All posts by Mike

Adventures and mishaps in science fiction, fantasy, and mystery

Better than Spock

“I feel that if we were a Spock-like species — you know, if we came from the planet of Vulcan and we only did those things that made logical sense, I feel that we would not have prevailed. It is only by virtue of our capacity to allow our minds to freely roam the landscape of imaginative possibility that we are able to innovate in the ways that we have.”

Brian Greene,  professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University

Hexagon Year One Anthology

Hexagon Anthology

Now this is an unexpected surprise. The Year One Anthology for Hexagon Speculative Fiction Magazine features all 20 pieces from Hexagon’s successful and groundbreaking first year. There are bonus pieces as well, such as author interviews and new cover concept art.

The anthology includes my flash fiction story Mirrors, which was published in the magazine’s premiere issue. I wrote it after re-reading Dr. Lewis Thomas’ book, The Lives of a Cell, which made me realize how an alien species would marvel at how cooperative humans are despite our aggressive tendencies. I was pleased at Didi Oviatt’s review: “Tuggle’s story of an insight about predatory creatures is a thought-provoking read.”

You’ll find the thought-provoking, the beautiful, and the sublime in the Hexagon Year One Anthology.

Writers On Good Manners

Robert Heinlein
Robert Heinlein

I’ve been pondering the deterioration of public discourse. The occasion of Robert Heinlein’s birthday brings to mind this quote:

“An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.”

― Robert A. Heinlein

Which reminds me of this:

“Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.”

― Robert E. Howard

Making your vision apparent

Promotional still of Mia Farrow

Last week’s post featuring Lin Carter‘s observation about H.P. Lovecraft got me to thinking about Rosemary’s Baby.

Carter found it fascinating that Lovecraft, a thorough materialist, could enthrall the world with his terrifying tales of “evil and fallen gods.” Carter’s take was that Lovecraft utilized his firm grasp of science and materialist outlook to craft stories made believable with concrete details and methodical precision.

Ira Levin, the author of Rosemary’s Baby and Veronica’s Room, used an approach similar to Lovecraft’s. Like HPL, Levin was an atheist, yet his horror tales make supernatural evil seem frighteningly real, even palpable. In both the novel and Roman Polanski’s excellent screen adaptation, Rosemary’s Baby draws you in with odd but apparently mundane details. The realtor who helps Rosemary and her husband Guy find an apartment is missing fingers. When Rosemary and Guy move a dresser from the wall, they realize it hides a secret room — but it’s only an empty closet.

Nothing to see there, right?

As the truth about these seemingly innocent details slowly comes out, you’re fascinated by the inescapable conclusion that there’s something sinister going on, and it’s impossible to turn away. Like Rosemary, you’re in this thing now and there’s no turning back.

So why are confirmed materialists such as Lovecraft and Levin drawn to supernatural subjects? And what enables them to be so convincing?

Both men knew that writing depends on exaggeration and metaphor. I like the way Flannery O’Connor put it: “When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.”

Of course, O’Connor was a traditional Catholic who aimed to make readers perceive supernatural evil by vividly presenting earthly evil.

Lovecraft on verisimilitude

Lovecraft

“My own rule is that a story cannot produce terror unless it is devised with the care and verisimilitude of an actual hoax.” H.P. Lovecraft, in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith

“Lovecraft was, as the cliché has it, a living bundle of contradictions. A rationalist, an absolute materialist, without a trace of superstition or a flicker of interest in religious matters, he based his entire life work on the supernatural, on evil and fallen gods and sinister magic and hierarchies of transmundane demonic intelligences. It is perhaps because of his complete atheism that he was able to make his malign and imaginary Great Old Ones so convincingly real to his readers. Uninvolved with supernaturalism himself, he could be coldly objective –and he calculated with exquisite finesse the means of rendering his hellish pantheon both credible and terrifying.” — Lin Carter, from “Farewell to the Dreamlands”

Days to Remember

Idle Ink has published my dark sci-fi story Days to Remember.”

The year: 2030. Zach Martine is a prisoner in the Alzheimer’s pod at a maximum security unit. A former soldier, his crime was to tell the world what he’d witnessed on the battlefield. He followed his conscience and now pays the price.

Hated by the other prisoners, he spends his days dodging deadly attacks. Nights find him unable to sleep, haunted by a relentless guilt for his past actions. Martine knows he deserves punishment, but not for the reason he’s in jail. Day after day, the injustice tears at him.

But he finds a way out, a way that allows him to escape while remaining true to his conscience.

The inspiration for this story hit me when I read about prisoners volunteering for medical experiments. One of the prisoners told the reporter he’d agreed to the program because he felt it was a way to atone for the harm he’d done.

I could not get the prisoner’s statement out of my mind. This story grew out of that unforgettable confession.

White Horses and Writing

White Horses

So I’m on the back porch, chasing down the muse. Pen and pad in hand, I’m absorbed in my latest wip, when the wind suddenly rises through swaying trees. An updraft lifts a swarm of whirling maple seeds, and they come toward me like the helicopters in Apocalypse Now.

Nothing to fear. Just a “Fresh Breeze” on the Beaufort Scale.

Admiral Beaufort’s guide enabled British sailors to estimate wind speed from the sight, sound, and feel of the wind, but it’s also useful on land. A “Calm” wind with a speed of 0-1 is “like a mirror” at sea, while on land, “smoke rises vertically.” But if the sea shows “moderate waves with many white horses,” or if “small trees sway” on land, then it’s a “Fresh Breeze,” and the wind speed will be 19-24 miles per hour or 17-21 knots.

What makes the Beaufort Scale useful is that, like good writing, it uses sensory impressions to convey ideas. Cognitive scientists will tell you that abstractions are rooted in bodily sensations, but it’s still a challenge to present ideas in an engaging and entertaining way.

Horace Walpole, in a famous essay on his supernatural novel The Castle of Otranto, wrote:

“It was an attempt to blend the two kinds of romance, the ancient and the modern. In the former, all was imagination and improbability: in the latter, nature is always intended to be, and sometimes has been, copied with success. Invention has not been wanting; but the great resources of fancy have been dammed up, by a strict adherence to common life.”

The goal is to make the fantastic and improbable palpable and realistic. It’s not easy, but that’s the heart of the craft of writing, something you never really master, as Ernest Hemingway once observed. Of course, as the Stoics taught, life itself is a never-ending learning experience.

The Legacy of H. Rider Haggard

Henry Rider Haggard died in 1925 on this date at the age of 68. It’s a crime his name is not better known, even though his inventive imagination spawned many famous works and characters.

My tribute to this founder of modern-day adventure and fantasy fiction is featured in the latest guest post over at DMR Books. Its title is one I think Haggard would like: “Keep Calm and Swashbuckle On: The Legacy of H. Rider Haggard

H. Rider Haggard died ninety-six years ago, but his impact on speculative fiction remains substantial. Not only did he inspire authors such as Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, but the example he set for aspiring writers all over the world is one we can still look to for inspiration.

And his stories still have the power to enchant and transport. If you haven’t experienced his classic tales, this is the perfect time to check them out.

Slush Pile Update

I’ve been fairly productive lately. I have four manuscripts looking for love in various slush piles on the internet, and two have found a home. Yay!

I’ve signed a contract with Murderous Ink Press, a new mystery publisher in the UK (and who knows more about murder mystery fiction that the Brits?). They’re going to publish my short story “The Tell-Tale Armadillo” in an anthology entitled The I’s Have It. My story is the latest exploit of chief medical examiner Treka Dunn, whose first adventure appeared in Mystery Weekly Magazine last month. A house has blown up, victims want answers, and Treka discovers it wasn’t an accident.

Also, my dark sci-fi story “Days to Remember” will appear in the next issue of Idle Ink, a spunky online magazine specializing in “genre fiction that’s too weird to be published anywhere else.” Sounds like a perfect home for my story.

Looking forward!

Earth Day, 2021

First Collection

“The most central and irrational faith among people is the faith in technology and economical growth. Its priests believe until their death that material prosperity bring enjoyment and happiness – even though all the proofs in history have shown that material prosperity doesn’t bring anything else than despair. These priests believe in technology still when they choke in their gas masks.”

Pentti Linkola, Can Life Prevail?

I view technology the way George Washington viewed government — like fire, a dangerous servant and fearful master.  Used with wisdom, it can produce good things. Misused, it — or should I say we — can botch up a perfectly good planet.  Hunting Ground, one of my published stories I’m most proud of, took a humorous but serious look at what happens when we imagine we can endlessly exploit nature without consequences.

A little food for thought before Earth Day.