Saturday, March 31, 2018

Instrument of Wrath

The penthouse was a hard target. On the upper floor, armed guards peered out the windows, watching for the cops. At least two of them, with body armor and carbines and white full-face masks. On the lower floor, two more patrolled the outdoor terrace, watching over the hostages. I counted six captives, hands cuffed behind their backs. The gang leader stood before them, arms outstretched, yelling into the sky.
And behind him, the world split open, revealing a realm of infinite darkness.
No time to waste. Stowing my night vision monocular, I patted myself down. DDM4, M1911, plate carrier, ear protection, ammo, tools, stowed and ready. Good to go. I touched my finger to my right temple and rubbed at a knot of scar tissue. At the place where a bullet had drilled into my head, leaving a hole for something to crawl into.
“You called?”
A tall man in a gray suit and gray hat appeared on my right. He wasn’t real, just an illusion generated by the being dwelling in my brain. He called himself Nathaniel, but that name was probably as real as this image.
I nodded. “I need your help.”

Saturday, March 24, 2018

POP QUIZ: How Have You Learned To Write Good Characters?

Last night one of our good friends told me, "you know what would help the pulp rev peeps? A how to write characters workshop/book recommendation/blog series." That sounded like a good idea but it also sounded like a lot of work, so I called on our frontier barn-raising spirit and shotgunned a question on that to a bunch of different writers in my Discord DMs.

How have you learned to write good characters?

Good characters come from understanding good dialogue. Find authors that handle that exceptionally well, like Raymond Chandler, and read whatever you can from them. Find the greats that inspire you and study them. Study Comedy. Nine-tenths of stand-up comedy is crafting a persona and telling stories in a unique way through dialogue.

When I'm at the early stages of something, I'll write a scene between two characters that is nothing but dialogue. No narration beyond basic identification of characters at the beginning. The goal is to write an entire scene that way and still have the dialogue flow clearly while keeping both characters identifiable. Then I'll start adding narration expanding on whatever action is being commented on.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Reflections on the Pulp Revolution

A fortnight ago, Jesse Abraham Lucas wrote a blog post that resonated with me. He wrote about what PulpRevvers call GroffinGate, in which an Internet commentator named Groffin said (among other things):
And for all your glorification of the insular and self-aggrandizing indie-literature circuit, you have no minds of comparable skill or prestige, and will not for years and years if ever.
It's a shot aimed squarely at PulpRev. Lucas' response is telling:
That hits me where it hurts. We don't have writers like that. I'm far more optimistic than Groffin about our prospects, but the road to greatness is long and hard, and we don't get there just by saying we're getting there.
Reading Groffin's and Lucas' words, I am reminded of the literary scene of my own country. Last year I wrote at length about why SingLit disappoints me, and there has been no change since.
When I think SingLit, I think of an insular community calling on all Singaporeans to buy singlit because we must support local talent and other such inane reasons. Newspapers and industry leaders partner to promote SingLit, praising the latest SingLit book to the heavens, and whenever #BuySingLit and the Singapore Writers Festival rolls around the marketing machine goes into full swing.
I don't see anyone trying to improve things.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Eternal Legion Part 5

A magenta zone appeared on Knowles’ tactical display, indicating the enemy’s probable LZ. As the zone contracted, he knew where they were going to go: their original landing zone, the one place in the area of operations the Horde knew that was far away from the legion’s guns and free of obstacles.
A green diamond materialized on the map.
“Polaris Two callsigns, Two-Six,” MacYoung said. “Move to the indicated position on the display at top speed. Don’t stop for anything.”
Gathering his men around him, Knowles dashed through the forest. No enemies to the front, legionaries to his sides, map at thirty percent transparency. Twigs and dry leaves snapped underfoot. Branches broke against his helmet and suit.
His suit would only bear the weight of his kit. Half a minute in and his body betrayed him. His lungs burned, his chest tightened, his knees ached. He missed his legionary sleeve; in it he could sprint all day without panting.
The map became a splotch of red.
“Skyflash, skyflash, skyflash.”
The world behind him erupted in dazzling blasts of light. He leapt away, pressing himself against a tree trunk.
“All callsigns, Hunter Six. High Guard reports clusters of enemy ships overhead our position on an eccentric orbit with steep inclination. We’ll be in their sights for the next eight minutes. We can’t wait them out.”
Brilliant green light seared through his visor. Knowles grimaced, turning away from the sight. When exposed and on the move, there was only one defense against orbital fires.
“Spread out!” Knowles yelled. “Spread out and keep moving!”
His lungs closed off. Blood pounded in his temples. His breath came and went in ragged spurts. His strength ebbed. But every time he faltered, a volley of green lasers blasted somewhere behind him.
And they were getting closer.
He could see the enemy dropships now, a constellation of shooting stars streaking towards him. At least two dozen of them, burning for the landing zone.
Finally, he reached the edge of the clearing. Gasping, he knelt by a blackened stump. Blood rushed to his head, leaving him dizzy. He pressed himself against the dead wood and keyed the mic.
“Polaris... Two-One... Bravo. On... me,” he wheezed.
One by one his men checked in. They sounded fresh and hearty. Good. He could count on them to get this job done.
“Polaris Two Six... to Polaris Two callsigns. Enemy dropships making... final approach. When you have... eyes on—”
A slash of green light cut off the transmission.
Knowles waited a second for the platoon sergeant to take over. Nothing happened. He waited another five seconds. No response. He keyed the mic.
“Polaris Two... this is... Two-One Bravo. Fire at will.”
The forest came alive with the sound of war. Hypervelocity missiles screamed and coilguns sang. Leading the nearest target, he fired a long, long burst. A heartbeat later, the dropship sharply veered away and vanished in a ball of light.
Lasers blasted into the forest, igniting a wall of flame. The HV missiles went silent. Then the squad support weapons. Bright green diamonds flashed from the surviving dropships as they discharged their own lasers. Pop-up windows appeared at the bottom of his visor.
Foster, KIA.
Wayne, WIA.
All this Knowles noted, and ignored. His coilgun found another target. He led the target. Emptied his magazine. Wayne, KIA. He reloaded, saw the target go down in flames. Saw a third target. Lake, KIA. He fired, a bright green flash—
The stump exploded, flinging him to the ground. For a moment, he lay stunned. There was a pinprick against his neck, then cool liquid flooded his veins. Painkillers.
He couldn’t feel his left arm. Gulping, he looked.
It was a blackened, bleeding ruin. His left leg was no better. The suit’s smart fabrics compressed and sealed the wounds. Grunting, he dragged himself to a natural depression in the floor. Right arm, right leg, right arm, right leg, inch by bloody inch.
Propping himself up, he searched for more targets. Three more dropships. The gunfire around him had petered out. But he still had a weapon, still had a hand to shoot it with. He aimed at the nearest dropship, flicked to semi-auto and snapped off a few quick rounds. Aimed at the other, shot it a few more times. Green lights flashed. He was still alive, so he shot up the third one. Scanned, saw two more dropships active. He fired at one, shot the other, went back and forth, firing and firing, ignoring the incoming lasers, the explosions around and behind him, he shot and shot and shot and the lasers and the dropships were approaching and he fired and—
There were no more targets.
He blinked. Lowered his weapon. Looked.
The dropships were crashing and burning.
The last of his strength fled him. Heaving a massive sigh, he lay against the welcoming earth. He wasn’t giving up, no, just taking a quick break, that’s all, just long enough so he could get back into the fight and...
“All callsigns, Hunter Six. Cease fire, cease fire. The enemy is surrendering. We’ve won.”
The Horde cut their losses. A couple of hours after the Horde infantry surrendered, the warships fled the sector. It wasn’t as complete a victory as Knowles would have preferred, but he’d take it.
Reinforcements finally arrived the following morning. Too little, too late, but at least they took the prisoners off their hands. With more Regulars on station, the Reservists—the survivors—were finally demobilized.
The doctors couldn’t fix Knowles’ arm and leg. Too much damage. They’d replaced the damaged limbs with prostheses and placed him on the priority list for a resleeve into a civilian-grade body. He’d be back in the prime of his life, they’d assured him, and the treatment would be free of charge.
That was good news. Even better, the rest of his team had been resurrected in their old bodies. But MacYoung and so many more had died forever. Colonel Fox would arrange the funerals. Knowles would attend, of course, but that could wait. For now, he had one last duty to discharge.
Backpack shouldered, duffel bag in hand, he stepped off the taxi and examined his home. The fighting had been fierce here, and the house bore its battle scars. Busted windows, taped over. Loopholes in the walls, filled with putty. Broken roof tiles, scarred door, scorch marks. No matter. He could rebuild.
He rang the doorbell. Waited.
The door opened, revealing Laura, Julie, Alex and Joan.
“Dad!” Laura shrieked.
The children flung themselves at him. Dropping his bag, he scooped them up in his arms. Joan joined the huddle, tears flowing from her eyes.
“Dad,” Alex said, “are... are you...?”
“I’m home,” Sam Knowles said.
Cheah Git San Red.jpg
Previous parts: 1234
For more military science fiction mixed with a heavy dose of fantasy, check out my latest novel HAMMER OF THE WITCHES

Sunday, March 11, 2018

The Eternal Legion Part 4

Consciousness returned with the violence of a bomb. Wobbling away from the sleeving vat, Knowles steadied himself against a wall and blinked against the harsh white lights.
This resleeve was rough. He He was heavy and slow and foggy, and it took him a few moments to stuff himself into his uniform. As the greens compressed itself against his skin, he noted that his arms looked wrong. They seemed diminished somehow, and smaller...
No, that wasn’t it. This was the body he was born with.
Before he could process that thought, a medic ushered him to the door. Outside, the night air was warm and dry. Long, orderly lines of tents covered a trimmed grassy field. Legionaries hustled around him in near-perfect silence, speaking only if they had to. For the first time in he didn’t know how long, a near-complete silence hung in the air. Tall walls surrounded the camp, and it took him a moment to realize he was in a stadium. Rockwell Stadium, the only stadium on the planet.
“Sam!” MacYoung called.
Knowles looked over his platoon commander. The man was... old. Flaccid jowls flopped down his face, his eyes were sunken in their sockets, and there was a slight bulge over his belly.
“Are we back in our baselines?” Knowles asked.
MacYoung nodded solemnly. “Shortage of vats and QuikGro all around. There’s only enough sleeves to replace fifty percent of our casualties.”
Which meant the Regulars, followed by the enlisted Reservists, got priority. Non-coms and officers had to fend for themselves.
“We’ll make do,” Knowles said.
“Of course. No heroics this time, ya hear? If you die again, I don’t know if we can bring you back.”

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Eternal Legion Part 3

Duty was eternal. Death was not.
Knowles awoke with a start. A medic eased him out of a tube and passed him a fresh set of greens. Blearily, Knowles clothed himself. He was still alive. The brainchips must have stayed intact long enough to transmit his consciousness back to the rear. Thank God.
He exited the chamber to discover he was in a middle of a small park. The late morning sun reflected off the windows of the high-rises surrounding him. The park had been turned into a temporary camp. Legionaries bustled back and forth, carting heavy crates, staring at holograms and holding intense discussions, handing out gear, or otherwise trying to look useful. Knowles spotted Lieutenant MacYoung in the crowd and ambled over.
“Back from the dead?” MacYoung remarked.
“Mostly,” Knowles said. “What did I miss?”
“Second wave of Horde dropships broke through. We took fifty percent casualties, ten percent KIA. There’s a heavy brigade rolling towards Calendon. That’s where we are now.
“The Legion sector headquarters reports that the Horde’s pressing us on all fronts in the sector. We’re drawing reinforcements from elsewhere, but it’s going to take time. We shouldn’t expect relief anytime soon.”
Knowles swore bitterly. “We’re on our own.”

GroffinGate: Saying You Are Winning Is Not The Same Thing As Winning

I blame it on the Puppies.

The Pulp Revolution started out as a reaction against them, did you know that? What started as a movement to bring sanity and good writing back to an SFF establishment that had been increasingly obviously been co-opted by bigoted cultists degenerated into a movement that focused on appearances, gave high praise to mediocre works, and generated more clicks through defensive blog posts about how great they were than through anything they actually created.

The Puppies generated a lot of hate for what they believed. They unveiled the hypocrisy at the heart of the establishment, in plain view for all to see. At the same time, they generated a lot of disappointment on their own side, the Sads for being ineffective and cliquish, the Rabids for being effective but effective at promoting works that really needed a lot more love from the editing hammer.

Around that time the Appendix N reviews came out. Jeffro reached for a book on the wall of the SFF library, pulled it halfway out, and opened the secret door to the treasure room. Those of us who were looking for the good SF that the Puppies had sworn was out there, here it was, glittering in the torchlight.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Eternal Legion Part 2

Greensborough was deserted.
As the Reservists mobilized, the Regulars had evacuated the frontier towns, moving the civilians to the city of Celadon. There were no cars on the street, no lights streaming from the houses, no families or lovers taking a late-night stroll. Knowles had never seen the town so empty.
The only people here were legionaries. Parked at the edge of town, his weapon close to hand, Knowles peered out the windscreen of his truck and stared at the star-filled night.
“Think the Horde will make planetfall here?” the driver, Richard Foster, asked.
“It’s anybody’s guess,” Kelvin Lake replied from behind him.
“Wherever they’re landing, we’re going to meet them,” Zack Wayne said. “Count on it.”

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Eternal Legion Part 1

Perched in her favorite spot on the sofa, Laura stared incredulously at the holo.
“Dad, the green man is on,” she said.
A bright and bold and unmistakably 2D image flashed at the top of the 3D holographic window. A legionary on the march.
The Legion was recalling the troops.
Sam Knowles clenched his fists. His mouth went dry, his chest tightened. He took a deep, calming breath, and scanned the code words next to the legionary. He’d expected a recall, but he was out of the Regulars, he had a home, a family, it didn’t have to be...
Full mobilization.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

The Fighting-Man of a Hundred Faces

The fighting-man is the quintessential pulp hero. He has graced pages and screens since the dawn of the pulp age, driving stories through relentless action and raw vitality. He is an enduring archetype, and for good reason. As Bradford Walker discusses:
To succeed as a fighting-man, you have to have the very qualities of character that define a heroic protagonist: a desire for action, skill at combat, and a combination of excellence and determination to see through to the end. From the earliest heroic epics to today's pulp fiction, unless it's specified otherwise you can count on that protagonist being a >clean-limbed, strong-armed, action-ready fighting-man.
The fighting-man is an enduring archetype -- but he is just that: an archetype, a template with which to build a compelling character. If all you have is a guy who runs around beating people up, you have little more than a faceless goon. To transform the fighting-man into a protagonist who stands out above all other protagonists, you need to go one step further by making him a living, breathing human. To do this, let's study the works of Robert E Howard.