg started tracing through the LifeWare chip code, looking for the problem.


SQUAAARK


It took nearly five minutes for him to recover from the strongest burst of static yet, and nearly ten more before he regained the feeling in his fingers and toes. 


LifeWare chips were only different in data storage size, from the cheapest 2 gigabyte models all the way up to huge 10 gigabyte ones that would hold weeks’ worth of data. The virus—Greg was still sure it was a virus, though he couldn’t yet prove it—looked like it was dumping random numbers into the chip’s memory.


And there, finally, he found it. Compressed, and compressed again. A little packet of information included with every burst of static. “You slept with my wife. I’m going to destroy your company.” There it was. The program generated ten gigabytes of noise and dumped it into the 2 gigabyte storage area of the LifeWare chip. That caused…caused…he couldn’t remember the official term, it was on the tip of his tongue. Pile? Stack, that was it. Stack something.


But if it sent ten gigabytes into a two gigabyte chip…where did the extra data go? The next socket down the line was generally reserved for video games…and that was the last socket. 


The only thing after that…was meat.


Nintendo’s interface was a two gigabyte module. Loads and loads of data, dumped into the nervous system…they just shut down, trying to process it all.


PlayStation? That was four gigabytes. Less data to go into the brain. Motor neuron interference, but not catatonia.


And the ones who’d left their game slot blank? That crash of random data would mess with the whole brain.


He had the answer. He hammered out a mass email, everyone in his address book, details, quickly, got to get the word out, but fighting for the words, stack something, stack over—


SQUAAARRRKKKK!!!


The blast of energy caused his entire body to spasm, sending an overload down the wire that rebooted the computer. He sat quietly until the twitching stopped, and stared blankly around the room.


He reached out, and gently pulled his girlfriend’s hand up to his mouth.


Then he bit off her ring finger, and let the hand drop into her lap.


The nerve impact from losing her index finger had just reached her brain, but it would be another hour before the visual data would process. By then, Greg would be working on her other hand, and shock and blood loss would cause her to collapse.


Greg chewed slowly, crunching loudly.


SQUAAAARKKK


Virus? Design flaw? Sunspot interference? What about a biological virus that infected the interface and acted like a programmed virus?


Greg stared at the computer, trying to figure out what could have caused such a disaster. He hoped he wasn’t the only wirehead working on the problem, and that someone could track it down, and quickly. People were dying. People were being eaten


He swallowed hard, past the lump in his throat.

 

___________________

 

Allan Davis Jr. is a writer, photographer, and computer geek who is currently hiding out in a cave in the arid wasteland of Central Florida. He’s been a sci-fi geek from day one—literally, his mom was watching “Shore Leave” in the hospital while she was in labor, and demanded a TV so she could see more Star Trek. When Allan is not staring through a camera, he’s doing unspeakable things to databases, as well as the computers they live on. Never let him sing after midnight...or before midnight, for that matter.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Book Release: NEO CYBERPUNK • Volume 3


Good grief, has it really been 43 years?

Hi, I’m Bruce Bethke. If you don’t know me, I’m the guy who in the early spring of 1980 wrote a little story about a gang of teenage hackers, which I titled, “Cyberpunk.” In calling my story this I was actively trying to come up with a new word that grokked  the interface between the then-emerging high tech scene and teenage “punk” attitudes.

Perhaps I overdid it. I never meant to spark a revolution. Mea culpa.

My original story sprang from three pretty simple ideas:

  1. That what makes a new technology disruptive is not using it in the way the people who invented it intended it should be used. Those people can only think of the right way to use a thing. The disruption comes later, when people who grew up living with that tech start thinking of all the wrong ways to use it.

  2. That that clean, bright, shiny and beautiful Star Trek® future everyone else who was writing science fiction at the time was writing about? Nope. Not gonna happen. The interesting stories of the future belong to the punks; those people living at the bottom of the economic food chain, who are going to be busy busting their asses trying to come up with new “wrong” ways to use new tech just to survive, while the eloi living above them scarcely noticed their existence.

  3. That human languages are constantly evolving in response to technology. New technologies require new ideas and new vocabularies, and when you change the way a people speak, you change the way they think.

So I asked myself: how were these people living in the distant future—which at the time I wrote the story I put at about 40 years after the “now” of 1980—going to be living and thinking?

Then I wrote a story to try to explore one possible answer to that question.

After I finished writing the story I immediately sent it off to Asimov’s, where they liked it enough to ask me to rewrite the ending (“because Asimov’s readers will never go for a story that ends with the punk winning”), then rejected the rewrite on the grounds that in the meantime they’d consulted a real mainframe computer expert, and the whole idea of punk kids running around causing serious trouble using cheap, powerful, portable computers the size of notebooks was just too far-fetched to be credible. Thereafter I shopped the story around to all the SF publishing markets then in business—between the summer of 1980 and the spring of 1982 every editor then working in the SF publishing business got a look at it, and most sent it back with some variation on the “nice try kid, real close” personal rejection—before it finally ended up at Amazing Stories, where it was accepted in the summer of 1982 and published in the fall of 1983. 

And that, I thought, was the end of it.

There may have been a time when I was more mistaken, but offhand, I can’t remember when.

___________

I’m really pleased, albeit slightly chagrined, that the editors have asked me to be a part of this book. When people ask me to talk about cyberpunk, the little DJ who lives in the back of my head drops the needle on Quadrophenia, Side 1, Track 5: “The Punk Meets The Godfather,” and the first line blasts out in my mind’s ear: “You declared you would be three inches taller…”

How can I possibly live up to your expectations? I am The Real Bruce Bethke®, for God’s sake! I’ve seen myself described as “famous,” “legendary,” “reclusive” — no, I am not reclusive, but after about a ten-year run of writing science fiction I went back to working in supercomputer software R&D, which frankly pays a Hell of a lot better than being a famous and award-winning science fiction writer. I spent most of my real-world career doing work for — some three-letter agencies whose names I’m not at liberty to disclose even now. It’s probably safe for me to mention DARPA, the U.S. government’s official Department of Mad Science. I could talk about my work for DARPA — but then you’d have to be conversant with massively parallel processor architectures and computational fluid dynamics in order to understand what I was saying.

So let’s talk about cyberpunk, then, then and now. The reason why cyberpunk as a fictional form blossomed brilliantly and then died miserably in the late 1980s to early 1990s is because the same thing happened to cyberpunk as happens to every other successful new thing in any branch of pop culture. In a few very short years it went from being something unexpected, fresh, and wildly original—to being a trendy fashion statement—to being the flavor of the month—to being a hoary trope, complete with a set of stylistic markers and time-honored forms to which obeisance must be paid if one is to write True Cyberpunk. It became a commercial formula, easily replicated, and the market was soon flooded with an enormous amount of “me too” work that aped the style of the genre’s pioneers but added nothing new to the vocabulary.

“They say true talent
will always emerge in time.
When lightning strikes small wonder
it’s fast rough factory time.”

—The Clash, “Hitsville U.K.”

Cyberpunk fiction became a commercial formula. That’s wrong, just all wrong. Anything that claims to be “punk” should be fast loud, raw, anarchic, and in your face. It should be challenging. It should have plenty of jagged edges to make you uncomfortable. It should have moments of scintillating brilliance, intermixed with moments that leave you scratching your head and wondering, “What the f*** was that?” It should make you, at the very least, slightly nonplussed. Above all, it should embrace the quintessential punk attitude:

“Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.”

—Rage Against the Machine, “Killing in the Name”

But, no. Once the big dinosaur publishers discovered cyberpunk, its doom was sealed. They sanded off all the rough edges, slapped on a few coats of urethane, polished it to high gloss, and produced tons—literally, actual pulp-paper tons—of cozy, comfortable, cyberpunk-flavored commercial product, and the genre choked on its own vomit, suffocated, and died.

___________

Only to be reborn now, thanks to the wonder of indie, small-press, and direct-to-ebook publishing. (Bethke checks his chronometer and nods sagely. “Forty years later? Yes, we’re right on schedule.”)

I like indie publishers. I’m a huge fan of people who have the chutzpah and energy to put work out there because they believe in the work, not because Larry in Marketing says this book is going to hit some particular sales demographic right on the nose and make a kajillion dollars. I—

I have an analogy. I have an older friend who lived in Haight-Ashbury during The Summer of Love. (“They should have called it ‘The Summer of Crab Lice,’ he grumbles.) I have another older friend who was at Woodstock. (“Three days of peace, love, and music? No, it was three days of rain, mud, and no toilets.”) My generationally defining music festival was M-80, the legendary (there’s that word again) 1979 New-No-Now Wave punk rock music festival that was Lollapalooza twelve years before Lollapalooza came to exist. In getting ready to write this foreword I looked at the program from M-80 again, trying to remember all the bands who were there and how different they all were from each other. Yet they shared a common thread: they were all edgy, a little out there, a little dangerous, definitely unpolished; most were signed to small indie record labels; and yet they were all making music in that nebulously defined space known as “punk.” Some of them were going to have very short careers. Others were destined for enduring greatness. But at the time of the festival, all you could do was listen to them play their set, then decide which ones you thought it was worth your time to follow.

That is what you have here in your hands, my friends: an indie punk rock music festival in a book.

Forty-three years later, I remain astonished by the literary cladogenesis my little story spawned. You’re a huge fan of Cyberpunk 2077? You’ll find stories here that scratch that itch. You really loved Ghost in the Shell? Yes, we have stories here that will slake that thirst. You say you like your cyberpunk with a little eldritch Lovecraftian edge? Check out “The Hum,” by Jon Richter. You’re a totally deep-dyed MMRPG fan? Try “The Dragon’s Tooth,” by M.D. Cooper.

Do you, like me, really like a good Philip K. Dick-style recursive paranoid nightmare? Read “The Larry Project,” by Nik Whittaker. Do you from time to time crave a story that will leave you feeling, “I don’t know what the f*** that was, but I liked it?” Then take a look at “Fiery the cyberwitches fall,” by Matt Adcock. Do you want me to just skip ahead and tell you who the headliners are? They would be Anna Mocikat, James L. Graetz, C. T. Phipps, and S. C. Jensen.

Do you want me to tell you which of these stories I feel are custodians of the flame of True Cyberpunk? Do you want to know whose careers I will be following with great interest in the years to come?

Nope. Not gonna do it. That would spoil the fun. You’re just going to have to read them all and make up your own mind. 

And now, never mind the bollocks, here’s Neo Cyberpunk 3!

Enjoy!
Bruce Bethke  

__________________


In science fiction circles Bruce Bethke is best known either for his 1980 short story, “Cyberpunk,” his Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel, Headcrash, or as the editor and publisher of Stupefying Stories. What very few people inside the SF/F fiction bubble have known until recently is that he spent most of his career in software R&D, doing things that were fascinating to do but are almost impossible to explain. What even fewer people have known is that he actually got his start in the music industry, as a composer, performer, and a member of the design team that developed MIDI, among other things, and he has an enormous repertoire of stories that begin, “This one time, this band I was in…” all of which are far too raunchy to tell in any medium his children might someday read.

Yes, he still has his 50-year-old cherry red Gibson SG with P-90 pickups, as well as his original “Gray Meanie” ARP 2600, and he fully intends to get back to doing music, one of these days…

Friday, January 20, 2023

MINING THE ASTEROIDS #3…How Can We POSSIBLY Do Something So CRAZY?!?!?!?

They say you have to learn to WALK before your can FLY, so before we start driving asteroids around the Solar System (and I can’t believe that Russia, China, the EU, India, Brazil, and the United States will give a happy thumbs up to that action (which just put in my mind that MOVING asteroids into Earth orbit will have to be a true, multi-national effort with multi-national crews…which, of course, will lead to incredible stress and possible conflict…)) let’s look at how we’ll start walking…

Humans have been taking pictures of asteroids, and doing flybys for twenty or more years. Recently, we’ve started landing on asteroids: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_landings_on_extraterrestrial_bodies#Asteroids


Since 2001, there have been 11 Lunar landings, so we’ve done a few baby steps. First is the Asteroid Redirect Mission (https://www.nasa.gov/content/what-is-nasa-s-asteroid-redirect-mission) which was cancelled in 2017. The purpose was to lift a large asteroid boulder and place it into a stable Earth orbit. NOTE: While it’s not stated anywhere, I can only imagine the objections from China (mostly) and Russia and India against the US “parking” a huge rock in orbit (and hiding a rocket engine that, ignited, could push the rock into a decaying orbit that would drop it on a target of US choice…) knowing that the Barringer crater, a kilometer across and almost 200 meters deep, was formed by a boxcar-sized rock some fifty thousand years ago.

Even a small rock, dropped into central Beijing would cause catastrophic damage. We’re going to have to get experience with landing crewed ships on asteroids and setting up operations there.

In conjunction with that, we’re going to need to get used to mining the Moon. It’s a much smaller body, has a supply of water and there’s the likelihood we can use resources on its surface to manufacture air and raw materials, and it’s a far easier target to hit. Compare that with FIRST landing the Blue Origin booster rockets and capsule in the middle of the Arizona desert and then figure landing on an ASTEROID would be like trying to using a laser pointer to shine it on a target on a person running in a straight line across a university courtyard…while you’re bouncing on a trampoline…

Oh, and you’d have to land it, too…

So, let’s just say we solve the problem of creating smaller spacecraft (say, the size of a nuclear submarine…), maybe building them in space, though the FIRST ones are going to have to be built here AND land on an iron asteroid. Once it was there, we COULD send mining bots, but there’s going to have to be a small crew there to troubleshoot…maybe a crew who could build the NEXT mining ship and send it on its way to another asteroid.

I write it like it’s a simple job; but it took us from 1944 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MW_18014) to now to reach a point where we can even talk about the feasibility of mining the asteroids – seventy-seven years. Can we start today?

Nope. HOWEVER, there’s a foundation that has been laid.

We CAN land Human-made probes on asteroids and lift off again.

We CAN land people on the Moon, while we may be rusty, it’s likely to happen again in the next fifteen years or so.

We CAN support people in space, which we have done (with international cooperation no less!) with the International Space Station.

We CAN put a number of people in the space at one time, both in the past and recently.

And without a doubt, we need resources if Human civilization is to continue to advance. The resources on the planet, while there are reserves and life as we know it is NOT going to end today, they won’t possibly last forever. We need to do something besides host conferences, posture, and throw money at our social ills. Please do NOT read your own prejudices into that statement.

Programs need to be funded, but 40 years in education have shown me that unless the programs have a very specific goal and SHOW THAT THE GOAL HAS BEEN ACHIEVED, then it’s little more than rearranging classroom desks or virtue signaling. We need to get serious about living here, and we need to step back from our personal agendas, party agendas, and national agendas.

It seems to me that we CAN mine the asteroids. Human civilization certainly has the SKILLS. Now we need the naysayers to either give clear alternatives and explain their objections – and then offer solutions rather than to repeat their objections louder and begin to weep alongside or they need to stuff a sock in their mouths, bite down, and get on the bandwagon ANYWAY.

Resources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Origin_facilities
Image: https://ichef.bbci.co.uk/news/976/cpsprodpb/A2D5/production/_114558614_hls-eva-apr2020.jpg