It’s been a good week. I made progress on a short story for the next Phases of Mars story. I had hoped to come up with a third to follow Far Better to Dare and In Dark’ning Storms but I never found a hook. I found a battle, but not a hook. I may follow up with some longer form stuff, because I enjoy where that world went, but short stories require a hook and this would have just been a fight with no interesting end.
I now have a time, place, and a hook. Better yet, it’s in my wheelhouse. It has to do with Anglo-Saxon England, but nothing to do with Hastings. There’s your hint.
I also did a bunch of clearing of deadwood in None Call Me Mother. It’s starting to flow a bit, when I’m not working on short stories.
I talked about my work, or lack thereof, in my update on Sunday. If you haven’t read it, it’s here: http://robhowell.org/blog/?p=1757. Basically it covers my plan to better manage my writing and travel schedule so I don’t get burned out.
But that is in the past. I have ideas and a keyboard. Time to write.
Current Playlist Song
Something for Nothing by Rush from All the World’s a Stage. I remember getting this tape and playing it as loud as I could over and over in my orange 1962 VW bug. Ah, good times.
Quote of the Week
And since it has some of my favorite lyrics, here’s the chorus from Something for Nothing. Especially appropriate for me to remember given my recent funk.
“Oh you don’t get something for nothing
You don’t get freedom for free
You won’t get wise
With the sleep still in your eyes
No matter what your dreams might be”
I have a decent sized collection of science fiction and fantasy magazines from the late 30s to the 70s. It may not look like much from here, but there’s a second layer behind each of these stacks. There’s about 700 of them, all told. And since I tend to keep my eyes open for new caches, I’m sure there’ll be more sooner or later.
Anyway, I thought it would be fun to read one each week, picked basically at random, and then review it. Not only will I comment on the stories in each issue, but I’ll comment on ads and anything that catches my interest.
Oh, one other thing. There will be spoilers. I am writing these with the expectation that few of you will ever get a chance to read most of the stories and I don’t want to leave you hanging. If I get enough comments that suggest you want me to leave the spoilers out, I will, but for now, consider yourself warned.
Spaceway‘s entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Ficton is here: http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/spaceway. As you’ll see from this page, Spaceway was a minor magazine which held few works by big name authors. Still, there might be a treasure or two. Let’s find out.
It begins with a novelette, X of Mizar by Arthur J. Burks. Burks was an interesting guy who left the Marine Corps in 1928 to write full time. He returned to the USMC during World War II, rising to the rank of Lt. Colonel. In terms of his writing, he was prolific enough to earn the title of the Speed-King of Fiction by one reviewer.
X of Mizar is a creepy tale about a world that’s a living creature in itself. Not only that, it’s much more powerful than humanity. The closest analogy to me is Q from ST:TNG. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for this story. It started with all of the arrogance of Q, but there was little comeuppance. In fact, there was little in the way of conflict. It’s disappointing, because this story had a ton of potential, but was little more than a character’s internal monologue.
Next was The Green Earth Forever by Christopher Monig. Monig was actually a pen name used by Kendell Foster Crossen, who is best known for the Green Lama series. This particular story is a gloomy look at nuclear holocaust. Humanity is pushed to into a holocaust so great it destroys Earth by the species who has been watching us from flying saucers. It’s another disappointment, sadly, as it’s really just a series of events and then the Earth blows up.
That is followed by an essay on hypnotism by A.E. van Vogt. This is clearly part of the research he did while writing The Hypnotism Handbook. Much of this essay praises the research and work of Charles Edward Cooke, who was his co-author on the larger book. There’s an ad for the book later on in the magazine.
The essay wasn’t terribly interesting to me, but the ad for SFCon in 1954 at the end was fun.
And it’s too bad he didn’t write more because this was a fun story. The world has been invaded by a species of, essentially, dopplegangers called Galol. They take over people and no physical study can determine if someone is human or Galol. Once inside people, they serve as a Fifth Column. The solution, therefore, is to find what makes humans have a human personality. To McWhorter, the answer is our sense of humor.
I also love the conclusion.
“‘What beat Henley – what can beat all the Galol if we use it right – is a sense of humor. Laugh; it’s the human thing to do.’
George Morton smiled wearily.
Everyone was very careful to smile back.”
– Spaceway, Vol. 2, No. 1 (June, 1954), p. 65
Let’s see. Have a sense of humor or you get shot. Yeah, I’d be smiling too.
Melvin Sturgis wrote the next story, The Long Night. Again, I can find little about Sturgis, though I did find that he wrote a novel called The Unprotected Species. One of its reviewers said it was, “OK but not outstanding. Somewhat predictable.” To be honest, I felt the same about The Long Night, at least in terms of predictability. It’s a very short story (less than 3 pages) where radioactive smog covers Los Angeles after a nuclear war. Humans have to flee the smog, but rats survive, evolve, and then view the remains of LA in wonder at humanity’s stupidity. More of an info dump than a story.
Atlantis Hallam is the next listed author. What a name! Gotta be a pseudonym, right? That’s just too perfect for a science fiction writer. Well, it’s not entirely, as the author’s full name is Samuel Benoni Atlantis Hallam and he wrote Star Ship on Saddle Mountain.
His entry in Spaceway was a treasure called Martian Pete. It’s a very cute story where the spokesdog of Wooftie Biscuits flees after having an ‘accident’ on live TV. A crewman on a ship heading to Mars gathers him in and takes him to the Red Planet. Pete meets and, after woofing and snapping, befriends one of the local rooks. When Pete is discovered, he is sent back to Earth. The rook decides to stick with his buddy, meaning the crewman is going to be in trouble again, this time for carrying an unregistered animal from Mars to Earth. Fortunately, Colonel Willoughby, the sponsor of Wooftie Biscuits, has missed Pete and it’s a happy ending as he takes them all back. Pure fluff, but impossible not to enjoy.
Spaceway was Forrest J. Ackerman’s baby so it’s not a surprise to see an entry here. He reviews the movie Gog, third in the Office of Scientific Investigation (OSI) trilogy of movies by Ivan Tors, following The Magnetic Monster (1953) and Riders to the Stars (1954). Ackerman really loves the movie, and now I want to see it. Unfortunately, while Magnetic Monster and Gog are available on DVD, I haven’t found Riders to the Stars. Still, they look good.
Next is The Plague by Albert Hernhunter, whose name is actually Albert Hernhuter. As a guy who grew up loving the 1980s Robin of Sherwood series, I heartily approve of this subtle change.
However, the Plague is a story that has only one saving grace: it’s short with only 3 pages. Basically, it says that humanity tries to destroy another race with a bioweapon, only to find out the bioweapon saves that race from an already existing plague and to then have the plan backfire and destroy humanity. Not my cup of tea, and entirely predictable.
The second novelette is The Uncompromising People by Jim Harmon. Harmon, too, is an interesting guy, known at one time as Mr. Nostalgia. He was also a good writer. I rather enjoyed The Uncompromising People and it had seeds that might very well have influenced other writers.
The story is that Calvin Thomas Moss is a throwback to a sneakier time. He is a conman, a thief, and all-around scoundrel in a time when people have become more honest. That means that he is useful to those in power who need those skills, and once he got caught for a scheme, he was under their thumb.
Facing awful sorts of imprisonment, he ‘agrees’ to go to Vega to help discover why their number of registered voters is decreasing. This is odd because the Vegans, while similar to humans in size and shape, evolved from a rabbit analogue with all the same reproduction rates. Also, they are albinos who aren’t exposed to as much ultraviolet light. Anyway, they believe that not registering to vote is a capital crime. It’s important because manipulating these votes allow the Galactic Federation of Earth to remain in power.
So he gets sent in a rocket that has a computer to help him along the way. And a nuclear warhead to make sure he actually goes to Vega and does his job.
What’s fascinating is that the computer is neurotic just like Marvin the Paranoid Android. Here’s one quote: “‘Go on,’ said the brain. ‘Shut me off. Leave me lifeless, now that I’ve served my purpose, now that you’re through with me…'” (p. 95). I can even hear that in Alan Rickman’s voice from the last Hitchhiker’s movie. It’s so close it makes me wonder if Douglas Adams read this novelette.
But it’s not just that. The story has the same feel as Keith Laumer’sRetief stories. The only real difference is that Retief is never out of control of the situation and Moss is rarely in control until the climactic scene. Admittedly, that’s a big difference in storytelling, but it’s still got that same sly sense of humor and twist.
The answer, by the way, to the population dilemma is that the female Vegans have been impregnating themselves purposefully, meaning they only have daughters. Since only male Vegans are allowed to vote that means the number of voters is decreasing, while the population is expanding.
He tries to report back, but is halted by the paranoid rocket ship, which doesn’t believe that he knows the answer. While they argue, the Vegans catch up to him and are about to kill him, but he uses a Retief-esque trick. He convinces them that he has a secret hidden under his toupee, which requires a great deal of work including a special type of light to remove. He doesn’t have a toupee of course, but this gives him a chance to hit the albino Vegans with ultraviolet light, driving them away.
Then, just as expected, he gets his comeuppance. Just because he succeeded at this mission doesn’t mean he’s out of hot water with the powers that be. Nope, it means he’s more valuable. I don’t know if Harmon wrote other stories with Moss, but I do hope so. And, like Adams, I wonder if Laumer read this story.
The next story is Pearls of Parida by Alma Hill. Hill was not terribly prolific, but she edited a number of fanzines. This is another story that’s short, only 7 pages or so, and in this case needed to be longer. It could have been interesting, but ends up as just a shoot-em-up battle scene.
The last story, One Out of Many, is by Mark Pines. This is the only bibliographic entry for him in the Speculative Fiction Database. The story is of an archaeological expedition to a desert planet. At the end we discover that these are some other species and they are examining earth, as shown by the discovery of a small metal disc that says “E Pluribus Unum.” This is another story that could be really good, but seems curtailed. Not enough tension. It has a Randall Garrett sort of idea, but not Garrett’s skill at tricking the reader.
That’s the last story, but not the last bit of fun. I always enjoy looking at the strange ads at the back of old magazines, and you can expect me to show them in most of these entries.
One interesting thing I learned came from looking at these addresses. Notice anything missing? For some reason I thought Zip Codes were in use prior to 1963, but that’s when they officially came into being. This is also when the two-letter state codes came into existence. You all probably knew all this long ago, but it was new to me.
Overall, this was not a great collection of stories. I would give it a 3 on a scale of 10. None of the stories had enough conflict or tension, though I enjoyed a few of them. I might raise it to 3.5 if I really love Gog and the Magnetic Monster.
Despite the fact that this will not be my favorite in my collection, I really enjoyed the exercise. I’ve been wanting to go through these for some time because I know there are all sorts of cool things in them. I also can already tell it will spur some fun ideas.
If you have any comments, feel free to comment here or send an email to me at: email@example.com.
This week’s interview comes from Kit Daven who I met at Ad Astra a few years ago. I was invited to go to it by my friend Pasi who ran the con suite and I’m really glad I did. I met a bunch of great people, including, as you’ll see, Kit.
Kit Daven Interview
What is your quest? As a writer, my current quest is rooted in the exploration of fictional narrative, primarily novels and short stories. In my youth, I spent many years exploring poetry and short fiction, published my own zines, and attempted several longer works, including an unfinished, abandoned epic fantasy. The maze of fictional narrative is vast, and the paths to be taken many. Here are some of the authors who have stood at pivotal intersections and either handed me a power key or pointed the way.
Roald Dahl was the first to hand me a golden ticket and lead me to the entrance of the maze. In the earliest turns and bends, C. S. Lewis pointed out the rabbit holes and mirrors, and Astrid Lindgren provided me a young companion, a strong girl with carrot-coloured pigtails, who took me in a little deeper. From imaginative hallways down into dark tunnels, Edgar Allan Poe showed me mood, atmosphere, and mystery. H. P. Lovecraft showed me that the unknown and the ambiguous could be effective, and William Hope Hodgson made the sea forever creepy. Later on, a young man in a possessed car drove me a good distance with Stephen King, from whom I learned that in-depth characterization can be done without putting a reader to sleep. William Blake showed me how to develop my own eclectic rhythms and that without self-publishing his work, no one would know his writing today. Tanith Lee pointed the way to the flat earth, where I explored style and concision and how to bend fairytales and myths. Douglas Adams showed me you can be funny and smart at the same time. There have been other writers across the mediums who have been influential, all noteworthy yet too many to list. Recently, I took a turn at George RR Martin and am exploring world building in more depth.
All of them have been teachers. All of them have told me, “Go forth but beware trolls!”
What is your favorite color? Purple. My favourite colour is always purple.
Experimentation is an important aspect for my stories. I tend to start with rules and see how I can bend them. One rule in particular was quite fun to play with while writing A Xiinisi Trilogy. The rule goes like this: unnamed characters shouldn’t be given dialogue. So, I went ahead and gave the occasional unnamed character dialogue, by putting it in italics. I made sure there were several background characters available to chime in on whatever was happening, offering three to four bits of dialogue that acted together as a beat in the narrative. I did this sparingly throughout each novel to great effect.
Who does she think she is?
You can’t do that.
Rules Schmules! I learn them mostly to break them, then I play with them until they cry.
When it comes to characters, I love creating foils, because like real people, they want to show you how they see themselves. A foil, however, peels away that veneer and shows you what they are like beneath the surface. In The Forgotten Gemstone, the main character Ule is hungry and tired. She has been invited to sit by a fire where she patiently listens to stories told by a boy. The boy offers her what he’s been cooking over the fire, and after she discovers she’s nearly eaten a roasted spider, she storms off into the desert in a temper tantrum. At this point in the narrative, she’s not as mature as she likes to think she is.
In general, I really love to listen to what the story wants, how it wants to be told and presented. A project that I’ve been working on for a couple of years has been calling out for multiple POVs. When I mean multiple, I mean every character will get at least one turn in contributing to the narrative. I’m not sure how to present that yet, but I’ll figure it out.
Oh, and I love the colour orange, too.
What is the average flying speed of an unladen paint brush? (What are some of the challenges you’ve faced that have frustrated you? Maybe some creative failures that you’ve learned from)
The biggest challenge I face is rooted in a huge fail on my part. I quit writing for many years over a decade ago. I’d quit before, but this last time was for good. I was writing straight literary fiction, and I crashed into this wall. I’d get dry tongue when I sat down to write. My body would vibrate and not in a good way. I used to love poetry but couldn’t bring myself to write it anymore, because my favorite pieces elicited zero response from readers. My readers (mostly family and friends) liked the literary stuff. It was good, never great. Then, I decided to try a new approach, and I found this beautiful intersection of writing from both my heart and my mind. However, the reactions I received were ones of discomfort and I often heard, “I couldn’t say that.” At the time, I interpreted these reactions as negative responses.
No longer enjoying the process, I gave up. I stopped writing fiction. I stopped reading. I must have purged a couple hundred books out my library and got them down enough to fill two tall bookshelves, then channeled my creative energy into art. It was, at that time, the right thing to do and a huge relief. Later, however, I realized being a writer is very much a part of who I am, whether I like it or not. To reintroduce myself to the subject, I began reading online about writing and writers and discovered something interesting. Those reactions my readers had all those years ago were, in fact, progress, but I hadn’t recognized it at the time.
The first challenge was to get my writing skills back up to where they were before I quit. So I decided to dive into writing a novel and completing it By Any Means Necessary. That novel turned into a trilogy, and not only has my skill level returned, but I’ve leveled up. The second challenge I continue to struggle with is catching up on reading, especially currently published books. I’m a tortoise. I read slowly, and I write carefully, so I always feel behind the times and suspect I may never catch up to where other writers are. Doesn’t mean I won’t try. 😉 Who knows, perhaps with enough practice and time, I’ll pick up speed.
What are the powers of your personal Holy Hand Grenade? My Holy Hand Grenade is all shiny and gold and beveled, and on each bevel is a mark: the question mark. The almighty question. That is by far my biggest power. I ask questions, a lot of them. Questions drive characters, they propel plots, they make you think, and when something doesn’t make sense, I ask What’s wrong? How can I make this better? Can a woodchuck chuck wood? And why am I suddenly channeling Chuck Wendig?
When I was a kid, my parents got so annoyed with my questions, they bought me an encyclopedia set. My teachers cringed when I tried to articulate questions and did their best to answer but couldn’t quite grasp what I was asking. People run when they see me, because I ask hard questions, the kind that can’t be answered with glib, greeting card responses. I’m a question monster, and I finally realized that my super power is, in fact, troubleshooting. I do it all the time with everything now, especially my writing.
Questions lead me down interesting rabbit holes in my narrative, and they help me get back out again when the rabbits down there want to serenade me or paint my toenails. Questions are sensitive beasts. Can I write a short story? isn’t the same as How can I write a short story? One questions the writer’s ability, the other questions their approach.
For the longest time, I didn’t think I could write a short story. Every time I tried, it turned into a novelette or longer. The short story format eludes me most of the time, but I persisted with my questions. Then last year, for the CBC Short Story Competition, I finally wrote a legitimate short story, less than 2100 words. That in itself has been my biggest achievement lately. So, when I found out the story didn’t make it to the long list or win, I honestly didn’t care. I’m in the process of going over it again, making a few more changes, and then will start submitting it to other markets. Now I want to know, How long will it take until someone wants to publish it? Who will publish it? And where’d that rabbit go?
When I finish The Starry Rise, that’ll be my next huge success. Not only will it complete the trilogy, it’ll be a third novel under my belt, which I think is a notable milestone, and a tricky one, too. I’ve read a lot about writers throwing the towel in after the third book, but that isn’t going to happen for me. I have too many stories I’d like to tell, too many questions to explore.
Favorite Muppet? Animal. No! Sloan. Wait! Animal with Sloan. Oooo, is there a fan fiction forum for this? Oh, and Beaker.
Crunchy or Creamy? Depends.
Favorite Sports Team? Hell, no!
Cake or Pie? Neither.
Lime or Lemon? Both.
Favorite Chip Dip? My mouth.
Wet or Dry? Towels?
Favorite Musical Performer We’ve Never Heard Of? My mom; she plays the harp.
Whisky or Whiskey? Hell, no!
Favorite Superhero? Unfortunately, growing tired of them, but I am looking forward to the second Deadpool movie.
Steak Temperature? Medium rare to well done, because I’m a heathen.
Favorite 1970s TV show? Laverne & Shirley
Winter, Spring, Summer, or Fall? Autumn
Favorite Pet? Siren and Skye, sibling Siamese cats, as opposite to one another as you can get. Siren is one of those quiet surfer, vegan, yoga, pansexual, meditation cats, who gives you these looks that say, “It would be really wise for you to pet me, dude.” Skye, on the other hand, is an all around brat, very direct, very forceful, very demanding of attention. She walks like she’s cruising for a fight, and she’s likely to be heard saying. “Pet me, dammit! Now!”
Best Game Ever? I go through phases. My last phase was Skyrim. I picked up a special edition with three or four add-ons. Installed them all in one go. I don’t get much time to play anymore. I figure it’ll be years before I finish it.
Coffee or Tea? Tea. I just quit coffee, so tea.
Sci-Fi or Fantasy? Fantasy.
What question(s) would you like to ask me?
What kinds of tactics do you use to keep yourself on the writer’s path?
My Answer: I think the biggest thing is to listen to your body and see what’s working. For example, I built a really good office in my basement. Then I realized I never used it. I put an office in a first floor room, and it worked well, even though I never really set it up completely. I’m excited, because as I’m moving back into the house that room will be my office from the start, meaning I can arrange it exactly the way I want.
But I’ve also found that I sometimes need to work in a different environment. Right now, I’m sitting in my favorite place, a bar called Brewbaker’s. They have good beer, a tasty salad I really like (especially with extra jalapenos and avocado), and a tall half-booth near an outlet that is just really comfortable to me. It’s been perfect, and I missed it while being in Omaha. Basically, it gets back to
the main rule: “There’s one true way of writing, and it’s what works for you to get words on the page.” If you find you’re having problems being productive in your home, go to a different room. Or go to a coffee shop. Or a bar. Or a library. Change the music you listen to. Turn it off. Turn it louder. Put sports on in the background. Or Supernatural. Or Firefly. Or whatever.
And if you’re stuck on a project, start a different one. Asimov apparently had a bunch of stories/novels going on at once. When he’d get stuck with one, he’d shift to another. By the end of the year, I hope to have built that process up so I can get more than a couple of short stories each year to go along with 2-3 novels. For me, if I know what a chapter/scene will be, i can write the first draft pretty quickly. If I’m fighting one novel, going to a short story can let my backbrain come up with the next set of scenes or vice versa.
Basically, if you’re stuck in a rut, change something. Anything.
Final question for you: What should I have asked but did not?
You should have asked, “What is A Xiinisi Trilogy?”
A Xiinisi Trilogy follows the adventures and misadventures of Ule, a trans-dimensional world builder with the ability to manipulate matter and energy, including her own body.
The first book, The Forgotten Gemstone, is primarily a fantasy, in which Ule finds herself trapped in a world she created and must find a way back to her realm. In doing so, she discovers an unprecedented phenomenon, the presence of demons. In the second book, The Other Castle, the story takes on a more violent and mysterious tone when Ule discovers she’s been poisoned. Determined to figure out who murdered her and why, she returns in a new form, that of a man, and discovers there’s more to these demons than she first thought. And in the third book, The Starry Rise, fantasy segues into science fiction and a bit of cosmic horror as Ule embarks on the last leg of her journey, during which she figures out why the demons are there and her true calling as she undergoes her final transformations. The trilogy explores themes of self-identity, transformation, the shadow self, and finding purpose. Also, it is queer friendly.
You should have also asked, “Do you have any sample fiction of your work available online?”
And, jeez Rob, why didn’t you ask, “When is the third book in A Xiinisi Trilogy coming out?”
The Starry Rise is coming out in Late Summer/Autumn 2018.
Kit Daven is a long time writer but has only started promoting herself as an indie writer in the latter part of 2013. To date, she has published the novels The Forgotten Gemstone and The Other Castle, the first two installments in A Xiinisi Trilogy, through her author press Eager Eye Books. She enjoys writing along the darker spectrum of fantasy, and blends her fiction with science fiction, suspense, adventure, horror, mystery, and romance. Weird tales are her favourite kind of story. She resides in Cambridge, Ontario.
If you are a creator, especially an independent creator, and you want to be spotlighted in a future interview, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, 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.