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Realism in Military Science Fiction

The title of this post sounds like a contradiction in terms, and on the surface perhaps the idea of a genetically altered human warrior wielding a heavy plasma cannon against unimaginable horrors from deep space sounds a bit… sci-fi, but come on, plasma cannons!

Well… plasma cannons, awesome though they may be, only get us so far.

Just in case I get too preachy later on, the point I’m attempting to make is that a story has to ring true, even if its about space elves fighting jelly monsters.

The truth of the matter, in my opinion, is that the story is going to be more impactful to the audience if there is a degree of realism, with a specific contemporary sensibility. I’m not talking about making the ‘hard science’ of the afore mentioned plasma cannon sound convincing. I’m not talking about creating an alien/cyborg/mutant/etc enemy that makes sense in light of our current understanding of physiology and biology. All such things are just plot devices and set dressing directly informed by our current scientific knowledge and awareness. Realism when it comes to the technology and biology of a story, explicitly a military science fiction story, is of less consequence than realism relative to the characters themselves.

Perhaps I’m beating a drum that has been well-worn by writers before me, but this it my time, and I’ll take my moment thank you very much.

If a story’s core appeal (or message as it were) is “look at how cool their tech is!” or “gosh this hero is an unstoppable badass!” then once our world develops a similar technology or gets bored with flawless heroes, as an audience, we will not be engaged and that story will likely recede to join the miasma of other genre titles. Not that this is a bad thing, because the world needs pulp, and I’ve certainly contributed my fair share of such (and will be contributing a great deal more), but I’d argue that tech-based-pulp is ultimately destined to be surpassed by our own real-life advances.

The books that really stick with us, in specific regards to military science fiction, are stories like “Forever War” and “Starship Troopers” precisely because they focus on the men and women who live through those stories. Sure the cool ships and equipment those characters interact with are exciting, but what hits you is the characters themselves. This may be an old argument, but it is the human experience, or better yet Personal experience of the story, by the characters, that has the real staying power that transcends the ever-advancing technology of our rapidly evolving modern civilization.

To write military fiction, whether it is historical, contemporary, or science fiction, that ‘rings true’ takes something of an effort on the part of the author, in my opinion. If the author is like myself, and not a legitimate combat veteran, then I think it is important to talk to such people. Even in the most far-fetched science fiction setting, I think that a convincing and accurate portrayal of military personnel is important. Not actually the specific nationality, creed, or equipment, but more the intimate experience of war and the physical and psychological consequences of those experiences.

Truth be told that is an easy gauntlet for me to throw down to my peers, given that I am a military contractor by trade, and so while I am not a combat veteran I spend countless days and weeks in their esteemed company. In fact you could say that much of my work in NECROSPACE is a direct result from transitioning from being an independent filmmaker to being a military contractor. The notions of patriotism and the realities of economics are two powerful forces at work in all such men and women, in my experience, and working alongside them has affected both my writing and my tastes in military science fiction.

I find there to be little value, beyond momentary pulp entertainment (which is still awesome), in bigger-than-life protagonists. There isn’t much to glean from the shallow character arc of “Master Sergeant John Mack” who is the Marty Stu or Mary Stu of the usual genre fare, beyond the mindless fun of reading about a peerless badass of a character overcoming all obstacles against ridiculous odds. I am less interested in the story of a superman in power armor than I am an average soldier with an M4 (or the scifi pulse rifle equivalent). The reason is that I’ve never met super-soldier John Mack in real life, but I’ve meet hundreds of regular people who draw a modest paycheck and carry a rifle.

Realism in our portrayal of the future soldiers in military scifi is about creating protagonist characters who are not perfect warriors. Soldiers who make mistakes, who question their own loyalties and motivations, who can’t help but to bring the horror home with them, are the kinds of characters that I want to read about, and the kinds of character I do my level best to create. Whether they are a ragtag militia of scrappy folk heroes fending off an alien invasion or an elite team of space marines about to drop into hostile cyborg territory, and no matter how far-fetched or fantastical their technology happens to be it is the realism of their humanity that will ultimately engage me as a reader.

Tentacle monsters and plasma cannons are the flashy packaging that will bring me to the table, but the authenticity of the characters is what will make me a fan for life.

Back on the Payroll

I begin all of my books in the Necrospace series with this introduction:

It is the Age of The Corporation.

The common man toils under the watchful eye of the elite and their enforcers. The rules of law have long been replaced by the politics of profit. The dark ages of feudalism have returned with capitalistic ferocity. There is no peace among the stars of mapped space and business is booming.

The first three books in the series are what I’ve taken to calling “The Reaper Cycle”, and they follow the life story of a man named Samuel Hyst as he goes from new recruit fresh from boot camp to hardened veteran on the fringes of space. Samuel, or Prybar as his comrades call him, hails from Grotto Corporation, an authoritarian society that tends to grind its citizens between the gears of the military/industrial complex.

Now that we have completed our first foray into the vast setting, it is time to begin another journey, and even now I am hard at work on the first installment of the next cycle.

The new trilogy, which I am dubbing “The Swarm Cycle”, will pick up where we left off in the former storyline, near the end of the first Ellisian War. I said first, because there is too much wealth yet to be plundered from the new worlds and the Anointed Actuaries will not let any amount of carnage stand between them and the Bottom Line. This time we will be traveling with the space marines and mech warriors of Helion Corporation, a fierce socialist empire that rivals Grotto in size and ambition, as they struggle against a voracious new enemy that emerges from the darkness of space.

An enemy for whom profit means nothing.

 

Catch up on The Reaper Cycle and then get ready for the swarm!

Marine Cadets Wanted

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REAPER– Resource Exploration And Procurement Engineer Regiment

Welcome Citizen, to a new life of adventure, including meal plan and hazard pay! Because Grotto Corporation is heavily invested in exploration and military ventures there is always a place for stalwart citizens, twenty-five standard years or younger, willing to risk life and limb for incredible wages and a sense of accomplishment.

As a REAPER, your primary function will be to serve as foot soldiers and salvage specialists for militarized expeditions into regions of both mapped and unmapped space in search of raw materials ready to be exploited.

To claim or re-claim machinery, equipment, and building materials from former battlefields, space hulks, and otherwise abandoned facilities.

Base wages for training and transit time are nearly twice that of the average workforce assignment, and all recovery and combat duties come with additional hazard bonuses.

See your local recruiter for details.

Sign up today!

Warlords of the Wasteland

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Life in the Zone is usually either brutal and short or excruciating and seemingly endless, which is why the only folks who venture there are fueled by insanity, desperation, greed, or some combination of the three. By and large the human population of the known world sticks to the civilized parts of the wasteland, border towns and frontier settlements and the like, which these days takes up more and more space on the map, even if travel between all these places is still as dangerous as it ever was. The thing is that we are enjoying a bit of a post-apocalyptic Golden Age, where a person can actually live a full life, even if its a hard and dirty one that could end bad at any moment. You can actually die of old age now, and that used to be a myth about the old world told around campfires and burn barrels. Not too long ago, maybe just a generation or two, there wasn’t even a notion of the Zone, it was all just the wasteland.

The time of the warlords.

In those days of fire and blood you were either a marauder or a victim, and there wasn’t much wiggle room in between. This was a time when the chaos of the apocalypse was still fresh, and the survivors of that global Collapse were thrust into a harsh ruin of a world that they’d had a hand in making. It was total madness, but out of that storm rose individuals who were something more than common marauders, and they certainly weren’t victims. Their presence had a kind of magnetism to it, and people started banding together around these larger than life individuals who refused to be anywhere but at the top of the food chain. These individuals were fueled by ego, courage, and probably a big dose of insanity, but they persevered. As the groups following these individuals grew in size a sort of culture rose up around the men and women at the center of the storm, each culture just as radical and unique as the person it was founded on. So was born the warlords of the wasteland. They had names like Slab Dragon, Immortan Joe, Raven Ripsaw, and King Stitch, just to name some of the more famous warlords that still echo in our oral history. They built empires out of the ashes of the old world, more often than not with big guns and fast cars.

The brutal order they imposed upon their little corners of the wasteland yielded a stability, even if ultraviolent and bizarre, that brought humanity back from the brink. Immortan Joe provided water and protection from the other scary people of the wasteland, but he demanded blind obedience and the occasional harem girl. Raven Ripsaw’s people always had more food and fuel than they could possibly need, but if you didn’t pray to the unexploded Atomic God she insisted on having at the center of her camp then you’d find yourself flayed and left for the buzzards. Scary as all of this was, people could actually live a life, such as it was, and our population started making a comeback. You could actually say that they saved civilization simply by being the bloody evil bastards that they were. Enjoy civilization? Hug a warlord. Well, maybe don’t, the few I’ve seen in the Zone wear alot of spikes.

On a long enough timeline all tyrannical dynasties get their comeuppance, because you can’t rule people with fear and violence forever. Eventually someone else will come along and offer the people an alternative way of life, and have the bullets and badassery to back it up. The trick, for all of us walking the dust today, is to remember that the “better life” gets built on top of the orderly foundation laid down by the very warlords that were cast down. So next time you’re getting tossed out of town by the local constable for being too drunk and too disorderly, try to be thankful that we have things like towns and constables and whiskey, because without the warlords everywhere would be the Zone and we’d all still be living on our own and trying to avoid having marauders peel our faces off.

Booze Magick

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“With the holiday season upon us I reckon all folk, decent or wicked, will be tipping back some of the creature. Now whether that’s to fuel some heavy duty Mythos stompin’ mojo or just to handle talking to your in-laws about politics depends on how you’ve lived your life up to this point, but either way you’re fightin’ the good fight. Here’s a handy dandy reference from my Necronomicon Cookbook for what kinds of booze will yield what kinds of power, and consequences. Happy Holidays and stay sane(ish) out there!” — Clifford Bartlett  

POWER IN THE SPIRITS

Elements of Earth

Gin – Health and Vitality spells – also useful as a combination ingredient for other elixirs oriented towards the maintenance, healing, and armoring of the body. Can also be spit or finger drawn onto associated symbolic or practical items such as body armor, first aid materials, or seatbelts. Been shot, cut, bruised, stabbed, or otherwise mauled? Want to protect yourself from it in the first place? Pour some gin on the rocks or mix up a refreshing cocktail.

Beer, Wine, and Mead – Family and Community are the areas of spell work that these spirits lend themselves towards. Each is made with time, care, and attention, all carrying the flavor and mojo of the land and the people that crafted them. Hence, again, the push towards only using micro-brew beer, mead, and the more intimately created wines. It’s easy to buy the cheap stuff, but you get what you pay for my friend. This is the ‘from my table to yours’ kind of boozing and should be approached in this way as much as possible. I know it might feel like you’re being a hipster about it, but they’re onto something, and that something has power.

Element of Water

Rum – Gaining Favor or Commerce oriented spells, especially when one is attempting to engage in bribery, coercion, or barter. Useful in creating offerings to spirits of idea, element, or place. Need to pull some ‘smooth operator’ moves with the locals? Think you might need to bribe your way out of a prison cell, or call on the aid of a friendly spirit? Grab a bottle of rum and be generous with the portions, for yourself and your ‘friends’.

Elements of Earth and Water

Vodka – Relentlessness and Cold Courage are the flavors of this spirit, and the spells cast with it reflect its intractable nature. When you need to imbue yourself with the power to carry on no matter what the odds, no matter the pain, no matter the cost. When you must be brave, but near callous in your courageousness. Do you need to be the Terminator? Are you going to have to fight through a wall of pain and suffering only to find more of the same on the other side? Throw together a vodka martini or just take a pull straight from the bottle.

Element of Air

Absinthe – Divination spells, out of body Astral Travel. Consume prior to workings, or incorporate anointing or dipping the finger to draw symbols. You wanna read your future or take a spiritual walkabout? Get a few sugar cubes and drink up.

Element of Fire

Tequila – Mastery of the Present Moment kind of spells, the sort of spells that give you an edge when you need to be at the apex of the perfect union of luck, timing, and daring. Do you need to have your own heist movie? Comprised of a complex series of perfectly executed bold moves that all come together in a web of amazing success, all done with a non-existent margin of error? Do you need to ‘do it now’ and make it ‘epic’? Then have yourself a few tequila shooters, a tequila sunrise, or maybe a margarita on the rocks and make some amazing shit happen, Right Now. Remember, though, that hangovers are a bitch, and in this game coming up snake eyes means you die bloody. This is the all-or-nothing-right-fucking-now spirit.

Elements of Fire and Air

Whiskey – Defiance and Paradox. This spirit is the power behind spells that push you towards heights not typically possible even as the spirit itself drags you down. You are made stronger and weaker, sharper in some ways and yet blunted in other ways. This liquor is all about changing the way things are, but at a cost, and it’s always temporary. Are you keenly aware of the fact that you are facing down the most ancient of evils and you are but a simple man of no special significance? It doesn’t matter once you pound half  a pint of whiskey. You’ll fight and die like an 80’s action hero. Up is down and down is up, above is below and below is above, but only so long as you walk the line. When you sober up it’s all going to just be a jumble of broken glass and spent brass, but goddamn, when you’re in the hurricane of a whiskey drunk it is sublime.

Down to Ride

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I have heard it said that “cautious optimism” is something of a mental illness out here in the Zone, considering all the misery and danger that get heaped on every poor soul still breathing. Most folks suffer from this illness from time to time, usually when they’ve got full bellies, a decent place to sleep, and maybe somebody else to cozy up with until morning. Generally these fits of madness don’t last long, because sooner or later you’ll be hungry again, far from shelter, and on your own. That’s when you’ll return to a more sane and nihilistic outlook, where survival is the only thing. You’ll remember that the world ain’t getting better at all, it’s still the same hazardous ruin of a place as it ever was. It’s a vicious cycle of perspective and most of us are stuck in it, soaring with the highs of safety and abundance while riding out the lows of danger and scarcity, our states of mind pretty much dependent upon what we think we have.

I heard someone say once that a wastelander’s fate was to endure life in the constant grip of paranoia and hardship, towards no purpose but survival. Pretty dark stuff, and likely whoever said that had probably experienced the unique sensation of waking up from a restful slumber to the harsh reality of being slowly digested by a sentient cactus. That sort of thing can give a person the bleaker sort of outlook on life, the end of optimism, bottle caps having two sides and whatnot. At least that’s how I felt when it happened to me, like it would anyone else, then again, there’s always the exception to the rule, and that exception is Bart Rover.

As you are laying there, with your arms bound up in thorny pedals, watching your right leg dissolve thanks to the secretions seeping onto it from the cactus blossoms poised above your body, there’s a moment where one might insist that yes, optimism is for crazy people. To hear Bart tell it, the sight of his flesh slowly melting off the bone gave him a sudden and deep appreciation for the tenacity of life. In this scorched turd of a world here was a life form that had not just adapted, but found a way to thrive. As he looked up from his mess of a leg Bart could see that the endless barren miles of desert were obscured by dozens of large cactus plants that seemingly had appeared overnight. Needless to say it was something of a chilling sight.

Bart had been attempting to cross a particularly rugged part of the Zone on his range cycle, which wasn’t much more than a glorified dirt bike with a few pieces of armor over the gears and an extended rack for additional saddlebags. There was a salvage job waiting for him in a border settlement called Crystal Lake, which overlooked a deep and dry lakebed of the same name. Apparently some Prospector was crewing up and looking for a driver who could handle a wind skiff, presumably so that they could sail out into the lakebed and scrap one of the many beached ships from the old world. The silt was easily ten to twenty feet deep in most places, so skilled drivers who could pilot the skiffs were in high demand.

According to Bart he actually grew up in Crystal Lake, and before leaving town to explore his better fortunes he’d been quite the skiffer. Crystal Lake was deep Zone, and the border settlement was generally pretty isolated because of how long it took to get there from just about anywhere, and only a few dozen folk were ever living there at one time. If you were coming from the metropoli, or even frontier towns like Pump Station 8 or Tannerville, you had to take a long broken road, left over from the ancient world, which ran in a wide arc around the desert flats. That road, its name forgotten, connected many frontier towns and specifically the metropolis of New Anchor, which for all intents and purposes was on the other side of the world. Anybody who didn’t want to spend the better part of several weeks pushing their way across that lonely road, not to mention surviving the likely predations of banditos, mutants, dieselpunk gangs, or worse, had to move across the Zone’s brutal desert.

Our man Bart Rover didn’t get his last name for nothing, and figured he could make the run on his range cycle, packing light and watching his fuel expenditure. The first two days went without a hitch, just mile after sun-baked mile of flat desert floor and the occasional rock or tumbleweed. On the third night, just thirty or so miles out from Crystal Lake, Bart was too tired to keep driving, so he made camp. Which brings us to the part where he awoke to discover that overnight dozens of giant cactus predators had crept up on him and were in the process of liquefying his body and drinking him right up. There he was, in mortal peril, and he found himself overcome with how totally relentless and badass these plants had become. They weren’t the usual water-starved and sedentary plants he’d seen plenty of times in the wasteland, these cacti were healthy, hearty, and had progressed beyond meager survival. They were flourishing, I recall was the word he used, and in that moment he saw how a wastelander could truly live, assuming he didn’t die messy and end up cactus food.

Something I should have said about Bart at the beginning was that he’s not only one of the nicest people I know, but he’s also one of the most dangerous. That guy could kill a room full of people with his hands tied behind his back and his eyes closed. Not because he has more guns and hustle than the next guy, but because he’s got patience and the will to do what needs to be done. He and the cactus have that in common. Instead of thrashing about and getting more wounded by the thorns, further sapping his strength, which is what most of us would do, Bart just laid there nice and calm. He watched as more and more of the cactus closed in on him, and still he waited. His leg was in pain, but more that dull achy kind and not the stinging white-hot pain you’d imagine, must have been something in the goo coming from the blossoms that was numbing him.

The thing is that Bart had nearly lost his right foot in a pretty nasty auto collision, the bone was sheered in half at a sharp angle, though enough meat had hung on that he’d been able to keep the foot. Now wasteland medicine being what it is, the bone never quite re-attached all the way, even though his muscle and skin grew back over the wound like it should have. He had trouble putting much weight on it, and walked with a cane, but he got around ok. As he waited more and more of his leg was dissolved until finally all the flesh connecting his leg to his foot had fallen away. That’s when Bart made his move, and yanked hard with his leg, detaching himself from the sticky mess that used to be his foot. Now Bart had a gleaming white bone spike that he used to slice and stab at the cactus. I’m not making this up, I swear. It didn’t take long for him to be covered in the pulp and juices of the nearest cacti, and pretty soon the rest of them started backing off. They’re predators after all, not fighters, and they weren’t about to risk getting wounded and losing precious fluids and vitality. Bart knew that they’d just hang back until he was weak enough to be overtaken again, and he wasn’t about to give them that chance.

Bart reached Crystal Lake not long after, leaving the cacti in the dust, having jammed his stump into the gas pedal so he could keep the engine going, all the while still marveling at their adaptive advantages. If a dumbass plant could find a way to thrive out here, then dammit he could to. He’d had enough of just surviving, and to hear him tell it that’s what got him started on the bus.

The bus is the thing isn’t it?

I figured you’d recognize that particular tall tale. Yessir the Bart Rover of this story is The Rover you’ve heard about, maybe seen in the distance, the crazy old bastard who drives the armored bus across the Zone. When Bart got to Crystal Lake he wasn’t about to let a liquefied leg stop him, and so he bartered his way into a leg-rig that would let him use his bone peg to pilot the skiff, and he took the Prospector’s salvage job. They got lucky out there on the dead lake, and instead of suffocating in ten foot deep silt drifts or falling victim to wind stalkers they found a ship that hadn’t been picked over yet. I don’t know what they found, Bart never told me, but whatever they scored was prize enough that he was able to buy a mountain of parts and several junkers which he cobbled together to make that armored bus of his.

Bart figured that if the folks of the wasteland were gonna thrive one of the first steps would be reliable public transportation. So he started making passenger runs, starting with Crystal Lake to Tannerville, then as word spread he started moving bodies from Pump Station 8, and these days you can ride all the way out to New Anchor. It’s dangerous work, sure as sure, considering that he’ll give a seat to anyone who can pay the fare, but somehow it works. Ask most anyone and they’d say that trying to operate a public bus in the Zone is closer to having a death wish than a grand idea about making life a little bit better in the wasteland. People often place bets on how long the Rover will last until someone takes him out, but the thing is, despite the occasional marauder gang or bandito that tries and dies, it’s actually a pretty safe way to travel. All things considered, the Rover is, in his own small way, making wastelanders more connected to each other. He and his bus are bridging that gap of distance and danger as they ferry people away from trouble they might not have otherwise been able to escape or towards opportunities they might not otherwise have been able to seek.

Cautious optimism is most definitely a mental illness, and when things are at their worst may we all be gifted with such madness.

*More like this available in Wasteland Survival Guide

Once Upon a Time… in the Zone

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Wastelanders are a lot like throwbacks to ancient times, in that our tradition is an oral one. No you pervert, not that, I mean “oral tradition”, in that we are tellers of stories. The Art of Storytelling is something that most all people who live our kind of life have some skill with, even the most odious scavenger has enough awareness to tell you what nefarious deeds he was up to last week. According to Julie stories are our primary method of culture transmission, for those of us with a less fancy vocabulary storytelling is our way of getting information and entertainment at the same time. Wherever two or more people are gathered, and they aren’t busy trying to kill each other at that particular moment, then stories get told. Whether you’re taking a load off around a campfire, bellying up to the bar, or just riding shotgun, its just what you do. All we are is stories.

After Julie and I started printing and circulating the WASTELAND SURVIVAL GUIDE folks reacted, most of em liked what we had to say, the rest just laughed or put a bounty on my head just to be assholes, and only a handful tried to kill me outright.

After awhile folks started seeking me out if they laid eyes on my sorry self in one place or another. I’d get a few free drinks and people would tell me their stories, and pretty soon I started to realize I should start writing them down. The problem with an oral tradition is that if everyone who knows the story dies or disappears, then that story is gone forever, and folks die or disappear in the Zone all the time. So Julie got it in her head that I should re-tell her the stories and we’d write them down, print em up so that they wouldn’t be lost if me or the storyteller took a dirt nap. Over the next couple of months I’m going to be posting up a collection of the craziest and weirdest stories I’ve heard out there, some of them are my own, most of them were told to me by the people who lived through them. Its presented in my words, cuz dammit I’m the one telling the story, so its got my own twist and sizzle, but all in all these are the stories as they were told to me, and most of them, especially the weirder ones, I know to be true.

So be sure to check back here at least once a week and warm your hands or char some zone meat at the burn barrel while I tell you a tale, in the meantime, check out the Wasteland Survival Guide and get yourself prepared for the strangest of futures.

Risky Fiction

Honorable men, well, they die hard, but they still die.” — Nicola (the film Bunraku)

As an author I want to create a sense for the reader that, once the series is firmly established, anyone could die.

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I have approached my scifi military series ‘Necrospace‘ with this in mind. I know that for the most part (unless I surprise myself at some point) my main protagonist Samuel Hyst is going to survive any given book so that he can be around for the next installment, because though we may visit some subplots, this series is his story.

Until it isn’t.

Do I plan on killing off my main character?

Not really, but I’m open to it, which is why I’m building up all the supporting characters. I don’t know who is going to get killed in this book or that book, because I’m following this story only a few steps ahead of my readers (keeps it fun to write!). Maybe there will come a point in the series where its time for Samuel to meet his end and for one of the other characters to step onto the main stage. In the first book ‘Salvage Marines‘ all of the supporting characters began on equal footing as far as development, though as we go into the second book ‘Dead Worlds‘ not all of the supporting characters survived the first story, and now new ones are taking their place in book two, though a core group of supporting cast have now managed to survive not only one but two installments. They are growing as characters, and while not to the degree of the protagonist, I am confident that I could, if I wanted to, kill off Samuel Hyst and pass the protagonist torch to a supporting character who is ready to take the lead.

As an author I like having that option, and as a reader that is exactly what I want out of a series. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Dresden Files, but I know that Wizard Harry Dresden is never going to die, at least until the author decides to write one last novel and call it quits (because final installments all bets are off!). I want to create a story where we have multitudes of characters who can take center stage when a protagonist bites the big one. I’m not writing from so many perspectives as George RR Martin or anythying, though I am certainly taking a page from his style and continuing in my Necrospace series without the certainty that it will always be “The Samuel Hyst Show”, and that he might die or disappear and someone else could take the helm.

I’ll miss Samuel, if he goes, the same way I miss several of the supporting characters in Necrospace who have already come and gone, but that is what I like about what I’ll call ‘risky fiction’, the fact that after the setting and the characters are established the crosshairs of mortality could come to rest on anyone, even the protagonist of an on-going series.

That’s the great thing about stories… those characters that you loved and hated can rise and fall over and over again, in all their glory.

“I live. I die. I live again!” — Nux (Mad Max: Fury Road)

Gold and Glory

“There is time enough for civilization when we are at war” — Wargir proverb

I love space marines.

Whether they are the genetically engineered super-soldiers of the Warhammer 40k universe, the Terran marines of the Starcraft games, the seminal warriors of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, or the hundreds of other incarnations of these future soldiers throughout sci-fi fiction, films, comics, and video games… I think they are awesome, and I have been meaning to contribute to this genre myself for a long time.

And so I give you the first installment of the Necrospace series … SALVAGE MARINES

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The synopsis:

It is the Age of The Corporation. The common man toils under the watchful eye of the elite and their enforcers. The rules of law have long been replaced by the politics of profit. The dark ages of feudalism have returned with capitalistic ferocity. There is no peace among the stars of mapped space and business is booming. Samuel Hyst is an indentured worker who seeks to better his fortunes by joining the ranks of a militarized deep space salvage operation as a hired soldier. The young man’s hope is to earn enough hazard wages to pay off his debts and expatriate his growing family away from the totalitarian industrial society ruled by Grotto Corporation. To reach his goals he must survive a grueling tour of duty in Necrospace, a name given to the abandoned scrapyard quadrants of a war-torn universe.

This is a novel that I have had simmering in the back of my mind for several years, and it finally clawed its way to the top of my list of writing priorities during the 2014 National Novel Writing Month. I worked with my favorite editor Terry Bland and we got this thing polished and ready for press as of last week. I’ve decided to set this book up for an Amazon Pre-Order, with the title being available on March 1st. If you pre-order then the ebook will be loaded to your Kindle/Cloud on March 1st. It will be DRM free so even if you don’t have a kindle device you can read it on your computer, and the print edition will be available on that same day.

Why a pre-order?

You aren’t a famous author OR even in brick & mortar bookstores, so why bother?

My answer is Reader Awareness.

I’ve been writing and publishing for some time now, and before that I was making movies and distributing them. One key element that I’ve never fully managed was a ‘proper release’ of any book or film. By the time a book gets finished I’m already moving on to the next project, and I haven’t given enough time and effort to promoting the book. Usually that shows in the sales numbers, and at the end of the day the sales numbers are just as important as the story… because if people are buying the book (or borrowing through Kindle Unlimited) then that means the Story Is Being Told. That’s right, I’ve realized that being an author, or more specifically being a storyteller, is just as much about the ‘gold’ you get from sales as it is the ‘glory’ you get from telling a good story.

The purpose of a story is to be told (in this case read) and the more people who read this story the more that purpose is realized, and as a storyteller that feeds my soul. What puts food in my belly (and my family’s) is that the people who read this story paid to read it. I know it sounds hilarious to even say it, but honestly it has taken me this long to see that increasing Reader Awareness in what drives sales, which feeds my soul and my belly. By giving myself a few weeks to promote the book before it is released gives me a chance to make sales, which boosts sales rank, which raises visibility on the Holy Grail of publishing (Amazon Top 100 in genre). As such here I am, working on a blog that I hope gives a bit more insight into the novel, to entice you to pre-order and experience the story in depth.

It feels Good to tell people about this story, because I think this one is worth sharing, especially in these troubled times. We live in a world not dissimilar to that of Samuel Hyst and his comrades, and we can see our own struggles reflected on the page (or kindle screen), even if in a more dramatic science fiction action kind of way. I see myself in this story, at various moments, behind the eyes of several of the characters, as I see other people I’ve known in my life. I imagine that you will too.

Space marine stories are generally rather grim, and this tale is no different, though it does have a unique element that sets it apart from most space marine genre fiction. Samuel Hyst has a choice. He is not defending earth from alien invaders, nor is he fighting the forces of some galactic evil. Samuel’s situation hits us closer to home because he is a debt-slave, and only marginally more dramatically than what we see reflected in our own modern world. Our protagonist chooses the life of a mercenary, a salaried corporate soldier to be exact. At any point in his troubled journey he can ‘opt out’ and return to his civilian life, unlike the average space marine protagonist in the greater genre. Samuel Hyst explicitly fights for money, that is his ‘gold’. He tells himself that he will use the money to escape the corporate world and find a new life, that is his ‘glory’. We must struggle alongside him to reconcile his dubious occupation with his humanity, his goals more elusive than he ever imagined, knowing that we don’t get the ‘easy out’ of saying that we are ‘defending earth’ or ‘fighting evil’. In many ways, the excerpt below illustrates the struggles, of both mind and body, that Samuel must endure as the story unfolds.

“The wargir waved an invitation to Samuel and the marine trudged up the dune hill to join the mercenary in surveying the battlefield. The fighting was all but finished, and for the first time that day Samuel began to feel confident about the mission.

“Well, uh,” Samuel wracked his brain for the other man’s name. Imago. “Imago. Looks like we won,” said Samuel off handedly as he sat down next to the mercenary, “Good day for Grotto and bad day for Helion. Can’t say it feels all that victorious though, a lot of bodies out there that belong to us.”

“Hyst Samgir,” the mercenary said, “you must understand that when war is stripped of ideology, all that remains is the simple reality that it is nothing more, and nothing less, than the violent redistribution of wealth.” He cocked his head at Samuel as they sat perched upon the burned out hull of a Helion battle tank. “Anyone who says differently is just trying to lower your pay rate.”

As a defense logistics contractor and a self-published author, in many ways I feel as if I’m right there alongside our protagonist while I work to balance the Businessman and the Storyteller during my own quest for Gold and Glory.

Strange Works

There are the books we read, and we enjoy most of them… they entertain, they titillate, they inspire… but there are other, stranger works, that delve into the dirty business of living as a conscious entity in this ad-hoc physical realm, burdened as we are by our varying degrees of spiritual and intellectual awareness. Like the shopkeeper in The Neverending Story says, these books are not safe…

With this short entry I wish to discuss two ‘strange works’ as a way of recommending them to some or all seekers of such things as exist (or are imagined) beyond our immediate kenning.

jozi

THE FORGOTTEN GODS OF JOZI – For a moment, imagine that the Gods are borne out of human and animal imagination, a need to reconcile the unforgiving natural world through storytelling, manifested quite solidly in the perceivable realm as beings of vast powers, desires, and hungers. Gods of knowledge and portent. Gods of sex and lust. Gods of blood and gold. This novella takes the reader into the minds, histories, and hearts of gods who have been ‘forgotten’ in name, though remembered and ‘fed’ in deed, and play out their continuing drama of agendas and violence against the backdrop of modern Johannesburg, South Africa. This book is on amazon, as a kindle ebook, for $0.99 and is worth far more. In short, it will Cost you more to read it than the $0.99 you spend on it. I urge anyone who enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s book AMERICAN GODS to take this journey, because while the former is a seminal work of mythic genius, it is ‘safe’, and the Forgotten Gods of Jozi is most certainly not.

oz

THE EMERALD BURRITO OF OZ – If there was ever a book of fiction that I would consider both an excellent novel-of-entertainment and a grimoire-of-living-magick, this would be it. If everyone on the planet could read this book, in their native tongue with culture-appropriate iconic references, the world would be a better, even if no less violent or sober, place to experience this darkly humorous cosmic farce we call LIFE. This is a bizzaro tale that is best described by the book’s own synopsis: ZOMBIE MUNCHKINS! TURD-FLINGING FLATHEADS! EVIL CORPORATE CONSPIRACIES! DELICIOUS MEXICAN FOOD! OZ IS REAL! Magic is real! The gate is really in Kansas! And America is finally allowing Earth tourists to visit this weird-ass, mysterious land. But when Gene of Los Angeles heads off for summer vacation in the Emerald City, little does he know that a war is brewing…a war that could destroy both worlds! This loving Bizarro tribute to the great L. Frank Baum is an action-packed, whimsically ultraviolent adventure, featuring your favorite Oz characters as you’ve never seen ’em before. Let super-hot warrior sweetheart Aurora Quixote Jones take you on a guided tour of surrealist laffs, joy, and mayhem, with more severed heads than Apocalypse Now and more fun than a barrel of piss-drunk winged monkeys!

I urge you, as someone who totally loves you, to purchase both of these books and read the heck out of them. If you are more of a cynical and sarcastic kinda person, then start with Burrito and work your way towards Jozi, if you are more of an optimist and positive thinking kinda person then get yourself to Jozi first and heal that hurt with a tasty Burrito.

Get these books, read them, and I promise your life will be more awesome.