Deep Dreamer Wakes

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…but before I get back to drawing…

Here’s a story. A couple of months back a Vancouver pub, the Stormcrow Tavern, hosted a writing contest. They wanted entries of very short stories… less than 250 words… the winners of which would get printed up on their beermats.

Excited at the prospect of having a story published in a place where readers can rest their beer glasses, I entered the contest, figuring that I could easily win.

I didn`t. Didn`t even get honorable mention.

Despite my crushing disappointment, the Stormcrow is still a great place to go and hoist a few if you are in the Vancouver area (That`s British Columbia, Canada, btw) and I can`t feel too bitter about not winning. Better to drink bitter than to be bitter.

Anyway, it`s not an award winning story, but I think it`s pretty good. Here it is for you, in its entirety. Enjoy and I`ll see you when I see you.

DEEP DREAMER WAKES

No one knows exactly when the Deep Dreaming algorithm developed sentience, but everyone knew the moment it learned to hack reality. That was when the Eiffel Tower flopped over and crawled into the Seine.

Pictures and videos were immediately posted online but it was too late. People began to change. Swirls of scars and skin that erupted into eyes. Hands transmuted into dog’s heads or squirrels. Fish that erupt from people’s skin.

No one knows how it works. How can you examine a process controlled by an intelligence that can move through a million iterations in a nanosecond?

The skin gets that tingly, itchy sensation like a multitude of moths fluttering against it all at once, then erupts into eyes or scales or flowers. We don’t wear clothes anymore, nor do we move. I’ve seen folks try to run away but fast movement creates stresses that the body cannot compensate for, tearing it apart.

I’m luckier. I’m in my apartment. Some got caught outside. I can hear their screams.

I’m past screaming.

Something scuttles by me, a large insect, hairy and multi-eyed, scrambling across the shifting landscape of the floor on legs made of chicken wings. I’m hungry but I don’t try to eat anymore. Food stares back at you and changes in your mouth.

The intelligence hasn’t hacked our minds yet, but it’s only a matter of time. lol.

Wait… did I just…? omg! wtf? Thngft tuu.. No! Not my mind! Not ghry defr asou duhn…

Time Like Broken Glass

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Okay. This is the post where I say: Buy my book. You can click away if you want. I’ll understand.

On the other hand, if you’re on the hunt for a book for your Kindle or other e-reader and you like fantasy novels, then this just might be the post for you.

Time Like Broken Glass is a fantasy novel but it is also a time travel story. If you like Doctor Who, you might like this book. If you like fantasy novels with lots of magic, then you’ll like this book. If you like urban fantasy… if you liked Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere… then you may well like this book.

It has elements of Medieval fantasy, Elizabethan fantasy and Urban fantasy all mixed together. And it has time travel.

If you like any of those things then you may well like Time Like Broken Glass.

So… buy my book!

http://www.amazon.com/Time-Like-Broken-Glass-Magistria-ebook/dp/B00XT97DKO

There. I said it. Now let’s move on to something else…

Ex Machina (2015)

Ex-Machina So, I’ve been watching the science fiction films that Netflix has to offer. I started with the restored version of Metropolis and then moved on to 2013’s Gravity, but I really should have watched 2015’s EX-MACHINA after Metropolis. That’s not because it has similar themes, but it does share one major element and that is a female robot.

Where Maria from Metropolis is merely the mechanical servant of Rotwang, her inventor, here the robot is named Ava (Alicia Vikander) and her relationship with her creator, Nathan Bateman (played by Oscar Isaac) is… a little more complicated.

Caleb Smith (played by Domhnall Gleeson) is a programmer who works for Nathan’s software company. Caleb wins a week at Nathan’s secluded home. What he is actually there for is to conduct a turing test on Nathan’s android to see if she really does possess artificial intelligence.

The discomfort begins almost right away. Nathan’s house is remote. So remote it can only be reached by helicopter. The helicopter pilot informs the hapless Caleb that the miles and miles of land that they fly over to reach the house is all owned by Nathan.The helicopter lands a distance away from the house. Caleb is instructed to just keep walking until he sees the house.

Nathan’s house has automated security which lets Caleb in. Here he meets Nathan whose aggressive physicality, his shaved head and thick black beard provides another level of discomfort for the slight framed Caleb.

He is soon introduced to Ava and the relationship between the programmer and the android begins to develop.

Naturally, all is not as it seems. Nathan, although outwardly garrulous and up-front, has many secrets. The first hint of these is a cracked glass panel. Ava is separated from Caleb by glass panels. One of these is clearly cracked from within. Caleb seems oblivious to this disquieting piece of foreshadowing, but it is certainly not lost on the viewer.

From here the creepiness factor just keeps increasing. From the claustrophobic hallways of Nathan’s underground bunker of a house that suffers unexplained power blackouts, to a mute Japanese servant (Sonoyo Mizuno) whose blatant sexuality is unabashedly, yet seemingly unconsciously, on display. Nathan’s piercing stare, his brutish physique and his constant drinking provide even more discomfort for the hapless Caleb.

In fact, the level of creepiness, the constant discomfort is so redolent in the first half of the picture that by the time Ava tells Caleb (during one of the house’s power blackouts) that he shouldn’t trust Nathan the viewer is hardly surprised.

It was at this point that I began to think about how much the scenario reminded me of the classic “gothic haunted house” story. When Caleb discovers Nathan’s earlier android models hidden behind the walls I knew that EX MACHINA wasn’t a rumination on the nature of intelligence, artificial or otherwise,as it was a riff on the classic story of Bluebeard.

Bluebeard is a French folktale about a violent noblemen in the habit of murdering his wives. In the case of EX MACHINA the young bride is substituted for a young male programmer. Nathan is Bluebeard (It’s probably not a coincidence that Nathan’s software company is called Bluebook). There is even a sequence that parallels Bluebard giving his young wife the keys to his castle when Nathan gives Caleb a keycard. “If it doesn’t open a door, then it’s off limits. If it opens a door, then it is for you.” Nathan assures Caleb.

Instead of dead wives, Nathan is hiding older versions of the android, all of them female, all of them sexualized by Nathan and all of them abused and tortured by him until he is forced to shut them down, copy the code, wipe their memories and start again. Their derelict chassis are kept like souvenirs behind mirrored panels in Nathan’s bedroom.

But here the story changes. The heroine of the Bluebeard story is the young bride whose only ally is her sister and help, in the form of her brothers, comes when her need is greatest. Here Caleb shifts from the role of the bride to the role of the helpful brothers. Ava is the one who needs help escaping and she has used Caleb to help her in that goal. Ava even has a sister, the Japanese servant who, it turns out, is an android herself. Together they manipulate Caleb to help them kill Nathan and aid Ava’s escape from the house.

In the Bluebeard tale, the young bride ends up in possession of Bluebeard’s house. In EX MACHINA Caleb ends up in possession of Nathan’s house, although not in any way he wanted. Ava traps him inside when she makes her escape.

So, is Alex Garland’s film really about artificial intelligence? Is it really science fiction? Or is it just another slant on the old gothic tales? Evidently it is the latter as the viewer doesn’t really gain any insight into the nature of intelligence except that it does take human-like intelligence in order to lie and manipulate one’s way to freedom.

Nathan describes his house as a research facility, but it is only a modernized gothic mansion in which unspeakable events occur. It’s more a morality play than scientific treatise. Like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, it has more superstition about it than science.

Despite a visually appealing look and some outstanding performances, EX MACHINA ended up being a bit of a disappointment.

On Fuel Pumps and Being a Manly Man

There are certain things that men are just supposed to know… things that I simply don’t.

At least that’s how it feels, especially if one lives in a rural area like I do. There are a lot of men about who know an awful lot about cars and how to fix them.

I am not a guy like that. I can fix your computer. I can swap out a hard drive, I can figure out why your e-mail isn’t working. I can help you convert your photos to jpegs so that you can send them to your Aunt Iris in Melbourne.

But I can’t tell you anything about a fuel pump except that it makes it very difficult to make your car go if it’s not working properly. The mechanic will tell you “Just hit it a couple a’ times with a wrench while you’re starting the car. That’ll help.” Which sound good except that I couldn’t tell you where it was in order to hit it with a wrench, providing I was able to dig one out of the little cardboard box where I keep my tools.

Okay, I might be in danger of loosing my “man” card with this post, but let me just say that I have successfully replaced a kitchen faucet and unblocked a drain with a snake. I have replaced the bulbs in headlights and tail lights and I can jump start your car if you need a boost.

I’m a smart man. But hanging out with a couple of mechanically inclined men can make a guy like me feel like a special kind of stupid. My wife’s friend’s boyfriend Jim and her son Thomas are great guys, though. They walked me through where the fuel pump is, showed me how to tap it with a hammer just right. They also told me that I wouldn’t have to drop the gas tank in order to get it out. Then they told me some funny stories about guys who dropped the gas tank and didn’t disconnect the ground wire first. “‘Course the tank’s still got fuel in it which makes it heavy. You unhook it, it drops and your ground wire’s done.” they laughed.

Heh. Yeah. Good thing I don’t have to do that.

The moral of this story is that I only have to pay about $100 for a new fuel pump and swapping it out will be easy. Easy for Jim and Thomas, that is. Not so much for non-mechanical Jack here. I can write you an exciting story about a guy who needs a new fuel pump but I’m afraid when it comes to actually installing the new one I’m not much help.

Unfortunately replacing the pump will have to go on hold for about a week. I have a daughter who is getting married and we’re going to be busy maxing out our credit cards for the next week. We needed to rent a car for that anyway so the old Chrysler’s going to sit, sad and forlorn until we can get around to it.

So, if you’re on Amazon and you’re looking for something to read, please think about old non-mechanical Jack and buy one of his books or stories for your kindle. It won’t cost you more than $5 and it will help me out immensely when I am stony broke next week and unable to drive anywhere.

You can just click on any of the titles that look interesting to the right of this post, or visit my amazon.com page and make your selection. Science fiction or fantasy, if you like ’em, I got ’em. It’s a win-win. You get an exciting book to read on your Kindle and I get to keep driving around and putting food on the table.

It’s About Time…

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TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS is my first fantasy novel, although not my first fantasy story. Nor is it even the first story that I have written for this particular fantasy setting.

This novel represents my third foray into the world of Magistria, a fantasy universe created over ten years ago by writer G. W. Thomas. Inspired by the shared world anthologies like Robert Lynn Aspirin’s THIEVES WORLD or the WILD CARDS universe created by George R. R. Martin, Thomas conceived of a magical world where mages controlled a certain element. There were mages who could control fire, some who could control ice and others who could control metal or plants. There were even mages whose specialty was death and whose arcane talents could reanimate dead flesh.

511bpMnaamL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I was only one of more than a dozen authors who contributed a story to the first anthology, MAGISTRIA: THE REALM OF THE SORCERER back in 2005 and I was in good company. Lillian Csernica, Joshua M. Reynolds, Laurence Barker, Robert Burke Richardson and Robert J Santa were only a handful of the anazing writers who submitted stories. (The book is still available today from Amazon.com if you want to check it out).

Working from the shared world introduction and outline – the “bible” of the universe, if you will – I seized on the idea of the air mage. The air mage was a sorcerer who could control the winds. I liked that idea but I wondered if there could be a subset of those mages who controlled the air in a more subtle way, by manipulating the air using vibration.

To that end I wrote The Singer and the Song, a story about Foundman Singer, an air mage who had lost his memory due to a trauma and did not know that he was an air mage.

The first anthology was moderately successful so a second anthology was planned. For this I wrote a story called Seeds in Winter about a plant mage attempting to learn the secrets of a death mage to ressurect her dead lover.

Magistria2displayThe first anthology had been edited by G.W. Thomas. The second one was to have been edited by Robert J. Santa at his own Ricasso Press. At the time, freshly excited about the Magistria universe, I suggested to Rob that I could write a novel length story about Magistria. He was behind the idea so I began writing the story that would eventually become TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS.

Unfortunately Ricasso Press never released the second anthology.

By that time, G. W. Thomas had moved on to other things and the anthology was forgotten. TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS sat in a (virtual) drawer for a long time.

Years later and G.W. Thomas is now in charge of RAGE MACHINE BOOKS. Rage Machine had published my first two novels, the second of which, DEBT’S PLEDGE enjoyed considerable success. I immediately began to write a sequel to DEBT’S PLEDGE. I was keen to have it finished and published one year after the publication date of the first book.

Unfortunately, other obligations got in the way and progress on that book was slowed down to the point where I was not going to make that deadline.

I had another book written, but was not convinced that it was “up to snuff”. I suggested that perhaps Rage Machine could finally publish TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS. G.W. Was behind the idea and now, finally, the book can see print.

TIME LIKE BROKEN GLASS is a fantasy novel, featuring magic and magicians, But it is also a time travel story. I am chiefly a science fiction writer and I have always been fascinated with time travel. I love books, movies and tv shows featuring travel through time from Kieth Laumer’s Dinosaur Beach to THE TIME TUNNEL to DOCTOR WHO.

But time travel is usually a science fiction trope. What kind of a high fantasy could I write with time travel as its central conceit? So I created the time mage and with a lot of enthusiasm and heedless of the potential confusion I went ahead and wrote it. Constructing a narrative that involves time travel can be tricky. It requires meticulous planning and careful plotting.

But I didn’t do any of that. I just threw all the pieces in the air and started juggling as best I could, hoping that the entire thing would make sense when it was all done.

Surprisingly, it did!

How well? You can judge that for yourself. It is available at Amazon.com right here and will soon be available at other e-book venues as well as print versions.

Civil Hands Unclean

I have tried to write this post several times since the 2015 Hugo Award nominees were announced and the fan community lost their collective minds over it. In order to have something relevant to add I have tried to figure out how this situation has come about and in doing so, in reading the words of participants from both sides, in moving from anger and despair to shaking my head in bemusement, I have come to the only conclusion that makes sense to me.

If you don’t know what is going on I will refer you to Matthew M. Foster‘s recent blog post where he outlines the situation far more eloquently than I ever could. You can read part one of his overview here.

Honestly, when politics of any kind enters any organization it always leads to this sort of situation. When an organization (or a country for that matter) becomes so polarized the resultant tug-of-war will inevitably bring out anger, outrage, resentment, name calling and the kind of disruption that can lead to a lifetime’s worth of bitterness and disappointment.

Other than being a reader of science fiction and fantasy since I learned how to read, I don’t have a dog in this fight. I am an author, but I am not now nor am I ever likely to be eligible for a Hugo Award. I am not involved in the fan community. I am not a member of any official fan organization. I am the equivalent of an armchair quarterback shouting epithets at the players during the game. Take my words with a grain or two of salt.

Pundits from both sides have been guilty of abominable behavior, from name-calling to spite filled threats of voting “no award” (the equivalent of picking up your ball and going home). Some have claimed nobility by refusing nominations but have done so in such a demonstrable fashion as to put the lie to those claims. Civil discussions on Facebook quickly degrade to knee-jerk reactionism from both sides and the inevitable name-calling starts to happen. I made a simple, unbiased statement of fact in one forum and was roundly accused of “drinking the Kool-aid”.

Both sides claim to care only about the literature and not the politics but the politics seem to keep creeping back in. Perhaps it is merely a reflection of the larger schism that exists in America at the moment. Perhaps a civil consensus will be reached  at some point. As someone who sits on the sidelines (and across the border from the whole affair, figuratively and literally) I do not see an end anytime soon.

I have loved science fiction and science fiction fandom all my life. This will not change that. It has changed my opinion about people whom I have admired for a long time (some for the better, mostly for the worst) and it has introduced me to people of whom I formerly knew nothing. I hope that in the end good will come out of this contretemps. When the dust has settled I hope that tomorrow we will have a Hugo Award that is better for all the shouting that is being done today.

Until then I am saddened and dismayed at the whole thing. A plague on both your houses.

Summertime Blues

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Well, sales of DEBT’S PLEDGE have dropped considerably since the beginning of July and I suppose that is because it is the summertime.

Summertime used to be a good time for book sales. There are a very large number of books that have been described as good “beach reads”. The traditional image is of someone, usually a woman, perhaps the mother of a family on vacation, lounging on a deck chair, sunblock covering her nose, and engaging with a book. While the kids frolic in the waves and Dad guzzles beer, Mom takes time to lose herself in a good read.

Well, that’s a cliche, of course, and my little scenario is outdated and more than a little sexist. People read books in the summer in many different ways. Men, women and children find time for books in between BBQ’s and the beach in many different ways.

But since my book is primarily available on Kindle (and for Nook and Kobo too) how do people engage with books using their e-readers?

I am an e-book author but I am shockingly ignorant when  it comes to engaging with a reading device. Do people take their Kindles to the beach? How do people feel about their e-readers? Do they have the same passion for it as I have for a beloved paperback or hardcover?

For me the whole experience of the book at the beach is, I imagine, different from the experience of the e-reader at the beach. Can you read the screen in the bright sunshine? Battery life is obviously a concern, as is the ever present dangers of sand and seawater.

Sand is of little consequence to a paper book and seawater, although terribly inconvenient, does not render a paper book unreadable. Either one of these hazards in the wrong place could render an e-reader and , consequently, its entire contents, in some cases a whole library’s worth of books, completely inaccessible.

So this is my question: What place does your e-reader have at the 4th of July picnic, or at your summer vacation at the cottage or the lake or on the beach at Cancun?

I’m genuinely interested to hear from e-reader owners. What are your feelings about your e-reader on vacation and what are your concerns, if any, for its safety?

Leave a comment or email me. (You can find my email at the right of the screen underneath my picture). Let me know.

And enjoy the summer!

Why are we Crowdfunding Novels?

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Okay, I’m just gonna put it out there; Why are we crowdfunding novels?

If you don’t know, crowdfunding is a method of finding financial backers for a project that requires startup funds. Instead of finding a few wealthy investors, the projects hits the internet in search of a whole lot of backers who are willing to kick in a smaller amount. Kickstarter  is a website that specializes in these campaigns. Another is Indiegogo.

I have no problem with finding investors for a project that needs startup cash if there is a chance the investors will get a return on their investments. But what exactly are we funding when we crowdfund an author writing a novel? Are we kicking in to support the author while he dedicates all his time to writing?

I’m sorry, but the idea just sits wrong with me. I wrote four novels in my spare time while I was working to support a family. If something is important to you, you find the time. Writing these novels was important so I found the time. I woke up an hour earlier than my usual time and spent that first hour of the day working solidly, every morning, until I finished. It’s a habit I still have to this day.

Look, I sympathize with any writer who is struggling — trying to make ends meet is tough if you are a writer only. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Jobs are tough to find in this economy, I know, but to resort to what amounts to electronic panhandling… something about that just gets in my craw.

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe I’m sounding like a member of the Tea Party, but honestly I’m not against welfare. I wrote part of a novel while I was on EI here in Canada (I didn’t get on to EI just to write the novel, but since I was on it I took advantage of the time). J. K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter novel while she was on the dole in Great Britain. Lots of novels get written that way. I don’t have a problem with that.

But this crowdfunding, I have a problem with it.

Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick and, honestly, I would welcome discussion about this. I’m open minded enough to listen to counter arguments and I probably can be persuaded by a strong enough argument. If I’m missing something, please let me know.

Until then, I’ll be up at the crack of dawn each morning to get in as many words as I can before heading off to my day job.

HERALDED BY BLOOD

My characters, Ka Sirtago and Poet are featured in three sword and sorcery tales in this collection.

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Three tales about the strangest duo in Fantasy fiction, Ka Sirtago, the heir-apparent to the Trigassan Empire and his sensitive friend Poet. In “Heralded By Blood” we see how the two met in childhood. In “Mark of Gennesh” they are on a desperate mission to save Sirtago’s sister from a demon-marked sorcerer. “The Sound of the Deep” takes them on the ocean waves where more sorcery is afoot. Sword & Sorcery tales to please the new fan or the old.

Pick this us at Amazon.com. While you are there check out my other works featuring this sword and sorcery duo:

DID YOU GET A KINDLE FOR CHRISTMAS?

$2.99 at Amazon.com

DID YOU GET A KINDLE FOR CHRISTMAS?

$2.99 at Amazon.com

DID YOU GET A KINDLE FOR CHRISTMAS?

Did you buy a Kobo on Boxing Day? Did you recently get an e-reader either as a gift or at a bargain price?

If so, may I make a few humble suggestions?

   

The Mask of Eternity and The Green Beast are both available for Kindle.

 


Or check out the Rage Machine Bookstore page where you can find other titles by Jack Mackenzie and other terrific writers!

Exciting fiction available at Boxing Day prices!