The Expanse

the expanseI just finished episode six of SyFy Channel’s new series, The Expanse,  and it continues to get better and better.

Tightly written. Well acted. Great graphics and  a superb attention to the little details.  I have been hooked since the first minutes of episode one.

SyFy has finally given us real science fiction, instead of the crap the channel has been serving up for years. Good on them. I hope they continue.  [After note: I have been told they have green-lit season two.]

Two more episodes before the season ends.  It’s not too late to catch up.

At Daily Science Fiction

I’ve got a piece of flash – Last Call – appearing today at Daily Science Fiction. The story is about baseball; about umpires and newspaper reporters and computers. And how some folks are attracted to their jobs out of love of the work, not a desire for money.

I am particularly pleased with this story.  It’s very near-future science fiction.  All the elements are there; human arbiters are already using high-resolution cameras and computer tracking  to make final judgments on disputed calls at first, second and third base.  And television networks show viewers whether or not pitches were in the home plate strike zone — after the human umpire’s call.

Technology has a way of pushing forward, whether or not people want it or not. Like Pandora’s Box, once opened it’s difficult to put things back and ignore potential changes. And not everyone benefits from such changes.  Buggy-whip manufacturers come to mind.

I hope you enjoy the story.

A New Year Update

Thanks to excellent feedback from Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Rebecca Stefoff, I have completed a final submission  draft of my alternate history fantasy novel, now titled Seventh-Hour Man, and I’ve begun a search for an agent and/or a publisher.

Back in August, I submitted a pitch  for the book – then titled Shadowman – to an open submissions call from the publisher Hodder & Stoughton. They received almost 1,500 proposals and have been plowing through the slush pile ever since.

They completed first read December 31st and it appears I’ve made it out of the slush and will received a second reading. Still lots of time and room for them to say no, but it is a step further along the path to a contract.

I’ll keep you posted.

Also, I’ve got a piece of flash scheduled to appear in Daily Science Fiction on January 15th. Last Call is about baseball; about umpires and newspaper reporters and computers. And how some folks are attracted to their jobs out of love of the work, not a desire for money.

I’ll post a link when the time comes.

And finally, the ink is dry on the contract for Little Green Guys, which will appear in Little Green Men – Attack! The anthology is from Baen Books. It is edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Robin Wayne Bailey, and should be out sometime later this year. The story is homage to Damon Runyon. It’s set in Albuquerque in 1947 and features a burglar named In-And-Out Wachowski. I hope it makes you laugh.

 

Movie Commentary: Ant-Man

We watched Ant-Man On Demand last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Solid writing, clever graphics and strong performances .. and more than a touch of humor. A well-managed romp through the Marvel universe that pushed all my comic-book buttons in a good way.

If your missed it in the theaters, you should find it On Demand or Blue Ray and check it out.

10Flash: Lost Stories

Some of you may recall that I published 10Flash, an online magazine that offered speculative flash fiction, from July 2009 through April 2012. Like most of us, I got hit by the recession and no longer could afford to pay for stories, so I was forced to shut down operations.

From time to time, since then, writers have asked about access to their published stories.  I went digging recently and found access to most of the 10Flash stories, at least those through July 2011.  I’m still working on the others, but here’s a link to those lost stories at 10Flash.

For those of you who aren’t on that list of writers, but like short spec fiction, have at it and enjoy!

A Wayfarer’s Tale

I have been following, with considerable interest, John Pitt’s success with the serialized publication of Cleric Journal at his web site: J.A. Pitts.  I’ve enjoyed the continuing story very much, getting more and more entangled with the trials, tribulations and adventures of Lump, an inexperienced, but enthusiastic (and by no means inept) young cleric.

Checking Lump’s progress through the swamps of life has become a daily habit. Check it out; I think you’ll find it’s fun.

I like it so much, in fact, that I’ve decided to try my hand at it. Nothing as ambitious as the on-going saga of Lump; I don’t have the energy for that. But I will be presenting a daily installment of A Wayfarer’s Tale through the end of November. Much like Cleric Journal, my story follows a young man, just come of age, who travels cross-country to return the ashes of his best friend to the friend’s family.

It’s an experiment in self-publishing. If I get a strong enough response, I’ll consider posting other serialized stories here at my web site.

It starts tomorrow morning: November 5. Please check it out, if you are so inclined. Comments are always welcome.

A New Short Story

Spent time at the West Seattle Starbucks yesterday afternoon, co-writing with Cat Rambo.

It’s not my usual thing. Not that I mind the hubbub after working in a newsroom all those years; but I usually write in private because I like to wave my hands and mutter over plot points and try dialog out loud.

Even so, I got in 1,000 good words yesterday on High Mileage; Well Maintained, Only Driven Weekdays, a new time travel short. I’ve been too busy putting the finishing touches on Shadowman to have time to work on other things, so it felt good to stretch my short-story legs again.

Anyway, thank you, Cat, for joining me. Your company is always welcome.

For those of you who are  interested, here’s a taste of the new WIP:

Twenty years since I swore I would never return to Florida, and there I was; headed north on A1A in search of a used car lot my dear and dead friend, Alex, had promised me was there.

I found the place just past the Melbourne bridge. Two air dancers anchored the front corners of the lot. Plastic arms spread wide in welcome, the two-story, lime-green tubes swayed and twisted in the easy ocean breeze. The lot was paved in bone-white crushed coral. A crackling line of faded multi-colored pennants fluttered on cable strung from the light poles along the highway. And an unlit neon sign across the face of the tired concrete-block building made an unpretentious promise: Used Cars.

I lived in Melbourne when I worked the NASA rockets, so I must have driven by the lot almost every day, but I didn’t recall ever noticing, even though it looked like it had been there near on to forever.

I found out later it had been there sixty years.

Novel News

The review-draft of my novel, Shadowman, is complete.  92,500 words and ready to send to first readers.  I’ve also got a agent pitch prepared and I’m beginning to send it out.

Shadowman is set in an alternate North America, takes place around the Great Lakes during the first week in November 1913, and involves magic, monsters and Mounties.

The elevator pitch is Beowulf mixed with Frankenstein; flavored with a dash of Crime and Punishment.

Here’s a taste:

Charlie Haggard / Buckman, Canuck Territories / 2 November 1913

Charlie tossed aside the bow tie and starched-cotton collar he had agreed to wear to give his baby girl away and popped open the top stud of his formal shirt.

“Enough of this,” he growled.

Finally free to breathe, he savored the sweet mingled scent of cherry logs, spiced apples and roasted pork that filled the farmers’ hall. Outside, winds might be rising, daylight all but gone and shadows gathering, but everything inside the brand-new building was bright and warm. 

“Cozy,” Charlie’s late wife, Meribelle, would have said.

He took a sip of apple jack from his pint jar and watched his daughter, Bethany, stomp across the pegged-plank floor with her new husband. She was Charlie’s favorite child, his only daughter, so he would never say it to her face, but she couldn’t dance to save her life.

Her man, Ray Maguire, didn’t seem to mind, but he had no great skills on the floor himself. And neither would ever win a beauty contest. That hadn’t held Ray back, in any way the world measured, but plain to see the girl took her looks from Charlie; not her mother, dead and gone these twenty years.

At thirty-two, Bethany showed too much chin and nose; too little curve at hip and breast. Always offered too much lip, as well, some people liked to say.

Even so, it didn’t matter the bride and groom had grown up a pair of bucket calves. From this day on, they would never be alone for long, nor have to hope to dance with anyone again.

Out on the floor, Bethany ran her hands back from her brow to smooth her thick, dark hair, then grabbed a hold on Ray again. Ray grabbed right back, emboldened by the alcohol beyond his usual taciturn ways, no doubt, and swung his new wife to the high, fast whine of that old traveler’s fiddle.

Close up, something about the fiddler set Charlie’s teeth on edge. He had a peculiar smell about him – beyond the odor of the road – and the way he eyed you could bring a shiver. But the fellow’s price was right and his music seemed true magic. Hell, everybody felt its power. Children jittered at the edges of the crowd. Old folks showed off store-bought teeth, as they shouted to the tunes. It all made Charlie happy to his bones.

“Great party, Haggard.” Ray’s daddy, Ed Maguire, stood across the room at the fieldstone fireplace, below the portrait of King George. Ed held his jar of cider high and offered up a toast. “To the father of the bride!”

Charlie raised his own jar. “To the father of the groom!”

Maguire took a healthy swallow of apple jack and grinned just like a fool. No; that wasn’t right. Ed was no fool. He grinned like a happy father at his youngest child’s wedding.

“It’s been a grand day, ain’t it, Haggard?”

Charlie returned the silly grin. “I’ll say amen to that.”

It was the truth. The all-the-trimmings Sunday wedding had cost a farmer’s fortune, but Charlie had the money, and he saw the marriage as one more good investment in the future. Barns and silos filled with the bounty of the best harvest the Canuck Territories had seen in years. Himself elected village mayor of Buckman, and the new township farmers’ hall complete, with every cent spent on it covered by donations. Now his blessèd Bethany married into the Maguire clan.

It seemed he had schemed with Ed near on to forever to bring Bethany and Ray together. It hadn’t been an easy task. Ray was big and strong; good enough with cows and horses, but he couldn’t say two words to women near his age.

Anything but shy, Bethany could be impatient, quick to speak her mind and never at a loss for words. And there was the matter of Denton Young. On more than one occasion, Charlie had pushed him away from Bethany, had stepped between them when it was clear they both hankered to be close. And Young was quick-tongued when upset, like Bethany, if not as sharp and clever.

It pushed a man to sinful words some days.

Hell, Charlie liked Young, considered him a decent man, but had another son-in-law in mind. Young’s damnable insistence had made for hard feelings and brought out those sinful words. God knew it had been worth the headaches and hurt feelings, though.

Today, he and Ed had forged a dynasty.

Charlie had a mind to climb into the rafters and crow for joy. That wouldn’t do, though. No sir, that wouldn’t do at all. If she were alive, Meribelle would step in close and pull him down to earth. She would whisper, “You run your mouth too much, old man.”

God in Heaven, Charlie missed the woman, even after all these years.

The fiddle player took up another piece. The crowd roared its approval of Johnny Jump-Up, an old-country drinking tune. Charlie had tipped a mug to it a time or two. Everyone began to clap as Bethany and Ray picked up the pace.

Charlie was a narrow, hard-edged man and everybody knew it. Folks naturally cleared a path. He had no trouble moving among friends and neighbors to the cider barrels.

He called to Ed as he moved. “How‘s Charles Edward sound for the first boy?”

Ed held one hand cupped behind his ear.

Charlie raised his voice to a roar. “I said, do you like -”

The sly bastard waved Charlie’s words away; he had been funning. “I’d rather hear it the other way around,” he yelled.

Charlie gestured. “Come and fill your jar. You and me need to talk some more.”

Ed grinned and began to pick his way across the room. The woman tending bar took Charlie’s jar, but she hadn’t drawn a drop before the entry doors exploded. A massive figure, swathed in leather and wetted wool, roared into the hall, dragging winds and shadows in its wake.

“Christ step down from Heaven,” Charlie cursed.

It was the ruthless butcher newspapers called Shadowman.

Right off, the wanker grabbed Ray and pulled the boy’s head from his shoulders, the way a man would pop a cork from a bottle of well-aged apple wine. His daughter’s anguished screams tore Charlie’s heart to bits, and all the whilst, that damned fiddle shrieked.

Charlie watched the room erupt, as if peering into a broken nickelodeon, catching flashes of the goings-on. Men and women scrambling for babes and weapons. Ed Maguire down on his knees, his right arm a ragged stump. The traveler backed into a corner, his fiddle tucked into his chin, bow flying; ice-blue eyes watchful, wide and bright. Bethany on her backside, Ray’s torn body in her arms, her wedding dress gone all an apple red.

“Hell with this,” Charlie muttered.

No man got away with treating him and his this way. Charlie hurried to his hung-up pistols, then turned to face the monster, holding a blued-steel Colt Peacemaker in each big-knuckled hand.

“Come take your bloody medicine,” he roared.

He thumbed the revolvers’ hammers in a syncopated pattern; shot carefully – not knowing any other way. Each of the twelve bullets hit the mark, but Charlie might have done more damage hurling apple fritters.

He caught the killer’s notice, though. Shadowman bound across the room and caught Charlie square as a freight train thundering west along the Territorial Rail. Charlie might have been a hard man once, but he had grown brittle with the passing years. Pain ripped through his body, savaging his strength. He knew right off he was dying.

But even with his ribs and pelvis shattered, vital organs failing, he refused to throw away the fight. He lashed out with the weapons he possessed, even thought empty guns and farmer’s fists didn’t do a goddamned bit of good. As hidden claws ripped at Charlie’s innards, he had time to consider one last sensation before he died.

“Sweet Jesus,” he whispered.

Beneath the steaming wool and soured sweat, an older, evil odor crouched. A familiar stink out of the past. Half a century ago, the Union of American States had tried to wrest free of the Commonwealth. Crown and Church were having none of that; too much depended on a united front against the goddamned Germans and their jeezly Roman church.

So young Charlie went to war for God and Commonwealth. Turned out the Union had its share of wizards, and they were free and easy with their wicked-clever spells. Now, Charlie recognized the scent of a dark magic he first smelled those years ago. This killer wasn’t human.

Shadowman was necromancer’s git.

“Christ step down from Heaven,” Charlie whispered once again. This time those five words sounded like a dying prayer.

A Quiet Shelter There

Come to Istanbul, where determined cats find an unlikely ally to rally the neighborhood before the next earthquake. Spend a day with the first dog. Travel with a man and a polar bear as they outsmart trolls who have overstayed their welcome. Walk with a blind hacker and his seeing-eye miniature horse as they take on a job that may be more than what it seems. Marvel at the price paid to make a mute dragon speak. Visit a nursing care facility, where the resident cat does far more than just lounge in the sunshine.

All are stories from A Quiet Shelter There, a new anthology published by Hadley Rille Books and edited by Gerry Leen. The collection is dedicated to the cause of homeless animals. Proceeds will benefit the Friends of Homeless Animals rescue services in Virginia. I’m pleased and proud that my story, Kindred Souls, is a part of it.  Check it out.

Here’s a taste of Kindred Souls:

Ten p.m. Friday. A sudden April thunderstorm. Home from her campus office, Dorothea Packer pushes the remote for the garage door and discovers the power’s knocked out. Lightning strobes in the distance, thunder rumbles a reply, as she leaves her little Chevrolet in the driveway and hurries across the wet concrete to the front door.

She begins the three-step climb; one she has made so many times before. On the first step, her cell phone rings. Juggling her briefcase, purse, and key ring, she reaches for the phone – in its special pocket on the purse.

It’s probably Jeffrey, her middle child. Her worrier. She wonders if she should change her ring tone, for Bad To The Bone has grown old so very fast. She pinches the phone between her thumb and index finger, already considering her words.

And misjudges the distance between the middle and top step.

No sense of falling, no notion of injury. One instant she’s reaching for the phone, the next she’s on her back at the bottom of the steps. Her glasses have fallen off; her briefcase, purse, phone and keys have dropped away. And it begins to rain again.

As she lay there, out of breath, that television commercial comes to mind, the one with the woman who whines, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” For an instant, Dorothea worries one of her neighbors might have seen her take the tumble.

Then the practical part of her – the engineer – kicks in. “Silly fool,” she mutters. “Be embarrassed later. You’ll catch pneumonia, if you don’t get up off the concrete, find your keys and get inside.”

She turns her head, first right and then left, looking for her glasses. Everything is fuzzy. Dim and out of focus. Then she spots the glasses, just outside the deeper shadows of the shrubs that line her porch. She touches them with outstretched fingers – and sends them skittering out of reach.

She tries again, but still can’t reach them. Time to stop fiddling. She needs to get inside, dry off, and pour a snifter of brandy – the Metaxa Amphora Seven Star Richard brought home from Greece five years ago.

The phone blares the opening riff of Bad To The Bone once more. Dorothea rolls onto her side to reach the phone – tries to roll, that is – and shrieks at the unexpected stabbing pain in her hip and lower back.

Now was the time to call for aid.

“Help me,” she shouts. “Someone help me.” Her cries are muffled, as if she’s covered by some sort of blanket. As she calls, her throat soon grows hoarse from the effort.

Wasted effort, too, for no one answers.

She sprawls there on her back, her face turned toward the house. The phone rings a third time. She can see it light up, laying there just out of reach, but she can’t move the inch she needs to answer it. As her clothing and her hair soak up the icy rain, she begins to shiver.

She tries to roll again, tries, and almost bites her lip off as the pain returns. She’s certain she will faint. As the world grays out around her, dark and indistinct shapes creep from beneath the shrubbery and steps. Dorothea tries to scream – and wakes up in her bed at the rehabilitation center.