Saturday, February 16, 2019

Red River Part 4

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The Destroyer

A terrible force flung Connor to the ground. He tucked his chin and curled up. His backpack slammed into his back. Gasping, he rolled to his left, bleeding off the energy, and forced himself up to a knee.
Chaos.
People ran screaming and shouting in every direction. Pillars of smoke rose from black splotches on the road. A sweet, greasy odor infiltrated his nose. Shattered metal and plastic debris lay by his feet, and he realized with a start that it was the remains of a drone. To his left, Yamamoto rose into a crouch, right hand parting his jacket.
“Contact twelve!” Yamamoto roared.
Connor spun around.
The Destroyer. Not just an idol, but an avatar of a wrathful goddess of death. She strode down the street, every footfall a colossal boom. Beams of blinding white light issued from her eyes, her floating skulls, the weapons she wielded in every hand. Blasts rocked the world.
Above the noise, he heard… chanting.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Red River Part 3

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One Night in Three Rivers

Overshadowed by sprawling Babylon to the northwest, Riveria was the city of the working class. Babylon was glitz and glamor and gold; Riveria was factories and smokestacks and processing plants. The manufacturing and commercial heart of the nation, Riveria was steeped in blue-collar honesty and mercantile hospitality. Yet, like Babylon, it too was a city cobbled together from smaller settlements.
Generations ago, when Babylon was young, and men still remembered the terror of the Long Night that reshaped the world and dragged it off to an unknown universe, this place was called Three Rivers. Named for the three rivers that fed into the sea, all within walking distance of each other, it had begun life as a fishing town.
Over the decades, as neighboring villages and settlements expanded and merged, Three Rivers transformed into the city of Riveria. But to Connor, here, this place, would always be Three Rivers.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Art of Designing Nontraditional Monsters

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When I began work on Dungeon Samurai, I challenged myself to employ only non-traditional monsters. They would not be orcs, goblins, or other such fantasy mooks seen in anime, manga and RPGs the world over; they would be monsters worthy of the name, dangerous and horrifying and bloodthirsty man-slayers that roam the dungeon seeking souls.
Why embark on this challenge? Simple: most portrayal of monsters is boring.

Red River Part 2

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2. New Sheriff in Town

“What a goat rope,” Connor declared.
“Hey, at least we all got out intact,” Fox said. “Can’t say the same for the other guys.”
The men and woman of the Black Watch were gathered around a long oak conference table. Still dressed for war, their presence had caused a stir among the hotel staff. When the call came, they had simply thrown on their gear over their civilian clothing, grabbed their guns, and rushed for the SkyBear.
This wasn’t an operational deployment. Not a direct action deployment, anyway. They came to Riveria expecting a low-pro security mission, and had kitted themselves accordingly. But they were STS, they got the job done despite having the wrong gear. That, and Yuri Yamamoto was either farsighted or crazy enough to demand that the team be loaded for bear at all times. Or both.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Red River Part 1

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This was the nightmare scenario. Multiple active shooters and hostage takers, possibly Elect and/or Husks. Multiple hostages. No way of confirming details, no means of reaching the subjects. No backup. No margin for error. Madness.
Will Connor lived for this shit.

Friday, February 8, 2019

Cosmology and Science Fiction

One of my pet peeves in science fiction is reading tales which take place centuries or sometimes thousands of years in the future and yet their universes still function by the rules of a twentieth century cosmology. Except perhaps in an alternate universe sort of story, we would not insist that a sci-fi tale set in the modern day should comport with Ptolemaic cosmology, so why do we assume that today's  Standard Model of Physics  will still be in vogue centuries hence?

No science is ever settled, after all.

Admittedly, part of my irritation with these stories arises from the fact that I've always taken issue with some of what is proposed by the Standard Model of Physics. And when I say 'some,' I mean that whopping   96%   of the universe whose existence can only be inferred, and vaguely at that, by the Standard Model. To say that the Standard Model's consigning of so large a swath of existence to the outer darkness is counter-intuitive is to miss the mark by a light year. The various theories of black holes, dark matter and dark energy have always said more to me about the inadequacy of the Standard Model than they have about the actual makeup of the universe.

I certainly can't fault writers for taking the Standard Model for granted. How could I? I myself have relied on the Standard Model of Physics for The Interdiction, a sci-fi short story in my  CHOICE WORDS  collection. It is neither a failure of imagination or plain laziness for writers to mine the rich ideas and wild possibilities of the Standard Model and use that raw material to forge fantastic stories.  A scientific theory doesn't have to be true to serve as the inspiration for great fiction. Just think of all the great yarns that the  Hollow Earth Theory  produced.

However, I wanted something different for my Holy Terran Empire  space opera. Set, as the series is, three thousand years in the future, I wanted a new physics on which to base faster than light interstellar travel and other futuristic tech and toys. After much searching about the fringes of cosmology and physics I came across the Electric Universe Model. The video below is as good an introduction to the model as any. If you find the EU Model as intriguing as I do, there's a ton of more videos and articles on the subject to be found at the site:   thunderbolts.info.


The gist of the Electric Universe Model lies in its replacing of gravity with electromagnetism as the organizing principle of the universe. With this switch the need to posit exotic phenomena like black holes, dark matter and dark energy disappears like a fart in a hurricane. But for me, the real allure of the EU is the fact that unlike the gravity-based theories of the Standard Model, those of the Electric Universe Model can be proved or falsified in the laboratory! (Just like scientists used to do once upon a time.)

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that as a bartender-turned-garlic farmer and high school drop out to boot, I am in no way qualified to even pretend to be competent enough to pass judgement on which of the two models most accurately describes our wonderful universe. I can only tell you which one sets off the clangorous klaxons of my ever trusty, life-long faithful cattle dung detector.

And that one would be the widely-accepted Standard Model.

But whatever the veracity of the models, I decided to use the EU Model as the backdrop for my space opera. Just the backdrop, mind you. The physics of the EU plays a distant third fiddle to the Ray Gun Romance and clash of Galactic Superpowers that is the bread and butter of Space Opera. The second fiddle would be the interplay of Christian and Secularist mores which I hope will favorably distinguish my series from those of my most worthy fellows in the genre.

That aside, some of the immediate implications of the EU Model which the first installment of my space opera touches upon include the replacing of the super massive black hole at the center of the galaxy with a super massive  Plasmoid.  Additionally, light in the Electric Universe does not set the speed limit. Gravity does! Its speed is instantaneous. Thus, faster than light travel is not only possible, but it can be had without the nettlesome effects of time dilation because time exists in the Electric Universe as opposed to the Standard Model Universe which conversely exists in time.
(This point about the absence of time dilation is my own conjecture extrapolated from what the EU Model says of time and gravity and not based on anything I've found explicitly said by any of the model's proponents. If I have drawn an erroneous conclusion, I must apologize to EU scientists, but I will keep said conclusion for my fiction's sake.)
Among the most exciting propositions of the EU Model is the redefining of  space itself. It is no longer seen as an ever-expanding vacuum but rather, as a plenum of plasma and magnetic fields wherein a vast web of cosmic  Birkeland Currents   writhe and crackle, giving birth and dealing annihilation to worlds and stars and whole galaxies!

That is an exciting backdrop in which to set any space opera but doubly so for the Catholic blend of Star Wars and Star Trek which is, The Holy Terran Empire!

If this piques your interest, pick up a copy of   ONE LAST FLIGHT: Book One Of The Holy Terran Empire!  The e-book will remain available for the Low, Howdy Y'all! Introductory Price of .99¢ through Easter!


Friday, January 18, 2019

Between Tradecraft and Thrills: Johnny Wylde

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It is accepted wisdom in the thriller community that highly-trained characters must display excellent tradecraft to thrill the reader. Yet this isn't always so. In my first post in this series, I explored the Orphan X series, in which the protagonist's poor tradecraft sets up superior scenes; in my previous post, I showed how taking this approach too far, coupled with poor worldbuilding, fatally undermined the logic of a story. In this last installment, I'm going to take a different approach and look at Marcus Wynne's Johnny Wylde trilogy -- a series that perfectly balances tradecraft and thrills.
Johnny Wylde, veteran of the war in Afghanistan, has settled into a comfortable life as a bouncer in a seedy bar in Minneapolis. Or that's what he wants the world to think. Living on the ragged edge, he is no stranger to the underground world of violence and crime. One evening, Deon Oosthuizen approaches him with a simple proposal: steal machine guns from the Kamarov family, the biggest arms dealers in town. Meanwhile, the Kamarovs import a thug from the Eastern Bloc to bolster their security, a rapist wanted for war crimes, who quickly catches the attention of Sergeant Nina Capushek.
What begins as a simple heist explodes into a bloody gang war with the cops caught in the middle, quickly complicated by a terrorist bombing campaign.
Johnny Wylde is chockful of gunfights, car fights, and the odd hand-to-hand fight. Adrenaline junkies will get their fix and then some. But this isn't some mere pulpy slaughterfest like the Executioner; Marcus Wynne has a lifetime of experience in the profession of violence, and it shows in every page.
Every major character acts in accordance with their training and personalities. The small unit principles of shoot, move and communicate are in full display. Overwhelming firepower and controlled aggression are the order of the day. Stealth, deception, social engineering, hacking, and other black arts are also employed appropriately and plausibly. Players dance around and sniff at each other, probing for weaknesses and information; they take pains to set up advantageous positions before they act; they scramble to react to ambushes and turn the tables. And once the bullets start flying, the fights take on a life of their own, oftentimes with unpredictable consequences.
A special note must be made of the female characters in the novels. Many creators aspire to write Strong Female Characters; Marcus Wynne does them right. While acknowledging that they are female, he emphasises their unique personalities and skillsets at every turn. Nina Capushek is the archetypal ball-busting gunwoman who bulls her way through problems, but she holds within her a deep wound; and when it comes time to throw down, she plays to her strengths, going straight to her pistol, while skipping hand-to-hand foreplay and handing off her carbine to other characters with more training than she. Likewise, other female characters have developed their own tactics to Get Things Done based on their objectives, training, and available gear. By emphasising both their feminity and their strength of will, Wynne's female characters are as unique and compelling as his males.
No discussion of a gunfighter novel is complete without talking about the guns, and Wynne doesn't disappoint. The description of the gear may border on fetishistic at times, but as a bona fide geardo myself, I don't mind. Don't expect a plethora custom high-end murder machines or rare guns here; Wynne's characters pick their gear to suit their needs, and every choice of gear is logically thought-out and justified.
A surprising amount of detail is packed into the gear descriptions, far more than what you would see from civilian writers. An ordinary writer may simply note that a character tucked her pistol into her holster; Wynne names a specific holster manufacturer as one of the few in the industry capable of cutting leather holsters to fit a woman's figure. Other writers may say a character uses a knife; Wynne has his characters employ Hideaway knives because the knife's unique design is perfect for the close quarters combat they find themselves in. In one particularly memorable scene, a gunsmith lists the parts he used to build a custom AR-15 -- it's overboard for an ordinary reader, but to someone in the know, it emphasises that the gunsmith truly knows his trade.
Going beyond what the characters carry, Wynne delves into the how and why. This reinforces their personalities as trained, experienced pros -- and it teaches the reader useful information that might one day save a life. Or at least avoid all kinds of trouble.
Johnny Wylde shows how excellent tradecraft sets up intense action scenes and fleshes out characters. Wynne also explores the consequences of each gunfight and explosion, with every faction involved trying to outthink and outplay each other. The killing and the scheming also prompts moments of character development, with characters confronting their fears and hidden histories, and taking moments to bond with others.
This is not to say the book is perfect. Johnny Wylde is actually a compilation of three books, two previously published novel plus a final capstone novel. The first novel was published in 2011(!) and it shows its age. Originally it began with a reference to George W. Bush; now it starts with a reference to Donald Trump. But the rest of the story wasn't updated to reflect the shift in timeline -- the characters retain their age, the technology is now dated -- so it's best to just ignore the Trump reference altogether and assume the story takes place in an alternate 2011/2012. Further, while Wynne added fresh (and often humorous) chapter titles to the original manuscript of the first novel, he kept the old titles for the second novel -- which, being simply the names of the POV character(s) in the scene, is awfully boring in comparison.
Less facetiously, the novel needs an editor. The titular protagonist's scenes are written in the first person while everybody else is written in third person. Until Johnny Wylde meets another character, at which point the POV shifts to third person omniscient and back -- sometimes in the space of a paragraph. These POV shifts are jarring and should have been erased.
Wynne mentioned on his blog that the series was supposed to have been a five-book epic, but he wrapped it up in three books. While the ending was satisfying, it left many plot threads dangling, the most important one being, Who is behind the conspiracy in the second book, and why do they want to kill Johnny Wylde? The answers to those questions are never revealed, and the ending of Book Three renders the questions moot. (In a good way.) Nonetheless, I wish Wynne could deliver on his original vision of a five-book saga, and use the last two books to wrap up the hanging plot threads.
Johnny Wylde is a magnificent neo-noir crime story of gunfighters, rogue operators and hardened criminals. It isn't perfect, but it's a masterclass in writing top-tier heroes and villains, their gear and tactics, and how to use tradecraft to set up thrills and spills.
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If you love intense gunfights mixed with intricate worldbuilding, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES.
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