Thursday, September 19, 2013

Character Concept: Lodoxol

Lodoxol faced forward. “Rowan will be here shortly.” Shadows engulfed the clearing, as the roar of thrusters filled the air, startling them both and drowning out all conversation. Powerful negative gravity keels pushed against the planet, as the Windy Reed glided into view against the eastern horizon.

Centuries ago, the Windy Reed had been a kwercian battleship, her design guided by the Terran shipwrights of the time, though little of her ancient original appearance remained. She was sloped and jagged, with the look of a broad, rocky, airborne island. Buried in her flanks, she housed a pair of gauss canons, their electrical spikes potent enough to rip apart nearly any starship she encountered. Missile and maser turrets dotted the edges of the upper deck. Vines swarmed over the dorsal hull, draped like ropes of fringe from the edges. Trees sprouted from amongst the overgrowth, getting denser toward the aft thrusters. Rising up from the aft-most section, a massive tree spread sturdy branches over the deck, each of them thick with dark green leaves.

Although she appeared alive, none of her trees, vines or stone was natural. Within the great tree was her command deck, and the trunk was little more than a lift leading to it. She was a tribute to the ancient kwercian longships and tirelessly served as a symbol of office for the highest seat in the kwercian government: Head of the Senate. Her Kwercian name was Nariphon, and she was named after the mythical longship that was believed to have given birth to the first kwercian females.

The starship set down at the opposite end of the clearing, leaving little open space. Joining the other shuttlecrafts, the shuttle Tyrant landed a moment later.

“That’s all of them, right?” asked Amanda, and she nodded toward Lodoxol. “Our shuttles, I mean.”

“All six are accounted for, eh hm.” He watched impassively as a massive loading ramp descended from the fore underbelly of the Windy Reed. A moment later, Rowan led a platoon of oaken brutes out into the field, under the shadow of her starship. She spoke to them, and they saluted in response. Fanning out, five brutes to a shuttle, they set immediately to transferring the cargo crates.

Amanda stammered, “Shouldn’t we check the Tyrant’s crates for integrity?”

Lodoxol shook his head. “No need. Rowan scanned them while she was on Hygeia.”

“It’s not worth double checking?”

“No, Amanda. It’s not, eh hm.” Rowan waved to him from across the clearing, and he smiled patiently, his lips slick with saliva. “Shall we?” Amanda kept to his side as Lodoxol leisurely approached Rowan. “Who’s this?” asked Rowan when they had drawn close enough to speak over the roar of the engines. She nodded toward Amanda, casting her a suspicious look.

“My companion, eh hm,” said Lodoxol. “Captain Amanda Santiago, this is Rowan Fenmore du Quagbrae, acting Head of the Kwercian Senate. Rowan, this is Amanda.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” said Amanda, and she mechanically extended her hand. “What an honor.”

Rowan squinted, ignoring Amanda’s grip. “Of course it is. You can go.”

Amanda smiled thinly. “Great!” Angrily, she marched back to Olmox, Poryx and Elsummu.

When Amanda had reached the Costaguana’s boarding ramp, Rowan crossed her arms and regarded Lodoxol. “We finally meet, son of Perymdak.”

“Where are my prisoners?”

Rowan shrugged with forced indifference, her expression somewhat challenging. “One of my men mishandled his blaster rifle, and it went off. Sadly, your prisoners were vaporized. Sorry.”

Lodoxol scowled. “Vaporized?”

Rowan nodded. “Sadly.”

“They weren’t vaporized.” He fumed. “They escaped! One of them was a Wellcaster. I understand you have no idea what that means, but you’re lucky to be alive. You should’ve drugged him like I told you to.”

She snarled, “Like you told me to?”

“Yes, eh hm. He’s the one who destroyed the ithiral warships, you daft weed!” Angrily, he tapped the side of Rowan’s head, and she recoiled, swatting away his hand. “He’s also part of the crew that murdered my father!” Clenching his fists, he forced a deep breath. His voice was menacing. “I only needed you to do one thing.”

“How was I supposed to know? It’s not like you told me who he was.”

Lodoxol sneered, “And give you leverage to use against me? I think not!”

A stiff wind blew across the spore wood, knocking the trees together and bending the grasses in waves and ripples. Distracted momentarily, Rowan perked up and gestured for Lodoxol’s attention. “We’re being watched.” She glared at him. “You didn’t secure the landing zone?” “You assured me this place was safe, eh hm. Perhaps you should’ve chosen a different location.”

“Always secure the landing zone! That’s not something you should have to be told, son of Perymdak.” Tapping her temple, mocking his earlier gesture, she hissed, “Common sense. Try it on for size.”

Lodoxol growled, “Mind your tone.”

“Or what? You’ll cut me off?” She scoffed. “You need me as much as I need you, especially now. You lost your prisoners? This is me, crying.” She regarded him smugly. “Look, you want the crew of that hauler to pay for what they did to your father, and I want the human race to burn for what they did to my people.” She looked toward the crates as her troops marched them up the loading ramp. “As soon as that virophage gets out to the Core Worlds, we both win.”

“This is a blood debt, Rowan. I don’t ‘win’ until the Sanguine Shadow has been destroyed, and her command crew killed!” His muddy complexion reddened, and he stormed off.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Complex Character of Richard B. Riddick

Someone at work asked me today if I had seen Riddick and if I liked.  He said he liked it, and I answered yes to both his questions.  After some surface discussion about the three acts in the movie, in which I stated I enjoyed Riddick's character growth, he followed up with a question about what growth I saw.  So I answered with an essay.

But it got me thinking.  There's a lot of complexity to this guy!  No, really.  Psychologically, he's both one of the most basic and complicated characters on the big screen in recent memory.  My thoughts on the matter follow...


In Pitch Black, Riddick is completely mercenary, only out to survive and clearly burdened by how convinced he is of his own wicked nature.  He punishes those he deems worthy of it, even at the risk of his possible survival, without care for the greater good.

In The Chronicles of Riddick, a spark of conscience is lit when he meets Kira, and out of some inkling of respect for the priest's home, he attempts to draw away those who seek to kill him.  But in the end, he knows who's number 1, and he hardly sheds a tear for Kira when she gets murdered.  But.  He did shed a tear.

Based on the flashbacks  in Riddick, he immediately indulges in the glories of power, becoming consumed by hedonistic pursuits and corrupted on a personal level (very realistic, considering his meager existence beforehand).  He makes no lasting changes to the system he claimed to despise, illustrating that what he REALLY hates is being subjugated.  He still longs for home, so he trades in his crown for the chance to return to Furya.

What that pull symbolizes is a deep seated longing to belong.  His emotional connection to the dog is sudden and born from respect for a fierce will to survive.  He finds a kindred spirit, when he had become convinced he was alone in the universe.  Also, it complements the animal nature he's convinced himself he has.

When the bad mercs arrive, he sees them murder a woman who has been repeatedly victimized.  It is implied through the story to date that he has a keen sense of smell, so it's likely he smelled them on her.  It also confirms his sense of justice hinted at in the first two, when he ruthlessly murders select members of the bad merc group (most likely those who had victimized the woman).  However, this time, rather than simply killing enough people to get his own ship, he exclusively punishes the wicked members of the bad mercs and leaves Johns's group alone.

While he talks big, he abandons his first chance to slip away, since it would come at the expense of Johns's female merc.  He could have killed her, but realizes he would be no better than those he seeks to punish and withdraws.  Still, he is driven by ego, so he brags about it the first chance he gets.  His boastful nature hasn't changed.

But...

His sense of morality has started to expand.

When it comes down to it, he trusts Johns and repeatedly decides not to kill him until he has determined whether he's worthy of death.  In the end, he decides he is not.  And that act of mercy (monstrous as it is, coming from Riddick) ultimately saves his life when Johns comes back for him.

So he has grown to love another (the dog), trust a man, figure out WHY he kills, and even does a spaceship dance at the end, for some reason (maybe short-wave comms?).  It's a steady progression that I hope Twohy continues.  Because the complexity of a powerful outcast with deep abandonment issues and an overdeveloped sense of justice is a very interesting character to me.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Q&A and an excerpt from Shadow Galactic

Q&A

Q: How do you come up with your ideas for your stories?
I tend to be inspired by real life heroes, and I have an intensely visual imagination. When those two things intersect, I get sparks of inspiration, and entire worlds unfold. I fall in love with fantastic settings and throw normal people into them. Also, I grew up on Star Trek, Star Wars and comic books, so a lot of those elements get caught in my lens.

Q: What is your process in getting ready to write?
I start with the setting at its broadest level and zoom in until I have the character I want to carry the hero's burden upon their shoulders. A lot of time is spent visualizing the world, its natural challenges, and how confronting them on a regular basis might shape the culture of the people who call that world their home. From there, I give a lot of time to research, to character backstory, and to naming everything I can think of. When I'm done, I make a list of character and location abstracts to refer to while writing, so as to avoid continuity violations. After that's locked down, I outline each chapter of the book. With all those things in place, I'm ready to type the first words.

Q: What is the overall writing process? (listen to music, quiet, etc.)
Oddly enough, it's a rather uncomfortable series of internal switches that must be flipped in order for me to reach the state of mind where I can actually write. I feel like I always want to write, but with things like life occurring amidst all that want, it's a desire that's constantly sidelined. It takes some quiet to start, and sometimes a lot of staring at the ceiling. After that's out of the way, I sit down and queue up some Basshunter, Enya, Daft Punk or one of their equivalent stations on Spotify and lose myself in the music. It just sort of flows after that, and it's suddenly a couple hours later. I don't get enough sleep when I'm writing.

Q: How do you go about researching for your books?
Wikipedia is a very dear friend and good starting point. I try to be as accurate as I can be in portraying subcultures, as well as what physics I'm obeying and disregarding, so my research travels take me far and wide. Some of my favorite sites include:
nasa.gov
fenichel.com
mayoclinic.com
fordham.edu/halsall/mod/modsbook.asp
life.bio.sunysb.edu/marinebio/
audubon.org
physlink.com and
what-if.xkcd.com

Q: What do you do for character development and character interaction?
It try to imagine the kinds of parents my characters had, and the kinds of parents their parents had. I put the predecessors into the setting I've developed and try to imagine what challenges they faced and how that would shape their priorities. I imagine what mistakes they made in the character's upbringing, and how that has affected social interaction, what insecurities it's generated, and what confidence has developed as a result of facing those challenges. At that point, I challenge the character with the brutal aspects of the setting and give them a chance to grow.

As for interaction, I try to imagine what psychological triggers lurk under the surface for each of the characters (poor Valerie Sawyer towards the end of Shadow Galactic). From there, I imagine how they've coped with emotional scars, what they would normally feel, and what they would do when they can't afford to feel what they want. I let those states drive conflicting emotions that in turn drive as authentic conversations as I can imagine. I try to make my characters decisive and somewhat archetypal, both for ease of writing and for giving the reader something familiar in an otherwise unfamiliar environment. I write and rewrite dialogue five or six times before settling on the cadence and final exposition.

Q: How do you figure out the motivation behind the heroes? The villians?
The motivations behind the heroes are pretty simple: they seek friendship, love and security, but more than that, they're courageous. My heroes are willing to face their fears, even if it costs them everything.

Writing believable villains is a bit more challenging. A villain is someone who is willing to put their own desires (no matter how depraved) above the wellbeing of everybody else between them and reaching their goals. They're willing to kill their peers. And while writing a homicidal psychotic is a pretty easy solution, it doesn't make for a very complex character. I saw or read somewhere that "normal" people only ever kill for three reasons: money, love or to cover something up. So I ask myself: what drove my villain to this point? Lodoxol's father was murdered. Regardless of the circumstances, he loved his father dearly. He is willing to kill for love. Rowan too, in a sense.


Shadow Galactic Excerpt

Amanda joined Lodoxol within the Operations Room. Looking to his crew, she said, “Can we have a moment, please?” They paused to regard her. “It won’t take long.”

“Sir?” replied one of the soldiers.

“You heard her,” snapped Lodoxol. “Everyone, out. Now!” Hurriedly, his soldiers rose from their stations and exited the room. The moment they were gone, Lodoxol turned fierce eyes on Amanda and snarled, “Never do that again! You overstep your bounds, eh hm.”

“Stow it. You need me.”

Lodoxol raised his hand, but he flinched as his belt turned suddenly to dust, and his pants began to slip. He committed both hands to holding up his pants. Eyes wide, grinning, he whispered, “You did it! You learned how to do it!”

Amanda smiled roguishly. “Damn right, I did! Look, if we’re going to save the Earth from my brother, we’re going to do it together, as equals. Understand?” Lodoxol appeared to be choking as he wrung the top of his pants. “And I need some assurances. I heard a few unsavory rumors about you while I was down there, and I’d like to put them to rest.”

Gradually, his cheeks returned to their usual river mud coloration. His eyes lost their red rims, and he exhaled coolly. In a hush, he asked, “What were you told?”

“It doesn’t matter, because I choose not to believe it.”

“Then the rumors are already put to rest, eh hm.”

Shaking her head, Amanda countered, “Not exactly. I still have plenty of doubts about the quality of your character. After all, you did essentially kidnap me from my home world right after you threw a truck at me. I understand why: you’re looking at the bigger picture, but a normal, compassionate person may have chosen to go about things in a more socially acceptable fashion.”

“I have repeatedly offered to return you to Afskya, eh hm.”

“And every time I took you up on it, you had another reason why we couldn’t go back just yet. Always an apology and a promise of soon.” She crossed her arms. “But I was kind of stuck here without any sort of leverage, so I didn’t push too hard.” She chuckled quietly. “I guess I’m still stuck here, but now I have leverage.” Pointedly, she glanced to the ring of leather dust at Lodoxol’s feet.

Lodoxol smiled, his triangular lips slick with saliva, and his snout twitched. “I see. You’re not so unlike your brother, after all.”

“Don’t do that. Don’t turn this around on me. I’m just asking that you do one good thing for me, before I sign papers, so to speak. One good thing, as a show of good faith, and that we do this as equals.”

“Ellogon culture has very strict roles assigned to men and women. My men will not take well to being ordered around by you. They may resist, eh hm.”

Amanda shrugged. “I don’t give a shit. Show them your belt if they need convincing. Believe me when I say that however this goes, I am no longer your subordinate.”

“Your tone has made that abundantly clear.” He tilted his head somewhat. “What good deed would you have me undertake?”

With a triumphant smile, she answered, “I’m not sure yet. Let’s check the Mayday channel.”

“A fine idea, eh hm.” Rigidly, Lodoxol led Amanda from the Operations Room to the Costaguana’s bridge. Along the way, he stopped by the quartermaster’s office for a new belt.

They soon reached the command deck, and its bulkhead hissed open to reveal a large, circular chamber. Along the walls immediately to her left and right, auxiliary stations formed a semicircle, each with a chair placed before it. Several paces out, just to her right, the captain’s roost sat between two other seats. Ahead of the officers’ stations, a trio of wide terminals rose at an angle from the deck, with two chairs placed before each of the tactical stations. Overhead, a narrow ring of green light radiated out, joined by four wide, illuminated spokes that spanned the entire width of the ceiling. They bore the central ring’s same shade of green.

The officer of the watch bolted upright and rumbled something in native Ellogon, so deep in tone that Amanda had difficulty distinguishing unique sounds. He glared her way as he addressed his captain. Others rose from their stations, clearly incensed by Amanda’s presence. Lodoxol answered in Ellogon at first, but he quickly followed with, “At ease, all of you. We sail a Terran starship, and we must be prepared to accept certain Terran customs. From this point forth, whenever you’re in the presence of this woman, you will all restrict your conversations to English. If you’re not fluent, you will be silent.”

The officer of the watch leaned in close. “So this is what your glorious plans have come to?” He tugged on his red uniform, a fading remnant of the once great Ellogon Empire. “We don’t wear these for the pride of our people, son of Perymdak. Remember that!”

His captain’s eyes flashed, and Lodoxol snarled, “Amanda, a demonstration, if you please.” He stepped back, clenching and unclenching his fists.

“Nope,” she responded, and Lodoxol turned wide eyes her way. “What’s your name?”

The officer of the watch spat on the deck at her feet.

“Ah, insubordination. That’s one day’s wages, according to your contract.” She looked to two able-bodied soldiers and added, “Plus a day in the brig. Take Officer Angry Spit to his cell.”

“I will never heed the command of a woman,” growled the officer of the watch.

“The thing is, I share the captaincy with Lodoxol now, and I’ve had plenty of time to familiarize myself with the Costaguana’s bylaws, as well as the contracts each one of you mercenaries signed.” Her expression darkened. “Brig. Now.”

With a primal Ellogon howl, he lunged at Amanda, his hands outstretched. Instantly, his clothing turned to dust, and he found himself choking on his roar. Desperately, he tried to cover his shame, and he dove behind one of the tactical stations.

Lodoxol guffawed. “Well done, Amanda, eh hm. Well done! Although I might have preferred something a bit more lethal.”

Startled by her display, it took the soldiers she had indicated only a moment more to collect themselves and restrain the officer of the watch. They led him stumbling from the bridge. One by one, the remainder of the command crew stood up slowly and saluted their new co-captain.

“Good,” said Amanda, and she returned the salute. “Who handles ship’s communications?”

An ellogon to her right raised his hand. “I do, sir.”

She narrowed her gaze and muttered, “Close enough.” With a contained smile, she approached him and said, “I need you to tune in to the Mayday channel. We’re looking for someone that really needs help, but who isn’t likely to get it in time.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Q&A: World Building

Q: What process do you use when creating a new world?
A: When devising a new world, I ask myself the following questions:
• What kind of star does it orbit?  There are only a small range of star types that allow for a habitable zone to naturally occur.  With the possibilities of advanced terraforming, that range is expanded, but not by very much.  However, it does allow for some "dead stars" to provide a planetary home for frontier colonies.
• How large is the planet and what is its chemical composition?  Again, there is only a finite range of planet sizes and densities that would ever support ongoing intelligent life, regardless of how advanced terraforming ever gets.  On top of that, that planet must be part of a 3rd generation star system (or younger) and have sufficient raw materials to sustain a colony, or at least to pique the interest of developers.
• There's a lot of mysteries in the galaxy!  What mysteries make sense for this planet?  For reasons that are puzzling at present, many outer galactic rim worlds demonstrate high concentrations of iron and gold.  This is contrary to what is expected, based on the life cycles of star systems within the Milky Way.  With those blurred lines in mind, I take a few liberties with some of the hard science in order to create some fantastic locations.
• If geological and bio-diversity are largely predictable, and if Earth is a pretty good sampling of what we can expect to find elsewhere in the universe, what features distinguishes an entire PLANET from other planets?  I spend a lot of time imagining how the rise of one dominant species might influence the fate of an entire world.  While survival and environment did much to shape human culture long ago, humans have in turn had a direct and measurable impact on the surface and climate of Earth, driven largely by a need to expand, survive and create.  Our means of doing do have determined what tools we use, and those in turn have influenced much of our arts and culture.  So, what if a species of bird born to a higher-gravity world rose to dominance?  I give you Afskya, and I give you the ospyreans.

Q: What is your favorite one so far and why?
A: My favorite world so far is probably K'n-yal, because it's pretty mysterious.  It has a complex, aggressively regenerative ecosystem that is driven by a sentient, unknown intelligence implied to be on a planetary scale.  As the series progresses, I look forward to peeling back the layers until the heart and soul of K'n-yal is revealed.  Second to that, I'd say it's a tie between Huya, for its gritty mix of rustic life and high tech culture, and Ixion Prime, for its beauty.  Of course, the hologram-laden high-rises and floating markets of Thasad are pretty awesome to imagine, and the endless dunes of Ry'lyeh would be breathtaking.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Lament of the Reborn

In darkness hold
No sovereign light
The dark wind blows
Through endless night

In days of old
And ancient wars
Brought seas of gold
To silver shores

When eyes grow cold
And boots are worn
As once foretold
A life reborn

May light enfold
A clarion horn
Rings ever bold
A life reborn

Rings ever bold
Your life reborn

Warms darkness cold
Your life reborn

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Concept Art: Captain Jane Carter

Taking a moment to compose herself, she whispered, “There’s an assassin after me. I think he might already be here at the VelAquant.”

He winced. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” She got back to her feet and looked at her phone as she walked toward the bathroom. The text message read, “DO NOT ANSWER THE DOOR. –RC.” Her breath stilled, and she stopped. Counting on the position of her body to block his view, she plucked the atom wrench from the table. “Wait,” she muttered, and she quietly twisted the end of the rod until the safety cap came off. Her back to him, she asked, “Gavin, how did you find my room?”

He snickered, and she heard the bed creak as he pushed off to stand. “It wasn’t hard. You aren’t that far away.”

She swallowed to moisten her throat. “I didn’t tell anyone where I was staying. Not even Val.” Timidly, she glanced sidelong at him and immediately spotted the soft white glow of his eyes.

“It would’ve been easier if it looked like you slipped in the shower,” growled Phoranxth, and his forearm took on the shape of a heavy blade. “Less painful, too.” He reached back to strike, but Jane spun around and plunged the exposed tip of the atom wrench into his chest.

She snarled, “Not for you!”

The atom wrench was invented decades ago to give laymen a way to build their own nanobots. Powered by a cold fusion core, it was roughly the size of a large flashlight and weighed about the same. Within its quantum bubble chamber, the atom wrench sustained a minute spacetime singularity, and with it offered the user control over the strong and weak forces on a molecular scale. Nanobot hobbyists scooped them up as soon as they reached the market, and material synthesis labs found them to be invaluable. But they were risky to use, since they were prone to internal decay, and the safety caps had a bad habit of falling off at inopportune moments, leaving the singularity exposed. Direct contact with the singularity led to disruption of the contact site on an atomic level. Invariably, this resulted in a gust of hydrogen ions and a bloody stump.

Jane twisted the wrench and switched it on. Phoranxth’s eyes widened silently as most of his trunk instantly vanished. White fluids cascaded from the gaping wound, as the byriani assassin reverted to his true form and collapsed, lifeless, on the ground. She switched off the wrench and capped it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Concept Art: Takeo Sato

“They’re almost here,” noted Taryn upon reaching the massive door, and she wrung the grip of her claw hammer.

Takeo gripped a section of heavy pipe.

Father Stone’s zealots shambled into view, drawn from a mix of races. They advanced along the stairs and dropped down from nearby roofs and catwalks. Bound with red ropes, festooned with liturgical ribbons, their tattered attire did little to hide their ruined bodies. Faced with nightmarish death, millions had accepted Father Stone’s nepenthe. It left them with patchwork flesh, silvered eyes and glinting clusters of glutted nanobots. Moving in unison, they spread out to form a semicircle around D’Arro’s team.

“Cajun, get that door open,” he said and faced the mob directly.

“Right away.” Fumbling somewhat, Cajun retrieved a prybar from his pack. Takeo and Taryn formed a protective wall at D’Arro’s back, separating Cajun from the horde.

“Back off,” Takeo growled, and he raised his heavy pipe. “We’ll defend ourselves if you force us.” He narrowed his eyes.

A wiry, gaunt human man stepped forth, wearing a crown of jagged teeth that had been embedded into his scalp. “You are trespassing,” he rasped as he moved close to Takeo.

“We’re here for Father Stone.”

With all his might, Cajun strained against the door. He heard something pop within, but it didn’t budge. “Oh, come on,” he huffed, and he drove the prybar deeper into the space between the door and its jamb.

The gaunt man smiled wickedly, a rictus of metal teeth and receded gums. He reached for Takeo’s arm. “You would defend yourself with something so crude? How unprepared you are to face the might of this army. The blessing of conversion will deliver you from your small thinking.”

As one, a thundering chorus resounded, “Conversion!”

Takeo warned, “I said back off. Look, we’re just here for Father Stone.”

“Stone is lost.” Lowering his brow, he held Takeo’s gaze. In a deep snarl, the crowned man said, “Again, I offer you conversion.” The throng boomed, “Conversion!”

Reaching back with the pipe, Takeo said, “Don’t force me to do this.”

With a derisive cackle, the crowned man jeered, “Don’t force you to strike me with your primitive weapon? By all means, take your best shot.”

“Not so primitive,” Takeo breathed, and he swung at the old man’s head with all the strength he could bring to bear. However, when the pipe struck home, there was no crack, or clang or crunch. Instead, there was a muted splat as Fogg deformed and spread around the crowned man’s face. He set to reprogramming the nanobot symbiotes.

Moving as one, the ravening horde swarmed toward D’Arro’s team. Howling, they reached out with claws and hungrily peeled open their mouths.

“It didn’t work!” Taryn shouted, and she lunged and dodged, her hammer striking and gutting in short arcs.

“Fogg needs time,” Takeo barked. He was a blur of precise hits and kicks, and he sent a dozen opponents to the ground. “Just hold them off until it’s done!”

The door at last gave way. “There!” Cajun triumphantly announced. “Door’s open, guys!”

“How’ll we know?” D’Arro asked. His enormous wrench struck with crushing force, taking out two or three enemies with each hit.

Takeo insisted, “You’ll know!”



Thanks to Regular Jane for her delicious bokeh background. :)

Friday, June 7, 2013

Concept Art: Fogg

He blew into his hands, rubbed them together and glanced down the street. “There you are,” he muttered to himself. He watched Takeo slip in and out of visibility as he rode his bicycle under the street lamps bobbing in place over the sidewalk. Dressed in a black suit and long coat, Takeo looked as sharply dressed as ever. He drew close, drifted to a stop, and dismounted. Gavin smiled slightly. “Still rocking the bike, huh? I like it. Totally old school.”

Takeo lifted a brow. “Stop that.”

Gavin pointed toward the bicycle. “Want to put it inside?”

“No need,” answered Takeo, and his bicycle vanished in a puff of swirling, fading fog.

Gavin recoiled. “What?”

Takeo hunched his shoulders as he looked sidelong at his friend. “Fogg… ate it,” he answered, and he laughed dryly. “Completely by accident, of course, so he offered to be my bike until he can replace it.”

The first thing most people noticed about Takeo Sato was how absurdly tall he was. Graceful despite his height, he was lean, had black hair, and his eyes were dark as coal. His father was a distinguished kobun of the Yakuza’s Yubitsume Syndicate, and Takeo was being groomed to take his place in the family business.

Peering toward where he had seen the haze dissipate, Gavin said, “Hey, Fogg. You can come too, if you like. I’m sure Taryn would be happy to see you.”

The metallic mist coalesced into a small, spinning saucer-style craft with a bank of bright lights that flashed in sequence. A tiny orb dropped out and displayed the words, “Yes please.”


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Concept Art: Filan Portssi

“Let’s see who else wants to do some eleventh hour delving.” Zerki asked around. Before long, she, Valerie, Gavin, Filan and Takeo gathered and began their search for a way to enter the mountainous corpse of the planet-shaper droid.

“Taryn didn’t want to come?” Gavin asked.

Takeo said, “No, she’s helping D’Arro direct traffic.”

“There!” Filan interjected. “Oh, sorry.” She practically bounced as she pointed to a well hidden hatch some distance from the harvest site, seated along Behemothylax’s dorsal segmentation. Impatiently, she hurried to the passageway and strained against an embedded handle. It slowly turned and opened with a hiss of icy fog.

“Good find,” said Zerki, and she stepped close, hunched down to peer into the guts of the leviathan. “We’ll need light.” With the rip of Velcro, she loosened a pouch cover on her vest and produced a small disc mounted to a heavy band that had been sewn into its pocket. Glancing to Gavin, she added, “You have one, too,” and she tapped hers on. A brilliant cone of light issued forth.

“Oh,” he muttered and soon had his own torch ready for use.

Filan offered, “I can go full body, if we need it.” Her hands and forearms faintly glowed.

“Good to know,” said Zerki, and she descended through the hatch. Her companions followed.

Darkness gnawed at them, shrouded recesses filled with glinting blades and jagged points. Carefully, they made their way along the sub-dorsal service catwalks. Below them, rows upon immeasurable rows of devices sagged in immense ropes and stacks, hung indifferently over the scarred heart of the mountain so very far below. Regularly, the silvery blue wash of lighting danced up along vaults of machinery.

Zerki raised her hand, and the others paused while she checked her data tablet. “If these old schematics are still accurate, we’re heading for the central computer core.” She looked long at the darkened, cramped, grime-coated, grated pathways. “It’ll be tough going, by the look of it, but it’s possible we could find out why it went haywire, and ultimately why it just shut itself down.” An excited smile tugged on her lips. “We could be the first people in the entire galaxy to know the truth. What do you think?”

Filan said, “Ooh, I could access its deep core.” She beamed giddily. “I’m in!”


Saturday, May 25, 2013

Concept Art: Salvador Santiago

One of the hooded thugs weakly gripped his gun, and trembling, pointed it at Salvador, but the maugal backhanded the battered assailant into a nearby parcel truck hard enough to dent its side. “I can handle these two pieces of worthless bludder drek without your help!”

“And you have,” said Salvador, his tone almost soothing. “Now what happens?”

“I kill you!” He shook his head. “We’ve established that. Now what?” “I… kill. I…”

“Right, we’re dead. What a mess!” Salvador held his opponent’s stone gaze. He leaned in and asked, “Now what?”


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Concept Art: Taryn Sikes

Zerki fumed, her face red. “Explain yourself, Sikes!”
Cajun raised his hand. “I can't concentrate with you yelling, Captain.”
Zerki shot him a withering glare.
“Right, earphones,” he answered. “Good idea.”
Taryn squared her jaw and crossed her arms. “Hey, back off! I saved his life.” She drew a deep breath and recounted the events that had unfolded aboard the ellogon cruiser. She spared no details.
When Taryn had finished the telling, Zerki sagged against the wall. “You killed him?”
Taryn nodded, unashamed. “He was going to kill D’Arro. I had no choice. Check the helmet cams, if you don't believe me.”
The captain rubbed her eyes and puffed out her cheeks. “Ospyreans,” she muttered.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Zerki smiled wanly and chewed on her upper lip for a moment before answering. “It means… at times, I envy how fiercely loyal you are to each other, but other times… Times like this…” She trailed off. “We’ve brought the Union to the brink of another galactic war.”

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Remembrance of the Acquainted


In Path of the Time Walker, I delve a little deeper into ellogon culture, traditions and the beliefs they uphold.  At one point in Chapter 12, after the loss of three allies, an ellogon crewman named Elsummu feels moved to recite the sacred Remembrance of the Acquainted.  Here's the passage:

Drawing a deep breath, Elsummu raised one arm high, cocking the other back to form something of a crescent with his shoulders.
He spoke loudly in his native tongue.

He appeared to me with seven faces,
He approached with seven sounds
Footsteps shared.

Who would travel my road matching paces,
Who did seek once sacred grounds
Lessons we bared.

Seven Suns before forgotten gods rose,
Seven fates they had composed
On fiery sands.

Our paths to cross as the Wanting Sun shows,
Our true faces ever closed
By the Woeful Sun’s hands.

To you who were taken before friendship brightly burned,
You are remembered here before the Seven Suns!

Seven faces and seven sounds,
You are remembered now before the Seven Suns!

Elsummu bowed deeply, his arms forming an arch upon the ground.  He held the pose for some time before beginning the second verse.

Thanks for reading!  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Concept Art: Valerie Sawyer

“I'm not your friend?” Tucking her hair behind her ear, she cast him a playful wink. Before he could stammer out a response, she said, “It's OK, you can stare. If I didn't want anyone to see, I'd have had the work done somewhere else on my body.” She soaped up her hands, scrubbed them as she hummed “Happy Birthday” to herself, and her hair fell back into place.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

History into Fantasy


Ah, Ren Faire…  Or, more properly, The Original Renaissance Pleasure Faire.  It is a place of visual wonder and an almost palpable sense of enchantment.  For anyone who follows my Facebook page, it's clear I love the place, judging by the 30 Ren Faire pictures I've posted thus far.  I go at least once a year.  

It takes place annually at the Santa Fe Dam Rec Center in Irwindale, CA, and runs from the first weekend in April to the third weekend in May.  There are stage shows, jousting, trained falcons, a food court (I desperately want that to be a pun, somehow) and craft booths everywhere you turn.  And there's something so magical about being immersed in the Elizabethan era, surrounded by people dressed in both period-correct and fantastic costumes: fairies, assassins, pirates, nobles, commoners and steampunk.  Needless to say, it's inspiring!

This year, I spent a little extra time in the back of the Faire, at the St. Michael's military camps, at first enthralled by a blonde fellow attired in plate-and-mail armor.  He tended a storehouse of knowledge regarding weapons and fighting styles of the times, of military groups and tactics, and I found myself following his lead as he guided a group of us along the path through the camp.  We listened to a host of knowledgeable Elizabethan-era military historians.

Some highlights:
• The axe was so common, because it was a tool every plowman or farmer could also use as a weapon.
• Austrian mercenaries wore brightly colored uniforms to strike fear into the hearts of their untrained foes.
• The Zweihänder (two-handed) sword was used defensively, as well as offensively, and had seven killing points along its length.  It was used to parry and bludgeon, much more so than the foolhardy downward chop we currently see presented in so many fighting games (I'm looking at you, Nightmare from the Soul Calibur series).
• The prow-style helmet, while extensively associated with the Spanish conquistadors, was actually of English design.
• There was a breed of pony that could travel without being guided through the swamps of England,  They were so troublesome as used by Scottish mercenaries, that the Queen of England ordered them hunted to extinction.
• It cost a typical shopkeeper a year's wages to buy a sword; 12 years' wages to buy a greatsword.
• It was far more profitable to ransom a knight back to his family than it was to kill him.
• Pikemen got promoted by surviving battles.  The more you survived, the further back in the ranks you got to go, hence increasing your chances of survival.






In light of all this, I feel a completely new fantasy epic coming on!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Story Putty II

Below, I have listed my top ten most inspirational books (and series) and why.  Next, I'll post TV series! 

10. Sphere, by Michael Crichton - I picked it up around 10 AM one summer morning and set it down at 5 AM, 19 hours later, having finished reading it completely.  It was the first time I had ever read a scifi thriller, and it showed me how well fantastic elements paired with interesting characters to create a gripping page turner.  Not that Shadow Galactic could ever be called a thriller, but there's a lot more of that in the upcoming sequel, and a lot of my slow-reveal pacing was influenced by this novel.

9. Xanth (series), by Piers Anthony - From A Spell for Chameleon to The Color of her Panties, I followed this charming series.  Anthony's characters continually had to think their way through challenges, as opposed to shooting their way out of them, and it wasn't until I started writing scifi that I realized just how much that influenced me.  Plus, the puns.  Oh, the puns…

8. Forgotten Realms: The Moonshae Trilogy (series), by Douglas Niles - A Darkwalker on Moonshae was the first fantasy book I read by choice (as opposed to required reading for school).  At the time, I had been playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons with a small group of friends, and a book set in that world interested me.  I don't know what I expected, but it definitely WASN'T a clearly high-level captain getting his head smashed in with a single hit by a rampaging firbolg!  What about his Hit Points?  What??  Regardless, Douglas Niles wrote a host of complex, believable characters within the parameters of an established world setting, and he taught me the value of extensive, persistent world-building.

7. The Riftwar Saga (series), by Raymond E. Feist - Pug is the epitome of unlocked potential, and Midkemia is such a magical, dangerous place.  It's epic, fantastic and brutal, filled with generous doses of humanity's best and worst, pitted against truly dark forces.  I learned a lot about consistency of character voice and how to bring disparate groups of people together in a believable fashion.

6. The Magic Kingdom of Landover (series), by Terry Brooks - This is my favorite fish-out-of-water fantasy series.  While Loud Foul's Bane was my first encounter with a real world person shunted into a fantasy realm, Thomas Covenant had issues, and he was a lot harder to relate to than Ben Holiday.  ;)  His love for Willow opened my mind to interspecies romance, and I will always count Questor Thews as one of the greatest wizards of all time.  The humor and sweetness of this series still echoes in my own writing. 

5. Glory Lane, by Alan Dean Foster - It may sound stupid, or even dumb (possibly even dimwitted) to claim that a book was the 5th most influential thing on my writing when I don't recall many of the details.  I suppose it's the details I *do* recall that give this assertion some legs.  This is another fish-out-of-water story, but this time humorous scifi.  I remember Izmir (the missing 12% of the matter of the universe, who could take any shape he wanted, including a bowling ball that did as the female protagonist wanted), and I remember Seeth and a valley girl, and a lot of escapes…  Also, some sort of epic interstellar conflict…  Squirrel!!

4. Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (series) - Look, it's a whole school of fish-out-of-water!  This hilarious scifi farce has probably influenced, to some extent, every writer that's ever read it.  It's smart, absurd, and filled with a wealth of memorable characters.  So many of my favorite fictional people came from the mind of this brilliant man - the Vogons (who bear a striking similarity to the ellogons), Agrajag, Zarniwoop, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Slartibartfast, Marvin the Paranoid Android, Trillian and Deep Thought.  If you've read any of these books, I would bet cash money you just now smiled at the memories, at least once. ;)

3. The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan - I read this when AD&D 2nd Edition came out, when everyone else was reading (or re-reading) Lord of the Rings.  From the opening devastation to Rand's touching the One Power, it was all the drama and beauty I could have hoped for from any fantasy epic.  It jumped off the pages for me, and I think I had a crush on Moiraine. ;)  His description and courageous characters left an indelible mark on my fantasy voice, and eventually my writing voice as a whole. 

2. Foundation, by Isaac Azimov - Future history at its finest.  The scope of his vision was sweeping, telling the tale of a noble society dedicated to preserving knowledge in the face of an impending new Dark Age.  It was the first time I had ever experienced civilization as a character, and it unlocked my deep love for history.

1. Blade Runner (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep), by Philip K. Dick - The single greatest influence on my writing style, this novel combined sympathetic villains, a desolate and believable near future with amazing technology and a vast moral gray zone.  It went toe-to-toe with the darker aspects of the human condition while at the same time filling my mind with wonder.  Dick is a master of taking the normal and making it fantastic: electric animals, the mood organ, and that poor (probably real?) cat…  Filled with action, intrigue and adventure, it is all I aspire to be as a writer.  Plus, it's one of the best movies.  Like, ever.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Path of the Time Walker Excerpt

An excerpt from Wrath of the Void Strider's upcoming sequel, Path of the Time Walker...

Huddled in doorways, she met frightened eyes, and people hurried away at her approach.  In time, she arrived at a tiered shantytown, built from scraps and the remains of the colonial habitats.  At first glance, it looked like all the most structurally valuable pieces had been scavenged and moved offsite.  “What’s going on here?” she muttered.

A thin, ashen man stepped into view from inside his home and stuttered, “W-We have nothing.  P-Please leave us alone!”  He succumbed to a fit of coughing that left him stooped over by its end.  He slowly straightened, grimacing.

Taryn furrowed her brow.  “I’m not here to take anything from you.”  She nodded toward the darkened interior of his home, toward the others inside.  “What happened to the habitats?”

He studied her, and he coughed lightly into his hand.  “You don’t work for Rowan?”

“No.  Who’s Rowan?”

“She’s lying!” shouted a young looking woman from inside, and she cautiously approached the entryway.  She was thin, like her male companion, and her brown eyes were badly bloodshot.  Her dark brown hair looked frayed and ratty.  “Get back inside.”

“Please go,” he hissed, and he returned to the safety of his shanty.  The woman closed the poorly fitting makeshift door with a slam, and Taryn heard it latch.  A chorus of coughs followed.

Screwing down her brow, Taryn strode to the shanty door and pounded on it.  “Look, I’m not here to hurt you.  I really don’t know who Rowan is or what’s going on.  My friends and I came here to deliver some medicine.”  She pounded again.  “We’re here to help!”

A quiet moment passed, and she growled in frustration as she spun about on her heels and marched away, back toward the road.  Behind her, she heard the door creak open, and the ashen man shouted, “Wait!  Please wait.”  Taryn turned back to regard him.  “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen any friendly faces around here.  Rowan takes great pleasure in tormenting us.”

“Who’s Rowan?”

He puffed his cheeks.  “Rowan Fenmore.  She runs Hygeia.  Her and her kwercian army have been chipping away at the rightful government ever since they got here.”  He dryly laughed, followed by a moment of coughing.  Clearing his throat, he said, “There has been no relief effort, not really.  She keeps us alive, but little more than that.”

Taryn stepped close and set her helmet down on a gutted car.  “Rowan Fenmore… Is she related to Ashley Fenmore?”

The ashen man shrugged.  “I wouldn’t know.  She doesn’t actually talk to us, so much as she herds us.”  He glanced behind him and swept his arm around the shantytown.  “All human.  She saw to that.  Except for the kwercians, she found a reason to deport every member of every other race.”

Crossing her arms, Taryn looked puzzled.  “Why would she do that?”

“Again, I wouldn’t know.”

“Dmitry, get inside!” barked the woman.

He glanced her way and said, “No, Sonja, this one’s OK.  I got a good feeling about her.”

Sonja pointed past Taryn to the main road as a glossy silver sky car set down.  “That’s nice, but Oren and his thugs are here.  You know what they’ll do if they catch you outside!”

His eyes wide, Dmitry bolted back into his shelter and waved Taryn over.  “C’mon,” he hissed.  “They’ll beat you to death if they see you out here!”

She raised a brow.  “I’m wearing power armor.”

“Good luck, then.”  He closed and latched his door.

Taryn turned to face the distant sky car as its gullwing doors butterflied open.  A pair of gnarled oak thugs stepped out, followed by a lean pine of a man.  He tugged on the collar of his woven green suit and surveyed the shantytown.  Immediately, his eyes befell Taryn.  She stood defiantly in her gleaming black armor.  Her head feathers added a splash of red.  With narrowed eyes, he approached Taryn with his enforcers at his back.  “Who might you be?” he asked as he regarded her suspiciously.  His goons moved slowly to flank her.

“Taryn Sikes.”  She scooped up her helmet.

The pine fellow looked her over.  “That doesn’t match what’s printed on your shoulder.”

“Yeah, well, the Captain hasn’t gotten around to that yet.”

“Is he the captain of the Sanguine Shadow, or is that another misprint?”

Taryn shifted her weight over one hip.  “No, that’s right.  She’s the captain of the Sanguine Shadow.”

Oren nodded.  “Forgive me, but I thought Rowan got rid of all the xenos on Hygeia.  For their own safety, of course.  There’s a Canten’s pandemic here, you know.  Maybe it’s best if you and your ship were on your way.”  He pressed thin his lips.  “For your own safety, of course.”

She squared her jaw.  “What are you going to do to these people?”

“They’re sick.  They need their medicine.”

“Is that what you’ve got shoved up your ass?  Because, I don’t see how it could be anywhere else.”

He swallowed visibly and clenched his jaw.  “How unpleasant.”  Looking to his guards, he said, “Alon, Elon, make an example of her.  Make sure everyone here sees the result.”

“Yes, boss,” rumbled the larger of the thugs.

Taryn sealed her helmet, balled her fists and smiled.

·· • ··

An hour previous, Rowan watched as her kwercian brutes marched single-file through a wide door, into a spacious warehouse.  “It took you long enough!  Stack them in that corner,” she said and pointed across the room.  Dutifully, her oaken henchmen arranged them two-wide by two-high.

A particularly gnarled oak asked, “Anything else, boss?”  His massive arms creaked as he lowered them to his sides.

“No.  You can go.”  She crossed the room to inspect her delivery.  Glancing up long enough to glare at her minions, she added, “Actually, Alon, get Elon and you two go find Oren.  Pay the shanties another visit.  Their corrupt governor was just assassinated.  I imagine they could use some guidance after such a shocking loss, and I don’t want them getting any bright ideas.”

Alon, her burliest oak, grumbled, “Yes, boss.”  He followed the others as they marched out of the warehouse.

Rowan returned to her examination.  She ran her fingertips over the surface of the first crate she came to.  After a moment, she straightened and stormed over to the cell door embedded in the far wall.  “Where were these crates supposed to be delivered to before you stole them?”

Zerki answered, “They weren’t marked.  We just grabbed all the medicine we could find and packed it into the nearest containers.”

“Shit,” snarled Rowan.  She took a moment to consider.  “What facility?”

“I don’t understand.”

She slammed her wooden fist into the door, and a deafening boom rang through the warehouse.  “I don’t have time for this!  What facility?  I won’t ask again.”  Furiously, she gripped her rifle and set to unlocking the door.  A moment later, she threw it open and leveled the gun at D’Arro.

Zerki cleared her throat.  “K’n-yal.  The Thayless Estate.  If that’s what you mean.”

Rowan scowled, but her expression quickly softened, and she lowered her gun.  “That is what I mean.”  She kicked the door closed and set down her rifle.  Puffing her cheeks, she walked back to the crates, propping her chin in the crook of her thumb and index finger.  “Probably meant for the Sector Three Outer Systems, then.  Good.”

“Why should it matter?” Zerki asked, but Rowan ignored her.

Oren’s sky car was airborne a moment later, headed south to the closest shantytown, while Rowan set to unlocking each crate.  One at a time, she opened every large plastic pill bottle she found inside and smelled its contents.   Some time passed before she was finished.

Satisfied with her findings, she drew her phone and dialed a number.  She held the device to her ear.  After a moment, she said, “Hey, it’s Rowan.  Everything’s still on track.  I’ll keep this number for a few more hours.  Call me back if you get this message in time.”

·· • ··

Lightning flashed from her teleport device, and Taryn appeared directly behind the smaller brute.  The machinery inside her gloves hummed alive, and she tore free chunks of sappy bark from the assailant’s shoulders.  As the oak man yowled in pain, arching his back as he clutched at his wounds, she took the chance to spring from his head, throwing him off balance and crashing to the ground.  She landed on his neck, and a loud crack of wood filled the air.

“Elon!” cried the larger brute.  Gritting his teeth, with tears in his ears, he loosed a primal howl and reached for Taryn as she flashed away in a bolt of jagged light.  A blur of motion, and Taryn appeared behind Oren.  She gripped him around the waist.

“Alon, help!” he wailed as he felt himself lifted up off the ground.

Momentarily confused, Alon swept around and found Taryn as she hoisted his master.  “You!” he boomed and lumbered toward them both.  Again, he reached for her, past Oren, and she heaved.  Oren cried out as he was launched up in the air, and Alon tried to track him, then to catch him.

With a crunch, Oren hit the ground, dazed, his arms and legs splayed.  He coughed as he tried to stand.  “Help me up, you oaf,” he barked, and Alon reached down for him, momentarily losing sight of his opponent.  A blinding flash of light, and Alon found himself high up in the air, with Taryn’s arms around his neck.

Her internal display showed a diagram of her suit.  Every section was red, and the arms and hands were bright red and flashing.  I’ve got to time this just right, she thought, and she began to plummet along with the oak brute, directly down on Oren.

Frozen with shock, Oren stared up at Alon as he fell.  It was the last thing either of them saw as the burly oak struck the well-dressed pine with thunderous force.  Lightning flashed, and Taryn reappeared where she had been, but at a right angle to her original direction of travel.  She shot across the clearing, skipping along its surface, and she tumbled end over end as pieces of her suit broke off, cast high in the air.

At last, she came to rest at the outskirts of the shantytown.  What remained of her armor smoldered, and she wasn’t moving.  Dmitry and Sonja watched for only a moment, before they both dared to step outside their home.  Dmitry hurried to Taryn’s side and coughed as he knelt to check for signs of life.

Lifting free her shattered helmet, he set his fingers against her neck.  Glancing to Sonja, he exhaled a relieved sigh.  “She’s alive.”

“Thank God,” Sonja whispered, and she glanced toward the slain kwercians.  “Let’s get her inside.  See if we can’t get hold of her ship.”  She and Dmitry lifted Taryn by the shoulders and strained against the weight of her armor, but were unable to move her.  Slowly at first, then with growing boldness, more and more of the shantytown’s residents emerged.  They lent their strength to dragging Taryn to safety.

Stampy and the Brain


On Tuesday of last week, Arianna Huffington posted an article titled "Brain Dead: Why Is D.C.'s Answer to the Jobs Crisis a Deficit Solution?"  In it, she addresses a critical problem that's been sitting on America for the past five years: our mountainous unemployment.  She asks why a proposed debt crisis solution should be thrown at slow economic growth.  Clearly, the White House is ignoring the elephant in the room!  Clearly.  Except that it's not.

For as long as Super Capitalism drives American investors, there really isn't much that the White House can do to quickly resolve the issue.  Absolutely, people should cry foul when 20 million Americans are out of work, but the forces that drive policy must be considered on a larger scale.  Without fully understanding the context, frustration with seemingly obtuse policy measures will only result in more frustration.

It all began in 1958, when Bank of America issued the first modern credit card, and American banks jumped on the credit bandwagon.  Debt became a very popular product, very quickly, and banks could hardly sell it fast enough.  If you were making money, why not get more money by guaranteeing it against the money you will surely be making in the days to come?  Inflation grew at an alarming pace, and the only way to buoy it was with more debt.  More credit.  And it scaled internationally.

As of the writing of this article, the US national debt is approaching 17 trillion dollars, and it's been growing by almost 4 billion dollars a day since 2007.  2013 minus 2007... six years... That massive debt growth seems to have been a clear harbinger of our current job crisis, and it echoes our annual fiscal cycles exactly.  Until it slows down significantly, there aren't going to be 20 million jobs to be had in America.  There can't be.

Who does America owe all this money to?  While it's true that China holds the largest portion of foreign money owed (a cool 8%, and that's nothing to shake a stick at, but it may be something to shake a South Korea at, but that's for another post), the biggest chunk of American debt is owed to the Social Security Trust Fund, some 30% of 16.8 trillion dollars. Next up in the list is America's investors.

And that's where Super Capitalism comes in, just the bullet train we need to hit that brick wall at the end of the tracks at supersonic speeds.  Unless, somehow, the White House can offset that deficit.  Unless, somehow, Obama can apply the brakes indirectly without super-profit-obsessed investors really noticing.  Maybe, just maybe, by trying to rally the troops with a well-worded (if rather equivocal) speech about headwinds and dual purposes.  In short, Obama is putting a pretty bow on the only hope we have of getting back on our economic feet, and he's calling it exactly what it is.

In the world of politics, pundits and thinkers are trained to look for the double talk, the deception and the back alley dealings.  While there's plenty of prestidigitation in the proposed debt reduction plan (it's not a glitch, it's a feature!), that's all it is: a debt reduction plan.  Like an ion sail, it will be slow to gain speed, but as long as the super-profit evangelists don't notice, it will eventually do its job and help to correct the devastating effect debt sale has had on our nation for the past 55 years.

But, if it doesn't work, debt will break America's back, and Capitalism will fail.  No joke.  Google it.

So what does that mean for the next 10 - 20 years?  It means that the US will continue to implement the socialist policies needed to keep 20 million+ Americans living at a minimum standard.  It means nouveau riche investors will continue to go where they feel their money can grow at the alarming rates seen during the Tech Boom of the late 90's/early 2000's, and that means going where the labor is cheapest.  Remember how saturated the market was with tech support from India?  The employees there felt the kiss of cash and demanded more pay, more rights.  It got expensive, and the Super Money moved on.  For now, it's got a really nice home in China.  But even Foxconn can't maintain its Super Profitability forever, and the Super Money will move on.

Eventually, an increasingly socialist and destitute America will become the overall least expensive source of cheap manufacturing.  Eventually, the Super Money will come back home, but not before we've frantically sold off most of our essential liberties in an effort to keep it here.  For as long as business law is designed to keep profitable companies profitable, for as long as investors retain majority ownership of America, that's the only serenade we can offer.

Obama proposed a debt reduction solution in the midst of a critical job crisis.  Is he ignoring the elephant in the room?  Isn't he in touch with America's needs?  Perhaps more than most people realize.  His proposition isn't brain-dead at all, but in fact, is the only hope we have of breaking our addiction to debt.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

When Amazon Invaded Goodreads...


As I mentioned last week, traditional print houses are going to need to take a page or two from the Amazon Playbook, if they want to survive.  Jeff Bezos is brilliant, and his acquisition of Goodreads confirms it.  With that social cornerstone, he is primed to control the vast majority of available digital reader information.  Reviews?  Amazon's.  Product placement?  Amazon's.  Opinions?  Amazon's, too.

The tides have changed, and traditional printing is the whale, beached due to inaction.  As print houses cling to the old ways of making money through paperback and hardcover sales, Amazon is strategically placed to crush them, utterly.  In the days to come, they'll offer assistance to select houses, but with zip ties around their wrists.  Other houses will flounder and fail, and those remaining in the Amazon Club will be forced to do Amazon's bidding.  They'll be reduced to figureheads or worse.  Sound unlikely?  Take a look at how Microsoft assisted Macintosh, or even more dramatic, how Wizards of the Coast lent TSR a hand.  It's a tried and true method for consuming a bloated corpse before it spoils.

The knells will toll for traditional printing, but it will have been completely avoidable.  Sadly, print houses suffer from extreme rigid thinking, like so many good old institutions.  They've convinced themselves that if they just scream loud enough, eventually everything will go back to the way it was.  If they just hold on tight enough, the ship will suddenly stop sinking.  But that's never how it works.  Again, don't get me wrong, I LOVE Amazon's KDP, but competition is good, and a lack of it has always -- ALWAYS -- been bad.  

Change is scary.  Age-old institutions are stubbornly inelastic, and it's precisely that tendency that brings about their demise.  But it doesn't have to.  When TV came along, the radio stars slipped away, but the music industry adapted.  It thrives, because it changed with the times.  If printing wants to survive Amazon's onslaught, it needs to create writing and publishing communities of its own.  It still has Big Money, and has the resources to create and nurture such communities.  Goodreads belongs to Amazon now, but TOR, Doubleday and Penguin can stake their own claims.  Unlike other wars, there are no physical boundaries to heed.  There is still an infinite number of countries that can be created to do battle with Amazon, as long as the money is still there.  But money goes where it can grow, and like the One Ring, it will abandon its bearer at a most inopportune time.

Printing can survive, but it needs to come down off its throne and reach out to the bourgeois.  It needs to, or it will become yet another entry in the history books, like the telegram or the radio star.

Thanks for reading!

Story Putty, Part I: Movies


In the U2 song, "The Fly," Bono wrote, "Every artist is a cannibal, every poet is a thief."  For as much as some writers strive to create something original, something meaningful, it's nigh unto impossible to completely avoid the world's influence.  There are things that drive us to write, and the source of that can't help but leave an indelible mark upon every writer's moment of inspiration.

When I first started writing novels, I rejected the very notion of that artistic interdependency, and vowed never to pen anything but a wholly original story.  And what I first cranked out, The Ironwolf Chronicle, was the most derivative mash of other people's stories I could imagine.  It was part Xanth, part The Hobbit, part Star Wars and part Darkwalker on Moonshae.  Almost none of it was me.  Except… that it was.  All those stories were a part of me, I just hadn't found my voice.

Truth be told, I still struggle to find my voice.  On any given day, I get a dozen moments of inspiration, hate ten of them, rethink two of them, and ultimately settle on what I last decided to do (in this case, write Wrath of the Void Strider's sequel).  I still hear the whispers of my favorite books, TV shows and movies, but now I embrace them.  There are good reasons why I like those stories, why they inspire me.  Combined with my own life's adventures, tragedies, triumphs and struggles, I like to think it brings life to my characters and the settings they find themselves in.

Below, I have listed my top ten most inspirational movies and why.  Down the line, I'll post books and TV series, but for now… ACTION!

10. Aliens - Starring Sigourney Weaver, this sequel to the original scifi horror classic, Alien, showed me how to set a mood.  The way the tension built, the way the action played out…  It also taught me the importance of not getting attached to minor and supporting characters.  The alien queen was an awesome, terrifying villain, and the loader mech made a permanent impression.  Not that anyone will ever read it, but the original version of Wrath of the Void Strider had its own weaponized loader mech scene on the surface of Nerthus.

9. The Dark Crystal - Jim Henson's fantasy masterpiece, this was the first movie I remember seeing that had a great twist at the end.  With all the fantastic life on screen, it opened my mind to thoughts of alien plants, animals, as well as a truly epic struggles.  With memorable environmental characters like Aughra and the Pod People, and with the terrifying Garthim (for a wee lad of 7, anyway), this movie couldn't help but influence my world building.

8. Krull - Part scifi and part fantasy, this movie at first puzzled me.  It maintained a high degree of fantasy, but there were blasters and spaceships, and the antagonists were alien invaders with a teleporting castle.  I distinctly remembered the cyclops's sacrifice, and the sad interaction with the Widow of the Web.  It showed me that genre lines can be blurred, and that you can call a magical weapon whatever you want to, even if it's not actually a glaive. :P

7. Star Trek II - I guess a lot of movies made a big impression on me when I was 7.  HA!  Well, here's another one from 1982.  Star Trek II was bigger than life for me.  Khan was SO villainous, though I found myself sympathizing with him.  Kirk was so bold, so heroic…  And I cried at a movie for the first time I can remember when Spock died.  This movie taught me the value of sacrifice, the strength of friendship, and the power of love.

6. The Princess Bride - Let's jump ahead five years to S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of Romance and Adventure, by William Goldman.  Each one of the characters was so memorable, the humor dry and timeless, and it had the best sword fight on screen, to date.  It taught me that things aren't always what they seem, and every hero should have something he's willing to die for.

5. The Neverending Story - What a fantastic movie!  I shamelessly love Falcor and the music to this day.  Through this movie, I experienced terror at the sight of the cooked knight near the Southern Oracle, and I startled when Atreyu saw Bastion.  The Childlike Empress seemed so beautiful, and I cried when Fantasia had been consumed by the Nothing.  It showed me how low the lows can go, and how great the triumph can be after losing everything.  Plus, Engywook and Urgl…

4. Willow - Madmartigan made such a huge impression on me.  He was as capable a swordsman as Aragorn, but with the bravado of Han Solo.  This was a *fun* movie, with a great villain, an unlikely hero trying to master arcane arts, an oppressive totalitarian government that needed to be overthrown, and a Death Star… er, two-headed dragon.  Wait…  OK, so it was much like a fantasy version of Star Wars.  Also, that love could overcome allegiances was a powerful lesson to me at the time, as in the romance that grew between Sorsha and Madmartigan.  And the music…  if any of my books ever make it to the big screen (and if I have any say in it), James Horner, I'm looking at you…

3. The Original Star Wars Trilogy - I'm treating Episodes IV through VI as a single unit, as A New Hope came out when I was 2, and the first memories I have of watching any of them was viewing IV and V on tape at my Godbrother's house a week before Jedi came out.  Star Wars was Sci-fantasy done perfectly.  It influenced me in so many ways, as it has many writers of our time, and it freed me up to throw magic into my scifi.  Gavin can induce space folding, because why not?  Yoda can lift up a space ship with his mind, so…

2. Serenity - The movie conclusion to the Firefly TV series.  I know not everyone's a Browncoat, but that's only because you're Alliance scum.  The gritty voice, the oppressive government, the inhuman reavers…  Joss created a modern classic that challenged his viewers to think about what life might actually be like on colonial worlds, the sort of support and infrastructure that might really be available, and the monstrous toll trying to control such a vast interstellar population might take on a far-reaching government.  Book's and Wash's deaths had impact, but I think if the series had been given more of a chance to grow, their deaths would have had more meaning.  It taught me that it's OK to outthink your foes, and that if you can't do something smart… do something right.

1. Star Trek (2009) - In terms of Shadow Galactic, I list this as the most influential movie, because it showed me the value of a strong crew culture, of bravery, of sacrifice, and how much I value all the main characters surviving at the end.  It was thrilling, epic, action-packed and character-driven.  It embodies all the strengths I strive to capture and convey in my writing.

So there you have it.  All the voices rattling around inside my head, shouting over my muse and shaping my stories.  If nothing else, I hope this list serves as a reminder of great movies you've already seen, or maybe will inspire you to watch the ones that are new to you.

Thanks for reading!