“I loved the feel of the cold iron and steel warming to my touch and the sounds and smells of the gym. And I still love it. There is nothing I would sooner hear than the sound of heavy steel plates ringing as they are threaded onto the bar or dropped back to the rack after a strenuous lift.”
Over at CrimeReads, Lee Randall has this to say about two interrelated realms many think have little in common:
“All complex narratives are networks,” writes Jane Alison in Meander, Spiral, Explode. “Any literary narrative of depth asks your brain to pull threads across the whole . . . your experience moving through them is never purely linear, but volumetric or spatial as your thoughts bounce across passages.”
That sounds like physics to me. This branch of science encompasses everything from mechanics, heat, light, radiation, sound, astronomy, atomic structure, electricity and magnetism. It demands elasticity of thought and an ability to think in metaphors. Physicists strive to describe the universe and understand the relationships between all its components.
That’s what novelists do, too!
(And short story writers!) There’s nothing like the feeling of linking together seemingly disparate elements into a unified whole. When it works, you feel it — and if you don’t feel it, neither will the reader. If plot arises from character, then the other elements of a story, including the objective, theme, scenes, twists, etc, should work in harmony to create a single, emotionally satisfying effect on the reader.
Nothing prepares you for such a challenge like reading widely and deeply. The resulting cross-pollination of ideas not only helps you see the interrelatedness of things, but keeps your sense of wonder alive. And that motivates you to create more stories.
My story “The Calculus of Karma” is a combination science fiction and mystery tale. A big chunk of the fun in writing it was creating a puzzle for the protagonist to solve. And what a puzzle — our rookie detective has a dead space miner on his hands, but no murder weapon, no suspects, and he has to solve the case before the death sparks an escalation between warring factions of miners. Inspiration finally arrives from Sir Isaac Newton and Al Capone.
That’s the challenge of science fiction — you have to create believable plot and character arcs, craft an entertaining story, produce flowing, sparkling prose, and — get the science right.
In this 1st edition there are five quick science fiction reads by authors Mike Tuggle, Evan Marcroft, John Grey, Michael M. Jones, and Nicholas C. Smith. I’ve read work by Mike Tuggle before and really enjoyed his style, so I knew going in that this edition had potential. I wasn’t disappointed either.. Actually quite the opposite! These contributors really brought their A-game. Gore, action, aliens… it has it all!
“By failing to read or listen to poets, society dooms itself to inferior modes of articulation, those of the politician, the salesman, or the charlatan. In other words, it forfeits its own evolutionary potential. For what distinguishes us from the rest of the animal kingdom is precisely the gift of speech. Poetry is not a form of entertainment and in a certain sense not even a form of art, but it is our anthropological, genetic goal. Our evolutionary, linguistic beacon.”
Today is the birthday of Ambrose Gwinett Bierce, one of the great short story writers and satirists of the late nineteenth century. Bierce, a former Union officer in the War Between the States, gave the world the most vivid and brutally honest picture of war ever captured in prose. The war than nearly killed him taught him many grim lessons, chief of which was that noble ideals are the cheapest of lies, used to convince the naive to prop up insane projects that lead only to suffering and death for the many — and profit for the few.
My Master’s Thesis explored Bierce’s war stories, tales exposing the animal senselessness of war.
Fans of both Ambrose Bierce and Robert E. Howard will want to read John Bullard’s excellent post on the significant influence Bierce exerted over a young Robert E. Howard. It includes additional resources on each author, with a link to Bierce’s works.
Alone on the remote moon Specula C-3, Dr. Annette Thatcher rescues the lone alien survivor of a wrecked spacecraft. Thatcher, a xenobiologist, is eager to learn about this strange being’s culture. But neither she nor the alien are prepared for what their chance encounter reveals about both species.
Mystery Weekly Magazine has published my short story “The Calculus of Karma.” It’s a mashup of science fiction and detective fiction, two of my favorite genres. The gorgeous cover art by Robin Grenville Evans captures the story’s tone perfectly.
In the year 2454, Malcolm Lamb is a rookie deputy marshal assigned to a mining colony on the asteroid 16 Psyche. Lamb and his fellow deputies have to constantly break up clashes between Damani Corporation miners and wildcatters. Under its grim surface, Psyche hides a fortune in precious metals, and competition for it ignites raw passions.
When a dead miner is found in an alley behind a popular bar, Malcolm Lamb must find the killer to prevent an escalation in the deadly turf war between the corporate and wildcat miners. With no murder weapon, no suspect, and no clue how the miner was killed, Lamb has to interpret conflicting pieces of evidence before time runs out.
This story was a blast to research and write. A beta reader called it a Wild-West-inspired space adventure with a big chunk of Columbo thrown in. Malcolm Lamb is a bit of a departure from the kind of protagonist I usually write about, but he does embody an heroic principle I admire, best defined by Robert Penn Warren: “If poetry is the little myth we make, history is the big myth we live, and in our living, constantly remake.”
Mystery Weekly is a Mystery Writers of America approved publisher that features original short stories by the world’s best-known and emerging mystery writers. You can buy a Kindle or print copy through Amazon, or get a digital subscription to “the world’s most-read monthly mystery magazine” on Kindle Newstand.
While conducting a solo study of the fauna on Specula C3, Dr. Annette Thatcher witnesses the crash-landing of an alien spacecraft. She rescues Gregarin, the lone survivor of a ship from Etzi, a previously unknown planet. During the weeks Thatcher and Gregarin wait for an Earth rescue shuttle, they learn about each other’s language and culture — and surprising truths about themselves.
The idea for this story came to me while re-reading Dr. Lewis Thomas’ marvelous book, The Lives of a Cell, a beautifully written treasure chest of insights into the interconnectedness of all life. Thomas’ thoughts on collective societies that behave like single organisms got me to imagining how human society would appear to an alien species.
Hexagon Speculative Fiction is a new Canadian publication featuring poetry, fiction, and mixed media from all over the world. Its goal is to blend the fantastic, the absurd, the horrifying, and the humorous.
Writing in Giant Freakin Robot, Drew Dietsch recounts that the now-classic movie Starship Troopers was originally a dud at the box office, as well as a critical failure. Crowds looking for big-name stars didn’t find any in the film adaptation of Robert Heinlein’s novel, and critics thumped it as poorly acted, empty entertainment. Roger Ebert, for example, judged it to be “the most violent kiddie movie ever made.”
What changed our view of this now-beloved classic? The cult movie’s secret, says Dietsch, is that both audiences and critics slowly realized the movie committed that most grievous of sins in cinema: overachieving. Over the years, fans recognized Starship Troopers as an over-the-top satire of militarism.
For example, when Earth declares war on Klendathu, a planet populated by giant bug-like creatures, humans prove their patriotism by stomping on real bugs. I laughed out loud at that scene. (A number of English kicked dachshunds in the streets of London at the outbreak of World War I, and the US Congressional cafeteria changed the name of French Fries to Freedom Fries after France declined to join the US in attacking Iraq.)
Dietsch insightfully points out how the film’s characterizations are actually right on target:
When it comes to the widely criticized acting, that viewpoint seems to miss the forest for the trees. These characters are written to be iterations of the kinds of heroes you’d see in classic propaganda stories. Their supposed vapidity is essential to the larger satire at work, but the characters and actors themselves can’t play the roles that way or the picture would come off as disingenuous. By committing to these cardboard vessels for ridiculous propaganda, the cast is totally succeeding at being the exact characters this movie needs.
The result is a powerful statement against mindless jingoism. One of the most gripping scenes comes toward the end. Colonel Carl Jenkins, a psychic from the Terran Federation’s Ministry of Paranormal Warfare, approaches a dying enemy bug and reads the creature’s thoughts:
Look… they got it.
What’s it thinking, Colonel?
The troops cheer at the news the enemy is not just physically broken, but psychically as well. That cheer sent a cold ripple down my back. What a vivid display of the ugliness of triumphalism.
I’ve been busy during our global time-out. I’ve been reading new fiction, as well as re-reading old favorites, including Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, a series of vignettes of Hemingway’s early days as an author while starting a family in 1920s Paris.
This little book cannot be drained; every time I read it, I discover more treasures. And if the honorable Mr. Leonard were alive, I could tell him Hemingway displays a wicked sense of humor in A Moveable Feast.
Let’s look at a few examples.
The metaphor that links the book’s poignant scenes together is the sumptuous food and drink of Paris. Here’s how Hemingway launches our little tour:
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
That should whet any appetite. It certainly works for me.
Hemingway depicts Paris as a sprawling, lusty muse for all artists. In those days, he knew no greater joy than parking himself at a little café and setting a freshly sharpened pencil to his notebook. Pure writerly bliss. But every paradise has its snake, and for Hemingway, it’s the aggressive follower:
“Hi Hem. What are you trying to do? Write in a café?”
Your luck had run out and you shut the notebook.
Other artists, and especially writers, cannot evade Hemingway’s sharp, scrutinizing eye:
Wyndham Lewis wore a wide black hat, like a character in the quarter, and was dressed like someone out of La Boheme. He had a face that reminded me of a frog, not a bullfrog but just any frog, and Paris was too big a puddle for him.
F. Scott Fitzgerald and his melancholic wife Zelda get much scrutiny. Scott and Zelda had what you could call a rough and tumble, bittersweet relationship. When Zelda informs Scott she considers his, um, manhood inadequate, Scott looks to Hemingway for reassurance, which he kindly offers:
“You’re perfectly fine,” I said. “You are O.K. There’s nothing wrong with you. You look at yourself from above and you look foreshortened. Go over to the Louvre and look at the people in the statues and then go home and look at yourself in the mirror in profile.”
“Those statues may not be accurate.”
“They are pretty good. Most people would settle for them.”