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

Friday, January 13, 2023

A little something for the weekend?

Getting back into a regular writing and publishing schedule while also planning Karen’s funeral and working through all the loose ends of her estate is proving to be tougher than expected. However, even though I promised I’d stop doing them, writing a movie review always seems to be a good way for me to get me moving again. Without further ado, then…

Recommended watching:

Written and directed by Jordan Peele, who you should at least recognize as being one-half of the comedy duo of Key & Peele, NOPE is heir to a long line of clever little science fiction/horror movies. Filmed on a modest budget ($68 million), this is not a movie that will dazzle you with its special effects, awe you with the big-name star power of its cast, or stun you with the sheer imaginative brilliance of its script. This is simply a movie that will entertain you, from its slow-burn beginning to its frenetic climax, and it seems as if there are damned few filmmakers content to do that these days. You will care about the fates of the characters in this movie, and follow willingly along with them as they go down the rabbit hole and discover that something that only seemed a little odd at first is far more sinister than they’d ever imagined.

If you liked TREMORS, I believe you’ll enjoy NOPE.

Recommended missing:


The latest installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, THOR: Love and Thunder, is… weird. It seems to be trying to follow in the footsteps of THOR: Ragnarok, but with not one iota of the wit that made Ragnarok entertaining. It cost a quarter of a billion dollars to make. There may be a few scenes that don’t have eye-popping CGI effects, but if there were, I don’t remember them. The movie is packed with big-name actors and actresses: Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Chris Pratt, Christian Bale as the villain (Did they actually try to come up with an “All Chris” cast?) If you watch closely you’ll spot gobs of other “name” actors in bit parts and cameos. Even Russell Crowe gets a turn, as an obnoxious, overweight, and intentionally unhelpful Zeus.

The core story of the movie is that Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is dying, from an unspecified cancer that has reached Stage 4 and is not responding to chemotherapy. In desperation she decides to abandon science and seek magical help in New Asgard, and ends up becoming the Mighty Thor, complete with her own set of chrome armor and a pieced-back-together Mjolnir. Thereafter…

Ah, who cares? This movie is just plain weird. It seems to be going off in six different directions at the same time, and can’t find a single voice. It’s a comedy—no, it’s a tragedy—it’s a self-parody—no, it’s a statement, about all sorts of things that are utterly irrelevant in a comic-book movie. Korg, the rock creature from Ragnarok, is gay? From what else is revealed in this story Korg’s species is hermaphroditic, like earthworms. In the context of a hermaphroditic species, how can the idea of gay possibly have any meaning?

There are lots more things about this movie that bother me: for one, the music is terrible. Someone is credited as the composer for this film, but it sounds more like they hired a DJ to spin records for a sock hop. For another, Jane Foster is way too active and healthy-looking for someone who has Stage 4 cancer and is in chemotherapy. On top of that, the depiction of chemo as presented in this movie is nowhere near as ugly and invasive as the real thing. (But then, if they were to make it realistic, this would be a horror movie.)

I could go on and on with the failings of this movie, but suffice to say: I watched this one so that you don’t have to. If you liked THOR: Ragnarok, give this one a miss. Watching it will only make you question your own judgment for having liked Ragnarok.


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.   

Monday, January 9, 2023

Happy Anniversary!

 

To my Beautiful Bride,

Thirty years ago today, on an equally cold January day, you made me the happiest man in the world by marrying me and committing to spending the rest of your life with me, happily ever after, for as long as we both shall live.

We committed to blending our families and to raising and loving all our children together, as ours, as best as we could.

 
Although our parents did seem to consider it more of a corporate merger.

The “happily ever after” part didn’t come easily. We had to work hard at making our marriage work. We had some very tough times. We both had days when we were just one sharp word from the other away from calling it quits. But we always worked it out, because underneath all the distractions and aggravations, we deeply and truly loved each other, and we’d learned from the mistakes we’d both made when we were younger.

In time, our family grew older…

and larger…


and we grew older too, but we didn’t mind, because we had each other, to have and to hold.

 
Our children became adults…

and left the nest to begin lives and families of their own.

 

Together we shared wonderful joys…

 
and heart-breaking sorrows.


We shared adventures, some remarkable…

 
and some ridiculous.

We faced terrifying challenges.

 

But we faced them together, because deep down, those two kids who first met on a beach in 1969—

remained two teenagers in love—


for all their lives.


I like to think I made you happy.


You always said you wanted us to grow old together.

 
Unfortunately, you got there first.
 

I realize you stayed with me as long as you could. You didn’t have a choice in the matter.


But now that the Bruce & Karen story is over, all I want to do is go back to Page 1 and live it all again. Only this time, I’d marry you at least 15 years earlier. I’m thinking The Year of the Hideous Plaid Pants would have been about the right time. 

I wish we’d had more time together, so that I could have loved you more. 

Happy Anniversary, my Beautiful Angel! I hope you’re having champagne in Heaven tonight!




Then again, if they don’t have champagne in Heaven, I think the whole idea of the place has been seriously oversold. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

A/V Test 3

Uploading a larger file with more complex audio.

 

Now how do I get rid of the letter-boxing? And I guess blogger can't extract a thumbnail image from the video. I need to add one. 


Monday, January 2, 2023

Looking Ahead: World War VI


In 1985, Canadian historian Gwynne Dyer posited that world wars happen about every 50 years, like clockwork, and that despite whatever the participants might claim, the root cause of a world war is always the imbalance between the relative political and economic powers of the nations involved.

Further, he went on to define the five world wars that had occurred thus far in modern history as: 

I. The Thirty Years’ War

II. The War of the Spanish Succession

III. The Seven Years’ War

IV. The Revolutionary & Napoleonic Wars

V. The Great War, parts 1 and 2.

Then he jumped the shark, and came to the cautiously optimistic conclusion that while we were overdue for one, another world war could not happen in the foreseeable future as there were four highly unlikely conditions that needed to be met before such a war could become even remotely possible. These conditions were:

  1. The reunification of Germany.

  2. The decline of the Soviet Union, to the point where it could no longer maintain control of its empire.

  3. The repudiation by the Japanese of Article 9 of their 1947 constitution, followed by rearmament.

  4. And—Dyer considered this one to be an extreme long-shot—the emergence of China as a great economic power.


You may take a moment now to go refill your coffee cup and shudder, and while doing so, you might want to take a look at the rhetoric about Article 9 coming out of Japan lately. Then, when you're done with that, let's consider the question from the fiction writer's perspective.

One of the things that has always bothered me about science fiction is the implicit assumption that the future will grow in a simple and linear fashion from the present. Typically this results in a fictional future world in which either: a.) Western (read: American) liberal democratic civilization has ascended, values intact, straight to the stars, or b.) after some sort of brief interregnum, (i.e., Star Trek’s “Mad Wars”), the entire world is rebooted in a western liberal democratic mold and everything proceeds nicely from there, or else c.) we’re all blown back to the stone age and have to start over again with rocks, sharp sticks, and the wreckage left behind by Western liberal democratic civilization.

But…

But according to a 2005 article in The Economist, (yes, we subscribe to that, too), their projections for the year 2040 indicated that the world’s dominant economies would be China, India, and Brazil, in that order, with the EU and NAFTA duking it out for the coveted position of Distant Fourth Place, and that is a prediction that seems to be staying right on track. Can you even imagine what it will be like to live in such a world?

Thus this week’s assignment. If Dyer’s theory is correct, right about the time the Economist’s projections hit home, we should be ramping up for World War VI. Who will be the major powers in the Great War of 2045? Who will be allies? Where will the major fighting take place? What will be the unimportant backwaters? And what will life look like after the war?

Now put your imagination in gear, and go!

—brb

__________________

 

Nota bene: Thanks again for Guy Stewart for digging through twenty years of columns to find content to fill this site while I was out of action. As I was searching the archives this morning for the exact wording of Dyer’s prediction I found this column from October 9, 2006, and realized that with only a few very minor changes I could run it today. If anything it’s even more disturbing now than it was when first written 17 years ago. Therefore, since it is also better than what I’d been planning to write this morning, here you go.

Perhaps the most significant change from the original is that owing to a simple counting mistake, the column was first published as “World War V.” You couldn’t call something World War V now. Everyone would assume it was about vampires.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

Return to the Moa by Bruce Bethke, October 09, 2017


And here I am, back at the Mall of America again. Twenty-some years ago, when the MOA was shiny and new and I was a promising young writer with both a new novel out and an American publisher who actually put some promotional effort behind such novels by such writers, I got booked to do a signing at the MOA, at what was then the flagship store of a now-defunct bookstore chain.

Let me tell you, I was excited to do this signing! A week or two before Colin Powell had done a book signing at the same store, in the same time-slot, and it was a major media event, covered by all the local papers and TV stations. The line for him was out the door and halfway down to the next food court. I figured, if I could get just half the turnout he got; a quarter, even...

On the day of the signing I took extra care to shave, shower, brush and floss, make sure my hair was perfect, dress in my sharpest suit, pack a couple of spare signing pens (always bring your own pen) and a small tin of Altoids -- I even put on aftershave, which I almost never do, and showed up well in advance of the appointed time. The staff in the store were happy to see me and eager to accommodate me. They'd set me up with a table and chair and nice signage, and neat stacks of about 200 copies of my new novel, in a location where it was impossible for people to enter or leave the store without walking right past me.

Which is exactly what they did: walked right past me. I sat there with my "accessible and approachable" smile pasted on my face and pen in my hand, ready to sign and personalize books, watching people walk past... and walk past... and walk past...

And after about fifteen minutes, I decided this was stupid. I'd worked in sales before -- been quite successful at it, actually. You don't make sales by sitting there and waiting for customers to approach you. You get out from behind the counter and approach them. Confidently and assertively, but without crossing over into aggressive and obnoxious, which is where most sales people blow it, especially in the used car business.

So I got out from behind that table, and I worked that sales floor, approaching and engaging people and selling my book, one customer at a time. When my assigned time was up I got permission from the store manager to keep going, and I wound up staying there until the store closed. By the end of the evening my voice was shot, my feet were killing me, and I had sold...

Exactly sixty-four books. I made a point of remembering that; wrote it down, even. I was making roughly ten cents a copy on that one, so all my work that evening had contributed a glorious $6.40 towards earning out my publisher's advance. I was depressed.

The store staff were thrilled, though. "This is the best book signing we've ever had!" But, but, Colin Powell?

Someone explained. That wasn't a book signing. That was a publishing event. People weren't showing up to buy Powell's book and read it. They were there to get a signed copy so they could display it, and start conversations by saying, "I was talking to Colin Powell the other day..." They figured the people who bought Powell's book might read a chapter or two, or look at the pictures, but eventually they'd get tired of having it taking up space in their house. Then they'd try to sell it, and discover it wasn't a valuable collector's item after all, whereupon they'd dump it at a garage sale or donate it to Goodwill.

"But you," another someone said, "you actually wrote your book. The people who bought your book are going to read it. This is the best turnout we've ever had for a real novel by a real writer!"

Well. That was some consolation. And definitely food for thought.

...the thinking process continues to this day. Twenty-some years later, the book business remains a strange and dynamic space, where the only constant is change and what worked well even a year ago no longer works now. For too long I have been sitting behind the table, with my "accessible and approachable" smile pasted on my face, waiting for book sales to magically happen. For a time, that seemed to work. We sold thousands of copies of Scout's Honor and The Fugitive Heir, among other titles.

But this year: the market tectonics have shifted again. What was working for us then isn't working for us now. Meaning it's time for me to get out from behind the table and start making things happen. And that, my friends, is what I'm already in the process of doing, and will be expanding on doing in the upcoming months.

Fair warning, though: the reason I got out of sales in the first place is that my salesman persona -- well, he's not exactly the most patient and nurturing of people. In fact, he really got on my wife's nerves, which is why I shut him down and changed careers. Once he's online, I have a lot of trouble switching him off.

---------------------------------------------------------------------

As we're changing our sales positioning and marketing strategy, one of the things I'm doing is consolidating the SHOWCASE and Stupefying Stories websites. SHOWCASE was a nice idea, and it had a pleasant if erratic four-year run, but our focus now must be on our core business, which is selling books. Ergo, SHOWCASE will carry on, but as a feature of this site, not as a semi-independent (and money-losing) entity. As we're winding up and shutting down the existing SHOWCASE site, though, I'll be running a sort of "best of SHOWCASE" feature here, with plugs and links to some of my personal favorites out of the 170-some stories we've published on that site over the past four years.


Guy's Note: As HEADCRASH (1995), REBEL MOON (1996), and WILD, WILD WEST (1999) were all published around the same time, this could have been written for any one of the books. My money is on HEADCRASH, though. So, unless Bruce corrects me, let's go with that!