Heralded by Blood and Other Tales

RAGE MACHINE BOOKS has published  my collection of short Dark Fantasy stories!

If you ever feel that you are doing well as a writer, I would recommend re-reading all of your old short stories. That will put a pin in any inflated sense of accomplishment right quick.

As I have gone through the process of selecting stories for this volume I have run headlong into countless cringeworthy examples of my many bad writing habits. I have shuddered with embarrassment at the numerous examples of passive voice, imprecise word choices, repetition, bad grammar, not to mention atrocious spelling.

When I began I was keen to become reacquainted with my older works, but as I slogged through I became more and more mortified at my own inadequacies as a writer. And what made it worse was that most of this work has seen print!

If ever there was an argument as to why a writer needs a good editor, I am the embodiment of it.

Nevertheless, it has been somewhat illuminating to look back at where my head was at when I wrote these stories. It is interesting, particularly at my age, to read the words of a much younger version of myself, to smile indulgently at my youth’s misconceptions, and to be reminded of the things that I once considered to be very important. As I head North through my middle age, the concerns and cares of my bygone days seem quaint, if not downright mystifying to my older (and hopefully wiser) self.

As well I have been able to track the voice of the writer Jack Mackenzie as it developed, slowly and painfully throughout my early career, such as it was. I can clearly see the influences, the bad imitations, the clumsy striving for poetic turns of phrase as well as the many places where I was just plain bullshitting my way through a story.

I fear that my naked prose is not as elegant as I had hoped it was. My dialogue seems to work, though, far better than the simple task of describing clearly and concisely what the hell is going on. Perhaps I should have been writing screenplays instead of short stories.

Well, what’s done is done. As the venerable Omar Khayyam puts it in his classic Rubaiyat;

The Moving Finger writes and having writ,
Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears blot out a word of it.

However, as true as that is, another aphorism about vanity may apply here, for I have not let all of my mistakes stand. I know many writers who present their earlier works “warts and all” but I simply cannot let these little darlings into the house without first insisting that they wipe their feet. I find that I am compelled to wipe away the dirt from their faces and try to smooth down the cow licks as best I can before I let company in.

I always felt that when someone comes to visit you should at least try to put your best face forward. Perhaps that seems old fashioned, put it’s how I was brought up and it is how I continue to live today even when I do not feel like it, thanks to my beloved wife.

Besides that, it is a sign of respect to one’s company to try to present an inviting and clean atmosphere – to not let the dogs run wild, to pull out the best china that you have (the sets that match best and have the least amount of chips and cracks) to serve the better quality biscuits, the nice tea and to provide some clean seats and dusted surfaces when company comes to call.

And you, dear reader, are the best company.

As for the kinds of tales these are, well, these are tales of the darkest fantasy. These are the literary spawn – bastards though some may be – of the stories that one would have read in the pages of Weird Tales, that venerated pulp magazine of the early part of the twentieth century. That pulp rag that birthed the stories of Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Seabury Quinn, C. L. Moore, and many others. These stories have percolated in those pages as well as through the fiction of Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock. They have been steeped in heroic fantasy fiction, sword and sorcery, and outright horror.

One is even a sequel, of sorts, to a story by the great horror icon and popular Weird Tales author, H. P. Lovecraft.

Does this literary inspiration guarantee that my tales will inherit the quality of the stories which have provided their impetus? No. Of course not. My poor efforts cannot be faulted for their enthusiasm, however. My love for these authors and the types of tales for which they are famous knows no bounds and I have tried to infuse much of that love and admiration into these stories.

If you have a similar love for these kinds of tales, then I am certain that these efforts will prove to be acceptable to you. It is my hope, dear reader, that they provide you with a modicum of pleasure. It is my sincerest wish that they will thrill you in the same way that those Weird Tales once did.

I have tried my best, dear reader. I have cleaned the furniture and importuned the children to behave. I hope you enjoy the biscuits and that you find the tea satisfactory.

Lets spend some time visiting, shall we?

You can purchase the e-book at Amazon.com. The print version will follow shortly.

 

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THE PARADIGM TRAP

the-paradigm-trap-cover1626961824.jpgRage Machine Books has published my Military SF novel The Paradigm Trap.

The book takes place in the same universe as Debt’s Pledge and Debt’s Honor, but during a very different time period. Where Debt’s Pledge and Debt’s Honor take place at the very beginning of the Kreoch War, The Paradigm Trap takes place at it’s very end.

Kent McLennan is a Commander in The Fleet, the powerful military defense force that has protected the human colony worlds for generations. But McLennan is an outspoken critic of the Fleet’s admiralty.

Still suffering the effects of a devastating accident, McLennan is on the verge of resigning his commission, but when he is suddenly offered a choice assignment, leading the mission to accept the Kreoch’s final surrender, his suspicions are aroused.

And with good reason. Fleet Admiral Burroughs is a man whom McLennan does not trust. The mission has too many odd features for McLennan’s liking, from two near legendary historical figures who seem to have an agenda of their own, to a brash diplomat whose past is as inscrutable as his motives.

The Paradigm Trap is a tense and exciting SF adventure that involves deadly enemies, treachery, and a plot to change history… literally.

The Paradigm Trap is available as an ebook and in a print version from Amazon.

An excerpt from DEBT’S HONOR

Debt's Honor CoverHere is an exclusive, available nowhere else excerpt from my new novel, DEBT’S HONOR:

Jefferson Odett would have been fine if he’d just kept going, but he had to stop when he heard the voice of a dead man.

The shuttle settled down on a featureless plain on a dirty ball of a planet that was their rallying point before the troops were sent again to engage the enemy. A light drizzle from the perpetually overhanging clouds turned the ground into a sloppy mud pit and Odett’s boots squelched in and out of it with every step. His mood was already grim and this weather improved nothing.

He spied a part of the field that looked a little more passable. The mud was broken up by large rocks. He was making towards it when his communicator chimed. Updates. Orders. He didn’t bother opening the message. There would be plenty of time for that once he was warm and dry.

The first of the temporary shelters came into view. They were pre-fab constructs that had the benefit of being a barrier against the elements and little else. There were groups of them arranged to some order by various commanders. Individually the arrangement must have made some sort of sense but to Odett’s eye it was just a jumble of small huts surrounded by miserable figures wearing rain gear and looking as grim as Odett felt.

His own men were some yards away yet. He could not tell where. There was a map on his communicator but Odett did not want to look at it right now. He wanted to concentrate on his footing. He trusted he would stumble upon his men sooner or later or they would stumble upon him. They were bound to be keeping an eye out for him.

As he leaped from one rocky outcrop to another, trying to avoid a muddy patch in between, Odett heard the voice that made him stop. It belonged to a man he thought had been dead for over two years.

“I saw the bladeships with my own eyes…” the voice was saying. “I saw it carve up the transport like it was nothing! I barely escaped with my life!”

Odett looked in the direction the voice had come from. A group of soldiers were gathered round to hear the tale the voice spouted. They were an Earthborn division. Odett could tell by their uniforms and their gear, which was new and up to date and hardly used. He pushed his way through the group of soldiers, garnering stern looks as he did so, but he didn’t care. He had to know.

There he was, surrounded by a group of admiring Earthborn soldiers, looking clean and scrubbed as if he hadn’t had to lift a finger for anything.

Winters.

Odett could see he was a captain now. Unlike Odett, he likely hadn’t earned the title. He’d probably purchased it with the prize money he’d been awarded for the capture of Albert Carlysle, a wanted prisoner that Odett had, in actuality, recognized and captured – a prisoner who had saved his life aboard the Emperor Malthius.

That was the last time Odett had seen Winters aboard that damned ship. Odett had assumed Winters died with all the other soldiers.

But here he was, telling his tale to a rapt audience.

“The thing… the Kreoch ship… just clamps on to the unsuspecting ship. The Kreoch warship is like a great knife that cuts into the ship, ripping it apart.”

Odett sighed inwardly. Everyone knew that now. When he’d told the admiralty about it after he’d made it back to Earth they had a hard time believing his incredible story. Since then there had been documented proof of the existence of the Kreoch bladeships, and the unimaginable damage they cause to hapless vessels unfortunate enough to encounter them.

“How many Kreoch did you kill?” a voice asked.

Winters shrugged and smiled. “I don’t know. It was all a blur and I didn’t keep count.

“Hard to kill Kreoch when you’re cowering in a lifepod,” a voice countered.

Odett was somewhat surprised to realize that the voice was his own. He’d thought it and said it aloud without meaning to.

DEBT’S HONOR is available at Amazon in e-book and in paperback.

DEBT’S HONOR

From my publisher, Rage Machine Books:

The long awaited sequel to our best selling title DEBT’S PLEDGE has finally been released!

Jefferson Odett returns in Jack Mackenzie’s DEBT’S HONOR, an action-packed military science fiction adventure that will have you hooked!

PIRATES, ALIENS, BUREAUCRATS – WHO CAN YOU TRUST?

Korax is a colony world beset by problems. Pirates have targeted the world for plunder, a race of wandering alien nomads have made themselves at home and the colony’s new governor seems intent on making enemies of just about everyone.

Jefferson Odett would rather be out on the rim, fighting the war for humanity, but a misadventure has landed him here. Now he has to try to secure a planet that does not want its new governor, the aliens who have moved in, or the platoon of undisciplined soldiers under Odett’s command. The only thing the colony seems to want is the pirate that Odett has been ordered to kill.

Action-filled military science fiction by the author of DEBT’S PLEDGE.

DEBT’S HONOR is available at Amazon in e-book and in paperback.

A Tall, Skinny Man in a Monster Suit

doug-jones

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is arguably one of the best pictures of the year. It has been nominated for a slew of awards including several for the film’s actors. Noticeably absent from many of these nominations is actor Doug Jones who plays the film’s gil-man.

the-shape-of-water-posterNow, one could argue that Jones did not get nominated for an acting award because he has no spoken lines in the film. However, the film’s star, Sally Hawkins, plays a girl who is mute. She has no spoken lines and yet she has been nominated for several awards including an Oscar nomination for her performance.

So why is it that Jones has not been recognized alongside Hawkins?

Here’s the thing. Doug Jones is a fantastic actor. He has collaborated with del Toro for years, starring in Mimic, as Abe Sapien in Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. He has played the Silver Surfer in 2007’s Fantastic Four sequel. He has made countless television appearances including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Strain, Arrow, The Flash, Sons of Anarchy, and Criminal minds. He is currently playing Starfleet Officer Saru in Star Trek: Discovery.

star-trek-discovery-saruThe fact is, he is in demand because of his appearance. At 6′ 4” and painfully thin, he is tailor made for appearing as strange creatures in various genre movies, but as an actor in his own right, he is also superb and very often overlooked. Honestly, if he doesn’t get an acting nomination for his work on Star Trek: Discovery, something is very wrong in Hollywood.

My point is that he has been egregiously overlooked for his performance as the amphibious creature in The Shape of Water. I suppose one could argue that the performance was a hybrid of prosthetics work, CGI and Jones, but come on! He has to convey the creatures emotions and connect with the audience just as much as Sally Hawkins had to without words. He even dances in the picture (and quite well)!

He did that admirably. Still, no Oscar nomination. Where are Doug Jones’ nomination? Where is the recognition for his amazing skills as an actor and not just as a tall skinny man in a monster suit?

The Shape of Water is still in some theaters. Go see it and marvel at Jones’ amazing performance. Or find Star Trek: Discovery on demand and watch his turn as Saru. Whatever you feel about how Star Trek has been served by that series you cannot deny that Doug Jones is one of the best things in it.

Jack Mackenzie & G. W. Thomas Shoot the Poop!

The publisher of Rage Machine Books, G. W. Thomas and I sat down and had a bit of a back-and-forth about writing: Here’s how it went:

 

 

GW: How did you ever decide to become a novelist? Certainly there are easier ways to express yourself. Finger painting. Interpretive dance?

Jack: Well, as much as I love interpretive dance as a medium for expression (and, honestly you should see my “Dying Swan” It brings people to tears), my chief medium for expression has always been words. And, I’ve always loved books, chiefly Science Fiction novels. The authors who wrote those books were my heroes growing up, so it was natural that I would try to emulate them. Short stories are great, sure, but novels are like a big canvas. That’s where you get the chance to stretch out and do world building.

It all boils down to not stopping, I guess. You just write. As Neil Gaiman says writing is like laying bricks. You pick up a brick, you lay it down. You pick up another brick, you lay it down beside the first. You keep doing that until you build a wall. With writing you write a word. Then you write another, Then another. Then another. It’s that easy and it’s that hard. It’s all about how long you can stand to keep doing that. I found that I could stand to do it for long stretches at a time. How about you?

GW: I’m not sure I’m really all that fond of the full-blown novel. The 20,000 worder seems more fun to me. Sadly, the Pulps are gone so no one is going to call it a “brand new novel” by G. W. Thomas. They were pretty loose with that term.

Jack: Well, they keep saying, with the rise of e-books, that shorter, tighter works are becoming popular again. Do you think that is the case or is Google just giving everybody short attention spans?

GW: I do think that ebooks do open up a door for shorter works. The issue in paper publishing is: what do I do with less than a 50,000-80,000 word piece? Different people tried small paperbacks or small brochures. Think of the Dime novels. They were saddle-stapled booklets. Hugo Gernsback supplemented his Pulps with a booklet series. (Those are incredibly hard to find now.) The 1980s small press horror field exploded with saddle-stapled booklets. (I miss those!) But nobody has made any real money on small books. With ebooks now, books can be any length. And priced accordingly.

Jack: What’s your process for writing?

GW: The fiction writing process for me has been a binge thing. With a day job, you grab time where can. When I was young and poor this was pretty easy. I’d write at the dentist office, on the bus. Now that I am old and fat, the distractions are more difficult. Mostly wasting time on my computer or phone. Or watching Netflix. I have to leave my house and go to a coffee shop.

Is your process for nonfiction the same as fiction?

 

Jack: My process for writing nonfiction is different from my fiction writing process. Currently I am treating my fiction writing process like a job. I start at a certain time, I have a target for the amount of words I want to get done. I tend to work at it every day from Monday to Friday and take weekends off. Within that writing time I will block out some time for nonfiction. For me most of the time I spend writing nonfiction is doing research. Once I think I have what I want to say worked out then I will sit down and start writing. The actual writing doesn’t take a lot of time. Sometimes I’ll have to spend some time doing supplemental research while I’m writing which slows me down a bit but for the most part the nonfiction writing itself happens fairly quickly.

And, yeah, Facebook, Netflix and phone are all big hazards for any kind of writing.

GW: My non-fiction process is messy. I start lots of pieces and finish them as the reading gets done. For instance, I have a piece on Francis Flagg that is two-thirds done. But I need to read any eight stories first to finish it. When will that happen? As the mood catches me. There’s no dire consequence to finishing it, so I guess that makes me a hobbyist. Of course, three other pieces may get finished this week instead.

Well, it’s been fun yakking. We’ll do it again soon.

 

Nemesis Man

If this isn’t the weirdest damn thing. Someone figured out that H. P. Lovecraft’s poem “Nemesis” fits almost perfectly to the tune of Billy Joel`s “The Piano Man”

So, naturally, if you figure something something as monumental as this out, what do you do? You record the song and put it up on youtube.

Here is Lovecraft’s original poem”

Nemesis
By H. P. Lovecraft

     Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
          Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
     I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
          I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.
     I have whirl’d with the earth at the dawning,
          When the sky was a vaporous flame;
     I have seen the dark universe yawning,
          Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name.     I had drifted o’er seas without ending,
          Under sinister grey-clouded skies
     That the many-fork’d lightning is rending,
          That resound with hysterical cries;
With the moans of invisible daemons that out of the green waters rise.

     I have plung’d like a deer thro’ the arches
          Of the hoary primordial grove,
     Where the oaks feel the presence that marches
          And stalks on where no spirit dares rove;
And I flee from a thing that surrounds me, and leers thro’ dead branches above.

     I have stumbled by cave-ridden mountains
          That rise barren and bleak from the plain,
     I have drunk of the fog-foetid fountains
          That ooze down to the marsh and the main;
And in hot cursed tarns I have seen things I care not to gaze on again.

     I have scann’d the vast ivy-clad palace,
          I have trod its untenanted hall,
     Where the moon writhing up from the valleys
          Shews the tapestried things on the wall;
Strange figures discordantly woven, which I cannot endure to recall.

     I have peer’d from the casement in wonder
          At the mouldering meadows around,
     At the many-roof’d village laid under
          The curse of a grave-girdled ground;
And from rows of white urn-carven marble I listen intently for sound.

     I have haunted the tombs of the ages,
          I have flown on the pinions of fear
     Where the smoke-belching Erebus rages,
          Where the jokulls loom snow-clad and drear:
And in realms where the sun of the desert consumes what it never can cheer.

     I was old when the Pharaohs first mounted
          The jewel-deck’d throne by the Nile;
     I was old in those epochs uncounted
          When I, and I only, was vile;
And Man, yet untainted and happy, dwelt in bliss on the far Arctic isle.

     Oh, great was the sin of my spirit,
          And great is the reach of its doom;
     Not the pity of Heaven can cheer it,
          Nor can respite be found in the tomb:
Down the infinite aeons come beating the wings of unmerciful gloom.

     Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
          Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
     I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
          I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.