Go Be Audacious. We Need You To Be.

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Many moons ago, when I had a vision of traipsing across Europe with only a baguette in my satchel and no idea what I was doing, I had the good fortune to be in Barcelona. Don’t think I’m entitled, my mom actually surrendered a chunk of inheritance money to give me the chance when she couldn’t afford to do that. That’s another tale; and yes – she’s awesome. My point here is how cool the Sagrada Familia was.

Of course, I’d never heard of the place or Antoni Gaudi, the mad architect who designed this melting crackpot of a building until then. It was a skeleton at the time; but the experience sugared my cookies that he was so unlike anyone else. Seriously, look it up. This guy had no boundaries. It struck me even then when my thoughts didn’t … ummm…run all that deep, that the way this guy went after stone was how I wanted to live my life. Whatever other people are successful with is just a floor, but let’s climb to the roof and see what’s there! That sort of thing. Didn’t work out that way, because life. Still, I was thinking today when I was complaining to my brother about how bad the TV show, The Walking Dead has gotten, that I’ve missed something along the way.

I really used to love The Walking Dead. Seriously, it was my jam. I’m sorry if you’re still into it and are insulted; but it’s growing disturbingly unwatchable for me. My overall feeling is they’re not pursuing the story’s possibilities like they should – that there is amazing potential in the world they’ve set up, but it’s not being turned up to the audacious, wild levels it’s begging for. For example, how can this tiny group of people still be drama-dragging (in their second state, by the way!) on back roads with nary a freaking Applebee’s, Best Buy, Home Depot, or Wal-Mart? I can’t throw a dead cat without hitting one of those. How amazing would it be to have a big post-apoc blowout with zombies and raiders in an abandoned amusement park! When you’re popping down the street tomorrow to go to work or shopping or whatever, look around whatever you pass and see if you don’t think it would be more interesting after the end of the world than featureless roads where you occasionally run into a single gas station and a couple of mean people with rifles. Untapped potential, man. Go bigger!

So I started doing flash fiction a while back, posted on Tumblr and Facebook, to drum up some interested parties willing to do reviews or who might enjoy my writing. In doing so, I’ve learned a lot about honing down my wordiness and trying to make words pop. Less fat, more meat. Sharp razor endings designed to make you think or dream your own story to what I’ve begun. That’s the idea; and it’s fun. It’s changing me; and it’s bleeding over into the novel I’m writing.

Now, I can hear all this in my head as I cling to the original inspiration for the book, because that’s what excited me to begin with. It’s hard to kill anybody off or fundamentally change them because I want to be safe and make you feel what I did when I first dreamed the idea or the people up. That’s all balls, of course. I know that; and I need to take my own medicine. The people who read those shorts on Tumblr or reddit or whatever aren’t always kind; but they have a point. Go bigger!

So I’ve scheduled a date with Armageddon. In a couple of weeks, I’m going deep with some actual, honest-to-God free time to sit down and write to push that book closer to the finish line. I have wild plans, that make so much sense given the characters and what they want. They’re finally – after all this time – speaking up for themselves; and I couldn’t be happier about that.

So why don’t you go do the same thing, over the holidays? Whatever you’re wordsmithing, ask yourself if you’re going big enough. Dream up different twists, and secret agendas your folks might have. People are layered, and don’t always do what you expect them to. Engineer that.

Here’s another architect to round home for us:

“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood.” -Daniel Burnham

The Coffee And Book People Are Still Out There

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“You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.” -Ray Bradbury

I travel a lot for work; and it’s easy to get the impression that nobody freaking reads anything anymore. It’s disheartening, man. I want to tell stories – there have to be people out there who want to unplug and hear them! This Thanksgiving, I got into a fairly cerebral chat with some family folks (I didn’t start it, honestly, was just munching chocolate pecan pie and it sort of happened!). It got me thinking, so I’ll hit you with the thought to see where you stand.

I don’t run into many people from day to day who get far beyond Youtube tutorials and whatever management book is in flavor rotation, so when this chat started, I thought it was going to go my way. Wife’s uncle leans over like he’s telling a secret and says,

“I understand you’ve published a book.”

Okay, cool. We can talk about that. And we did. He got a copy, says he’ll read it. I’m in. But somehow the whole conversation veered into the nonfiction he typically reads. Also cool, I read plenty myself. But I got the gist he never reads fiction at all. I’m back where I started. He’s not going to like the book, I know that already. But guys, I just can’t sit down and write a biography about Lyndon Baines Johnson. It’s never going to happen. We covered LBJ in more detail in that conversation than I’d have guessed you could. Apparently the man was complicated.

I enjoyed the conversation, actually. Yet it sent me off on this idea that if most folks do sit down to read, I’m not running into the type that want to get totally lost in an imagined world with gargantuan ideas, flash-bang battles and clashing intrigue. That’s my thing, man. I can’t get enough of getting lost in a great book where sometimes I have to look up and ponder something I read. That’s my baseline for when I’m writing – I want to engineer that. Every time.

Jump ahead a few days. Christmas shopping on-line. To be honest, I was actually looking for cool stuff to put on my own Christmas list so my wife doesn’t just get me more Doctor Who merchandise. Was reading reviews of the Kindle Paperwhite to see if I should go back to e-ink screen readers. Page after page of folks who are apparently of my tribe – talking about the lake, the beach, camping, trains, in bed at night, by fireplaces, in hotel lobbies. Awesome people who love a great book. I was feeling better.

Then I found a guy who put a Cheshire Cat grin on my face. He’s your kind of guy too. Check this out.

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If you can’t read the image, here’s the text:

“I wasn’t planning on posting a review. However, something happened that prompted me to go ahead and post a review of this amazing device.

“I was well into a nice space opera book on my Kindle Paperwhite when I caught myself talking, rather loudly, to the device in response to what was happening in the story within the book. It occurred to me at that moment that the Kindle had disappeared and allowed me to immerse myself in the book so fully that I felt as if I were living inside the story rather than reading text on a screen.” -Rev. Ian MacGregor

Let’s dissect this guy for a second. He was ‘well into a nice space opera book’. Wow. Already my buddy. The man was actually talking to his Kindle. I can’t say I relate to that; but this guy is one of my favorite people on the planet now. He was talking loudly to his Kindle. And he got totally lost in the story. Whatever the crap this dude was reading, I’d like to know. The Reverend MacGregor is not only in my tribe, he’s the goll-darn shaman!

So what do you think about the future of fiction? Interesting, ground-breaking fiction that pushes cool intellectual or narrative boundaries, I mean…not gobbledygook thrillers that software will eventually write, optimized through the bestseller list algorithms. Try this quote on for size:

“The reading of all good books is like a conversation with the finest minds of past centuries” Rene Descartes

I hear you, Rene. But who are we going to have these conversations with?

Smashing Paradigms Like Halloween Pumpkins!

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Art by Juan Pablo Rolda

Let’s talk about being stuck in paradigms and not even knowing it. The reason you should care – if you’re an aspiring writer or somebody interested in the craft of storytelling, then you probably want to break some kind of new ground. At least for me, I like to think I’m an original, coming up with cool stuff that inspires other people. When somebody tells me I wrote something that really made them think or that gave them the shivers…or best of all, that made them want to know more…that’s fireworks to me! So paradigms are cancer. Off with their head – if you know what I mean!

Here’s an example, for the science fiction nerds out there like myself. Maybe it was Star Trek that started this, not sure; but have you noticed when you’re watching basically any show or movie set on a spaceship that the doors swish open and closed automatically? That would require motion sensors and motors. The doors always look like heavy industrial steel. In fact, everything looks like industrial steel and huge! Just huge. But stop and think about it for just a second – space has precious little resources; and every bit of mass you take along with you takes up more energy to move the ship at all. Massive freaking spaceships made of heavy steel with silly, unnecessary things like automatic doors are a bit unlikely. “Hold on, genius”, you might say. “These aren’t science text books. Energy is free in my story. If I want doors to swish shut automatically, maybe I’m thinking about emergency containment!” Blah blah. Maybe – and you have to ask yourself this – maybe you’re just coasting on paradigms Gene Roddenberry set up decades ago.

Why are spaceships always gray metal? Is it because that’s most likely, or because Navy ships have been battleship gray; and that was the paradigm folks like George Lucas just carried on from the trailblazing pulp cover artists of the 1930s? When you’re at the airport, are the planes gray? You can disagree; but my guess is the economics of space travel either in our future or in whatever alternative universe you’re dreaming up, say commercial enterprises will be building ships for space travel. They won’t have to worry about obscuring visibility in ocean environments like the Navy does. I’m saying spaceships probably won’t be battleship gray with all sorts of squiggly machinery and useless lights blinking all over their hulls. Think about it. Isn’t it more likely they’ll be smaller, probably modular vessels with logos and smooth shielded hulls, light on mass and with relatively small hallways and workspaces, maybe capable of linking up into larger structures?

Gravity? Every show you’ll watch has their folks walking around and nothing floating. That means you’re assuming the ship spins or you should at least hand-wave something about ‘gravity generators’ or something. Why not just make it spin? How hard is that?

Don’t get me started on robots. The pulps set the stage for human-looking robotics; and we’re still living with that. We’ll probably get there, no doubt. But what’s the point of all that design if the job you’re giving it is to clean the floor or pilot the ship or load cargo or to repair things? Why make it look human with all the expense and complications and liabilities, to do mundane things like that? Form will follow function, right? That’s actually how the world really works when manufacturing plants have to actually spend money on R&D and machinery and raw materials and labor to make something real. Those slick little Roomba vacuum cleaners are a fantastic example of this. They look nothing like C3PO; but they can suck up dog hair like nobody’s business.

I’m going to end with my least favorite paradigm of all because your argument should build to a climax, shouldn’t it? I mean, this one really…really needs to go. If you’re guilty of it, please stop and question yourself. I purposely avoid the heck out of this one because it’s so tired and lazy and ridiculous by now. Yet it’s hard to stay away from it. I’ve veered very close and hated myself afterwards, like when you eat the whole bag of those little chocolate doughnuts. Stop. Stay away. Go back.

‘The chosen one’. Oh my God, how many times have you heard somebody say this? Look, I understand that to set up a mythology, some sort of over-arching roller coaster you want your characters to get swept up in, this is a handy little trick. Just make the main guy the chosen one; and all sorts of mysterious things can happen. Then you can show all the whiz-bang stuff they can do and didn’t know, so replicate the ‘coming of age’ motif which everybody loves so much. Me too. But isn’t it getting old? We’re pretty sophisticated in our appreciation of narrative structure and themes by now, so isn’t it time to put this one to bed? It almost never makes sense anyway, when you poke on who chose them and why.

Anyway, I should really practice what I’m preaching here. When you agree to move beyond some of these deeply entrenched themes or backdrop devices, it gets challenging. There’s maybe even an argument to be made that things like I’m talking about here are the common vocabulary now, so to change them up too much makes the reader confused or uncomfortable and distracts from what you’re really trying to say. Honestly, if we’ve thought about it that much, then we probably did our due diligence and should have the big, freaking steel doors swish open and closed if we feel like it.

All I’m saying is think about it first.

Kill The Dream Sequence. No, Seriously. Kill It.

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If you haven’t watched Dead Of Summer yet, I don’t really care either way. It’s meh, mostly. Yet I was in a binge this weekend to get caught up and noticed something that was particularly relevant for me right now. I’m writing a horror novel – about 40k words in to a targeted 90k, and so I’m particularly concerned with how to get someone on the edge of their butt, chomping their tongue in anticipation and as nervous as I can make them. While this show is fun, it’s not scary in even the smallest sense, though I think it tries to be. Maybe we should have a look at why it fails to see how I can succeed. It’s what I thought, at least.

Go read reviews from the second Avengers movie. One thing you’ll find is a lot of people annoyed with the weird dream sequences. Should you peruse what the masses had to say overall about Batman Versus Superman, you’ll find similar irritation with dream sequences. Let’s not get into whether you dug those movies, okay? I get how divisive that is right now – it’s been Marvel Versus DC since the seventies, nothing to see here. The point I’m making is about the overuse of this narrative technique and how it practically forces an audience to disengage. In movies, it’s probably an excuse to just show some cool visuals. In execution though, it’s a signal to me I’m good to go get a refill on my Coke Icee. Know what I mean?

Anyway, back to Dead Of Summer. Here’s the marketing blurb:

“Set in 1989, school is out for the summer, and a sun-drenched season of firsts beckons the counselors at Camp Stillwater, a seemingly idyllic Midwestern summer camp, including first loves, first kisses—and first kills. Stillwater’s dark, ancient mythology awakens, and what was supposed to be a summer of fun soon turns into one of unforgettable scares and evil at every turn.”

If you read that, you agree they want to be scary, right? Their narrative structure follows the same style as Lost, involving individual character flashbacks to flesh out each main player. Honestly, that part works for me, though the flashbacks they showed had little to do with decisions characters were making in the storyline. It came off cheaper than it did in Lost for that reason. However – and this is my overall point here – about a gajillion times, we are shown visions of a dark, mysterious man from the 19th century who’s supposedly tied in with the mysterious goings-on at the camp. I mean over and over and over, we see this guy and some blood streaming off something, or eclipses or bugs or murders or whatever…and EVERY SINGLE TIME you know it’s going to be a vision with no consequences. You can’t possibly get scared because even though somebody gets pushed into a grave or dunked underwater or whatever – I can’t even remember because I checked out during so many of those – that they’re just going to wake up and be okay. It’s foreboding but not much more.

Let’s set aside movies like Inception, which broke ground with this concept and the Freddy Krueger films (the good ones, let’s not discuss the Dream Warriors, shall we?) which staked their premises on the dream sequence. The difference with stories like those is they established consequences – you could die in those dreams. How boring would The Matrix have been if you couldn’t die while inside?

I run into this problem of consequences a lot, actually. If you’re a science fiction guy, you might think a lot about the vast distances in space and how slow moving any real-life story would be…months to get anywhere and hours to talk to each other. You might go the road of setting up avatars or virtual reality-style storylines to account for that; but honestly, you’re still looking at ridiculous lag times for the signals. If you hand-wave all of that and just say ‘tachyons’ or ‘entanglement’ to get the science-snobs off your back, you’ll be looking at this problem of consequences just like I am. If your guy is actually laying in a booth in Utah or wherever directing the action, how are there any stakes for him?

Right. So there have to be consequences and some kind of danger that’s entirely relatable. If you watch Game Of Thrones or The Walking Dead enough, you start to think at any moment this freaking show is going to kill off one of your favorite characters. Mercilessly. Back in the nineties, Joe Quesada who was then Editor-In-Chief at Marvel Comics (pre-Disney) established a “dead is dead” rule for killing off characters to restore some kind of drama given the prevalence of resurrections. Fantastic concept, actually, though he drifted wide off the mark over his tenure.

That’s what I wanted to say, guys. Dream sequences and visions are tired and boring and are basically tickets for your audience to disconnect. Don’t do that. Avoid resurrections too, while you’re at it. Kill a major character early on just for giggles, to challenge yourself, and to set the bar for your reader that YOU AREN’T PLAYING AROUND…THIS IS SERIOUS!.

Have fun!

 

Let The Trolls Speak: Principles Of 21st Century Storytelling

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Every previous generation in human history, it’s been more difficult to move around and certainly more difficult to be exposed to the different stories people tell around the world than it is right now. In fact, you can go back less than a century and see a world where people largely stay where they were born. A guy’s library and his best storytellers were the primary means of being exposed to new stories. There’s been a sea change caused by the internet, electronics, and our own leisure time & mobility. So here you are…knowing stuff. Good for you. Now what does that mean?

I went into my thinking corner about that very question; and I baked up something for you that I believe you’ll like. It’s free – go read it. I also kept it short. Printed, it’d be less than 30 pages. Shouldn’t take you long at all. I stirred in some stories you’ve heard of, and one or two maybe you haven’t.

Would be great to hear from you on what you think. Let me know!

‘Google Translate’ For Dream-Speak: Beginning With Pictures

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I’ll tell you something interesting about how your subconscious works; and I’ll do it without referencing Jung. Maybe. Anyway, there was this girl in my elementary school that I thought was kind of cool and who’d call me every once and a while. She was pretty and one of the popular kids, so I was into that but not because I had any great fascination for her. She often forgot how good a friend I was when we were back in school on Monday anyway, strangely; but we’ll just let that lie there. It’s important to my point here that you get this – I wasn’t in love or like or even considering it until a particular turning point. A dream.

Nothing nasty here. I just had a dream about her one night where we were hanging out on a farm looking at the stars or something when she tried to kiss me. That was all, seriously. I can still describe to you now, however, the incredible attraction she had in that dream…like a mask with the power of all of human myth behind it just hanging over the dreamwork cardboard cutout of this girl. She was everything about girls in that dream, all girls who are fascinating and maddening. From that point on, I had a thing for her I couldn’t understand at all. Weird, yeah? Hold on to that. I’ll come back to it.

A nightmare I had when I was probably thirteen is as clear to me now in my forties as it was the night I dreamed it. The plot is thin; and you probably won’t get what’s spooky about it. I was outside my house bouncing a basketball alone; and it echoed. I remember it echoed. I knew in the dream no one else was home. Yet when I felt someone watching me, I turned around to look up in the second story living room window. The curtains were split open; and a pale old man was grinning widely back at me. The end. I chilled up just now typing that because of the malevolent feeling I had about that guy up there. It wasn’t what happened or that I recognized him or even knew his intentions. It was the mythic power of everything that’s dark and frightening and wicked pasted into a mask hung over the cardboard cutout of a stranger in my living room window. It was the feeling then that is still with me now.

I understand that my subconscious has these basic universal ideas about the feminine mystique and about bad things and a host of other patterns that are incredibly fundamental to how we perceive and filter information. The feeling of adventure and new horizons, for example. What it means to me to be a man. You can imagine others. One thing that happens to me and which I know happens to many other authors is we either have these patterns laid over an image we encounter by happenstance, or we dwell on an image we find striking on its own and overlay the pattern ourselves to make something of it.

In It All Began With A Picture, C. S. Lewis explained that he carried around a picture in his head of a faun carrying parcels in the snow with no idea what it meant for years…till he finally sat down to ask questions about it. I imagine it carried the sense of adventure with it, which is why it stuck around. George Lucas explains in Star Wars: The Annotated Screenplay that he really just wanted to remake Flash Gordon because he was looking to recapture the sense of exploration and adventure from the serials he watched as a kid. Stephen King explains in one of his introductions to Wizard And Glass that he walked out of The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly pondering the unearthly western imagery he’d seen and knowing he needed to recapture the way it made him feel watching it – a journey that gave us the amazing Dark Tower series. What I’m offering you is that images we find interesting are all around us or inside our heads. What we can do as writers is poke and prod on them a little to see why they’re lingering with us…which mythic pattern overlays best on them and makes them most real. They fit like a lock and key when you figure that out.

In my case, I was in a rock gorge in Oman with some friends particularly missing John Wayne movies on a long Navy deployment and making my way through the first three Dune books. The picture of a guy in a torn and dirty uniform slamming open saloon doors and drawing all eyes on him came to my mind all on its own. Everyone in the bar was afraid of him though he was unarmed. I knew him to be a leftover of some war, and that somehow he had people with him. He felt tired to me, and dangerous…desperate. That came with the picture. I held on to that for a long time, till I ultimately sat down to write Tearing Down The Statues and put him in a different setting to answer all my questions about him, and just what those people were frightened of.

See? No Jung. Now go think of an image that’s stuck around in your own head and start asking which pattern did it bring with it to unlock whatever story it’s trying to tell.

Imagery With Teeth: Learning To Write For Millenials From Treehugging Haiku Poets

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Call me a dork if you want; but haiku is like a cherry Starburst for me. When you’re in the mood and they’re just right, it’s like a shot of happiness straight to your cortex. My point here is going to be that this poetry form and its old masters have plenty to teach a 21st century wordslinger how to write fiction. Try this one, from Matsuo Basho (1644-1694):

A bee

staggers out

     of the peony.

No picture needed. The word choice is fascinating because the bug isn’t said to just be there; and its little hairs or whatever aren’t described. He says the little guy is staggering in the center of a flower after blasting down a bunch of nectar. If you’re at all like me – and this is one of his famous ones so I’m not alone here – then this image pops right into your head like zooming in with your iPhone. I basically stole this one for a Salt Mystic quote in chapter 5 of Tearing Down The Statues. Here’s another one I stole from (Sylhauna’s gift in chapter 9):

First snow

falling

     on the half-finished bridge

And another (chapter 9 again, referenced in the computronium ruins they sail past):

Summer grass –

All that’s left

     of warriors’ dreams

Give me a minute on this. Hear me out. We’re bombarded by pictures in all our entertainment now and have been for a while. Most of us think in pictures. We absorb information more quickly that way. Interesting images grab us as readers and stick around maybe even after the plot has faded. I read something from a cyberpunk guy (maybe William Gibson, not sure) way back in the nineties that I couldn’t begin to tell you the title or story or even the point of it all. I just remember a line where the narrator described some rain on a lake as ‘furring it over with needles’. The image popped for me and was really an interesting way to describe that. I saw it and liked the way he said that. If you’ll just stop playing around and go read either Viriconium or Light by M. John Harrison, you’ll see what I mean about crazy-cool ways of describing imagery that are uniquely wired to the way our brains work…basically interesting images that are pregnant with stories.

The classic example of an image pregnant with a story is the six word flash fiction (probably) wrongfully attributed to Hemingway:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

Ugh, man. That’s heartbreaking. Lean and straight for the jugular! Their baby died and never got to wear the freaking shoes. That’s awful. Usually haiku isn’t trying to rip your heart in pieces like that, but is often saying something more than what you’re looking at. How about this one by Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1827):

     The old dog

leads the way

     visiting graves.

Dogs are always awesome. I can see a loyal little guy with his tongue hanging out and that fuzzy white fur on his snout, not even knowing this is a sad thing, being in the graveyard. Since he knows the way, he’s been there many times before. That leads my mind off into all sorts of imaginings about the dog’s master, and just which graves he’s going back again and again to visit. I may have to wipe my eyes here – hold on.

If we’re wired for images, if we absorb information more effectively and make it stick more effectively with images, and if a writer can successfully convey an important message through that mechanism – or at least resonate with an important theme, then the work has a shot at immortality in someone’s mind. That’s what this whole gig is all about, right?

Here’s what I get from all this:

  1. Stay lean, avoid a bunch of useless words that don’t add value
  2. Craft a striking image that’s memorable and describe it in a novel way
  3. Consider resonating the image with a theme from the story – make it mean more than the picture itself if you can

If you’re ever stuck for coming up with something, go steal from Basho and Issa. They won’t mind.

‘Sun Of Suns’ by Karl Schroeder

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What do you REALLY ask of a book, anyway? Isn’t it true that if you can just get lost in some cool world, check out of this one for a while, maybe run into some chin-scratching ideas along the way, meet some fictional folks who you care about one way or the other – love or hate or whatever, then it’s all cool? Me too. Here’s one.

So I tried a different Schroeder book a while back (‘Lady Of Mazes’) and saw enough potential to try him again, though his style was bugging me. Seemed to ramble a bit. Don’t point at me, I’m the one typing here. This one was worlds better though. I’ll prove it – see what you think. It’s called, ‘Sun Of Suns’, by Karl Schroeder, first in his, ‘Virga’ series.

Virga is a massive fullerene balloon three thousand kilometers in diameter but filled with air. There are spherical lakes and massive chunks of floating rock – all aimless. The people living in Virga form and ignite their own little fusion suns for light and heat; but that leaves huge swathes of the atmosphere left in winter where there are no towns. There isn’t a single government or even a single planetoid where these folks live either – they’re on individual floating towns made from huge wood and rope wheels, spun for centripetal gravity. You can jump from one to the other if they’re close enough. You can fly from one to the other on hover bikes. It takes a few pages to get used to what he’s painting for you; but I haven’t come across such memorable imagery for a while. Would be amazing to see maybe in anime if not live action.

The story centers on a guy named, Hayden whose tiny town was slaughtered by a larger town six years ago when they tried to set off their own sun to gain independence. Hayden’s looking for revenge, targeting the Admiral who he’s almost certain (but not entirely certain) led the attack. He of course gets in the fireworks and intrigue of something larger with everyone he’s mad at, but also with a mysterious lady who is impossibly not even from Virga at all. The Admiral’s wife is beautiful but conniving and nasty; and Hayden tags along with her for a sizeable chunk of the narrative. She’s also the subject of the second book in the series, ‘Queen Of Candesce’.

When I was a kid in summertime, I’d ride my bike down our long driveway and around the yard imagining I was on a hover bike, stopping in at a floating maintenance shop and spying for somebody preparing for the revolution or whatever. This book had every bit of that, which smoked my mind a little because how the heck could something so weird in my head show up in print now? Schroeder did an ‘Inception’ on me. That was fun to see.

One scene in the book made my Physics mini-me flinch a bit; but he redeemed himself and nailed something down that is incredibly unique and worth the price of admission on its own. I don’t think it’s a spoiler; but you may think so. If you’re worried about that, skip the next paragraph and join me at the end. I’ll wait for you there.

The key characters pay a visit to a small town that has inserted itself into a massive spherical ball of water. They used a water-repellent cone the size of a freaking town and wedged it into the sphere, carving out a place where they constructed their buildings and hide away from all the intrigue and conflict within Virga. Flinch, read it, stick with where he’s going…incredible idea, maybe could work…wouldn’t want to live there…hope they don’t fire any guns at the walls.

My point is this then: great book! I read a lot of pulp science fiction from the 1930’s and 1940’s like ‘Brigands Of The Moon’ by Ray Cummings or ‘The Metal Monster’  or ‘The Ship Of Ishtar’ by Abraham Merritt. ‘Sun Of Suns’ has that feel of fun and danger and outlandish technology. Don’t look for deep philosophical musings or ominous quests or galactic battles here, you won’t find them. Read my first paragraph again up there…if those things make it happen for you, then give this book a shot. Let me know what you think.

Why You Should Be Reading R. A. Lafferty: The Madman Of Oklahoma

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You’ve probably heard R.A. Lafferty quoted if you haven’t read him. I came across him first when Neil Gaiman said a particularly good line he’d used in his, ‘Sandman’ series was a Lafferty line. Maybe you recall it – the creepy witches called ‘The Kindly Ones’ said something like, ‘They can kill you; but we can kill you worse’. That’s actually a chapter title in Lafferty’s, ‘Fourth Mansions’. A rocking book, if you haven’t read it, about four secret societies vying to take control of the future of humanity. The reason you read it is not the plot, because you know…whatever…I can’t really say what’s going on; and I’ve read it twice. You read it because he drops these word-nuggets that sparkle. The title of the first chapter is, ‘I Think I Will Dismember The World With My Hands’. The ninth chapter is, ‘But I Eat Them Up, Federico, I Eat Them Up’. If you don’t love that kind of thing, then take a pass on the guy I guess; but you’re missing out. At least try, ‘Past Master’ because its plot is good too, there’s a great story, and there are more sparkling quotes for you.

Here are some quotes, see what you think:

  • ‘It looks like a good year for monsters’ – Fourth Mansions
  • ‘I’d like to be gentle to you with with a meat cleaver, Justin’ -The Emperor’s Shoestrings
  • ‘It is an awful and sickening thing to see a good man grow rich and respected.’ – The Underneath Man
  • ‘The first implement made by man was not a scraper or celt or stone knife, it was a crutch.’
  • ‘My magic can whip your magic; and my dog can whip your dog’ -All The Skies Are Full Of Fish
  • ‘Most of the trouble that comes to people in this world comes from reading the wrong books.’ -Try To Remember
  • ‘I have certain riddles to ask the woods and the mountain, and they do not speak when others are present’
  • ‘Which was first, you, or the belief in you?’ -Past Master

So back to what I view as his masterpiece, though everybody you talk to who digs this guy has a different view on that. For me, it’s, ‘Past Master’. A description from the interwebs:

‘Past Master is set in the year 2535 on the world of Astrobe, a utopian Earth colony that is hailed as Golden Astrobe, “mankind’s third chance”, after the decline of both the Old World and New World on Earth. Despite idealistic intentions, it is suffering moral and social decline that may be terminal for both Astrobe and the human race.

In an attempt to save their dying civilization, its leaders use time travel to fetch Sir Thomas More (chosen for his fine legal and moral sense) from shortly before his death in the year 1535 to be the president of Astrobe. More struggles with whether to approve of the Astrobian society, noting its possible connections to his own novel Utopia. His judgements soon lead him into conflict both with destructive cosmic forces on Astrobe and with its leaders who thought him a mere figurehead who could be manipulated.’

End quote. If you’ve ever read Harlan Ellison’s short story, ‘Repent, Harlequin Said The TickTock Man’, and loved it because the trickster guy in the story is thumbing his nose at the people who think they’re in charge, then this book may just work for you like it does me. Thomas More sticks it to the man, if you know what I mean. By the way, if you haven’t read Ellison’s story, what the crap, man!? Get that done, then come back. Sheesh, you’re lucky we found that out!

Lafferty, man. Go read this guy. He saved himself from alcohol through his writing; and he made the world a better place because of it. You owe him at least a look. Let me know what you think!