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Dunkirk and Valerian

I'll start with Dunkirk even though it was the second movie I saw this weekend.

Dunkirk made a strong claim for the movie of the year for me. Similar to Fury Road from a couple years back, this is an exercise in sustained action and tension. Its story, although cleverly folded up within three time frames, is remarkably straight forward. The characters in the movie are either trying to get off Dunkirk beach before it is overrun by Germans in 1940 or they are trying to help those attempting to leave. This basic story is told through three threads, land, sea, and air as essentially anonymous characters work to survive. Other than a few blurry shadows and the strafing of dive-bombers, the human enemies are not pictured on screen. It is rather nature itself: water, wind, fire, and steel which closes in on the characters, snuffing out one life after another. A reoccurring image is the screen filling with water, as though the camera gives the audience the POV of impersonal, crushing doom.

Wrapping up "Agent Shield and Spaceman"

After more than a year, it's finished!

I started "Agent Shield and Spaceman," last year after listening to another writer talk about the rewards and challenges of self-publishing a novel. I got excited about the possibility of telling a complete story one chapter at a time, releasing it to the public, and telling the story I wanted to tell.

I can without reservation say the experience was rewarding for me personally. I've gotten into a nice pattern of writing short stories, submitting them, and seeing a few published. But to be in charge of the process from word go has been incredibly liberating and also terrifying. The best of "Agent Shield" is also the best of me as a writer and I hope at least some of what I've written has diverted and entertained you.

So, what's next?

I definitely intend to collect all of the chapters together for an e-book edition of the novel. I'd probably sell it through Amazon or Smashmouth, we'll see what sort of ho…

Story Announcement!

I'm overjoyed to announce that my story "Machinery of Ghosts," will be appearing in the Gehenna & Hinnom "Transhuman SF" anthology! "Machinery of Ghosts" is a SF thriller set in a decaying space station in the grip of a nano-technological cold war. Thank you to C.P. Dunphey for giving this story the perfect home! (https://gehennaandhinnom.wordpress.com/our-authors/accepted-stories-for-transhuman-sf-anthology-thus-far/)


I've also got another acceptance to announce in the not-so-distant future but I'd like to wait until we're a bit closer to the publishing date before I talk about that.
Also, in publishing news, August will see the release of my story "Promontory" in the "A Breath from the Sky" anthology from the Martian Migraine Press. I'm hoping to make the book release party at Providence, RI's Necronomicon. Hope to see you there!

July Review Grab Bag

After looking over my notes on a few prospective Ancient Logic posts I realized that I am hopelessly behind schedule. The current WIP and the web fiction I write, "Agent Shield and Spaceman," have taken up almost all of the energy I usually devote these 'side projects.'

Anyway, in the past couple of months, I saw (in order of recall) Wonder Woman and Spiderman at the theaters, Magicians, American Gods, and the current season of Preacher on the small screen, and finished reading Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140. The last item will get its own review but here are some quick thoughts on the others: 

Wonder Woman: This remains my favorite superhero flick this year. Yes, Guardians was a lot of fun and Spiderman (which I'll get to) was one of my favorite recent Marvel films, but in terms of consequence, and meaning, and shear mythological epic-ness, Wonder Woman takes the cake. As others have noted, some of this impact surely comes from how little the typical f…

What I Read in June 2017

I think the theme of the stories this month would be identity and love. Most of the stories below involve, in some respect, the forces necessary to draw two people together. I wouldn't exactly call these valentines but each story spoke to me about where love is between people in this early point of the 21st century. I hope enjoy reading them as much as I did!

Hero by Damian Aw: (DSF) I really dig it when an incredibly short story can fold up so much drama inside its narrow narrative. This flash piece takes from concept to stakes to consequence in an admirably brief tale. A man goes from movie to movie, correcting all of those tiny tragedies essential for a certain kind of story-telling. I was reminded of some of the closing themes of "Red Shirts," by John Scalzi: the obligation writers owe to their creations. Marcel Proust, Incorporated by Scott Dalrymple. (Lightspeed) Interesting pharmapunk speculation. What if a drug promoting the retention of memory had the drawback t…

What I Read in May 2017

May brought a deluge of amazing stories. In particular I think these works captured my mood throughout this month of revelations, disgust, and hope.

Look, this is meant to be a post about art - short literature specifically. However, I don't think you can understand art in isolation from politics, society, or whatever else is going on at a particular moment. A writer cannot help but weave elements of what circulates through their brains during the writing process (or at least I can't). Editors and publishers cannot help but respond to things that speak to a moment in time. Do I know for 100% that these stories reflect the situation in this country? No, I do not. I do think each has something to say about this moment.
"Machine of the Devil" by Maria Haskins. I've praised Haskins work before in these monthly round-ups for her well-crafted, tightly wound short fiction. This flash piece highlights her talent for embodying large themes in very small packages. In a story…

Volume 2 Bonus Track

As it turns out, I have a bit more to say about the second Guardians of the Galaxy film. After a rewatch I'd rate the movie a notch or two higher than what I wrote in my previous post, mostly because its craft and attention to detail became more apparent the second time around. 



CAUTION SPOILERS AHEAD!

First of all, the use of "Brandy" in the film approaches genius and just that little bit of foreshadowing really helps sell the way Ego manipulates his son. Later in the film Ego tells Quill that he is a 'sailor,' and that while he loved his mother, he also knew that Meredith Quill would 'steal him from the sea.' In his first discussion, Ego suggests that the 'sea' is simply a metaphor for his need to travel, his urge to explore. The idea of a planet-sized celestial seizing upon the ethos of ramble-rock makes a twisted sort of sense but that metaphor as simply a step up to Ego's true intention. What Ego thinks is that the 'sea' is really …

Review of Alien: Covenant

While there are worse ways to spend your money, Alien: Covenant is far from must-see movie-making. The earlier of these Alien reboot movies, Alien: Prometheus, was a hot mess - throwing half a dozen half-baked, super-ambitious ideas into the air and trying to catch them on the same saucer. It didn't work and mostly serves as a good example of why story must be the first, last, and everything in a movie.

Covenant is bit more coherent, if for no other reason than it really only has one idea in mind: getting us to a fully-formed xenomorph engaged in quality chest-ripping and murder-dicing. Which it does with reasonable competence.

Did I want more out of this movie? There are some moments that hint at a much more interesting and epic movie behind this one - the visit of the android David to the home planet (?) of the Engineers is one example. The idea of the evolution of the Xenomorph being a kind of machine directed domestication is intriguing.

But really this movie is the very firs…

Review of Emily B. Cataneo's "Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories"

Weird Fiction, I think by definition, is a hard genre to describe. Still, I think it's possible to point to a couple of major strains - Classic and New. 
On one hand you have the heritage of Machen, Blackwood, Gilman, Ligotti, and of course the decrepit and dark idol of HP himself. These are tales almost like ghost stories, where protagonists brush up against the uncanny and either survives or succumbs to bleak fates. These tales tend towards a morose and gothic atmosphere and describe worlds I'd definitely avoid in real life.

Then you have the bizarre stuff like Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Michael Shea, and China Meiville where weirdness is something plastic and garish. Often referred to as the "New Weird," these are works where the universe keeps warping chromosomes and shoving disparate genres into weird hybrids. I'm not sure if I'm that keen to visit Bas-Lag in person, but I'm pretty sure I'd have more fun there than Carcosa. For my part, I'm a f…

Review Grab-bag

If find myself pressed for time this month and absolutely overwhelmed by the various media I'd like to tell you about. 

First up. I watched Guardians of The Galaxy Volume 2, okay? So you can get off my back. And? I loved it. About as much as the first one, honestly, give or take a joke or two. What it misses in novelty and sheer comedy (this is a percentage thing: there are more jokes and fewer of them completely land) it more than makes up for resonance and, you know, feelings.

It's actually damn impressive that the first movie 1) got made in the first place 2) worked as well as it did. There are five characters I doubt many had any reason to care about and by the end of the first flick, you loved them.

Total surprise.

So that's the first film. The second film surprises by taking all of this very, very seriously and finding ways of making you care about such diverse topics as the attempt of a green and purple sister at reconciliation over the purple one's cybernetic mu…

What I Read in April 2017

I have a few short speculative stories to recommend from the past month. Particularly this year I find myself drawn to stories that promise one of two things: gloomy, restless undead or enormous 16-wheel tractor trailers, flames painted down the side, horns blaring, riding down the venal and corrupt and flattening them into road-kill on the side of the road. I have three of the former listed and one of the latter.

Her Hands Like Ice by KT Bryski. (Bracken) This was very good. The central of the mystery of the story - what haunts the narrator - is spun out convincingly, mesmerizingly until the final line. The reader's ache to UNDERSTAND this mystery echoes the cold need of the narrator to keep ahold of her dead sister. Not so much a revision or reaction to the classic vampire set-up as a clever misdirection. Infinite Love Engine by Joseph Allen Hill (Lightspeed). A great rollicking funny-as-hell, deranged, explosion of Afrofutrist space opera. It reminds me of a great many things…

Review of The Circle (movie)

I'll keep this short because although the reasons this film fails are many and complex, the end result is fairly easy to state. Don't watch this movie. It's worth neither your time nor money. 


It disappoints me to have to write the above because I did have high-hopes for this work. I read the novel when I learned who would be starring in the movie version of the book. Having read the book I thought The Circle was one of those rare works which might work really well as a movie.

Sadly, this isn't the movie I imagined.

It's not for lack of trying at the outset. The producers were able to bring in undeniable talent for this film. Tom Hanks in the semi-villain role Eamon Bailey, Emma Watson as the trusting and ambitious Mae, and half a dozen actors and actresses you've heard of before. The story is timely (although already rapidly fading in topicality - the half-life of near-future technofiction is not long) and the satire of the novel was gleefully savage. This shou…

Lost City of Z

This movie exceeded my expectations by a wide margin and the more I think about it the more excited I become of what the film's director could produce in the future.

I read the source material for the movie -- an eponymous non-fiction account of Percy Fawcett's early 20th century explorations of Amazonia and the lost civilization he was certain lay hidden within its depths -- a few years ago. The book stuck with me for three reasons. Firstly, the descriptions of the "Green Hell" of the Amazon rainforest, where every creature from microbe on up to man actively sought the explorer's destruction, are vivid and terrifying. David Grann, the author of the Lost City of Z, was very successful in convincing me I don't want to go into a rainforest. Grann was also, to move to my second point, adept in pointing out the many paradoxes and complexities of Fawcett's search for his city. Described as one of the last great explorers, Fawcett's efforts drew significant …

"The Green Rope," Announcement

I'm thrilled to announce my flash piece, "The Green Rope," has been published at the online literary magazine "Subtle Fiction." This is my first general fiction piece to have been published and to have it appear here is a great honor. The story is about fear and how it lingers. "The Green Rope," is one of the shortest works I've ever written so if you were inclined, you would have plenty of time to check out the other available works. Thank you, Jill Chan for selecting my story!



From Subtle Fiction's "About," page:

We are a new literary magazine which aims to publish the best short fiction online.

We are interested in short stories and flash fiction pieces of no more than 3,000 words. Fiction which does not fit into a box. It must be lively, daring, and filled with subtlety, hence our name. Give us stories which surprise and move us. We are looking for beautiful, complex, and uncompromising work.

Review of "And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe"

Alright, first full disclosure. The author of "And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe," Gwendolyn Kiste, asked me to contribute a blurb to this collection. So let's classify this review as not entirely unbiased. I have enjoyed her stories since the first one I've read and my fandom of her work has only grown since. But I will plow ahead regardless because the simple fact is I would like you to buy this book and read it. 


I say that because I figure if you're reading these words, what with all the innumerable blogs, e-zines, and pod casts to enjoy then we may share some interests. Perhaps a similar taste in the strange and macabre. Maybe a desire to read and appreciate works crafted with subtly, passion, and power. If you like to think and feel deeply about the weird quiet places of the world, then Gwendolyn Kiste's work is for you. It was written for you. You should read it.

The anthology includes fourteen of her best short stories. Most of them have been pu…

What I Read in March

With all that happens around a person's 40th birthday, I somehow managed to find some time to read some excellent short fiction in March. The ones included below come from a variety of online magazines but I'm not going to pretend that this is an exhaustive list: Things Crumble, Things Break by Nate Southard. Liked this one quite a bit. Chemical spill or accident leaves a town of crippled, their bones so fragile a gentle push could stave in a chest. A man and his girlfriend contemplate leaving their quarantine even as a heavy sadness fills in all of the weak parts of their determination. The horror here is in the ease of emotional investment in fragile, doomed beings. In the Shade of the Pixie Tree by Rodello Santos (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) something about this reminds me of Lord Dunsany: a sweet but ultimately tragic tale of a young witch and the slow unwinding of a difficult spell. Fantasy that takes familiar tropes like pixies and witches and makes them new again will alw…

Review of "Ghost in the Shell"

I saw "Ghost in the Shell," on Friday and overall I think I'd recommend it. There are plenty of cyberpunk or influence-by-cyberpunk movies coming out this year but I think this will carve out its own distinct niche: stylish, garishly beautiful in places but ultimately middling science fiction.

Things I liked: the action scenes are very cool, sharply executed, and kinetic. It gave me the impression that the director Rupert Sanders has spent some quality time watching the first John Wick movie, which I mean as a compliment. The version of the future here is neon-drenched and weird, with enormous holograms peeking out from behind sky-scrapers kaiju style. The streets crawl with criminal low-lives, augmented with ghastly prosthetics and weaponry, and everything is sort of splashed on the screen without exposition. For some one raised on Ghost in the Shell, Akira, and Neuromancer the effect was strangely comforting - ah, here's the future I was promised! - but I could als…

What I Read in February, 2017

February was a bit busy. I attempted to finish reading the collection my story, "Killing the First Gods," appeared in "A Book of Blasphemous Words." At nearly thirty stories, I'm afraid I didn't quite finish the book in time but what I read gave me quite a few more names to follow.


A Sack Race to the River by Chris Kuriata. (The Book of Blasphemous Words) This one left a mark. The story of a father who is attempting to save his sons from some awful apocalyptic fate by stuffing them in a burlap sack reminded me of that Bill Paxton movie, "Fraility," but the payoff here is a bit more epic and weird. Youth Will be Served by Andrew Fox. (Nightmare) In Florida, a leviathan offers youth in exchange for the lives of a few sacrificial elderly. Wrapped up in this is the desire to help those in pain and the inevitability of decline and death. What really came through in this story is the sense of unspoken menace, the constant peril of altruism. If We Su…

Death's End by Liu Cixin

Having recently finished the last book in Liu Cixin's instant classic "The Remembrance of Earth's Past" series, Death's End, I can only report a feeling of total amazement and awe. There is so much about this novel that blew my mind, that offered different and better ways of viewing the universe. This novel did what I wish more novels would, serve up a new universe entire, evoking beauty and horror, nobility and disgust, in a timeless monument to unfettered speculation. 



Obviously, in discussing the events of the last of a trilogy books, spoilers are to be expected. I am, however, going to try to avoid discussing much beyond the first 100 pages of the third novel.

I read the translation of this novel, as ushered into being by the amazing talent of Ken Liu. Ken has written of a certain prickliness when it comes to translating work. He makes an effort not to anglicize the source material, not smudging away the occasional difficulties in bringing Cixin's intentio…

"A Breath from the Sky" Story Announcement!

I am thrilled to share the news my story, "Promontory," will appear in an upcoming anthology of unusual possession stories published by the incredible Martian Migraine Press. The anthology, "A Breath from the Sky,"puts together a classic H.P. Lovecraft tale and twenty other atypical stories of possession. Judging from the cover and the list of impressive authors, I'm anticipating pure awesomeness. "Promontory" is a possession story and one of my more overtly horror tales, so I'm overjoyed that it found a host, er, home here. I am sharing the Table of Contents below, as well as a link to the announcement on the Martian Migraine website to provide a sense of what this collection will be about. The cover is amazing, the other authors selected for the collection are amazing, and I have to say, having a story appear alongside a classic tale like HP's "Colour Out of Space," feels pretty darn amazing. I hope to provide more information abou…

What I Read in January 2017

January was a busy month for me, to put it mildly. I attended Arisia 2017 and sat on a terrific panel about short fiction. I received word of two story acceptances (one listed in a previous post and the other forthcoming). There were also all of the distractions of a world veering somewhere between the "Dead Zone" by Stephen King and a cyberpunk dystopia by William Gibson.


And, of course, I read a whole bunch of awesome short stories, including a few I can recommend below.
Wooden Boxes Lined With the Tongues of Doves by Claire Humphrey. (Beneath Ceaseless Skies). When considering stories that revolve around magic, I really respond to writers that can somehow conjure what that magic is and how it works within the tight confines of a short story. To me, magic should feel like magic. In other words, waving wands and intoning spells doesn't really cut it. When magic is done in fiction, the result should feel inevitable. Pull a trigger and a bullet flies. I prize magical ine…

A Story Announcement!

I am happy to announce that I have a flash fiction piece appearing in the new A Murder of Storytellers anthology, "The Book of Blasphemous Words." The story, "Killing the First Gods," is about a woman in the upper Paleolithic trying to survive in world filled with the ghosts of slaughtered gods. This is one of my favorite flash pieces, and I am very excited to have it appear in such illustrious company. Pre-orders available now. The book will ship Jan. 31st. Thank you to Adrean Messmer for choosing this story!
https://www.amurderofstorytellers.com/shop/pre-order-the-book-of-blasphemous-words

Table of Contents:
A Hole in the Head Reveals the Secret Nature of All Things by Joseph Shelton
Sack Race To The River by Chris Kuriata
Holy Fire by Tracy Fahey
The Order of the Night Moose by Jonathan Raab
Hare Hill by Kristin J. Cooper
The Holy Filth by Tom Breen
Madness by Morrison
Hero Worship by Adrian Ludens
An Adventure in Wootton by Colin Harker
Meant to Be by Kelly Gould
Outer Dark…

Not Going to Change

So, for the past few days I've been fighting a flu. It sent me home from work and has kept me cooped up in my house with pretty much no break until now. That means that my already weak and compromised anti-cable news system has succumbed to unhealthily amounts of MSNBC and CNN. I didn't watch the Inauguration (didn't see the point) but I watched all the usual talking heads and crowds shots from yesterday's amazing parades.


I think this is about the place where a person of my particular background and education is supposed to say something like: "well, this was very encouraging but it won't mean anything unless..." or "I wish there had been a more unified theme to the protest so that we can..." But you know what? I think these parades were just about perfect. My understanding of them is that they were conceived as a statement of protest against the man now sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. In Boston, LA, Denver, Anchorage, Alas…

Back from Arisia 2017

I'm back home from Arisia 2017 and other than being completely exhausted I'm feeling very good about the experience.

To sum up my impressions of the panels, experiences, and spectacles of this year's con I guess I'd say the theme was communication.

During my first panel, Putting the Alien in Aliens with Steve Popkes, Dennis McCunney, and Sonia Taaffe, the conversation centered around this question of communication. In comparison to other panels centered on this topic - the creation and appreciation of truly alien extraterrestrials - the focus here was not so much the biology or composition of the aliens as the limited ability of we poor human beings to understand any potential creature from another solar system. Is this even possible or plausible? Or is communication with aliens one more implausible feature of science fiction we all collectively ignore like faster than light travel?

The elephant in the room, addressed relatively late by the Sonia Taaffe, was the exi…

The Purpose of Alien Life

As part of my preparations for this weekend's Arisia, I've looked back over the idea of truly alien aliens. Tomorrow, I will be joining a panel concerned with this very same topic.

Aliens are an abiding obsession in science fiction and appear in many of the classics of speculative literature generally. In fact, if a space opera doesn't contain some reference to aliens or unknown life-forms, it's considered a notable deviation (so called Mundane Science Fiction movement and Firefly both come to mind). There's a deeply-rooted expectation that science fiction will at some point address aliens.

Why?

I don't have any easy answers for this question. The topic itself is more unwieldy than it might appear. When we talk about aliens, are we just talking about the traditional space opera with human astronauts encountering strange cultures on distant planets? Are we also adding in first-contact stories, cosmic horror, and fantasy literature that includes references to &quo…

In Defense of Brevity

As a writer of short speculative fiction, I am also a reader. I was a reader first and my love of the genre leads me to want to write short fiction. I think one of the most important things a writer can do is read contemporary's work. If nothing else, you're likely to be entertained - there's a great amount of stupendous short fiction available out there for exactly nothing. But it also tends to helps to develop craft. 
Long-time readers of this blog know I write up recommendations of a few short stories each month I really enjoyed. "Sic Semper, Sic Semper, Sic Semper by Carl Wiens" was my favorite story of the year. The first line of this story pretty much sums it up: "The time traveler set up a studio apartment in Abraham Lincoln’s skull in the frozen moment before Booth’s bullet burst through and rewired history," but I also enjoyed "The Girl Who Escaped from Hell" By Rahul Kanakia and "Our Talons Can Crush Galaxies," by Brooke Bol…