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!

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THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION

Okay. This is a bit of an experiment and, for me, a scary one. I am going to be posting my first draft novella THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION in parts to this blog. The scary part is that I am only halfway finished writing the thing.

So I am going to be posting one part every week and hopefully by the time I get to where I left off I will have written more to post. And if I run out of material, well then I’m just going to have to write by the seat of my pants and hope that it all makes sense in the end.

The final version will eventually be available as an e-novella from Rage Machine books. That version will be different from the one posted here on the blog (better written, more coherent one would hope).

So, why am I doing this? Partly to get myself motivated to finish the thing. I could give myself a deadline but I am usually far to forgiving with myself when it comes to those. Involving the readers of this blog seemed like a better way to go about it. I’m also hoping to get some feedback.

Also, since this is a prequel to my novel THE MASK OF ETERNITY, I am hoping to gain some cross promotion and generate some interest.

So, here it is, part one of THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION:

1. URWALD

“DeLacey! What in the name of the Eternal Void do you think you’re doing?”

Solis DeLacey started when the Lieutenant’s voice shouted into her earphone. She looked up and saw the shuttle coming through the bay doors, headed right towards her and knew that she had just made the biggest and the last mistake of her life.

She’d pulled a zero-g rotation in the shuttle bay. She’d been assigned to one of the Empress Jade’s maintenance shifts and had spent the morning harnessed to the wall of the docking bay, moving from station to station, checking readouts and effecting minor repairs when necessary.

That was when her harness became tangled. She unhooked herself from the guide ring and hadn’t hooked a second one beforehand — standard procedure. While she was busy trying to untangle her harness she had floated into one of the shuttle laneways.

Now the Lieutenant, a JG whose name she didn’t know, but who everyone just called “Black Pete” was shouting into the earphone of her helmet, and death in the form of an 82,000 pound shuttle was hurtling towards her and there was nothing that could stop it.

She felt the collision sooner than she expected it hit her in the side, knocking the wind out of her. Suddenly she was hurtling out of control. The hanger bay was tumbling around her and she lost all sense of up, down, backwards and forwards. She spun around and saw a splash of red, then something covered her faceplate and she couldn’t see.

She felt hands grabbing at her, it seemed from every which way. There was a confusing cacophony of voices in her headphones — shouted crosstalk that sounded like gibberish in her ears. She heard Black Pete shout “Oh, Dear God, No! NO!” but the rest was an indecipherable jumble.

The hands were slowing her spinning. She had closed her eyes to prevent vertigo but opened them now and everything was red. She tried to wipe away what was covering her faceplate but a hand grabbed at her arm, stopping her. A small part of her faceplate was clear and she could see a helmeted face in front of her. The face’s mouth was working but she could not hear what it was saying. It must have been speaking into a different frequency.

Then she was turned around. She got a brief glance at her arms and legs. She seemed intact, but there was something red all over her suit. She looked up and saw little red globules floating all over the hanger deck. She caught sight of a wall that was streaked with red and realized that it was blood.

She felt a hot panic burning in her head. Was she injured? She didn’t feel injured, she felt fine. Then what…?

Suddenly she could hear Black Pete’s voice in her earphone “Get her out of here! Get that stupid bitch out of my hanger deck!”

The hands pulled her along and that was when she saw the crushed atmosphere suit floating amongst the red globules, The suit was torn open and inside she could see more red — a deeper, darker red — almost black.

That was when a black fog seemed to swallow her up.

***

She woke up in the infirmary. She had a brace on her neck. She blinked her eyes open and Bruno Varagas was by her bedside. “You really screwed up this time, Kid,” Bruno said. Bruno was her shift leader. He was handsome and affable and had taken Solis under his wing right from her first day aboard the Empress.

“What happened? she tried to ask. Her neck hurt like hell and her throat felt closed up and dry.

Bruno got a cup of water from a spigot and she drank gratefully. “You didn’t put on a secondary hook,” Bruno said. “How many times have I had to remind you about that?”

The accident came back to her then and the sight of the suit leaking dark blood. “Who was it who… who…” she couldn’t finish.

“Her name was Hannah Callin.”

“Callin? Oh, God…” Lord Admiral Callin was the father of the Terran Fleet, His family had built Earth’s space navy from the early days of contact and expansion. If your last name was Callin you were destined for greatness in whatever field you chose.

“Yeah. She was one of Lord Admiral Callin’s nieces. She was an exemplary cadet with a near perfect record. Needless to say no one is very happy at the moment.”

Solis felt tears welling up behind her lids. “Why didn’t she just let me pay or my own mistake…?”

Bruno shook his head. “I don’t know. Personally I think the Callins are wound too tight. That, and they think they’re invincible.”

The tears were rolling down her cheeks now. She reached up to wipe them away but her IV wouldn’t let her. “So what happens to me? Do I get bounced?”

“Well… not exactly.” Bruno pulled out a clip-pad. “They wanted to bust you back dirtside but we got a communique from a Kyann ship that needs some extra help. I managed to get your name on that list.”

“A Kyann ship?” Kyann and Terra were equal partners in the Commonwealth but they generally kept their fleets separate. “At least it’ still in the Commonwealth. I guess it’s better than being transferred to the Orion Hegemony.”

“Don’t laugh. There were some who talked about selling you as a slave to a Kruath ore freighter. They might have done it as well except Kruath has broken off diplomatic relations with the Commonwealth… again. You know how the Kruath feel about Terrans.” he said. Solis nodded. The Kruath hated Terrans with a particular vehemence.

“I argued for the Kyan because right now it’s your best chance to stay in the Void. Unless you want your sorry ass dragging in the dirt?”

Solis tried to smile. “Thank you, Bruno.”

“Don’t thank me. There’s little chance you’ll ever serve on a Terran ship again and you likely won’t be back to the Empress. Kyann ships emphasize discipline and there’s rumors that Kyannum officers still tear out subordinate’s throats to enforce it.”

***

The Kyann vessel Kr’kt’kt pulled alongside the Empress Jade. Solis was still wearing the brace on her neck, her unruly curls were still wet from the shower. She’d gone from the infirmary to her quarters to shower, change, pack a duffel and then rush to the airlock.

There was a small group of cadets and a few officers who were waiting for the airlock to cycle through. She stopped in the entrance. One of the cadets, a thin-faced young man with a sneer, turned and looked at her. “Hey look,” he said. “It’s a giraffe!”

Solis felt her cheeks go hot. She was certain that her face had turned scarlet as every eye turned to stare at her. At 6 foot two inches she had always towered over her fellow cadets and she took the occasional good natured comment, but this was nasty.

“Belay that, Hathan,” one of the officers, an older, balding man, scowled.

The airlock cycled open then and the group turned and began entering single file. Solis took up the rear. They filed out the Empress Jade’s airlock, through the interstice and into the Kr’tk’tk’s airlock. They bundled in and the airlock closed behind Solis. Then the room began to spin. It felt like the entire airlock were moving under her feet.

Solis had heard about the Kyann airlock designs. Instead of extending outwards like the airlocks on Terran ships, the Kyann had a swivel structure. That meant that the rear door now became the front.

The airlock stopped moving and locked in place, and the airlock hatch that had been behind her, but was now in front of Solis, began to cycle open.

Solis looked up… and up. The Kyann that stood in the open hatchway was a good foot taller than her and she was the tallest of the group. He was lean and muscular and his body bristled with fur. He looked down at solis with unnaturally green eyes.

“Welcome aboard,” the Kyann rumbled.

To be continued…

The Times They are a Changin’

Joshua Reynolds over at his Hunting Monsters Blog, weighs in on the current kerfuffle over Weird Tales. It’s too long and complicated for me to detail here and others have done a much better job than I could. Nevertheless, the incident has put a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths, including Josh who, as a result, has given up on his lifelong dream of getting published in the pages of Weird Tales.

Weird Tales debuted in 1923 and in its run as a pulp purveyor of tales of the strange and fantastic the magazine introduced readers to many wonderful authors, among them the two giants: H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Having a story published in that sainted publication is a dream held dear by many including myself.

But, let’s be honest, the Weird Tales that we can read today is not the Weird Tales of yesteryear. The original Weird Tales folded in 1954 after 279 issues. In that time it was no stranger to controversy. From outrage over the lurid covers to the furor caused by C. M. Eddy’s The Loved Dead, the original Weird Tales managed to remain somewhat less than respectable.

In its various iterations Weird Tales has acquired a certain degree of respectability, though, particularly most recently under Ann VanderMeer as editor. Therein, however, lies the problem.

It is highly doubtful that many of the authors who published stories in the original Weird Tales would have been accepted for today’s publication. If he had been writing today would H. P. Lovecraft have a forum for his work in that magazine? What about Robert E. Howard? Seabury Quinn? Frank Belknap Long? Somehow I very much doubt it.

Same goes for Analog (formerly Astounding Stories). How many of the authors who eked out a living selling pulp tales to John W. Campbell would make the cut with Stanley Schmidt today? Not many I’ll wager. Things are different from the wild and wooly days of the old pulps. The editors and publishers were individualists from various backgrounds. They were defining the genre and were not concerned about maintaining an editorial “tone” or giving the reader a “specific reading experience” beyond plenty of action, hair raising thrills and terrifying stories.

Today’s editors all seem to have graduated from the same school. They are steeped in post-modern literary theory. They have specific ideas of how a story should go and what the reader’s experience of it should be, This makes for a uniformity that sometimes goes right across the board — fantasy, science fiction, horror — as disparate as those genres are, the elements of the story become more and more the same. Many of the newer magazines specify in their submission guidelines that “…the fantastic element may be slight”. And it is.

It’s also a self fulfilling prophecy. Editors frequently advise writers to read the magazine that they are trying to sell to and see the kinds of stories that they publish. On the face of it that makes sense. You don’t want to sell a police procedural to a romance magazine. However, it also means that the magazines are looking for stories that are more of the same.

I think of it as the American Idol syndrome. The young hopefuls who audition in front of Simon Cowell and the rest of the judges are all hoping that they “have what it takes” but what the judges are really looking for is a very specific kind of performer and they have a very specific criteria for judging who gets through to the final. There is a specific “American Idol” shaped hole that needs to be filled. Deviations from that ideal are winnowed out over however many weeks.

Ask yourself this: How would Bob Dylan have fared on American Idol? Janis Joplin? Tom Waits? Michelle Shocked?

The fact that magazines have to face is that the old paradigm of anthology magazines is changing. The whole concept is being smashed to pieces on the shoals of the electronic ocean: the internet. Fiction available online is like one gigantic anthology and readers can pick and choose what they read, how much they want to pay for it (if anything) and how they want it delivered. That kind of freedom of choice can’t be matched by the table of contents of one magazine, even if they did put out twelve issues a year (an rarity these days).

I believe that the future of fiction is similar to the future of music. Experts and pundits have been predicting the death of the CD for decades. Traditional music venues are being replaced by itunes. One’s ipod becomes a unique expression of one’s individuality. This seems evident.

Experts have been predicting the death of the paper book for even longer and that has raised a great hue and cry from many (myself included at one time) that it would never happen. Well, with the proliferation of Kindles and similar devices and the closing of many bookstores and chains, that reality seems to be at hand.

Traditional magazines like Weird Tales, Analog, Fantasy and Science Fiction and others are finding their print sales dwindling but their electronic sales increasing. Eventually the mindset of the issue of a magazine and it’s table of contents as a package in and of itself will fade away.

In the internet age the web is a back catalog, a gigantic table of contents, from which the reader can pick and choose. The “packaging” of a monthly or bi-monthly or quarterly magazine will eventually fall away. That is the reason I have made my stories and novels available in this way. They will succeed or not on their own merits without the delivery system of a magazine.

Times have changed and magazines like Weird Tales will have to find their way in the new paradigm. They just have to try not to stumble along the way.

NIGHTHAWKS

A while back I began writing stories inspired by Edward Hopper paintings. Hopper’s most iconic painting, Nighthawks, inspired this first one.

“Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper, 1942
I was sitting at the counter of my favourite diner in Greenwhich village. It’s right at the corner of Mulry. You remember? The one with the big curved window? It’s not there anymore, of course. It’s just a vacant lot now, but back in 1942 it was a diner, one of the best in New York in my opinion.

I was sitting in my usual seat finishing a cup of coffee and waiting for Danny to come up with my bowl of chili. Danny made good coffee, and decent sandwiches, but he made a great bowl of chili.

Anyway, there we were, me and Danny, late on a Tuesday night when this couple walked in. I remember the fella was a tall drink of water with deep set eyes under the brim of his fedora and a long, pointed nose. The woman was a looker — red hair and a red dress — a nice shape, but pale.

They paused in the doorway, like they were assessing the place. Then theyy they walked in together. Not arm in arm but slowly and in step. They had to pass behind me to get to the seats that they wanted. As they passed I breathed in, trying to get a whiff of the woman’s perfume. Nothing. No odour whatsoever.

They walked all the way around the angled counter to the two furthest seats in. They sat quietly and said nothing. The man reached into a pocket and pulled out a single cigarette, then leant forward, his elbows on the counter and he stared ahead, seemingly at nothing. He made no move to light the cigarette. The woman was holding a compact in front of her face. I remember it because it was bright green and shiny. She made no move to open it. She just stared at it.

“Coffee?” Danny asked. The man nodded — a barely perceptible dip of his head — and Danny set them up.

Danny is dead now. H was an old man back then, but you wouldn’t know that to look at him. He had a full head of hair and his smile was one of the most youthful I’d ever seen. He was quick with a joke and went out of his way to make sure everyone in his place was happy. “Late night or early morning?” he asked the couple. It was something he often asked late-night patrons.

The man regarded Danny with a look of confusion. The woman didn’t look up at all.

Danny’s expectant smile faded in the face of the man’s stare. Danny dropped his eyes and turned away, catching my eye as he did so. I gave an slight shrug, as if to say It takes all kinds.. and Danny topped up my coffee. “Where’s that chilli, Dan?” I asked.

“It’s comin’, Mike. Keep your shirt on.” Danny tried to smile, but he seemed a little rattled.

Two minutes later Danny placed a piping hot bowl of chilli in front of me. He handed me utensils and crackers, gave me a smile and a wink, wiped his hands on his apron and then went into the back of the diner, through the swinging door with the little porthole in it.

The steaming bowl smelled incredible as usual and I dug my spoon in eagerly. Before I could get it to my mouth the man in the fedora piped up:

“The towers will fall,” he intoned. His voice was deep and seemed to come from deep in his chest and the sound of it sent a chill up my spine.

I looked up to see him staring at me, his deep set eyes seemed to be trying to burn their way out of his skull. “Sorry?” i managed, my voice a little weak sounding in my ears.

“First one tower, then the other. They will fall in fire and smoke.” The man just kept staring at me from under the brim of his fedora. I blinked. I wasn’t sure what to say or do. “What towers?” I asked.

The man blinked then and turned to the red-headed woman. The woman gave him a look and then went back to consulting her compact. This time the man seemed interested in it as well. The man scowled and the woman pursed her lips. She touched something inside the compact and then both of them vanished into thin air.

I froze, my mouth hanging open and my eyes goggling at the place that the strange couple were a few seconds ago and then suddenly weren’t.

Danny came back behind the counter and saw that the couple were gone. He went over and picked up the still full coffee cups, looking for payment on the counter and finding none. He turned to me. “Did they say anything?” he asked, then furrowed his brows at my expression. “What’s the matter with you?

I shook my head. “Nothin'” I managed. “They didn’t say nothin'”

I don’t know why I didn’t want to tell Danny what the man had said or how they had vanished. Maybe I was afraid that Danny would call the guys in the white coats. For a moment I was almost afraid that I really would need to be taken away.

I felt a cold chill all over and I just wanted to forget it ever happened.

Danny took the cups and dumped them in the sink. “Lousy chiselers”, he muttered.
end