Archive for February, 2014

As (what I hope to be) the worst of the winter weather and that vile beast known as the Polar Vortex retreats from the US, I gave pause to reflect on what has happened during those times we are most effected. For several days, many folks, including most of my family, endured without power. We were fairly lucky, as we had an alternative heating source that didn’t require electricity to operate, so we huddled next to the fire as the snow and ice coated our little slice of civilization. Meals consisted of soups, toasted cheese sandwiches, scrambled eggs -things which needed only simple preparation. We had plenty of water for tea and cocoa, not just from the on hand bottled water stores. Water for flushing the toilet came from outside where we would scoop snow into buckets and let it melt near the fireplace. So we survived until the power companies cleared ice and fallen trees and limbs from the lines and restored power.

In all of that, the one thing I missed most was the running water. Not because we needed it to drink, but we needed it to shower. I’m a hot shower person myself, and the thought of a splashdown sink bath using ice cold water made me numb just thinking about it. After the first day, I called around to relatives to find one with power and running water and asked if I might come over to use their facilities.

Analysis: One of two things is going to have to happen: 1) I would be killed in the first wave of nukes/zombies/mega virus and have little to worry about or (because I couldn’t possibly be that lucky) 2) on top of all the other prep work, I’d have to kludge a shower which would provide us with hot water.

Hot showers are entirely underrated.

Now to find a way for the protagonists of my upcoming novel, Umbra: A Post-Apocalyptic Mystery, to deal with the horrors of unwashed bodies.

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I made the top of Amazon’s Daily Deals in Science Fiction & Fantasy!

At first I thought it some kind of double notification that my work has been made available, since the title of the email itself is The Falconer and The Wolf, but was ecstatic to see what the content actually was. Although, come to think of it, it’s kinda funny that Amazon is trying to sell my own book back to me…

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And the actual link to purchase the story online!

I thought I would go off on a tangent here (me ? On a tangent? Never would I… There was this time-) in the spirit of Valentine’s Day and discuss something that’s been abrading my psyche for some time.

Love is very much like a car. Let’s look at the automobile. We pump gas into the tank at regular intervals, as do we change the oil. Sometimes things break on it – the air conditioning for example, might go out (and Murphy’s Law dictates this will always happen on the hottest day of summer) or the brakes may not respond as tightly. Occasionally we puncture a tire and have to get it patched, or replace the whole thing when the treads wear thin.

But each time one of these little things happens, we generally do NOT go get a brand new car. More importantly, anyone who didn’t fill their tanks and still expected the car to get them anywhere they needed to go is, to put it quite bluntly, insane.

Now take love, and relationships. Somehow we expect to be able to acquire a significant other and that acquisition is, well, all there is. We don’t have to maintain it, right? We bought the car, it’s ours and should serve us on demand no matter how we drive it.

We need to fill that tank with gas (affection) on a regular basis. We find a broken part and fix it, because ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away and driving it in that condition may just lead to a fatal accident.

This is just a gross oversimplification, but love and a happy relationship takes a lot of work and a lot of resources and the truth really is that it’s all worth it, especially if you can drive that “car” well into its vintage years.

I live not far from a parcel of land that hosts a Renaissance Faire, and on several occasions have visited with family members. Years ago, while attending, I encountered a young man in period dress toting about an owl on his wrist. He talked about his raptor, named Ulysses, and informed us about an exhibition that afternoon. I was already fascinated and since I brought my mother, who has loved the owl decades before they became trendy, we decided to attend.

Crowds gathered as the young falconer displayed the rudiments of the falconry discipline and the hunting prowess of his birds. Everyone watched in rapt (pun intended) wonder as these feathered predators spread what seemed to be massive wings and swooped from seemingly impossible heights to dive down accurately on a minuscule target. At one point, a lucky volunteer (unfortunately, not me) was presented with the opportunity to snap a photograph from beneath the bird’s takeoff just as it’s wings stretched the furthest.

I hadn’t gone back to the Ren Faire since then, but that exhibition and the idea of falconry sparked a few ideas that didn’t quite get the flames rolling. In my mind’s eye I could see a young falconer, living in the woods alone with his bird. Questions arose – why was he living out there all alone? Falconry is the sport of nobles, and it’s unlikely some woodsman in the middle of nowhere would just have the bird and know-how. And a falconer in the woods… interesting concept, but concepts do not a story make. Some other ideas floating around in my head eventually coalesced (a wolf who was more than an ordinary wolf but not the tired idea of a werewolf), and I found the right conflicts and plugged them in. I’d liked to say it was a “voila” but that’s rarely how it works. The story didn’t simply write itself, and as I struggle with “Perfect Never Finishes,” kicking the story out of the nest at all is a small accomplishment.

The Falconer and The Wolf is available on Amazon.

(Originally posted 7 AUG 2009)

Nearly all media contains the inherent promise of a good ol’ yarn. Movies, TV shows and books may be the most obvious, and there’s always some type of story, or at least a background/meaning behind two dimensional art. Modern video games are rich with interactive storytelling, but even the eldest games (you know you remember Asteroids, which is purportedly going to be made into a movie based on its minimalist premise of shooting asteroids to save the Earth) contained some grain of an adventure beyond just pummeling the joystick fire button for the top score. Not all storylines are worth the cost of the movie ticket/ reading time/ hours wasted in front of the computer/ tv screen, but the fact remains they exist.

So what? you ask. There’s a story. I don’t really care about the story as long as I get to slaughter raiders/ mobsters/ bug-eyed aliens/ ghosts/ etc. While that may be true for some players, that fact is at the heart of all these stories, the author/ designer/ artist consciously chose the setting for the media. Some start with the setting “I’d like to design a space MMO*” and some with the character(s) “I’m painting fairies.” Occasionally an author or designer nurtures the storyline independently, then drops the characters into different settings to see what happens. Sometimes the setting is extremely important, and sometimes its just incidental (Star Wars could also have taken place in a Western or Fantasy setting with a little tweaking, and that’s why its called Space Opera and not true Science Fiction, but more on that at a later date).

So why choose the post-apocalyptic setting?

Post-apocalypse contains an inherent “cool factor” – the burnt out landscape dotted with skeletal trees and collapsed building and the possibility of the family dog mutating into a two-ton, acid-drooling, bloodthirsty beast make it an alien landscape in its own right. While post-apoc settings are beginning to become more commonplace, the “other” settings already count themselves in the “Done-to-Death” club. Some folks don’t mind seeing the same stories played out in the same settings over and over, but others prefer some novelty and the post-nuclear provides.

Then there’s the paranoia factor. Some modern games make it seem like everyone and their brother, sister, and even their grandmother is out to get the hero for little sense other than the main hero needs something to shoot back at. But move that to a post-apocalyptic setting, and suddenly everyone is out to get you, for their basic survival (hey, they can probably smell that can of Spam you just found. Or they smell you. Mmmm, tasty). Everyone trying to shoot or gut you suddenly makes sense.

Let’s not forget the interesting juxtaposition of the modern versus the primitive. We’ve already seen this kind of thing in history (the natives teaching guerilla tactics to the American colonists to best the better- outfitted English armies), in tons of science fiction tales where A) Space-faring earthlings encounter primitive alien species or B) vastly technologically-superior aliens arrive on earth. Then again there could be a more “modern” modern setting, where heavily-armed astronauts end up landing in the Amazon and for some reason being hunted by a tribe or tribes there. (If there’s a story like this out there, let me know. An interesting premise to try reading, at any rate).

Not always, but in enough media, the post-apocalyptic setting becomes the reason itself for the story, the backdrop as theme, if you will. The reason there exists a story of this type is that the world is the way it is because of mankind, and its folly in destroying itself. The promise is gone and its skeleton is the raped landscape, fallen buildings and spiritually-crushed people. Good stories in the post-apoc setting use it. It is a backdrop to show that mankind is continually spiralling downward, never learning the lessons of the past, the ugliness perpetuating until mankind swallows itself whole. It is a juxtaposition to illustrate mankind’s ability to press on, and even to learn from his mistakes and this time, try virtue. All it takes is one man to be the tiny white flower growing in the vast, barren landscape.

Next time you watch/ play/ read, think for a moment if the setting is important to the tale, or if it makes the movie/ game/ novel transcend in terms of the message it is trying to deliver. You may just discover post-apocalyptia holds a few cards that cannot be accessed in fantasy or space genres.

*Author’s Note: If there are any designers reading this who wish to design a space MMORPG that is truly character-based and isn’t going to nerf the crap out of itself like Galaxies, mucho kudos to you. We need more space and less fantasy out there. And by the way, I know about Fallen Earth, too, so no more e-mails on that one =o) Thanks. You’ve been kind.