Friday Flashback: Rollerball

Another 1975 dystopian movie about blood sport in a near-future America. Susan Collins might well have been thinking of Rollerball when she penned The Hunger Games.

13 Lives of a Television Repair Man by MD Thalmann

13 Lives of a Television Repair ManImagine the whole lynchpin to time is a device you created that sent the Cuban Missile Crisis spiraling out of control. That’s the premise MD Thalmann’s 13 Lives of a Television Repair Man. The titular repair man, Arthur Penrod, is the son of a World War II veteran and grandson of a war hero. Arthur grows up in Cold War Miami, the son of a drunk and an increasingly religious woman. Arthur finds solace tailing the TV repair man, who eventually takes him under his wing and trains him in the craft. In the 1950s, it’s a big deal. TVs as they are expensive as cars. As he grows in skills, he eventually builds a device to focus a television. It inadvertantly fixes his eyesight and earns him some cash. He then uses his talent for tinkering with electronics and creates a device that beams alternate realities directly into the brain. It’s this device that puts him on course to destroy the world despite his best efforts.

Poignant and often harrowing, 13 Lives is as much a coming-of-age story as it is science fiction. Thalmann cites Kurt Vonnegut as one of his touchstones, but the repetition of such phrases as “That’s one way to do it” and “What are you gonna do?”, imbued with meaning early in the story, give it a feel similar to Fight Club. The surreal back-and-forth is most definitely influenced by Vonnegut, but the prose, intentionally or not, owes a few nods to Palahniuk.

Being Two Authors

Once upon a time, I wrote a detective novel. People told me it was very good. Enough so that I truly believed I was going to be the next Dennis Lehane. (For the unitiated, the guy who wrote Mystic River, which to me was the finest crime novel of its day.) I decided that success could have a downside. I’d get hassled in Kroger while picking up milk. So I adopted the name Jim Winter. With this name, I would protect my privacy while skyrocketing to fame and fortune.

Go ahead. Ask me how well that worked out.

None the less, as I networked more and more, I used the name as my real name and came to the conclusion that I had trapped myself. There were well-known and influential people who only knew me as Jim. How would they react when they learned the truth?

Wasn’t that big a deal. In fact, half of them already knew and didn’t care.

As I made the decision to write science fiction, I also decided to use my real name. At the time, I would blog as Jim Winter about how the Dick Bachman to my Steve King was writing a science fiction novel. Or, my Dick was writing a novel. (Har! Har! Har!) Of course, Jim was the Bachman to my King, but since there was some brand equity in the Jim Winter name, that would be hard to sell. At one point, I was led to believe (with healthy skepticism) that I would finally get an agent and a sale with the last Jim Winter novel I’d written. TS Hottle would continue as independent, self-published author. But the agent deal fell through, and so I hung it up as a crime writer. One person I knew was more upset about it than I was, telling me I was too impatient. Hey, I gave it fifteen years. Impatient? I don’t think I’d live long enough for that definition of patience.

Of course, starting over again in my forties means I have to go all the way back to the end of the line. I’m reviving the Jim Winter name to finish the series that will begin with Holland Bay. But it won’t be my main focus. It’s hard enough being one person, let alone two.

You Shall Not Pass!

Word PerfectOkay, so no wizards are sacrificing themselves to clear a path under a mountain. Some of my characters are underground, though, with a rather bitchy hatch denying them access to something they want to get into.

This was one of those weeks when the words just poured onto the page. I would look at the clock and go “No, I don’t want to go to work/my brother’s/home!” As of Sunday morning, I was closing in on 40,000 words, roughly halfway through the projected word count. It may go higher. Because one character has been peeled off and dumped unceremoniously into Gelt hands, I’ll soon be adding a third POV character, an alien one. POV characters tend to up the word counts.

But Act II is not turning out to be the slog I expected. It may be the outline is holding up really well. I had to actually add a scene, and flesh out “random character” in the outline, but it’s going.

I want to say it will be done by the end of the year, but if I say that, I’ll jinx it.

Warped Is Here!

WarpedBuy NowIt’s out!

Warped is the latest novella in the Compact Universe series. Hideki Okada and Peter Lancaster are the Navy’s nerds in charge of warp drive, that ancient theory of faster-than-light travel put aside when wormhole travel became perfected. And now the Navy wants them to make it combat ready.

Only the Navy wants them to carry weapons of mass destruction to the Gelt, humanity’s new enemy. And they have to carry this mission out under the watchful eye of Cybercommand, the shadowy fourth branch of the Compact military.

Only the mission is to rain destruction down on an unsuspecting civilian population, something Okada and Lancaster believe goes against humanity’s morals and ethics. They have friends, however, in two rengade admirals and a Cybercommand operative who questions her own superiors.

They may carry out their mission, but Okada and Lancaster just might have to commit treason in the process.

Warped is a raccous, funny take on the war beyond the events of The Children of Amargosa.

When Black Friday Comes…

I’ll be sleeping in. It’s called online shopping, and I see no reason to encourage my mouth to run when I’m nurturing my inner introvert. So no malls for me.

But here’s a song that sums up my feelings about the stupidest day of the year in America. (Well, second stupidest. Election Day has been an embarrassment.)



Beta Vs. Editing

manuscriptI’ve been doing the novellas by beta read. With the number of novellas I’ve been writing between installments of the Amargosa Trilogy, paid editing is proving too expensive. So I save it for the novels. Hence, come early next year, I will be collaborating again with Stacy Robinson on Amargosa 2. (I’d better. She’ll throttle me if I don’t let her see what comes next.)

But the novellas are shorter. Fewer scenes. It makes it easier to control and fix inconsistencies. For these, I use beta readers. Betas are done for free and pretty much a crap shoot. Ask anyone who’s had them done. Ask anyone who’s done them. You’re basically asking someone to look over your stuff for free. I usually barter. There are three people I can regularly count on. A lot of time, it amounts to proofreading. However, the usual crowd is pretty honest. Some go for style changes. Some will flag pacing or continuity problems. And sometimes, I just get a thumbs up.

But one writer and I discussed this process. We agreed you usually get about half the betas you send out back. And being in the process of doing a beta right now, I totally get why. Real life, a writer’s own workload, the amount of time it takes to give the work a proper beta, all this piles up to shut down a beta. I generally count on 3 out of 5, and my biggest struggle as a beta myself is squeezing it in.

Beta reads are an informal process with no guarantees, but when full editing is not an option, it’s a good alternative.

Act II: Electric Boogaloo

man typing on manual typewriter

Onomatomedia under Creative Commons

Oh, my friends, I had an awesome week last week working on Amargosa: Second Wave. One character died. Another is being sent into exile. And JT is put in charge of a Gelt woman they’ve taken prisoner. Instead of being a slog, it’s been a ride. The outline helps.

I have had to rearrange a handful of scenes, but I haven’t dropped any besides one scene that basically says in the outline “The sun looks pretty on the colony transport.”

I managed to do about 2000 words this past weekend. I wrote a rather shocking scene where someone gets shot in the face. It made a great way to end a chapter, but after writing a scene to start the next chapter, I realized I skipped two scenes, one at the end of the chapter, one at the start. So after cranking out my new opening scene, I went back and inserted my two missing scenes. The words flowed. I haven’t had writing sessions like that in a long, long time. It’s great when writing becomes fun again.

Warped: Final Preview

With Warped coming out soonish, I’m giving you one last preview of the finest space opera with a dwarf engineer since Keenser. And this one is human!

Artificial gravity ceased to be in Engineering. Part of this had been by design. The less power given to making people and things stick to the floor, the more power to move the ship relativistically, through its own wormhole, or faster than light. The mishap with the dark globe beneath the Challenger, however, made it the transition rather abrupt. One moment, Okada and Weiss moved through the corridors at roughly .6 g. Okada took a step expecting to take another and found himself propelled into the ceiling.

“Wow,” he said. “That’s not supposed to happen.”

Weiss appeared to have trouble navigating without something pulling her to the floor. Okada swam down to grab one of the side rails along the bulkhead.

“Grab on, O-4,” he said. “That’s the real reason these are here.”

After a few clumsy attempts colliding with either the deck or the ceiling, Weiss managed to grab hold of a side rail and pull herself along. Okada noted she looked a little green. He himself oriented his feet toward the floor and moved along appearing to walk normally.

“You might want to try this until we get back to the warp compartment,” he said. “Back there, everything’s designed for microgravity and null-g.”

“I’d better get combat pay for this.” It was the most emotion Okada had heard out of Weiss since he’d met her.

“They don’t do microgravity training in Cybercommand?”

She looked at him like he’d asked if she breathed oxygen regularly. “Eighty percent of our active duty personnel work in sealed bunkers hidden from anyone in the surrounding area. When would we need to be in microgravity?”

“Any time you leave a planet or a moon.” Spooks. So busy looking under rocks they forget to see the rocks themselves.

They soon reached the cavernous sphere of the warp compartment. Medics strapped floating injured to stretchers and pushed them back toward the forward sections and Medical. Engineers flew about the compartment like wingless birds, chirping in technobabble and shouting numbers back and forth. In the center of all this chaos, lacing his own technobabble with obscenities in two or three languages aside from Humanic, floated Peter Lancaster, looking like a dwarf god in shabby coveralls.

“Hideki,” he said, suddenly smiling, “Ms. Weiss, welcome to my nightmare. I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

Okada swam up to where Lancaster floated, though he wasn’t thrilled with being far from anything to grasp in case the ship moved suddenly. “What’s going on, Tripod? Why’d you call me back here?”

Lancaster reached behind him and produced something that looked like a giant spark plug from a fuel-burning motor. “Oh, just this, a plasma injector for the Alcubierre drive.”

Okada took it and examined it. “This looks bigger than the ones on the projection drive. Are they all blown out?”

“The projection drive was off-line when we stopped at this charming little world. Are we taking shore leave, by the way? I think the Navy owes us.”

“Dress for zero Kelvin. So are the spares intact?”

“What spares?” Lancaster leveled an evil look at Weiss, who’d finally managed the float up to where Okada and Lancaster were talking. “It seems the clods at Cybercommand pushed this project a little too fast. There are spares on Earth. There are spares on Nemesis. There are spares on Tian. Perhaps we can send down a landing party to see if this giant bit of dark matter has any.”

“If it were dark matter,” said Okada, “we would still be at warp. Dark matter doesn’t gather in…”

“Spare me the lectures, Hideki. By now, you should know I’ve never faked a sarcasm. Remember?” He turned his attention back to Weiss. “I trust you’re reporting everything to your superiors beneath whatever rock they’re hiding under. Correct?”

“Of course,” said Weiss. “But I’m only here to…”

“Good,” said Lancaster, his dry amused tone vanishing. “Then tell them this, should we survive. If they ever interfere with another warp project I’m attached to, I will personally take one of these to your headquarters and shove one of these so far up the G-5’s ass that he will be vomiting drive plasma and shitting ionized gas for a week. And please, quote me on that. I do so love a chance to chat with those who serve us so well at the highest levels.”

“All right, enough,” said Okada. “Weiss, report to CNC and take your post. Pete, what’s our best option?” As Lancaster opened his mouth to speak, he added, “And with a minimum of that dry wit of yours if you can manage it.”

“Can the lovely Ms. Havak locate Sol?”

“She’s trying. But it’s a big ass galaxy, and half way between Helios and Sol is too damned little to get a quick fix.”

“If she can find Sol, even get me enough of a fix to point a child’s telescope at it, I can try and dial one of the hypergates and connect our projection drive to it.”

“Will that work?”

The devilish grin returned. “It’s our best chance, and not just for the fact that we’ll never know if it fails.”

“Get the projection drive online, then,” said Okada. “And keep up that sunny optimism, Tripod. I know it inspires the crew.”

“Lighten up, Hideki.” He tilted his chin toward where Weiss had floated off. “Perhaps you and our delightful visitor from Cybercommand should spend some private time together. She looks like she could stand to be boarded by a Navy officer.”

Okada shook his head. “How you’ve avoided court-martial all these years is beyond me.” He turned and swam back toward CNC before Lancaster could respond.

Friday Flashback: The Land That Time Forgot

Doug McLure battles dinosaurs in a B movie based on an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel.