AI Art: Welcome to the Churn

Anytime you open a social media app or an internet browser, the topic of Artificial Intelligence as it related to art is everywhere, as it should be. This is a critical time for creatives and the business of art. While there is still a tremendous amount of legal chaos coming as it pertains to machine learning and intellectual property, I wanted to address some of the other odds and ends that don’t seem to get much attention. I read this article and found myself eager to respond to it.

https://www.vulture.com/2022/12/ai-art-midjourney-chatgpt-phenaki-movies-hollywood.html

I have had a few people ask me recently if I am concerned about my job as a writer being overtaken by AI, and I tend to say that I don’t have much concern. Someone is always trying to take my job. You wouldn’t walk up to a carpenter while he’s building a client’s deck and ask him to show the client photos of a deck you built in the hopes that you get the call to make the client’s gazebo. For some reason that happens all the time in Hollywood. And that same client is getting dozens of bids for the deck and the gazebo, so even if the carpenter does a great job on the deck, that gazebo gig might go to someone else.

This is a highly competitive industry, one of intense subjectivity, and at the end of the day writing is one of those jobs that anyone can do, even if only a few of us can do it at a high level of quality. Sometimes having a relationship with the boss means more than being a good writer, sometimes having a fantastic idea is better than knowing the boss, and sometimes you’re just the right warm body at the right time with the right idea and basic level of skill. There are any number of combinations and none of them are better or worse than the other. The point is, landing any gig as a writer is a bit like winning the lottery, and most of the folks who make a living at it buy alot of tickets to get those wins.

In other words, I am already used to pulling down gigs amidst tremendous competition and chaos, so the idea of AI joining the brawl isn’t that intimidating, there’s always room for one more.

These days AI isn’t just coming for digital artists, but also actors, writers, and filmmakers. I see alot of panic out there, and I suppose I wanted to write down a few thoughts. The sky isn’t falling, and the arts & entertainment business has always been a wild west sort of place, but it is going to get spicy.

Here’s a quote from one of my favorite scifi shows, The Expanse… This boss that I used to work for in Baltimore, he called it the churn, when the rules of the game change. The only game. Survival. When the jungle tears itself down and builds itself into somethin’ new.”

I think that addresses the situation rather well. Someone always loses when new technology emerges, and that is a tragic reality. I was entering film production right about the time digital cameras were starting to compete with film cameras, and since then I’ve seen that every time new filmmaking technology enters the game there will be those indies howling that this will finally tear down the walls of Hollywood while the unions and industry aristocrats huff and puff about how it is a fad or isn’t “professional” or “real filmmaking”. The same was said about VHS, and then DVD, and then streaming. There was even a time when I recall the pioneers of Netflix being laughed at by DVD distributors as VSDA in Las Vegas. This industry has always been in chaos, and I’d argue that this new AI thing is another example of the industry entering the churn. Some people will lose their livlihood and have to find other work, while others will adapt, re-educate, and continue to thrive in the new environment.

Using AI to create art is very easy, just like writing, anybody can do it. However, the folks who can do really impressive things with AI art are people who know to code their prompts with terms from the craft, like “ray tracing” and “white balance” and “chromatic abberation”. I predict that it will be the same when AI comes for writers and filmmakers. It could very well be that someday there are no writers, directors, or cinematographers, but all three of those professions have conjoined and transformed into a single job, like “weavers” or something, and they pilot their AI system by writing this hybrid “creative code” that generates the story, the sets & characters, the lighting, the shots, etc. We’re probably a long distance hike away from all that, but likely it is coming, and plenty of folks will be swallowed up and unemployed by the churn. I for one hope to survive, though I accept that in order to have a chance of doing so, I am going to have to continue learning my craft, and expand that learning into other areas of filmmaking that I currently am only moderately proficient with. If I am not able to do so, then there very well could come a day where I need to find another line of work. Will we reach a point where people can just type in their own prompts and AI is so good that it just spits out a 90 minute movie, and all entertainment is custom and on demand? Maybe. Probably.

A few other thoughts I had were with actors. Not sure where that will all go, but likely it will be that people will own their own likeness, and can license it. There will be others who will not license their likeness, and who will only appear in live-action films. That seems to me an exciting prospect also, which leads me to my final thought.

If these ‘woven’ films start to dominate, or if custom on-demand content becomes the norm, then live-action films will become a powerful niche. The AI generated content might be the mainstream, but people will want the human element and seek it out. Like live music, stage plays, farmer’s markets, and street fairs, people will want bespoke, they’ll want handmade, they’ll want the human element. While VFX dominate the major movie productions, there is still strong interest and support in practical FX. For all the digital cameras out there, plenty of movies are still made on film.

Humans will want Human Art, even if that becomes an alternative to the mass production mainstream. I would argue, based on what passes for Mainstream at this point, that we should embrace the churn and be optimistic about the renaissance that comes after.

By seanargo Posted in Uncategorized

My Very Own Clickbait

I had the opportunity to create a Top 5 Book List for the Shepherd organization after they reached out thanks to the success of the Salvage Marines show and Necrospace book series.

I have this real thing for blue collar science fiction and horror, so very much enjoyed putting this together with some of my favorites.

Enjoy!

https://shepherd.com/best-books/blue-collar-sci-fi-and-horror

By seanargo Posted in Uncategorized

The Ant and the Sea

I made a comment not long ago that for me being a writer is 10% remembering my dreams and 90% turning the volume down on reality so that I can get the words out. Here’s one such dream, still fresh on the edges of my memory, written down with just enough fiat prose to be coherent, as I wait for the coffee to brew and chase away the cobwebs…

I had finished a work contract of one sort or another, and decided to take a solo vacation to Reykjavik, Iceland. I’ve always wanted to go there, and given that it is a frosty remote island with not much to look at other than rugged nature and cold water, it makes sense that if I was ever going to see it I’d have to go it alone. I had been in the city for a few days, treating myself to pubs, restaurants, and local company when I eventually decided it was time to venture away from civilization and start to explore the landscape.

I spent the next few days in a rented SUV wandering around the coastlines, photographing anything that looked cool, and otherwise just enjoying myself. At one point I was on the eastern edge of the island and got that special tickle in the back of my mind when something is worth paying attention to, but I was at the cliff’s edge. After some hunting around I found a barely perceptible footpath that wound down around the jagged field of volcanic stones and down towards the shore. Once I got down there, I saw some formations that didn’t look quite right, and upon further investigation realized they were massive steel support structures of some kind. Amongst the forest of pylons I saw a crew of around eight people in cold weather gear, like myself, who had set up some kind of work area in the pylons. They had crates stacked here and there, computers, what looked like radio equipment, and several cable spools clamped on to the pylons, feeding cable down the shore and into the sea.

I approached casually, but with respect, and called out to a young lady who was closest to me, interrupting some work she was doing on a tablet. I announced myself and was well received. I introduced myself, inquired about their activity, and asked if I could help. I pitched myself as an adventurer who had pretty much exhausted what the island had to offer, but still had a good two weeks left before my flight out. As it turned out the group was a privately funded research expedition out of two sister universities, one in the UK and one in the USA, though no matter how many times they said the school names I couldn’t hold them in my mind. It was like the words themselves were slippery, and didn’t want to be remembered.

The group was there conducting archeological research into a mostly unknown ‘floating railroad’ that had existed between Greenland and Iceland. These pylons ran pretty far out into the sea, and all supported a now dismantled ferry system that allowed wenches on the Iceland side and the Greenland side to essentially pull shipping containers across the sea, submerged several meters below the surface so that no ship or plane overhead would be any wiser. Apparently the smaller cable I saw was attached to an ‘autonomous nautical tool’ they called the ANT that was basically a self-sustaining deep dive suit that could stay down for several hours at a time. Apparently the team lead had managed to secure a few favors from an oil tycoon and there were five of these suits on loan from an offshore operation.

We didn’t get much deeper into it after that because the cable went crazy, as did the radio, as apparently the diver they had down in the water measuring where the pylons stopped had started to have a panic attack. I helped the group scramble to pull the guy out of the water, and get him out of the suit. I distinctly remember him talking to me, in earnest, but the words had that slipperiness to them that made them impossible to hold onto. In the end myself, the crew’s dive master, and the young lady whom I first met took him back to Reykjavik in my SUV, since the crew really needed their vehicles to pack up their gear before the tide came in.

Late that night, after we had the guy secured at the hospital, I went out with the young lady and the dive master for some drinks. I was hooked, beyond interested in helping out, and pretty much wasn’t taking no for an answer. As they informed me, at some point near the end of World War 2 a lost city of unknown age and size was discovered by German soldiers operating clandestine weather stations and U-Boat communication arrays. The city was hotly contested between US forces and the occupying Germans, and though the Nazis were driven off the island, the city itself was destroyed in the process.

Naturally by this point I was almost thinking that these folks were pulling my leg as a rejection of my easy charm and blind interest in helping out, but as the night wore on, lips got looser, and the raw earnestness in the team started to rope me in. According to the team leader’s theory, the Germans had excavated the site before the Americans stormed the place, and multitudes of shipping containers filled with whatever they found in the city were being ferried across the sea to Iceland. The team leader was convinced that there had been U-Boats waiting in the open ocean to intercept and empty the crates. Obviously something didn’t go according to plan, because so little of this is known history. No U-Boats with treasure ever appeared, nothing emerged from the sea on the Icelandic side, and nothing was recovered by the Americans. The military destroyed the city, cut down the pylons in Greenland, and the handful of local fishermen who knew about the pylons had all died of old age, and it was pure luck that the team leader was able to interview one of the men before he died to get the location of the pylons, as they aren’t visible from the sea or from the cliff, you have to be right on top of them.

I begged to participate, and thankfully even the next morning when everyone was hungover and looking for a much needed breakfast, they agreed to talk to the team leader. I gave them a ride back to the pylon area, and a few miles from there the team had rented a small cottage. It didn’t take nearly as much convincing as I thought, and the team leader told the dive master that I was his responsibility, but that with the storms coming in the next 24 hours, anything we wanted to get done it had to be now. Maybe I lied a bit about my diving experience, but from what they told me about the suits, it wasn’t so much being an accomplished scuba diver as much as it was controlling your breathing and not losing your damn mind. That was apparently the trick, the suits were so easy to use that your body acclimatized to the alien undersea environment quickly, but your brain knows that that comfort is an illusion, so your body and mind are at war with one another as you are trying to get your work done. At least, that’s what they said happened to their guy.

Within a few hours I was in the suit along with two others, being sent on my first dive to make sure I could handle it before we did the big one. The first dive was to follow the pylon forest all the way to it’s terminus, counting and measuring as we went. Apparently last year before the storm season the team had done this in Greenland. Once we had the measurements from this side the team leader claimed he could determined the most likely sink point of the shipping containers and any leftover artifacts from the city in Greenland.

It was beautiful down there, scary as hell, but beautiful. I’d never been scuba diving in my life, and I realized I was taking a big risk, but I didn’t care. Moving through that forest of pylons was like walking on the surface of an alien world. The suits were incredibly articulate, and reminded me of medieval plate armor. A few hundred bounds in weight, but articulated in all the right places, so if you were deliberate in your movements, it wasn’t difficult at all. The transparent dome helmets freaked me out a little, but the field of vision was incredible. It was when we got to the edge of the pylons that I started to get maybe why the other guy had a panic attack.

At the edge of the pylon forest there was a sheer drop off, and from there the sea was just cold and dark. The thing is, even though I couldn’t see anything, it didn’t feel like that darkness was empty at all.

I took some deep breaths and reminded myself that this was that whole body vs mind thing, and that I could handle it. I calmed down finally and we called it a day. I’ll admit though, I made the hike back out of the pylon forest pretty quick like. For some reason, in that place of all places, I started thinking about how unofficial this one outfit seemed to be. Like how we dropped that guy at the hospital but didn’t sign anything, and how the cottage, now that I was thinking about it, seemed like it might have been abandoned before this team took over. Maybe it was just me. Or this cold water.

Nobody slept much at the cottage, too much excitement about tomorrow’s trip out to sea. The team leader was pleased with the measurements, and it didn’t take him long to figure out the spot where we should start the dive. I kept having trouble falling asleep because I kept thinking I was hearing a horn blowing outside, but every time I’d think I heard it there would be nothing. It seemed to go on like that until morning, and so I was a bit ragged, but still excited to make some history.

We took a trawler out to the spot, which was actually much closer to the Icelandic shore than I expected, just a few miles. Apparently the Germans got alot closer to pulling off their extraction that I thought. Five of us got into the suits, including myself, the dive master, and the young woman I’d first met. Again, it was strange that I couldn’t remember their names, so was reduced to calling them “hey you” or “sir” or “ma’am” and though I’ve never been good with names, it was still a little off-putting.

It was already a dark and cold day, with the storms not long from hitting, so we had to move pretty quickly. Unlike wading into the water and gradually getting deeper like I had in my first time in the suit, this time we had the cables attached to our backs and then we just dropped into the sea. It was like falling into the abyss, the lights from the boat above getting further and further away as the black beneath my boots just seemed to go on and on forever. The dive master started popping flares as we went, and they were apparently fancy ones too, as some seemed to be weighted and sank faster than we did while others seemed to float just where he struck them. Pretty soon it was like being inside a giant Christmas tree, with lights above and below.

As we continued to go down I started to see rock formations take shape below and around us, the flares finally starting to reflect against surfaces and illuminate the environment. We started to see the outlines of dozens of forty and sixty foot shipping containers, the cables attaching them slack and broken. Moments before I landed on the top of one I saw what looked like a German U-Boat in the distance, and called it out. As everyone else started to land, the dive master invited me to go look at it, and the young lady went along with me. The rest of the team unfolded these huge collapsable sled looking devices, which were no doubt designed to hold all the loot.

Now that we were down there, marching along the tops of these forgotten containers, I started to notice how much bioluminescent life there was down there. There were these clusters of barnacles or muscles of some kind that seemed to attach only to the containers themselves, not any of the rock formations, and they pulsed with radiant colors. As we moved we saw a translucent octopus emerge from a crevice somewhere in the rocks and pry apart one of the muscles, and it almost looked like it melted the shell instead of drilling into it or opening it with sheer strength. It was a little disconcerting, but we soon forgot about all of that once we reached the U-Boat.

It was just outside the direct light of the flares, so was bathed in shadow, but once we got closer it was obvious that it had been destroyed in combat. We could see where a torpedo or some other projectile had punched through the hull, and then the crush of decompression. As we investigated that, several of the other divers pointed out more U-Boats amongst the wreckage of the containers. Many of the containers had holes in them as well, from explosive impacts, as if the U-Boats fired on one another and the containers, or some other force fired on both of them.

The young lady and I started making our way back as other team members began to exclaim that they’d found artifacts. We reached one container with another diver, and as we crept down inside, through one of the blasted holes, I could see that the hold was full of what appeared to be precious metals. Nothing like press bars, but more like statues, cups, plates, weapons, rods, shields, and crafted items. It felt more like a treasure hunt at that point than archeology, but there was just something so alluring about it that I gave into the fever of it all. We worked tirelessly to fill the sleds, even as the weather above us got worse and worse. Sled after sled we sent up on self-inflating bouys for the team above to pick up, and we kept at it.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but I suddenly realized I was hearing screaming in my headset, and we all started looking around, and realized that there were only three of us working. Two divers were missing. We spread out to search, and quickly I found one, a man who was struggling with one of the translucent octopi, and I watched in horror as the creature’s corrosive secretions melted through the man’s helmet. I braced for the explosive decompression, but apparently the octopus had used its body to create a seal, and was venting the pressure in a steady stream of bubbles from some ventricle in it’s body.

I heard more shouting, and turned to see that the other diver who had gone missing was now grappling with the dive master. I didn’t realize it until I saw it, but the dive suits were equipped with mounted drills, welding muzzles, and what appeared to be some kind of pipe saw. It made sense, given that these were oil rig suits, but watching the dive master and the other diver going at it with saws and drills was mind numbing. Between them, each with his hand on one end, was one of the sleds, and the diver was trying to stop the dive master from launching it upwards.

I started to move to help when the young lady started screaming, and I saw her being attacked by another octopus. I closed in as fast as I could, ignoring the fight behind me, and managed to get the drill bit to fire up. I jabbed the creature a few times ineffectually before I could really get the drill going, and finally pulped the thing. It looked like the corrosive stuff was still doing its thing even though the creature was dead, so we knew it was time to bug out.

We turned around just in time to see the sled rising on the self-inflating bouy, and holding onto the bottom of the sled was the dive master, only his body ended at the waist. As the bouy rose it blanketed the area with clouds of blood, and through that cloud the other diver came charging. The young lady and I ran as fast as we could to the last sled. We were screaming at the boat to haul us up by our cables, but nobody was responding, all we could hear was some garbled static that hurt my mind to even listen to. We got to the sled, but that damn diver caught up to us.

I still couldn’t figure out how to make the saw in my other hand work, so all I had was the drill, which wasn’t the best, since I had to pin the guy to really make it count. Thankfully the young woman knew what she was doing, and at point blank range got the welder under the diver’s arm and slagged it. As he was coping with that I pressed the drill bit against his helmet dome and pushed as hard as I could as I squeezed the trigger. The four seconds it took to punch the drill bit through were the longest four seconds of my life, as the diver and I just looked at each other while it happened. His eyes were just, I don’t know, wrong. All wrong. I don’t know what he’d seen, or what had happened, but I knew if I was going to get out of this alive, he had to die. Finally the bit got through, and his helmet instantly ballooned up with blood and water. The young lady and I both shoved him out of the way, and I released the drill. Thankfully enough pressure had been released over time that it didn’t explode so much as pop.

We got to the sled, and a shadow passed over us, which should have been impossible in this icy darkness. We looked up, and the horror of it all became clear. The trawler had been capsized, presumably by the storm, and broken apart. The ship was in two huge pieces, discernible only by the lights of the flares as it plowed down towards us. All of those sleds we had sent up, so many heaps of metal goods and artifacts, were like a glittering rain storm as they fell back towards us. It was a deluge of metal and wreckage.

The young lady and I tried to run, but as everything came down on us she was knocked down by a piece of the trawler’s metal rigging, and impaled by a spear of some kind, one of the artifacts we had sent up earlier. She was done for, and not a word was spoken, one moment alive and running, the other, prone and dead. The question of how the spear could gain enough force to pierce the armor of the suit was screaming at me in the back of my mind, but at that point all I could think of was survival. I remembered from the dive suit orientation that the respirator cores were interchangeable and self-contained, so before I realized what I was doing I ripped the core from her suit.

I managed to take cover in one of the nearby containers, and huddled there for several minutes as the rest of the debris crashed down. As it was raining down, I noticed a small artifact, about the size of the palm of my hand. It was a stamp of some kind, with a symbol in it, that if hammered on one side would press the symbol into leather, metal, clay, or wax. I couldn’t look at it for very long without feeling, I don’t know, itchy in my brain, so I tucked it into my cargo netting. When I emerged, the whole place was a shimmering wasteland of flares, strewn treasure, and the wreckage of our trawler, the containers, and the U-Boats. My cable was severed, and there was no ship to get to anyway, and the last thing I wanted to do was be in the storm on the surface, so I decided to make a run for shore. Thankfully I still had my bearings.

I don’t know how long I had been running, it was very difficult once I left the light of the flares and the reflective treasures. My suit lights weren’t very powerful compared to the deep gloom of the sea floor. Eventually I had to swap out the respirator cores, and that’s when I knew it had been at least several hours. We had been only a few miles from shore, but at this depth, at this slow speed, I knew if I wasn’t lucky I’d be dying down here. My hope was renewed when I reached the base of a massive rock formation. I knew it must be the beginning of the coastline, so I’d have to climb.

Just as I started to climb my headset suddenly went off, filling my ears with a weird static, but inside that static, there was a voice. I don’t know what it was saying, but I knew that I didn’t want to know. I turned it off, and as I did I took one look back into the darkness. I swear I thought I saw a glint of light out there, and all I could think about was that spear that had impaled the young woman. I turned back to the climb, and moved like the devil was behind me, and honestly I am sure that was the case.

I was aching from the exertion and the stress, but finally, I crested the top. From there it was a steady incline, but at a manageable rate, and soon I reached the pylon forest. I was finally on familiar ground. There was sunlight now sliding through the water. Apparently I’d been down there long enough for the storm to end and the sun to rise. I risked a look behind me, and wish that I hadn’t. Again I caught a glint of golden light in the shadows, amongst the pylons. I shouted with fear and determination not to die as I surged forward.

As soon as I broke the surface of the water I tore the helmet off and gulped down air. I had been intentionally avoiding looking at the respirator and could see it redlining. Who knows how long I had been coping with bad air. I turned and saw a disturbance in the water, something depressurizing and expending bubbles as it rose to the surface. I don’t know if it was a result of my oxygen starved brain or my own instincts, but I frantically reached into my cargo net and grasped the metal stamp. I hurled it directly at whatever it was coming out of the water, and then tried to turn and run, not wanting to see what was even now breaking the surface.

I screamed with impatience as I tore myself out of the now cumbersome suit and sprinted away from the shore and up the trail. I leapt into my SUV and didn’t stop driving until I woke up.

By seanargo Posted in Uncategorized

Pulp Fable

Stagmother is a savage road warrior nomad who battles the bloodthirsty scavengers that stalk the desert of a world beyond imagination. In the wake of a hard kill she comes to the rescue of a wandering man that has lost his memory and who bears a wound the shape of a powerful symbol in his chest that never seems to heal. The pair find themselves pursued by deadly enemies wearing haunting crow masks. After several violent encounters they must seek answers in the depths of a vibrant underground city where the last survivors of this blasted world gather for safety and community. Journey to a realm where stories are real and imagination can kill in this surreal tale of blades, bullets, and enchantment.

Another example of a crazy movie idea that was destined to be a novel instead. For now.

Click Here

By seanargo Posted in Uncategorized

Dream Journal Entry #37

This was most certainly one of those dreams where upon waking one feels as if no rest was had at all, for in fact another adventure all together was being endured. I more often than not remember my dreams from the night before, though generally they are the jumbled mess of a mind de-fragging itself after a long day of being human, and so comes across more like a bodily function. A side effect of consciousness. What always gets me about these intense dreams, the ones that feel like a double life, is partly how internally consistent they are, but mostly the vividness of experience and the permanence of the senses. The things I touch, taste, hear, and smell are no less (and often more) clear in my memory than experiences in my waking life. Is it any wonder that I became a storyteller by trade?

Here’s an interesting fragment of yesterday’s night flight, presented with an indulgence of flowery prose because that’s how I like it…

The thing about trolls and giants is that, for a variety of cultural and physiological reasons, they do not socially mingle, much less marry and raise families with each other. However, contrary to the common beliefs held by the local Celtic tribes and men of the Seax who often pillage the coasts, trolls and giants are indeed a randy bunch. In the world behind the world and in the halls below the earth, there is much in the way of feasting, fornication, and the drunken singing of tale and poem. Great romances blossom in the belly of the volcano, and the earth quakes with fury and sorrow of love lost.

As it goes, there are at times individual trolls and giants who find themselves enamored of the other kind. So great was the need in older times for the consummation of such tragic love or forbidden lust, that a temporary remedy was discovered. If the would-be lovers each swallowed three fresh picked juniper berries and then held a newly plucked holly leaf under their tongues, they would have a single day and night to be together. What that magical union might look like, or in what ways their physiology might be warped by the wyrd, none have ever said. Perhaps secrecy is part of the bargain.

Out of this fleeting but no doubt fulfilling dalliance, comes the price of that magic. Up from the ground or stone upon which the lovers lay, in a year and a day, springs a howling newborn that is neither troll nor giant, but bears the traits of both. While they have a place neither with troll or giant, these hollykin, as they are called, are considered to be testaments to the powers of passion and of deep magic, even if serving as reminders that recklessness, lust, and the breaking of tradition is not without cost. While accepted by neither peoples, they are not shunned either, so any hollykin can find temporary hospitality in any troll warren or giant den, though it is their fate to move along. They are wanderers and adventurers, these hollykin.

My name was Jorvik, the son of a Saex carrying giant from across the sea, who came to Irland looking for plunder, though what he found was the lusty embrace of a bog troll. Did they ever love each other? Who is to say? I did not seem to concern myself much with such nuance. At least in the beginning.

I was something of a freebooter, making my way hither and yon with no real purpose, taking odd farm work or sellswording as I wandered. I wasn’t happy, but I was quite content. In time I traded a wagon of deer pelts and some manual labor hauling timber for a traveling merchant, and came to own a claymore sword. A massive Scot blade that was well suited for my size, and though I am right handed in my waking life, in the dream my sword arm was the left. I had a penchant for wearing stag antlers about my person as decoration, and while not overly functional, that combined with my size and savage features to make my appearance quite fearsome. Though for my friends, most of whom were the perpetually hallucinating drood men who lived at the edge of the forests and gave prophecy and medicine to those Celts they met on the road who could pay, they insisted that there was a kindness in my eyes that no amount of war costume or fierce manner could hide.

It came to pass that a large band of Seax men landed on the western shores, and though the Celts fought with the well-known courage and ferocity of their race, the invaders were gaining ground. The droods saw in their visions an ocean littered with dark sails, a host of ships bearing warriors as well as the giant Madoc of Gaul, whom they had bribed to be their champion. The droods asked me to join the Celts in defense of their stead, and though I cared little for the property rights of men, it was clear that should the invaders win the day, they, unlike the Celts, would not respect the old pacts that kept the forest tall and green.

The myth speakers came to call it the Battle of Creag Dubh. Soon enough I found myself fighting alongside the Celts beneath those black cliffs, each of them with bodies slathered in the war drug that turned warriors into woads, blue devils that showed no mercy. Even so, the invaders were hearty explorers who had come prepared to face the horrors of this emerald isle, and our contest was pitched indeed. The surf ran red as our hosts ground against each other, even as Madoc of Gaul joined the fray at last and carved a path through the woads to seize the cliffs.

I could hear whispers in the rocks, a trollsong that bid me occupy the giant, whilst other natives of the isle did their work. As the woads were pushed back behind the treeline I strode out and shouted my challenge to the giant. By way of acceptance Madoc stepped away from the rock formations and laughed, a hollow and pitiless sound that sapped me of spirit, and it was only the trollsong that kept me upright. Someone, somewhere, had a plan. One of the droods must have heard it too, and he handed me a simple sharpened sapling, which in my hands made for a small but sturdy spear.

I slung the claymore and walked into the small field of clovers upon which Madoc stood defiant, easily two and again taller than I. He said nothing, only continuing his laugh, as he thundered towards me, his killing blade held high. I charged, knowing not what else to do, and prepared to die. I hurled the sapling, and though the giant deftly cut it in midair, he was distracted. It was in that moment, seconds before we collided, that I remembered the antlers festooning my body. In an instant what had been decorations became weapons of the isle as I ripped them from myself and thrust them into the giant’s legs. When he fell to his knees I shoved another in his guts, the tines impaling him in several places. He bowled over after another impaled his mid-section, and then with my last pair, cut from the skull of the last winter stag, I transfixed his throat from both sides with eight tines.

Madoc lay slain at my feet, the impossible victory silencing the jeers and japes of the invaders, their noise now drowned by the trollsong that rose from the stones themselves. I leapt at them, using my claymore’s reach to chop the heads off their spears, which gave the woads a chance to hurl themselves over the rocks and fall upon the invaders with daggers and teeth in the tight confines of the landscape. I could not join them, because of my size, though as I observed the slaughter I could see the pale grey skin of trolls as they lashed out from blind corners and deep shadows of the cliffs.

Finally what strength I had left gave out, and I collapsed on the clovers. I lay on my back, listening to the violence as it slowly faded and gave way to shouts of victory and the wailing of the wounded. As I lay there it was only then that I became aware of the multitude of wounds I had endured, and it was only my hollykin constitution that had kept me from dying down there in the blood red surf. I don’t remember falling asleep, but when I awoke the stars hung in the sky, making the heavens glitter.

I smelled the troll as she approached, a heady scent that at once reminded me of stone, salt, and sea. I was not inclined to protest when she sat on my chest and put the juniper berries in my mouth. They taste like pepper and ash, though not unpleasantly. The holly leaf that went under my tongue was uncomfortable, almost distractingly so, as the barbs pierced my flesh.

In fact, it was that pain in my mouth that woke me up, and I rose from bed feeling as if I’d been chewing thorns. Thankfully I keep a glass of water next to my bed, so after a few swigs I was feeling better and much more awake. The funny thing is, all I could think about when I awoke was why a troll would need the juniper and holly to get frisky with a hollykin. I thought that was for trolls and giants? Leave it to the Celts to have some bizzaro twists and turns in their lore, which I apparently stepped on like a land mine while dreaming. And last night before bed I was watching reruns of Always Sunny in Philadelphia, so where all this came from is anybody’s guess.

It is in such moments, after a particularly intense dream as this, that I am thankful for having chosen being a storyteller as my main vocation. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be for other people (surely there are many) who wake from such an experience but then immediately have to push it from their minds so that they can handle the needs of the day. Naturally I have plenty of responsibility in life, more that I am not bound by a specific work schedule. That is the blessing, to be able to wake and then write it all down, to have the opportunity to craft a story out of the dream upon waking instead of slowly forgetting it by increments as I go about the day, losing the details until all that is left is the general impression of some murky adventure without meaning.

Almost everything I create is sourced from dreams such as this, and so on days like today I am left with not only the vivid memory of the experience, but a profound sense of thankfulness.

By seanargo Posted in Uncategorized

Salvage Marines: Season One

:::insert clever opening line about making a long story short:::

During my second year as a civilian contractor with the Army National Guard’s eXportable Combat Training Capability (XCTC) program, a story started taking shape as I worked side by side with veterans and active duty service members, and over the next few years I wrote six novels in the NECROSPACE series that started out self-published and are now presented by Severed Press. A friend and producer Jamie Thompson took a shine to the story of Samuel Hyst and the dark future he inhabits, and in time we found ourselves working with Philippe Martinez and 365Flix to bring this project from the printed page to the screen.

Writers Rafael Jordan and B. Dave Walters worked with me to adapt the novels and create scripts for the twelve 45 minute episodes that will comprise the first season of what has been titled ‘Salvage Marines’. Director Shaun Piccinino strapped on his armor and dove straight into the deep end of the Necrospace fictional world, and with support from a team of designers, artists, and laborers he has manifested the various locations and denizens of my junkyard universe into physical reality. Outstanding cast members like Casper Van Dien (portraying Samuel Hyst) and Peter Shinkoda (portraying Ben Takeda) will be with us from start to finish, along with awesome appearances by Armand Assante (portraying the Anointed Actuary) and so many more as we fill out the expansive roster, along with a crack film crew, have joined us to inhabit this world and endure its challenges.

We have come along way from this:

My self-sublished novel

To to achieve this:

Sample of our shooting schedule.

I’ve never been happier looking at a spreadsheet.

The next few months will be a hard march towards the finish line, and I truly cannot wait for everyone to experience the eminently savage and dramatically haunting story we are all collaborating to tell.

For regular updates and images you can follow us on Facebook at Salvage Marines and Necrospace, or on Instagram by following the Director, along with some of our common hashtags like #thegrottosalutesyou #salvagemarines #thisisthejob

Now if you will excuse me, I have to hurry up and get some more books written before this show rockets away and leaves me eating space dust.

 

It Is All One System

EXCERPT FROM SIGNIFICANT CONTACT (Beautiful Resistance Book 2 of 3)

She was waiting when Cole entered MassNet, his body hooked to the same throne he’d helped repair previously for Nibiru’s extraction. It had been moved however, to a new site he’d never been to before, a cramped basement in one of the multitudes of habitation blocks in a part of the city rough enough that most people just looked the other way if anything suspiscious was going down. There were only a few people to watch over him while he worked, with only one Akiaten warrior present, and it lent a sense of urgency to his actions. If this mission went SNAFU and a hostile slinger was able to tag him, he’d be lucky to survive, as there was only the one exit. So don’t blow it Cole, he said to himself as Eight materialized on the metaphorical rooftop next to him in the digital realm.

The others, Cabal, Una, and a handful of Akiaten had piled into the back of a beat up van, and were well on their way to E-Bloc’s supply house. E-Bloc was not likely to be expecting an attack, though in this game one could never be too careful. According to the modest briefing he gotten from Cabal just before everyone split up to go their separate ways was that Union Americana had gone rather quiet in the absence of Hayden and Nibiru. Some of his warriors had spotted Laine in the streets a few days back, and they tracked her for several hours before moving in to engage, only to find the body of what they assumed to be a dead courier, Asia Prime by the looks of him, with his data drives ripped out, and no sign of the alpha augment. He imagined that most of their manpower was focused now on finding the pulse with what resources remained to them rather than wasting time harassing the resistance, as E-Bloc and Asia Prime had been doing plenty of that for them.

Lunatic 8 stood next to Hayden, or more to the point floated just off the ground next to him, her hair billowing from unseen wind and her lips drawn into a thin line without so much as a hello. He expected the same larger than life projection of her that she used to speak to him when it was just the two of them in the island’s network, tapping into the myriad of hotspots they’d set up on the island to make up for its lack of a high functioning power grid. Here, now, she was almost understated, movements barely visible, but still instrumental.

To his mind’s eye the E-Bloc compound appeared much like it did in physical reality, a collection of warehouse buildings arranged around a courtyard filled with shipping containers, with a series of docking bays near the back for road and air shipping and receiving. Hayden had always been a slinger who experienced MassNet as being something of a proxy of the physical world. There were many other slingers who described rich and vibrant fantasy worlds, while others experienced it in such an abstract sense that it was difficult to put into words. Though he was on the more mundane end of the MassNet metaphor spectrum, Hayden’s mind was adept at presenting itself with useful illusions that described what was happening in the code.

As he looked down from his perch Hayden slid a pair of stylish sunglasses out of his jacket pocket and put them over his eyes. He tapped on them continuously, and each time his finger stroked the frames the lenses would change color. It was a spectrum.exe that allowed Hayden to sift through the cascading datastream, piecing together security programs that had been discreetly woven into both the wireless and hard systems of the compound. While he might not be able to move between MassNet and CodeSource with the level of mastery as Lunatic 8 or Sun, Hayden had used some of his time on the island to come up with a few adaptations.

Build on your strengths and partition your weakness, thought Hayden as he continued to pull lines of code from the different metaphorical light spectrums, and soon a shape began to reveal itself surrounding the compound. With some patience and a new custom exe of which Hayden was rather proud, he was able to pull information from CodeSource and combine it with the MassNet hallucination to give himself a reliable picture of the wireless and hard systems that comprised the compound’s security grid. To his eyes the grid was a shimmering dome of wire mesh that radiated a menacing heat.

Hayden looked up from the compound and watched Lunatic 8’s eyes blink, and Hayden was positive that she’d just accomplished in a moment what had taken him days to build. He looked back at the compound and saw with his adjusted spectrum what appeared to his eyes as a shimmering field of energy around the compound. It looked almost like a dome, but made of lightning, and Hayden didn’t have to stretch his skills much to confirm that the field was capable of causing tremendous damage. It appeared to function, as he further observed its cascading code, as a conventional electric fence might in the physical realm, only one that had a deep enough database to differentiate friend from foe with some degree of accuracy.

“That is some pretty intense digital security for a warehouse facility,” mused Hayden as he pulled what his imagination saw as a rubic’s cube from the folds of his jacket, “They must be expecting something like this.”

“E-Bloc thinks in linear terms, they will expect a smash and grab because it is how they would conduct such an operation,” breathed Eight as she slowly floated over to Hayden and placed one hand gently on his shoulder, causing him to flinch as where her fingers touched him he could see streams of code rippling out, as if her very digital body radiated a sort of field that warped the MassNet hallucination to her own abstract view of it. Suddenly Hayden had a flash of understanding, and began to consider the idea that Eight wasn’t so brilliant at coding so much as her own imagination overpowered MassNet around her. It was as if she was a god inside her own bubble, and since that bubble moved with her, she was never anywhere in the digital realm but her own inner universe. How a mind could handle such a perpetual information tsunami was beyond him, and the slinger looked away from his shoulder, carefully ignoring how her touch revealed his avatar for the flimsy construct that it was.

“Well isn’t that the plan? Pull down the grid and then take what we need. E-Bloc wouldn’t even bother slicing security, they’d just knock out the power grid with bolt-cutters and explosives, then storm the place,” Hayden said as he returned his focus to the rubic’s cube, his metaphor for the masterkey delivery system, a purely digital operating platform that he’d been using for years, slowly modifying and upgrading it as his career continued, “Instead, when the drones are in range we wait till they connect with the system in order to communicate passcodes.”

Hayden finished moving the sliding cubes on his device, allowing his metaphor to seem as if he’d solved the puzzle and made each side a single color. He held it up to Eight.

“I graft the masterkey to the first drone, it will slip a hook into the motherboard. When the drone and the system complete their handshake I’ve modified the masterkey to send a spike.exe through the link,” said Hayden, proud of himself for the brilliant bit of coding and yet annoyed that he felt compelled to seek approval from the fractured slinger, “It brings down security without having to kill the whole grid or blow anything up. Then our people have the run of the place.”

“That would be the Union way, an elegant combination of slicing and combat operations, but it is not our way,” breathed Eight as she gently took the masterkey from Hayden’s hand and stared at it intently as she spoke, and already the operating system was glowing from her swift re-code, “You will recall that it cost the resistance blood when Akiaten raided the Union HQ during your digital conflict. Each company has developed, through trial and error, a methodology that is best suited to its corporate culture and capabilities. So too has the resistance, even if our learning curve has been steep and costly by necessity.”

Eight handed the cube back to Hayden and then looked at him expectantly. The slinger turned from her piercing gaze and investigated the cube. He knew she’d changed it, but from her expression he got the distinct impression that she wanted him to tell her what she’d done. It was a test, even if her demeanor insisted that it was a friendly, and Hayden found himself struggling to keep his ego from being bruised by the sudden role reversal of teacher and student. He’d been rapping knuckles and assigning homework to lesser slingers, and cursed himself for apparently having gotten overly comfortable being i the dominant position.

Hayden peered into the cube, which was now a jumble of colors, the single color sides arranged in a pattern that he struggled to comprehend.

“Look past the metaphor,” whispered Eight as she knelt beside him, “See the code.”

“The metaphor is what allows us to process the sheer volume of code,” snapped Hayden, perhaps more petulantly than he’d intended, though Eight seemed not to mind, and he added, “That’s the whole point of MassNet. If our minds could handle it we’d just stick with CodeSource.”

“The physical brain does not differentiate between waking consciousness and the realm of dreams. CodeSource is the body Hayden Cole, and MassNet is that body’s dream. When you let go of the metaphor, when you focus on the code alone, it doesn’t matter whether your are dreaming or if you are awake,” whispered Eight in a sing song voice that gave Hayden the same sort of feeling he’d have if Laine 2.0 was suddenly behind him, a predator in its chosen hunting ground, “It is all one system.”

Tall Talk

An excerpt from a little something I’ve been quietly working on….

The gods were with him, that much he knew, and as little as he cared for their influence, he was happy for the hammer. It felt right in his hands, more than the one he’d used for years on the Old Ohio. More than his own cock. More than his lovely wife’s bare shoulders and slim waist. Never had anything been so perfect as a man waging his war against gods and governments and machines and mountains with cold iron in his calloused fist.

He could hear the steam driver pounding out a rhythm that had no soul in it. That’s why he had to win. A man pushed as far as he’d been swung his tool with passion, his muscles fueled by loss and a life lived hard. No machine could know the kiss of the lash or the bitter embrace of an empty bed. No engine could understand how a man bears the burden of laying a tiny coffin in a tiny grave, only to leave it unmarked as the sun rises and the work bell rings in the empty chambers of a heart too big for this cruel world.

John was screaming as he swung the mighty thing, and Wong flinched as a spark flew from the steel spike and burned his cheek. He and the Irishman dared not move their hands, for it was clear that even one bit of a miss and that hammer would be pounding into him, and Wong knew he wouldn’t survive it. John had ghosts in his blood, and they had him going for broke.

By seanargo Posted in Uncategorized

Mad Max and the White Whale

It is no small secret that I am a post-apocalyptic genre fiend, and I’d even go so far as to call myself a wastelander, given that I do engage in the occasional cosplay gathering, have more survival gear than the average bear, and regularly day dream about owning a fleet of battle cars and war rigs. Hell I wrote the book.

Generally we think of the wasteland as a great big desert, and that’s mostly thanks to George Miller, the creative mind that gave us Mad Max and Happy Feet. He filmed the original Mad Max films in the Australian outback, and then Fury Road in the deserts of South Africa. All the knock offs and genre offerings that have been coming out since the 80’s are generally set in dusty Italian backcountry or the scrub deserts near Los Angeles. It makes sense, of course, to create such stories in desolate places, and it makes sense from a post-nuke and post-famine perspective, as all the green goes away and leaves a blighted and empty place behind.

This is part of what made Waterworld such a strange genre offering that was tough for audiences to get behind. Sure everyone was over Kevin Costner at that time, and the movie does shift in tone at the midpoint, going from badass open ocean survival movie to comedy adventure, but I loved it. The idea of a water desert, essentially, really stuck with me, and as we are bombarded daily with media about melting ice caps and global warming, I kept circling back around to considering a post-melt kind of apocalyptic setting.

Combine this wasteland obsession with my son’s undying love of sharks (turns out it was not just a phase) as well as my own sustained interest in sea stories (age of the sail, creature features, offshore rigs, etc) and you get The Dystopian Sea. I wanted to capture all of the classic elements of the wasteland, from the mohawk wearing marauders to the ramshackle survivor settlements, while creating a straight forward sea adventure along the lines of Moby Dick.

The trilogy is finished, with the first two books available on Amazon, and the third set to hit digital shelves in the next few months. Let’s go hunt some sharks!

 click to buy

Warrior crews in rusted ships hunt mutated whales and battle toxic sharks in the aquatic wasteland the world has become.
It has been eighty years since The Melt, and now the world is a place ruled by naught but the crashing waves of the sea and the survival instincts of folk made hard by the deadly waters. The scraps of dry land that remain are ruins inhabited by cannibalistic raiders and desperate scavengers, forcing most survivors and their kin to make a life upon the treacherous open ocean.
Bard, a harpooner and a teller of tales, is the lone survivor of a Megalodon attack upon the whaleship Osiris. He is forced to survive being lost at sea, overcoming incredible challenges along the way, until he is rescued by another ship. Bard must then earn his place amongst the crew of the Penny Dreadful, proving himself to the sailors and shark fighters that he is worthy. Adventure awaits and carnage spreads in this post-apocalyptic story of sea monsters and the brave souls who hunt them.

The crew of the Penny Dreadful have had a good season, and their hold is filled with oil and meat from the mighty leviathans they hunt on the open ocean. They soon discover a trading post under siege by a swarm of sharks and gangs of murderous raiders known as the Panzer Fish. The shark cult has escalated its campaign of terror across the sea, and next on their hit list is the whaleship’s home port of Seattle.

Captain Drucilla, now filling her father’s boots as the whaleship’s master, must lead her hardened crew of sailors and shark fighters in an all out war against the cult and their swarms. Adventure awaits and carnage spreads in this post-apocalyptic story of sea monsters and the brave souls who hunt them.