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Irony of Survival (Part 2)

irony-of-survival-cover

Wherein we continue to discuss Zharmae’s second anthology of 2013… If you’re just catching up, check out Part 1.

Knackerman

When it comes to delving into the cattle mutilations often thought synonymous with extraterrestrial phenomenon, Malachi King makes a smart move in choosing a protagonist well versed in animal death–the local knacker. Ironically, I can’t think of a story that has tackled this subject and included this particular perspective, which now that I’ve read “Knackerman”, seems quite odd. It’s the same kind of logic that Crichton used in creating many of his characters–if an extraordinary event were to occur, who would be the first on the scene, and who would be most likely to have to deal with the event?

King differs from Crichton in that he chooses a blue collar perspective character as opposed to, say, a veterinarian or expert in the forensic field. This does two important things for the work: 1) it sets up a distinct voice that is representative of a rural mentality and 2) it establishes a theme of secrecy that is consistent throughout the story and is a tenet of this sub-genre.

The knacker, Benny Davis, gains an additional layer of characterization in being an African American Vietnam War veteran who has dealt with death so long that he has made it his business. Despite being world weary, he is entirely relatable as he peels back layers of mystery surrounding the paranormal events that occur on the farm and the family caught in the middle. False suspicions are sown, the line between reality and speculation is blurred, and there is even a bit of a redemption story here. In the end, we understand why those who encounter extraterrestrial life choose to keep the secret–at least in the realm of Science Fiction.

Station 17-B

Steenbock’s tale made me wonder from the get-go if the man has screenplay training. The scenario he puts together would fit easily into a a flick from the Aliens franchise and, to me, is a bit reminiscent of the little known film Event Horizon, which is one of my all time favorites. Of course, Steenbock’s work would be a hell of a lot easier (literally!) to pitch than Event Horizon. Whenever I try to explain it (the film is based on the novel by Steven McDonald), I always come across like a jackass.

Me: It combines the genres of Sci-fi and Horror by playing with the concept of a drive creating a black hole in order to pass through space time, but in this case, the shortcut the ship takes is literally through hell because hell is the dimension between the two points in space time. So when the ship comes back and has to be salvaged, it’s sort of possessed. Like it actually brought hell back with it to our dimension. Sort of… 

Everyone: Dude, that sounds stupid.

Me: No, you don’t understand…

Everyone: Oh, I get it. It’s just stupid.

Me: No! Why don’t you see?!

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“Do you see, now?! Do you see?!

Yes, that was an inside joke for those who have seen the movie. Hey, this is my blog, and I can make all the stupid inside jokes I want. Complain all you want about Event Horizon–from where I’m sitting, it was probably Lawrence Fishburne’s part in this film that landed him the role of Morpheus in the Matrix Trilogy.

But I digress…

Steenbock’s work is much more plausible. Station 17-B has been abandoned following an incident that no one can remember, and a group of space privateers led by one Captain Galleson receive a government contract to destroy it. No salvage operation necessary. However, a former resident of the station, Silas, who at first seems obsessed with determining just what happened to its crew, confronts Galleson and convinces the captain to bring him aboard. Galleson agrees at first as a curiosity, which aggravates relations with some of his crew members, as Silas does not come across as particularly trustworthy.

The mystery of what happened on Station 17-B–and why it even exists to begin with–goes deep enough to have been the introduction for a novel or series. Steenbock incorporates some exemplary world building into this tale, but unfortunately, to comment on it in too much detail would ruin the reason for reading it. There are a few red herrings thrown into the mix, along with several moments of No!! Why the hell would you do that?! as the crew explores the doomed station seeking the truth–which, again, made me feel like I was watching a movie as opposed to reading on my Kindle. After blasting through this novelette in one sitting and easily imagining a novel based on the same universe, I’m curious to see what Mr. King writes next.

More Irony of Survival later… In the meantime…

event-horizon

DO YOU SEE?!?!?!

Sorry, I couldn’t resist… -.-

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Review: Psycho-Submersible

After getting my hands on the paper version of the RealLies anthology, I naturally began reading it. Sure, I’d had the galley proof for about a year and the Kindle version for over a month, but as one of my friends put it recently, there’s something about having a dead tree in yours hands that has been sacrificed so that you might gain knowledge. Maybe there’s a kind of ritual here. Maybe it’s just because print copies are what we grew up with. I don’t know.

Hyperaware of this mental juxtaposition between ebook and print, I opened RealLies gingerly, as if it were a comic book or graphic novel. I tried not to bend back the cover too roughly and to handle every page with care. I’d obviously checked out my story when the book first came, which is featured last, but reading through Descarta first seemed like egotism. (Besides, I know everything that happens to Reese anyway.) Instead, I thumbed over to page 1 to check out Oscar Francesco’s story, “Psycho-Submersible”.

Despite what you see on the front cover of almost every bestseller, writers are actually lousy at reviewing each other’s stories. One reason for this is the constant comparison. I’ve been criticized as being “negative” when traipsing through other people’s worlds and showing where reality’s edges have frayed, where the seams don’t quite come together. I know the rules. No work is every really finished, just abandoned.

Given my skepticism and “negative” attitude, I’d have to say that Francesco’s work, given a fair shake, will probably impress most readers. Because by the time I turned the last page and my eyes bugged out of my head, I was impressed. No easy feat.

Francesco and I seem to share the idea that Sci-fi should be accessible to a general audience. I’m not against hard Sci-fi, but I do feel that it limits the audience to geeks like me that will do the mental work to understand your quantum mechanics. Francesco writes Sci-fi the way that Bradbury wrote Sci-fi—he focuses on a single, (in this case literally) mind boggling conceit and builds a story around it. The difference is that he’s willing to take the necessary risks to make the reader believe that this isn’t his formula at all. What precisely he was doing wasn’t apparent to me until about three pages from the story’s ending. Then, at the end, he ties the story, which got pretty wild in places, up in a nice, neat knot.

I’m serious. Pretty much everything I questioned made sense at the end.

Damn, I wish I could do that.

Without spoiling too much of “Psycho –Submersible”, the Sci-fi conceit involves a form of telepathy that can be generated with a machine and then honed with practice. Francesco explores the potential consequences of unbalancing minds through the use of scientific meddling. Like many Sci-fi conceits, this might be a cautionary metaphor, in this case potentially representing a number of different forms of mental abuse, stimulation, and simulation—a terribly relevant theme right now.

To keep the story accessible, Francesco provides us with a focus character of average intelligence who is, by his own admission, an underachiever in life. This enables the reader to learn and experience each new trope with the character as opposed to being blasted with exposition. Many writers (I’ve been here too) feel they must lay all their proverbial cards on the table early in the story because editors pass over so many manuscripts without reading them thoroughly. Francesco, on the other hand, uses this perspective character tactic to bluff the reader till the end, when he lays down the winning hand.

There were a few moments when reading that made me sit back and think, Really? You’ve got this idea, and this is where you’re going with it? And why is he … if … happened? Other critical readers might experience this same issue. But to make readers question reality is part of the Francesco’s plan. There’s risk and reward here. At the end, he practically punishes you for ever doubting him.

In many ways, his story and mine are polar opposites. Perhaps my editor knows a thing or two because he polarized them by placing Francesco’s work at the beginning of Curiosity (Part I) and mine at the end of Control (Part II). I was originally just stoked to make it into print. Now, I can’t wait to see how all the stories fit together.

As my bias as a contributor prevents me from jumping on Amazon or Goodreads and dropping reviews like this, I think I’m going to post them here. If time permits, maybe I’ll say a little something about all the works in the anthology.

Kudos, Oscar. I’ll have to check out more of your work!

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Reviews for RealLies Challenge!

Now that RealLies has hit Kindle, I’ve begun to see reviews of “The Wolf of Descarta” filter through to my e-mail and Twitter. While these reviews are positive and very encouraging, the biggest complaint I’ve received is that the story can’t possibly end where it does. One blogger described it as having a “Joe Abercrombie ending”. (I find this flattering.)

That Max Avalon chose to end the anthology with “The Wolf of Descarta” gives the collection a distinct theme that speaks to the concept of subjective reality and the potential consequences of living in a fish bowl universe.

But my readers are right. The story doesn’t end there.

“The Wolf of Descarta” is the first part of my novel, The Dream Box, which my publisher has optioned under what’s called a “right of first refusal” contract. If the anthology does well, there’s a real possibility of the rest of the story seeing the light of day. (Not to mention an additional chapter focusing on Renton Hayes that is absent from “The Wolf of Descarta”.)

Do you want to hear the rest of the story, dear readers? There’s a way you can help.

While I truly appreciate the positive responses I’ve received via e-mail and social media, Amazon.com is the proper forum for both praise and criticism. Therefore, I propose the following challenge:

If RealLies manages to accrue 25 reviews on Amazon.com that directly reference “The Wolf of Descarta”, I will post the next five chapters (plus Hayes’ chapter) to the Excerpt of the Week section of this blog, where they will remain until I sell the rights to the book.

Copies in various e-book formats other than Kindle are available if you order directly from TZPP. Just follow this link or click the tab at the top of this blog, and you can be reading in minutes!

For those of you who ordered the physical book, my understanding is that they are on the way. I’m still waiting for my author copies as well. Once we have some dead trees in hand, I plan to schedule a few signings/readings in Arizona. I attended the Tucson Festival of Books last weekend (as a fan), and after the phenomonal experience I had there, I’m considering looking at the venues near U of A. The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale also has my eye, but these are considerations for later.

Check back soon for a post chronicling my experiences at the aforementioned festival, where I was fortunate enough to pick the brains of authors like Patrick Rothfuss, Kevin Hearne, and Charles de Lint.

As always, I will share what I’ve learned. 🙂

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