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Okay — I have a book coming out any day.  Sword And Blood by Sarah Marques (what advantage one has when one born in a family with many, many surnames.)

I’m posting the beginning below, unedited, of course.  It’s not exactly G — perhaps PG?  — and it is vampires.  If you don’t object to those two, read on:

In another world, history changes
But heros remain heros

His Duty Formed Him; Like God the World
Fernando Pessoa

Paris, Wednesday, April 9th, 1625

His captors dragged and pulled him past the ruined marble archway, the ropes on his wrists too tight, the ropes on his ankles loosened only enough to allow him the small steps which he had to take to avoid falling.  They’d stolen his sword.  His blond hair was matted with blood.  He didn’t know whose or even if it was his.
Three of them held him on either side, their supernatural strength making it impossible for him to escape.
He still struggled.  His fevered mind knew only that he must escape the hands like vise grips on his arms.  He must defeat the bone-bruising grasp of fingers on his waist.
Pulled into the shadows of the defiled church – its cross broken, as most crosses in Paris were, its holy statues scribbled with obscenities, painted with leers and fangs — he twisted, suddenly.  He was so inflexibly held that the effort cost him a wrenching pain on his side.  But none of it mattered, as he managed to sink his teeth into one of the hands holding his arm.
He tasted the metallic tang of blood and expected a scream of outrage.   Instead, the one he was biting – a coarse haired man who must, in life, have been a peasant – pulled his hand free and grinned wide, displaying long fangs that sparkled in the light of the guttering candles surrounding the blood-stained altar.
“Oh, you’ll do so well,” he said, speaking as though Athos were a puppy or a kitten.  Then, looking up, he said, in quite a different voice, “We’ve brought him, milady.”
Athos turned.  And his mind stopped.
She stood by the altar, as she had stood by quite a different altar, fifteen years ago, when she’d given him her hand in marriage.   There were still no words to describe her.  You could say she was tall and beautiful and slim and blond – but that much omitted everything she truly was.  The first time he’d seen her, in the humble cottage which the priest of Athos’ parish was given as a prerogative of his office, he’d thought her an angel descended from heaven.
Whatever had happened to her in between then and now had not changed her countenance, nor her figure.  She retained the perfect oval face, with the too-large violet blue eyes.  And her hair was still that shade of blond on the edge of silver, and still straight and glimmering, falling in a cascade down to her waist.
She still wore simple clothing though much more expensive than it had been when he met her – a white dress or overdress made of velvet, with a collar outlined all in ermine shining like ice around her neck.  A silver belt delineated a waist that could still fit in his two hands.
She descended from the altar platform, down the marble steps, between the candles, her steps graceful and so lovely that Athos –  unable to breathe — could only think that he was seeing her ghost – that she had come down from heaven to redeem him.  To forgive his horrible crime against her.
The last time he’d seen her, he’d left her hanging by the neck, from the branch of a young tree.  He looked anxiously at her neck, for signs of the ordeal, but in the light of the candles it looked white and perfect, and he wondered if this was a dream.  Or if the other had been.  An evil nightmare, conjured by a demon.  Perhaps this whole world they lived in was a nightmare.  Perhaps none of it was true.  Perhaps no vampires occupied half the world and more.  Perhaps France wasn’t at war in all but name.  Perhaps he and this exquisite beauty were still married and their lives whole back in Athos’ domain of la Fere.
He felt his suddenly dry lips move, and heard himself rasp out, “Charlotte!”
She spoke in the voice he remembered, the musical tones that fell on the ears like the caress of soft fingers upon the skin.  “Did you miss me, Raphael?”
Looking like she was dancing in air, she drew close, until she was standing just by him, her scent enveloping him.  So close that were he not still held immobile, he could have reached down.  He could have kissed her.  “Yes,” he told her, struggling to move closer to her.  “Oh, yes.”
And then the fact that she was here and that he had been brought to her by Richelieu’s guards penetrated his mind, and he felt his eyebrows knit.  “Did they…”  He was about to ask if they’d captured her, too, then he remembered one of those holding him had talked as if she’d ordered it.  They had called her milady.   They held her in respect.  He looked at her, in horror.  “Charlotte!”
She grinned, displaying the sharp fangs he had never seen.  They glimmered brightly, on either side of her mouth.   “What else, Raphael?” she said.  “How else do you think I could have survived that noose?”  She stared up at him, her eyes glimmering.  Then looking away, she told the men holding him, “Strip him.”
Athos twisted, pivoted, trying to avoid it, but a hand reached out and ripped his doublet, then his shirt, and finally his breeches and underwear, leaving him shivering in the spring night, in his stockings and boots.  Those too were torn from him as she said “The altar.”
Two of the vampires lifted him and took him to the altar.  They tied him down, arms and legs twisted and bent to the columnaded supports.
He and his friends had found corpses, tied like this and dead.  Blood masses they called these rituals, though Aramis had said no mass was celebrated, nothing.  Just… a group of vampires, all feeding on the human victim, till he was dead.  A communion, perhaps, but not holy.
The cold, hard altar leeched the heat from his skin, thought from his mind.  He was immobilized, hand and foot.  They wound a rough  rope around his middle, biting into his flesh.  This was his last hour.  He would die here, with marble beneath him, and bound so he could not move.  He would die here, and his friends would find him, dead and pale and defiled.
He licked his lips and managed to summon voice to his dry mouth, “Listen, Charlotte, I don’t… I don’t blame you for wanting your revenge.”
She checked the knots at his hands, her light fingers just touching his skin as she adjusted the rope.  “Oh, good,” she said.  “I would hate to think you withheld your forgiveness from me.”
One of the watching male vampires laughed, but stopped abruptly as Charlotte glanced down at him.
Athos shook his head.  Before he died, he must explain to her.  He must make her understand.   “It isn’t that,” he said.  “I just… I realized afterwards I judged you too quickly.  Just because you … just because you were branded with the fleur de lis, it didn’t mean you were a Judasgoat or that you served the vampires.  I should never… I should have asked you first.  Before… executing you.  Trying to execute you.”
She smiled at him and didn’t say anything.  Her fingers moved idly from his wrists, as if their own accord tracing the contour of muscles on his arm, sculpted and defined by his sword play day after day for fifteen years.  “I think you’ve grown more muscular Raphael,” she said smiling a little.  “You were not filled in enough when we married.”  Her fingers, at his chest now, moved slowly down, cool and velvety soft, tracing his flat belly.
“And I see I can still make you react,” she said, as her hand traced the edges of his burning erection.
He shivered.  She was a vampire.  Other vampires watched them.  And yet all he could do was to bite his lips together to keep from begging her to touch him, to forget it all, to be his wife again.
But no matter how much his heart still loved her – through horror and fear and remorse – and no mater how much his body still craved her, the Comte de la Fere could not beg.
And yet his bound body lifted fractionally off the marble, attempting to arch upward, towards her touch.
She looked up at his face, and smiled, slowly, knowingly, as though she guessed his thoughts precisely.  Then she pulled her hand away and leaned in, so close to his face that he could smell the familiar rose scent she wore.  “You are right, you know?” she said, confidentially.  “I wasn’t a Judasgoat.”
“No?” he said, relieved and crushed at once, because that meant he had tried to hang an innocent woman, a woman he’d adored with his whole heart, a woman who had survived only to become this.  If only he hadn’t been so quick to judge.  If he hadn’t been so proud.  If he–
“No,” she said, and smiled wide, her soft, sensuous lips glistening, moist and inviting.  “I was already a vampire.”
And with that she withdrew and struck, her fangs biting deep into his neck and propelling a scream out of him.  Pain burned into his muscles and propagated like fire along his nerves, descending, tortuously, down his spine, and he screamed till he could scream no more, till – tired, wrung out – he lay, in a puddle of his own sweat, and looked up at Charlotte’s eyes which danced with amusement.
He tried to speak, but he could find no strength to, and then the feeling changed and instead of pain, bliss radiated from her mouth on his neck, sucking his life away.  A tingle of pleasure like nothing he’d ever felt – an over-all caress, skin-enveloping, nerve shattering – took in all of him and soothed him.  Transported on its wings, he felt his body react again, excitement gathering, coursing along his veins, pounding, demanding release.
And then she bit deeper and his mind fogged and he plunged into the darkness of death.

Ruins and Fallen Angels

His grief had carried D’Artagnan to Paris, like a tidal wave, swelling from shock to anger.
As it receded, it left him sitting on an ornate chair, in the private office of Monsieur de Treville, Captain of the Musketeers.
“I don’t know what you heard, in the provinces,” the Captain said.  He was a small man, a Gascon, like D’Artagnan.  Even though silver threads mingled with his straight, dark hair, he   didn’t look old.  No wrinkles marred his mobile olive-skinned face.  And he stood, instead of sitting in the great armchair facing D’Artagnan’s.
As he spoke, he walked behind the chair and his long thin fingers clasped the frame tightly, dark against the white-painted wood and the threadbare blue-grey velvet of the cushions. “But France is not England.  We are not at war with the vampires.  Our king and the Cardinal have achieved a truce between them.  His Eminence might have been turned, but he still wants what’s best for France.  Neither the king, nor the Cardinal – nor I, myself – want to experience here the slaughter and mayhem that engulfs the other side of the canal.”
All energy drained from D’Artagnan’s body, leaving his arms listless and his legs feeling as though they lacked the strength to support his body.  He’d run to Paris to fight the vampires.  To stand for king and queen.  To support the forces of the light.  To avenge his parents, unwillingly turned and dead by their own choice before they ever fed as vampires.
“My father said,” he heard his own voice echo back to him, aged and flat-sounding.  “That I should come and offer my sword to you.  That whoever else had surrendered to the vampires, you never would.  That you knew evil when you saw it.”
“Your father.”  For just a moment, there was a flash of something in Monsieur de Treville’s eyes. What it was, D’Artagnan couldn’t tell.  It was just a glimmer, appearing and then vanishing.  In a changed voice, the captain said, “Your father and I fought side by side twenty five years ago, when the first vampires came into France from Spain.”  He sighed deeply.  “Other times, my boy, other times.  Now there’s a treaty in place, and daylighters are not to hunt vampires and vampires are not supposed to turn the unwilling.  And those turned register promptly and become subjects of the Cardinal, subject to his laws.  Only undeclared vampires, the ones in hiding, could be a danger, and we don’t have those.”  He opened his hands.  “Other times demand– ”
Behind D’Artagnan the door opened, slowly, and a voice said, “I’m sorry to interrupt you captain, but…  You said you wanted to know when the inseparables came in?”
Turning, D’Artagnan saw a thin man, in threadbare livery that seemed too big for him.  Just like the rest of Parisians he looked starved, ill-dressed and not so much nervous as jumpy.  Ready to run at a sound.   Like a hare at a convocation of wolves.  D’Artagnan realized that no one living in Paris could take the truce or the treaty seriously.  And Monsieur de Treville didn’t look stupid.
In fact he didn’t look stupid at all, as his fingers released their death grip on the back of the chair, and his eyes filled with an eager curiosity, tinged by hope and fear.  His voice trembling with what appeared to be maniacal relief, he said, “All three?  Athos, Porthos, Aramis?”
The servant shook his head, and looked away as he spoke, as if afraid of seeing the reaction to his words.  “Porthos and Aramis, only, sire.  Should I send them away?”
Monsieur de Treville’s expression tightened,  the skin taut on the frame of his cranium – as though he’d aged a hundred years in that moment and only will power kept him alive.  His tongue came out, nervously, to touch his lips.  “The two?”  Then his expression closed, his eyes becoming unreadable.  He drew his lips into a single, straight line and he crossed his arms at his chest.  “Send them in, Gervase.”
But the gentlemen had apparently been waiting just outside the door, because as Gervase opened it, they came in.
They were splendid.  There was no other word for them.  D’Artagnan, who had waited in the captain’s antechamber, had seen the rest of the musketeers as something very akin to immortal gods.  He’d listened to them jest about how many vampires they had killed, and taunt each other with the latest court gossip.  He’d heard them — fearless and unabashed – calling evil by its name and its name was vampire.  Yet, admirable though they were, they admired others.  They too had idols they looked up to.
All through their chatter, like a touch-stone, a prayer, he’d heard the names of the inseparables: Athos, Porthos, Aramis.
They were, according to their own comrades, the best and the bravest.  It was said that in one night the three of them had killed a hundred vampires, single handed.  It was whispered that if France still had a human king, if the throne of France still belonged to the living, it was to the credit of none but three noblemen who hid under the appellations of Porthos, Athos and Aramis.
D’Artagnan, a Gascon and therefore inclined by nature to discount half of what he heard as exaggeration and the other half as social talk, now felt his mouth drop open in wonder, and thought that, if anything, the rumors had been an understatement.
To begin with, though their clothes looked as worn, and their bodies as thin as those of others in Paris, the two inseparables were so muscular and broad shouldered, and stood with such pride that they lent their humble tunics and worn cloaks an air of distinction.  They behaved with pride one would have thought departed from amid mortals since the vampires had arrived and taken control.
The smaller one of the two – just taller than D’Artagnan, had dark-golden hair and the flexible build of a dancer – or an expert sword fighter.  His features were so exactingly drawn that they could have graced a not-ill-favored woman.  However old his clothes might be, they looked well matched and better fitted, with no mended patches visible.  The ringlets of his hair fell over his shoulders, disposed in the most graceful of ways, a longer love-lock  caught up on the side of his head by a small but perfect diamond pin.  Other than that pin, he wore no jewelry save for a plain, flat silver cross on a silver chain around his neck, and an antique-looking signet ring on his left hand.
The taller of the two stood at least a head taller than any man D’Artagnan had ever seen.  His chestnut brown hair was shoulder long, his beard and moustaches luxuriant, and the bare patches on his tunic had been sewn with an expert hand and covered in what looked like gold thread embroidery.  D’Artagnan only noticed they were rents and skillfully covered up, because there was no other explanation for the haphazard nature of the embroidery, which meandered over his well muscled torso with the abandon of a gypsy caravan.  He wore a ring on the finger of each hand – most of them ornamented with stones too large to be anything but paste or glass – a thick gold chain, and a cross composed all of rubies and garnets – or their counterfeits – in dazzling splendor.
This would be Porthos, D’Artagnan surmised as he had heard the man was a giant.  And indeed, he had arms like tree trunks, legs like logs, and the most terrified grey eyes that D’Artagnan had ever seen.
His gaze darted around the room, in skittish anxiety and, alighting on D’Artagnan, caused D’Artagnan to wish to make his excuses and leave.  Except that the musketeers were blocking the path to the door.  And Porthos’ gaze moved on, immediately, to stare in abject fear at his captain, whom he outweighed by at least half again as much.
Though looking at Monsieur de Treville, D’Artagnan could understand at least part of the fear.  The captain’s face had hardened, and his gaze looked as though it would bore holes in the two of them, if it could.  It turned to Porthos, then seemed to dismiss him, focusing instead on Aramis, who bowed correctly.
“Aramis,” Monsieur de Treville said.  “Where is Athos?”
Aramis smiled, as if he’d expected this question all along.  “He’s indisposed, sire.  It’s nothing serious.”
“Nothing serious,” the Captain said.  He turned his back on them and stared out of his window, through which one could just glimpse the broken cross atop the Cathedral.  “Nothing serious,” he said again, his voice heavy, like the closing of a tomb.  “The Cardinal bragged at his card game with the king, last night.  He said that Athos had been turned.  That Athos was now one of them.  The rumor is all over Paris.”
“It is… not so serious,” Aramis said, but he hesitated before the word, and the look he gave Porthos betrayed fear.
“Not so serious,” the captain turned around.  “So he is only half turned?   You men and your careless ways.  How many times have I told you not to wander the streets at night, after your guard shift?  Never to go into dark alleys lightly?  And if you must go into them, to guard yourselves carefully?  Do you have any idea what can result of Athos as a vampire?  Do you know your own friend well enough to know what a disaster this is?”  His voice boomed and echoed, and doubtless every word he said was being eagerly drank by the ears of those in the antechamber.
The musketeers bit their lips, shifted their feet and looked down, and let their hands stray to their sword pommels.  It was obvious that had anyone but their captain given them such a sermon, he would have paid for it dearly.
Porthos, who had been squirming like a child in need of the privy, blurted out, “It’s just… that… sire!  He has the chicken pox!”
“The chicken pox?” The Captain asked, with withering sarcasm, even as Aramis gave his friend a baneful, reproachful glance and a minimal headshake.  “The chicken pox, has Athos, who is over thirty years of age?  Do you take me for a child, Porthos?”  His voice made even D’Artagnan, over whom he had, as yet, no power, back away and attempt to disappear against a wall-hung tapestry which represented the coronation of Henri IV.  “I’ve given the three of you too much freedom because I thought you’d at least defend each other.  How can you have allowed Athos to be taken? From now on, I am making sure that none of my musketeers goes anywhere, except in a group.  Not after dark.  And if I hear of any of you starting a fight with a vamp–”
He stopped mid word, as steps were heard, rushing, outside, followed by a man’s voice, calling out, “I’m here.”
A blond man burst through the door.  He was taller than Aramis, almost as tall as Porthos, though of a different build.  He looked solid-boned, as if nature had designed him to be almost as massive as his larger friend, but as if flesh had never sufficiently covered the sudden growth of adolescence.  Though D’Artagnan imagined this was Athos and that he was therefore over thirty, he looked like a young man who’s just finished growing and put on some muscle, but whose hands, feet and every place where the bone showed — from cheek to knees – seemed to have been grafted from a larger, more solid person.
Like most of the other musketeers, he was casual about wearing a uniform.  Instead, he wore the fashion of at least ten years before – a black doublet with ballooning sleeves and laced tightly, in the Spanish fashion, and black knee breeches, beneath which a sliver of carefully mended stockings showed, disappearing into the top of his old but carefully polished riding books.
However, it was his face that attracted and arrested one’s gaze, as he threw back his head and the golden curtain of his hair with it and said.  “I heard you were asking for me, Captain, and I came, as you see, in answer to your call.”
He looked like the angel at the entrance to a ruined Cathedral, beautiful, noble and hopeless.  The mass of hair tumbled down his back might as well have been spun out of gold and his flesh resembled the marble out of which such a statue’s features might be chiseled: The noble brow, the heavy-lidded eyes, the high, straight nose, the pronounced cheekbones and square chin, and the lips —  full and sensuous, as if hinting at forbidden earthly desires.  All of it was too exquisite, too exact, the perfection that no human, born of woman is entitled to.
He also looked cold, unreachable and lost — and except for still standing on his feet and moving — as if he’d died waiting for a miracle that had never come.
Monsieur de Treville’s mouth had remained open.  He now closed it, with an audible snap, and advanced on the musketeer, hands extended.  “Athos!  You should not have come.  You look pale.  Are you wounded?”
Athos shook his head.  Then shrugged.  “A scratch only, Captain,” he said.  “And you’ll be proud to know we laid ten of them down forever.  D’Alene among them.”
“D’Alene?  The terror of Pont Neuf?” Monsieur de Treville asked, suddenly gratified.
Athos bowed slightly, and in bowing, flinched a little, and his eyes, which had looked black at first sight, caught the light from the window as he turned his head and revealed themselves for a deep, dark jade green.
The captain squeezed the musketeer’s hands hard, and Athos bit his lips, looking as if the touch pained him, but not a sound of complaint escaped him.  “As you see,” he said.  “We do what we can to defend the people of Paris.”
“Indeed.  Indeed.  I was just telling your friends how much I prize men like you, and how brave  you are to risk your lives every night, in defense of the people, and how…”
Athos, who looked pale and wan as if he were indeed wounded, and, in fact, as if he only remained standing through sheer will power, didn’t seem able to withstand the barrage of words, or perhaps the additional pain of what must be the captain’s iron grip on his hands – so tight that Monsieur de Treville’s knuckles shone white.  He made a sound like a sigh, and his legs gave out under him, as he sank to the floor,  his body lifeless.
His friends managed to catch him and ease him onto the carpet.
In doing it, they blocked the path to the door and D’Artagnan could see no way of getting out of there, around them.  Besides, he must make sure of something first.  It seemed to him that, as Athos fell — awkwardly caught by Aramis around the chest and Porthos by the shoulders to ease what would otherwise have been a floor-shaking collapse — and as his hair moved out of the way, D’Artagnan glimpsed two deep, dark puncture marks on his neck.
Athos would not be the first one to be bitten by a vampire and live to tell the tale.  There was a time, D’Artagnan’s father had told him, that this was the basic requirement to become a musketeer – to have felt the bite of the vampire, and his allure, and to have survived it.  But the bite mark and his pallor seemed to indicate the vampire might have gone too far.  Far enough, in fact, that the human thus bitten turned within twenty four hours, and would be prowling the streets for living blood by the next evening.
D’Artagnan moved closer.  He was barely breathing, his breath caught in his throat, as he strived to see the musketeer’s neck.   Surely, if he’d been turned, his friends wouldn’t hide it.  They are musketeers.  Surely–
The two musketeers knelt, one on either side of their comrade, while the captain stood nervously at his feet, and Aramis was purposely unlacing Athos’ doublet, which was sensible if he was indeed wounded and needed air.  Aramis had also, in the movement, seemingly by accident, pulled Athos’ hair to hide what might be punctures on his neck.  Perhaps it had indeed been accidental.  But D’Artagnan found it hard to trust anyone.
“Sangre Dieu,” Porthos thundered, looking up and noticing that a crowd had come from the antechamber, to watch the excitement.  “Back all of you.  Can’t you see the man needs to breathe?”
At that moment Aramis lifted a reddened hand that he had just dipped beneath his friend’s doublet.  “He’s all over blood,” he said.  “He was badly cut in the fight last night.”  As he spoke, he undid Athos’ doublet altogether, and showed the red-tinted, soaked shirt beneath.  There was a sound of relief from bystanders.  They released long-held breath like a sigh.
Clearly all of them had thought at the same time that if the musketeer could bleed still and in such quantity, when he couldn’t have fed as a vampire yet, the rumor of a turning would be just that.  D’Artagnan was not so sure.  Such things could be faked.
Aramis pulled back the gory shirt to reveal a cut on the pale, muscular chest beneath – a cut smeared in blood, some of it dried.
“My surgeon,” Monsieur de Treville said.
“Bad idea, sire,” Aramis said.  “Athos wouldn’t even let us bandage him last night.  You know how private he is and how proud.  He wouldn’t like it if it was known he suffered such a wound.”  He looked around, and up at the crowd, with worried eyes.  “I hope no one speaks of this.”
The mass of musketeers backed a step, then two under that gaze and his steely voice.
Porthos stood, then bent, to pick up his unconscious friend.  “I’ll take him to his lodgings, sire, and we and his servant will bandage him up.  His servant has been with his family since Athos was a baby.  Athos cannot resent him.  Grimaud will look after him.”
“Yes,” Monsieur de Treville said, his gaze heavy on the bloodied shirt.  “Yes.  Do.  Take care of Athos.”
“We will, sire,” Aramis said, bowing a little.
But D’Artagnan’s benumbed brain had managed to work out two things.  First, the appearance of Athos’ chest and the blood on it was all wrong.  If he had bled that much, most of the blood would have crusted around the wound.  Instead, it was smeared around the pale skin in irregular streaks, looking like it had gone from the shirt to the wound, and not the other way around.
And second, Athos wore no cross.  While there was no requirement that musketeers – or indeed anyone – wore a cross, almost everyone wore one.  A cross or the chosen symbol of their faith. Something that not only stood between them and the vampires, but which showed to the world that they were, indeed, still free men.
Had a vampire managed to get into the ranks of the musketeers?  And were his friends hiding him?
When the three inseparables left the room, D’Artagnan, himself, slipped out and followed them.

Sword and Blood by Sarah Marques can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

And I’ll be back tomorrow with probably the last post of the Writers Workshop on Hooking Your Reader

Yos Ramblings – Greatscythes

by Chris McMahon

In my fantasy world Yos, all metal is present as a magical crystal called a glowmetal. These glowmetals are a naturally occurring blend of light and metal that cannot be created or destroyed.  So in the development of weapons, swords and metal armour were out. Instead I developed ceramic weapons.

A fantasy world without swords! Neat.

These composite ceramics come in various classes. Here are the main ones:

Lanedd – which can be used for blades. This holds a razor-sharp edge, yet avoids the brittleness of pure ceramics.

Mought – incredibly tough material that can be cast into shape as armour or used for the haft of various weapons.

The longest practical lanedd blade that can be cast using the techniques available to Glassmiths in Yos is the ‘calv’ or long-knife. This is where the world ‘calvanni’ or knife-fighter derives from (The Calvanni is the title of the first book in the Jakirian Cycle).

On Yos the dualist’s weapon of choice is the greatscythe. This is a staff-like weapon with twin concealed blades, one at either end. The blades shoot out and lock into place. It is operated by a mechanism central to the haft . It is also the weapon of the Suul nobility.

I had a lot of fun trying to figure out how the greatscythe worked.  After all – with no forged metal – I could not very well have conventional coiled springs.

Here’s what I came up with:

The greatscythe has a central fighting grip and a release grip slightly wider than this which is operated by twisting two rings. These have a thread on the inside that operates a rod moving parallel with the axis of the greatscythe. This movement switches what is known in knife-talk as an Out-The-Front or OTF mechanism.

Here is link that shows a graphic of the clever knife mechanism.

To make this work I needed two separate types of springs in the internal mechanism, both which had to be some sort of natural material. The first I solved with small bone ‘leaf’ springs for the catches that lock the blade into position. For the main spring that drives the blade back and forward I used a rubber strap-spring.

The greatscythe itself tapers to the ends.  Two cover plates attach to a hollow cast core and cover the dual mechanisms  – sealed in place with a special mought (ceramic) that melts at a much lower temperature than the mought of the haft. So if the mechanism needs to be fixed the sealing mought can be melted away to free the plate.

Have you had any fun with unique weapons?

Surfing the Human Wave

Okay, thanks to the amazingly interesting combination of Lunacon (pico-con-report – fun, membership is declining, the management hopes there’ll be a next time), moving house, and a certain kilted raccoon and his “friends” I’ve been mostly out of touch for a while. And what do you do while I’m gone? You go and start a movement. Not even an honest, prune-generated one, but a literary movement.

Honestly, you people are dangerous.

Okay, I was probably kind of sort of part of that movement before it started. I’m not as overtly anti-authority as Sarah, I’m much more the Australian subversive style that smiles and nods and pretends to pay attention before going off and doing what I always intended to do – while twisting the rules into pretzels to put what I intended into at least a gray zone.

Funnily enough this shows in my writing. I can’t follow genre rules without something twisting. I’m chronically incapable of refraining from the ancient art of taking the piss (although it tends to emerge in ways that leave people scratching their heads wondering what in heck I’m on about now. Or maybe just on (I can answer that question. The narcoleptic’s cocktail gets me all the really good drugs. Meth’s first cousin to wake up, one of the -epams to go to sleep to, antidepressants because being chronically short of sleep causes depression, as well as miscellaneous other stuff to deal with some of the other cascading malfunctions. They’re good drugs. They take me from walking zombie to moderately functional.). Sometimes what happens is funny. Sometimes it’s more like the One True measure of software quality – WTFs per minute. As a tester in the day job, I’m very familiar with that one.).

No matter what, it always ends up not fitting into anyone’s nice, neat marketing categories, and it breaks all those establishment rules about what’s supposed to happen.

I should confess here: I tried to write a grey goo story once. It turned into something else. I’m still not sure what, but it certainly wasn’t gray goo.

Of course, I’ve now guaranteed that I won’t be truly Human Wave either, even though I think the whole concept encapsulates what I end up doing. It’s just that I don’t do it deliberately (no-one ever believes me when I say this). I’m not trying to exclude myself – I just have a sneaking suspicion I was surfing that wave long before it got a name, and once it gets a box, I won’t be able to find the freaking thing (I’ve never been able to find the box – which makes it difficult to think outside it, since you have to know where inside the box is to do that).

Okay. Maybe I should just refrain from posting when brain-dead, overtired, or surrounded by teh kittehs (One of the pair is between me and the screen, the other one is on the top of my chair, looking down on me). Nah. If I did that, I’d never post.

Oh well. It is the Mad Genius Club after all.

Now off to surf that wave. Metaphorically of course. I’m not into actual surfing, what with the wonky sense of balance and all. Besides, just try finding a good wave in rural Pennsylvania.

Grocers of Despair

— by Sarah A. Hoyt

*And I will have a workshop post later today, as well as send critiques out.  Since today includes a fun and exciting doctor consult, I can’t promise as to time, but it will be up before evening.  I apologize for delay.  I can take work or family obligations or illness.  But when all of them collude, something gives — usually my schedule.*

UPDATE: And this is where I give you good news/bad news.  The good news is that the consult went well and at least one of the dread possibilities is eliminated.  The bad news is that it really ate most of the afternoon and by the time I got home it was dinner time, and I had no brain.  I’m sorry.  I will finish workshop this weekend.  I hate being unreliable, but sometimes things happen.

This is a post about the qualities and the effects of despair.  There are several reasons for it, the proximate one being that we are fed a lot of it – purposely? – by our art and entertainment complex.

I’m well acquainted with despair.  You could say it is an old friend of mine, except that despair is no one’s friend.

Despair accounted for how long it took me to break into publishing, to an extent, by creating long gaps of silence in my production, and several attempts at doing something else – anything else – with my life.  My basement is littered with the beginnings of would-be-money-making projects I tried to engage in to avoid what seemed to be a hopeless attempt at getting published.  Despair has accounted for how few of my books have been out the last two years.  Those of you who have followed my blog through that time know I hit the nadir of despair about a year ago, when it looked like despite all my best efforts to keep running on ice, my career in writing was over.

I was wrong.  I was wrong for several reasons, one of them being that Darkship Thieves – my heart’s darling at that point – did well for itself, and continues to do surprisingly well.  I was wrong, because indie possibilities opened.  I was wrong because I lost it – truly lost it – and started telling it like it is, and weirdly, surprisingly the “me” I’d suppressed so long, in order to have a career that would allow me to feed the kids, allowed me to find readers who helped my career.  Go figure.

But the point is not that I was wrong.  The point is that I know from despair and what’s more, I understand why despair is considered a sin.  This is not always the case, and I’ve always had an issue with, say, sloth, since – being active by nature – I can’t imagine a worst punishment than being forced to do nothing.

Despair is a sin because it eats you, from the inside out.  Despair comes with “I will never” and “what is the use” and “the game is rigged, so why bother?”  Despair comes with beating your head against a glass window that shouldn’t be there, and yet is.  Despair, in its ultimate form has blighted more artistic careers, destroyed more souls (and by soul here, I don’t require you believe in an immortal entity.  I refer only to that which makes your mind and spirit yours) caused more suicides than anything else.

Despair is that feeling you get when you’ve run the maze, you’ve done your best, and you come to the end and there’s nothing but a blank wall.

It is a powerful emotion, at least for those of us who have faced it.  It is dramatic, if you end a story with it, after a good run and a lot of hope.  It stays in the mind.

It is in fact a primary color, and it’s small wonder beginning writers use it, just like beginning artists – say kindergarten – use primary colors.

And it is a sin.  It is a sin against your future self.  It is a sin against humanity.  It is a sin against possibility.  Remember that.  We’ll come back to it.

However, the fact that it is an easily identifiable tint and primary doesn’t explain why there is so much of it larded around science fiction and fantasy, which SHOULD be the literature of possibility.  Sure a lot of this can be explained by the youth of writers (in truth or in practice,) the youth of editors (most of the ones working with newby writers are just out of college) and a certain fashionable air of the times, when it is considered smart and hip to dress all in black and moan about the evils of the future.  (Kind of like it was fashionable for Goethe’s Werner.  Never mind.  Hip, I tell you.  futuristic even.)

But wait, there’s more.  There’s what despair serves to do.  People who despair don’t try to change things and/or undermine the establishment.  People who despair, at the very least go away and shut up, even if they don’t deliberately kill themselves.

There is a striking scene in one of Leo Frankowki’s books, in which a Mongol Lord gets peasants to line up so he can behead them.  And when the hero comes along and kills him, the peasants turn on the hero because “now you’ve gone and angered them.”  And when the hero asks what can be worse than being killed, they have nothing, except “they will make it worse.”  THAT’s despair.  Despair makes you embrace death willingly rather than rebel, no matter how bad things get.

While I don’t believe in a grand conspiracy among publishing outlets and entertainment venues, I do believe in a tribal culture in what is – after all – when it comes to influential people maybe a few thousand people: a small village.  Tribal cultures are easy to influence.  I’m not saying anyone is, I’m saying it’s possible – and we’ve found that type of influence behind a lot of the recent “trends.”

So, before you give in to despair, ask yourself qui bono?  (And if you’re not into asking yourself Latin questions and are now wondering if you should have been paying more attention to Dancing With The Stars and supermarket tabloids, let me dispel your confusion.  That means “Whom does this profit?”)

Dave Freer talks about sheep and goats.  Most of humanity are sheep.  Some of us are goats.  The problem of any establishment, any power, anyone who abrogates influence over human hearts and minds is to control the goats and to make the sheep do more than stand in place and bah.  The more brutally repressive regimes eliminate the goats, often physically, and leave only the sheep.  The result is all the innovation and elan of… North Korea.

The best regimes manage to allow the goats their head, keeping them only off the things that will hurt other people.  They usually result in the highest production – both artistic and material.

In between there are several types of goat-herding schemes, including tolerating them within certain bounds and shipping them abroad to claim new pastures for the sheep.  The British Empire used both strategies with great success since the Elizabethan age.  They eventually stopped using it and resorted to despair.  The British Empire didn’t survive much longer.

So ask yourself what about the current establishment makes it resort to despair?  It’s surely the mark of a philosophical system that has nothing else to offer its goats.  It’s the mark of a philosophical system that is doomed, and wants to keep things quiet “just a little longer.”

And it has been THE culture in publishing since the seventies.  The embrace of declining numbers, declining revenues, declining living standards for writers – the willing embrace of decline – the meek submission to the people who are killing us, because you wouldn’t want to get them angry.  They could really make it unpleasant then.

In According To Hoyt, we’ve talked about how going Indie is a mark of impatience… or something – at least according to the establishment.  We’re supposed to stay still, and let despair permeate us, and slowly tighten around us like a band, allowing us to make only the approved noises, which increase the cultural despair and get everyone accustomed to decline and darkness, and no way out.  When publishers say the mid-list should die, they expect us to curl up and do so.  How quaint.

Despair is a sin.  And, to quote Jerry Pournelle, it might not even reflect the truth.  Look at Heinlein, a smart man and most of us would say an optimist, who chose not to have children, avowedly (yes, I’m aware there might have been other reasons) because “the world was such a mess.”  And yet, if he’d had a child in his first marriage, that child would now be older than my dad, who has had a full life, and not an unpleasant one.

Do not take Mr. Heinlein’s example in that particular aspect of  his life.  Take his example in his writing.  Despair is a sin.  And there is usually another way: a way through, a way around.  Find the way.  Pull the Mongol horseman down.  If you kill enough of them, they’ll go away.  Refuse to write despair.  Refuse to believe despair.  Look doom and gloom in the eye and ask them “you and what army?”  Yes, it might all come to the same in the end, but at least you’ll have fought and died like a human being and not a bah lamb.

Tell the Grocers of Despair you have better things to do.  There is a fight going on, and you’d rather fight.  And then go on and discover new pastures.  The poor sheep need somewhere to graze on.  And you’ll have more freedom to breathe.  And everyone wins in the end.

Remember qui bono?  If they sell you despair it’s because they’re afraid of what you can do if you don’t give up.  Don’t give up.  Nothing will piss the establishment more than your continued – and cheerful – battling on.  Do it.  Let THEM despair.

Mid-Listers Are “Toast”?

by Amanda S. Green

I’ll start with the admission that I’m late getting my post up this morning. Put it down to a serious case of dead brain syndrome. You know, that fuzzy, muddled state of mind that sometimes comes after you finish one project and know you have to move on to another but find it hard to focus. For me, that project was a short story that refused to be short. In fact, it fought me all the way and finally came in at something around 28,000 words. Add to that the fact I overslept this morning and am still trying to get enough coffee in me to concentrate and, well, you get the idea.

So, knowing I really didn’t have much to say this morning, I was going to put up an open floor notice. Then I started going through my email. You guessed it. I found something that left me shaking my head. So, I’ll share it with you and see if I’m the only one wondering about what I read.

Last week was the Publishing Business Conference & Expo. One of the presentations was by Marcus Leaver, the outgoing president of Sterling Publishing. You remember Sterling, don’t you? It’s the publishing house purchased by Barnes & Noble (and apparently welcomed by most everyone in the industry since it wasn’t Amazon) and that has since been on and off the sales block by B&N. Anyway, back to Leaver’s comments.

According to Leaver, the biggest challenge facing publishers isn’t e-books, but rather “adding value to authors and readers alike and staying ‘necessary’.” Wow, could it be that this is a publishing executive who really gets it?

I’ll admit, as I was reading the Shelf-Awareness coverage of Leaver’s speech, I did wonder. After all, he also said, “The world does not need another book . . . We’re still publishing far too many.” Now, if he is including all the small press and self-published e-books, he may have a point. But if all he is talking about are mainstream publishers who are trying to make the transition from purely print to a print-digital format, I have to disagree. I don’t think too many books are being published. What I think is that there are too many books pushing the “correct” way to think and too many poor clones of the latest trend book. We went through that with Harry Potter and Twilight and we’ll soon be going through it with The Hunger Games. And can any of us forget all the Dan Brown-lite books that came out after The Da Vinci Code?

One thing Leaver did say that I agree with wholeheartedly is, “Our biggest challenge will not be e-books,but in proving that publishers will continue to be necessary.” Add to that his prediction that there will be a rise of niche publishers that will market directly to readers instead of to the publishing and bookselling industries in an attempt to fight the problem of discoverability. He then went on to propose the bundling of print and digital editions of a book as a “necessary option” to give the reader the more choices in how they want to read a book.

As I said, the coverage of Leaver’s speech left me scratching my head. One the one hand, I don’t agree that there are too many books being offered now. That’s especially true if we are only talking about books published by the “establishment”, those publishers that haven’t been bucking the print to e-book trend.

But on the other hand, I agree wholeheartedly with him about publishers needing to change their focus when it comes to who they market their goods to. The target should be readers, especially with the ever increasing market share e-books are garnering. That means, as he suggested, opening events like Book Expo America to the public. And am I the only one who can imagine the groans and cries of dismay from the industry insiders when he also suggested that BEA NOT be held in New York?

Then we get back to the head scratching. When talking about book marketing, Leaver said that “book publishers should ‘go to where the audience is’ and no longer rely on mass-marketing like book publicity. Book marketing should also be ‘ubiquitous’ and rely more heavily on author participation.”

Wait a minute. I don’t recall much being done in the way of publicity for any book except those framed as best sellers or as the “newest, bestest thing”. When is the last time a solid mid-lister had any sort of real PR push for a new release? And, honestly, if authors were asked to provide even more marketing participation, when would they have time to write? As I said, this has me scratching my head.

And then I read further. Mid-listers, I warn you now. This is scary stuff and it explains so much. According to Leaver, “[t]he mid-list, however, is ‘toast’ . . . because mid-list books aren’t either beautiful and essential or workmanlike and utilitarian. Books that are neither of these things shouldn’t exist.” In other words, if you aren’t a best seller or don’t have a huge back list you are willing to let a publisher have, you are now worthless.

Sorry, but this is where I have to say Leaver is full of shit. (Sorry, guys, there’s no other word for it.) Mid-listers are the backbone of publishing and have been for years. Mid-listers have been the one constant publishers could rely upon for sales. They could always predict X-number of sales. Mid-listers aren’t the risk that so-called best sellers are. Remember, best sellers are based on pre-orders which, in turn, come from the push at such events like BEA. You remember BEA, the event Leaver said should be thrown open to the public. How many of these so-called best sellers never came close to earning out their six or seven or eight digit advances?

To be fair, Leaver may be basing this statement purely on his experience with Sterling. He admitted that 60% of Sterling’s monies come from back list titles. That, in and of itself, shows that Sterling’s business is, in my opinion, upside down. But I’ll go back to Leaver’s own words. I don’t always want books that are ‘beautiful and essential” and I really don’t want my books to be “workmanlike and utilitarian”. Beautiful is great for my coffee table books. Essential comes in with my how-to books that help me do repairs, etc. Workmanlike and utilitarian makes me wonder if those books go out and march through the streets at night after I’ve gone to bed.

Sorry, but I want books that entertain me. I want books that help expand my knowledge–and without trying to “educate” me to the “right” way of thinking. I want my mid-lister authored books because, in my opinion, they aren’t pale versions of a best seller I didn’t like to begin with.

But Leaver is right about publishers needing to market to their readers and not to one another. I’ll give him due credit for that. Now I’ll go reassure my mid-lister friends that they aren’t “toast” and are an important part of the industry. I’ll leave the legacy publishers with this question: if Leaver’s comments on mid-listers reflect the industry’s view (and I think it is clear this is the case), why are you so surprised when your mid-listers, your workhorses, leave you?

My suggestion to each of us, as readers, is to take a few minutes and find out if our favorite mid-lister authors are publishing on their own or through small presses now. Whichever route they are taking, support them. They’ve given you hours of enjoyment when publishing through legacy publishers. Believe me, they still can. In fact, you may find that the editing and proofreading of their books is better now that they are away from legacy publishers than it was while with them.

Edited to add:

Thanks to Passive Guy for the mention and link today! For those of you who haven’t been following his blog, The Passive Voice, I recommend you do so. It is a must read for anyone interested in the publishing industry.

A narrower church

Over the last week or so Human Wave SF/fantasy has been gathering momentum (the tummies of moments) and it would seem heading steadily towards that lovely Monty Python skit about how the Anglican church would welcome any satanists… you can’t be exclusive, you know. Well, as we’re slightly wider in scope than the dietary tolerances of the monkey I would offer this outline so it can garner “Human Wave SF” approval. See: there is this Alien world settled by this small group of Christian settlers (bad people) and our hero (or rather observer) is the only young boy in a village populated by men (bad, because they’re men) where everyone is telepathic and the result is ‘noise’. The boy is told this because of a germ released by the native species, the Spackle, and that killed all the women. The ‘hero’ then discovers a moving spot of silence, which turns out to be a girl who has crashed with a spaceship and lost parents in the crash. Women, being good, aren’t affected by the germ. It turns out that the (bad Christian) men lied and that they killed off the women and the poor Spackle is completely innocent (and a victim of Christian male human aggression), and they will only let the boy become a man by murdering someone. They get to meet a women who tells them all this and takes them to her village. An army of men from the bad village burn their village down and kill anyone who won’t join them. The hero and heroine have various adventures to show how good the girl is and how bad the men are before one of the bad men shoots the good girl through the stomach. The hero then carries her to Haven which is an a place with high technology where they can contact the girl’s people still in space. Only the bad men from the village have arrived and taken over the most advanced settlement on the planet without a fight and the Mayor of the bad village now declares himself president of the world.

I’m sure that really we can somehow say this is Human Wave too can’t we? And by doing this we could be all-inclusive, because that is a very bad and unflattering outline (the brackets are my interpretation of the rather obvious stereotype after stereotype. I’ve left out a few like the inevitable bad priest and good male-male relationship) of one of the champions of “literary trough of despond’ sf (as opposed Human wave?) “The knife of never letting go” by Patrick Ness. It won the Booktrust, Tiptree and Guardian Awards in 2009.

No, the church is not that broad… not if I am going into it, anyway. I am sure some people must love this sort of thing, but I’ll pass. Must be the exploration and understanding it brought to me about gender (the stated aim of the Tiptree). I don’t really need to know my place that badly, so I’ll give it a miss.

Ok I am frantically trying to finish a book so how about a competition. No cheating. No using Atwood plots. I mean your OWN plot, the one that could win you all those prizes and acclaim if you wrote it. Some people like it.
The most Lit trough plot outline wins.

The judge’s decision is final. We won’t have any of this popularity rubbish. On Friday I’ll pick a worthy winner to send a copy of DOG AND DRAGON (when get my copies!) to… hopeful as an example of the inverse…

Oh By the way, there is a free e-book available from the 28th until the 1st as a promotion.

Welcome to the real world

by Amanda S. Green

For those of you looking for Sarah’s workshop, she sends her apologies. Between not feeling good this past week and having to leave earlier for Denver this weekend than she expected, she wasn’t able to polish her post for today. She said to tell you that she will put the next installment of the workshop up Wednesday and will then get back to the Sunday schedule.

Yesterday I wrote about why I’m a Human Waver. I want to thank everyone who has so whole-heartedly jumped into the conversations this week about the new Human Wave Science Fiction, starting with Sarah’s post, Bring Back That Wonder Feeling, over on According to Hoyt and continuing with What is Human Wave Science Fiction here on MGC.

For me, part of my desire–no, my need–to embrace this new movement, for lack of a better word, goes far beyond just wanting to be able to read books like those I enjoyed so much when I was younger. It is a reaction to the legacy publishing industry, the same industry that has told so many of us that our stories aren’t deep enough or socially relevant enough or don’t carry the right message.

I’ll admit, part of the reason for this post today is because several of us involved with Mad Genius Club have been told that we are getting too serious on the blog. We’ve been asked if we are trying to cut off any chance we might have to work with the NYC publishers. In short, we are questioning the status quo and that just isn’t done.

Then, earlier this evening, I read a comment on a discussion board I frequent–several comments actually–where the posters made sweeping condemnations of authors who are taking paths that don’t lead through legacy publishers. According to them, there is a cache that comes with being published by these folks (And, for the record, I am exempting Baen from this conversation because I know their process and it isn’t that of the “big” publishers). This cache includes things like editing and copy editing and promotion and support for authors, etc., etc., etc.

All of which is bull. But we’ve discussed that before. In fact, I’ve been accused of harping too much on it. So I simply suggest you go back and look at our earlier posts about just how much push and promotion all but a few big name authors get. Compare the level of editing and copy editing and proofreading of books, paper and digital, today as opposed to twenty years ago. Ask most authors about what sort of support they get from their publishers. After they stop laughing, be prepared for a lesson in real life publishing.

Again, Baen does not fall into this category.

No, this post is aimed at those who feel we are being too negative and confrontational in our comments about legacy publishers. What these people don’t understand, mainly because they aren’t living the writer’s life, is that this is how most of us feel.

Publishing is changing and the many of the players are running scared. Publishers are trying to hold onto business models that should have evolved years ago. They are grabbing for rights to books that weren’t even dreamed up at the time contracts were signed. They are refusing to relinquish rights for books that have been out of print without the threat of litigation. They are insisting on non-compete clauses in contracts that can prevent authors from not only submitting work to other publishers but from also self-publishing something, even if it isn’t the sort of book the initial publisher puts out.

Worse, you have publishers fighting for a pricing scheme (agency pricing) that they admit makes them less money than they made under the earlier pricing policy. WTF? At a time when they are struggling to survive, they are fighting to make less money. Why? Because it would, in their minds, screw with Amazon. They aren’t looking at the bottom line for their companies or what this means to authors. And, authors, if the publisher makes less money, you’ll make less money.

Then there are the agents who are now acting as publishers or assisted publishers or whatever. Agents who are supposed to be representing their clients’ best interest are now going into a part of the business that, at least on the surface, looks like it could be a direct conflict of interest.

But it’s worse. There is what I am tempted to call a conspiracy of conformation taking place. We saw some of it last week on Sarah’s post, War is Hell. The trolls came running to the blog to beat her over the head because she wasn’t toeing the correct line. Her facebook page was hijacked when all she did was repost a Heinlein quote.

Folks, like it or not, but there has been a movement to keep writers in line. If you don’t believe me, listen to what editors and agents say at cons when they think they are in “friendly territory”. It hasn’t been more than a month since someone I know overheard an editor talking about having to drop someone because they’d found out this person was, gasp, conservative. If they are dropping friends for not being of the “right” political bent, believe me, they are dropping writers for the same reason.

Why else are writers having series dropped by editors with such questionable reasons as the series never caught on with the readers when that series is still on the shelves in bookstores more than two years after publication? Go ask anyone who works at a bookstore if they keep books in stock, much less on the shelves, if it isn’t moving. They don’t. And yet editors seem to think writers aren’t smart enough to check for themselves if their books are selling.

For years, writers have bitten their tongues and have made changes to their manuscripts in an attempt to keep their editors happy. That ought to be a red flag right there. Keeping the editor happy instead of the buying public. Am I the only one who sees something wrong with that?

Writers are frustrated and, to be honest, we’re just as scared as the publishers. We don’t like change any more than the rest of the world. Worse, we’d really just like to be left alone to write. But we also want, and need, to make a fair wage for our work. That means publishers need to adjust their royalty schemes–or once more give that cachet of benefits that reader thought they still did. It means agents need to adjust their mindsets as well and remember there are legitimate options for their clients that don’t necessarily mean going with a legacy publisher.

Have I wound up severing any chance I had of landing a contract with a big publisher? Possibly. With an agent? Again, possibly. But I couldn’t get one to accept me as a client or author before Naked Reader Press. I’ve had agents forget I’d sent back edits they’d asked for and, when I did finally ask about it, they asked me to send another round of edits, WITHOUT FIRST SEEING THE INITIAL EDITS and without offering representation. I’ve had editors give me great feedback but tell me my books just “weren’t right” for them. That’s fine. I’ve found other outlets and I make pretty good money from these outlets. So, much as part of me would like a contract from a legacy publisher, I’m not going to cry if I never get one. (Of course, I still want a contract with Baen, but that’s because it is the only “major” publisher that consistently publishes books I like to read.)

So, have most of us at Mad Genius Club been negative? You bet. We’re human. We’re writers. And, like so many other writers right now, we have had enough. We want to be able to write the books we want to write. Books and short stories that fall squarely into Human Wave Science Fiction. We want to be able to bring these books and short stories to our fans. More than that, we want to be able to expand the Human Wave from sf to fantasy, mystery, romance, etc. Is that so wrong?

(Cross-posted to According to Hoyt)

Why I’m a Human Waver

by Amanda S. Green

Before I get started, let me give you a quick update. We’ve been in negotiations with a certain kilt-wearing raccoon for the release of Kate, but those negotiations aren’t going very far. He keeps wanting more pie and a certain evil penguin keeps hijacking the pie truck. Anyway, we are confident Kate will be back for her regular Thursday slot. But, in the meantime, I’m filling in for her today.

For those of you who might have missed Sarah’s wonderful series of articles on bringing back that sense of wonder we used to find in science fiction and fantasy, I recommend you read Bring Back That Wonder Feeling, What is Human Wave Science Fiction and You Got To Move It Move It. Also check out Patrick Richardson’s The New Human Wave in Science Fiction.

Like Sarah and all those who have commented on her posts, I miss those days of derring-do in science fiction and I’ve been thinking about why I first started reading science fiction and why, after going away from it for awhile, I returned to it.

I grew up in a house where books were valued friends. I was one of the lucky ones where my parents were voracious readers and they began reading to me very early. When I was old enough, we read together. They encouraged me to read fiction and non-fiction, no book in the house was off-limits. In a time before video games, books were my escape.

When I was an early teen, maybe even a tween, I was spending a week or two at my grandmother’s house in small town Oklahoma. It wasn’t the first time. Every summer I spent at least a week there and another week in Tulsa with my other grandmother. But that summer was different. I’d read all the books in Grandma’s house–all two dozen or so of them. My grandmother just wasn’t a reader. The books that were there were either some left by my dad when he moved out years and years before or by my Uncle John.

Uncle John’s books introduced me to Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. They were good books but short and it didn’t take long for me to read them. So, one day, I did what most any kid who is bored will do–I started prowling the dark corners of the house to see if I could find anything of interest.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a HUGE closet filled almost floor to ceiling with not only books and magazines but also records. I was in heaven. The only problem was that there was nothing to play the records on.

I spent hours going through the books and magazines. There was such a wide assortment of them to choose from. But one thing–well, several actually–that caught my eye. There were a number of If: Worlds of Science Fiction magazines. The covers and story titles intrigued me. I gathered them up and went outside to sit under one of the huge trees to read.

One of the very first stories I read was Jungle in the Sky by Milton Lesser. I’d never heard of either the story or the author before, but there was something about the cover that called to me. I didn’t know then that the magazine had been published in 1952. That part of the cover had been torn away. All I knew was it was something new I hadn’t read at least twice.

The story, like so many science fiction stories, could just as easily have been set in Africa. It was basically a safari set in space, but with a twist. There were aliens, sort of like parasites, that were hunting humans just as humans were hunting other aliens for their expositions on Earth. When our heroes are captured and “infested”, they have to not only find a way to defeat an enemy that is now part of them, but also find a way off the planet and back home to warn the rest of humanity about this threat.

I came across the story again a few months ago. It’s probably been thirty years since I last read it. My initial response on reading it this time was to shake my head when Lesser described the ship’s captain–our heroine–wearing hot pants and a cape while the rest of the crew is in overalls, etc. But then I realized I was looking at the story through today’s so-called sensibilities. This wasn’t a military ship. So the captain could wear whatever she wanted, as long as the ship’s owners didn’t mind. Also, this fit what was being written in the pulps back then. So, I put away the judgmental part of me and just read the story again, wondering if I’d like it as much as I did back then.

I can’t say I did, not completely. But it still made me smile at the right place and cringe when I was supposed to. I still found myself imagining that I was one of those crew members having to fight to survive. Yes, there were structural issues with the story and the science really doesn’t work. But you know what? That really doesn’t matter. It is a good story and I felt good at the end, even though some of the good guys died and some of the bad guys didn’t get the comeuppance I wanted them to.

It didn’t take me long to finish Jungle. So I started looking for more like it. Guess what I found. The first two installments of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. I was hooked. Oh boy was I hooked. And I was ticked because the last installment wasn’t there. Worse, stuck as I was in Ardmore without a car–my grandmother didn’t drive–and without a bookstore in walking distance–I had to wait until I got home and could con,er convince, my parents to take me to a store to buy the book.

Those two started my love affair with science fiction. SF allowed my imagination to fly. It took me to worlds where I knew I’d never be able to go but I could hope my children or grandchildren could. Even those books that didn’t have a happily ever after had that sense of hope to them. If only the survivor could hold out. If only the rescue team got there in time. There was a respect for humanity and for the human spirit I could identify with.

It’s that respect I have found lacking in so many of the “modern” science fiction novels and short stories. Well, that and the very unsubtle attempt by the author to beat me over the head with their political or social beliefs. It has seemed like the need to “teach” has become more important than the desire to “entertain”. Sorry, but when I read for pleasure, it isn’t so someone can pound a message into my head.

That has seemed especially true when it comes to most dystopian sf. (Well, to be honest, the utopian sf as well. But I have always tended to avoid those stories because, frankly, they bore me.) Governments are bad. Corporations are bad. Your neighbor is bad. Even your companions will sell you out at the drop of a hat and you can’t hold onto your beliefs if your life depended on it. Not only are these stories depressing but they usually wind up flying across the room before I finish the first quarter of the book. Why? Because the characters are unbelievable. Not everyone is a caricature. Just because you are a white, blond male doesn’t make you a villain. You aren’t automatically a victim because your skin is a certain color or you are a certain sex. Give me a break.

Give me Heinlein any day of the week. Do I like every one of his books? No. But most of them never fail to send my imagination soaring. Sarah’s Darkship Thieves does the same thing. Athena comes from a horrible world, but it is still a world where there is hope held by some of its inhabitants for a better world. It’s also a fun romp. Terry Pratchett is the same in fantasy as is Dave.  l have yet to find anything by Dave I haven’t liked. The reason why is simple. Dave and Sarah, like PTerry, RAH and so many others, are storytellers. They focus on story and character, putting the “message” in subtly instead of beating us over the head with it.

So, sign me up for the Human Waver movement. I’m thrilled with the opening of the publishing market to small presses and self-published authors for a number of reasons, including the fact that we will be getting more books that fit the Human Wave model. Even better, this “movement” can be applied to every genre. So who else is with me?

Mirrored at The Naked Truth and here.

Holy Cow

by Chris McMahon

Since everyone enjoyed the joke last week – and in honour of St Patrick’s Day – here is a classic Irish Joke. Enjoy!

I was wandering around town last week, and as often happens, my feet took me down Charlotte St to one of my favourite haunts, Gilhooleys pub. As I relaxed at the bar, preparing myself to meditate over a pint of Guinness, I suddenly recognized Duncan, a distant cousin of mine from the old country. Usually laconic, old Dunc looked even more down than usual.

‘Hey Duncan, why so somber?’

‘Did you not hear?’ He shook his head sadly and slumped down even further, his face sinking toward the froth on his untouched beer. ‘Old Maggie.’

He meant Sister Margaret, known as the ‘Mother Teresa of the Irish West’

‘Surely not?’ I prompted.

‘I was there,’ he said. He shook himself a bit. Then taking a long pull on the black stuff, he sat up straighter on his stool.

‘There she was – lying back on the pillows. Her face so pale. . . yet aglow like. There was myself, a young little nun from the convent, Bessie, and old Father O’Hennessy. Nothing to do but just hold the vigil.’ He paused. ‘How many times can ye’ say the Rosary? God, forgive me,’ said Duncan, crossing himself.

I wasn’t sure what to say. Duncan is little older than me, and always held me in a sort of spell with his reserved gravity. I sat and waited, and eventually the story unfolded, my eyes on the pint and bar, but my mind lost in Duncan’s voice, the memory of the peat smoke, and the warm shuttered rooms of my childhood. I was there, in that room with Duncan.

‘Will you not take some water?’ asked Father O’Hennessy.

Maggie shook her head, making a sound deep in her throat that might have been anything.

‘Perhaps some milk?’

‘I’ll try,’ croaked Maggie weakly.

Father O’Hennessy nodded his head at Bessie, who slipped out of the room, returning a moment later with a large glass of creamy milk.

Bessie stepped up to the bed and held the glass to Maggie’s lips. Maggie choked and spluttered, the milk spraying out onto the cover. Maggie shook her head, and Bessie withdrew the glass. I could see poor little Bessie’s eyes tear as she mopped up the spill.

Eventually Bessie came back over to myself and Father O’Hennessy in the corner near the fire.

‘It’s no good, Father,’ said Bessie.

Father O’Hennessy looked down at the floor, then up suddenly. He considered for a moment, then his eyes lifted to the ceiling. ‘May the Lord forgive me.’ He turned his back on Maggie and slipped a silver flask from his coat pocket, pouring a good slug of Jameson’s Whiskey in with the milk. ‘Try that, girl.’

Bessie went back the bed. At the first touch of the glass to Old Maggie’s lips, her eyes lit up. She pushed herself back up into a sitting position, and gulped down the rest of the drink.

A little colour came back into her cheeks then, but there was something – the unearthly clarity of her eyes or the pallor of her skin – that alerted us.

‘Get the others, Bessie. Lively now,’ said Father O’Hennessy. It would not be long.

Soon the room was crowded with clergy, most of them the nuns that Old Maggie had led for more than a quarter of a century.

For a long moment Maggie looked at the them, then she tried to push herself up higher. This was it. The last words of this wonderful woman.

‘Help her up, Bessie.’

Maggie’s face was rapt as she drew a breath.

‘Whatever you do – don’t sell that cow!’

Be on the look out!

A strange looking raccoon wearing a kilt and matching tartan jester hat saunters in and draws back a curtain showing a female writer working feverishly at a laptop, sweat flying off of her in an almost cartoonish fashion. Sitting next to her holding a cattle prod and pistol is an irritated looking editorial demon. It quickly becomes apparent only her arms are free as she is tied to the chair with what appears to be licorice whips.

“Ladies and gentlemen as you can see your regularly scheduled poster will not be with you today,” the raccoon says in a reasonable approximation of a network television talking head. “Kate Paulk is dreadfully behind on ConSensual, the next of the ‘Jim the Con-going vampire’ series.
“She will return at a later date, however, providing she finishes the rewrites as requested by the editorial demons. The demons and, frankly her fans, had become tired of waiting and kidnapped her. Additionally we are holding her supplies of chocolate hostage and will eat it all before her eyes if she does not finish the book directly. We do apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.
“We now return you to your regularly scheduled insanity.”
UPDATE: Just received at the Swank Mad Genius Club resort, the following:
Wee haf Kate Pl pa Paulk and we’re not giving her back unless
1 – you giv us one hunderd dollars in unmarked penise penies  pennies
2- you gift us more con booksies NOW
3- you make Sarah Hoyt die  dye her hair a more plausible shade of brown and also shut up already.
The editorial demons.  (We are powerful, but we can’t spell.)