Short Story: Clever Girl by Craig Anderson

CLEVER GIRL

by Craig Anderson

Welcome to Mind Chip madam, how may I assist you today?

Sarah glanced around nervously, Is this the place where you sell the brain chips?

The salesman nodded enthusiastically, If you mean the IQ boosting, wireless cognitive enhancement devices then yes, youve come to the right place. Are you looking for something in particular?

A small girl peeked out from behind Sarahs legs, her yellow pigtails tied off with bright pink bows. Sarah gestured to her, “Im looking for something for my daughter. I want to give her the best start in life.

The salesman bent down and held out his hand, Nice to meet you young lady, Im Ben. Whats your name?

When she didnt answer the salesman tried again, Ravi de vous rencontrer jeune femme, je suis Ben.

The young girl stared at him dumbfounded. Sarah leaned over her daughter, “Its ok sweetie, you can say hello.

The little girl clung tightly to her mothers leg as she whispered, “Im Charlotte.”

And how old are you Charlotte?

After a moment to calculate Charlotte proudly announced Five and three quarters.

Ben stood back up, Well its nice to meet you Charlotte. So you want to be smart huh? You could do it the old fashioned way, work hard at school, read lots of books, spend your evenings learning new things. That doesnt sound much fun does it?

Charlotte shook her head, making her pigtails swish around. Ben made a raspberry sound, Thats what I think about that. How about instead of all that, you have one quick, painless operation and youll have access to everything you could ever possibly need to know in the blink of an eye? How does that sound?

Charlotte looked up at Sarah, confusion all over her face. Sarah said, That sounds wonderful. Can you tell me a little more about my options?

Ben placed his hand on Sarahs shoulder, Why yes of course I can, come right this way.He whisked them into the corner of the showroom that was glass and chrome. In a case were tiny black chips slightly larger than a grain of rice. Charlotte immediately rubbed her hands all over the case, leaving smudges everywhere. Sarah did her best to wipe them off but Ben laughed, “Dont worry about that. I see your daughter has excellent taste. Thats the 2025 model, fresh off the production line. State of the art design, 40% smaller which means it only needs a simple injection rather than a more invasive surgery. It has a 30% faster wireless connection which means the requested information is downloaded as fast as you can think it, and this model has real time language conversion into over 200 hundred languages. Låter det inte som en praktisk funktion?

Charlotte drooled. She said, Can I hold it?

Ben glanced at the security guard standing discretely in the corner and nodded. The guard produced a key and opened the case. Ben plucked out a chip. He placed it carefully in Charlottes hand, “Youre holding your future in the palm of your hand. With this chip you can be anything you want to be. The possibilities are endless.

Charlotte wiped her nose with the back of her other hand and promptly dropped the chip on the ground. Bens eyes grew wide and he quickly scooped it off the floor saying, Be careful, thats worth lots of money! Perhaps I will pop it back in the case where its safe, what do you think?

Charlotte shrugged.

Sarah leaned in closer to Ben, Exactly how much is one of these to buy?

This model is a bargain at only $250k madam.

She audibly gasped. It took her a moment to regain her composure, Is there a payment plan?

Bens smile softened at the corners, “Im afraid demand for the newest model is always so high that we dont offer any kind of plan, it is full payment upfront. We do haveother options available. Would you like to see some of our discounted models?

Sarah nodded and Ben ushered them across to the opposite corner of the showroom. The lighting wasnt as bright over here and the display case was scratched and scuffed. He reached in and pulled out a chip the size of a beer mat, This is our 2021 model. Its a little larger, so shed lose more of her organic brain, but we can typically save most of the memories. This model doesnt have the wireless, so you only get whats on the chip. Thats an awful lot of data, but she wouldnt gain access to the latest breakthroughs or world events. Obviously that becomes more of an issue over time. The chip itself is also slower, which causes a slight access delay, but its nothing her pretty little smile couldnt cover up.He reached down to pinch her cheek, but Charlotte scampered back behind her Mothers legs. Sarah said, How much is this one?

Its only $80k and we do offer a payment plan if your credit is approved with a very generous 11.9% interest rate.

Sarahs smile collapsed, I didnt realize these were so expensive. Is there anything else?

Ben reached behind the counter. He retrieved a chip the size of a large coin and said, This is our sponsorship edition 2023 model. This ones refurbished. I can let you have it for the bargain price of $10k.

What do you mean refurbished? Someone else used it?

Ben looked everywhere except at Sarah, Yes, but only briefly. The little boy only used it for a week or so before his parents brought it back. Its been thoroughly sanitized.

Why did they return it?

There was a lengthy pause before Ben said, The sponsorship edition comes with some additional stipulations…”

Such as?

Well, these models are cheaper because companies sponsor them.

Sarah nodded, That doesnt sound so bad.

Right! It just means that the communication is two way.

Two way?

Yeah, so little Charlotte would still get access to the data that she needs, but the companies can see what data shes asking for, what soda shes drinking, her favourite toys, simple things like that. Its all completely anonymous.

Sarah took a step backwards, nudging Charlotte along behind her, “Youre telling me they could read her mind?

Dont think of it as her mind, to them its just an anonymous user. Of course there are also the occasional adverts…”

Adverts!”

Yes, its harmless really, for example if you asked Charlotte where she might like to go for lunch, she may receive some suggested locations from our sponsors. Shes still free to make her own choice, this isnt brain control.

Sarahs voice became considerably louder, Free to make her own choice? Shes five! Youre telling me you want me to put a chip in my daughters head thats been in another childs brain, transmits her thoughts to shady corporations and can suggest to her where to eat and what to buy? Do you think Im some kind of monster!

Ben held up his hands, “Id argue the benefits outweigh the down side. Shell still be miles ahead of where she would be with no chip. If you cant afford a newer model this is your best option.

Sarah huffed, No thank you, well just wait a couple of years for the price to come down.

Ben sucked air in through his teeth, Yeah, about that, youre pretty much at the upper limit of when these chips will take. Were not allowed to install in any kid over six, there have been complications when trying to install the chips in older kids.

Complications? Like what.

Brain death. If I was you Id go with whatever you can afford right now, while you still have a choice. Pretty soon every kid is going to have one of these. What kind of life is that going to be for your daughter? She will be a second class citizen, totally unemployable in all but the most menial jobs.

Sarah stared at the big blue eyes of her gorgeous daughter and said, “Ill need to talk it through with my husband. Maybe we can sell the car.

Thats a very noble sacrifice for you daughters future. Ill be here when youre ready to make a decision. Heres my card if you have any questions.

Well thank you for your time, youve been very helpful.Sarah ushered her daughter out the door.

After a few moments Bens manager walked over, Potential sale?

He shook his head, No, they were time wasters. One day shes going to look back on today and realize it was the moment she should have done whatever it took for her daughter. Its a shame really.

Sarah and Charlotte left the mall and got into the car. The moment the door shut Charlotte jumped around excitedly, I did it Mommy, just like you taught me. Look!She brandished the small black chip that she had so meticulously palmed.

Sarah smiled, “Clever girl!”

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The Tools of the Hawk Trade

by Andy Peloquin

I’ve always been fascinated by the art of picking pockets, lockpicking, and thievery. On more times than I’m willing to admit, I’ve wanted to try lifting someone’s wallet to see if I could. I’ve actually studied how to pick locks (though who among us hasn’t?).

This interest is definitely one of the reasons that my latest novel—Child of the Night Guild—explores the skills and tools needed to survive as a thief.

My main character, Ilanna, belongs to House Hawk, which are third-story thieves (also known as cat burglars). However, she also spends time learning to pick pockets on the streets of the fictional city where she lives. Through her training, she acquires a number of tools that make it possible for her to steal—both from homes and people on the street.

Lockpicks Every burglar needs a set of lockpicks to help them get through exterior and interior door locks, as well as locked cases and shelves. Medieval-era lockpicks were far less durable than modern lockpicks. There are dozens of different types of rakes, picks, and tension tools, each designed for a different type of lock as well as a style of lock-picking.

Leather gloves – The leather gloves used by the thieves aren’t the delicate sort used by Victorian-era women, nor the heavy-duty gloves used by modern construction workers. They were a cross of sorts—the flexibility and versatility of thin leather, but with thicker material used for the palms so thieves could slide down ropes without burning their hands.

Soft-soled boots – When slipping through the bedroom of a sleeping nobleman or walking down a guarded hallway, a thief CANNOT have boot soles that make noise. Soft-soled boots (which are closer to moccasins than proper boots) allow them to move in near-absolute silence. They’re durable and watertight (medieval cities had terrible drainage and sewage disposal systems), but they allow the same flexibility as rock climbing shoes.

Hooded cloak – Contrary to popular opinion, assassins and thieves didn’t wear black to hide in the darkness. Black is a shade darker than “night”, so a person in a black cloak will stand out. Instead, dark or mottled grey was the color of choice. A hood was used to conceal the thief’s features, and to cover the eyes (which reflect light).

Super-light rope – Modern cat burglars use an assortment of climbing equipment and gear to break into homes, but nothing beats good old-fashioned rope. The rope used by House Hawk was alchemically created to be extra-light but as strong as a very thick rope.

Finger-knifeThe finger-knife was worn by pickpockets and used to slice the drawstrings of a purse. In medieval times, pockets were uncommon, and leather purses (moneybags) were attached to the belt by the drawstrings. The finger-knife is an easily concealed weapon that comes in handy when performing the “bump” (bumping against a mark and using the body contact to steal their belongings) or “snatch” (stealing without making contact).

Dagger – Every thief needs a dagger for protection. Plus, in medieval times, daggers were the all-purpose tools used for eating and working. Everyone owned belt daggers—many crude, but all functional.

To read more about Ilanna and her fellow thieves, check out Child of the Night Guild.

James E. Wisher’s Top 10 Fantasy Series

by James E. Wisher

10. The Sword of Truth by Terry Goodkind: I suspect this will be the most polarizing choice of this post so I thought I’d start with it. I enjoyed this series both for its take on magic and the main character’s personality. The action scenes were well done as was the character development. Whatever you may think about the author, the story was engaging and well written.

9. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling: This series had to be included for its sheer impact on pop culture. Very few people will fail to get a Harry Potter reference. The story gets deeper and better with every book.

8. Night Angel by Brent Weeks: I absolutely loved this series. The Night Angel stories are the sort of books I aim to write myself. Fast paced, lots of action, engaging characters. I read the omnibus edition, which is close to 1000 pages, in three days. I think that says it all right there.

7. The Black Company by Glen Cook: I’m not sure if Military Fantasy is a genre, but if it is the Black Company books are the best examples of it you’ll find. The most important aspect of the books is the interplay between the members of the company. After a while you start to believe these are real people. I can’t think of a better compliment.

6. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan: This series is one of the few that I thought might have benefited from being shorter. The first few books are amazing, some of the best written fantasy you’ll find, but as the series progresses the pace slows down and it becomes repetitive. Brandon Sanderson did a fantastic job finishing the series after Jordan died.

5. A Song of Fire and Ice by George R. R. Martin: I love this series. The only reason it isn’t higher is because of the pace at which Martin puts out his books. Waiting years between releases is torture and that’s a fine compliment to his writing. Now hurry up and finish the damn series. I need to know what happens.

4. Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson: The first book of this series introduces one of my all time favorite characters, fantasy or otherwise, Whiskeyjack. The world weary soldier determined to do right by his men grabbed me from the moment I met him and held through the whole series.

3. The Dark Elf Series by R. A. Salvator: Ask any fantasy fan to name a dark elf and the first one you’ll hear, 9 times out of 10, is Drizzt. His conflict and desire to overcome the evil nature of his race creates a compelling story across over twenty books. I’ve read them all and while I prefer the earlier stories, they’re all great.

2. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien: The story that basically created the epic fantasy genre as we know it today. No list of fantasy novels could fail to mention it. It’s simply the most important story in the genre.

1. The Shannara Series by Terry Brooks: This is the series that made me want to be a writer. The Sword of Shannara is the first fantasy novel I ever read back in ninth grade. It made me fall in love with stories and want to write my own. For that reason it’s number one on my list.

Thanks for reading.

If you’d like to learn more about me and my books you can visit http://www.jamesewisher.com

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Fantasy and Fiction is What Makes Us Human?


by Andy Peloquin

Humans are the only species to attach significant value on any form of art. Let’s be clear: animals can be taught to paint, draw, even write, but only humans go out of their way to create art.

So what if that innate sense of creativity plays a larger role in our humanity than we think? What if the desire to create art—stories, paintings, poems, sculptures, music, and more—is what makes us human?

I found something fascinating in an article on Psychology Today. The article talks about how a think tank believes exposing artificial intelligences to stories could make them more human. Essentially, exposing AIs to stories, they showcased human values and social norms. The AIs were then rewarded for mirroring the decisions and behavior of the protagonists of the stories.

Running through the simulations of human emotions (jealousy, the thrill of a new love, pain, sorrow, etc.) actually helps US to feel more empathy for others. Fiction puts us through that simulation by taking us on the emotional journeys of our characters. It increases interpersonal sensitivity, enhances empathic abilities, broadens perspective, reduces gender stereotyping, and reduces prejudice. If it can do all that for humans, imagine what it could do for artificial intelligences trying to learn what it means to “be human”.

But that’s not all fiction, fantasy, and stories can do for humans. Our past experiences—the good, bad, and ugly—are what have made us who we are. All the stories we can tell, the memories we can relive, and the positive and negative emotions we experience affect current and future behavior. Our view is colored by the unique combination of everything we have lived.

An AI is like a baby: no experience, no understanding, no relation to anything in the world around it. It has to be exposed to human experiences in order to gain understanding of what it means to be human. Stories—fiction and real-life–help to create all the above-mentioned feelings, basically helping to “build” the AI by giving them stories to shape their perceptions, beliefs, and understanding.

In Westworld, all of the “hosts” (robots) were given back-stories to make them seem more realistic. All humans have stories to tell, so that back story addition played a major role in bringing the theme park to life.

Humans want to tell, hear, and read stories—it’s what makes us who and what we are!

Faith During the Apocalypse


by Joshua C. Chadd

Okay, I’m going to jump right in since I am talking about one of those dangerous topics: Religion. Now, I do not want this to come off as me trying to push my beliefs on anyone, it is to provoke thought on a concept and belief and how that translates to writing. I’m going to give you a little background on me and then move on. I am a Christian, but before you cringe and close the window, hear me out. I am not one of those “fire and brimstone” kind of Christians, and in all honestly I don’t like organized religion as a whole. My faith is something that is personal and unique to me, it is a relationship with Jesus—that’s it! Now you know where I’m coming from, so I’ll move on to the meaty part of this.

I recently released my debut novel, Outbreak, and have the second one, Battleborn, coming out soon. The books are set during the zombie apocalypse. Are you starting to see my dilemma? If not, keep reading. The books follow two brothers as they set out to rescue their parents. As they’re on the road they inevitably face worse things than just zombies and people trying to kill them, for one reason or another. The brothers respond by killing them to survive. They are faced with more hard choices and walk the line between surviving and taking proactive measures to survive. There is a difference there. As the story continues they come face-to-face with some true horrors (especially in the second book).

Now, the problem I have is twofold. First, how do I portray an honest, gritty, real look at the apocalypse while still staying true to my own beliefs? And how do my characters show their faith when faced with the end of the world and the things they not only see, but have to do? Well, I don’t have a right answer to this, but I do have what I’ve found so far and what I think is true.

The first answer is to be honest with myself. I have the same opinion as Stephen King when it comes to writing, in that I am not really creating a story as much as I am uncovering something that is already there. In storytelling, I do my best to stay true to the story I uncover. I want to portray a realistic view of the apocalypse, so there is plenty of violence/gore and even cursing. Now, neither of these are “Christian” books, but they do have a faith-based undertone. But how can I write the violence and language and still make it known that I’m a Christian and so are the characters? Easy, have I ever cursed? Hell yeah! What would I do in a situation where I had to defend my family? Simple, I’d end the threat, one way or another. See, I am not worried about writing this stuff because I would be willing do to those things and I’d curse in those situations. By staying true to the story it might not be seen as “Christian”, but I can still tell it from a faith-based point of view, because real life is not full of rainbows and roses. Life is full of pain, heartbreak, violence, murder, cursing, and a whole lot of other things. So I write the world as I see it, real, flawed and, at times, evil. At least that is how I see it—so take it for what it is.

The second question is much easier to answer. While the brothers, James and Connor, have their faith, it’s a constant struggle to believe, especially for Connor. They go back and forth, and finally James begins to just believe in spite of everything, and that belief is tested at every turn, while Connor sort of gives up on his faith and does what needs to be done. This question is much easier because I have struggled in my faith throughout a normal life, and while I have retained that belief it has been seriously hard at times. So I can imagine if the zombie apocalypse did happen, how hard it would be at times. After seeing or doing the things I’d have to do to survive, I’d ask: How can I still have my belief after this? How can God be real with all this going on? Well, it actually poses something that is really interesting to write about, while also being tough. I get to dive in and say well, I don’t know (even as the author), but I think it would be this way or that way. I found those responses to the character’s questions are founded in my own belief but I cannot say anything with certainty because I am not God. But I feel like, and I hope this is true, that my answers are at least somewhat close to reality. Either way, it’s fun to write because having characters that have faith during the apocalypse is really intense with their constant inner struggles.

My point in all this, and I hope I articulated it well, was not to try and convince you about my beliefs. My goal was to show you something that can be challenging as a writer: staying true to not only the story, but myself as well. Because these are not just random stories, they are all a part of me—a part of who I am, who I have been, and who I want to be. I hope that gives you some food for thought. As you dig into more stories try to look for those small things that show you a glimpse into the heart and soul of the author—you can tell a lot about an author from their stories. But that’s all for now, until next time!

From my desk to you,

Joshua C. Chadd

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Never a Dull Moment – A Writer’s Inspiration


by Craig Anderson

As a writer the first question people ask me (after the psychic trick of knowing if they have read any of my books) is where do I come up with my ideas. I wish there was a more magical answer to this question, that there was an ephemeral spirit that whispers stories into my ear on the full moon, but the reality is far more practical. Most of my story ideas come from some random mish mash of things I read or conversations I’ve had. They percolate in my brain, sometimes for hours, sometimes for months, and then out of the blue a germ of an idea takes hold and I can’t shake it until I’ve gotten it down on paper. I’ll give you a recent example.

I am fascinated by A.I. I read articles about it, watch youtube videos and keep abreast of what is happening in the field. I can’t help but feel this is going to be the single greatest game changer in our lifetimes. A.I. has the potential to completely reshape almost every aspect of our lives. It’s also fantastic for stories, both because of the massive potential but also because A.I. does not think like a human. This contrast between what we expect an A.I. to do and what it would actually do is an endless source of conflict, and therefore stories.

While reading a technology magazine I stumbled across an article on CRISPR gene editing. This is another field in it’s infancy with just as much potential to change us as a species. Unfortunately humans are just as likely to abuse this technology as we are to solve all our problems.

So you have two world changing technologies both coming into their own at similar times. What if you combined them? An A.I. that could edit genes. Sounds terrifying right? It still wasn’t enough for a story though. It needed something else, a hook to bring it all together. It sat there simmering in my brain, like a soup missing a key ingredient.

That ingredient came in a random conversation with a friend. Somehow we got talking about climate change and the impact on animal species, particularly pollinators such as bees. Unless we could find a way to save the bees the impact on food production would be catastrophic. It got me thinking, how would an A.I. solve this problem? What if the A.I. could build a better bee? 10 minutes after that conversation I had a story already forming. I wrote it pretty quickly, over the space of a few months. Just like that, The Colony was born.

For me, sci-fi is fun because it asks the question ‘what if’ and then attempts to answer it. There are no ‘wrong’ answers, but not all of my ideas are good ones. I have a harddrive full of half finished books that will never see the light of day. Either the idea isn’t interesting enough, or I don’t know enough about the topic to properly answer the question, or I write myself into a corner and can’t dig out. To me this is all part of the fun. They sit there patiently in the back of my mind, just waiting for that key piece of information to make them whole. Every time I read an article, or watch a video, or chat with a friend, that could be the trigger for my next story. If there’s one thing I can say for sure, it’s that being a writer is never dull!

Interview with Laura VanArendonk Baugh, Author of Japanese Historical Fantasy

Takiyasha-hime, the sorceress, is shown carrying a sword in one hand, a bell in the other, and a torch in her mouth; the toad, her familiar, is shown in the inset with her father, Taira no Masakado. Ukiyo-e woodblock print by Yōshū Chikanobu, 1884 (via Wikipedia)


Interview by K. Bird Lincoln

Both Laura VanArendonk Baugh and I (K. Bird Lincoln) write Japanese historical fantasy featuring kitsune, trickster fox spirits—we both happen to be Caucasian females. I was thrilled she agreed to answer some writing-the-other questions I often get myself.

1. So….why Japan? Why kitsune? What about them speaks to your myth loving heart?

LVB: It actually wasn’t kitsune specifically. I liked the idea of writing in a wholly different setting and approach from typical Western fantasy, and onmyoudou is a significantly different take than most Western-based magical systems in fiction. I liked the idea of a natural structure behind the magic, and the power and limitations that would bring. I’ve always had a thing for foxes—some of my earliest fiction was about foxes, kind of a vulpine Watership Down—and the popularity of kitsune meant western audiences might feel more confident about approaching the book, more so than if I started with a makura-gaeshi or a suzuri-no-tamashi.

Also, kitsune are really cool.

KBL: Yes, it’s true. Cool and beautiful while Western were-wolves are more terrifying. I love the cerebral aspect of the kitsune trickster—the riddles and such.

2. Is it harder to write male characters than Japanese characters in general?

LVB: Ooh, great question! And yes, all characters who aren’t me are different than me, to a greater or lesser degree. I don’t think we can ever say we can totally grasp another personality or that we cannot possibly grasp another personality. The first is hubris, the second is our job.

I work pretty hard on my male characters, as I often tend toward too chatty and emotive. But that’s why we call it fantasy, right?

KBL: I think this is why I tend to focus my writing on female characters—Japanese or North American.

3. Nisi Shawl writes in “Appropriate Cultural Appropriation” about  Diantha Day Sprouse’s categorizing those who borrow others’ cultural tropes as “Invaders,” “Tourists,” and “Guests.” Invaders arrive without warning, take whatever they want for use in whatever way they see fit. Tourists are expected. They’re generally a nuisance, but at least they pay their way. Tourists may be ignorant, but they can be intelligent as well, and are therefore educable. Guests are invited. Their relationships with their hosts can become long-term commitments and are often reciprocal.”

KBL: I hope I write the Tiger Lily series like a Guest: I have had a long relationship with Japan, and Japanese culture, and my life is now intricately bound to that country through family ties. But sometimes I think the characters in Tiger Lily are a bit stereotyped…or not Japanese enough. What do you feel about your role as cultural mediator of Japanese culture for North Americans for the Kitsune series?

LVB: This is something I’ve put a lot of thought into, especially in today’s politico-literary climate. But I draw hope from feedback I’ve received. I do presentations on Japanese folklore and mythology, specifically to educate people to better understand manga, anime, or films they pick up, and after one I received an email from a Japanese grad student visiting the US to complete some sociology work, who had wandered into my class. He complimented me on the presentation and said I’d given him some good ideas for cross-cultural education and communication, and that was a huge compliment.

A couple of months ago I was at a business conference. There a Japanese colleague turned to her Japanese friends and excitedly explained that I wrote books set in old Japan. What affirmation, knowing she could promote me to her friends! So I think my efforts toward interpretation rather than exploitation are holding steady.


Check out Laura VanArendonk Baugh’s Kitsune Tales Series starting with Kitsune-Tsuki.

Winner of the 2012 Luminis Prize!
“Once I started reading, I could not put it down. The story is thrilling and magical.”

“Twisty! Turny! Magical! Wonderful!”

“…I figured I knew exactly how it was going to end. I was completely wrong.”

How does one find a shapeshifter who may not even exist?

 


Check out K. Bird Lincoln’s Tiger Lily series starting with Tiger Lily.

“A beautifully-written genderbending tale of rebellious girls, shifting disguises, and forbidden magic, set against the vivid backdrop of ancient Japan.”

Lily isn’t supposed to hunt game in the Daimyo’s woods. She’s just the cook’s daughter. It isn’t her place to talk to nobility. And she definitely isn’t supposed to sing the forbidden old, Jindo religion songs. But Lily was born in the year of the Tiger, and can’t ever be like other village girls.

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Genre Blending, Mashing, or Bending


by Alan Tucker

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. — Arthur C. Clarke

We love them! Those stories that don’t fit neatly into one particular box or label. The exploding popularity of comic books in literature, movies, and television shows is a prime example of this. Superhero stories are most often a generous mixture of science fiction and fantasy. Characters like Iron Man and Batman excite our imaginations because they feel ever so close to real possibilities — the science and mystical elements are just beyond our reach, which makes them so tantilizing.

But comic books don’t have a corner on the market for twisting the conventions of genre. One of my favorite genre-mashing authors is Jack L. Chalker. Best known for his Well Worlds series, he also penned over forty other novels and short stories, and nearly all blur the boundaries of what people considered “science fiction” and “fantasy.” My personal favorite is his Soul Rider series, which starts out reading like a classic fantasy story, with swords and sorcery, but morphs into science fiction as we learn more about the world and the “magic” encountered there.

soulriderseries

The lines also become fuzzy once science fiction becomes science fact. Things like satellites, space travel, microwave ovens, and cell phones were once the domain of fantastic stories. Now, they are common and even ever-present in our world. Science fiction staples like artificial intelligence, human cloning, and virtual reality are within our grasp or just a few years away. Even faster-than-light travel, once shunned by hard core science fiction devotees as “fantasy” has recently been revisited as something that may not violate natural law as we currently understand it.

All this begs the question: What is science and what is fantasy?

As Arthur Clarke stated in the quote at the top of this post, sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Bring someone from the middle ages into our present day world and they would undoubtedly claim we live in a magical place. Are phenomenon deemed “paranormal” by today’s science just waiting for someone to crack the code to bring them into the mainstream? Our current notions of time and space may seem set in stone, but there are scientists and mathematicians who work every day to poke holes in the current theories of reality. Much of the observable behavior of the universe is still awaiting explanation.

In this light, what if we take a look back at the stories told from medieval times, or those of the Greeks, Romans, or Egyptians. Are there kernels of truth to be found in our ancient myths and fables that could only be explained at the time by magic? What about concepts like Heaven and Hell? So many religions contain references to similar places, it seems folly to dismiss them out of hand. Could they exist as parallel universes? Maybe angels and demons are extra-dimensional beings who do occasionally pierce the veil between worlds and pay us a visit to inspire the tales we see in our religious and fictional texts.

What are your most cherished genre-bending stories? What lines do you like seeing blurred to the point of non-recognition? Let me know in the comment section!

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Given Powers, Are We Heroes? Or Are We Villains?

by Jeremy Flagg


The question I’m most often asked is, “What super power do you want the most?” I’m a geek, I’ve thought about this every day since I started reading comics. I want to be able to teleport. No traffic, no lines, no travel, just being where you want to exist. The question I ask in return, “If you had super powers, would you be a hero, or a villain?”

In science fiction, one of my favorite themes to explore both as a reader and writer is, good versus evil. I find the most alluring aspect of this struggle to be when a character struggles with the responsibility of his own power. If I woke up tomorrow with incredible power, I’d be the villain. I hope through reflection and struggle I would rise above it, but truth be told, I’m not quite sure I’m capable of winning that battle.

I write superhero stories and much of my inspiration comes from the early 90’s comics. The most notable character for me has always been Erik Lehnsherr, more commonly known as Magneto. His intentions have always been good; protect his species at all cost, even if it means committing unthinkable acts. His power is awe-inspiring, but the allure is his inner demons battling. We see ourselves in his struggle. What would we do to save those we love? He’s been put in a morally compromising position and for decades now, we’ve watched him walk back and forth over the line. We’re sold on his conflict because there is a reflection of truth behind it and we’re left asking ourselves if we’d do the same.

In Max Landis’ Chronicle this struggle between hero and villain both internal and external takes center stage. Gaining telekinetic powers, Andrew, Matt and Steve find themselves pondering the morality of being more than human. Bullied, Andrew finds himself using his powers for self-gain, and we sympathize with his rise to villainy, again, because we are left asking ourselves, “Could that be me?” Even Steve, the movie’s protagonist spends points in the story debating how he should proceed with this gift. Ultimately, Steve finds himself opposing Andrew not because it’s the morally right thing to do, but because he’s the only one capable. This ambiguity allows us as the audience to continue self-reflecting.

While my writing gravitates toward the dark aspects of this debate, it can also be viewed with humor and sarcasm. In Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will be Invincible, he tells the story through two points of view, Dr. Impossible, the dry wit super genius and former cop-turned-cyborg, Fatale, newest addition to the New Champions. Grossman makes it a point to have Dr. Impossible reflect on how he became a villain and as we see the story unfold, we find a super genius falling short at every turn. Even knowing there is a strong chance his newest machinations will result in failure, he continues simply because, “It’s what you do.” Meanwhile, Fatale finds herself fixated on Lily, another teammate and the former girlfriend of Dr. Impossible. She wonders what would make her turn her back on a boyfriend, choose right over wrong, and even exploring if wrong is subjective. The entire time these dialogues are being delivered, Grossman interjects sarcasm, dry wit, and moments of humanity in these godlike titans.

The question continues to provoke a great deal of writing. Characters in my Children of Nostradamus series have been given powers through a cosmic fluke and each of them comes to the table with vastly different motivations. They unite to stop the antagonist, some for revenge, others out of a sense of right, others because they have no idea what they’re doing. I believe we’ve all wondered what super power we’d want given the chance, but I continue asking, would you be a hero, or would you be the villain?


Jeremy Flagg is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes.

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How Writing a Review is the Best Way to Support an Author

by A.L. Knorr

A surprising portion of an author’s time is spent trying to garner positive reviews for their stories. Leaving a review requires an effort that many readers don’t see value in. It takes time, their review will just get buried and no one will ever read it. So why bother?

What most readers don’t realize is that leaving a verified (the book has been purchased) review has a larger impact than they could even imagine. Aside from helping other readers decide if the book sounds like something they’ll enjoy or not, sharing your thoughts about the story helps the author become a better writer. You have an opinion that is unique to you, and author’s need to see the world through readers eyes to grow.

Readers are far more likely to purchase a book that has lots of positive reviews, and of course, less likely to purchase those who have poor reviews. By writing your review, you are either encouraging or forewarning other readers. Who doesn’t appreciate guidance on whether their money will be well spent or not? Search engine algorithms also take into account the number, frequency, and rating given by reviewers. Every positive review is an air bubble that helps the book rise and become more visible. You also help to protect authors from trolls, not the kind with green hair, the kind whose sole desire seems to be to spread negativity on the internet. Every author will be hit by a troll at some point in their career, lots of positive reviews help buffer the occasional random negative attack.

So how do you best rate a book? Making your own personal criteria for what a 1 star looks like vs a 5 star is helpful. Here’s an example of some rating criteria:

⭐️  A lot of mistakes, maybe it wasn’t ready for market. Didn’t make sense, or I fell into a plot hole while reading and couldn’t get out.

⭐️⭐️   I think there was a story in there somewhere.

⭐️⭐️⭐️   Finished and mostly enjoyed. Would even consider reading more by this author.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️   Good story! Looking forward to more by this author!

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️  Couldn’t put it down and I’m sad that it’s over! Still thinking about this story!

Next time you read a book, please consider writing a review. Even 1 or 2 sentences is enough. The author will thank you, and other readers will thank you!