All posts by Rob Howell

Interview: RJ Ladon

I’m way behind in doing interviews. Blame it on #FourHorsetober and the dozens I did during the month.

But it’s time to get back on the horse. This week, R.J. Ladon is joining me. She, too, is part of the 4HU, but I couldn’t squeeze her interview in during the month. My apologies to her for the delay.

Interview: RJ Ladon

What is your quest?

To cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring! When I was young (8-9ish) Gary Gygax purchased our family Arabian horse ranch. He gave my siblings and I, “Dungeons and Dragons” books and modules. He even played a short game with us noobs so we could understand what D&D was all about. I learned from him that some of the most interesting and entertaining stories, creatures, and environments come from your mind. Years later, I learned who that Gygax fellow was, and how important he was to my journey, er quest.

What is your favorite color?

Yellow, no blue. You know the adage “write what you know”? Well, I had to sacrifice many children to my Nerf Guns to make the “foam dart scene” come to life. I try to learn the “how” of the things I write about. The hands-on experiences of the SCA and Rendezvous groups have been excellent. Write what you know–if you don’t know–go learn, go experience. (Rob’s Note: I really appreciate how my SCA experience helps me add touches to my writing, especially with medieval materials and food).

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

Would that paint brush be male or female? Where do I start. My biggest challenge was, and to some extent still is–finding time. The only way for me to get over this copout was to schedule time into my busy day. In effect treat writing like a job–you have to do this or you won’t get paid.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’ve been told my scenes are easy to read and understand. Like watching a movie inside my brain. Not sure that is a success or not but it makes me happy.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet?   Sweetums
  • Crunchy or Creamy? sure
  • Favorite Sports Team? I don’t have time for sports.
  • Cake or Pie? Cake
  • Lime or Lemon?  Why not both
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Hot salsa
  • Wet or Dry?  TMI
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Ofhttps://www.tartanic.net/ Drums, Bagpipes and Belly Dancers – what else do you need?
  • Whisky or Whiskey?  Not without Tango and Foxtrot
  • Favorite Superhero? The Tick
  • Steak Temperature? How about some chicken?
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Fantasy Island – no M*A*S*H
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Yes please. All seasons have their merits.
  • Favorite Pet?  Too many to choose from–someone would get jealous.
  • Best Game Ever? Blood of Heroes!!!! (Rob’s Note: Somewhere, my friend Pavel is smiling at this response. Then he’s punching an angel and saying, “The level of violence in this heaven is too low).
  • Coffee or Tea? Tea
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy?  Wait…is there a difference?

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

I understand you are a wealth of knowledge of the Myth and Culture of Renaissance and Medieval time periods. Where did you learn this information? School? Books? Other? Please explain.

Rob’s Answer: Yes to all of it. I loved Bullfinch’s Mythology as a kid and prowled through every Arthur thing I could find. At around 10 I read Tolkien, then stumbled on Susan Cooper’s The Tide Is Rising series. Somewhere along the way I realized that reading Beowulf and epic poetry out loud was magical and amazing.

So when I had the choice of what to study in grad school, I chose Anglo-Saxon England. Not only was wallowing in Beowulf, the Wanderer, Anglo-Saxon riddles, and all the rest fun, but there’s good solid historical evidence hidden in them. That meant reading more and more myth and legend to find small nuggets of cultural gold. I still do that.

And yes, that helps me build worlds, both because it gives me extra tools and because it’s so much fun. Shijuren is a deep, rich world that I’ve barely started to show to all my readers.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

And where can we find you?

  • Liberty Con 2019– May 31st to June 2nd at the Read House in Chattanooga Tennessee.

Do you have a creator biography?

My name is RJ Ladon. I’m a Design Engineer by trade. I’m also an author. I have contributed one Military Science Fiction story to the best-selling Science Fiction Anthology ‘Tales from the Lyons Den: Stories from the Four Horsemen Universe’, and two horror stories to ‘Sha’Daa Toys’. Currently, I’m writing ‘Bloodstone’ a Young Adult Urban Fantasy novel. ‘Bloodstone’ will be the first in a series, and released in early 2019.

I’m a native of Wisconsin, where I still live today, with my husband, daughter, two adult sons, and a menagerie of animals. I also maintain a vast garden, and a fruit and nut orchard.


Thanks to RJ for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Analog (August, 1962)

Greetings all

I decided I wanted to spend time with the family last week instead of reviewing a magazine. I suspect I’ll do that again around Christmas as I had a great Thanksgiving.

Anyway, this week’s magazine review is the Analog of August, 1962. It promises to be an excellent issue with a cover story by   , plus other works by James Schmitz, Mack Reynolds, and one of my favorite authors, Randall Garrett. It also has a hilarious ad on the inside cover.

Analog (August, 1962)
Analog (August, 1962)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56739

The hilarious ad inside the front cover is for the Remington Rand Microfilm Camera. It talks about how its unfair to SF, because it doesn’t have have enough knobs, doesn’t hum, has no green light, nor does it have an oscilloscope. Plus it weighs in at a svelte 155 pounds.

The issue begins with an essay by John W. Campbell called How to Get More Than Your Share. It’s a quick discussion of basic economics and how they apply to us all.

The first story in the issue is Christopher Anvil’s The Toughest Opponent. This is an excellent story pitting a solver of problems against a tough test. He is on a planet where the natives can eat virtually anything, meaning they really can’t run out of food. Their population explodes, but they never need to organize past the individual. As individuals, the natives are intelligent. However, he has to face them as an amorphous mob.

What I loved about this story was the solution. He found a native insect that terrified the natives during the day, but which was quiescent at night when the natives hunted them. He could, and did, use the insects as a defense to protect various enclaves around the planet. This worked, but left the situation back where they started.

So he set up these insects in defensive positions that required two or more natives to defeat. Eventually, this forced the natives to start working together, which then began the creation of tribes and larger units.

Someone mentioned that this was their toughest opponent yet, but the hero looks in the mirror and says, that’s our toughest opponent. We forget to think, and that lack of thinking is the root of all our problems. There’s a lot to that.

There was another striking quote. “The trouble with life, Towers, is  that it presents an endless selection of choices between undesirable alternatives. For instance, if a man wishes to act sensibly, he should first understand the situation thoroughly. But, if he waits till he understand the situation thoroughly, the opportunity for action passes (p 12.)” I love that truism.

Next up is Randall Garrett’s The Bramble Bush. It didn’t disappoint. It’s a fission/fusion adaptation of There Was a Man in Our Town nursery rhyme.

Our main character is a nuke plant technician in a plant on the Moon. He wakes up to find that two of his co-workers are unconscious and one of their reactors is having real problems. The only other co-worker around is ineffectual and panics easily. So, he goes in to do what needs to be done.

He saves the unconscious guys and slows the reactor, but does not solve the problem. However, in the process, he forgets the chemistry of the situation and his protective suit gets covered in radioactive mercury. He needs to be able to get out of the suit in order to go back to the control center to put an end to the problem, however, a shower won’t remove the mercury from his suit, and he can only reach a small fraction of the mercury to scrub it off. If he takes the suit off, he’ll die, and if he doesn’t, the reactor will blow.

But Mercury-203 mixed with Helium-4 in a fusion reactor fuses to Lead-207, which is a stable element. So his solution is to go back into the reactor and wait until the process is completed, even though it becomes a bit uncomfortable at 350 or so Celsius. Then he simply leaves the reactor, takes off the heavy, but non-radioactive suit and goes into the control panel to set everything back to normal.

One of Garrett’s greatest skills is ending short stories, and this is a great example. During the process of solving the problem, the hero ruefully laughs that he’s a knight in shining armor. When the rescue crew arrives to find him dozing, our hero mutters, “I am a knight in dull armor” (p. 67), which is humorous enough, but then Garrett adds this brilliant bit: “Hi yo, Quicksilver, away” (p. 67).

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but if you can get your hands on The Best of Randall Garrett, do it. It’s some of the best short story writing you will ever find.

Next we get to Watch the Sky by James H. Schmitz. In this story, our protagonist and other plotters arrange a hoax to further their careers. Humans have been in a war with the Geest for decades and hundreds of millions on each side have perished.

The hoax is the duplication of a Geest weapon war relic owned by the protagonist’s great grand-uncle and the subsequent “discovery” of that duplicate on his planet. It’s a backwater planet that at one point had another intelligent species on it, but is now on the other side of human space from the existing front of the war. The problem is that the duplication machine does not have access to certain Geest materials so a molecular scan proves it must be a forgery.

That puts the plotters in a bad place. This is, essentially, treason during a war, and as such is a capital crime. That isn’t all, however, as the main character discovers that the only place his ancestor could have found the weapon was on this planet, so his hoax is not actually a hoax. Worse, there’s evidence that this planet will become the focus of a new attack by the Geest.

Can’t prove it though, and they have no credibility because of their actual hoax attempt. However, in the conclusion, the government hears their theories, agrees with them, and then sets a trap. In the end, the plotters all become heroes and the Geest are slaughtered when they attack.

I’m telling this story abruptly in this blog post, but that abruptness mirrors the story. I like this story, but I would have liked it a lot more with some subtle hints of what was coming.

When I write my mysteries, once I figure out the bad guy and the ending, I always make sure there’s a subtle line of bread crumbs that, when the book is read again, make sure the reader knows the evidence was there all along and that the reader had a chance to figure it out.

I’m reading some Nero Wolfe stories and while I am enjoying them, we are not always presented with all the information we need to solve the story. That’s the case here. I would have liked more hints at the provenance of the MacGuffin.

Also, the transition from bad guy to good guy at the conclusion was too fast. All of the twists happen in only two pages and the plotters need to be hammered a bit before getting their reprieve in my opinion.

It’s still a good story, though, and I wonder if Jack McDevitt has read it. It reminds me a bit of his A Talent for War, which is a fantastic book.

Next we come up to a pictorial essay about building the Cambridge MIT particle accelerator called The Big Job of Moving Little Things by John W. Campbell. It also discusses its capabilities and goals.

That is followed by another science fact essay on The Color of Space, also by Campbell. Here, he discusses some of the particulars in taking pictures of space.

We get to another story, this one by Mack Reynolds called Border, Breed nor Birth. This is part 2 of 2, so we miss much of the story. What I did read was reasonably well-constructed, but this is one of the worst stories I’ve read since starting this exercise. If I run across part 1, my opinion might change, but I don’t think so. The lack of the first half is not the problem with it, it’s the conclusion.

The story is basically of a Westerner claiming the name al-Hassan who creates a new country in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s more of a thriller than SF, as the SF aspects only appear in terms of a few technological items. It could be a good story, especially given the context Reynolds wrote in. The world powers are all jostling for their best outcome. There’s spying, assassination attempts, and a guerilla war, so there are building blocks to make a good story.

But the story’s conclusion is awful. One character says, “You know, Isobel, in history there is no happy ending ever. There is no ending at all. It goes from one crisis to another, but there is no ending” (p. 156). This is absolutely true of history. In this case, the story ends with the al-Hassan learning there’s a new challenge to face, a new warleader arrayed against him. Yeah, sure, that’s historically the way things often happen, but I want the story to have some sort of conclusion.

This doesn’t have one. At all. It literally spends more time on the grammar of Esperanto than on having a conclusion. It is simply pages and pages of rambling events whose final words are “…there is no ending.” Really? That’s it? My reaction when I got to it was unprintable as it frustrated me immensely.

Next is P. Schuyler Miller’s review section. Included was a fun review of Schmitz’s first Trigger Argee novel, A Tale of Two Clocks. He also reviews Poul Anderson’s After Doomsday and Philip Jose Farmer’s The Alley God, which is actually on my “to be read” list.

All in all, this was a fun issue. Two very good stories and another solid one well outweigh the clunker. Plus, you have plenty of contribution from Campbell, who I wish I could have argued with over beers for hours on end.

Oddly, the issue I randomly grabbed has a direct tie in to this issue. It’s the Galaxy of December, 1961, and its cover story is The Day After Doomsday by Poul Anderson. Should be fun.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58679


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Rob’s Update:

Week 46 of 2018

Greetings all

We’re coming up on Thanksgving and I want to start by thanking all of you. I can’t do this job without you guys reading my stuff, giving me reviews, and talking me up.

And since this is the season of giving, I’ll be sending out some prezzies. I’ll do a drawing and send out gifts to the lucky winners. I’ll randomly choose 5 of those who are on my mailing list or who are regular readers of my blog. If you’re a regular reader and not on the mailing list, I suggest you add a comment and I’ll put you into the pool. Or, you could just subscribe to the mailing list. In any case, I’ll do the drawing in a couple of weeks, so that I can make sure to get your prezzie to you by Christmas.

Thanks to all of you. I really appreciate you.

Back to the news. I missed last week’s update. Sorry. It’s that time of the year that I routinely do a bunch of house improvements. I host an SCA party every year in early December and like to clear up a bunch of things to make the house ready. Also, this Christmas, my sweetie and I are hosting her family along with my mom.

Gotta make sure the house is acceptable for *both* moms. That’s only mildly terrifying.

As for writing, I’ve been going through a tough patch. It happens, sometimes, and all I’ve found to do is throw bad words at the page. I’ve also had a couple of really nice things happen on the professional front of late. They’re small, but it’s often the little things that make my brain weasels nag at me, so it’s nice to see that small things can pacify them sometimes.

As I said, I’ve written some awful words recently, but the short story that I recently submitted is a notable exception. It should be released 1Q of 2019 and I’m excited. It’s one of those stories where the muse just told me what to write. It doesn’t happen often, but in this case it leapt out at me.

I shelved The Feeding of Sorrows for a couple of weeks to work on None Call Me Mother. I made some progress but am turning back to Sorrows this week. I just needed a break and some ideas are coming back to me.

And with that, it’s time for me to go throw those ideas onto a page.

Current Playlist Song

They’ve set the Pandora Station at Brewbaker’s to disco and right now they’re playing the Spinners I’ll Be Around. Good song, but a little creepy when you read the lyrics.

Quote of the Week

I’m saddened to hear of the passing of William Goldman today. This has been a horrible week of celebrity deaths, as he joins Roy Clark and Stan Lee.

Because I enjoy black humor, I’ll choose my quote from The Princess Bride.

Miracle Max: Whoo-hoo-hoo, look who knows so much. It just so happens that your friend here is only MOSTLY dead. There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead. Mostly dead is slightly alive. With all dead, well, with all dead there’s usually only one thing you can do.

Inigo Montoya: What’s that?

Miracle Max: Go through his clothes and look for loose change.”
The Princess Bride

Thanks to all three of you for brightening my life. Your stuff gave us a bunch of ‘loose change’ to treasure forever.

News and Works in Progress

  • None Call Me Mother (approx. 15,000)
  • The Feeding of Sorrows (approx. 25,000)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (2,556)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

The interviews listed above conclude #FourHorsetober. It was a lot of fun to do, and included 24 authors delivering over 33 thousand words about their careers, interests, and writing techniques. Many thanks to all of htem.

Today’s Weight: 381.4

Updated Word Count: 237,958

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 479 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works

If you think you received this email incorrectly or wish to be unsubscribed, please send an email to shijuren-owner@robhowell.org

Mag Review: Fantastic Universe (December, 1957)

Greetings all

This week, we’ll look at the Fantastic Universe from December, 1957 edited by Hans Stefan Santesson. He also edited a couple of anthologies I’ll need to read that focus on characters such as Conan, Thongor, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and Elric of Melnibone.

Fantastic Universe (December 1957)
Fantastic Universe (December 1957)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?91011

The issue starts with a humorous thing on the first page. It’s an add asking “Are you giving your wife the companionship she craves?” I didn’t realize Cialis and Viagra ads were that old.

The first story is Bear Trap by Alan E. Nourse. Like so many authors of the Golden Age, he’s an interesting guy. He wrote SF to pay for medical school.

A side note, the movie Blade Runner got its title form his story The Bladerunner, though nothing of the story in the movie comes from the book.

Bear Trap is a pretty good story with a number of worrisome thoughts. The main character is a propagandist tasked with helping control American society. He has to frame words to get the emotional impact his bosses desire.

And what they desire is to create a war. The people behind it, though, are not what they seem. In a fun twist, the people behind the system are creating a war not to make a profit, but to push humanity to create offworld habitats. The mastermind’s analogy is that humanity is caught in a bear trap. We are trapped on Earth and will die if we don’t escape it, but to escape it we have to gnaw off our own leg, so to speak.

Again, a good story, though not a great one. The last bit drags because the mastermind has to explain why he has done all of the bad things he’s done to get out of the trap. That exposition eliminates the tension at the end.

Then there’s a small essay about the “Coming Conquest of the Moon.” Sad to say, their optimism has proven unfounded.

Next is a robot story called The Love of Frank Nineteen by David C. Knight. Knight did not publish much, and I can see why with this story.

Man, it was disappointing. It had such promise. “Min and I were just getting settled into the spotel game when the leg turned up” (p. 49) That should have been the first sentence, but even as the first line of the third paragraph, that’s got so much power in it. What leg? What are space hotels going to be like? Where is this story going?

It is a great setup for a good hardboiled detective mystery, but it’s not that kind of story. They find out fairly quickly a robot called Frank Nineteen has been smuggling up his one true love part by part. They catch him reassembling and activating her about a third of the way through.

That, too, could have had promise. A tragic romance that can never be or Robot and Juliet. Instead, it then turned into a boring bit about Frank Nineteen becoming the face for robot civil rights, becoming a movie star, and parading around Earth with a different female robot chosen as his co-lead.

Even then, the story could have been salvaged, and almost was. His love sees the coverage of him and the leading lady gallivanting around. She tries to commit suicide, which would have been a heartwrenching story when Frank finally returns to her. But, no, they manage to save her and they go off happily ever after.

Sigh. Once again, a potential story ruined by some supposed need for a happy ending. Bleah. It’s close, really close, to being very good, but it’s almost like every time Knight had a choice, he choose the boring option.

After that is My Father the Cat by Henry Slesar. In German, it’s Mein Vater, der Kater. I accept that I’m just an immature little boy, but that makes me chuckle. Slesar is another interesting guy. He might very well have coined the term “coffee break.” Starbucks should pay him royalties, if true.

This is a great story. All of the potential the Knight ignored, Slesar pursued. The main character is, in fact, the son of a Breton noblewoman and big, intelligent Angora. The cat is a lover of art, and literature, and good food, and all such things. He educated his son in these things, and the son comes to America to excel at a university on this side.

Over here, he finds the woman of his dreams and he brings her back to Brittany to get married. However, he has not told her of his, shall we say, different parentage. He is determined to tell her once back at home, but his father tells him he would lose her if he does. He refuses to believe that and tries to force the issue.

The father stops it by breaking his son’s heart. He comes to dinner and meows. The butler gives him a saucer of milk in the corner, and he acts like a normal cat. The scene is powerful and excellent.

C.M. Kornbluth is next with Requiem for a Scientist. Yet another side note, “requiem” was my first bingo in tournament Scrabble.

But this is a fascinating rip on Ivan Sanderson, who follows next with Comments from a Scientist. Kornbluth has many complimentary things to say about Sanderson, but tears him to shreds for losing his scientific mind and proselytizing about UFOs.

Sanderson’s rebuttal is quite fun, actually. He says that while he’s never met Kornbluth, after reading his critique, says, “I think I will like him too, when we meet. In the meantime, I am genuinely appreciative of his criticisms for it will be a sad when everybody agrees about everything…” (p. 79). Then he proceeds to eviscerate Kornbluth’s argument.

I sure hope they had a chance to argue over pints, for that would have been lots of fun.

Speaking of fun, we come to Zelda Kessler’s limerick Good-by Terra on page 82.

A Martian explorer called Klimp
Found earth, but it left him quite limp.
Tho’ man merely bored him,
The weather here floored him –
So he hurried back home in his blimp.

It’s been snowy and in the 20s here most of the past week. I don’t blame him for heading back to sunny and warm Mars 😉

We get more whimsy with the next story, Inside Stuff by Theodore Pratt. It stars Young Gastric Juice and Old Gastric Juice. Young GJ falls in love with a spritely Celery who has such lovely eyes. Young GJ refuses to push her out of the stomach because of her beauty, despite the fact that Old GJ has seen this story before. The two GJs spend much of the rest of the story dealing with the variety of foods coming through, including a tough old Steak.

Unfortunately, the love story ends when Celery turns her affections to a newcomer, Bonbon. Young GJ, in pain from getting spurned, promises he will never fall in love again until, at the end, he muses that maybe there’ll be celery again tomorrow.

Hilarious, cute story.

Next is another essay called Shapes in the Sky. This one lists a variety of skyquakes in the hopes of determining the reality of UFOs. It’s written by CSI, the Civilian Saucer Intelligence. Now I want a mash-up of Project UFO and CSI. Gil Grissom should be in charge of Project Blue Book!

The story Moment of Truth by Basil Wells follows. This is a disappointing story about a woman who has emigrated to Mars but has at some point lost connection with reality. Her husband tries to save her by showing her the Mars desert, but she merely incorporates it into his vision.

It’s disappointing because nothing really happens. If literature needs to show some change in characters, then this does not qualify. The main character lives in a dream. Her husband tries to bring her out of the dream, but she remains where she was. What’s the point?

Unfortunately, the next story suffers from the same problem, only even worse. It’s called Resurrection by Robert J. Shea. Shea is interesting because he co-wrote the Illuminatus trilogy, which became the inspiration for Steve Jackson’s Illuminati game.

This story is incredibly good. It’s about the ability of new science to restore life to any human being if there are any cells left. A woman asks to hear the whole story of one of these resurrected people. It’s a great conversation, and is the start of a fantastic story.

But it’s less than two full pages. There’s no result. There’s no action.  You don’t even get to finish the initial conversation. Gah! This could be a great series of novels, not a few hundred words. Less than this review. It’s a damn shame.

Gah! It happens again, exactly the same thing, in Forgotten Ones by Stephen Bond (really, Hans Stefan Santesson under a pen name). It’s a robot artist staring at a statue of humans amazed that they might in any way be involved with the creation of the First Ones. But it is, again, less than two full pages.

It’s a fantastic introduction or ever just raw world-building for an interesting robot universe as they struggle with religion, creation, and all such things. Asimov would have done amazing things with it.

Sadly, you can basically see the entire story on the front cover. No real need for those few hundred words.

L. Sprague de Camp is next with an essay about Ignatius Donnelly Pseudomath. This essay is de Camp pointing out just how wrong  Donnelly, (Wikipedia entry here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignatius_L._Donnelly) was about Atlantis, how Francis Bacon was Shakespeare, and other ideas.

Donnelly is another fascinating character, though. He wrote SF in the 1800s. He was a fairly successful politician and a leader in the Populist Party. The things you learn reading these magazines is amazing.

The last story is Kenneth Bulmer’s By the Beard of the Comet. It’s another potentially fun story that lacks fleshing out. It’s about a man frustrated by an evil boss and a nagging wife. He goes to the local VR theater, which interprets his thoughts and gives him the VR experience his mood wants. So the VR makes him a pirate on the spaceways, fighting and defeating his boss. He has jewels, wealth, skill with the rapier, and many other defeated enemies.

But his wife tracks him down and inserts herself into his VR. She does it as much as anything to continue yelling at him. In the end, though, he comes out filled with the confidence installed as a pirate captain, and he vows to take his boss’s place.

The transition happens too swiftly, though. There’s not enough of him fighting through his inner demons. Nor is the twist at the end anything terribly surprising.

As you can tell, this issue frustrated me. The prose is all well-constructed. There’s a good kernel to every story but they’re just not executed well enough. Sigh.

Anyway, next week I’ll be reading the Analog of August, 1957. I’m really excited about this one because it’s the first one I’ve run across with something by Randall Garrett.

Next Week’s Issue: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?56739


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Mag Review: Imagination (October, 1950)

Greetings all

After a tumultuous October, it’s time to get back into the normal groove.

This week I’ll review Imagination, Vol. 1, No. 1 from October, 1950. Yes, that’s right, it’s the first issue of this magazine. I’m actually curious how it might differ from a regular issue, so let’s dive into it.

Imagination (October, 1950)
Imagination (October, 1950)

Table of Contents: http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?58906

Inside the front and back covers is a neat blurb and pictures about the new “scientifilm” Rocketship X-M. It’s a very 1950s sort of film, especially in how it looks at Mars, but it looks interesting.

We start reading with a rather large Editor’s column with one part by Forrest J. Ackerman and the rest by the regular editor, Raymond A. Palmer.

Most of you probably recognize Ackerman, but maybe not Palmer. However, Palmer was a foundational piece of SF magazines. He helped start one of the first fanzines and as editor for Amazing Stories bought Isaac Asimov’s first professional story. Imagination was his baby, for all intents and purposes.

In general, the editorial promises what Imagination would be. It is not terribly remarkable as it states that it will provide a freshtake on the SF magazine. However, based on what I see in the editorial and his biography, I think Palmer would have loved to be at the 20Booksto50K conference this week. He seemed to really enjoy bringing in new authors.

The first story in the issue is Chester S. Geier’s The Soul Stealers. It’s a workmanlike story, in my opinion. It suffers, I think, from a little too much plotting, in that I struggle at some of the transitions. A certain thing has to happen, so it happens, but I was not convinced by the events in the story that the thing was going to happen. It’s got action and mystery, but it didn’t quite mesh for me. It’s technically good, but left me wanting a harder fight for the protagonist.

Immediately after is a small space-filler that discusses the amazing impact of trucking and heavy earth-movers on American society. This is the most striking line: “All this is a harbinger of the future. Instead of concentration in cities as has been happening all over the world for the last few centuries, it is possible for a civilization to spread itself out all over the country and still produce as effectively as if it were in one spot” (p. 39). This is coming to pass, but Palmer could have had little idea of the internet. Still, it’s a prescient thought.

The next story is Wind in Her Hair by Kris Neville. I confess that when I see the name Neville I *always* think first about a shield bearing the device gules, a saltire argent, with 50 troops attached from the game Kingmaker. Sorry, not sorry.

Anyway, this Neville is a Missourian I have not ever heard of before. The reason why is SF was too limiting for him and after publishing a number of stories, he went to do other things that interested him. Namely, epoxy resins.

After reading this, I really wish he hadn’t shifted to epoxy resins. Wind in Her Hair is one of those “what happens on generational ships” kind of stories. How will our society evolve, and that sort of thing. This is a great example of the subgenre, because, in the end, it’s not really human society that’s evolved, but our physiology.

A screwed up environmental system meant the people on that ship now cannot breathe Earth air or live on Earth at all. The only way they find out is by actually returning to Earth. They’re excited about coming home, dreaming dreams of a future outside the ship, only to have their dreams crushed. Fantastic story.

Rog Phillips is next with One for the Robot – Two for the Same … Phillips, actually Roger Phillips Graham, is vaguely familiar to me, but I cannot recall reading anything by him. I’ll look for him in the future, though. His writing career is a tad tragic, and it’s a shame, because he looks to be a very good writer.

This story is about a scientist who tries to figure out how to transfer a human’s brain to a new, robotic body to make himself immortal. He figures out the secret, but in so doing he discovers something that essentially destroys him. He loses his reputation and becomes an alcoholic.

Another scientist replicates his work and tracks him down. He wants to know what it is that the main character discovered that destroyed him. He wants to try it himself, but doesn’t want to make the same mistake.

The main character’s first name is January. It’s a cool hint at the answer. The procedure doesn’t transfer the brain, it copies it. There is now a second one of himself, one facing back to what he has done, and the other facing to an immortal, robotic future. I’m not sure what I’d do in that situation, either. Very good story that kept me wondering until the end. It is only afterwards I really understood his first name.

Next is a couple of short essays. One discusses how brains work much the same as a TV or telephone does. The second essay talks about the brand new instrument, the encephalograph, and how it can help us understand sanity and why people murder other people. I wonder what we think of as cutting edge will seem so quaint to people in 2090.

We move on to the next story, Look to the Stars, by Willard Hawkins. Hawkins is another author I can’t remember having read before.

I’m a sucker for anyone who writes a mythology to start the story from whence that mythology derives. I like piecing the clues together, and this has all of that.

A crazy scientist creates a spaceship. Eight others come to him, not really by choice. By seeming accident, they get on the ship and it activates, sending them to the stars. But the ship has been encased in a special form of clay that holds anything with a spark of like in stasis, and takes them, along with all of the creatures and plants it has captured to a far distant world. These then repopulate the planet. The mythology is that of the eight’s descendants.

Part of the fun is the fact that seven of the eight are criminals and awful people. But the last line is, “All were gods, stupendous beings of high courage and noble aims…” (p. 149). It’s a good story. It drags a bit, and could have been smoothed, but it is still a fun read.

The last story is Inheritance by Edward W. Ludwig. This is actually his first published story of 25 or so.  It’s a solid story and creepy. A dog and her puppy run down into a cave and gets lost and her master chases them into the tunnel. They get lost for several days. During that time a chemical attacks kills everyone else on earth, but never reaches them.

He is initially terrified of being the only person left alive and contemplates suicide, but decides to have a last meal. He enjoys the best steak he can find, cigars he could never have afforded, and good scotch. He decides to enjoy these good things for a bit. Then he remembers there’s so much left to see on earth, and he decides to go visit them. There may not be people, but he’s got his dog and her puppy and he loves them more than people anyway.

After this story is a personal ad section. These include:

  • Have you seen flying disks or believes invisible beings walk the earth?
  • Selling a collection of SF/F books 3 for $1.
  • The Universal Musketeers , an unofficial fanclub around Newport News, VA, is looking for new members.
  • An F.J. Ackerman at 236 1/2 N. New Hampshire in Hollywood seeks certain magazines and books

Last is the letters to the editor page. First off is one by Chet Geier, yes the first author in this issue, thanking Palmer for the opportunities he has given him. There’s also a similar letter by Rog Phillips. My favorite letter is the one announcing all the things happening at Norwescon 1950. I wonder when this issue of Imagination was actually released, because Norwescon was actually on Labor Day, 1950 and this was the October, 1950 issue.

Anyway, though I didn’t really know any of authors coming into this issue, I really liked it. There’s no earth-shatteringly amazing story in here, but they’re all at least solid. Altogether, it’s an auspicious beginning and I look forward to future issues.

Next Week’s Issue: Fantastic Universe (December, 1957)


If you have any comments or would like to request I keep my eyes open for a specific issue or month, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: rob@robhowell.org.

If you want to see previous reviews, the Mag Review category is here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=432.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: J.R. Handley

Chances are, if you like military science fiction, you might have run into J.R. Handley on Facebook. He has science fiction podcast and serves as an admin on the Galaxy’s Edge fansite.  He’s a hard worker who adds a ton to the MilSF community. And, oh yeah, he’s a good writer as well.

Interview: J.R. Handley

What is your quest?

I strive to tell compelling science fiction stories that are fun escapism from the drudgeries of the modern world. I love space opera and military science fiction, which are the two spaces where I excise my demons and weave them into the tapestry of my futuristic universe. I let my real-world experiences from serving 8.5 years in the Army, with two tours in Iraq, flavor the action and the soldiers I write about. Hopefully I succeed in creating warriors worthy of the genre that I love to read.

Growing up I devoured science fiction from Orson Scott Card and the plethora of books written in the Star Wars Universe. I read those books clear up through the end of high school, only taking a break from reading for fun when I was in college and then in Iraq. When I rediscovered reading, I found authors like Chris Kennedy (The Theogony Universe), Tim C. Taylor (Human Legion Series), Terry Mixon (Empire of Bones Series), Richard Fox (The Ember War Series) and the deadly duo of Anspach and Cole (The Galaxy’s Edge Series). All of those styles effect the story teller I’ve become, which I hope to bring to the Four Horsemen Universe I enjoy reading.

What is your favorite color?

My favorite color? I’m color blind so I don’t really have a favorite. I only see the basic primary colors, but I guess I like blue and green. Okay, my former fire team would skewer me alive if I didn’t say Infantry Blue!

As for what I like in my creations, I strive to balance the details that make the story come alive with the fast pace expected from the genres where I play. I don’t want to tell the readers about the far-flung battlefields, I want them to BE there with my characters. I would love for them to be able to envision the story, like a movie playing in their heads. One of the biggest tricks I use for my battlefields, since you’re looking for advice for other creators… I make a sand table of the space where the action happens. It lets me see the battlefield in 3D and plot realistic strategies for the situation at hand. Plus, it’s fun playing with Legos and calling it “work.” Unless my wife is reading this, then it is TOTALLY work!

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

An unladen paint brush flies at the speed of sound, divided by pie and multiplied by the weight of a porcupine on Mars. Oh, and make sure you don’t mix in the metric system or you’ll create a space-time singularity that will destroy the fabric of the universe!

Now, on a more serious note… I swear I can be serious! My biggest challenges revolve around overcoming the traumatic brain injury I suffered in Iraq. Sometimes I get my words mixed up, and my minions have to go back and help me figure out what I really meant. Most of the time it’s pretty easy sometimes involves rewriting entire sections because the gibberish was indecipherable. I can get confused very easily and have a finite number of cognitively viable hours in the day, which cuts into my writing time. Overall, I do it all again and still enjoy telling the stories even if I’m slower than molasses. It just means I have to get creative as I fight through the Amazon churn model that is in vogue.

The hardest part to answer here was regarding some of my failures. Even when I have stories rejected by anthologies, I don’t consider them failures. I write as therapy, as a way to process what happened overseas. I also write to keep exercising my gray matter so I can fend off the inevitable dementia that is often associated with dramatic brain injuries. Every day I write something, I call it a win. Most recent failure, or rejection, was from the previous 4HU anthology. I got so distracted by the shiny idea, that I lost sight of the universe canon and the story was rejected. Again, this wasn’t a failure because I can pull out anything that is proprietary to the universe and still salvage the story. Failure is only a thing if you don’t learn from it, or you have a warped view on things. I try to take everything in stride, avoid dwelling on the negative, and appreciate that I’ve got another day above the dirt. Losing so many friends definitely alters your perspective, and I try to honor their sacrifice by not giving up.

Since we focused on the negative, well on failure anyway, I want to take a second to talk about the good things. I truly feel that the story and the upcoming anthology is one of the best I’ve ever written. I’ve read all of the previous anthologies, and many of the main storyline books, and wanted to bring something a little different to the universe. I tried to honor the warrior, by remembering why they fight with this submission. I really hope that comes across and would love for your feedback once you’ve read it!

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

The Holy Hand Grenade is all knowing, it comforts us when we are hurting and smites our foes with impunity! Who doesn’t worship the Holy Hand Grenade? Point me at the blasphemous soul and we will smite them together!

It sounds like what you’re really asking for are my tricks of the trade, and the biggest one I use I’ve previously mentioned. I rely heavily on sand tables to block out my action scenes, and I feel like that’s where I do my best work. I can’t really pinpoint one specific success that I’m proud of, other than to say that my latest work is always my favorite and I hope that I’m growing at every step along the way. The two stories I’m most proud of are the one in the upcoming 4HU anthology titled “CASPers Widow” and one written in my Sleeping Legion Series titled “No Marine Left Behind.” I feel like they are some of my best published work, and I hope the readers agree.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Kermit the Frog
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Coffee
  • Favorite Sports Team? Yay sports ball!!  Wait, I don’t have one… I prefer watching the USA Rugby Team or just reading a good book.
  • Cake or Pie? Coffee
  • Lime or Lemon? Coffee
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  French Dip with those ridged chips
  • Wet or Dry? Wet… cause COFFEE
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard OfJoey and Rory, Dropkick Murphy’s or maybe Dar Williams? I’d guess that these are pretty main stream though.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Whichever one fills my glass the quickest!
  • Favorite Superhero? GI Joe or Captain America!
  • Steak Temperature? On my plate!
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Wait, did they have to be back then? Let me run to my local museum and get the historians to answer that one for me!
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Yes, as long as no deserts are involved. I’ve had my fill of deserts! For more serious answer though, I prefer spring or fall because the weather is in the Goldilocks zone.
  • Favorite PetOur benevolent leader, Lord Cthulhu.
  • Best Game Ever? Chess, though DnD is pretty fun as well. But that might just be because I haven’t played the 4HU game that is coming out soon!!
  • Coffee or Tea? Hot coffee or sweet iced tea, the ying to my yang! Clearly the secrets of an awesome life
  • Sci-Fi or FantasyD, All of the Above!

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

Well, I can tell you that the secret of the universe is 42, but you didn’t ask me that!  Or that everyone knows the Devil invented pineapple pizzas, but you didn’t ask that either! Oh, and we can all agree in the heathen blasphemous nature of unsweetened iced tea!!  What about the proper temperature one should drink beer?  I swear it should be properly chilled, but heathen Brits like Tim C. Taylor drink it warm.

Rob’s Answer: You are correct. Beer must be *properly* chilled. That temperature is different for various types of beers. Lagers, especially light lagers, are best really cold. Real Ales, especially cask-pulled ales, are usually better at about 55 degrees. If they’re too cold, you lose much of the flavor.

Stouts like Guinness are perfect examples of this. Cold Guinness is rather bland. Let it warm to about 50, and suddenly it’s rich and vibrant. So, yes. Chill your beer properly.

And one last thing. If you like beer and you go across the pond, look up CAMRA to help you find some absolute treasures. I’m sure Tim C. Taylor would agree.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

You can find my books on Amazon or hear my insanity over at the Sci-Fi Shenanigans Podcast. My website is an option too, I post a lot of book reviews there! Finally, we can chat on Facebook!

And where can we find you?

I’ll be attending the 20 Books to 50K author conference in Vegas in the first week in November 2018! Not sure about any other scheduled dates, since my life is so crazy at the moment. If any event comes up, I’ll be sure to post it on my website.

Do you have a creator biography?

J.R. Handley is a pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team. He is a veteran infantry sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division and the 28th Infantry Division. She is the kind of crazy that interprets his insanity into cogent English. He writes the sci-fi while she proofreads it.  The sergeant is a two-time combat veteran of the late unpleasantness in Mesopotamia where he was wounded, likely doing something stupid. He started writing military science fiction as part of a therapy program suggested by his doctor and hopes to entertain you while he attempts to excise his demons through these creative endeavors. In addition to being just another dysfunctional veteran, he is a stay at home wife, avid reader and all-around nerd.  Luckily for him, his Queen joins him in his fandom nerdalitry.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

Clearly, you need to ask the Religion Question; Star Wars, Star Trek or Firefly!  The right answer is Star Wars, pre-Disney, of course! And then Firefly, though the show was murdered prematurely by the Evil Overlords over at Fox.


Thanks to J.R. for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Tim C. Taylor

Greetings all

This interview is with someone I hope to hang out with in his neck of the woods. It’s been a while since I’ve been across the pond. He’s also got a wicked sense of humor, as you’ll see.

Interview: Tim C. Taylor
Tim C. Taylor
Tim C. Taylor

What is your quest?

My quest is to fill my backpack with many coins of gold and electrum. I shall win magical treasures, attain level 31, poke my doubters in the belly with a 10-foot pole, and sell a million books.

A million seller, eh? True, it’s just a number, but I love to think that long after I’m gone there will be someone to proudly say, “My great grandfather was an author. He was a million seller.” It’s an achievement that won’t need a word of explanation to be amazing a century hence, unlike for example the Nebula award for Best Novella (not that I’d dismiss such an award, but even today you have to explain what a Nebula award is, who SFWA are, possibly what a novella is, and undoubtedly why anyone not an industry insider should care).

And though it’s just a number, the implications are just as important. You don’t get to sell a million books unless you have an audience who loves what you do, and in that special form of love that means you get paid.

And like all good quests, even if I never catch up with my friends who have already finished this one, the journey itself is awesome.

What is your favorite color?

Bilious orc green.

I like to keep a rough working outline of the entire story before I start crafting scenes. I don’t require much detail; I don’t want it. What I will have is an understanding of the key twists and developments. I update the list as I write and discover more about the characters and the story, but I’ll have enough that I’m always sneaking in foreshadowing, clues, and early signs of big shifts to come. That way, when I throw a surprise twist it doesn’t feel contrived because it hasn’t come out of nowhere. That’s the theory, anyway.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

Fast enough to hurt, but not to kill. Stippling brushes can maim, though. Always wear protection.

Imagine the scene. You’ve a great idea for a novel series. It’s commercial. It’s part of a hot new subgenre, and every author you know is already earning thousands from this subgenre every month. But your idea is better. You have the logo. You’ve crafted the killer tagline. Your coffee is freshly brewed, and you’ve even cleared your desk of all clutter.

It’s time to get your fingers dirty and write.

Two months later, you still have the great idea, except that’s not what you actually wrote. Maybe, in retrospect, you wrote a spin-off or a prequel, but it’s no longer matching that awesome tagline.

I’ve had a few like that. My hard disk is littered with the dismembered corpses of good books – and they would have been good books – but they weren’t the commercial idea I set out with. The bodies will lay slowly festering for decades because I’ve already cut out the juiciest morsels and used them in work that did get published.

These days I’m much better at being my own editor and ask myself ‘how I will sell this book’ all the way through the writing process.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My holy hand grenade has the power of light. Dark, ruddy, dappled, strobing, actinic, artificial and primeval: if I can’t get a vivid sense of how the light works in a scene that I’m about to write, then I know I haven’t imagined it well enough to craft it as viscerally as I would like.

I might skim through a rough outline of the scene and come back to it later, or go somewhere else away from my desk, shut my eyes (not advisable while driving or operating heavy machinery) and imagine harder.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? James Corden.
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy. Especially satisfying if it’s the bones of my enemies.
  •  Favorite Sports Team? Colchester United Football Club.
  •  Cake or Pie? Pie. Obviously.
  •  Lime or Lemon? Both. With plenty of ice.
  •  Favorite Chip Dip?  Thick gravy. Maybe with melted cheese. Oh, you mean crisps. Something with garlic, then.
  • Wet or Dry? Dry and then wet for a smooth finish.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Rick Derringer. Maybe he’s better known by American mercs, but he draws a blank when I mention him to Brits. Favourite slab of Derringer vinyl: Sweet Evil (1977). Here’s the official Sony upload of Drivin’ Sideways on YouTube. Rick gets such a rich tone in the solos, not only from his axe but also the Coke bottle accompaniment. https://youtu.be/Qqp1xW8MmjA.
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Yes. Speyside whisky mostly, though also Islay malts. I do enjoy a Bourbon or Connemara occasionally. One day, I’ll try an English whiskey; they’re just starting to get bottled after a hundred-year break.
  • Favorite Superhero? SLAINE MacRoth  https://youtu.be/2S-yzQONzTM
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Blake’s 7.
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Winter. Strong ales, an open fire in the lounge, and plenty of writing.
  • Favorite Pet? Gandalf the Grey and his late brother, Saruman the White. Here’s a pic of them watching their favorite guinea pig movie series: https://youtu.be/xy2RpVmAQPI
  • Best Game Ever? Best game with clothes on would have to be the Four Horsemen: Omega War Game. Since that’s not available yet, I’ll run with Kevin Zucker’s Napoleonic games with OSG. Pick of the bunch is Bonaparte in Italy (1979).
  • Coffee or Tea? Coffee. Strong. Black.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? When I was a kid, it was an even mix, but for some reason – maybe I overdosed on epic fantasy during adolescence – I spent several decades reading almost exclusively science fiction over fantasy. A few years ago, I became curious about Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files because the novel Skin Game placed below No Award in the Hugo Awards. This means that a majority of voters felt the book was so bad that the opinions of the voters who did like Skin Game were invalid. I had no er… skin in the game, because I’d never read Mr. Butcher, but that curiosity led me to pick up a copy from my library where I used to do most of my writing. Did I like this return to reading fantasy? Did I! Within a year, I’d read all sixteen books in the series. Jim Butcher is a superb writer. In fact, he’s so good that I suspect assistance by demons… or maybe that alien octopus beastie, Nemo, who works for Winged Hussars. I reckon Wroguls make fine fantasy editors.

What question(s) would you like to ask me? 

Here’s what we need to know, Rob. How many times have you thrown a critical hit against innocent passersby on your D20 of Doom? (Or were they so innocent…?)

Rob’s Answer: I would say that, in the context of a show, a critical hit is one where someone buys a book solely because of the D20 of Doom. I get at least one critical a show. It’s important enough for my sales that I bought 2 more that sit on my shelf to replace the original when needed.

I also get at least one fumble where I drop the D20 and it bounces across the aisle. I’m klutzy enough that I bought 2 more that sit on my shelf to replace the original when needed.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

  • You can find out what I’m up to at humanlegion.com where you can join the Legion and download a starter library of eBooks for series written by myself and by fellow horseman scribe, JR Handley.
  • Other than my novelette in Tales of the Lyon’s Den, my latest release is my first ever horror story, which is in the Lovecroftian pulp adventure anthology: Adventures in the Arcane: Cthulhu Edition.
  • And my Amazon page is here: https://www.amazon.com/Tim-C-Taylor/e/B004QBGOZO/

Do you have a creator biography?

Tim C. Taylor lives with his family in an ancient village in England. When he was at an imprintable age, between 1977 and 1978, several mind-altering things happened to him all at once: 2000AD, Star Wars, Blake’s 7, and Dungeons & Dragons. Consequently, he now writes science fiction novels for a living, and has been doing so full time since 2011. For a free eBook starter library, join the Legion at humanlegion.com.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

You should have asked if I think there’s a future for serialized science fiction?

It’s funny you asked me that, Rob. Yes. Yes, I do. In fact, I can even put a name on that future: Chimera Company.

My current project is a weekly serial for fans of classic Star Wars. Each episode will be about the length of a story in one of the 4HU anthologies and I’ll run around seven episodes per series. Why not join the Legion and check out some of the Chimera Company prequels?


Thanks to Tim for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Author of the Shijuren-series of novels

Website: www.robhowell.org
Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/rhodri2112
Blog: www.robhowell.org/blog
Shijuren Wiki: http://www.shijuren.org/World+ of+Shijuren+Home
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Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/robho well.org/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Rhodri2112

Interview: Benjamin Smith

Benjamin is another author I’m looking forward to chatting with at conventions. He’s quite thoughtful, as you’ll see. Also, he said he really liked “Where Enemies Sit,” my story in For a Few Credits More, so clearly he’s a smart man.

Interview: Benjamin Smith
Benjamin Smith
Benjamin Smith

What is your quest?

My favorite stories are the ones that feature cool characters in an awesome setting, fighting against the odds with their fists and their wits. And you can find that in just about any genre, but especially in the realms of fantasy and science fiction. I started off reading Arthurian legends when I was a kid, and playing games like Final Fantasy II (IV in the correct numbering system) and Betrayal at Krondor for the PC. When I learned that Betrayal at Krondor was based off a book series by Raymond Feist, that’s what got me into reading as a full-time hobby. Looking back on it, the world of Midkemia is still my go-to example of what world-building looks like, and it’s what I try to emulate with my own stuff.

So, yeah. Cool characters in an awesome setting. With the Four Horsemen Universe, we’ve already got an awesome setting, so that’s half the work right there. It’s my hope that the characters and situation I came up with in “Return to Sender” are cool enough for the readers to enjoy! And if they do enjoy reading about Jackie and her Justin Timers, then let Chris know! I’ve got some good stuff already in the works.

Writers that I really enjoy include Raymond Feist, Brandon Sanderson, Larry Correia, Robert Jordan, David Eddings, Dan Abnett, and — more recently — Mark Wandrey, Kacey Ezell, Marisa Wolf, Kevin Ikenberry, and the rest of the 4HU crew.

What is your favorite color?

I’d like to think I strike a good balance between action, dialogue, and description in my scenes, even scenes that are sometimes little more than the characters sitting around a table formulating a plan. By mixing a little bit of action and description into a conversation, it keeps readers engaged and makes the scene seem more alive. If all you’ve got is dialogue, it’ll basically just be talking heads in a white space. But, if you put too much description in, you’ll either wind up with paragraphs describing how a chair looks or loads of background information that’ll grind everything to a halt. A lot of writers call this the dreaded exposition dump. I try to describe just enough for the reader to get a sense of where and who, then through action and dialogue fill in the what and why.

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

My biggest failure early on was not pushing the emotional envelope far enough. I’m pretty laid back and reserved in real life, so tapping into extreme emotions (Whether sadness or rage or whatever) can be a little bit of a challenge. I thought it would alienate readers, and yet that’s what readers are wanting. It wasn’t until I read David Farland’s “Million Dollar Outlines” (Gimmicky title, but whatever) that I realized just how important emotional connection was in stories. I’d never really thought about it, but it was what I was most interested in as a reader.

I’ve gotten better about it in my more recent stories, but I think a huge reason why a lot of my earlier stuff went through the submission/rejection mill was because of this weakness.

My advice for anyone dealing with this is: take a risk! If a character needs to fly off the handle or fall to pieces, write it to the max, then dial it back in editing if you need to. When it’s raw, it’s real. And when it’s raw, it can be refined.

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

I’ve always heard that I’ve got a knack for dialogue in my stories, so I try to play to that strength. Rather than focusing on a lone wolf character, stories will usually feature a team of at least three individuals, most likely more. Witty banter between different characters makes scenes a joy to write, and hopefully to read as well!

That said, my rough drafts tend to be dialogue heavy, so any editing is usually spent trimming out unnecessary dialogue and creating a better balance between description and action.

I spend a lot of my pre-writing time coming up with backgrounds and personalities for a story’s main characters. In “Return to Sender” I’ve got fairly extensive backstories figured out for the lead character Jackie Warren, her right-hand man Marcus, and the team sniper Sayra. It’s my hope to flesh the others out as the story progresses, and to add in some new characters. In addition to a dropship pilot, I think Jackie’s team needs a dedicated driver for when they’re on the ground, not to mention a finance guy and logistics expert.

Another thing I try to nail down early on in story planning/writing is the flow of the plot. Larry Brooks writes about the 7-point plot format in his book “Story Engineering,” where he describes 7 key points in a narrative that have to occur to achieve a dynamite plot. He’s not the first to come up with this idea (K.M. Wieland talks about it, as does James Scott Bell, etc), but he was the first one I read where it really made sense to me. And once I started planning out my stories a bit better, more of them started getting accepted.

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Do Rigel and Pilot from Farscape count as muppets?
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Crunchy chips. Creamy soups.
  • Favorite Sports Team? The Midway Monsters from Mutant League.
  • Cake or Pie?  Cake serves as a vehicle by which buttercream icing gets into my body.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lemon on fried catfish. Lime in pie.
  • Favorite Chip Dip? Hot Bacon Cheese Spread. Can’t be beat!
  • Wet or Dry? Both. Dry rubs for home-smoked ribs and pulled pork, then slathered in barbecue sauce once at the table.
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Does Hatsune Miku count? She’s a little on the artificial side, but what singer isn’t these days?
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Bourbon-infused chocolate pecan pie. Oh, and barbecue sauce.
  • Favorite Superhero? All-Might from My Hero Academia.
  • Steak Temperature? Gray enough to know it’s dead, pink enough to be edible.
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Dukes of Hazzard
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall.
  • Favorite Pet?  (provide pictures if you want) Long live the Calico Countess!
  • Best Game Ever? For console RPGs, gotta be Chrono Trigger for the SNES with Final Fantasy VI and Shadowrun as close second and third. For PC RPGs, my favorite is still Betrayal at Krondor by Sierra, followed by Baldur’s Gate and its many clones (Icewind Dale, Planescape, etc).
  • Coffee or Tea? Sweet iced tea, and nothing else.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? If I can only have one, then fantasy. Anything from sword and sorcery like Conan the Barbarian or Record of Lodoss War, to epic fantasy like Wheel of Time or Mistborn, with some urban fantasy like Dresden Files or Monster Hunter International. I like pretty much all of it. With sci-fi, I prefer the action-oriented and character-driven rather than the overly technical, and fantasy elements never hurt. Warhammer 40000, Shadowrun, Star Wars (Before the prequel and sequels). Basically, I like to know how a hyperdrive or ion cannon works, but not if entire chapters are spent dissecting one, unless it’s integral to the plot.

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

1. What’s your pre-writing and writing process for short stories and novels? I’m always refining mine, so any tips would be helpful!

Rob’s Answer: If I have a setting or a theme, I wallow in it for a week or two if I can. I started doing this with different medieval poetic types. I have written a bunch of SCA scroll texts, which I usually write in a poetic style to reflect the recipient’s persona. So, I might get one that would want a Shakespearean sonnet followed by something in Norse drottkvaett and then maybe something Mongol.

Whether or not I was familiar with the genre, wallowing in it helps make the writing process flow. Every genre or culture has word choices and rhythms that are sort of expected. Not having them jars me as a reader, so I believe it’s important to other readers. It would be like going to an Italian place and finding they’d never heard of basil.

What I’m looking for in any short story is a bit of a twist. The ending has to be at least a little unexpected. The writer who did the best in my opinion was Randall Garrett. Once I have the twist, and the feel, it’s merely a process of putting words into that particular hole.

Novels are trickier. I usually start by creating a few interesting characters and a situation they have to deal with. I’m not good at outlining, but part of character creation is my expected end result for those characters. I don’t lock myself into those endings, because sometimes the story demands otherwise. I had a character in I Am a Wondrous Thing that I designed to be a longer term character but, uh, well, uh, I could never figure out a way not to kill them.

2. Mind giving us a tag line for your story in the “Luck is Not a Factor” anthology coming out next month? I really enjoyed “Where Enemies Sit” in “For a Few Credits More.”

Rob’s Answer: Thank you very much. I’m actually awful at taglines. I tend to explain too much. So, just for a change, I’ll try to explain too little.

“A Sword for Striking”: What story will your choices tell?

Tell me again where we can find your stuff? 

  • My blog is at BenjaminTylerSmith.com, and there you can find links to the short stories I’ve had published over the years, as well as updates for the couple of books I’m working on. I try to post a few times a week (The operative word is “try”), mostly about books, audiobooks, games, and anime. Feel free to post comments! I’m always happy to discuss whatever I write about, or to take the blog in different directions.
  • I’m also on Facebook as Benjamin Tyler Smith, and on Twitter as @BenTylerSmith. And I’m following Chris Kennedy’s guide to indie publishing by getting my Amazon author page up, so you can find me there, as well.
  • A few of my most recent publications can be found in the following places:
  • “Return to Sender” in Tales from the Lyon’s Den in the 4HU. Sci-fi action. “When an emergency weapons delivery goes sideways, a young and tenacious arms dealer stops at nothing to save her team, her client, and her bottom line.”
  • “A Salt on the Rise” in Issue 30 of On the Premises Magazine. Dark fantasy, in my own universe featuring an undead city called Necrolopolis and all the shenanigans that go on within its walls. “An overworked necromancer struggles to prevent a war between opposing factions of undead.”
  • “Bag of Tricks” in the Sha’Daa: Toys horror/dark fantasy anthology. This one is also dark fantasy, about a magician who wields magical paints and holy .357 magnum rounds against demons and mindless college kids threatening to destroy his hometown.
  • And while it is still seeking publication, my short story “Ash-Eater” (Set in the same fantasy world as “A Salt on the Rise”) earned itself a finalist spot in the 2018 Baen Fantasy Adventure Award contest. So, if you enjoy “A Salt on the Rise”, please look for “Ash-Eater” to appear somewhere at some point in the timeline! Wish I could say something more definitive, but it is getting shopped around.

And where can we find you?

Barring any sudden life changes, you’ll always find me at LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN. It’s a bit of a drive, but well worth the journey! It’s where I first found out about the 4HU, so that alone makes it worth the journey!

Do you have a creator biography?

By day Ben earns his bread keeping track of the dead with digital cemetery maps, and by night he corrals the undead into whatever story he’s working on next. While the focus of his writing is typically in the realm of fantasy, he has a taste for science fiction, and the more action-packed the better. Married to a saint of a woman, ruled by a benevolent calico countess, he can be found at BenjaminTylerSmith.com.

Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not? 

The lightning round should include the greatest of all internet questions: “.45 or 9mm?” I can only assume you didn’t include it because it’s largely a rhetorical question, as .45 is the one true answer. (Rob’s Note: I’ll add it in the next version)

And the obligatory “What are you working on now?” question is always a good one. To answer that, I’m working on an unnamed Jackie Warren novel. In it, the fate of an entire planet will rest in the hands of our young, yet resourceful arms dealer. This has not yet been accepted, and I haven’t even completed the proposal for it yet. But, it’s in the works, and if the Lord is willing, the book will get finished and hopefully there will be more to come!

I am also working on a novel set in the aforementioned Necrolopolis universe. It will be titled “A Soulful Job” and the tag line is: “Souls are vanishing from the city of the dead, and it’s up to an overworked necromancer to find the culprit before he gets the blame!”


Thanks to Benjamin for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Interview: Mark Wandrey

Greetings all

Tonight, at the very end of #FourHorsetober, here’s the interview we’ve all been waiting for, Mark Wandrey. It is his imagination that formed the idea of the 4HU and in so doing created a platform for all of us.

Interview Questions
Mark Wandrey
Mark Wandrey

What is your quest?

I strive to be at the top of my genre, military science fiction. I want fans in my cosplay. Lots of them.

What is your favorite color?

I want my stories full of scenes people talk about, characters people hate, and mysteries people want answered..

What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush?

My biggest challenge has been finding time to write in quantity. I learned by quitting the day job as soon as I made enough. Jump in with both feet, take the plunge. If not now, when? If not late, why?

What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade?

My worldbuilding abilities are apparently among the best in the business. I credit that to decades wasted playing role playing games. Wait, maybe they weren’t wasted after all?

Lightning Round

  • Favorite Muppet? Animal
  • Crunchy or Creamy? Depends if she’s blonde or redhead.
  • Favorite Sports Team? All Blacks
  • Cake or Pie? Yes please.
  • Lime or Lemon? Lemon
  • Favorite Chip Dip?  Jalapeno queso
  • Wet or Dry? Always use lube
  • Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? Meat Loaf
  • Whisky or Whiskey? Neither, rum
  • Favorite Superhero? Rogue (comic book, not the crap from the movies)
  • Steak Temperature? (slightly above room temp)
  • Favorite 1970s TV show? Battlestar Galactica
  • Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Fall
  • Favorite Pet? (provide pictures if you want) Valiente
  • Best Game Ever? KOTOR
  • Coffee or Tea? Tea. Earl Grey, hot.
  • Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Sci-fi

What question(s) would you like to ask me?

What’s the drunkest you’ve ever been, and what did you do when you were in that state you are embarrassed about?

Rob’s Answer: Well, let’s get straight to the embarrassing part. The drunkest I’ve ever been was at a Pennsic. I actually didn’t drink that much, only seven IPAs in a several hour period, but there were complicating factors. It might have helped if I had actually eaten in the 26 hours previous to the beers. 

And what did I do? Well, I said some things in public I should not have. It could have been worse, but I still regret it.

Tell me again where we can find your stuff?

And where can we find you?

Do you have a creator biography?

Bestselling author of military sci-fi and zombie apocalypse, Mark Wandrey has been creating new worlds since he was old enough to hold a pen. Author of 14 novels, he has many more coming just this year!

Located in rural Tennessee, Mark Wandrey has been writing science fiction since he was in grade school. He launched his professional career in 2004 with the release of Earth Song – Overture. Now, 12 years later, he has more than 10 books out, including an unbroken chain of 6 best sellers.

Sign up for his mailing list at http://www.worldmaker.us/news-flash-sign-up-page/ or check out his Patreon page for free stuff at https://www.patreon.com/MarkHWandrey.


Thanks to Mark for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you have any suggestions or comments about this interview format, let me know so I can keep tweaking it.

Also, thanks to you for reading. If you’re interested in any of the other interviews I’ve done, you can find them all here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?cat=326. If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at rob@robhowell.org.

Finally, if you want to join my mailing list, where I’ll announce every interview, as well as what’s going on in my life, go to www.robhowell.org and fill out the form (Name and Email Address) or drop me an email and I’ll add you.

Have a great day.

Rob Howell

Rob’s Update: Warp and Weft

Week 43 of 2018

Greetings all

Lots of catching up to do. I realized this weekend that I my office had gotten cluttered and I did a bunch of cleaning up and arranging. This included a bunch of unpacking (still).

I’ve been fighting The Feeding of Sorrows. I have put a bunch of words on the page, and then cut them out. This seems normal anymore, though, since i seem to reach this point with every novel. Just gotta keep fighting through.

I’ve had a lot of fun with #FourHorsetober, but I’ll be glad when it’s done. Doing one interview is easy. Doing one a day gets challenging, especially when you’re juggling other stuff.

Still, I’m really excited about the release of Luck Is Not a Factor. That’s a fun story that I hope you all enjoy.

Well, I have to take the sweetie to dinner. She’s been working on new weaving techniques this weekend and she has lots to tell me.

Current Playlist Song

The Pass by Rush. It has one of the most powerful lyrics I’ve ever heard, which you’ll find in right below in the Quote of the Week.

Quote of the Week

No hero in your tragedy
No daring in your escape
No salutes for your surrender
Nothing noble in your fate
– Rush The Pass, Presto

News and Works in Progress

  • RTM (3,416)
  • The Feeding of Sorrows (approx. 20,000)
  • CB (8,418)
  • AFS (2,556)

Recent Blog Posts and Wiki Additions

Upcoming Events

Spotlight

One more full week of #FourHorsetober, so take a look at all the interviews above.

Today’s Weight: 388.4

Updated Word Count: 228,712

Shijuren Wiki: 874 entries

Four Horsemen Wiki: 443 entries

Let me know if you have any suggestions on the website, this email, or cool story ideas at rob@robhowell.org. Especially let me know of suggestions you have for the Spotlight section.

Have a great week, everyone.

Rob Howell

Currently Available Works

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