Category Archives: Entertainment

Additional Content

I’ve seen more traffic of late, and I’m interested in seeing what people want to see here, if anything.  I’ll be loading some additional stuff in the free fiction area in the near future, but in the meantime, as far as the blog, blog topics, the Free Fiction subjects, and the rest… what would you like to see?  The floor is open for discussion, but to start it off with things I can produce quickly: additional info on my writing process to include world-building, characterization, story outlining; character biographies and backgrounds from various series to be made available in the Free Fiction section; Maps, diagrams, and schematics for various series; additional news reports and other ‘props’ to include research papers, letters, and reports from the Shadow Space universe; blog posts on general writing tips.

I’ve also attached a nifty little poll, with larger site/blog items.  I love hearing feedback, so hit me up and if you have something you think would be a big improvement, feel free to let me know.  I see enough traffic out there, I know you people are here, so talk to me : )

Robocop Movie Review

I am not, as a general rule, a huge fan of movie remakes.  Now and again, however, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.  When I went to see it, I expected it to be a simple action flick.  Lots of shooting, some explosions, and robots and bad guys getting mowed down left and right.  What I didn’t expect was a surprisingly deep (for Hollywood) action movie with political and ethical questions.

Without giving too much away, let me say this: the movie has a rather murky and mixed message.  In some aspects, actors come across as almost caricatures and in others, you might feel almost like you’re being preached to… but you aren’t really sure what the message is supposed to be.  At the same time, there are moments in the movie where I was nodding my head at a reveal… or chuckling at a bit of satire.  The politics of security versus freedom was touched upon.  There was a good bit of character growth for a doctor, which I found interesting, while he fought between his ambition and his medical ethics.  There was also some decent discussion of the ethics of using automated weapons on American citizens…  Messages were there, but they were sometimes open ended, almost as if the director or actors didn’t want to agree with the conclusion.

As far as the action itself… by and large it was impressive.  There were some excellent firefights… if you could get past the ‘shaky cam.’  I don’t know about most viewers, but I don’t like leaving the theater feeling dizzy.  There were a couple of scenes where it was literally too much, where my brain just kind of went into shut-down because there was strobing lights, dark backgrounds, and a shaking, spinning camera.  To top it off, even the the moments where the main character was literally getting pounded, it was hard to have any dramatic tension… I mean, the moment of drama was solved before we really had any anticipation of danger.  There wasn’t enough build-up, I suppose.

The movie looked good, though.  And despite the nausea inducing shaky-cam, it was mostly fun.  In my opinion, it was a better movie than the original, which is a good thing.

Independent Author’s Toolbag: Reviews and Book Sales

This post is as much addressed to readers as it is to authors.  Many readers might feel that they are pestered, one might even say harassed, to provide reviews.  Why is that?  Well, it’s simple.  As a reader, when I browse through books on Amazon or B&N, I’ll take a few minutes to glance at what other people said.  Especially if it’s a book from a new or unfamiliar author.  I’ll check what the 5 star raters say and I’ll check what the 1 star raters said.  Why?  Because what irritated someone else about the novel often says more about the author than what someone who loved it might have said.  Also, especially in the era of self-publishing, if I see complaints about poor grammar, awkward sentence structure, or bad plot, I can steer clear.

Apparently, from various market research, ebook sales are highly driven by reviews and ratings.  There are a variety of readers, high consumption readers, who filter by number of reviews.  There is also a prohibition, from Amazon, on ‘reveiw farms’ of authors giving one another incestual reviews.  As an independent author, receiving reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and other locations can be the difference between selling well and not selling at all.  Full reviews at blogs and websites also help to channel some traffic, but the impulse buyers, the ones who need their reading fix, are browsing for their next fix right now… and does your ebook have the reviews to garner their attention?

The other part of this is sales ranking.  Amazon does this most visibly and has the highest volume of ebook sales in the US, so I’ll use it as the primary example.  As an author, you want your sales ranking high for a number of reasons.  The first reason, of course, is high sales means more people buying your book.  This is good for a variety of reasons.  The next reason is that high sales means that your book will appear higher on the lists when someone searches for ebooks in your genre.  That’s less of other people’s stuff that someone has to filter through before they find your work.  paradoxically, this means that in order to sell well… you need to sell well.  However, there are ways to ‘game’ the system.  Amazon tracks sales over time rather than total sales.  The good part about this is that if you can sell even a relatively small number of books in a short period of time, you can books yourself higher on the book sales ranking… which is good, because when a reader sees your book is #23 on some listing versus #230,000, they’re more likely to read what you’re putting out.

How do you do that?  Larry Correia uses a term called a ‘book bomb.’  When an author releases their new book, the author has everyone they know, who’s interested, buy the book around the same time.  The author’s book sales spikes and their book rises up the charts.  How effective is that?  A solid spike can guarantee that other people will see your book.  They might not buy it, but they’ll at least have the opportunity to make the decision… whereas if they never see it, they’re never given the opportunity.  This is an area where networking, developing loyal readers, and communication are essential.  You can seriously help your book sales by organizing loyal readers (also known as herding cats) to get them to buy your stuff.

What does that mean for readers in general?  Well, keep in mind that the authors you read and enjoy don’t just publish out of the goodness of their hearts.  Authors want their works to be appreciated.  We spend thousands and tens of thousands of hours on writing something to entertain you for a day or two.  We also like to eat, so getting paid for it is a nice form of appreciation.  If you really like what someone wrote, post that, write what you liked and didn’t in a review on Amazon or Goodreads or whatever.  A detailed synopsis like your teachers wanted in high school isn’t necessary.  A one liner “I liked this book, author X is my favoritist person EVAR!” isn’t particularly helpful, either.  A couple sentences such as “X writes with strong characters and a vivid setting.  His story hooked me with the first words.  I really enjoyed the dynamic between Character X and Character Y” tells a potential reader much more, without giving away anything that might spoil the read.  Ideally, if you really liked something, you can take five minutes to write three or four sentences about what you liked.  The same goes for something you didn’t like.  If you bought a book and it was the skunkiest piece of drivel you ever stumbled across, post a review about what you didn’t like.  If the author clearly wrote about a subject they didn’t understand, they had “teh worts grammer evar,” or if they wrote a preachy diatribe about some subject in which you disagree… give warning some other folks.  There’s nothing I hate more than spending some of my hard earned money on a book that isn’t worth the time spent in reading it.  And, believe it or not, some authors want that kind of feedback, so we know what to improve upon.

Here’s a link to Larry Correia who wrote a better article on the ‘book bomb’ subject:

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2011/11/10/book-bomb-variant-today-get-a-good-book-for-a-good-reason/

And he’s apparently doing a book bomb for an author right now as well, so check it out:

http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/next-book-bomb-chuck-dixon-feb-18th/

 

 

Science Fiction and Fantasy Gaming Overview

Sometimes your characters are gamers too...
Sometimes your characters are gamers too…

This will be a bit of a different post for me.  Mostly, I’ve focused on entertainment media: movies, books, that sort of thing.  Today, however, I’m going to give a brief overview of SF/F related games.  This is mostly to serve as a base point from where I can discuss it further later.  I’m not even going to open the can of worms that is computer games, not right now.  I’ve been out of the ‘hardcore gamer’ catagory for years (assuming I even qualified for that league).

First off, what constitutes gaming?  Generally, I’d say that there is some kind of rule set or book and there is some representation of the scenario.  Really, that’s all you need.  The rules can be as complex or as simple as you want.  I’ve played with some seriously complex rule systems, ranging from Warhammer Fantasy to Ryfts.  Rules are there to tell players what they can and can’t do, essentially, they create a level playing field where players and game masters (if any) all have a common reference point.

That common reference point is important.  It prevents players from feeling they’ve been cheated, it also reigns in some of the ‘power gamer’ attitudes that you sometimes see.  To be brief, a power gamer does whatever they can to succeed and ‘win’ (if there is a way to win).

What’s the purpose of gaming?  Well, in some ways, it depends on the game system and, in some ways, it depends on the player.  Players get fired up by different aspects of the gaming hobby.  In role playing games, there are literally dozens of ‘types’ of gamers, and very few people fall into perfect cookie-cutter types.  In war gaming, there are also multiple types of gamers… to include gamers who don’t really even like to play, just to model and paint their armies.  As far as gaming systems, there are a variety, but they’re often grouped into War Games and RPGs.  There is also Board Games and Collectable Card Games, but I’ll talk those another time.  War gaming is typically focused on strategy and tactics, but there’s also story and characters.  Role Playing Gaming is often focused on story, characters, and even tactics, character builds, and strategy.  Feeling confused yet?  It’s difficult to break down what people play for without breaking down the systems themselves.

Tabletop War Games

Tabletop War Gaming (sometimes called miniature war gaming) is a broad category that includes Flames of War, Warhammer 40k, Warhammer Fantasy, Hordes, Battletech, Battlefleet Gothic and dozens, if not hundreds, of others.  Most of these games orient around two (or more) players, each having a unit or force, who play against one another with the goal of defeating their opponent’s force and gaining victory.  These games typically involve a variety of rules to simulate weapons, tactics, strategies, and so forth.  Typically, a player will have an army list which contains the breakdown of their forces.

The point of tabletop war games is competitive… but it also can involve elements of teamwork, dependant upon the number of players.  This type of gaming can simulate historical, science fiction, and fantasy settings.  It can contain rules to represent ground, water, space, or almost any combination.  Some games can be tied together to involve dozens of players and even integrate battles in space and on the ground.  Generally there are markers or figurines for units and players take turns manuevering their forces and engaging in combat.  Often the results are determined from dice rolls to give that element of chance.

What’s the point of all this?  Well, to paraphrase Conan the Barbarian: “To crush your enemies, to drive them before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women.”  These games are inherently competitive, as I said.  However, the extent of that competition is often deceptive.  Most people who play these games do so with friends, and it often becomes a social event.  Sometimes these games will be tied into a campaign to tell a story… other times the games will take place in a tournament setting where everyone fights it out to be ‘the best.’  That said, not everyone participates for the same reasons.  Some people fall in love with the models and they’ll spend days or even weeks assembling painting up one model.  Others enjoy the story exclusively and seek to recreate those battles.

Roleplaying Games

Roleplaying games (RPGs) are typically games where each player has a character that they control.  This character may have a complex background and story or might just be “Human Fighter 1”  Most RPGs have character stats that represent the character and show how good they are at the various tasks that the players might put them through.  Most RPGs have a Game Master, or GM.  The GM controls the scenario and puts together challenges for the player or players to work though.  These challenges can range from puzzles and riddles, to hordes of enemy combatants, and even to diplomatic discussion.

RPGs often involve team work, as players work together to make sure their characters survive and acheive their goals.  Oddly enough, the GM is not there to defeat the characters (though there are some who play in that fashion).  The GM is there to guide the players through the adventures and to (hopefully) deliver to each player what they want to achieve.  As with war gaming, players play for different reasons.  Some want to live vicariously through their characters, others want to enjoy the story, and still others want to slaughter their way through millions of faceless opponents and prove their strengths.

Roleplaying Games include the infamous Dungeons and Dragons, Ryfts, Legend of the Five Rings, Alternity, D20 Modern, Call of Cthulu, Vampires, the Masquerade, and (again) dozens if not hundreds of others.  Various game types represent or provide different settings, rule types, and levels of difficulty for players, along with different tools that a GM might use to challenge their players.

 

What’s the point of all this?  Gaming provides an interactive mode of entertainment that provides a breadth of involvement into science fiction and fantasy, and is a huge component of interest in the same.  Many well-established series often have spin-off games (Star Wars, Firefly, Lord of the Rings, and more).  Gaming is also an exciting way to explore various worlds… and a fun way to spend time with friends.

47 Ronin Movie Review

Going with my decision to write up movie reviews for science fiction and fantasy movies, I feel I must review 47 Ronin. That said, while I enjoyed the movie, I feel a little conflicted. On the one hand, it was enjoyable, in and of itself (a popcorn movie, but fun), in a lot of ways I feel it didn’t do the original story justice.  While I’m not extremely knowledgable about it, I do have at least a passing familiarity with the history as well as the original fictionalization: the Chushingura.  The movie 47 Ronin is loosely based upon actual events that occured in the early 1700’s.  Notice, I said loosely, because in the original story, there is no halfbreed, trolls, monsters, or evil witches.

These things, I feel, were added to make the movie more flashy, and less of a historical drama.  That kind of thing can draw audiences, but the story of the Chushingura is one that, in many ways, can stand by itself without flash (ie, lots of special effects, huge explosions and weird pirate towns).

In 47 Ronin, they went for the flash and, in many ways, they succeeded.  It is a fun movie, with lots of amazing scenes.  There were a few times where I felt like they did a scene just to give it the feeling of a comic book, much like the movie 300.  47 Ronin has a solid story which sticks (mostly) to the original, other than the prementioned additions.  The reasons for those additions are extreme at times, but looking at them from the perspective of a writer, I can see why they made those additions, even if I don’t agree with them.  The additions, at least, are ones which are internally consistant and maintain the flow of the story.

The movie doesn’t pull any punches and doesn’t try for a happy ending, which I appreciate.  Though only lightly explained in the movie, the dedication and loyalty of the samurai is there to be seen.  Though I wish there were more characterization of them as individuals, as a whole, they come across as men who follow an iron-bound code of honor in an imperfect world… and they know that sometimes the right decisions are ones which will require sacrifices.  Their unflinching focus on duty that forced them to make those sacrifices is what makes the story so powerful.  Personally, I think it is a story that resonates very well with western cultures, the draw of duty, the necessity of revenge, and the idea of self sacrifice.

The movie captures this, often with small, yet poignant, scenes.  Sometimes those scenes are between the action and sometimes they are right in the middle of it all.  All in all, it was an enjoyable movie with several underlying themes which I appreciated, and it sparked an interesting discussion on the way home from the theater.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug Review

This being a SF/Fantasy blog, I thought I should comment on The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug.  I’ll preface the review with one minor note.  The Hobbit was the first Fantasy novel I ever read.  In many ways, it set me on my own unexpected journey, and it will always hold a special place for me.  That said, I’m not one of the types of people who requires a movie to be an exact replica of the book it was based upon, so that has also had some effect on how I viewed the movie.

The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug manages to make a full length movie (very full at over 160 minutes) out of what was a relatively small section of The Hobbit.  They do this through the addition of scenes that were not in the book.  To make this clear, they weren’t in the book, but some of them are referenced in the book or in JRR Tolkien’s notes.  Some of these scenes and even characters are made up for the movie.

They do this to develop the film from an adventure set from Bilbo’s perspective into a much grander thing.  In the book, The Hobbit, we know there is this greater world, of which we only see the smallest portion, and then only through one character’s eyes.  The movie expands upon this, while staying true to Tolkien’s concept of Middle Earth.

All that aside, it was a lot of fun.  I’m not the type to see movies twice in theaters, but I did with this one.  I think that the character development and story arcs are what made the movie so great, for me.  The special effects were nice, and the story was good, but special effects seem to be easy enough, anymore and I already knew what was going to happen, seeing as I read the book and all.  The characters are where the movie makes its money.  The first stirrings of the One Ring’s pull on Bilbo.  Kili’s interaction with Tauriel.  Thorin’s internal conflict between ambition and responsiblity.  Even Gandalf has moments of character development as he is forced to weigh his duties to his companions versus his duties to all of Middle Earth.  These characters are those we come to care about, and makes them far more real, for their conflict, suffering, and hardships.

The big reveal on Smaug was excellent, though at times, with the vast scale of the dragon and his domain, it is difficult to put him to scale to a man, dwarf, or even hobbit.  I left knowing he was big, really big, but somewhat uncertain as to relative sizes.  My only complaint, about Smaug, is not the graphics, or the sound of his voice, or any of that.  Smaug seems a little to much the cliche villian, given to long, profound monologues while he lets heroes get away.  Maybe it’s just me, but he seemed far more clever and conniving when he and Bilbo had their battle of wits in the novel.

All in all, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie.

Free Stuff: Preview from Echo of the High Kings

I’m travelling for the next week, but in the meantime, here’s a section from Echo of the High Kings, my upcoming Epic Fantasy.  I’ll post a few sections here over the next few weeks, once a week.  These sections are not consectutive, but will cover a fair portion of the overall story.  This section is from the perspective of the antagonist, Lord Hector, who later becomes known as Duke Hector the Usurper…

Hector dismounted from his horse and passed the reins to one of his men.  “You have your orders,” he said.  They stared at him for a long moment in silence.  He saw Sergeant Grel open his mouth to speak, and then close it again.

Hector gave them a stern glare.  “I will not repeat myself, go to your assigned posts.  Prevent anyone from leaving the grounds until I return.”

The fifteen men dispersed, all except Sergeants Grel and Campbell.  Hector turned back towards the door of the manor house and took a deep breath.  He walked past the pair of guards outside unchallenged.  Inside, out of the dark night, the house seemed warm and cheerful.  He heard his cousin’s wife before he saw her.  She swept into the foyer, a plump, cheerful woman who always seemed happy to see guests.  “Hector, so good to see you,” she said.  “What brings you here tonight?  Hopefully not any more of that dreary business?”

“More work, I’m afraid,” Hector said.  He forced himself to smile.  “Lord Estrel and I will need to discuss it for a few hours, I think.”

She shook her head, “Always so serious.  I can tell whatever news has you here so late worries you.  Do not take the world’s burdens on your shoulders, Hector, or it will send you to your grave early, a bitter man.”

Hector stared at her for a long moment, “I am the master of the guard, and Baron Estrel’s military captain.  It is my duty to worry, and to guard these lands for Lord Estrel, and his and your duties to defend the people of Longhaven as the Baron and Baroness.”

She rolled her eyes, “I agree, and you’ll not hear me say otherwise.  If you’ll remember, I have backed every one of your arguments with my husband.  But worry and fear will drag you down, weigh down your spirit, and will age you.  Do not forget to find time for friendship, love and even a family,” Lady Rinata said.

“Thank you for your concern,” Hector said, and felt a surge of guilt as he forced himself to meet her eyes.  “But I must speak with your husband.” He glanced at Sergeant Campbell, “The Sergeant here is from the town of Western Reach.  He’s just returned from visiting family there, I wonder if you’d care to discuss the latest from your home?”

“Why, certainly,” Lady Rinata said.  She immediately turned to the Sergeant.

Hector brushed past her, followed by Sergeant Grel.  They ascended the stairs, and then walked down the hall to the library.  As expected, he saw Captain Grayson, Baron Estrel’s personal armsman outside.  “Evening Robert,” he said in greeting.

“Lord Hector,” the armsman nodded, “Good to see you back, the Baron had not expected your return so soon.  I take it you have news about the Armen?”

“He won’t like it,” Hector said.

Grayson gave him a sad nod.  Hector knew that of all the people privy to the entire picture, Baron Estel’s personal armsman understood best the precarious state of their defenses.  Under other circumstances, Hector knew he could count on the man to provide more weight to his own arguments.

“Well, there may be some shouting,” Hector said.  “I’ll ask that you let him get over his anger without interruption.”

“More like you shout at him to get some sense in his head about this,” Grayson said with a smile.  “But I’ll take your meaning.  Sergeant Grel and I will wait out here and have a good chat while you talk with the Baron.”

Hector could not force himself to meet his friend’s eyes as he stepped past him into the library.

He found his cousin seated at the table, back to the door.  For a moment, a cowardly part of Hector wanted to do the deed then, but he had to at least try to get his cousin to see reason, one last time..

It would prove better in the long run.

“My lord,” Hector said.  His cousin waved a hand for him to circle around the other side of the table.  Baron Estrel did not look up from his book.

Hector glanced at the pile of books as he passed, and he grimaced.  He did not know how such drivel had survived since the Starborn’s arrival.  They included social programs for the poor, and extensive taxation of the wealthy merchant class to fund programs that turned productive members of society into useless drones.  Worst of the ideology, Hector thought of how he gelded the military and his policy of bribery and appeasement of enemies and barbarians.

Hector had no grasp over the history of those books, but he saw the effects on the Barony of Longhaven.  He had no desire to see the end of this particular experiment.  “My lord, I’ve just returned from meeting with my spymaster.  The Armen intend to invade with this next summer.  I have come to ask that our latest shipment of tribute be retained and used to bolster our forces.”

“What?” Estel looked up from his books.  “Hector, you can’t be serious.  I just spoke with the emissary of one of the Semat clans, who assured me that they’ve no intention to resort to military violence as long as we pay them their rightful share of wealth.  We have extorted their lands for too long, and their anger is just something that occurs naturally due to the difference in wealth between their lands and ours.”

Hector took a deep breath, “Whatever the cause, cousin, the effect will result in the destruction of the city of Longhaven and the enslavement of our people.  Hold back the tribute, and send for troops from Duke Peter, else we will face raids which my men cannot hold back.”

“No, this is unacceptable,” Baron Estrel shook his head.  “You always see so much of a threat from these people.  I don’t understand your bigotry.  You even took one of their women as a mistress!”

“I have seen what they will do, you idiot, and I am trying my best to prevent that,” Hector snapped.

“You can’t talk to me like that,” Baron Estrel rose from his chair.

“Sit down and shut your mouth and listen,” Hector shouted.  He saw his cousin’s jaw drop in shock.  He doubted that any man had dared even raise his voice in his presence.  “You have bankrupted our Barony, turned one of the most prosperous cities in the Duchy of Masov into paupers.  The Duke has requested his taxes, and I know that we’ll barely be able to pay our own debts, much less pay our dues to him.  Your father’s military program has fallen into disarray, which is why Duke Peter sent me here in the first place, to prevent Armen raids.”

“Which I have prevented.  Since we began the tribute program, no Armen have raided our lands!” Baron Estel said.  “And I-”

“Those tributes increase every year.  And no matter what, we will be unable to pay them next year,” Hector said.  “Which even the Armen realize, and so they intend to raid us and take what is left by force.”  Hector leaned over the table.  “I refuse to allow that, cousin.  I will do everything in my power to prevent it… even if it means removing you.”

“But…” His cousin paled, then he shook his head and sat up straight, “You don’t have that authority, only the Duke does, and he would not listen to you.”

“No… he wouldn’t, not with how you’ve downplayed my reports.  He doesn’t have the full picture.  I don’t have that authority… but I have that power, as your military commander.  While you have constantly belittled your guard, and undercut their loyalty to you by cutting their pay and treating them as little more than servants.”

Duke Estrel went ghostly white.  He hunched forward in his chair, almost as if he expected a blow.  “You would not dare…”

“I do not want to,” Hector said softly.  “You are my cousin, and whatever your faults, I do not wish to see you dead, much less do the deed myself.  But I will, if you force my hand.”  He met his cousin’s gaze, and for a moment, he thought he saw the man realize Hector’s own seriousness.

Then Baron Estrel sat up straight, “No, I call your bluff.  You won’t do it, not with how Duke Peter will react.  You would face execution, or worse, the Traitor’s Death.  No, I relieve you of command, Hector.  You will place yourself under house arrest, and await my judgment.  I understand the pressures you are under, and I will be lenient when I take that into consideration.”

Hector closed his eyes, “Very well, cousin.”

He drew his sword and swung it in one swift motion.  The blade slashed across his cousin’s throat, and a spray of blood fanned out across his books.  Baron Estrel fell back in his chair, and his hands grasped at his ripped throat.

“I am sorry,” Lord Hector said.  “But you left me no choice.”

He walked past the table, and to the door.  He took a deep breath, then opened it.

He saw Robert Grayson turn.  The old armsman had a moment to see Hector in the doorway, bloodied sword drawn.  Hector did not give him time to react.  He stepped forward and drove his blade into the armsman’s chest, all the way to the hilt, then caught him as he slumped.

“Why…” Grayson whispered.

“Because there was no other way,” Hector said.

He lowered his dead friend to the floor, and glanced at Sergeant Grel.  “Secure the room.  No one enters without my word.”

The sergeant gave him a somewhat shaky nod.

Hector drew the armsman’s sword.  He retraced his steps to the foyer, and found Sergeant Campbell and Lady Rinata had paused their conversation.  Estrel’s wife looked up at him with a look of confusion.  “Hector, I thought I heard something…”  Her eyes dropped to the sword in his hand.

She reacted without hesitation.  Sergeant Campbell’s hand had dropped to his own blade, but Lady Rinata whipped a hidden knife from her sleeve and drove it into his throat before he could react.

Hector gave a curse, and ran towards her.  She ran for the door.

Hector leapt off the stairs and felt something pop in his ankle as he landed in a stumble, between her and the doors.

She tried to skid to a stop, but the smooth stone tiles made her slide towards him.

Hector brought the sword up in a lunge.  She twisted to the side at the last instant, and his strike caught her through the side rather than cleanly through the heart.  She let out a shrill scream of pain, even as she whipped her blade at his face.

Hector dropped the sword and stumbled back.  He clutched at his face in pain.  He heard the doors open behind him.

He turned to find the two armsmen from outside.  They stared between him and the wounded Lady Rinata in shock for a second.  Hector used their hesitation.  He reached down and ripped the sword out of her, and spun to attack the nearest.  His sword caught the younger man before he could get his own blade out.  The other leapt to attack with a shout of alarm.

Hector blocked the strike, then lunged to run the guard through.

He looked down and saw Rinata clutch at her side.  “Why, we loved you like a brother, why would you-”

Hector thrust down with the sword.  He left it planted in her heart.

Oddball SF/F: Steampunk

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Seeing as I addressed cyberpunk, I figured I should turn a complete one hundred and eighty degrees and discuss Steampunk.

Steampunk is, at once, a narrow subgenre and also a broadly encompasing blended genre.   It has become massively popular in recent times due to its often fantastical elements and the broad spectrum of ideas and concepts that can be pulled in.  Steampunk is often used in alternate history, creating worlds of steam-powered airships and technology driven by steam, ingenuity, and lots and lots of gears.  Some steampunk now is focused on alternate history, while other authors create entirely new worlds.  Steampunk concepts such as airships, clockwork devices, and the like may sometimes appear in more traditional fantasy novels or series.

While the science behind a lot of the technology can be pure fancy, many steampunk stories have richly developed worlds.  Often the best steampunk is characterized by a thorough extrapolation of both culture, society, technology, and at least some grasp of history.  Steampunk characters tend to be larger than life, flamboyant, and yet gentlemen are gentlemen and ladies are ladies.  At the same time, many steampunk stories feature women who stand outside of societal norms and challenge the status quo.  The central core of steampunk, however, tends to be that it is complex, complicated, often larger than life, includes lots of ponderous and even dangerous machinery… and that it is fun.

Steampunk is often about adventure and exploration, and it is very much in tune with the founders of science fiction: Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle.  Those authors used elements of the fantastic as well as scientific principles of their day to write stories of exploration, intrigue, and discovery.  In a way, steampunk can be seen as a tipped hat to these earlier authors, for whom the world still contained vast and unknown secrets, where maps required people to walk the ground and survey, and when the next horizon still held undiscovered riches.

Oddball SF/F: Cyberpunk

I was reading through various forums when I came across an interesting question… what is Cyberpunk.  Cyberpunk is a subgenre of Science Fiction and Fantasy that tends to be very singular, though in today’s markets, blending of Cyberpunk with other genres has occured.  As a subgenre of science fiction, it tends to be defined by a near-future semi-dystopian world, often with post-modern aesthetics.  The characters tend to be outcasts from society, often renegades, who are often antiheroes.  The latter is the ‘punk’ part, the main characters are often societal rejects, often by choice, who have rejected the system, much like Punk Rock.

Cyberpunk is odd because it often takes an anti-technology standpoint, almost to the point of suggesting that certain technology is inherently too dangerous.  Cyberpunk often utilizes cybernetic implants, hacking, cloning, and genetic engineering, all items that our society has serious ethical questions.  Most cyberpunk stories show deliberate missuses of these technologies, often by the companies or countries which should (in theory) protect their employees or citizens from such misuse.  Cyberpunk stories are often very dark, with characters who struggle for survival rather than to effect any real changes in society or the world at large.  An important theme to much of cyberpunk is the ethical delimmas posed by technology, and cyberpunk authors are sometimes unique in science fiction for questioning the advance of technology.

William Gibson is often considered the defining author of cyberpunk.  Many of Phillip K. Dick’s novels and short stories (to include a lot of them which have been made into movies such as Blade Runner and Minority Report) are very similar in themes and setting to standard cyberpunk.

A SF Writer’s Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving, a purely US holiday. I was talking with a friend of mine, an immigrant, who told me that he really didn’t get the whole idea of Thanksgiving, so he mostly just ignored it. I’ll say this, everyone has their own take on it, but for me, it’s a time to reflect on all the good things in life, to appreciate what I have. As a writer, I’m appreciative of all the books and authors that have inspired me. I wouldn’t be the person I am if I couldn’t curl up around a good book on a chill fall day.

I’m very thankful that we’ve had the great authors who inspired so much. I’m grateful that those pioneers dared to think about the possibilities. I’m grateful for Jules Verne  and Edgar Rice Burroughs who wrote the first fantastical fiction.   I’m grateful for the writers they inspired such as Robert Howard, Doc Smith, and Robert A. Heinlein, and Issac Asimov.   And I’m grateful for the science fiction writers who followed, who continued to think big, and to dream of what lay beyond the horizon.

As a writer, the important part of Thanksgiving for me is the reflection, the time spent looking at where we are and where we’re going.  Take the time today, as a reader or a writer, to think about the stories you love, and to be grateful for the people who wrote them.