Category Archives: Science Fiction

New Release: Dead Train: All Aboard

Dead Train: All Aboard is now available on Amazon.  You can find it here: https://amzn.to/2ycj324

It’s all aboard and full speed ahead because when the dead roam the Earth, no place is safe.

Civilization has fallen, brought low by a combination of war, terrorism, and by the restless dead rising in ever-greater numbers.  The world’s militaries fought until they ran out of bullets, but in the end, the cities were choked with bodies and the dead just kept on coming.

Captain Jack Zamora has put together a band of survivors who stay alive by staying on the move.  They’re fleeing the charnel-house remains of the East Coast, headed to survivor enclaves in the West, travelling on a jury-rigged train that’s held together by desperate hope and paid for in the blood of its defenders.
There’s one barrier for their train of survivors: the mighty Mississippi River. Someone or something has been destroying the bridges, trapping survivors on the east bank.  And survivor enclaves in the East are going dark, one by one.  There’s nowhere to go and the only set of train bridges left run through the ruins of St Louis.
Something waits for Jack and his people there, though.  Something ancient, something evil, and if Jack can’t find a way through, then his hope, his people, and their train will all die.
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Dead Train: All Aboard Snippet One

Hey everyone, here is the first snippet for Dead Train: All Aboard.  You can expect Dead Train: All Aboard on 12 October, 2018.

Chapter One

The zombies didn’t move out of the way as two thousand nine hundred and fifty tons of steel rolled into them.  The train didn’t lurch, it didn’t shudder, it didn’t even really slow as it crushed dozens of the rotting corpses and rolled right on through.  The train snow plow on the front mostly sent the mindless undead tumbling out of the way, shattering their bones and leaving those it struck limp and motionless.  Jack couldn’t even hear the sound of crunching bone and tearing flesh over the sound of the train’s wheels on the tracks and the grumble of the diesel-electric locomotives.

A few would sometimes find their way under the wheels or would catch a grip on one of the sides of the cars in passing.  That was why the train riders went to full defensive status as they passed through towns.  In towns, the train had to slow down for curves and track switches.  As Jack watched, hundreds more zombies shambled out of the otherwise dark and deserted town, drawn by the noise of the train.  Most of them were too slow to reach the train in time, but a handful were either fresher or simply more energetic, and those managed a stumbling run.

Most of those grasped blindly for the train and many of them lacked the dexterity necessary to accomplish anything beyond falling beneath the wheels and being ground into a red paste.  Survivors fended off the handful that caught hold, using improvised spears.  This situation wasn’t severe enough to warrant the use of ammunition.

“Watch for clingers,” Jack shouted over his radio.  “Report in your status by car!”  Captain Jack Zamora waited patiently, his body armor, weapons, and helmet a familiar weight.  The gray-eyed former Army officer kept a confident expression on his lean face, even as he felt worry eat at his gut.

“Car forty-nine, all clear,” Chris Peck reported.  The former construction project manager from Cincinnati had a proper attention to detail, which was why Jack had chosen him for the trail car.  “No clingers and we’re clear of the town.”

The other cars reported in, one by one, and as the train began to pick up speed again, Jack gave a silent prayer of thanks.  It looked like they’d made it.

“This is car twelve!” A panicked voice shouted over the radio, “Taylor is down, there’s a zombie, oh god, they’re killing us!”

Jack didn’t take the time to swear.  He waved at the response team and started running back along the line of cars.  Twelve cars, he did the math as he ran, trying not to think about how many women and children were in car twelve, fifty-five and a half feet per car, that’s six hundred and sixty-six feet.

Jack didn’t even notice the gaps between cars as he jumped them, shotgun clutched in his hands.  A single zombie wasn’t too bad of a hazard, not by itself, not normally.  They’ll be alright, he tried to tell himself.  Yet he knew just how close they were to Indianapolis.  He knew that bodies rose quicker the closer they were to the dead cities.  One zombie would kill one person and the corpse would rise.  Two would kill two more…

As he rushed forward, he saw car twelve.  Children clustered on the top, center part of the car, passed up by their parents to safety.  As he watched, a screaming woman tried to pull herself up on the side, clutching at the ropes that the survivors had run across the top for just that purpose.

Reaching arms caught her and pulled her back.  She let out a shrill scream as they dragged her back and Jack knew the look on her face, he’d seen it far too often over the past six months.  It was terror, but it was also disbelief.  She didn’t understand –couldn’t understand– why this was happening to her.  Before Jack could raise his shotgun, he heard that scream cut off with brutal finality and even over the noise of the train he heard the grinding crunch as she fell beneath the rail wheels.

Jack knew that there probably weren’t any other survivors in the car, but he didn’t hesitate.  He ran forward, caught a side rope, and swung into the open car door feet first.

His boots slammed into a cluster of undead and the zombies tumbled back from the impact.  Jack found his footing and brought up his shotgun.  He recognized Taylor’s gray and bloodless face, the former Marine’s throat ripped out.  He fired the Remington 870 Express and blood and bits of brain matter splattered his face and eye protection.  As the headless zombie stumbled back, Jack pivoted, racked the slide, and picked his next target.

This was an older zombie, its flesh gray and its face sunken.  It came at Jack with a jagged shard of bone sticking out of its arm where its hand should have been.  Jack fired into the thing’s center of mass.  As the zombie stumbled back, Jack moved forward, clearing the area.

The rest of his response team came through the open door behind him.

There was no finesse to what they did.  As they joined him, Jack dropped his shotgun, letting the friction strap swing it back against his chest, even as he drew his hooligan crash ax. The short, ax-like blade was designed purely for chopping and Jack swung it as the next zombie came forward.  His heavy blade split the zombie’s skull and as the undead child stumbled, Jack tried not to think, tried not to see, tried to turn off his mind as he split skulls, separated shoulders, and kicked moaning undead out the open side of the train-car.

Clearing the car took less than thirty seconds.  He’d become so disconnected that it took a panicked shout “No, no, stop!” for him to halt, mid swing, about to brain a survivor who stood behind a makeshift barricade.

Jack lowered the ax, the blade covered in blood and hair, with bits of skin stuck to it.  He tried not to think about the crusty, sticky nature of his stained uniform.  The man that he’d nearly killed stared at him with a mixture of fear and shock, but with a level of hero worship that made Jack want to vomit.  He turned away.  “Status?” Jack barked.  He answered his own question in the same way he had drilled his team.  “One up.”

“Two up,” Joshua Wachope reported.  The tall, bearded, lanky Special Forces man gave him a thumbs up.  Josh was solid and there wasn’t anyone that Jack trusted more than him in a fight.  I wish he was in charge of this shit, Jack thought, not for the first time.

“Three up,” Johnny Woodard said as he wiped down his ax.  The tall, dark, former combat medic looked care-free, as if dismembering people was an everyday occurrence.  Come to think of it, Jack thought, it very nearly is…

“Four up,” Hector Chavez snapped.  The stocky, perpetually angry man glowered at the survivors of the train car.  “How the hell did this happen?!”

“A zombie came in through the latrine hole,” a woman said, her voice distant.  “It crawled up and it stabbed Taylor with its arm.  Just like that and then he attacked Sophie and…”  Her voice trailed off into a confused babble.

“How many survivors?” Jack asked as he turned back to face the men clustered behind the barricade.  They’d flipped up a couple of the bunk beds and chairs, he saw.  Quick thinking, Jack thought.  Though he wished they’d been quicker.  One man with a weapon could have stopped all this before it got out of hand.

“Uh…” the two men looked around, both of them clearly shell-shocked.

Jack restrained a sigh.  “All of you, come out.  We need to check you for injuries and infection.”  He shouldn’t blame them, it wasn’t their fault that they didn’t know what to do, how to function.  The cars at the center of the train were for those survivors who didn’t understand, who couldn’t defend themselves.  They’re weak… a voice spoke in the back of his mind, but he squashed that voice.  His people would train them, they would become useful members of his group… one way or another.

“Are they…” a woman gasped, “… are they contagious?  I saw Frank, he got bit!”  She pointed an accusatory finger at one of the men on the barricade.

The group surged away from the man and Jack just shook his head.  “No.  No they’re not contagious.”  Well, he admitted to himself, only in the sense that they’re dead and they can make you dead, too.  “But if you’re injured, then your wounds could turn septic and you could die.”  And then you’d rise from the dead and try to kill us all.  “We’ve got a medic, he’ll check you out.”

In theory, all the people on the train should know that… but they’d just picked up a few dozen survivors two days ago.  Train car twelve was one of the places they put those survivors.

The latrines have covers that should have been latched until we got the all clear, Jack thought to himself.  It wouldn’t surprise him if one of the newbies had left that cover open.  That meant someone in the car had effectively killed Taylor and all the others.  Jack just hoped that whoever it was had paid with their life.

If not, he thought grimly, I’ll kill whoever was responsible.

***

Kal’s October Forecast

Hey everyone, October is here!  I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, so here’s what you can expect:

I’m happy to announce that I plan to release the first book from my post-apocalyptic series, Dead Train: All Aboard.  This series follows the adventures of a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse, who are travelling by train as they seek safety.  You can expect Dead Train: All Aboard on October 12th.

I’m currently mostly done with my latest work in progress, which is titled Lost Valor.  Lost Valor is the first book of the spin-off series Forsaken Valor, which is a spin-off of the Children of Valor series.  Those of you who read Valor’s Cost can probably guess the identity of the main character.  My goal is to finish it up and publish it 26 October.  I’m really excited to get this one out, because it’s a very different story-line and set of experiences from the Children of Valor series but just as action-packed.  I’m hoping you all will enjoy it just as much as I have writing it.

Finishing off the month, I’m putting the finishing touches on book three of the Rising Wolf series.  Yes, I’m finally getting back to Melanie and Fenris.  This third book closes out the initial story arc and brings their initial arc to a close.

What I’m working towards with all three of these series (Children of Valor, Forsaken Valor, and Rising Wolf) is to set the stage for the greater conflict that’s been brewing in the Periphery.  I hope to tie all three series to a close and then start a series I’m currently labeling The Colonial War, which will cover a greater conflict involving Drakkus, the Star Guard, Century and other systems.  That in turn sets the stage for more events yet to come.  Suffice it to say, there’s lots of exploding space-ships in the future of the Star Portal Universe.

Closing out October, I plan to start the second Argos book, the sequel to The Colchis Job, to be published with Chris Kennedy Publishing.  I expect to finish it sometime in November, so ideally you can expect it late November to early December.  After that, it’s the fifth book of the Children of Valor series and the second book of Forsaken Valor.  I’ve got a very full plate at the moment, but I also intend to get the seventh book of the Shadow Space Chronicles out as well as to finish the fourth book of the Eoriel Saga.

Did I mention I’ve got a lot on my plate?

 

Assistant Dog Watcher: Jobs of the Future

Humans evolve and grow and human ingenuity being what it is, we’re problem solvers and we’re always trying to find new ways to do things.  As a consequence, the things humans do to earn their pay have evolved and will continue to evolve.  Those who don’t agree, I invite to talk to their local thatchers and shepherds, and if you can’t find them, as your operator to put you through on your wall mounted phone.  I’ll be here, waiting.

Humor aside, the constant is that human jobs have diversified.  The vast majority of humanity used to live on subsistence farming (before that we were hunter-gathers).  Now we have artists, engineers, pet groomers, farmers, scientists, philosophers, and even those layabout writers.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there will always be the roughneck-type jobs like welding, pipelaying, machining… skilled labor is something that will be in demand, the artisans of our era will be around long into the future, because they often do unique problem solving of the type that computers often can’t.

What jobs are out there in the future?  I don’t think the jobs people do now will necessarily disappear, mind you, but I do think that many, especially the low-skill jobs, are going away.  Managerial positions will be there for as long as there are humans in employment (or robots, because robot workers still need direction).  The typical futuristic jobs in science fiction are ship-related (Captain, Navigator, Pilot, Engineer, etc), but there’s a variety of cyber-punk jobs like hackers, programmers, and information brokers.  These are projections, drawn from current events and times.

Most of these require skill, training, and knowledge.  There’s no entry level master-hacker positions posted on job-boards of the future… or if there are, I recommend thinking twice before showing up for your first day of work.  Those who sail the stars can begin training, too, but as what?  Apprentices?  Midshipmen?  Cadets?  What’s the pay like and who pays them?

There’s presumably job opportunities for the less-skilled, too, and those with lower ambitions.    Most minimum wage jobs now are positions where someone can build up some basic skills and move on to bigger and brighter things.  Other than a post-scarcity society, everyone has to earn their ration packets and their single bed habitation pod, right?  The problem being, when I think of masses of unskilled labor in a futuristic setting, it’s rarely in a good connotation.  Labor that’s dirty, dangerous, and unpleasant is the norm in futuristic settings, often when humans are seen as cheaper and more expendable than robots.

So what’s an unskilled person to do?  It’s a question I struggle with when I world-build.  Robots can do things with massive efficiency.  they’re always on, they don’t have holidays or breaks, you do the maintenance and they work… and the maintainers are skilled labor.  We’ve begun moving a lot of the menial jobs towards that route.  Janitorial robots don’t steal, they don’t get drunk and fail to show up for work.  Computer kiosks allow restaurants to cut down on wait staff and minimize their overhead.  There will be some of these jobs in the future, but they’re likely to be fewer in number and rather more selective (possibly even highly technical).

What’s a fresh out of school space-boy to do, then?  Technical schooling is obviously going to take priority, there’s always going to be a need for those who can design, build, and maintain machines.  Military service is an option, too.  And there’s always positions in customer service and human relations, after all, someone has to manage both employees and customers.  There’s still a need for farmers, doctors, nurses, lawyers (shudder), politicians (sigh), and all the rest, too.

Where’s the growth?  What are the new fields that will erupt?  Sort of like Information Technology has, which has then split out into a dozen or more fields ranging from Information Security (who make information harder to access) to the polar opposite, Knowledge Management (who make information easier to access).

This is one of many questions I tangle with as an author.  My futures, tellingly, still have many of the jobs and job descriptions that they have now.  There are still archaeologists, historians, and entertainers, because we’re still human.  We still have problems to solve and we’re willing to pay (employ) people to solve those problems for us.

Painting the Kabal of the Joker: Why So Serious?

Note: I was going to post this back on the 17th, but then my father-in-law passed away, so priorities shifted (I didn’t end up going to that tournament, either).  I didn’t finish all the detail work on these models, but I hope to get to it when I get time again.  Best laid plans of mice and men, as they say.

A bit of a change of pace, but here’s something I’ve been working on over the past couple of weeks.  I’ve been playing Warhammer 40k since 2002 (Warhammer Fantasy Battles since 2001), and I’ve had a Dark Eldar (now Drukhari) army since 2003.  My Kabal of the Joker has been an army since the relaunch of the entire model line back in 2010 or so.  At the time, I thought that nothing quite captured the Dark Eldar’s cheerful nihilism quite like the Joker.  I’ll probably post pictures of my legacy armies at some point, but I’ve been slowly working my way through painting some of the stuff that fell by the wayside between military deployments and the whole getting married and having a kid things.

I’m getting everything painted up for a tournament this weekend, which is why I painted the models I did.  I have, well, let’s just say “a lot” of 40k models and my Dark Eldar armies are a little out of control (I’ve got a lot of painting to do to ever get them all done, much less the other armies I have).

One of the first things I did was “update” and touch up my Archon, the Joker.  He’s loosely based off of Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight.  As you can see, I swapped out the arm (mostly because packing him up  that spear was a pain).  I also changed the color of the base (I’d originally gone for some kind of lava theme and I wasn’t happy with how it worked out).  I think the update worked well, over all.

Going on with the theme, I already had a Harley Quinn (Lillith Hesperax), so I decided my other Succubus would be Poison Ivy.  I went counter the normal DE themes and went with light green (Citidel Paint’s Moot Green) for her armor, with darker green for her body-suit and I kept the Joker theme going with purple for her weapons and some accents.  Overall, I’m pretty happy with how she turned out.  She’s ready to dish out poisonous kisses and murder things, just like a Dark Eldar should.

One of my ongoing projects was my Haemoculous Coven, and one of my hold-ups with them was finding a theme.  I finally decided to go with a Mr Freeze theme, sticking with the DC Villians idea.  I’d already acquired some Rat Ogres to convert as Grotesques and I decided to update my old Talos as a new Chronos as well.  All in all, I used pale skin with a blue wash to make them look “cold” and made use of blue crystals on the bases (and in their flesh) to put in a cold theme overall.  For Mr Freeze himself, I updated my older Haemoculous to fit the theme.

 

 

 

I also finally painted up my squad of “new” (are they new if I’ve had them for 8 years?) Talos models (Taloi?).  I stuck with the same theme and all in all, I’m pretty happy with how they look.  To escort them into battle, I repainted a squad of my older models, what were originally Grotesques and which I now use as Wracks (Oh, GW, some of your original DE models were terrible).  Since the new Wracks are finecast and I hate finecast with the passion of a thousand burning suns, I’m sticking with the old models until I can decide on an appropriate conversion.

I also painted two squads of warriors and their raiders to accompany the Joker into battle.  As you can see, I stuck with the green & purple theme for them, along with their Ravager and Razorwing Fighter.

 

 

 

All in all, I’m pretty happy with how they turned out, especially since I painted them all in two weeks (about 2-3 hours in the evenings).   Depending on interest, I may post more of my models as I pull them out and work on touching them up.  Thanks for reading!

Worldbuilding in SF Part 3: Those Little Details

Wordbuilding is an important tool for any writer, particularly for science fiction.  It adds depth to a book, it helps to develop character backgrounds, and it provides a pallate on which to paint your story.  In Part 1 (link), I talked about the foundations of building your universe.  In Part 2 (link) I talked about building worlds and star systems.  Here in Part 3, I’m going to talk about those little details that really contribute to the story.

Where Does It Come From?

One of the questions I find myself asking as I read a book is where things come from.  Who made the flying car, was it a fully automated factory or the hand-crafted work of a mad-genius inventor?  All the “stuff” that your characters use and interact with has to come from somewhere, whether it’s the weapons they use to mow down the bad guys, the starship they use to travel from one world to another, or the hand-distilled gasoline they use to roam the wastelands.  As an author, knowing who made it and how the character acquired it can be important.  Maybe that ship was made by a renegade faction and they want it back, or the fuel is a rare and precious resource that people will kill over.  These are world-building elements that can tie directly into plot points for your story.  Knowing where it was made, who made it, and how it got to the characters hands can give you a lot of material to work with in your story.

Who Are The Big Players?

Knowing who the big players are in the universe is a key part of worldbuilding and crosses over into plotting out your novel.  Knowing that the antagonist for the main character in your first novel is the henchman of a greater villain that your characters will have to fight further on down the line is a perfect example.  Knowing that the ally of a player is the child of a world leader sets up some potential help or conflicts of interest down the road.  Putting names in your book isn’t necessary, but it does add some depth.  Knowing how those people interact and whether or not they get along also adds some depth and can help you to write your story.  The main characters getting caught up in familial disputes is part of the driving element of my Children of Valor series, and its something that most people can easily relate to, in that family can often be as much a hindrance as help.

Putting It All Together

At this point, you’ve gone from the big questions all the way down to the characters that fill your universe.  Hopefully you have a good grasp on how it all ties together.  That’s all great news, but right now you don’t have a novel, you have a setting.  Putting it all together, making things happen, requires characters.

Creating interesting and dynamic characters is much easier when you draw them from the backgrounds of the worlds they live in.  A renegade heir to a corporate empire who has forsaken his family’s ill-gotten gains can be all the more real when you know that his parent’s company utilizes the equivalent of slave labor in their factories.  The never-do-well mercenary with a heart of gold makes for a more dynamic and realistic character when you know that he once served in the military and was a decorated war-hero, before everything went south.

Your setting, the world you built, comes to life with characters.  They bring with them all their experiences, all their background, and they are the paintbrushes with which you tell your story.   Remember, also, that you’re here to tell a story, not to show every detail of the world you created.  Sprinkle in those details throughout, but treat them like spices when you cook, a little bit can go a long way.

Thanks for reading, and feel free to check out my other posts on world-building.  I’ve got one on Steampunk and one on Fantasy.

 

Movie Review: Ant Man and the Wasp

As things go, Ant Man and the Wasp was exactly the movie I needed to see.   If you’re a fan of the Marvel movies, or even if you aren’t, it’s fun, fast paced, and humorous.  The risks are dire and personal, this isn’t a movie where they’re fighting an alien of ridiculous power and strength.  These are people dealing with problems that make sense (even if some of those problems involve quantum mechanics).

It’s a movie that doesn’t hesitate to use humor to diffuse a tense situation and where the nonsensical is an acceptable route for problem-solving.  It rewards the audience for paying attention.  It also does a great job of showing that super-powers don’t necessarily solve problems and often times makes things more complicated.  It does all that without being preachy or boring, while still giving you enough time to process everything that’s happened.

And yeah, it ties into the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Captain America Civil War and Infinity War.  At this point, I’m having a difficult time thinking of a movie they haven’t done well enough to be entertaining.  Ant Man and the Wasp is fun, engaging, and there’s enough interesting emotional and “real” world problems that I really found myself on the edge of my seat.  So if you haven’t already seen it, go watch it already.