Kickstarter Fiction: 3/30/12

It hasn’t worked out that way recently, but I’m trying to keep Friday as a sort of grab bag post between Webcomics Wednesdays and installments of The Only City Left on Sunday. So here is where you might read about webzines, e-books, philosophical ramblings, or whatever I happen to be researching at the moment. These are the posts that most feel like I am writing into the void, but every once in a while someone’s Google search brings them here, and hopefully one or two people enjoy what they find.

Today I want to share three Kickstarter fiction projects that I am backing. Why am I backing independent publishers instead of (or in addition to) buying the latest thriller from Amazon? As a writer, I am fascinated by the possibility of independent publishing. I see in it the possibility for a lot of new authors to make their name, and dare I hope, make a living, outside of the big publishing houses. Time will tell. In the meantime, it is fun to be a part of these ventures.

Spirit of the Century Presents: The Dinocalypse Trilogy: This Kickstarter is for a series of novels based on an RPG setting I am not familiar with, but it sounds like a blast. 1930s-era pulp adventure with psychic dinosaurs, talking apes, jetpacks, and heroes with names like Sally Slick and Jet Black? Yes, please. I am going in for the e-books, which at this point is up to four books with the possibility of more if the funding total rises high enough.

Tales of the Emerald Serpent: Shared World Mosaic Anthology: Thieves’ World is one of my favorite series, and I followed a lot of the authors from that anthology back to their own books and also to other anthologies like C.J. Cherryh’s Merovingen Nights. I am definitely a fan of a well-done shared-world anthology. Since this project references Thieves’ World and other anthologies I have dabbled in, like the Man-Kzin Wars, I have high hopes that it can be as fun to read as those anthologies of yore. The only writer on the book that I have read before is Julie Czerneda, whose books I have enjoyed, so this seems like a great way to find new authors.

As of the time I am writing this post (Tuesday! Look at me, building up that buffer again), the project is 43% funded with 22 days to go.

Singularity & Co. – Save the SciFi!: This project is a little different than the previous two as it is not for new works of fiction, but rather a way to save older works of science-fiction from obscurity and copyright limbo. Here’s their plan: “Each month we’ll choose one great classic, obscure or otherwise fascinating sci-fi book that’s no longer in print and not available online, track down the copyright holder and/or author (if they’re still around), acquire or otherwise clear the copyright, and publish the title both online and as an e-book, for little or no cost.”

I have run into so many books that I cannot find as e-books, so I really appreciate the premise of this Kickstarter. While there is no guarantee the books I have looked for will show up here, I still think it is a great idea and a worthy project.

Are there any Kickstarter fiction/comics/video game projects you think I should check out? Let me know.

Update: More Kickstarter fiction projects and/or updates here.

Webcomics Wednesday: 3/28/12

For this week’s Webcomics Wednesday, I am reviewing LeyLines, which I discovered through the #lfwc hashtag on Twitter, and Hunter Black, which I had heard about but never checked out until after I met the creative team at WonderCon. Speaking of WonderCon, I will be sharing some links to the great artists I met there, too.

First up, LeyLines by Robin Dempsey. The story is actually very intricate, so I’ll start by sharing the logline from the site: “Three siblings from a broken family are caught in the conspiracy that claimed their mother’s life. To save their family and nation, they seek out ancient gods for answers — but the gods give nothing for free.” Of course, that barely scratches the surface of this fantasy story about High Sage Koruval va Naza, his daughter Mizha, son Tama, and adopted son Zhiro. The va Nazas are Tamakepe, a tall, pale race, while Zhiro is a Timu, a short, darker-skinned race. While Zhiro is technically part of the va Naza clan, there is some bad history between him and Mizha, perhaps to do with the fact that Timu are considered lower-caste.

If that seems like a lot of new words and information to get your brain around when reading a new webcomic, I wouldn’t worry. Ms. Dempsey shares bits and pieces of the story bible with each new page, so you can learn as you go, or you can just let the story unfold and all will be made clear. For those who enjoy seeing behind the scenes, Ms. Dempsey shares a wealth of information on characters, the land, the gods, the politics, language, etc. It is evident that she has done a huge amount of world-building and plotting before page one of the story, and this pays off more and more as the story goes on and you see how it all fits together. So far there are three chapters of about 40 pages each and Chapter 4 has just recently started, and already it bears re-reading the story to appreciate early events in light of later ones.

It would take me many paragraphs to lay out the story and all the characters so far in a way that does the comic justice, so instead I will just talk about what I am enjoying in the comic: 1) an extended, prophetic dream sequence in Chapter 1, and the commentary below it; 2) Mizha’s illusion powers; 3) the high-caste/low-caste forbidden love history between Mizha and Zhiro; 4) the hyper-alert but odd Pakku; 5) Ms. Dempsey’s ability to show subtle action taking place without needing a caption to describe the action (for example, this exchange); 6) nicely-laid out pages such as this one; and, of course, 7) whenever characters look like they are ready to kick some ass, like someone hiding knives under his robe.

LeyLines is an intricate fantasy story full of gods and intrigue, dreams and visions, base villains and plucky heroes, and genuine characters. Check it out!

Hunter Black, written by Justin Peniston and illustrated by William “Will” Orr, is an out and out fun fantasy noir. It is in greyscale with occasional use of color for emphasis (red blood, green cough SFX, yellow crazy eyes). The art is flat and geometric, and very angular, which looks really cool. I especially like the jagged, thick-pixel blood splatters (as in the picture to the right and also  here, but don’t follow the link if you don’t like spoilers). Mr. Orr’s art in Hunter Black reminds me a bit of Samurai Jack, which to me at least is a good thing.

The premise of the story is that Hunter Black took the fall for a huge crime and was sent to an inescapable prison, which he of course escapes from. While in prison he contracted a wasting disease and he would surely be dead already if not for his sword, The Revenger. When he uses Revenger to kill someone who betrayed someone else, the sword feeds him their life force. When he kills someone who didn’t betray anyone, things don’t work out as well. The magic sword reminds me of Michael Moorcock’s Elric and Fred Saberhagen’s Sword books, both of which I really like, so a story with a well-done magic sword is one I will tend to favor. The Revenger is a worthy addition to the ranks of famous magic swords, and there are apparently more of them out there in Hunter Black’s world, so I can’t wait for him to clash with the wielders of those weapons.

Anyway, back to the story: Hunter Black wants to find out who set him up, and he wants to kill them. It’s a simple setup but the payoff is in the characters that Black has to interact with and (often) fight along the way. As I mentioned in the LeyLines review above, I like it when characters kick ass, and Hunter Black, although only about 75 pages in, is already full of them. I am looking forward to following Black’s ups and downs as he Revenges his way through the world. Will he kill all his betrayers before they kill him or he falls prey to his sickness? Damn right he will, and we get to watch.

My only complaint, and a minor one, is that I wish each page had a comments section attached to it. As it stands, you can leave comments by going to a blog post that may or may not have been posted on the same day as the page you are reading, which makes it a bit confusing if you want to actively participate in the commenting.

I’m glad I met Mr. Peniston and Mr. Orr at WonderCon—and especially glad I picked up the three Hunter Black posters—or else I might not have gotten clued in to this awesome webcomic. Read it for yourself and watch the blood fly.

Speaking of WonderCon, I promised last week that I would share more about the art that my wife and I liked, so here are some links in no particular order:

Eunjung June Kim had some very nice, whimsical prints that my wife described as making her feel happy. Check out “Three Indian Girls,” “Fly pig,” “Bedtime Story,” heck any of her prints. They do make you feel happy.

I felt the same way about some prints by Pascal Campion. Check out “Midnight Friends” or “Cinemascope” on the first page of his store. I could totally put these up in my girls’ room, they are so sweet.

Along the same lines, we both liked Nidhi Chanani’s prints. Her express goal with her art is to make people happy, and she shares her art daily as a means of everyday love. Mission accomplished. I won’t even single any particular print out; any of them would be great to own.

In the just plain cool category, I really dug these East-meets-West prints from Moira Hahn. I especially like “Year of the Rooster/Attack of the Hummingbird” as it reminds me of some of my cat friends past, and “Year of the Rooster/Attack of the Tengu” because it is a samurai cat. ‘Nuff said.

Finally, last week I showed a picture of Arlyn Pillay of Ogre Shop working on a painting and he has since posted a sped-up video of him working on it. I am still blown away that he used leftover house paint to create such a cool piece.

Okay, that’s it for this week. Next week I will finish up my WonderCon sharing by talking about the handful of indie comics I picked up there.

Webzines: SF/F/H Markets (2 in a Series)

I have been researching SF/F/H webzines again, so today I have four more to share with you. I picked a recent short story from each one to read to get a feel for each webzine (I would of course read more stories before submitting one, to get a deeper sense of what the editors are looking for), and I will share my thoughts on those as well. Click here for my first post in this series, or check out my Links page for quick links to the webzines I have researched.

Abyss & Apex: Magazine of Speculative Fiction accepts a wide range of genres, but make sure to check out the Submissions page for the ones they are not looking for, such as horror. They are looking for short stories up to 10,000 words in length, and especially flash fiction up to 1,500 words. Payment is 5 cents a word up to 1,500 words or $75.00 for longer stories. As of the writing of this post, they are currently overstocked on stories, but their next reading period is open again starting 5/1/12, so now is a perfect time to read through the stories on the site and then have a story ready to submit on May 1st.

The story I read from Abyss & Apex was A Time to Weep by Daniel Huddleston. It is about humans doing business on an alien world, with human and aliens working together in the same office. One of the alien workers has a tragedy in his family that affects his work, and for good or ill, his human boss intervenes to try to help him out. Mr. Huddleston really gets across the future history in the story and the alien beliefs and behaviors in a remarkably short amount of time, so that even though I was dropped into the story with no reference points, I was able to appreciate the central conflict without needing a ton of exposition beforehand.

The Future Fire describes itself as publishing social, political and progressive speculative fiction, and you can see the site for more examples of what they mean by that. 10,000 words is the upper limit of what they are looking for and they pay a flat rate of $35 per story. The next Call for Submissions is for the theme of Outlaw Bodies: “stories about the future of human bodies that break boundaries—legal, societal, [and] biological…,” and the deadline is 5/1/12.
From The Future Fire, I read Bilaadi by S. Ali, which is about a river god who is forced to change with the times. It has environmental and socio-political themes to it, as one would expect given the focus of the webzine, but it was touching and personal at the same time. A snapshot of our modern world as seen through the eyes of an ancient being.

Quantum Muse is interesting in that to submit stories, you have to first sign up to critique stories that other writers have submitted. To cut down on their workload, the editors rely on this method of peer review to weed out stories, with only the top-ranked stories being forwarded to the editors for possible inclusion in the magazine. Interesting. Registration is free although they do ask for your address and phone number. I signed up and there are currently three SF, five fantasy, and six alternative stories to critique. You have to critique three stories for each one story you want to submit. I will have to try this out and let you know how it goes. Note: Flash fiction stories of 1,000 words or less can be submitted without going through the whole process described above. The word limit for longer stories is 8,000 words. Payment appears to be publication only plus the chance that a reader might “tip” you through PayPal. If Quantum Muse itself pays for the story, I am somehow not seeing that on the Submissions page.

From Quantum Muse, I read The Zitzing Man by Harris Tobias, which is a very short story about a great invention that would have worked if only the mundane world hadn’t intruded.

Electric Spec focuses on science fiction, fantasy, and the macabre and accepts stories from 250-7,000 words. Their next reading period ends April 15 for the end of May issue. Payment is a flat $20 per story. Check out the Submissions page for full details.

From Electric Spec, I read Seasonal Fruit by Kathryn Board. It was a fun short story about modern mortals interacting with divine beings. At first I thought it was going to be a clichéd horror story but it took an unexpected and pleasant turn and actually sent me to Wikipedia to look up some background information (the story is self-contained, so you don’t need to do this, but it caught my interest and made me want to research further).

So there you have it, four more cool science-fiction, fantasy, and/or horror webzines to check out, either as a reader, a writer or both. Every time I research these webzines my mind kicks into high gear about stories I can write. Hopefully once I recover from my recent move from Southern to Northern California, I will be able to carve out more writing time!

Final note: I am using a new-to-me website called Readability to help me read stories and articles from the web more easily. I am using it to send stories to my Kindle and Android tablet for easier reading in more comfortable environments. It looks like it works for the iPad and iPhone, too. It is free and I have no stake in it, but I wanted to share because every time I get to read a story on my Kindle in a comfy chair or in bed rather than sitting in front of the computer, I think, “This is so great!”

Until next time, thank you for reading and please let me know what you like about my blog, what you don’t like, what you want to see more of, sites/books/comics I should check out, etc. Thanks again!

The Only City Left: Part Six

Welcome back to The Only City Left. Return to Part Five if you need to catch up first. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Six

I left Glin’s Rising with my head hung low, uttering monosyllables to any questions that my parents asked. I saw them exchanging knowing glances over my behavior and I’m sure they chalked it up to typical teenage angst, but really it was because I’m not a good liar and I didn’t trust myself not to give away my secret in a facial expression or my tone of voice.

Tyena and I had come up with a hasty plan to allow her to find me. After a last, frenzied embrace, she went off to fetch some supplies and I returned to my parents.

Now, as we trudged through abandoned city streets on our way out of Glin’s Rising, I put the plan in motion. Whenever I could do so without being seen, I let a drop of red paint from one of Tyena’s tubes fall to the pavement behind me. The paint was dark against the faded black asphalt, barely noticeable, but Tyena would know what to look for and could use the marks to keep a safe distance from us while staying on our tail. Once we were far enough away, Tyena could show herself, we’d profess our love, and my parents would have to let her come along. It was the perfect plan.

Some hours later, we were approaching one edge of the city-section, marked by a steel wall that towered above us up to the ceiling. Set in the wall at ground level was a massive steel door that at one time had allowed passage between sections. Now it was rusted so badly you could hardly make out where the seams were.

“I don’t think we’ll be getting through here,” Mom said, scraping rust flakes off the door with her foot.

“Perhaps, perhaps,” Dad replied absentmindedly.

When confronted with a problem, Dad tended to go into his head a bit to work on the solution. There’s not much you can do to hurry him up at that point, as Mom and I were all too aware. She took the opportunity to rearrange her cocoon pack, while I shifted nervously, glancing over my shoulder to make sure Tyena wasn’t going to stumble upon us while we were stopped.

“Everything all right, hon?” Mom ventured, her voice wary.

I snapped my head up and around.

“Yeah, sure. Just, if we’re gonna get going, I want to get going already, you know?”

“Well, see if Dad can use some help, okay?”

“Sure,” I agreed, forcing myself not to look back one last time.

Dad was on his knees next to the wall. Beside him an ancient-looking control panel was laid out on the ground, trailing thick cords to a hole in the wall through which Dad had his arm buried to his shoulder.

“I think I got, if I can just, there!” he declared triumphantly.

The ground shook and rust fell like rain as the great doors began to slide apart with a piercing shriek. There was a zazazap! of electric current, Dad swore and yanked his arm out of the wall, and the doors ground to a halt, barely open a few inches.

As I helped him to his feet, Mom shone a flashlight through the thin gap.

“I’m skinny but not that skinny, dear. I think we’re going to have to take the stairs.”

Dad and I both looked to where she was pointing, further down the wall, to a set of switch-backed metal stairs that ran up to a platform near the ceiling.

“Emergency exits tend to lead somewhere,” Mom suggested.

“Worth a shot,” Dad said, shaking off the lingering effects of the electric discharge.

As we headed toward the stairs, I smeared an arrow on the wall to guide Tyena, my parents none the wiser, and I managed to paint an up arrow at the base of the stairs, too. I was getting worried, however. Tyena would have to stay pretty far behind us to remain out of sight while we climbed. She couldn’t even really approach the wall until we were through that door up above. What if she couldn’t find me? What if she ended up lost?

I must have been inadvertently looking for her as I had those thoughts because Dad stopped on the stair above me and asked, “You keep looking behind us. Is there someone following us?”

He knows, I thought. How could  he know already?

“Trouble?” asked Mom, climbing back down to see why we had stopped.

“I don’t know. They can’t be on to us so soon, can they? Allin, did you see something?”

They can’t be on to us so soon? They who? Thoroughly confused now, I shook my head and fumbled out a lie.

“No, I just miss, I mean, I wanted to see Glin’s Rising one last time.”

They seemed to accept that and we continued climbing. I saved my glances for each time the stairs turned back around. If Tyena was following me, she was nowhere in sight. Maybe she had decided not to come. At the thought, my heart ached inside my chest. No, she would follow. I just knew it.

What I didn’t know was what Dad had been referring to. They can’t be on to us. Had my parents done something wrong while we stayed in Glin’s Rising? I’m sure I would have heard talk if something had been stolen or someone had been hurt. But what if it hadn’t been discovered yet? Could my parents be criminals and I didn’t even know it?

My thoughts were interrupted when we reached the top of the stairs. There was a human-sized door marked “Utility” set into the wall and it was more amenable to Dad’s hacks, so we were through it in a jiff. I was the last to enter and as I looked back I saw Tyena making a run for the wall, waving at me. Relieved, I waved back and made sure to ease the door closed so that it did not shut fully.

Things are going according to plan after all, I thought.

If only I had watched Tyena for a few more seconds.

Part Seven awaits.

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

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Webcomics Wednesday: 3/21/12

This is a longer post today because I have two reviews and a run-down of my visit to WonderCon, which was great fun. First though, let me mention that if you are into long-form webcomics (or online graphic novels, or whatever you prefere to call them), check out the #lfwc hashtag on Twitter. A lot of great creators are discussing their craft using that tag.

For this week’s Webcomics Wednesday, I decided to focus on two webcomics I had never heard of before reading comments from their creators in that #lfwc discussion. There are still several more comics I have to explore by creators who chimed in to the part of the discussion I was following.

First up, Power Nap by Maritza Campos and Bachan is everything I wanted in a webcomic without realizing I wanted it. I mean, it’s about dreams, reality, and a Kafka-esque future that reminds me of every office job I’ve ever worked. The influences on Ms. Campos’ writing are all from movies I have enjoyed, like Brazil, the Matrix, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, and Minority Report, and the art by Bachan is frenetic and exaggerated/cartoony where it needs to be.

Power Nap 1st PageThe story starts out in action, as a man in office wear is being chased by a very large and very mutated-looking creature (picture on left). From there we jump back to the “real” world and the science-fiction ideas start flying. The protagonist of the story is Drew Spencer, the ultimate office drone. He has a long commute, a pointless job, and an inability to stay awake. No, he doesn’t have narcolepsy, he just can’t keep up with everyone else because he’s allergic to the pills everyone takes to keep them awake 24/7. The ramifications of this allergy are teased out in very inventive ways and are really the basis for the entire story up to this point. How does a man who needs to sleep keep up in a world of the sleepless? Answer: He goes a little crazy.

Or maybe it’s everyone else who is crazy. Either way, questions of what is reality inevitably crop up as the dreaming and waking worlds collide in this comic. The art style is very animated and the sound effects are fun and work well to emphasize the action.  Between the wickedly fun- and idea-filled story and the beautiful and imaginative artwork, I am hoping this webcomic continues for a long time.

The second webcomic today is Little Guardians, written by Ed Cho, with art by Lee Cherolis. If you have ever played Legend of Zelda, or Dragon Quest, Pokémon, or any number of other video game RPGs, this webcomic should be instantly recognizable to you. It contains all the tropes of those games, like the Item Shop, monsters with unique abilities, heroes who can capture and release animals and monsters from magic orbs, healing potions, and the like.

Little Guardians is both a loving homage to these video games, and a way to play around with the format as well, because in this story, the hero has been switched at birth with the son of the man who runs the Item Shop. (I don’t consider this a spoiler; it is in the Prologue and it is the premise of the whole comic.) This is because the hero is a girl, Subira, and the Guardian of Yowza Village can only pass his training on to a son. So Subira ends up Cinderella-ing it at the Item Shop while Idem, who is actually the shopkeeper’s son, grows up in the shadow of the Guardian Tane and fails miserably at his training.

This one twist makes for a lot of tension when disaster strikes the village. Can Idem overcome his shopkeeper’s heritage and step up to be a true Guardian? And will Subira’s Guardian heritage manifest itself despite her subservient existence in the Item Shop?

Tension aside, there is a lot of humor in the comic, especially centering around Yowza Village’s Zucchini Festival and zucchini farmer Thoom. By the end of Chapter 1, I found myself invested in the lives of Subira and Idem, concerned for Thoom, intrigued by new arrival Soma, and pitying the Guardian, Tane. It is the fact that Little Guardians can juggle humor and drama, action and emotion, that makes it a webcomic I want to keep reading, and elevates it above a video game parody.

Chapter 1 has ended and Chapter 2 starts up again on April 16th, so now is a perfect time to catch up on Little Guardians. (4/9/12 update: Per this post, Little Guardians is now set to return on April 30th.)

WonderCon

I had a blast at WonderCon last Friday. Even though I couldn’t go back on Saturday and Sunday because I have to pack and move instead, my wife and I did walk the entire floor, and we got to meet and talk with a lot of talented writers and artists, such as:

Jason Brubaker of reMIND:

Jason Brubaker of reMIND.

Travis Hanson of The Bean, holding up one of the prints we purchased:

Travis Hanson of The Bean.

Paul Roman Martinez of The Adventures of the 19XX (that’s me on the left; I felt like a dweeb asking to be in the picture, so this is the first and last picture with me in it):

The Adventures of the 19XX.

Justin Peniston of Hunter Black (he’s on the left holding my five-dollar bill hostage):

The Hunter Black Team

Justin was a really welcoming guy. I haven’t read Hunter Black yet, but after talking to him I definitely want to check that one out and also another webcomic he writes, Planet Pantheon.

Here is a rundown of some of my other WonderCon highlights, in no particular order:

Lackadaisy is a webcomic I have seen linked to many times but I have not checked out for myself yet. While I didn’t meet the creator, Tracy Butler, the artwork was so beautiful (plus, gangster cats!) that I picked up Volume 1 and a poster.

Arlyn Pillay of Ogre Shop was working on this really cool piece of art:

Arlyn Pillay/Ogre Shop

Ed Luce of Wuvable Oaf had a great WonderCon 2012 print that I picked up, and I snagged Wuvable Oaf #1 because it looked both funny and gross.

Finally, here is one of two prints we purchased from Martin Hsu:

Martin Hsu

I also picked up some independent comics and the business cards for a lot of great artists. There were so many prints we wanted, but we started to run out of money and energy. Oh well, next Con.

Next week I’ll share the links to the artists that caught my or my wife’s eyes, and I’ll talk about anything else WonderCon-related that I left out of today’s post.

Overall, I really enjoyed WonderCon and it reminded me of what San Diego used to be before it became overwhelmingly huge. Luckily, I now live an hour outside of San Francisco, so WonderCon will be my new regular Con to attend.

The Only City Left: Part Five

Welcome back to The Only City Left. Allin’s flashback continues, and some of the history of the planet-city Earth is shared herein. I have some more notes on the story but I’ll save them until the end of the post.

Head back to Part Four if you need to. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Five

Glin’s Rising was one small portion of what might have been a sprawling suburban town before the entire world was paved over. The ceiling was several stories above us, so it had to have been built during an era of relative luxury, when smaller cities were only surrounded by the metal mega-city that Earth was becoming, rather than being entombed on one small level with another city built right on top of them, and another on top of them, and so on.

You get the picture. Humans never escaped the planet, never colonized the galaxy, but they also didn’t stop breeding and they needed to live somewhere. The answer was to build up into the sky, down into the ground, and out over every square inch of the planet, whether there was solid ground underneath or not. And at its height, it was a bustling, planet-sized world. Then something happened. Nobody really knows what. But after that, there weren’t enough people around to fill up the city, or to run it. It began to break down, to cede itself to other inhabitants who sprung up to fill the void left by humanity.

At least, that’s the story that everyone who’s left agrees on. We weren’t around for all that history, so what do we know?

With the population curve not just bottomed out but flat-lined, many people sought out the more open areas of the city to live. It was a testament to how few people were left that, even then, the entire population of Glin’s Rising needed only a few square blocks to spread out in.

Even if it hadn’t been such a small area to search, I wouldn’t have had any trouble finding my mother in it.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I heard her cry, and I smiled despite my mood. Someone was in for it. “If there’s one foot of copper wire you haven’t already stripped out of here, I’ll willingly walk into a clinker’s den and let them have my brain. But you know and I know that’s not going to happen because you haven’t seen this much copper in years.”

I followed her voice to the intersection of two roads, where a makeshift swap meet had been set up. As travelers and traders, our arrival had caused quite a stir. Not many people risk heading out into the interstices of the city, but those who do usually bring items to trade and, more importantly, fresh news.

I approached Mom and the vendor she was haggling with just as she turned around to pull the walk-away. She saw me, smiled, and winked.

“Oh good, you’re here, hon. You can help me find someone who’s serious about trading,” she dramatized.

“Fine, fine!” said the grizzled old man from behind his food-laden table. “Five pounds of nutri-bulbs for the lot!”

She ignored him and continued to walk away, drawing me along with her.

“Is your father ready, then?” she asked.

“Yes. But I don’t see why we have to leave so soon!”

“Six pounds!” yelled the man.

“I know this is hard on you, hon. You have to trust us that it’s for the best.”

“Seven pounds, final offer!”

“I like it here, Mom.”

We stopped walking and she put her hands on my shoulders, facing me.

“And someday, if you want, you can come back. But now we have to go, so you can spend your time complaining about it or you can go and tell her goodbye.”

I started to protest further, but instead of words I let out a big sigh. I wasn’t going to win this fight with both my parents in agreement, even if it wasn’t fair.

“How much time?”

“Meet us in an hour,” she said, and let me go.

She turned back around to the vendor and fell back into her routine: “Seven pounds, what do you take me for? Fifty feet of copper wire? I couldn’t part with it for less than fifteen pounds!”

I left the two of them to their duel (the vendor started to have a mock heart attack as I walked away) and went looking for Tyena. Ah, Tyena. The first time I set eyes on her, I swear I felt electricity all over my body, like static shocks popping against my skin. Turns out she felt the same. That has to mean something, right?

Sure, the less romantic would say that there are so few young people around that all we felt was a biological urge to reproduce. To that I say, maybe it was thinking like that which led us into this mess in the first place. My love for Tyena had nothing to do with my genes wanting to perpetuate themselves. It was her long red hair and alabaster skin, her blue eyes that you could swim in all day, and the silly, snorting laugh that she could not control when you tickled her just so. We had met two days ago, but those two days meant more to me than my entire life before then. And my parents insisted I give it up.

“Well, that’s just not happening, is it?” Tyena replied when I told her the bad news.

I had found her on the roof of an old, three-story retail store that overlooked the park that the Glinites use for their farming. She was in the middle of painting the park and city, except in her version, these great, tentacled monsters were erupting from the earth below and tearing the city apart. My kind of girl, Tyena.

“Well, it kind of is happening, because there’s no way they’ll let me stay.”

She set down her palette and stalked over to me.

“It’s simple then. I’m coming with you.”

“They’ll never go for that. They’re … weird about other people. I can’t explain it.”

She leaned in, raised one eyebrow, and gave me that wicked smile which made my hairs stand on end.

“Who says they have to know?”

* * *

Continue to Part Six.

3/17/2012 News: Maybe it goes without saying, but my idea for a planet-wide city is not an original one. Isaac Asimov’s Trantor is probably the most famous, and there’s Coruscant in the Star Wars universe. I wanted to write a story that included my love of buried/hidden cities, and what’s more buried than an entire planet where cities are layered on top of one another like pages in a book? As a setting, I think it is rich with possibilities, and I am enjoying exploring it along with Allin and my readers.

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The Only City Left: Part Four

Welcome back to The Only City Left. Head back to Part Three first if you missed it. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Four

I threw myself into the utility shaft and grabbed hold of the ladder. Above me, the shaft continued beyond the reach of my light, but the only way I could ascend would be to chimney-climb it, and big, blue, and ghosty was not going to give me the time to do that.

Snarhworgrowl!, came its howl as if in agreement. Time to go.

The nice thing about heading down-ladder, even though it was the opposite of the direction I wanted to be heading, is that it’s easier to climb down than up. I gripped the vertical poles of the metal ladder in my gloved hands and slid a few rungs at a time, keeping my descent controlled. As long as I was in the utility shaft, I was safe from the slavering ghost-beast above me, so I felt no need to rush. No need, that is, until the sound of howls and gnashing teeth from above me was joined by the sound of metal straining and tearing as the creature forced its bulk into the shaft. Just great.

I gave up on slowing my descent and just let myself slide down. I could feel my palms heating up through my gloves from the friction, but that was a small worry compared to what was coming after me. It continued to force its way down, buckling the metal walls of the utility shaft as it went. Meanwhile, I didn’t know at what point the shaft would dead-end, and I hadn’t seen any exits yet.

Splash! I hit water and was submerged before I knew what had happened. Air bubbles escaped my mouth as I gasped and clamped my mouth shut again. I twisted left and right to look around, trying to get my mind around the fact that the utility shaft was flooded. Water below, monster ghost above. My options were running out.

I pulled myself back up the ladder and out of the water to get some air and to see if ghosty was still coming after me. Sure enough, his glow was getting stronger, his growls and the sounds of the shaft being destroyed getting louder. Well, not much of a choice then. I took a few quick breaths and then one deep one, blew it out, and dropped into the water.

With no air in my lungs, I started to sink, but not quickly enough for my tastes, so I flipped over and started pulling myself down the ladder as fast as I could. Even with my coil illuminating the water around me, it was still a dim, murky, and above all, freezing hell in there. My pulse pounded in my ears ever louder, and I already yearned for fresh air.

When a small cross-corridor showed up, I pushed off the ladder into it without a spare thought, even though the shaft also continued downward. If I didn’t get some air soon, I was going to open my mouth, gulp some water that my body only wished were air, and drown. The side corridor was the better bet to find a way out of the flood zone.

I seemed to kick and pull myself along that tighter corridor forever, in slow motion. The light of my coil dimmed until the world was only a thin tunnel in front of me, and I began to feel removed from the whole experience. The person being chased through the flooded ductwork by a monstrous ghost-beast was someone else. I watched him from a comfortable distance, pitying him.

I saw that person scrabbling against the ceiling of the duct and then falter when the space was unexpectedly empty. He looked up and saw a circular gap. With the last of his strength, he got his feet underneath him and pushed up into another vertical shaft. That shaft didn’t have any water in it, and there was a ladder heading up. He grabbed at it, sucking in great gasps of air, and I thought, Good for him. He made it. I closed my eyes and fell further back into the tunnel.

* * *

I remember when I was 15, that’s when I really started to question the life I was living with my parents. There were still a lot of communities around then, or at least there were in the parts of the city that we moved through, but my parents, my dad especially, refused to let us settle down with them.

“But Dad! It’s safe here,” I protested, upon hearing the news that we were moving on again. “They have light and food, heat, good air, clean water. They even have books!”

The encampment was called Glin’s Rising, for no reason that I could tell. It probably wasn’t as great as I was making it out to be to my father, but it was better than constantly tramping from community to community, never resting.

My father couldn’t look me in the eye, so he grabbed the lantern coil that hung on his chest and rolled it between his fingers.

“This is about a girl, isn’t it?” he asked, his voice sad.

“No!” Yes, of course it was about a girl.

“Look, Allin,” he said, letting the coil go and raising his head to look me in the eyes. “If we could stay, we would. I want you to be happy, but you know what’s even more important?”

I mumbled the answer, looking down. With a firm hand he grabbed my chin and forced me to look up at him.

“Louder.”

“Stay alive.” I spat the words at him. “Always. Stay. Alive.”

“That’s right. Now go find your mother and tell her we’re ready. If she still needs something, we’ll get it at the next town.”

I glared sullenly at my father for a moment and then turned to go find my mom.

“Yes, father. I’ll try to stay alive while I’m at it.”

If he heard my lip, he ignored it, and I’m pretty sure I heard a weary sigh as I stalked away.

Continue to Part Five.

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Webcomics Wednesday: 3/14/2012

In today’s post I talk about Webcomics, Kickstarter projects, and serialized wuxia fiction. Hopefully next week I can recap my time at Wondercon, if my computer and internet connection are all working again after my move!

Webcomics

Jackie Rose by Josh Ulrich: This webcomic is a WWII-era action-adventure story along the lines of the Indiana Jones movies or The Adventures of the 19XX. The first story is the five-part Jackie Rose and the Legend of the Sixth Seal, and it is up for free online. In it we are introduced to the treasure-seeking Jackie, who when she isn’t living a life of adventure is a… waitress. Yes, seems she isn’t earning enough hunting treasure, so like the rest of us, she has a day job. Plus, her dad isn’t really keen on her risking her life on adventures. Not that they’re very risky, unless you count the Nazi robots that are attacking her. Oh wait, maybe dad has a point.

The characters in this story are fun nods to familiar archetypes, like the Frenchman, a blindfolded, beret-wearing man of mystery (I fully expect him to have awesome kung fu), The Black Fox (a Catwoman/Black Cat analogue), and Eddie Ripcord (ace pilot and wheel man, and love interest for Jackie). The story itself is a nod to Indiana Jones, with world travel, underground cities with hidden treasure, and Nazis trying to take over the world. Luckily, there are enough twists and the character interaction is genuine and fun, so the story doesn’t get bogged down in cliché.

If you enjoy the Legend of the Sixth Seal, I recommend that you download The Amazing Eddie Ripcord, which is a shorter, black and white  one-shot available to buy in PDF format for $1.50. (Note, after you purchase it through Paypal, click “Return to Josh Ulrich” and your download will start; somewhat non-intuitive.) It is the story of Eddie and Jackie’s first meeting, when they were kids, and it is actually really sweet and full of action. It makes Eddie’s abilities in the Legend of the Sixth Seal more believable, too.

The next multi-issue story arc for sale is going to be called Jackie Rose and the Treasure of Captain Read, and it will be in color (and have air pirates!) The current planned release date is March 19th.

Everblue by Michael Sexton: The story starts when Ten arrives in town on a flying sailboat and is promptly shot down by Seta, a city guard, who thinks the boat is an attacking sea-serpent. To make up for his mistake, Seta brings Ten to see Luna (his half-sister?), who repairs boats. Okay, the story actually starts earlier with Luna, but I would say the action starts with Ten’s arrival. As Luna and Ten work on a new boat, they form a friendship and maybe something more is budding. I have to admit, the looks they give each other are so darn cute and sweet. It evokes feelings of first love (aw, I’m an old softie). There are also abandoned underwater cities, an evil general, ancient technology, astral projection, and what looks to be a big honking monster.

The town in which the story starts is an island in the middle of ocean (the Everblue, I presume) with docks that point in the cardinal directions. My guess is this is a post-apocalyptic world where global warming has raised the ocean level, hence the island towns and ancient underwater ruins. Also, Luna mentions to Ten that his name means Heaven in one of the old languages, which makes me think this is our own world in the future (ten = heaven in Japanese, right?).

The beginning of this comic is in black and white, then the artwork switches to color starting in Chapter 2 (I think Chapter 1 may be redone and colored at some point). There are also three black and white vignettes planned between Chapter 3 and Chapter 4. The color pages look great, but the black and white/greyscale pages work well, too.

This comic is still in Volume 1 with a planned four volumes total, so I can’t wait for the continuation of this epic story.

Kickstarter Comics Projects

The Giant! A Mini-Graphic Novel Kickstarter, which I mentioned last week, ends tomorrow. Congrats to creator Chris Wharton for reaching his goal!

Five Ghosts is a comics project about a treasure hunter in the 1930s who ends up being able to channel the spirits of “five literary ghosts (Merlin, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Musashi, and Dracula) and is granted access to their unique abilities.” That sounds like a cool, fun concept and the sample art looks really good, so I’m in for this one.

The Gastrophobia Volume 2 Kickstarter should be ending successfully just as this post goes live, so congratulations are also in order for creator David McGuire!

Writing News

I am enjoying working on my own serialized story, The Only City Left, and I would like to recommend another serial I found, The Traitor and the Monk, by Atomic Robo writer Brian Clevinger. If you enjoy wuxia movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and are looking for some fiction reading in a similar vein, check out this story of a barbarian whose rebellion against the Jin emperor failed, a drunken master monk that he meets on the road, and the Jin investigator who is on their tail. The story is smart, funny, and has great action scenes.

The Only City Left: Part Three

Welcome back to The Only City Left. You can find Part Two hereAnd here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Three

After I left the mall I chose a new route at random and set off. My one rule is that I try never to backtrack; if I can’t find a way up and out, at least I don’t have to look at the same old sights every day. The route I took led me to an area that must have been some densely packed residential quarters back in the day, some sort of co-op maybe, because there weren’t even hallways between apartments. Each apartment connected to the next by a door, but most of those had been destroyed at some point, so I just walked from one family’s pad to another.

Each one was deserted, decaying, and I tried to imagine it full of people, full of life. The smells of so many people smushed together, their foods, their body odor. Music playing, children shrieking as they played a game of hide and seek through the neighbors’ apartments. No privacy ever. You would never be alone.

It sounded kind of wonderful.

I wandered aimlessly for a while, lost in these thoughts, picturing the ghosts of the people who once filled this tiny part of the city with their light and life. I didn’t notice that some of the ghosts were still around until I hit a dead end in someone’s bedroom, turned around, and came face to face with three of them.

They were transparent and glowed a dim blue, as ghosts in the city are wont to do. They didn’t look frightening, just forlorn, and they kept their distance from me and the circle of light given off by the lantern coil hanging from my neck.

“What do you want?” I asked, leaning back against a wall.

One of them stepped forward, or maybe his compatriots stepped back. Ghosts can be tricky, even amongst themselves. The elected speaker looked back at each of his friends and then turned to me and said, “You do not belong here.”

Very original, I thought, and told him as much.

In reply, he took another step closer. My lantern coil, instead of thinning the ghost like it should have, dimmed in response to his presence. Not good.

“We bear you no ill will, but others will not be so lenient,” he said.

“Stop right there, all right?” I stammered, stepping to one side. “I haven’t done anything to you, and I’m only looking to pass through. Can you point me to a way Up or at least out of this sector?”

The ghost lunged forward and put one thin hand around my throat, pinning me to the wall. The light from my coil died out completely, to be replaced by the ghost’s pale blue glow, and though I struggled and kicked, he was entirely intangible except for where he gripped me.

Up close, I could see great gashes upon his neck and face where skin flapped loose, and a long jagged cut from his belly to his neck spilled ghostly viscera. My teeth chattered, from fear or his icy grip or both. I had never dealt with this kind of ghost before. Ghosts were around in many parts of the city, usually bemoaning their fates or begging you to help them find some closure to their lives, but one had never touched me before, much less pinned me to a wall.

“Please let me go,” I whispered, my throat tight.

The ghost leaned in to whisper in my ear and I could see through his shoulder into his disemboweled insides.

“Your kind should take care,” he hissed. “There are more of us than there are of you. Some of us have grown strong on hate.”

He stopped and looked behind him at something I could not see, then turned back to me.

“Run,” he snapped, and let me go.

I fell to the floor but scrambled to my feet, and as the ghost stepped back away from me, the light of my coil returned.

“RUN!” the ghost screamed at me, and then he and his friends rose up into the air, turned to the wall to my right, and rammed into it. Where they passed through it, the wall cracked and peeled.

I stood still, caught between the urge to obey the ghost’s command and my body’s seeming inability to move. My paralyzation was cured by the repeated slamming sounds that started coming toward me from the direction I had come from. Something was coming my way, something big and fast by the sound of it. Slam slam slamSLAM SLAMSLAMSLAM! came the sound, and with it, a glow in the dark distance, getting brighter as it moved my way.

Time to take the ghost’s advice and get the hell out of there, but where to go? The bedroom was a dead end, the attached bathroom nothing more than a tiled cubicle with a drain and a faucet.

The slams were louder now, and worse, I could hear vicious growls amidst them. It sounded big and wild and like it had terrible claws, maybe the kind of claws that could tear the skin off a ghost. It sounded like the kind of creature that makes even ghosts run away.

That was it! I ran to the wall that the ghosts had phased through and I pushed against it. The wall was weakened, whether by their passage or by time, and I was able to punch and kick out chunks of drywall to reveal a cavity behind it. I leaned in and saw that it was a utility shaft with a ladder going down. Not the way I wanted to go!

I looked back down the way I had come and saw a hulking humanoid creature, covered with fur and with a mouthful of gnashing teeth, hurtling toward me. It glowed pale blue like a ghost but each step it took buckled the floor like it weighed a ton, and it punched out at furniture and walls as it passed, obliterating them.

Down suddenly looked real enticing.

Onward to Part Four.

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Writing Research: Sword Fights

I enjoy fight scenes in movies, whether it is some gun-fu or a long martial arts battle or an awesome sword fight, which got me to thinking about how well I can pull off writing one of these scenes for a story. I would love to write a really cool sword fight, for instance, but I a) have never held a sword much less fought with one, and b) am not really familiar with sword terminology. Of course, as writers, we make stuff up all the time, but it is nice to at least sound like we know what we are talking about. So I turned to my pal Google for some help on the subject, and here is a round-up of what I found.

Martin Turner of martinturner.org.uk had two interesting posts, the first about the difficulties of writing a sword fight and how other writers have handled them, and the second a more hands-on how-to. The difficulties of writing a sword fight, per Mr. Turner, are that fights take much less time to occur than they do to describe, most readers don’t know the vocabulary of sword-fighting (so at least they’re in the same boat as I am), the fights are repetitive, and there must be real danger for the characters involved for the fight to be believable. Mr. Turner is a fencer, and in his second post he explains a lot of fencing terminology, but I like that he does not recommend using it. Instead he focuses on what can make a fight interesting to read, such as accidents and reversals, cheating, and crowd interactions. He also discusses the conditions that can lead to a fighter winning and losing. All in all, this is a great article with many inspirational tips.

This interview with R.A. Salvatore also has some helpful tips. He says that fight scenes are about the dance between the characters and also having an interesting environment for them to fight in. Like many others, he references the Inigo Montoya/Man in Black sword fight from The Princess Bride as an inspiration. His final piece of advice in the interview is “And most of all, make sure that the first fatality in any fight scene is the verb ‘to be.’ If you’re using ‘was’ and ‘were’ and ‘had been,’ well, the first fatality will be your reader’s interest.” Duly noted!

Over on kimkouski.com, I found an interview with Darrin Zielinski titled “How to Write Sword Fighting Scenes.” I liked his ideas about how weapon types can be used to define a character. (Mr. Salvatore also discusses his different characters and matching their weapons and fighting styles to the characters. I liked his description of the dwarf with spiked armor who charges into battle head-first: “How can you not love a furious dwarf hopping around with a dead goblin flopping around dead on his helmet spike?”)

I found this list of the parts of a sword and types of swords at the My Literary Quest blog. While I might not go into detail on all this in a story, it is handy to know and a nice, quick reference.

Now I want to write a cool sword fight scene more than ever, and I got some great ideas from these sites. I hope this post points one or two other people toward some helpful advice as well, and if you want to recommend any other sites or books, feel free!