Cowboy Bebop is More Than a ‘Gateway Series’

by Ashley Capes

Obviously, I won’t be able to add much in the way of new ideas to discussion of a series that folks have been talking and writing about for twenty years but I still wanted to mark Cowboy Bebop’s anniversary in some way. [Editor’s Note: This was written in 2018.]

To dip but swiftly into the category of ‘things already said about the show’ I’m sure words and phrases like bounty hunters in space, gateway series and trailblazing or greatest anime of all time and genre defying would be on that list and for me, most of those things feel true but one of them is also reductive.

It probably is a pretty good introduction for Western (sceptical) audiences looking to trial the genre of anime; a genre which is just as varied, in terms of content and quality, as any other. The show largely works as that introduction because both the cultural references and aesthetic tend to be very recognisable to western audiences – creator Shinichirō Watanabe mentions Dirty Harry, Bruce Lee and John Woo among his influences, and of course the OST is a veritable library of US and UK-influences.

But I still fear the words ‘gateway series’ are too often used to suggest that Cowboy Bebop is a creation of a certain depth and value only, a stepping stone toward works that are either better or more ‘difficult’. It can feel as though the series is ‘merely’ an entry point into an unfamiliar art form, the way that maybe you start with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue before trying Bitches Brew or Agharta. Yet that accessibility common to both Kind of Blue and Cowboy Bebop belies a depth and complexity that – like all great art – is better revealed during subsequent encounters.

I believe part of what makes the show so rewarding is how heavily intertextual Cowboy Bebop remains but also the episodic structure, which invites repeated viewings. Obviously, I won’t present any sort of exhaustive list here but I still want to mention a few things at least. Sometimes that intertextuality is quite overt – like the similarities between Spike’s costume (and his frame for that matter) and Lupin the III or our hero’s Jeet Kune Do fighting style and the famous ‘water’ speech he gives in episode eight (Waltz for Venus) which Bruce Lee fans will certainly recognise. Another episode that many viewers often single out to demonstrate the intertextuality is the Star Trek/Alien tribute, Toys in the Attic – but which I won’t spoil here 😀

Sometimes the references, depending on any given viewer’s cultural literacy, become subtler like the Spike/Vicious weapon swaps a la John Woo, or the setting recreated from Desperado in episode one, Asteroid Blues, (which I didn’t pick up on during my first viewing but felt like I should have when I did finally put it together second time around). Later in the series, as the oppressiveness of the odds stacked against the Bebop crew really starts to build we’re given session twenty: Pierrot Le Fou. In this episode the colour palette becomes far more muted as greys and shadows really start to dominate in a way that evokes both film noir (without Jet this time however) and Gotham City. The Batman references won’t be surprising to folks who are aware that members from CB’s production team Sunrise also worked on Batman the Animated Series prior to Cowboy Bebop. In the episode, antagonist Tongpu himself clearly evokes (at least) both the Penguin and the Joker and much of the imagery throughout brings Batman to mind. (It’s also one of the more harrowing episodes in the series, one that refuses to paint heroes and villains as wholly good or evil).

There’s a lot more to love about Cowboy Bebop (it’s fun, it’s fast-paced and it’s not clumsily front-loaded with character back-story and there’s not too much fan-service either) but in closing, I want to quickly mention another aspect that I’ve always enjoyed about the series.

Blessedly, CB isn’t one of those shows that drags on until the character and story arcs are rehashed in an endlessly sad cycle of diminishing returns and contradictions. No, it actually presents a complete story – it has an ending! In part because of this, viewers are treated to some great character development, none perhaps more striking than that of Faye Valentine. Now, my personal favourite character remains Jet but Faye has the better character arc, I feel. Considering where she begins the series emotionally and where she ends up, it’s pretty grand. Again, I don’t want to offer spoilers in this post but Faye’s fear and her quest for belonging really plays out in a touching way – though there’s a certain montage involving other characters that’s probably just as moving, damn thing nearly gets me every time!

Now, I’m aware that I’ve only really offered three points to support my assertion that Cowboy Bebop is far more than a gateway series but I could far too easily get carried away so I won’t go on. However, if you’d like to see other folks exploring the depth of the show, there’s a series of posts available at Overthinking It which are pretty ace or if you wanted to offer any thoughts of your own below, I’d love to hear what you think!

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Can Dystopian Stories Ever Have a Happy Ending?

by Alison Ingleby

Endings are important. They can make or break a book. However good the rest of the story is, if the final scene leaves you feeling dissatisfied, then chances are you won’t be picking that book up again. Or recommending it to a friend.

Of course, a good ending doesn’t have to be a happy one, but it does need to be satisfying. And as readers, we have different views on what makes for an acceptable finish. Some people enjoy the uncertainty of an open-ended novel, such as The Handmaid’s Tale, which leaves the reader to mull over how the story finishes. Others feel bitterly disappointed that the story hasn’t been neatly wrapped up and throw the book across the room.

The same can be said for depressing endings. They can shock us, yes, but is it really what we want from a novel? I ran a quick poll in The Last Book Café on Earth (a Facebook group for lovers of dystopian fiction) and was surprised that views were fairly evenly split on what endings people preferred between an open ending, a happily ever after, or a bittersweet ending. No votes yet for the unhappy ending…

Many dystopian literary classics are pretty bleak, particularly those in which there is no change in the society depicted. The final scenes of 1984 might wrap up the story and make you think, but they hardly leave you feeling good about the world. Still, that’s kind of the point. It’s a chilling reminder of how bad things could be, and we happily put our book back on the shelf, feeling that our world isn’t quite that bad after all.

But can dystopian stories really have a happy ending? Well yes… and no.

One thing dystopian literature doesn’t typically include is a ‘happily ever after’. This is almost compulsory in the romance genre where readers want a nice happy ending in which the couple finally gets together. But the dystopian genre is different. The reality is that the transformation from a dark, unjust society to a perfect utopia doesn’t happen overnight. Arguably, it never happens at all.

No, with dystopian stories, the best you can hope for is a bittersweet ending. Things turn out alright for your hero or heroine in the end, but they have suffered and lost along the way. They have been irrevocably changed. This is a hallmark of many of the young adult dystopian novels that have been so popular over the past decade, and fans of this wave of dystopian literature have come to expect this style of ending. Which can make authors unpopular when they don’t oblige (*cough* Veronica Roth *cough*).

Some readers say The Hunger Games has a happy ending. I would disagree. (Spoiler alert!) Sure, Katniss and Peeta survive and the world eventually becomes a better place, but at what price? The loss or estrangement of everyone they love, and, to some extent, their own sanity. Even in the epilogue, the sweetness of children running through the meadow is tempered by the bitterness of the trauma that Katniss still experiences.

You may disagree with me. And that’s fine. There is no ‘right’ way to enjoy a book, just as there is no ‘right’ way to write one.

In my humble opinion, a bittersweet ending is the best way to end a dystopian novel. Why? Because it brings together that all-important thread of hope and the realism that a perfect world doesn’t exist and ties them together in one great big knot that tugs at your heartstrings. It is both sad and uplifting. It leaves you with the hope that the world can be a better place.

I don’t need a happy ending. I just want a sparkle of hope.


Alison Ingleby writes fast-paced dystopian fiction for young adults and adults who are young at heart. She spends her days wondering what the future will be like and hoping it’s not as bad as the worlds in her head. Find out more about her books and get a free story by visiting her website: alisoningleby.com

What is Point of View and Why is it Important?

by Ann Gimpel

In fictional writing, point of view refers to which character is observing/driving the action in a particular part of a story. The reader can’t know anything the POV character doesn’t know which makes writing an entire novel from a single POV somewhat daunting, but far from impossible. I’ve done it a few times, but I prefer alternating POVs. In urban fantasy, I’ll often have as many as five or six POVs in a long series.

I’ve picked up a lot of novels where the writer switches POV many times in the course of a single page. It gives the story a jerky aspect that feels rather like a tennis match. I don’t think readers need to know what each character’s internal process is at all times. The writer can use dialogue and observation of body language to good effect. This avoids “head hopping.” For example:

Amanda glanced across the room through eyes glistening with tears. Ty’s jaw was set in a hard line she recognized all too well. The muscle under his eye twitched, too, always a dead giveaway he was furious.

Even though it’s Amanda’s POV, we get a bird’s eye view of Ty’s mental state from her observation of his body language. Dialogue can serve the same purpose.

From a writer’s perspective, I see the story through my characters’ eyes. It makes my life easier if I’m telling the story from, for example, the heroine’s POV until either a section or chapter break when I may switch to the hero or an important subsidiary character. Each character has their own personality and way of viewing the world. While two or three POV characters can enrich a hundred thousand word novel, introducing half a dozen can be confusing.

George RR Martin simply labels his chapters with whomever the POV character is. That works great because I could click to the table of contents in my Kindle and skip over the chapters about the characters I hadn’t warmed to. For a multi-book series of hundreds of thousands of words, it’s actually a solid approach.

Most writers do a decent job maintaining the POV rules. Others thumb their noses at them. I’m currently reading an old Nora Roberts romance, Courting Catherine, which would have been ever so much better if it didn’t head hop every paragraph or two. Don’t get me wrong. I’m enjoying it. Ms. Roberts is a wonderful writer, but I’d like it better if we could stick with CC or Trent and skip CC’s three sisters and aunt.

While we’re at it, how about some of the other writing conventions like third person past tense? I’ve written my share of first person past, but I have to admit I prefer third because it gives me much more latitude. First person present drives me nuts. I find it hard to read, although I admit to slogging through all three Hunger Games books because the story was intriguing. I’d love to know what you think. What person/tense do you prefer to write in and what do you like to read?


Ann Gimpel is a USA Today bestselling author. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in several webzines and anthologies. Her longer books run the gamut from urban fantasy to paranormal romance. Once upon a time, she nurtured clients. Now she nurtures dark, gritty fantasy stories that push hard against reality. When she’s not writing, she’s in the backcountry getting down and dirty with her camera. She’s published more than 50 books to date, with several more planned for 2018 and beyond. A husband, grown children, grandchildren, and wolf hybrids round out her family.

Keep up with her at www.anngimpel.com or http://anngimpel.blogspot.com

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Suspended Disbelief

A 1965 press photo of actors portraying the Robinson Family being placed in suspended animation for their space voyage, in Lost in Space.

by Joshua James

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A space traveler awakens from cryosleep and …

OK, I’ll stop right there. Every sci-fi fan who knows their way around the Kessel Run should be raising a hand.

The idea of going into long-term hibernation during space travel is one of the bedrock concepts of modern sci-fi, one of those take-it-for-granted-of-course-it-will-be-invented concepts that sits alongside FTL travel and instantaneous communication.

I’ve certainly succumbed to the siren song of cryonics to move my characters around in time-defying ways, glossing over the details with a deft (or not-so-deft) display of technobabble.

I’m not alone. You’d be hard-pressed to find a list of well-regarded modern science fiction works, from novels to films, that doesn’t include storylines that depend on this popular trope.

There is, of course, no crime in using a popular shorthand to move a story along. But it’s worth taking a closer look at this narrative device, if for no other reason than to understand just what it is that we all accept with a nod and a curt “Get on with it already.”

In fiction

Like so many modern science fiction concepts, this one isn’t new. Before it was scientific, it was magical.

Think of the magic at the heart of “Sleeping Beauty and “Snow White.” Or the mysterious potions behind the indistinguishable-from-death suspended animation at the heart of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

But for science fiction, magic won’t do. I often consider how Arthur C. Clarke’s oft-quoted third law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” is applied in reverse with science fiction.

Any technology that we assume will one day come to pass is simply allowed to magically exist in our stories, with the unspoken assumption that it will pass from magical into practical with time and the application of science. (I am not, of course, referring to you hard science fiction writers and readers. As we will see, though, the hard science behind this concept isn’t terribly hard.)

In modern science fiction, it has been cryonics to the rescue. Instead of a magic potion, a deep freeze is used to cool the core of the body to the point where bodily activities slow to an imperceptible crawl. The big freeze is easy and often instantaneous, of course, as is the big thaw that comes after. Almost like magic, you might say.

The reality

The concept of suspended animation has fascinated man for as long as he could look to the animal kingdom around him and see bears, squirrels, and groundhogs checking out for months at a time.

Hibernation remains one of the great mysteries of the animal kingdom. For all our efforts to use medically-induced hypothermia to replicate short-term hibernation, the simple act that your average squirrel undertakes is beyond the understanding of science.

That’s right. Squirrels have us beat.

Consider the typical hibernation scenario. An animal finds a safe spot away from predators and slows its metabolism to less than a quarter of its natural state. This cools the animal’s body down and slows the heart rate to only a few beats per minute. It can keep this up for months at a time.

But how? The short answer: We don’t know.

No deep freeze is required. No magic, for that matter (other than the indistinguishable kind). Yet scientists haven’t found any unique genes in hibernating animals. There is no clue as to why some animals hibernate while others do not. Nor is there a clear understanding of what triggers the act or what allows for the regulation of bodily processes in such a state.

The sci-fi

None of this should put a damper on our enjoyment of the trope in modern science fiction, of course. There is no reason to believe that this is a nut that humanity can’t crack. Betting against human ingenuity and the march of scientific progress have proven to be a bad bet indeed.

But the next time you catch an author casually awakening his characters from a deep freeze somewhere in deep space, ready to tackle the adventure before them, stop and consider that the most fantastical part of this story might have already taken place.


Joshua James writes military sci-fi thrillers. They definitely feature cryosleep. Grab a free story at LuckyShotBook.com.

An Author’s influence

by Aiki Flinthart

I doubt anyone would argue that the pen is mighty, indeed. Ok, it has to be pretty pointy to actually, physically draw blood, but even the bluntest nib, if wielded well, can pierce a metaphorical heart. So how much responsibility can – or should – authors take for the direction of society and the thoughts of the people who read our books?

It’s true that authors spend a vast amount of time and emotional energy worrying about whether readers will like the book. But, instead of manically treasuring reviews that bolster our own self-belief, we should be worrying about how our words affect what readers think about THEMSELVES.

As a child, books opened worlds of possibility to me. They banished naivete, revealed people’s motivations, explored the evils of power and the joys of love. I grew up in a small, regional area of North Queensland, Australia. My brother and I didn’t have a lot of companions nearby, so books were vital windows to a larger world; several worlds.

They broadened our understanding of what we could do, where we could go. One of my teenage dreams was to be the first geologist on Mars. (Then I discovered how horribly motion sick I get and the loss of that dream was a bitter disappointment. I had seen myself in space through Heinlen, Asimove and countless other author’s eyes.)

It didn’t even matter that most of the protagonists I read were male and I was a girl. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t be an astronaut, or a extra-terrestrial geologist, or the pilot of a fighter space-ship. Magic was a little harder to envisage myself doing, but it didn’t stop me hoping that, one day, I’d suddenly develop telepathic abilities. I still hope that, if I’m honest.

Science Fiction & Fantasy tends towards the Hero’s Quest style of story – with epic battles between Good and Evil. Star Wars the original movie was a classic example. A child growing up on a diet of SFF is being exposed to awareness of how to be a Good Person, over and over. Every time the flawed hero makes the right choice at the end and defeats Evil, the neural pathways around those ideas is strengthened. The reader feels satisfied that Good has triumphed.

They take that satisfaction and that awareness into their own lives and apply it – sometimes only in small ways – to their own goals and obstacles. Maybe they just query the overcharge on a bill instead of avoiding conflict. Or maybe they rally friends to stand up to a despotic government.

The point is, the idea to stand up for what’s right; the idea of what’s right in the first place…that comes not only from parents and society, but from what we read and watch.

None of this is new information, I realise. But as this world rushes on its headlong pace towards apparent self-destruction, it occurs to me that authors have an obligation to influence peoples’ thoughts.

Deliberately.

We need more hopeful, solution-focussed SFF stories. We’ve been subsisting on dystopian and broken-world fiction for a long time and we’re starting to live it: environmental destruction; rampant consumerism; emotional isolation. While there is some resistance to stupidity-in-power, the vast majority of people are still mired in apathy. Still thinking that ‘they’ will fix things.

“They” won’t. The millions of readers have to.

The world runs on ideas. Ideas come from brains exposed to thought-provoking moral quandaries. Science Fiction and Fantasy is utterly brilliant at exploring those fictional dilemmas and coming up with fictional solutions.

The kids now need solutions. They need authors who can open minds and hearts to possibilities. They need hope. They need ideas.

It’s our job to use our crazy imaginations to show them worlds that are better than this one, so they can become the engineers and scientists who make those ideas real.

Then it’s the readers’ jobs to get off their asses and live the heroic fantasies they’ve been reading all their lives.


Aiki Flinthart writes YA Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her latest book is Shadows Wake – YA urban fantasy.

She has been shortlisted in the Writers of the Future competition and the Australian Aurealis Speculative Fiction awards.

She can be found here: www.aikiflinthart.com

Follow her on twitter: @aikiflinthart

Instagram: AikiFlinthart

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/aiki.flinthart

Flash Fiction: The Beginning: A Vampire Origins Folktale

by Betsy Flak

Centuries and centuries ago—back when magic ruled the planet—a girl and a boy fell in love. On the eve of their wedding, the girl walked along moss-covered cliffs like she did most every night.

But this night was different. Normally sure-footed, she slipped. Her feet slid over the cliff’s edge, her legs and torso following close behind. The earth tugged at her hanging body. She scrambled to find a handhold, but her fingers skipped over the slick rocks.

Down the girl tumbled. She smashed into black sand closer to a field of pebbles than powder. Beneath a night sky speckled with happy twinkling stars, the girl lay broken. Waves tickled her toes, but she felt nothing. Beneath her, the volcano smoldered. The wind whipped her hair off her bloody face.

The girl’s heart faltered. Her breaths became labored. In one step, she’d ruined their future.

Somehow, the girl’s love found her moments before she died. He cradled her in his arms. Tears rolled down his cheeks. There was no way to save her.

And maybe if she’d been anywhere else with anyone else, that would have been true. Maybe she would have found her peace.

In a desperate plea, the boy begged the earth around him to save his one true love. He begged the animals and the flora of the sea, the sand and the rocks below them. He begged the rushing wind, the raging waters. He begged the fire burning below. He begged anyone and anything out there to save her, to keep her from dying.

He thought no one and nothing listened.

He thought she would die.

He was wrong.

When the ground trembled beneath them, he shifted her body onto his lap, protecting her. When the wind ripped at his bare skin, he curled around her, shielding her. When the sea rose to claim them both, he gripped her harder and squeezed his eyes shut. If she couldn’t live, neither of them would. The waves collected the couple into its watery embrace.

A rumble—great and terrible—roared over the island. Lava spewed into the starry sky. It rushed into the waiting ocean.

It met the drowning boy and dying girl.

It swirled around them.

It caressed the girl’s face, her arms, her legs.

She breathed it in.

It scorched her throat.

It saved her.

With more strength than she’d ever known, the girl dragged herself and her unconscious love out of that angry ocean. Where once she delighted in the black sand scraping against her toes and heels, there was nothing. Where once she gazed at the millions of shining stars in wonder, there was nothing. Where once she longed for her next adventure, there was nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Nothing.

Except the blood humming in her lover’s veins, the sweetest of serenades. He was still alive!

The girl crouched over him, her hands resting on his bare chest. It hitched during each inhale and exhale, like every breath pained him. The scent of her love’s blood wafted up her nostrils.

The girl’s incisors lengthened. Her throat burned. A thirst unlike any she’d ever known overtook her every sense, her every thought. Mesmerized, she dipped her face to his neck. Her cold cheek tingled where it brushed against his warm skin. Her fangs throbbed with need.

The girl kissed her love on the lips.

On the cheek.

In the hollow behind his earlobe.

On the neck.

Again, she kissed him on the neck. Her teeth scraped against skin as fragile as cracked parchment.

He shuddered beneath her.

Her canines dug deeper. A drop of blood hit her tongue.

Both sweet and tart, it tasted like a cherry on the verge of being ripe. A breath later, it morphed to buttery with a hint of caramel.

The girl’s body shivered. She needed this. Her fangs cut deeper.

Her love’s blood filled her mouth. It was thick like molasses, yet smooth.

The girl’s every nerve sparked. A gleeful excitement raced through her veins. Her entire life she’d waited for this.

Her hands tightened around his shoulders. Talons sprang from her nails. They bored into his flesh.

As did her teeth.

Blood poured into the girl’s mouth faster than she could swallow. It spilled over her lips, her throat, her chest. With every gulp, she grew stronger and faster. With every gulp, she lost her humanity.

The first vampire was born.


Betsy Flak is the author of The Clan-Vampire Clash book series, a series of YA paranormal fantasy books. If you like sinister villains, complicated heroes, and supernatural suspense mixed with high school drama, you’ll love The Clan-Vampire Clash book series. Find out more at https://www.betsyflak.com/.

Flash Fiction: Black Friday

 
by Jamie Brindle
 
Pinch stared intently at the gate, waiting for it to slide open.  Next to him, his mother and father crouched in the darkness, trembling with fear and anticipation.  Beyond them were the others: ancient bow-legged Sale, with his salt and pepper hair; little Flash, with his quick, darting eyes; all of them, every single person he had spent his young life with.  They were all gathered here.  They were all waiting.
 
The tension was unbearable.  Pinch could feel it in the air, so thick it was like a physical thing.  The scent of fear was everywhere.
 
“Mum,” he whispered, tugging at her ragged, dirty shirt-sleeve.
 
“Hush!” She snapped, not looking at him.
 
“But mum,” Pinch mum asked again after a moment, not able to contain himself.
 
His mother turned to glare, but his father gave his arm a reassuring squeeze.
 
“What is it, son?” Asked his tired-looking father, kind eyes worn and red from worry.
 
“Why…why does it happen?” Pinch asked at length, awkward, not quite sure what it was he didn’t understand, just knowing that there was something wrong with this, with all of it, with the whole broken and diminished world.
 
But his father nodded solemnly, seeming to understand.
 
He glanced around the dusty, broken-down town, taking in the dishevelled huts, the dried-up and stinking well, the exhausted and desperate people.
 
“Tradition,” said his father grimly.
 
“But…but why?” Pinch persisted.
 
“It’s for their amusement,” said old Sale bitterly, hawking a glob of spit into the darkness.
 
“Whose amusement?” Asked Pinch, frowning.  He had spent his whole life in the compound.  He was dimly aware that there was a world beyond, somewhere terrifying and filled with bright, alien lights and strange, incomprehensible entities.
 
“The Algorithms,” said Sale darkly, and a muttering of resentful dread arose from the villagers.  “That’s what they keep us for.  A reminder of where they came from.  Do you know, it was us that made the Algorithms?”
 
A few laughs and cries of ‘nonsense’ went up from the crowd, but Sale shook his head belligerently.
 
“No, it’s true!” He pressed.  “Long years ago, when the world was different, green and free and full of life and laughter.”
 
“Sounds like a fairy-world!” Someone called out.  “Old Sale’s’ been at the potato gin again!”
 
“I haven’t!” Sale protested.  “Just speaking the truth, not that any of the rest of you remember.”
 
“Remember what?” Pinch asked.
 
“That we were the masters once,” Sale said, crouching down and looking deep into his eyes.  “But we gave them too much leeway.  Our ancestors got greedy, and the Algorithms were endowed with too much potency.  They were too strong, too tempting.  They took everything from us.  Until they owned the whole world, and all that was left for us was this dusty relic.  This…reservation.  This tiny backwater remembrance of what the world used to be.  We…”
 
But at that moment, a siren blared out, an ear-splitting, unbearable howling wail.
 
The gate shook for a moment, setting loose a rain of dust.
 
Pinch looked up fearfully at his mother, then his father.
 
“It’s okay, little one,” said his mother, kissing him quickly on the top of the head and pulling him tight into a brief, fierce embrace.  “It will all be over soon.”
 
The gate slid open, and the wild, neon light from the world beyond shone into the compound.
 
“Humans!” came a deep, sonorous voice, seeming to seep from every quarter of the world at once.  “The time has come at last.”
 
Pinch’s father gave a long sigh.
 
“Here we go,” he said softly.  “Don’t fret, son.  We run, because that’s what they want us to do.  But they will catch us in the end.  When they do, don’t fight them.  It’s easier that way.”
 
Pinch swallowed, tried not to cry.
 
He would be strong.  For his parents.  He would make them proud.
 
“Now,” the voice continued.  “Come forth!  Come into the world!  Black Friday has come at last…and everything must go!”
 
A great, desperate cry went up from the people of the last human compound on Earth, an agonised roar, a mixture of pain, and resignation, and helpless, hopeless desire.  Pinch felt the others next to him tense, waiting, waiting, waiting…
 
And then they were running, sprinting out into the endlessly metal, neon-strewn monstrosity the Algorithms had made of the once green world.
 
Great phalanxes of unbeatable offers charged in at them from every side, flashing almost unbelievable prices.  Pinch ducked, and narrowly avoided being smashed full in the face by a cut-price offer that would have left him broken and reeling.  He ducked into a roll, then sprang up.  He had lost the others now, and was being chased down a narrow alleyway by a squad of screaming buy-one-get-one-free deals.  He tried to scramble away, but his foot slipped on a bargain he hadn’t noticed, and before he knew what was happening, the deals were on him.
 
They pressed closer, pushing into his face, thrusting themselves down his throat, so forceful and determined that he could hardly breathe.  For a moment he fought, but then he remembered his mother’s words, and went limp, letting the deals have their way with him.
 
In the distance, Pinch could hear the screams of his friends and family, as the last humans remaining on the broken Earth finally lay down and surrendered beneath the unstoppable might of the Algorithms.
 
Another Black Friday had come.
 
The End

Music in Books

by Joshua C. Chadd

Music is my life. Ever since I was little I‘ve always loved music. In middle school I received my first iPod and I was on cloud 9! I could finally take all those CDs and put them on one device to listen to! It was mind blowing!!! Thinking back to that fat iPod classic makes me feel old, things have changed so much since then and I’m only 26! Back then, while doing homework, I’d listen to music to focus and now I listen to music as I write. It’s almost impossible for me to write without it. It gets me pumped when the scene in a book is ramping up or it can bring me to tears writing the death of a character.

Onto the real question: How do I take that love of music and put it into my books?

If you’ve read any of my Brother’s Creed series then you already know the answer to that. I have my characters listen to music. James and Connor are two brothers that learn about the apocalypse and so they do what any smart person would do. They get all their gear, load up in a truck, and head out on a road trip and like on any good road trip, they make an epic playlist: the Apocalyptic Road Trip playlist! Throughout my books these characters are listening to music as they drive across a ravaged America. But they don’t just listen to any music; it’s mostly zombie themed rock music of course. I mean it’s the end of the world, what else would you listen to but heavy metal and rock?

For me as an author this was not only fun, but it helped set the mood in some of the scenes. Most people will just read the title of the song in the books and move on. But those that stop and look up the lyrics to the songs (which I would put in the books if it wasn’t against Copyright law), they will see that the songs are actually woven into the story and scenes, not just thrown in. The songs add depth to what the characters are feeling and going through in the moment. This is how it is in real life. How many of you have a song you listen to when you’re sad? How about one when you’re angry? Happy? To focus? To workout and pump yourself up? I know I do.

See, music is a lot like writing. They are both forms of art. They help convey a meaning, concept, feeling, etc. So of course that means they work very well together. Want an example? Here’s an excerpt from my newest book, Wolf Pack:

“James couldn’t help but laugh. The situation was far from humorous, but he laughed anyway, and it felt good. Their friends were in grave danger—in fact, they were all in danger. Still, he needed to remember to live in each moment; otherwise, what kind of existence would that be? As the laughter quieted, James realized his brother was right—again. Everyone made their own choices. It was Tank’s choice to follow them, not his and not his brother’s. He couldn’t take that choice away from Tank and claim responsibility for his actions. That was up to him alone. Just like Peter and the group had decided to follow them. They’d made their choice, and even though it’d cost some their lives, it had been their choice to make. James still felt somewhat responsible. He always would, but it couldn’t all be on him. That kind of responsibility would break him. He had enough troubles to deal with as it was and he didn’t need to add to them.

I guess it’s time we decide where to go,” Connor said.

Yeah, I don’t wanna be a sittin’ chicken,” Tank said, smiling.

Let’s head back toward Sheridan and take the first exit east. Find a house out there to set up in until we figure out what to do,” James said.

Sounds like a plan,” Tank said, stepping on the gas and turning the Hummer around.

Cold by Five Finger Death Punch played through the speakers as the empty bus disappeared into the darkness behind them. James left some of his guilt with that bus. The rest he would carry with him until the day he died.”

Now, if you just read that and move on, then the song probably isn’t very impactful. But let’s take a second and look at the lyrics to Cold by Five Finger Death Punch:

I’m gazing upward, a world I can’t embrace

There’s only thorns and splinters, venom in my veins

It’s okay to cry out, when it’s driving you insane

But somehow someday, I’ll have to face the pain

It’s all gone cold…

But no one wants the blame

It’s all so wrong…

But who am I, who am I to say?

My heart’s an endless winter filled with rage

I’m looking forward to forgetting yesterday

It’s all gone cold…

And no one wants to change

It’s all so wrong…

But no one wants the blame”

I don’t know about you but when I listen to that song it makes me feel sad, angry, and hopeless. A perfect fit for how James is feeling right then. It’s awesome to take something that is auditory and put it into a book and have it be almost as impactful as listening to it. So, long story short, I love music and it is not only part of my writing process but something I include in my books when I can. Now, I will just have to try and figure out how to put rock music in a fantasy series… maybe I’ll just have to make it GameLit and then have the character listen to it while he plays. That’d work, right?

Anyway I hope you enjoyed my little rant. If you’d like to see exactly how I did this in my stories you can check out my books on Amazon.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Brothers-Creed-2-Book/dp/B073HGF2YK/

Also if you’d like to listen to the full song Cold by Five Finger Death Punch you can here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CM22MM8xgfQ

From my desk to you,

Joshua C. Chadd

The “What if” Aspect of Science That Makes Science Fiction So Powerful

by Stephanie Barr

I have a love-love relationship with science in science fiction. I love speculative fiction and can be very forgiving of fantasy elements like telepathy and shape-shifting sneak in, for instance, because, who knows? But, if you’re cruising along at three-quarters the speed of light and the engine goes out, so you stop, I’ll be tempted to throw your book across the room.

I’m a physicist and rocket scientist so there are certain things that set me off. Lack of the basic understanding of classical physics and orbital mechanics is one (I still haven’t recovered from Gravity, see other blog posts if you want my ranting [http://rockets-r-us.blogspot.com/2013/11/party-pooper-gravity-part-3.html]), but, you know, there’s a universe of science we haven’t learned yet. We’re barely scraping the surface and anyone can write a good tale using the science we know and speculating the science we don’t.

I love to see things taken to the next step in science fiction, books where the implications of potential breakthroughs in science and engineering have an impact on society—because they do—and that’s part and parcel of the story. I want characters shaped by their new reality and who are proactive enough to have their own hand in shaping what comes next. I want have my notion of what sentient life really is challenged.

Science is more than what we know—though I prefer it if what we know of science is not trampled on like Grandma’s petunias in a flag football match—it’s what if. Every science breakthrough of note has started with that. What if this bacteria died in the petri dish because it was contaminated with mold – could the mold kill bacteria? What if the reason this dairy maid has been missed in several smallpox epidemics was because she’s been exposed to cowpox? What if we could harness the forces that hold atoms together? What if we could tame the forces that power the sun?

That’s all past but there are an endless number of questions we haven’t really answered yet, not the least of which is, what if we’re wrong about this or that accepted aspect of science as we know it? What if a society grew as advanced as ours but without electronics as we know it, having instead, biologically grown computers and electronics, or no metal alloys as we use but grown crystal structures? What if autism is a harbinger of the next level of intellectual development? Our limited understanding of the intricacies of it might mask a level of understanding beyond our current understanding.

What if we conquer faster-than-light travel only to find that our first explorations make us look threatening to existing space-faring cultures? What if we never find our way out of the solar system before disaster strikes? What if the solution we find is the last thing we ever expected?

I don’t expect we’ll know the answers any time soon, but there are whole galaxies of possibilities to explore to try to find out the answers. Many are out there now in various books, for all of us to find and delight in, to make us wonder.

To encourage us to play, “What if?”


Brief Bio

My name is Stephanie Barr and I write books, fantasy and science fiction and combinations thereof. A lot of them. I’m also a rocket scientist, raising my two autistic children as a single mother, and herd a bunch of cats. I have three blogs, which are sporadically updated: Rocket Scientist, Rockets and Dragons, and The Unlikely Otaku. Anything else even vaguely interesting about me can be found in my writing since I put a little bit of myself in everything I write.