Rambling On

Anthony R. Cardno's Fiction and Commentary

TITLE: Bannerless

AUTHOR: Carrie Vaughn

352 pages, John Joseph Adams books, ISBN 9780544947306

Publication Date: July 11, 2017 (I received an uncorrected proof ARC in exchange for an honest review)

 

DESCRIPTION: (from the back cover): A mysterious murder in a dystopian future leads a novice investigator to question what she’s learned about the foundation of her population-controlled society.

Decades after economic and environmental collapse destroys much of civilization in the United States, the Coast Road region isn’t just surviving but thriving by some accounts, building something new on the ruins of what came before. A culture of population control has developed in which people, organized into households, must earn the children they bear by proving they can take care of them and are awarded symbolic banners to demonstrate this privilege. In the meantime, birth control is mandatory.  Enid of Haven is an Investigator, called on to mediate disputes and examine transgressions against the community. She’s young for the job and hasn’t yet handled a serious case. Now, though, a suspicious death requires her attention. The victim was an outcast, but might someone have taken dislike a step further and murdered him?  In a world defined by the disasters that happened a century before, the past is always present. But this investigation may reveal the cracks in Enid’s world and make her question what she really stands for.

 

MY RATING: Five out of five stars

 

MY THOUGHTS: I first encountered the post-apocalyptic world Carrie Vaughn reveals to us in such great detail in her new novel Bannerless in a short story of the same title back in 2015. That story, which introduced not only the world of the Coast Road communities but also lead character Enid, appeared in the anthology The End Has Come, part of John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey’s Apocalypse Triptych. Readers interested in seeing an older, more experienced Enid should seek out that anthology, or head over to Wired.com to read the story for free. You don’t need to have read the original story to understand Enid or the world she lives in. This novel shows us a younger Enid, discovering who she is and how she’s going to survive as an Investigator.

Let’s talk about the world-building first.

In this not-too-terribly-distant future, civilization as we know now it has collapsed due not to a single Extinction Level Event but a combination of “smaller” catastrophic events that build on each other the way a solid combination punch does in professional boxing: climate change combined with disease combined with overpopulation stagger humanity’s ability to cope and recover. But humanity never goes completely down for the count, and a generation or so later we have the Coast Road society: tied to the earth, supremely aware of how susceptible they are to drastic weather, depletion of natural resources, and the possibility of over-population. As a whole, at least in this particular region, humanity is hanging in there and still fighting. But as we see multiple times in this novel: those who don’t learn the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them. Life in this near future is not easy, despite the content home lives of most of the characters. Fishing, hunting, harvesting, trading … all come with the threat of injury or death attached, and the world no longer has the medical-pharmaceutical-surgical capabilities it once did. Vaughn drives this home repeatedly: the world post-apocalypse will be lacking much of currently keeps people alive. The only difference between the world of Bannerless and, say, the medieval or Renaissance world is whether people know what they don’t have – and the characters in Bannerless are painfully aware (and frequently reminded) of what’s been lost.  That’s part of what I loved about the short story and the novel: this world is not so far in the future that our own “modern” world has been relegated to myth, but there are clear indications it is headed into that territory. This is important to the way resources, including the ability to have children, are allocated.  This future society’s approach to population control – enforced birth control until a household earns a banner and thus the right to conceive and raise a child – is likely to be the subject of many reviews of the book. Is the system Vaughn posits a fair one? Probably not, but then again many of our current laws aren’t either. Does it make sense in the context of the world Vaughn has built? Absolutely. I can easily imagine that fear of a return to overpopulation and the depletion of natural resources and increased diseases caused by it would lead to some extremes. But the author also makes it clear: birth control is being used to control population growth rather than some Puritanical “abstention from sex except when trying to procreate” rules. Sex in the world of Bannerless is natural and expected and exists in all its wide varieties and combinations of partners. No one is shamed or cast out because of it.

We explore this fascinating world and the selfless and selfish characters who inhabit it, through the eyes of Enid. Vaughn has structured the book so that alternating chapters show us Enid in her present, as a beginning Investigator encountering her first big complicated case, as well as Enid in her past, as a curious young woman experiencing Coast Road society outside of her home town. Of course, the past is prologue to the present; flashback details bleed over into the present the way they should when handled in a format like this. We the readers are essentially experiencing two mysteries at once: the possible murder of a loner in the present, and the question of how Enid became an investigator in the past.

In the past, Enid falls heavily in love with a traveling musician named Dak and decides to leave Haven to experience the world with him. This Enid is a bit more head-strong, a bit less likely to take stock of a situation, a bit more likely to let her emotions lead her actions. And Dak enables this behavior with his charm and wit. These chapters are full of details that reveal not all Coast Road towns or homesteads are the same, showing Enid that not everyone is as comfortable (if that word can be used in this world) as her town of Haven is. Vaughn also drops hints as to what lies beyond the Coast Road, and it is my fervent hope that these distances will be explored more deeply in future installments because the small views we got were tantalizing. In these chapters, the characters Enid encounters (such as Petula house-head Fisher, her son Stev, and their town-mate Xander) help expand, or expound upon, the world-building.

In the present, Enid journeys with fellow Investigator, and childhood friend, Tomas, to the town of Pasadan. They’re answering a summons to investigate a mysterious death, but it quickly becomes obvious that internal town politics and failure to learn the lessons of the past are going to complicate what should be a fairly straightforward case. In these chapters, the world-building becomes less centered and more subtle as the author introduces the characters involved in, and spools out the details of, a fair-play, multi-suspect murder mystery. And it is very “fair play,” the kind of mystery, sans post-apocalyptic setting, I can imagine Sherlock Holmes or Hamish Macbeth solving. If the “possible suspects” are bit more archetypal (the battling town council members Philos and Ariana; the possible young lovers Miran and Kirk; even the disliked outcast victim Sero) and a bit less nuanced than the characters of the flashbacks, it can be accepted as part of the genre Vaughn is importing. They each do their job in providing clues and red herrings for the mystery as well as propelling Enid’s character arc. By the end of the novel, we can see shades of the older Enid of the short story.

What ties the alternating chapters together is the consistencies in Enid’s character. At both ages, she is willful and head-strong, apt to let emotions lead her. If the older Enid is more able to tamp anger down in service to the greater good, the younger Enid’s impetuousness serves that greater good almost as effectively. And at any age, Enid is a great listener and avid learner, which draws the reader into the world around her. She’s a character I’m interested in spending a lot more time with.

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I had a chance to once again chat with Bart Leib, co-publisher at CROSSED GENRES. This time, we talk specifically about how the company’s e-magazine is preparing to move into Year Two with a subscription drive, and we end with a very cool EXCLUSIVE announcement.

Front cover of the new CG collection

ANTHONY: Just about a year ago, you successfully ran a Kickstarter to relaunch CROSSED GENRES magazine. How has the first year gone?

BART: We’ve released the first ten issues so far, and the response has been tremendous. Version 2.0 of the zine has been very like the original run, in that we’ve strived to showcase typically underrepresented groups, and readers have really appreciated it.

And that was made easy because of the very large and diverse pool of submissions we’ve been getting! We’ve been excited every month to see lots of great submissions – I don’t think we’ve gotten through a single month without having to agonize over which stories to accept. And every month the submission pool has had great representation of PoC, women, and QUILTBAG MC’s.

ANTHONY: Every issue of CG features a different theme that plays with what “science fiction” and “fantasy” can encompass. What have been some of your favorite themes from the past year?

BART: We’re especially fond of the themes which are more open to interpretation, because authors know we love it when they push the boundaries of the theme’s definition. “Discovery” (issue 4) was particularly intriguing, as was “She” (issue 6). The upcoming issues, 11 (coming in November) and 12 (December) are the Favors and Young Adult issues respectively, and we’re very pleased with the results of these ones.

ANTHONY: Every issue of CG includes a New Author Spotlight. Why do you feel it’s vital to not just publish new authors but also give the readers an insight into their process and background?

BART: During the magazine’s first three-year run, we attracted a lot of new/undiscovered authors. This was partially because we’ve always been open to stories and topics which many publications shy away from. New authors are often more willing to take chances with their writing. The result is stories which push boundaries and challenge perceptions, which take uncomfortable topics and put them front and center.

When we decided to push for the funds to bring back the magazine paying SFWA-level pro rates, there was some justifiable fear that established authors would push out new authors from CG’s pages. So we established the New Author Spotlight: We guarantee that at least one story per month will be from an author who’s never had a pro-rate sale. We included the author interview so authors would have a chance to showcase why their story, and writing in general, is important to them – and how fiction can catalyze and alter public discourse.

ANTHONY: How do you decide on the theme for each issue, and what themes are you excited for in the near future?

BART: Our process for picking themes is myriad and opaque – even for us!

A few times in the past we sat down and brainstormed a ton of theme ideas. As of now – not counting the themes we used in the zine’s first run or the first year of the new zine – we have enough remaining on the list to cover nearly eight more years of issues. When it comes time to make decisions, we look over the list and pick some themes we think will balance nicely with each other.

We usually post them in 6-month blocks. As of right now, all the themes for 2014 have been posted on the submissions page  so authors can look ahead and think about which themes they want to write for.

We’re really looking forward to reading submissions to the current theme, Unresolved Sexual Tension. 😉 The Food issue (#17, Submissions in January) and the Flash Fiction Free-For-All (#18, submissions in February) will probably be very fun too!

ANTHONY: In order to see a second year of CG, the current subscription drive needs to be successful. What are the various subscription options?

BART: We’re currently offering a one-year (12 issues) subscription. The ebook subscription includes monthly issues, as well as the collected biannual anthologies, which collect 6 issues together and include original cover art.

There’s also a print subscription, which includes everything in the ebook subscription PLUS print copies of two biannual anthologies. (Unfortunately this is only for US residents since shipping outside the US is prohibitively expensive.)

We haven’t offered a lifetime subscription except as Kickstarter rewards, but if people want that they should let us know! 😉

ANTHONY: If people don’t want to subscribe, but would like to help the magazine continue, what can they do?

BART: Buying books is always good! We have two novels, a single-author collection and four anthologies currently available, in addition to the first biannual anthology from the magazine (Find Titles Here).

ANTHONY: And the cover of that first biannual collection graces the very beginning of this interview! How else can they help?

BART: Donations are also welcome, and can be made via the website (a button on the magazine subscription page).

Beyond that – help spread the word about the magazine! We need a lot of subscriptions in order for CG Magazine to become self-sustaining, so the more people who hear about it the better!

ANTHONY: Any other news about Crossed Genres you’d like to share?

BART: We’re very happy to say that our next anthology, after a delay, is finally almost ready! Oomph: A Little Super Goes a Long Way will be released in late October. As a taste of what Oomph will be like, here’s a look at the cover and Table of Contents:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Hat Trick” – Beth Cato

“Power Line Dreams” – A.J. Fitzwater

“Exact Change” – Christine Morgan and Lucas Williams

“Short Circuit” – Kirstie Olley

“Random Play All and the League of Awesome” – Shane Halbach

“The Writing is On the Wall” – Brian Milton

“The Breeze” – Mary Alexandra Agner

“Fortissimo Possibile” – Dawn Vogel

“Knuckles” – Ken MacGregor

“A Twist of Fate” – Holly Schofield

“Trailblazer” – Anthony R. Cardno

“Mildly Indestructible” – Jay Wilburn

“Blanket Statement” – Aspen Bassett

“Great White” – Brent Knowles

“Speak Softly” – Day Al-Mohamed

ANTHONY: Oh, hey, I see a familiar name in there! I’m excited for this one. And folks, you’ll be able to order it from CG’s website and it’ll help them keep the magazine running!

 

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Steve B. Howell

In June, Hadrosaur Productions published A KEPLER’S DOZEN: Thirteen Stories About Distant Worlds That Really Exist, a science fiction anthology co-edited by Steve B. Howell and David Lee Summers.  In this second of two interviews, I talk to co-editor Steve B. Howell about the anthology and about the actual Kepler Mission.

Dr. Steve B. Howell is currently the project scientist for the NASA Kepler Space telescope. Kepler was launched in 2009 with a goal to discover planets orbiting other stars – exoplanets – using the transit technique. Dr. Howell is a highly distinguished astronomer having worked in the field for over 25 years. He has been a university professor, built instruments for the NASA Space Shuttle, worked as a scientist at the Kitt Peak National Observatory, and now is the science head for NASA’s most scientifically and publicly visible mission, Kepler. He is the author of over 600 scientific publications, numerous popular and technical articles, and has written and edited 8 books on astronomy and astronomical instrumentation. Dr. Howell is highly involved with informal and formal scientific education for kids to adults and as an entertaining speaker, he is often asked to talk as various functions both professionally and publically. He currently lives in Redwood City, CA where he loves to hike, prepare gourmet meals, and play blues music.

ANTHONY: What is your current role with the Kepler mission?

STEVE: I am the Project Scientist for the Kepler mission. As project scientist, it is my job to get the most science out of the Kepler mission. The job is a sort of overseer of the science for the entire mission. The work includes science for both exoplanets and work on stars themselves.

Stellar astrophysics using Kepler data, for example, studies of interacting binary stars, pulsating stars, rotations of stars as measured by watching starspots on their surface, has been very exciting as well. I work at such tasks as getting astronomers around the world involved in using the data we have collected for a variety of science purposes and to make sure we get the funding we need from NASA to accomplish our goals.
ANTHONY: Can you tell us a little about the original intent and time-span of the mission?

STEVE: The mission was designed to determine the frequency of Earth-size planets orbiting stars similar to our sun. The mission life time was originally 3.5 years but was extended to 4 years.

ANTHONY: How does the camera function?

STEVE: The camera is a 16 million pixel large format array of digital detectors. The array is about 16 inches on a side and consists of 42 separate large charge-coupled detectors. These are similar to the cameras in a cell phone only much, much better quality and tremendously larger. Kepler states at one field of view in the sky all the time. The camera has no shutter so reads out the images constantly. At NASA Ames Research Center, where I work, we use sophisticated software and a supercomputer to search all the data to look for small drops in light from any star that might indicate an exoplanet has passed in front of the star (a transit event).

ANTHONY: It seems like there’s the potential for an exorbitant amount of data to be collected. How is that all transferred back to Earth?

STEVE: There is indeed a tremendous amount of data collected and sent back to Earth. Once a month, the spacecraft turns to point an antenna toward the earth and we use about 20-24 hours of time to transfer all the data back to the ground.

ANTHONY: What’s involved in analyzing the data? I guess I’m asking how you know what’s going on in each of the systems you’re investigating.

STEVE: Each star we observe, over 150,000 of them, has its light curve examined in great detail. A light curve is simply a measure of the star brightness over time. We observe each star every 30 minutes and produce a record of that stars brightness every 30 minutes for days to weeks to years. Each measurement is looked at by our software system to see if there is a chance that the star has dimmed just enough and in the correct way to indicate a possible transit by a planet orbiting that star.

ANTHONY: How many exo-planets have been identified since the mission started?

STEVE: Kepler has found over 3500 exoplanet candidates, of which we believe that 90-90% are certainly real exoplanets. They range in size from about that of our moon to larger than Jupiter. Most are small in the 2-5 earth radius size range.

As we examine more of the data, smaller planets, similar to Earth-size, will be discovered and we expect to end up with hundreds of exoplanets near the size of our earth.

ANTHONY: There’s a distinct naming convention for stars and planets identified through the mission, correct?

STEVE: Yes, it is simple. The first planet we found that we could absolutely confirm as a planet we called Kepler 1b. The next was Kepler 2b and so on. The “b” is used to designate that we are talking about the planet in orbit about a star and not the star itself. So far, we are up to naming over 100 confirmed exoplanets.

ANTHONY: One of the things I liked about the format of A Kepler’s Dozen was the introduction to each story, which included hard data on the stars and planets the authors set their stories on or near. How much input did you provide to authors in terms of choosing stars to write about?

STEVE: The book had one firm rule – each story had to be about a real Kepler discovered and confirmed exoplanet. The authors were given the details of the planets they choose to write about and had to stay scientifically true to those data in their story. I believe this is the first such science fiction book that uses real exoplanets.

ANTHONY: I think that’s correct. Was there any thought of including even more planetary or system data with the stories?

STEVE: Each author was free to include whatever data they wished about the planet or planets they chose for their story. Some stories simply name the planet as a destination others use more information to develop the story.

ANTHONY: Tell us a bit about your own story in the collection, “A Mango and Two Peanuts.”

STEVE: Well, that story formed in my head soon after David and I agreed to work on this anthology. Kepler 37 was just discovered and we were really busy working on the science paper to announce it. There was a sort of race as to what would come out first – the science paper or the Anthology? The science paper won by 3 weeks.

The hard part was the ending. If you read the story you may see that a number of possible endings are possible. I think I choose a rather unusual one, certainly one that fits me well. I tried to integrate a number of favorite topics, persons, and other information into the story using them as spring boards toward the story line.

ANTHONY: I identified a bit with several of the characters in the story, the ones who know they are part of something bigger but don’t really understand the science behind the mission. Do you find that’s a normal thing when dealing with missions the size of most NASA projects?

STEVE: Yes, this is a realistic view of some of the players in real missions. The work on a space mission in very complex and involves hundreds of people from engineers to software programmers to astronomers like me. At each stage, each person’s contribution is important and taken together they make it all work. Some folks are more in tune with the science and some are not, but all are crucial parts of the whole. I am blessed to have such a great team working on the Kepler mission

ANTHONY: The mission has faced some challenges with the craft’s reaction wheels. How does this impact the mission going forward?

STEVE: Indeed! In fact, as of May 2013, just about when our book was released, Kepler lost its second of four reaction wheels. The collection of science data may be finished for the exoplanet part of the mission, but we are exploring ways to revive the reaction wheels and to look at what other science mission the telescope might be able to do. This work in on-going and we should know the answers by end of summer.

ANTHONY: What do the reaction wheels do, and what makes them particularly hard to fix?
STEVE: Reaction wheels are used to point the Kepler telescope very precisely. This precise pointing allows us to collect very precise photometry, giving us the ability to detect the small (<1%) drop in light from a star as a planet passes in front during a transit.

ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

STEVE: Wow! This is tough. I read a lot and on many different topics. I’ll stick to Sci Fi for this answer. My favorite Scifi Book (so far) is The Invisible Man by H. G. Wells (1897) because he used real physics principles and the possibility of what we might be able to do with them to create his “monster”. It was one of my early scifi reads as well and that probably adds to the interest. I think the simplicity of the principle and the human condition story that ensues are good elements to make one think as they read along.

You can learn even more about the Mission at NASA’s Kepler Website. You can order print copies of A KEPLER’S DOZEN directly from Hadrosaur Productions, or find the ebooks on Smashwords.

And you can read my interview with Steve’s co-editor, David Lee Summers, by clicking on the little link at the bottom of this post that takes you to the previous interview.

 

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David Lee Summers

In June, Hadrosaur Productions published A KEPLER’S DOZEN: Thirteen Stories About Distant Worlds That Really Exist, a science fiction anthology co-edited by Steve B. Howell and David Lee Summers.  In this first of two interviews, I talk to David Lee Summers about the anthology and a little bit about his other writing.

David Lee Summers is the author of seven novels and over sixty published short stories. His writing spans a wide range of the imaginative from science fiction to fantasy to horror. Novels include a wild west steampunk adventure (OWLDANCE) and VAMPIRES OF THE SCARLET ORDER, in which vampire mercenaries fight evil. David edits the quarterly SF/F magazine TALES OF THE TALISMAN, and has also served as editors for the anthologies SPACE PIRATES and SPACE HORRORS. When not writing, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory.

ANTHONY: Let’s talk about A KEPLER’S DOZEN first. What inspired the anthology?

DAVID: Steve Howell and I have been friends since I returned to Kitt Peak National Observatory a little over five years ago.  I was one of the Observing Assistants for the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope and he was the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope scientist.  Over the years, Steve learned about my interest in writing, and even picked up one of the anthologies I was in.  A couple of years ago, Steve left the National Optical Astronomy Observatory to work for NASA as the project scientist for the Kepler Space Mission.  The Kepler space telescope has done a remarkable job finding planets around stars.  Looking at the Kepler web site as I type this, I see over 3000 planet candidates and 136 confirmed planets.  As someone who grew up and went through college and grad school only knowing about the planets in our own solar system, this is absolutely remarkable, but there’s a real danger of all these planets just becoming statistics.  So, Steve’s idea was to assemble an anthology that showcased some of these planets and imagined what it would be like to see these worlds up close.  It becomes a way to visualize the wide variety of planets the Kepler telescope has discovered.

ANTHONY: Was there an open call for submissions or was it invite-only? Might we see “Another Kepler’s Dozen” in the future?

DAVID: A Kepler’s Dozen was invite-only.  We did that because we wanted each story to feature a unique planet and this allowed each author the opportunity to ask questions about the planet they chose.  That said, one of the stories came in during the last reading period for Tales of the Talisman Magazine.  I thought it was a great match for the anthology.  Steve agreed and we invited the author to make a few minor revisions and we included it.  Since we assigned the planets for A Kepler’s Dozen, more exoplanets have been found in the so-called habitable zones of their stars.  This is the area where you might conceivably find life as we know it.  So, yes, we’d like to do a follow-up anthology.  I’d like to make this one at least semi-open.  Perhaps there would be a way to sign up and select from a list of available planets (still over 120 to choose from!).

ANTHONY: How did you split editorial duties with you co-editor, Steve B. Howell?

DAVID: We both read for overall story.  If there was something about the story we didn’t like, we discussed it and came up with a solution to propose to the author.  From there, I read for the more in-depth grammar and spelling issues and he read to make sure the planets were portrayed as accurately as possible given what’s known.  He allowed some leeway on that since, in fact, very little is known about all these worlds.

ANTHONY: Steve is a project scientist for the Kepler mission, correct?  What unique perspective did he bring to the project?

DAVID: That’s right, Steve is Kepler’s project scientist.  Of course he had a good handle on the most up-to-date information available from the Kepler telescope.  Beyond that, he brought a real sense of fun to this project.  It was clear he was delighted about people imagining what these planets might be like.  One thing both science and science fiction share are people asking “what if” questions.  What’s more, scientists thrive on challenges to conventional wisdom.  So, he clearly liked it when authors challenged a picture he might have about the planets.  In fact, in his own contribution to the anthology, Steve suggested that there could be a subtext hidden in the planet data that hasn’t been seen yet.

Front cover of A KEPLER’S DOZEN

ANTHONY: The Kepler mission hit a big snag last month with the failure of a second “reaction wheel” (out of four on the craft), affecting the telescope’s ability to remain focused on fixed points. What effect will project termination (if repairs aren’t possible) have on the search for habitable planets outside of our system? Is a second, improved Kepler mission a possibility?

DAVID: In fact, there was another mission in the works before Kepler’s problems started.  It’s called TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) and it’s tentatively scheduled for launch in 2017.  My understanding is that while Kepler focused on one region of the sky, picked because of a large number of sun-like stars, TESS will focus on nearby stars, so we’ll learn more about stars we might visit in the near future.  Also, I gather there’s a good chance Kepler will continue to operate.  The reaction wheel problem just means that it won’t be very likely to detect Earth-sized planets, but it will continue to collect data and monitor Jupiter-sized planets.

What’s more, there are actually a lot of ground-based exoplanet surveys such as the HAT survey being conducted in Arizona and Hawaii by a group of Hungarian Astronomers.  HAT stands for Hungarian-made Astronomical Telescopes.  There are also ongoing searches at the 1.5-meter telescope at Arizona’s Whipple Observatory and at observatories in South America.  So, despite Kepler’s problems, the hunt for exoplanets is far from over.

ANTHONY: A neat feature of the book is that the introduction to each story includes data collected during the Kepler mission. How much guidance was given to the authors in terms of choosing the stars/planets to be used in their stories?

DAVID: As a starting point, the authors were sent to the Kepler Mission website at http://kepler.nasa.gov and allowed to browse for a planet that captured their imagination.  In some cases, the authors came back and had questions about details of the system for Steve.  In other cases, authors asked about planets that would fit a certain set of criteria they had in mind for a story.  Steve and I worked with them to find planets that would work in their stories.  Sometimes a story idea had to be modified slightly, but with so many planets to choose from, modifications were actually pretty slight.  Of course, Steve read the stories for accuracy and again made some suggestions, but those tended to be slight and only had minor impact on the stories being told.

ANTHONY: Tell us about your own story in the book, “Hot Pursuit.”

DAVID: “Hot Pursuit” tells the story of a band of space pirates who are hired to help transport stolen technology back to Earth.  The technology’s creators kill the agent and want to do the same to the pirates who get away with the stolen goods.  The pirates take refuge near a so-called hot Jupiter called Kepler-17b.  This planet orbits its sun every one and a half days.  Keep in mind that Mercury orbits our sun every 88 days.  What’s more, the star Kepler-17 is an active star, meaning it has flares and starspots.  This is good for the pirates because being near this star and planet makes them undetectable.  The problem is, they can’t stay for long or else they will burn up.

SPACE PIRATES, another Summers-edited anthology

ANTHONY: How does this story tie in with your short stories in the SPACE PIRATES, SPACE HORRORS and SPACE BATTLES anthologies from Flying Pen Press?

DAVID: “Hot Pursuit” features Captain Ellison Firebrandt and the crew of the Legacy, who are also featured in the Full-Throttle Space-Tales anthologies Space Pirates, Space Sirens, Space Tramps, and Space Battles.  Chronologically, this story takes place immediately after the one in Space Sirens.  My story in Space Horrors is, so far, the only one I’ve written for the Full-Throttle Space Tales series that does not feature the crew of the Legacy.  That one is a vampire story set aboard a Bussard Ramjet, an idea that came to me while spending an evening in Robert Bussard’s Santa Fe home.

ANTHONY: What projects are you working on currently?

DAVID: Currently I’m wrapping up work on my second wild west steampunk adventure, Lightning Wolves.  It’s a sequel to my novel Owl Dance.  In the new story, Russians have invaded the Pacific Northwest in 1877 and are advancing into California.  New weapons have proven ineffective or dangerously unstable and the one man who can help has disappeared into Apache Country, hunting ghosts.  A healer and a former sheriff lead a band into the heart of the invasion to determine what makes the Russian forces so unstoppable while a young inventor thinks outside the box to create a new kind of weapon.

ANTHONY: And my usual closing question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

DAVID: This is a tough question because there are so many books I love!  So, let me narrow it down and pick my favorite anthology.  It’s called A Very Large Array and it’s a collection of stories by New Mexico science fiction and fantasy authors.  It was released in 1987, edited by Melinda M. Snodgrass and contains stories by Roger Zelazny, Jack Williamson, Stephen R. Donaldson and Fred Saberhagen.  This is the anthology that introduced me to Suzy McKee Charnas and George R.R. Martin.  If the names in this anthology haven’t convinced you to read it, then let me just say that what makes it wonderful is that it collects an amazing range of science fiction and fantasy writers from the early greats to contemporary masters.  There’s hard sci fi, horror, and fantasy.  It is one of the most compact windows into the universe of speculative fiction.

You can follow David on Twitter @davidleesummers. His blog is located at davidleesummers.com. You can order print copies of A KEPLER’S DOZEN directly from Hadrosaur Productions, or find the ebooks on Smashwords.  You can also find stories by both David Lee Summers and myself in FULL-THROTTLE SPACE TALES VOLUME 6: SPACE BATTLES.

Come back on Thursday for my interview with David’s co-editor, Steve B. Howell.

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Beyond The Sun

Posted by admin under authors, editors, fundraisers

Every now and then I like to feature Kickstarter projects that I’m particularly interested in, and more often than not those projects involve short story anthologies. Here’s the latest, a chat with frequent guest Bryan Thomas Schmidt.

Beyond The Sun cover concept

Bryan Thomas Schmidt is an author and editor of adult and children’s speculative fiction. His debut novel, The Worker Prince (2011) received Honorable Mention on Barnes & Noble Book Club’s Year’s Best Science Fiction Releases for 2011. A sequel The Returning followed in 2012 and The Exodus will appear in 2013, completing the space opera Saga Of Davi Rhii. His first children’s books, 102 More Hilarious Dinosaur Books For Kids (ebook only) and Abraham Lincoln: Dinosaur Hunter- Lost In A Land Of Legends (forthcoming) appeared from Delabarre Publishing in 2012.  His short stories have appeared in magazines, anthologies and online. He edited the anthology Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 (2012) and is working on Beyond The Sun,forthcoming. He hosts #sffwrtcht (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writer’s Chat) Wednesdays at 9 pm ET on Twitter and is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

 

ANTHONY: So Space Battles: Full Throttle Space Tales #6 seems to have gotten good reviews and had steady sales, and now you’re raising backers for another anthology, Beyond The Sun. Tell us how that came about?

BRYAN: Since I was a kid, I’ve been fascinated by the Universe and space travel, the idea that one day humans could go out and discover what’s out there. An anthology on space colonization seemed a natural extension of that. And with the recent downsizing of NASA and death of Neil Armstrong, I found myself remembering all the times I spent dreaming about other planets and worlds. As an adult, I’ve travelled the world, exploring other cultures, and in large part, it comes from that same drive to discover the other, the different, the new. Beyond that though, I hear about young people, particularly boys, not being into reading like they used to be, and I want to create stories kids like me would enjoy. Additionally, I wanted to create something teachers and parents might use to encourage that urge to discover in younger generations. Lastly, I love working with other writers, and I saw a chance to bring pros and newcomers together to fulfill this in a way that benefits all of us.

ANTHONY: Well, you do have some big names involved.

BRYAN: I do. Robert Silverberg gave me an old story that has not appeared much which is really good, of course. Mike Resnick is a good friend and headlined Space Battles. He’s done so much to help me, my only way to return that is to give him work, and luckily, he gladly accepts.  Nancy Kress is a new friend but she’s explored colonialism a lot in her work so she’s a perfect fit. All of these, of course, are Hugo and Nebula winners on multiple occasions. But I also have a fourth headliner who’s won the same awards and she’ll be joining us if we get the funding.

ANTHONY: Some of the lesser names, you might call them, are not unknown either: Cat Rambo, Jennifer Brozek, Jason Sanford…

BRYAN: Yeah, all of whom have become friends and are people whose work I admire. Joining them are Analog regulars Brad R. Torgersen (Hugo/Nebula nominee this year) and Jamie Todd Rubin, and Sanford’s Interzone fellow Matthew Cook, along with novelists Jean Johnson and Erin Hoffman.

ANTHONY: And then there’s the little people…like me.

BRYAN: Well, you’re not unknown, just not as much for your writing yet, but that will come. You were in Space Battles, and so were several others. But as people may know from SFFWRTCHT (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat), encouraging and helping others, especially fellow writers, is something I love to do. And to be in an anthology with people of this caliber and make pro or semi-pro rates is a huge opportunity. I like helping others achieve their dreams, but the advantage here is that, in the process, they help me achieve mine, which is a cool parallel to have. At the same time, I have to make sure the anthology is the best it can be, so I’ve invited twenty writers to vie for thirteen spots alongside the headliners.

ANTHONY: You mentioned that Silverberg gave you a reprint and I know there are a couple of others, but the plan is mostly for brand new stories, right?

BRYAN: Yes, Resnick, Kress and our fourth headliner all plan to write new stories. Resnick’s promised to use his African knowledge for it, in fact. Those Hugo winning stories are amongst my favorites of his. I have reprints from Silverberg, Jason Sanford, and Autumn Rachel Dryden, whose story, “Respite,” is one of the inspirations for this anthology. Hers and Jason’s appeared previously in early issues of IGMS and it’s a privilege to reintroduce them to people now.

ANTHONY: Like Space Battles, there wasn’t an open call for submissions. Is that going to be your modus operandi? Why not invite the public?

BRYAN: Space Battles wound up with a far more open call than this but I have novels to write and promote, freelance editing clients to please and 7 anthology projects in the works. I just can’t read that much slush and it’s hard to find someone whose sensibilities are identical enough that you can let them do it for you. I do invite new people with every project and I do look for people I’d like to work with and haven’t. But I have to face certain time limits realistically and so, at this time, an open call just doesn’t make sense. I’m not opposed to it in general though.

ANTHONY: Why Kickstarter as opposed to finding a publisher?

BRYAN: One, anthologies are a hard sale right now. Two, KS actually provides me a chance to use more up and coming writers. A publisher would want 10 headline names. Three, I get more creative freedom. Four, I can raise enough to pay far higher rates to artists and writers than a press would allow me, unless a big NY trade house came aboard, and I am still proving myself, so trusting me with a project like this, when they do so few, is a hard sell.

ANTHONY: How hard is putting a Kickstarter together?

BRYAN:  Not too bad but you do need to do your research. The hardest part is that being unemployed since May 2010 and surviving on freelance, I just don’t have much money for videos and promotion. But I found a woman who did a great video for $15 provided I did a voice over, gave her a concept and provided some images. And Mitch Bentley chipped in on cover mock ups as well as other artists. Plus the writers are allowing me to tease their stories to backers when we reach certain levels, so that will also be great to show people that we really will have not just variety but quality.

ANTHONY: Well, the headliner’s names kind of speak for themselves, right?

BRYAN: Yes, but even diehard fans may not love every story an author writes, and the new talent is a question mark for some. Sharing Jason and Autumn’s stories allows me to show stories from all three writing tiers.

ANTHONY: Very cool. Well, I’m going to write the best story I can in the hopes of making one of those open spots, but either way, I can’t wait to see it.

BRYAN: Thanks, me, too. I’m very excited. I loved the diversity I got from my writers for Space Battles, and I can’t wait to see what they’ll do with this concept.

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I had the brilliant idea a few weeks ago that it might be a nice year-end change-up to my regular interview posts to have my various nieces and nephews (both the ones related to me by blood and the ones who are kids of friends) quiz me about my writing, interviewing and reading habits. While I didn’t hear back from everyone (*cough*AlexDevinMaxA*cough*), I got a lot of good questions with only a few repetitions. Today’s post is the older batch of kids, ages 13 to 20.

niece Renee, my sister, myself, nephew Vinny

Anyone who has read THE FIRFLAKE has seen the dedication (“For Mom and Dad, who taught me how to believe, and for Buddy and Squirmy Worm, who reminded me when I forgot.”) Buddy and Squirmy Worm are our family nicknames for my nephew Vinny and niece Renee. Vinny’s questions start off today’s post, and Renee gets the lead-off tomorrow when the younger kids have their say.

VINNY (age 14): What inspired you to write?

ANTHONY: Comic books. That’s the short answer, anyway. The first stories I remember writing were all with Marvel and DC superheroes. I can remember a summer visit to the Cornelia cousins on Long Island, and using their house as the secret base in a story featuring a group of Marvel’s third-string characters (Marvel Man (now Quasar), Blue Streak, The Vamp, and someone else). I had to be in 5th or 6th grade then. I also remember being in the lunch-room at Mahopac Junior High and writing a story about Bat-Girl (the Barbara Gordon version), and trying to draw the logo they used for her in Batman Family at the time. Those stories are all long-since lost; they were all hand-written in loose-leaf binders and spiral-bound notebooks and who knows where they ended up.

VINNY: Will you ever venture into the horror genre?

That depends on what type of horror you mean. Will I ever write a slasher-flick like the Jason movies? Probably not. But the short story “Canopus” right here on the website is suspenseful-horror, and my mystery novel AMBERGRIN HALL has at least a few horrific moments (and a hint of the supernatural). And as you may remember, I’m still supposed to be co-writing a zombie novel with Aunt Nina if I ever get off my buttocks and work on it. (By the way, Vin, kudos for using the word “venture.” Haha)

LAURA (age 20): When you get a creative idea, what sparks in your mind and says “THATS IT! There needs to be a book about this!”

ANTHONY: Ah, the famous “AHA!” moment. I’m not sure I actually get those. I hear other writers talk about them, but my epiphanies are smaller. I get an idea and it’s not “OH MY GOD THIS HAS TO BE A BOOK” so much as “oh, there’s a neat idea, let’s see where it goes.” The moment a story “clicks” for me is usually well after I’ve started it, and then I get that “Oh, yeah, this works!” spark.

LAURA: Out of all of the places you have traveled to, which place gave you the most inspiration when it comes to writing?

ANTHONY: Inspiration always seems to be stronger in the places that feel like home. The scenery change can be subtle (the slightly different small towns elsewhere in northwest NJ / southern NY) or dramatic (an apartment in a city somewhere in the country), but when I’m closer to family I’m more inspired to write. Outside of NY/NJ, the places I get the most writing done are, in no particular order: Palmdale CA, Chicago IL, Portland OR, and Kenosha WI.

DANNY (age 19): How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Hire a good editor.

DANNY: How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Wow, déjà vu. You want a more serious answer? Being in a local writers’ group (“The Write Direction,” and thank you Marie Collinson, Rosemary Foley and Jessie Peck-Martin!) and having a few “beta-readers” via email — folks who are looking not just at story as a whole but for clarity of language and awkward repetitive moments.

DANNY: How do you avoid repetition in your writing?

ANTHONY: Yes, folks, Danny is the one who seems to have inherited my sense of humor. Or he’s bucking for a job as my editor. Alright, Dan, any OTHER questions?

DANNY: Yes. How do you stay confident with your own writing?

ANTHONY: Oh, good one. The truth is, I don’t. I’m not sure any writer ever does. It’s sort of like stage fright for an actor. Helen Hayes, near the end of her long and varied career, said “I get sick with stage fright. Noel Coward threw up before every show, he got so sick. God made stage fright.” Carol Channing followed that up with “She was right about that. God made stage fright. I’ve noticed over a lifetime those that do not have stage fright, are not that good on stage.” It’s the same for me. Doesn’t matter that I’ve got had non-fiction, short fiction, and a short novel published. Every time I write something, there’s always that “oh my god, does this suck bat-guano” question lingering in the back of my head. And even after it’s been published, it’s the same. Just this month, knowing Marianne Burnham and her talented family had a copy of THE FIRFLAKE, I was constantly thinking “what if these wonderful new friends of mine, who were so excited to buy the book, end up hating it?” They didn’t hate it, but that’s beside the point.

JAKE (age 20): Are you working on a follow up to THE FIRFLAKE and/or are you going to try to go in a different direction with your writing?

ANTHONY: Yes. Don’t you love when people answer “either/or” questions that way? Seriously, THE FIRFLAKE is pretty complete unto itself. As much as I love Papa Knecht, Mama Alvarie, Engleberta and the rest, I’m pretty sure (at least right now) that their story is complete. However, I do have another, longer, Christmas novel nearing completion. Where THE FIRFLAKE is a book meant to be read by parents to children, CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is aimed straight at the middle-grade / young-adult market. It’s about sixth grader Colum McCann, who is still hurting about the unexpected death of the older brother he worshipped, and how he discovers a secret about Christmas Eve that could give him the chance to say goodbye. Beyond that, I’d say my writing is constantly headed in other directions. AMBERGRIN HALL is a college-set mystery-thriller. I just sold a science-fiction short story. I’m working on a sequence of connected fantasy and sf stories. I never know what genre I’ll be writing in next. The authors I most idolize (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Orson Card, Lawrence Block) all have the ability to write in more than one genre, and to write in more than one style.

JAKE: Is there a specific artist or genre of music that you like to listen to when you write?

ANTHONY: Generally speaking, no. In the past, I’ve gone from working in complete silence to working with only instrumental music in the background. IF I’m going the instrumental route, I tend to rotate between classical stuff like the Carmina Burana and Dvorak’s New World Symphony (both of which I’ve loved since high school, thank you Terry Wynne and Darrell Long respectively) and movie or tv soundtracks. For horror-story-moodiness, nothing beats Wojciech Kilar’s soundtrack for the Francis Ford Coppola version of DRACULA. Michael Giacchino’s LOST soundtracks to seasons one through three are frequently playing as well. When I write my annual holiday poem, there’s always seasonal music playing. In a broader sense, I draw inspiration from the music I love, whether I’m writing at that moment or not. Right now, that ranges from all-time favorites like Rosanne Cash, Jennifer Holliday, Styx and Supertramp to friends like The Dalliance, Casey Stratton, Burnham and Matt Johnson.

JAKE: How would you describe your relationship with Orson Scott Card? I remember my mom telling me he posted on your Facebook wall a while ago which I thought was awesome.

ANTHONY: Over the past few years, I’ve had a chance to interact with Orson a couple of times. Some of his books would easily make any Top 25 list I might put together (particularly Ender’s Game, Lost Boys, and the whole Alvin Maker series). I’ve learned a lot about craft reading his books, and he’s graciously answered my fan-boy questions about his work and even about the Mormon religion. He’s never been anything but polite and friendly towards me, and I appreciate that from any well-known person (meeting Neil Gaiman was equally as gratifying, for instance. And Jennifer Holliday and John Glover and Ellen Datlow, as well.). Orson has made some pretty controversial statements in the recent past about homosexuality and “hating the sin but not the sinner,” (that’s not a direct quote, it should be noted) that I obviously don’t agree with – but that doesn’t detract from my love of his books and how I feel about the times we have interacted. (In fact, I think the Facebook post your mom was referencing was my quote “Gravity doesn’t care who you fall for,” which Orson liked.)

JAKE: How have your past experiences working with children influenced your writing?

ANTHONY: Immensely. You’ve been in the audience when I’ve told campfire stories. There’s no denying that some of my current style is a direct development from that experience. I also think the child and teen characters I write are more realistic because of all the actual kids and teens I am proud to call my nieces and nephews. Whether you were aware of it or not, you and your brother and the rest were the testing ground for the voice I use in a lot of my short stories. And speaking of your brother…

GABE P. (age 16): As you know, I am a high school student, and often times I find myself, along with other high school students, frustrated with teachings about writing in English class. How much of what you learned in school applies to your current writing career, and since then what has affected your writing habits and style?

ANTHONY: I had some really great English teachers in high school: Chris and Eugenia DelCampo (no relation) and PJ Burgh specifically. I learned a lot about literary analysis from them. My love of Mark Twain is all Mrs. DelCampo’s fault. My love of the theater and Shakespeare comes from the other two. I know the basics of writing an essay that I learned in high school served me well when I was writing non-fiction articles for various company newsletters and for Camping magazine. But if I’m being honest: I don’t remember actually studying creative writing in high school, at least not in any of our regular classes. Jerry Hahn and I co-wrote an adaptation of Snow White our senior year of high school that was produced as the fall play, but that’s about the only school-assignment type creative writing I remember doing. All the super-hero stuff I wrote in high school was on my own. The first creative writing classes I took were at Elmira College: Creative Writing with Professor Kerry Driscoll, a Playwriting Directed Study with Professor Jerry Whalen, a Science Fiction class with Doctor Bruce Barton in which we built our own worlds from scratch. Also, being a member of the Super-Team Amateur Press Alliance (STAPA) since 1982, and being in various writers’ groups over the years.

GABE P: Many writers I have seen in the past have conveyed a bit of their personalities in their writing such as Christopher Moore with his wittiness, or Oscar Wilde with his pompous disposition. If there is a characteristic of your personality that you would want your readers to take away from your writing, what would it be?

ANTHONY: Well, I hope my punny, somewhat dorky, sense of humor shines through in most of my work. But I don’t think I intentionally put a characteristic of myself out there as part of the planning for a story. Another Elmira professor of mine, Malcolm Marsden, told me that he enjoyed reading every paper I wrote because I always revealed a bit about myself and my own search for identity as I was analyzing the book or author in question. I think that’s still true. In THE FIRFLAKE, it might be Engleberta’s insecurity about being the best Watcher she can be; in AMBERGRIN HALL, there’s a bit of my quest for identity and love of folk music and the theater in Garrett and in Ezra; in “Canopus,” well… there’s a lot of me in the narrator of that story. I’m still constantly questioning who I am and where I am, and I think that comes out in my fiction.

GABE P: Do you ever find yourself unintentionally emulating an element from another writer’s work, or are you always aware of where you are drawing your influence from at a given moment?

ANTHONY: Unintentionally, all the time. I’ll reread something I wrote and think “wow, that’s a bit of Stoker / Butcher / whoever right there, isn’t it?” Sometimes, of course, that means rewriting because I don’t really want to sound like anybody else … and sometimes it gets left in because that little homage is exactly what I want. Then there are the times when yes, I am intentionally emulating a style. AMBERGRIN HALL has some intentionally Gothic moments in it that recall Stoker, Conan Doyle, Bronte. THE FIRFLAKE is one massive homage to the classic Rankin-Bass claymation Christmas specials. CHRISTMAS GHOSTS is intentionally Dickensian, and “Canopus” has a bit of Lovecraft in there.

GABE P.: I can imagine that when you read, you read pieces from genres all over the map. Is there one genre that you are particularly drawn to?

ANTHONY: I do try to be as widely-read as possible. That being said, in 2011 I’d say at least half of what I read was firmly in the science fiction and fantasy realms. Part of that is because I started writing book reviews for ICARUS: the magazine of gay speculative fiction this year, and that’s two books every quarter that need to be science fiction/fantasy/horror. But it’s also because those are the genres I’ve always loved. Take a look at my home library one of these days and most of it is genre fiction, including mysteries and pulp-adventure.

And now, let’s hear from the 13 and 14 year olds…

GABE O. (age 13): When did you start writing?

ANTHONY: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. Definitely by the time I was your age, but surely younger.

GABE O.: How do you beat writer’s block?

ANTHONY: With a rather large canoe paddle.

AIDAN (age 14): No, seriously, how do you cure writer’s block?

ANTHONY: It’s an ancient family recipe: salt and other spices rubbed in, and then you let the writer’s block sit and dry for a while, and then…

DANNY (age 19): I think what they mean is, what is your most helpful routine to do when you find yourself with writer’s block?

ANTHONY: Obviously, it’s to make jokes about it. Writer’s block is not so scary when you realize that everyone goes through it occasionally and the best thing to do sometimes is walk away from the project you’re blocked on and just do something else. Go for a walk. Work on a different project. Spend several hours playing Scrabble on Facebook, chatting on Twitter, etc. Or just read. At one point when I was blocked on a short story, I walked away and sat down with a book in a completely different genre and read for a little while, and that seemed to “cleanse the palette” so to speak.

EDDY (age 14): What gives you your inspiration to write?

ANTHONY: I talked early about what inspired me to become a writer. What continues to inspire me? Part of it is that I can’t imagine NOT writing something every day. Some days that urge is fulfilled by my day job (writing for the company newsletter, etc) and some days it’s fulfilled by conducting an interview with a writer, artist, singer, actor or other creative type I respect. And then some days, I’m inspired because I know you all enjoy reading what I write. Encouragement from family and friends helps me continue to enjoy writing, even if I never get published.

AIDAN: So where do you find and how do you come up with ideas for your next story/book?

ANTHONY: Everything, honestly, is capable of giving me inspiration. Sometimes it’s a physical thing: AMBERGRIN HALL has its roots in an old unused building on the Elmira College campus and “Canopus” is based in part on an island in the middle of Lake Mahopac. Sometimes it’s a person: “That Happy Kid” was based on a teenager I used to pass every day commuting home from work. Sometimes it’s a news article: my one-act play “Sneakers in the Sand” and my story “Invisible Me” were based on things I read in the newspaper. So there’s no one thing, really.

EDDY: How many books have you written/published?

ANTHONY: Perfect question to end today’s post on, Eddy! I have one book out there, THE FIRFLAKE: A Christmas Story, and folks can find it if they go up to this site’s navigation bar and click on the tab with the book’s title on it. I also have a short story coming out in the SPACE BATTLES anthology sometime in 2012, and sometime early in the year you should be able to see a music video I scripted for The Dalliance on Youtube. Hopefully, next year will see more of my fiction out there.

That was a much longer post than I expected! Tomorrow (Monday), I’ll post what the younger kids asked me.

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This week, I’m happy to be interviewing another one of my personal favorites, editor Ellen Datlow.

Ellen Datlow

(From her website:) Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for almost thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and has edited more than fifty anthologies, including the horror half of the long-running The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Ellen is currently tied with frequent co-editor Terri Windling as the winner of the most World Fantasy Awards in the organization’s history (nine). Ellen was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre.” She lives in New York.

ANTHONY: Between April and September of 2011, you’ve had four anthologies hit the market. That’s a lot of pages in a short period of time! Are you planning on resting any time soon?

ELLEN: Those anthologies were finished more than a year before they were published, and Naked City was essentially finished two years before it came out. I should have only had three original anthologies published in 2011 (I also had The Best Horror of the Year volume three) but Naked City was delayed by a year as I awaited a promised story that never came in (by a BIG name). Publicizing four anthologies within a six month period became very complicated. It was difficult for me to remember which writers were in which book. Honestly. I occasionally screwed up and set up two different signings for which I asked the wrong writers to participate—embarrassing.

I’m currently only working on one original anthology plus The Best Horror of the Year volume four so have it relatively easy this year as far as editing goes. But overall, I’d much rather be editing more than less.

ANTHONY: The anthologies seem to work in pairs. For instance, NAKED CITY: New Tales of Urban Fantasy from St. Martin’s Griffin and SUPERNATURAL NOIR from Dark Horse. From the titles, a casual browser might assume both feature gritty city-based detective tales with a supernatural angle. Aside from different publishers, what distinguishes these two books from each other?

ELLEN: The two anthologies aren’t meant to be related at all. Naked City is mostly comprised of stories reflecting the traditional definition of urban fantasy as written by John Crowley, Ellen Kushner, Peter Beagle, and Delia Sherman—fantasy that takes place in cities, with the city almost always crucial to the action. It mostly includes fantasy and some dark fantasy.

Supernatural Noir is a horror anthology-combined with the flavor of the film noir of the 40s-50s. In my guidelines I made it clear that I didn’t want only detectives as main characters and that in fact I’d prefer that writers avoid that kind of set-up. And mostly they did.

Blood & Other Cravings

ANTHONY: I can ask the same question of TEETH: Vampire Tales from Harper and BLOOD AND OTHER CRAVINGS from Tor. Both are, on the surface, books about vampires. One thing that distinguishes these two books from each other is the target audience. TEETH is aimed directly at the YA market, BLOOD is for the adult reader. What else separates them?

ELLEN: Teeth is a young adult anthology in which vampires play a major role. Every story has an actual blood-sucking vampire in it.

Blood and Other Cravings is an adult anthology focusing on vampirism, the concept rather than the creature, even if there are vampires in some of the stories. It’s a follow up to my two vampirism anthologies from 1989 and 1991: Blood is Not Enough and A Whisper of Blood (both recently brought together in one big beautiful new hardcover edition titled A Whisper of Blood from the Barnes & Noble imprint Fall River Press).

ANTHONY: Only one of your four recent anthologies has been with a co-editor: TEETH, with long-time editing partner Terri Windling. What are some of the key differences between solo editing and co-editing?

ELLEN: With co-editing, some of the material might include stories that one editor loves more than the other. When I’m editing solo it’s completely my taste. We both approach writers and wrangle them (to get the stories in on time). We both read and choose the stories. We split some of the tasks. Terri writes our meaty introductions, I put together the bios of each contributor and compile the front matter. Depending on how strongly one of us feels about a particular story we want to buy, either Terri or I will work with the writer on the substantive editing. I do most of the line editing.

ANTHONY: You’ve worked with Terri quite often, but I think you’ve had other co-editors as well. Is there a quantifiable difference between working with Terri and, say, Nick Mamatas?

ELLEN: I’ve worked with Terri on six young adult anthologies, two adult anthologies, and three middle-grade anthologies. (For our Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror we each chose our halves independent of one another.) They were all fantasy.

The only other editor I’ve worked with has been Nick Mamatas. Nick and I worked on Haunted Legends, a horror anthology, together. Nick knows a different pool of writers than Terri and I do so it was interesting to work with some of “his” authors. Since it was our first anthology together it was also a little worrisome at the beginning as to whether we’d be on the same wavelength. Luckily we were and I’d be happy to work with him again.

ANTHONY: You’ve occasionally been accused of having a sort of stable of writers: “If this is a Datlow anthology, I don’t even have to look at the ToC, I know Authors A, B, C and D will be included.” And I’m sure other editors receive similar accusations. Do comments like that have any influence on your story choices?

ELLEN: I don’t consider having a stable of writers an negative, and it’s certainly not a limitation. It’s a fact of editing over a long period of time. One works with writers whose work one enjoys and who produces great stories –on time. So of course the editor will keep buying stories from those writers over the course of time, as long as she can –see my note in the next paragraph. I have a huge stable of writers from my seventeen years at OMNI Magazine, my almost six years at SCIFICTION, plus the twenty-five Best of the years I’ve edited.

In every original and reprint anthology I edit there are some writers whose work I use repeatedly, but there are always other writers I’ve only rarely or never before published in my anthologies. This is especially true in my best of the year anthologies. Just in the last two years of The Best Horror of the Year I published twelve stories by writers I’d never worked with before—some of whom I’d never even read before. The crucial thing to know about writers is that they often stop writing short stories once they publish their first novel, so to me it’s important to use their best short fiction while they‘re still writing it. Very few of the hundreds of writers I published in OMNI write many if any short stories today. So yeah. I’m delighted to be able to continue to publish writers like Jeff Ford, Kathe Koja, Kaaron Warren, Laird Barron, and Richard Bowes as long as they continue to produce great stories. I’d be stupid not to.

ANTHONY: We’ve talked in the past (mostly on your livejournal) about the importance of story placement, especially in the lead-off and concluding positions of an anthology. Is there ever pressure from a publisher to ensure Author X gets the lead-off, even if you personally feel the story is more appropriate for the middle of the book in relation to the rest of the stories you’ve accepted?

ELLEN: No –that’s generally my decision. Twice, in-house editors have suggested a switch, but when that happened it had nothing to do with who the writer was but the feeling that a different story would work better as the lead. And thinking it over I concurred.

ANTHONY: How intimately do you work with writers before a story is officially accepted? Have you ever initially accepted a story and then through the editing process realized that it wasn’t going to work out?

ELLEN: I never accept a story before I’m certain that it will work out. If I love a story but feel it needs too much work to buy outright, I’ll ask the writer if she’s willing and able to work with me on it (setting out what I see are the problems). If she is, I’ll make it clear that until we’re agreed on the revisions and I see the rewrite I can’t commit to taking the story (giving specific suggestions and asking specific questions about the trouble spots). But if I and the writer put that much time into rewrites I know that ultimately I will take the story.

When I was a lot newer to editing I had a few experiences in which I requested rewrites but the writers didn’t “hear” what I was saying–they made changes I didn’t ask for and in so doing made their story worse. Which is why I’m much more careful now how I ask for rewrites and try to be very specific.

Also, because I’m not working on a magazine/webzine with a slush pile, I usually work with writers whose work I’ve solicited. That means I’m familiar with their work and hope we’re on the same wave length. Going back to your questions about “stables”–that’s the advantage of working with writers you’ve worked with before. You know that you can work with them, saving a lot of time and energy on both sides.

ANTHONY: You’ve said in recent interviews that all of your anthologies are “invitation only.” I can’t resist asking: how does one go about getting invited? Or, to phrase the question more seriously: what catches Ellen Datlow’s attention these days that might cause you to invite a writer to a future anthology?

ELLEN: By me noticing your fantastic stories when I read for The Best of the Year. And since I skim so many sf/f/h/mystery short stories (and some non-genre) being published in a given year, I’m pretty aware of new writers as well as the more established ones.

ANTHONY: Speaking of the future. I see that one of your and Terri’s classic anthologies, SNOW WHITE, BLOOD RED, was recently reissued. Are there any plans to continue the Adult Fairy Tale series?

ELLEN: We’re very pleased that Snow White, Blood Red has always done so well. It sold 72,000 in mass market pb which is amazing for an anthology. It was in print for over ten years and it’s great that it’s in print again from Fall River Press.

I grew tired of reading so many re-told fairy tales after six volumes of adult tales and three of middle grade (for children). The sub-genre exploded after we did ours. I don’t know if there’s much of a market for new anthologies on the theme any more– I’m not convinced we could sell a new one these days. Black Thorn, White Rose, and Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears are both currently in print from Wildside Books. What we’d love is for the last three volumes to be reissued, as they’ve been out of print for awhile.


ANTHONY: What else are you working on at the moment?

ELLEN: Terri and I recently finished a young adult anthology called After: Dystopian and Post-apocalyptic Tales that will be published by Hyperion next fall. And we’re working on an adult Victorian Fantasy anthology for Tor. And of course, The Best Horror of the Year volume four, my bête noir.


ANTHONY: Finally, can you tell my readers about the Fantastic Fiction readings at KGB in New York City?

ELLEN: It’s a monthly reading series started in the late 1990s by writer Terry Bisson and Alice K. Turner (former fiction editor at Playboy), originally pairing genre and mainstream writers at the KGB Bar, an east village institution (in New York City). I took over for Alice in spring 2000 and when Terry Bisson left for the west coast in 2002, Gavin J. Grant began co-hosting with me. Matthew Kressel took over for Gavin in 2008 and we’ve been co-hosting ever since.

ANTHONY: Thank you for taking the time to chat, Ellen! Always a pleasure!

* * * * * *

I somehow managed to not ask Ellen my usual closing question (“What is your favorite book and what would you say to convince someone who hasn’t read it that they should?”), so I’ll mention that my favorites of Ellen’s anthologies are The Beastly Bride, co-edited with Terri Windling, and Naked City.

You can go to Twitter to follow @ellendatlow, and you can find Ellen on her own website.

I’m also happy to announce my first Interview Giveaway! Ellen and her publisher, Dark Horse Books, have been kind enough to provide me with a copy of SUPERNATURAL NOIR to give away in conjunction with this interview.

Supernatural Noir

SUPERNATURAL NOIR is a “masterful marriage of the darkness without and the darkness within … an anthology of original tales of the dark fantastic from twenty modern masters of suspense,” including Gregory Frost, Paul G. Tremblay, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Elizabeth Bear, and Joe R. Lansdale.

To be entered to win the book, leave a comment on this post sharing the name of your favorite Ellen Datlow-edited (or co-edited) anthology. Winner will be picked at random from all comments left here by midnight Tuesday, November 29th. That’s one week from today, folks! Comments are screened, so you won’t show up on the post right away, but rest assured I will approve all comments that are not obviously spam (and I do seem to get a lot of that) and chose from all eligible comments!

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This week, I sit down to chat with author and blogger Christie Yant.

Christie Yant

Christie Yant is a science fiction and fantasy writer, Assistant Editor for Lightspeed Magazine, occasional narrator for StarShipSofa, and co-blogger at Inkpunks.com, a website for new, nearly new, and newly-pro writers. Her fiction can be found in the magazine Crossed Genres and the anthologies The Way of the Wizard and Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2011, both from Prime Books. She lives on the central coast of California with her two amazing daughters, her husband, and assorted four-legged nuisances.

ANTHONY: Hi, Christie! Thanks for dropping by!

CHRISTIE: Thank you for having me!

ANTHONY: So your short story “The Magician and the Maid and Other Stories” has appeared in two major anthologies, THE WAY OF THE WIZARD and YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY 2011, and it was honorably mentioned in YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION: TWENTY-EIGHTH ANNUAL COLLECTION. When you were writing it, did you envision such a fantastic year for the story?

CHRISTIE: Never. The thing about that story that still blows my mind is that it was my first sale ever. I mean, to even sell something to an editor of JJA’s caliber (he was just an editor to me then, albeit one I minioned for—now he’s also my husband!) was more than I ever expected. I thought it would sit in the slush pile for a month and then get a nice rejection back, and then figure out who to send it to next—the same thing I’d been doing for seven straight years at that point. Instead I clicked “send,” went to sleep, and found the acceptance in my inbox when I woke up. For it to be picked up for Horton’s Year’s Best later in the year was unbelievable, and that Dozois even noticed it–and for extra geek cred, it was even run on io9! No, I couldn’t possibly have even hoped for any of that.

ANTHONY: You’ve talked in other interviews about the origins of the story concept. Talk to me a bit about story execution — how long did it take to go from concept to a draft you were ready to submit to an editor?

CHRISTIE: I started it in July of 2009. I wrote that opening scene, not really knowing where it was going, but I liked the voice of it a lot. Over the next few months I pushed myself to get it done as part of an application for Clarion, but it was a very difficult story for me to write. Initially I only wrote the part of the story set in our world in the present day; it just wasn’t coming together, so as an exercise I decided to write the fairy tale part as back story. It took a while for me to realize that the fairy tale actually belonged in the story itself. Then it took even longer for me to figure out how to combine the two pieces into an effective whole.

I sent it both to Clarion and to JJA’s slush pile at the same time, the moment it was done, on February 21, 2010. So from concept to submission, it was seven months! It was time well spent, though. I learned so much while writing that story about voice, structure, and tension. (P.S.—I didn’t get into Clarion! Its success since has taken the sting out of that particular rejection.)

ANTHONY: I recently had an early-draft reader point out my tendency to digress within a short story, introducing little bits that don’t advance the plot and often slow the pace. Since short stories usually rely on fast and steady progression, did you ever feel with “The Magician” that you were moving down the wrong track or that you were introducing tangents that were diluting the story?

CHRISTIE: In this particular case it was a story that I needed to grow, rather than prune. The big breakthrough for me was in writing that back story and realizing that it needed to be part of the whole. Also the warehouse scene, which brings the Magic Mirror more fully into place, didn’t exist until the final draft. I think in recent years I’ve ended up underwriting rather than overwriting—this particular story would have been totally hollow if I hadn’t expanded it, and it wouldn’t have succeeded.

ANTHONY: Jay Lake often talks about an author’s “sphere of control” in terms of story length. Where would you say your “sphere” lies? Do you feel more comfortable in short story length, or are they a stepping stone to novels?

CHRISTIE: You have asked the question I have been wrestling with for a couple of years now. I have concluded that I am not—at least right now—a novelist. I love the short form. I have novels written, I have others plotted, but when it comes down to it I don’t feel that I can do the same thing with novels that I can do with short stories. I just don’t get excited about my novel-length tales as I do about my shorts. That may change as I grow as a writer and (I hope) get more stories out there. But for right now, under 10,000 words is where it’s at for me.

ANTHONY: You recently wrote on the Inkpunks website about structure and how that affects the telling of a story. I don’t want you to repeat the whole theory when readers can follow the link to that post, but can you summarize it for us, and talk a bit about how that idea influenced “The Magician?”

CHRISTIE: I’m not entirely sure where I got the idea to apply structure the way that I do. I looked back at some of the books on my shelf and I can’t find examples of anyone doing it quite this way. I may have picked it up in a workshop or something in years past, or possibly it came from my own brain. The approach that I take is to visualize the shape of the story, and establish the patterns in it. I apply a visualized shape/pattern to both the narrative structure (length of story and scenes, for instance) and the thematic structure (what the story is about).

Where that really came into play in the “Magician and the Maid” was in making the two parts of the story work together. I had to alternate them, but I had to find the natural beats to leave one and go to the other, and I had to balance them in a particular way. I created a pattern or rhythm that kept the reader in our world longer than in the fairy tale. You can see the visual example I gave over at the Inkpunks site. A lot of people seemed interested in this approach, so I’ll probably do a follow-up post soon.

ANTHONY: Who would you say are currently the biggest influences on your writing?

CHRISTIE: Gaiman–always and forever Gaiman. I like to credit Douglas Adams with making me a reader and Neil Gaiman with making me a writer. His work in comics and his short stories have spoken to me in ways that no other author’s work has—though at one point I nearly quit writing because of something he wrote!

Inspired by the work I was seeing come out of DC’s Vertigo line, I initially set out to write comics. I love the way that the comics medium merges storytelling and visual art, and combined they have the potential to have such a magnified impact on the reader. I wanted to be a part of that, so I put my time into learning to write comics scripts, with the goal of some day writing for DC.

That was my plan right up until I read Gaiman and McKean’s graphic novel Signal to Noise. I read the book, closed it, set it down, and thought, “Well, never mind, it’s already been done.” I decided that I would not write comics because the pinnacle had already been reached–there was nothing I could ever do that could even approach what they had done in that book.

My spectacularly irrational response to being confronted with great art was to spend a week feeling empty, directionless and sad, casting injured glances at the book and sniffling. At the end of that week, though, I knew I couldn’t really stop writing. So I picked myself up and started learning how to write short stories instead.

ANTHONY: You’re a part of the Inkpunks group. Can you tell me about the group’s genesis and goals?

CHRISTIE: Inkpunks was Sandra Wickham’s brain child. We were just a bunch of friends who had met at various conventions and on Twitter. When we first met we were all right on the cusp of making our first sale, going to Clarion, getting internships with editors, etc. Writing is such a tough gig—the rejections just go on for long, and there’s always more to learn. It can be really discouraging. Sandra pointed out to us that we were really lucky to have each other to get us through the rough spots and keep us going, and she suggested that we share that spirit with other writers in the form of a group blog.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first! I wasn’t sure that we, collectively, had the kind of experience and knowledge yet that we would need for such a project. Well, I’ve been eating crow since about the third month! The blog has really reached a lot of people, and many writers and editors more experienced than we are have contributed guest posts. It’s been an astonishing success, and I can’t express how grateful I am to be a part of such a thoughtful and good-spirited group of people.

ANTHONY: Will we be seeing any more of your fiction popping up in the near future?

CHRISTIE: I just sold a story to Daily Science Fiction called “This Rough Magic.” I’m not sure yet when it will be arriving in inboxes or appearing on their website, but I’ll let you know as soon as I hear!

ANTHONY: Back to that “structure idea” for a moment — have you ever started to write a story to a specific structure and then realized it wasn’t working? If so, did you abandon the idea of structure completely, pick out a different structure, or abandon the story?

CHRISTIE: I haven’t abandoned a story in a long time—I would much rather just try to find a new approach and make it work. The story I’m working on right now has gone through a couple of different permutations, and I like the structure I’m working in now, but the story itself still isn’t quite coming together. I’ll have to find some other exercise to make it work.

ANTHONY: How do your stories most often start? Do you start with an image, a piece of dialogue, a character?

CHRISTIE: For the past couple of years I’ve started with a vague idea (a story about a person forced out of her fairy tale and into our world, for instance) and then a line or two of inner monologue from the POV character.

ANTHONY: My usual final question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to someone who hasn’t read it to convince them that they should?

CHRISTIE: I only get one? Oh man, that’s hard. I’d say probably “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency,” by Douglas Adams. Adams is of course known for the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, which is a totally absurd romp. Dirk Gently is just as funny, just as good-natured, but much more cohesive. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve read it.

However I’m also going to chime in with a non-fiction book as well, also by Adams, and that’s “Last Chance to See.” Because it’s a big, absurd world, and we need to remember that it doesn’t belong only to us.

You can follow Christie on Twitter as Inkhaven, find her on her own website, and check out the Inkpunks website as well.

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Worker Prince excerpt

Posted by admin under authors, guest posts

Earlier today I posted my second interview with author Bryan Thomas Schmidt, as the second stop on his Blog Tour advertising the publication of THE WORKER PRINCE, the first installment of the Davi Rhii Saga. Unfortunately, I somehow managed to leave off the wonderful excerpt Bryan sent me. So I present it to you now: one of many exciting scenes from The Worker Prince!

The Worker Prince front cover

* * * * * * * *

Davi and Tela followed Dru, Brie and Nila, as they weaved along a trail through the trees. The wind whistled past Davi, russling his hair. The air was fresh and clean. He enjoyed the sensation, the blur of the trees as they passed, and their spicy smell.

Dru and Nila delighted in swapping places on either side of Brie—one zipping in front of her, the other behind. Sometimes, they cut it a little close, startling Brie, who cried out.

“Hey! Watch it!” She would shoot them scolding looks as they slid back alongside her, and then all three would break into giggles.

Ah, to be young, Davi thought. He exchanged a look with Tela, who chuckled and shook her head.

“Try not to damage the Skitters, okay?” Davi called after them. This just led to more laughter as Nila and Dru swapped places yet again.

“I don’t think they’re listening,” Tela said, her blue eyes glistening with amusement.

“You got that idea, did you?” Davi said as she chuckled. “So much for military discipline!”

Tela laughed. “We have kept things pretty loose. We’d better start tighten-ing things up.”

The comms on the Skitters beeped as a red light on the comm panel began flashing. They exchanged a look.

“The warning beacons,” Davi said.

Tela nodded. “Better call in and see what they’ve got.”

The brush behind them rustled and they heard a noise, turning back to see four LSP soldiers slip behind them on armed Skitters. Davi and Tela exchanged looks of alarm, accelerating toward the trainees as the LSP men fired their lasers and the cedars exploded around them.

“So much for our early warning system,” Tela groaned as they sped up to catch their trainees.

Hearing the explosions, Brie, Dru and Nila turned around to look as Tela and Davi pulled alongside.

“Don’t slow down! Go as fast as you can. Follow me!” Tela warned them. She pulled in front and they sped up to follow her.

Davi hung back to protect the rear, dodging fire from the LSP soldiers. All around, he heard laser blasts and explosions as LSP soldiers engaged the other trainees. The smell of burning wood and leaves thickened the air as Davi flicked on his comm-channel.

“Attention trainees: do not go back to base. Lose them, and then hide until we can rendezvous.”

His private channel beeped and he switched over, steering sharply to dodge another laser blast.

Tela’s voice came over the headphones. “Right about now, I’m wishing we had armed Skitters, too.”

Davi reached down to the side pocket and pulled out his blaster. “I’m going to try and lay down some counter fire, but my blaster won’t do much against their Skitter guns.”

“Can you keep them occupied while I go help the others?” Tela asked, drawing her own blaster from the side pocket of her Skitter.

Without answering, Davi turned and started firing back toward the LSP soldiers, who zigzagged to avoid his blasts. Davi slammed on the brakes, and the LSP soldiers zipped right past him, their faces registering surprise. He slipped back in behind them and began firing at their flanks.

Tela fired two blasts from her blaster, then she and the trainees sped away, as the soldiers dodged more bolts from Davi’s blaster.

Davi managed to land a couple of hits on one of the Skitters, sending sparks flying, but causing more fear in the rider than damage to the machine. As the rider and his companions leaned back to inspect his Skitter, Davi ducked off onto a side trail.

In a few moments, the LSP soldiers slid back onto his tail again. Davi accelerated to full speed, zigzagging in and out between trees, jumping over rocks, diving under overhangs—keeping his target profile as small as possible. The wind buffeted him every time he emerged from the trees, forcing him to work harder to stay on the Skitter. Then he rounded a bend to find more LSP soldiers who joined the chase.

Great! Are they all after me? He hoped Tela was helping the other trainees. He was too busy to help them himself.

Around another bend, Bordox and his aide joined the chase. Bordox. No wonder they’re all after me. Davi smiled, waving, as he dodged their fire. Outgunned, he searched his mind for a new tactic.

Bordox sped to the front of the LSP soldiers, close on Davi’s tail. Davi, looked back over his shoulder as Bordox growled: “In the name of the High Lord Councilor, I order you to stop! You’re under arrest!”

Davi braked and Bordox’s aide wound up in front of him. Bordox remained alongside, as Davi fired several shots with his blaster at the aide, leaning close enough to Bordox to yell: “Give my uncle my regards!”

He ducked off onto another side trail as Bordox shot on past, cursing.

The other LSP soldiers followed Davi as he followed the turns of the side trail, staying just out of range of their lasers. He shifted in his seat, trying to stay comfortable but his sweaty body and uniform made that difficult.

As he shot into a clearing, he discovered Tela, Jorek, Virun, and four others waiting for them, blasters held at the ready. Davi spun his Skitter into a one hundred and eighty degree spin and slid in alongside them, aiming his blaster as the first of the LSP soldiers came into view.

Davi’s group opened fire and chaos erupted. Two LSP Skitters collided as the soldiers tried to dodge the blaster fire. Another slammed into them from behind, while yet a fourth ducked to one side and crashed into a large cedar.

Davi and Tela motioned, accelerating on their Skitters onto another trail with their trainees close behind. All continued firing blasts back at the LSP men behind them.

Tela took three trainees with her and split off onto another trail as Davi, Jorek, Virun and two others continued on the present course.

“They’re after you?” Jorek yelled, sounding surprised.

Davi nodded. “I told you before; I’m on your side.” A laser blast exploded near them and Davi keyed the comm-channel button. “Try and get around behind them.”

Tela’s voice came over the radio. “Hang on, Davi, we’ve got a plan.”

A plan? Who’d had time to make a plan? Most of the LSP soldiers stayed behind Davi and his group.

“Make it hard for them to lock their weapons on us,” Davi said, as his group zigzagged in and out of the cedars in varied patterns, never leaving more than one of them on the trail at a time. Their skills impressed him. They had made a lot of progress.

Jorek and Virun slid to a stop amidst the trees, watching several LSP soldiers zoom past, then accelerated after them, firing their lasers.

Davi heard a rebel yell over the comm-channel. “You two be careful! They outnumber us!” Davi warned.

Jorek’s voice came back at him. “Best training exercise ever!”

“Don’t get cocky. This is not a game.”

“No problem, Captain. We can handle it,” Virun said.

Davi wondered if he’d heard right. None of them had ever called him Captain before.

Bordox and his aide pulled back into the lead behind Davi, firing blasts which exploded on either side of him. Too close for comfort!

Tela and her group shot out of the forest, firing at the LSP. Two more Skitters crashed and two others were damaged. The LSP soldiers slowed down and dissolved into chaos as they attempting to avoid fire from the lasers.

Another group of trainees shot out from a group of trees and surrounded them, firing.

“When did you have time to get all this organized?” Davi said into the comm-channel, as he glanced back at Tela.

“Quick thinking is a military necessity,” Tela said. “They were all issued blasters with their uniforms, so…”

Davi smiled. “You’ve never been more beautiful.”

He braked, sliding in between Bordox and his aide. As they passed him on either side, he swung a foot out and kicked at Bordox’s Skitter. Bordox struggled to regain control but flew off to one side, as Davi slipped in behind the aide and shot at his Skitter with the blaster.

Bordox pulled alongside him again, his face a fierce grimace. “You can’t escape this time, Rhii. We outnumber you,” he called out with his usual menacing grin.

“You’re losing men fast,” Davi said as Bordox reached over grabbing for his controls. Their Skitters banged into each other as Davi struggled to push him away. His sweat soaked gloves barely maintained their hold on the handlebars of the Skitter.

“I always knew you were a traitor,” Bordox said.

“I always knew you were a pompous blowhard,” Davi said, freeing his leg and kicking hard. Bordox frowned as he spun off to one side.

Tela zipped up, firing at Bordox as his aide and another LSP soldier slipped in behind Davi.

Bordox corrected his course and charged back toward Davi, dodging Tela’s blasts.

Davi slowed, sliding upward, as Bordox’s aide and the other soldier flew right underneath him. Distracted, both turned, crashing into each other as Davi dropped down to fire on them from behind.

Bordox headed straight for Davi, who rolled his Skitter, dove off and landed on his feet in the dirt. He aimed his blaster and fired at Bordox, forcing him to turn suddenly and crash his Skitter into Davi’s. The impact sent Bordox flying off into the cedars. Both Skitters sputtered and smoked, amid a field of debris.

* * * * * * *

You can see Bryan’s next Blog Tour stop on Monday, October 3rd, at SFSignal. You can also see my first interview with Bryan HERE. And you can follow him on Twitter as @BryanThomasS, where you can get updates on the entirety of his blog tour, or you can find the full list of upcoming visits on Bryan’s website.

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Writing Full Circle

Posted by admin under ramblings

Before this past November, I hadn’t attempted to write actual science fiction (hard or soft) in …. thirty years, I’d say, give or take a half-decade.

So, you’re thinking, Anthony, really … as a genre fan, you’re saying the last time you attempted to write a science fiction story was when you were fifteen years old? And my answer is: Yep. Exactly.

I can even remember the plot of that magnum opus, and the influences I was pulling from.

I was reading John Jakes’ KENT FAMILY CHRONICLES, devouring that multi-generational saga (partly for the history, partly for the sex scenes – come on, I was a teenage boy – and partly for the hoped-for revelation that these folks were somehow related to Jonathan, Martha and Clark – come on, I was a geeky teenage boy). I intended to create a multi-generational future saga to bookend Jakes’ tale of America’s past. It would center on a human family who becomes embroiled in Earth’s attempts to colonize not only our own solar system but planets beyond.

The television adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES aired around that time as well. My story needed an initial protagonist, a man at the center of it all who started the dynasty that would take to the stars. Christopher Connelly played Ben Driscoll in CHRONICLES and around the same time guest-starred on THE LOVE BOAT as a character named Rory Daniels. “Rory Driscoll” sounded like a great name to me for a dashing dynasty-starter. (Looking back at Connelly’s IMDB page, one wonders why I didn’t name him “Moses Driscoll” or “Ben Pray,” combining his CHRONICLES character with his other lead TV role of the time, Moses Pray on PAPER MOON. I know I watched MOON, but I guess five years was long enough to forget he played Jodie Foster’s father. But I digress…)

I wrote the first book, which I believe came in at a whopping 200 double-spaced typewritten pages. Rory becomes a part of the out-reaching colonization effort, encounters a secret civilization living among the larger asteroids, and helps build relations with that race which provides Earth with the tech to travel beyond our solar system. (Then, as now, I was not much of a researcher. What did I know about the nature of the asteroid belt and the likelihood of life, even accidentally-stuck-there life?) I was asked by my English teacher, Mrs. Eugenia DelCampo, to let her read it, because she knew Alfred Bester and might be able to offer a young writer some initial advice. I gave up on doing homework that night in favor of taking a pencil to the manuscript and covering up all the embarrassing sex scenes … there ended up being a lot of blacked-out paragraphs!

[Another digression: I did actually speak to Mister Bester on the phone once, thanks to Mrs. DelCampo. This would have been only three years or so before he passed away. He was pleasant, and supportive, despite what I’m sure was an intrusion into his nightly routines. I don‘t remember specifics, but I do remember him offered advice on clarity of word-choice when speaking on the phone: I’d said that I was ‘writing back and forth’ with Superman writer Eliot S! Maggin, and Bester thought I’d said ‘riding back and forth.’ When I explained I meant letters, he said “say ‘corresponding.’ It sounds more professional.”]

I never did write book two of that saga. In fact, not only do I no longer have that manuscript anywhere … I also have no idea where the story would have gone. Rory Driscoll, and his wife Cedar, stuck around though. While I aborted the attempt to write hard science fiction, I started toying with an idea for super-heroes in space.

Super-heroes in outer space? Sure. As part of the Super-Team Amateur Press Alliance (STAPA), I wrote prose stories featuring my own original creations, The Vanguards. I had plans to send them into outer space to meet a group of heroes I called Denthen’s Gladiators. The connection was going to be another character I’d created named Meld – a human scientist working on a space radio array in outer orbit who gets hit with a teleportation beam and ends up melded with a wolf-like alien life form. Meld owed a lot to my obsession with Burroughs’ John Carter books and DC Comics’ Adam Strange, especially in that incarnation. Meld would eventually get separated back into his component parts, with the human half returning to Earth and the alien half regaining his role as the leader of his system’s premiere superhero team. The human scientist’s name? Rory Driscoll, of course.

In November, I was stuck for an idea for National Novel Writing Month and decided to take Rory Driscoll into the “swords/guns and planets” genre, following in John Carter, Carson Napier and Adam Strange’s footsteps. I couldn’t quite get the idea to gel – it became more of a mystery about an amnesiac woman named Cedar whom Rory eventually marries than it was an SF story. So at month’s end, I set it aside.

And then earlier this year I was invited to submit a story to an anthology called SPACE BATTLES.

“Science Fiction?” I said. “What do I know about science fiction?”
Turns out, enough to get the story accepted for publication. I can’t say much about the story itself, but I can say this: it takes place in the Denthen star system.

Thirty years later, I’m back to dealing with Rory Driscoll and that alien star system all over again.

Full circle….

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