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.

 

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Metropolis Restored

Metropolis maria

Hey.

So… yeah. It’s me. I’m back. It’s 2016. Day one.

Happy New Year.

So, one of our Christmas presents that the wife and I got for ourselves was a smart TV and a subscription to Netflix. So today, on the first day of 2016 I watched the restored version of the classic science fiction film Metropolis.

 

Metropolis restoredMetropolis is widely regarded as the very first major science fiction film. If you’ve seen a truncated version or the execrable Georgio Moroder new-wave soundtrack version released in the 80’s, then you really haven’t seen the movie. If you have Netflix already I can’t recommend it highly enough. Despite the fact that it is a silent movie and is hampered my the accompanying undercranked sequences, this restored version is a revelation.

The action sequences use techniques that will be familiar to modern audiences. Very early on, early filmmakers like Fritz Lang learned how to manipulate audiences with creative editing and musical cues. These techniques… the cinematic bag of tricks… haven’t changed much in the eighty-nine years since this film was originally released. Particularly in the climactic sequences when the underground city is being flooded and Freder is trying to rescue Maria from the deranged Rotwang on the roof of the cathedral, modern audiences will see familiar shots, editing and pacing.

Yes. the film is a bit clunky in some areas. Some obvious camera trickery won’t fool the jaundiced eye that is used to high end CGI, but even so some of the practical effects are surprisingly effective. Also the political message behind the film is quite dated. Also the seductive dance that is performed by Brigitte Helm as the robot Maria is probably the least sexiest dance performance ever.

Still, the film has an impact even today. I really can’t recommend it enough. If you have Netflix, check it out. It’s available on DVD at Amazon and it is worth the price.

Trust me. I went to film school. I’m a science fiction writer. That makes me an expert.

No… really…

LOVING THE ALIEN

MD Jackson has another article over at the AMAZING STORIES website:

Human beings have always had a fear of and, at the same time, a fascination with the “other”.

Almost as soon as humans were able to make art on cave walls depictions of strange and bizarre creatures began showing up amongst depictions of their fellows and animals. The stone walls of ancient Egypt were rife with depictions of gods with human bodies and the heads of jackals or eagles or snakes.

In modern times, when gods were replaced with aliens, depictions of beings from other planets have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Before the twentieth century a number of Victorian illustrators, chief among them French illustrator Isidore Grandville, were adept at creating menageries full of wild and outrageous creatures, but it was in the twentieth century with the rise of the science fiction pulps, that alien creatures really took center stage.

J. Allen St, John, a marvelous illustrator from the very earliest part of the century, had the enviable opportunity to be one of the first to illustrate the fantastic tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Although mostly remembered as the author who created Tarzan, Burroughs also wrote planetary romances set on the Moon, Mars, Venus and even at the earth’s core. Burroughs’ books contain a menagerie of alien creature which were ably depicted by St. John. From Martian Thoats to Lunar Kalkars St. John’s depictions inspired the imaginations of readers of the Blue Book and All-Story Magazines where Burroughs’ stories first saw print.

Read the rest of this article over at the AMAZING STORIES website.

THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION – Part 9

TPOR

On the forested planet Urwald Solis DeLacey has been captured by Kruath soldiers who are working with a human traitor named Carstairs. Paranoid, Carstairs tortures DeLacey to find out how much she knows about his plans. His inquisition is interrupted, however, by an attack from above.

____________________________________

4. SHADOWS

Confusion reigned over the Kruath. Soldiers were running this way and that. Solis heard a defening noise above her and looked up to see a small ship streaking overhead. As it strafed the main body of the Kruath encampment it dropped another bomb. Tents flared and soldiers returned fire in the vain hope of hitting the ship.

Another passed over, then an other. Solis thought about the lights she had seen earlier in the sky. The ships were whizzing overhead, dropping bombs on the heaviest concentrations of Kruath. Solis tried to stand, but couldn’t. Another shockwave knocked her down. She felt the post at her back shift under the withering blast.

Solis had to get out of the open. With ships strafing and bombing all around her it was only a matter of time before she was hit. Solis pulled at the wooden stake to which she was bound. She felt it move slightly. The force of the blast had loosened it from the ground.

Her body was exhausted and her muscles were in agony from the shocks they had taken from the persuader. Nevertheless, she had to move or be obliterated. She wrapped the binder cord around her wrists and pulled. Every joint and limb screamed in protest, but she ignored the agony and pulled. She felt the stake give some more. She pulled again.

A flash exploded nearby. Solis dropped to the ground and curled into a fetal position before the shockwave hit. It knocked the wind out of her and lifted her off the ground. She let herself go tumbling and her arms were pulled violently. She felt like her arms would be pulled out of their sockets. Then she landed with a thump.

She lost consciousness for a few second, perhaps for a full minute, she did not know. She opened her eyes and gasped a breath. Every inch of her felt like it was on fire. She moved her arms and was rewarded with a fresh burst of pain along the full length of both of them.

But they moved freely. The binder rings were still around her wrist but the ends had torn free of the wooden post. The post itself lay a few feet away, shattered to pieces.

That could have been me, she thought and thanked the Eternal Void for allowing her this much luck today.

Solis ran as fast as she could, making for the cover of the trees. The muscles in her legs were in agony, but the adrenaline rushing through her body helped her to ignore the pain. Ships continued to roar overhead and explosions brightened the night. She still could not hear anything but she could not worry about that now. She concentrated only on running.

Another blast hit close. She saw the flash and felt the concussion. It knocked her to the ground. She skidded to a stop, scraping her chin on the ground. She rolled over on her back just as a craft passed overhead. She closed her eyes and braced for the expected strafing, but nothing happened. She opened her eyes and scrambled to her feet.

The craft turned. Was it coming back to finish her off?

She ran. She didn’t look back to see if the craft was gaining. Solis put on a burst of speed and practically dived into the dark woods.

The air was suddenly cool against her exposed skin and Solis began to shiver. Crouched low, she moved as quicky and as quietly as she could through the dense trees.

Everything around her was black. Just like the night before, she was running on instinct, trying to avoid being tripped up by roots underfoot, or dashing her head on low hanging branches.

She heard something drop into the undergrowth from above. She froze, trying to determine the direction from which she’d heard the sound, preparing to run in the opposite direction.

“Human Girl?” a voice called out.

“Ovrafa!” Solis scrambled over to where she’d heard the Ovrafa drop. She felt the Guiranam’s long arms wrap around her and she did her best to hug her back.

“How did you get away?” Solis asked. “I was afraid that you’d been…”

“Some of us were,” Ovrafa said, her voice quavering. “They gathered us up and shot Chief Hawp. Then they said they’d shoot every one of us if we didn’t tell them what we were doing here. We told them, but they kept asking and kept threatening to shoot us. Then the ships came and started bombing. A few of us managed to escape during the confusion, but I got separated. I’ve been keeping to the branches, trying to avoid the ships. They seemed to be searching for survivors.”

Solis nodded. “Same here,” she said. “One of them chased me into the woods. Do you know where we are?”

“I think so.”

Ovrafa led the way. Her night vision was better than Solis’ and her footing more sure. Ovrafa would have preferred to climb and travel through the branches, but she couldn’t carry Solis on her own, so she stuck to the undergrowth. The sun began to rise as they reached the edge of the forest. The sky was clear of ships so they chanced traversing the open spaces, but they tried to keep to the tall grass and they kept low.

They spied the survey pre fab. Much of it had burned but some of the structure stood intact although nothing seemed to be spared the scorch marks left behind by Kruath weapons fire.

Inside the structure, Solis found what was left of the communication array. It was broken and burned beyond repair. There was little that wasn’t broken or burned. Solis wandered into the structure’s small galley. The water was not running and the stasis units were all broken open, their contents littered over the floor. Insects buzzed above the foodstuff that was slowly spoiling in the heat of the day.

The spoiling food smelled bad but the odor was not overpowering — not yet anyway. Solis saw a packet of biscuits. The biscuits within were mostly broken but the packaging was still intact. Solis was excited and she wanted to share her find with Ovrafa. She moved out of the kitchen and was about to call when a figure in an atmosphere suit came in through the structure’s main entrance.

Solis froze for a second then ran back into the kitchen. There was an exit at the back of the Galley and Solis made for it but when she got there it was blocked by another atmosphere suited figure. She backed away. The figure moved towards her unhurriedly. The figures were tall and the suit’s structure was unfamiliar to her. The suits’ helmets were oversized and the faceplates were completely black.

They did not look like Kruath but Solis was not about to take a chance. She turned and ran back the way she’d come. Somewhere from upstairs she heard Ovrafa shriek.

Solis was trapped.

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!

THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION – Part 8

TPOR

Solis DeLacey has been captured by Kruath soldiers on the remote planet Urwald. She has also discovered that two of her crewmates aboard the Kyann ship she was assigned to, fellow Terrans Cartsairs and Hathan, are traitors working with the Kruath.

__________________________________

Hathan scampered to join his master, leaving Solis alone.

Callin? How could that be? How could a Callin be a traitor? The family name had been synonymous with honor, duty and loyalty going back to the pre-Commonwealth days.

A Callin had saved her life. It was because of a Callin that Solis was even still alive. And now this one wanted to… what? If he had wanted her dead she would be dead already? Why was she being kept alive?

Solis shuddered and pushed the thought aside.

Was Hathan telling the truth? Did Carstairs — Callin — want to take over the Commonwealth? Solis did not doubt that the Callin family could. They had enough of their members in key positions — positions of genuine power — all throughout the Commonwealth. If the Callin family wanted it, it would happen.

But the Callins had always been adamant that they serve the Commonwealth and not the other way around. The Callins always maintained that they were loyal to the Parliament on Kyann. They supported the democratically elected government in all things. Solis had never heard a rumble, not even a whisper of dissent.

Could that all be a mask for their real intentions? Or perhaps this Callin had gone rogue? But what would make a Callin turn from the family and everything it stood for? He had allied himself with the Hegemony? What kind of power did he wield?

Solis did not know.

Urwald’s sun was sinking below the horizon. Solis tried to stretch out her legs. She had been sitting with her back against the post for a few hours and her limbs were beginning to feel the inactivity. The binder cords would allow her only limited movement but she took advantage of as much stretching as she could. The big muscles in her legs ached. Between the mad flight through the jungle and sleeping on the rough ground her body was beginning to feel everything that had happened to her in the last night and day.

Her uniform was in tatters around her. The jacket was beyond saving so she discarded itl. Her sleeveless undershirt was relatively intact and served to cover her. Her boots were still in good shape but her cadet pants were mere strips of torn fabric. She tore away the tattered remnants. The material was tough but it eventually gave way under her hands and she was able to render them down to a rough pair of shorts.

The air was warm despite the onset of evening. Now that she had discarded most of her clothing she hoped that the night would not get too cold. She looked up at the night sky and saw Urwald’s moon — Monat — rising and full.

She thought about the ancient Urwaldian and his stubborn belief that all offworlders came from the moon. She felt a pang of sadness. She had only known him for such a short time but she missed the old being. She tried not to think about his death at the hands of the Kruath.

Something caught her eye. A light moving in the sky. She looked up. There were several small lights that were moving around near the moon. They seemed to be circling the satellite. One broke away from the others and veered downwards.

Strange. What could be causing that? Solis thought that perhaps it had been broken up pieces of the Kr’tk’tk that had somehow been captured by the moon’s gravity, but these seemed to be moving with some purpose. More Kruath support ships?

Before she could speculate further a dark shape stepped up and blocked her view of the moon. Solis squinted in the dark and made out a Kruath soldier looming in front of her. He was holding a short staff. Then a smaller figure stepped out from nehind the looming soldier.

“I need information” said Carstairs — Callin. “How much do you know? Are you part of the investigation?

Solis had no idea what Callin was talking about. She said nothing, merely stared up at him in mute incomprehension.

Callin stood without moving for a moment, then nodded to the Kruath soldier. The Kruath lifted up the shaft and activated a toggle. The end of the staff lit up and Solis could hear a high pitched whine coming from it, growing in intensity. The Kruath reached down with the glowing end and touched Solis on her exposed side.

There was a loud crack and suddenly her body spasmed. Pain flooded through her body like it was suddenly on fire. The Kruath took the staff away and the pain stopped, but Solis entire body was shaking. She could still feel every nerve end tingling like it was crackling with electricity. She slumped panting onto the ground.

After a moment Callin spoke again. “The pursuader does not cause permanent damage… at least not phyiologically. I am told, however that the emotional scars are quite… permanent. I ask again: Are you part of the investigation?”

“What…” Solis managed to gasp. “…what investigation?”

She heard the high pitched whine and again the Kruath staff touched her side and for a brief moment her body was aflame with agony. She was left panting and tingling on the ground again.

“Refusing to answer will result in punishment,” Callin said. “Wasting my time with denials will result in punishment. Are you part of the investigation?”

“I don’t know anything about any investigation!” Solis protested. Tears were streaming down her cheeks “I’m not part of anything!”

“Then why were you put onboard the Kyann Ship?”

Solis blinked. “It was a punishment,” she said. “There was an accident. A cadet was killed.”

Callin narrowed his eyes and stroked his chin. “Stephan’s girl? I heard about that. You were involved?”

Now the pain flared fresh inside her, worse than the fiery agony provided by the persuader. “She… she pushed me out of the way… It should have been me.” fresh tears coursed down her stained cheeks.

Callin narrowed his eyes. “An accident? Truly? I’d assumed it was a targeted attack…” he trailed off, lost in thought.

Targeted attack? Was Callin really that paranoid? “What are you trying to accomplish?” Solis blurted out, stifling a sob. “Why were you aboard the Krktkt??”

Callin snapped his fingers at the Kruath in annoyance. The Kruath activated the persuader. Solis’s body arced in an explosion of pain.

The pain stopped suddenly, but the explosion seemed to continue. Her body shook… or was it the ground? Solis opened her eyes and saw the Kruath soldier and Callin bathed in orange light staring in open mouthed shock.

Solis looked around and saw the bright plume of an explosion. an instant later the shockwave hit. Calin was knocked down but the Kruath soldier ran back towards the main camp.

THE PRICE OF REDEMPTION Part 7

TPOR

Things are getting worse for our heroine, Solis DeLacey. Captured by the natives of the planet Urwald she has been handed over to an army of Kruath, a subject race of the Orion Hegemony.

3. KRUATH

What were Kruath doing in the expansion zone? They had killed the Kyann and probably destroyed the Kr’tk’tk. Had they managed to track down and wipe out the rest of the Guiranam?

The Kruath commander loomed over her, his twin mouths twisted in an evil sneer. “Sssso this is the troublesome one…” he said. He turned to one of his subordinates. “Bring the traitor,” he hissed.

There was movement at the back and several armored Kruath moved aside to reveal Carstairs and Hathan. They aproached the Kruath commander. Solis noted that they were not bound and seemed unharmed.

“Is this the one?” the Kruath Commander asked Carstairs, this time in Koh.

Carstairs gave Solis a look that was very unfriendly. “Yes,” he said without inflection. “That’s her.”

Solis stared at Carstairs open mouthed and completely confused. What was going on?

At this point the old Urwaldian stepped forward. “We have a not-men with us now,” he said in Koh, gesturing to Solis. “She will send you home. You listen to her words. She will bring terrible powers down on you!”

“Will she?” the Kruath commander said in a mocking tone. The Kruath soldiers laughed.

“Do not laugh!” the old Urwaldian commanded. “She is a not-men! Very powerful!”

The Kruath commander shouldered his weapon. “Perhaps, if the Terran woman is so all-powerful, she will save you before I do this.” He fired.

“NO!” Solis shouted, but it was too late. The weapon discharged a lethal blast directly to the old Urwaldian’s chest. The force of the blast shot the old native backwards, his ribcage disintegrating in a fiery shower that spattered onto the grass.

The Urwaldians who had been grouped behind their elder stared in uncomprehending shock for a moment, then they turned and ran. A few of the Kruath soldiers began firing at the retreating natives, the hot blasts from their weapons disintegrating a few unlucky stragglers and setting fire to the long grass

“Hold your fire,” the commander ordered, lazily. A few more shots fired and two more Urwaldians were disintegrated. “I said hold your fire!” he turned back to Solis. “So it seems that you’re not as all-powerful as the natives seemed to think you are. What did you tell them?”

Solis shook her head, still reeling from the shock of the sudden violence. “I didn’t… I didn’t tell them anything…”

The Kruath sneered at her with his twin mouths, then gestured to Carstairs and Hathan. “This one’s yours. Do with her what you will.”

Carstairs nodded to a Kruath soldier who grabbed her by her upper arm. As she was being led away she heard the commander laugh. “You won’t find it so easy to convince these two that you have magical powers. You’re welcome to try, though.”

The Kruath soldier kept a tight grip on her upper arm. The combat suit had servo mechanisms in the joints that gave the wearer added strength. Solis found herself fighting tears that wanted to fall from her eyes in response to the pain. She would not give them the satisfaction, though she felt sick inside. That was the second person who had died because of her.

They made their way down the line of soldiers to the rear of the column where the Kruath had set up a rudimentary camp. The camp was quiet, but Solis felt and undercurrent of tension. Kruath soldiers lounged outside temporary shelters, nervously fingering weapons. She saw one who was continuously checking and re-checking his weapon’s status. A nervous habit or a drill? Solis did not know. The Kruath stopped what they were doing and they glared at her as she was led amongst them. Their twin mouths sneered their contempt for her because she was a Terran.

Her guardian hauled her roughly to a space in the center of the camp where a wooden post was driven into the ground. Attached to the post was a set of plasteel binders. The Kruath grabbed the manacles and made them fast around each wrist. Solis winced when he clicked them closed. They were tight but not quite tight enough to cut off the circulation to her hands. Once she was secure he walked away, leaving her alone.

She sat down, her back against the post. The binder cords had enough play to allow her to sit like that with little trouble, but there was little else she could do without coming to the limit of their range. She slumped and closed her eyes. She felt hot tears welling behind her eyes, but she was damned if she would let them fall in front of the Kruath. She was determined to show them no weakness.

What were Kruath doing in Commonwealth space? That was the question she mulled over as she sat, staring at the ground. Their mere presence here was tantamount to a declaration of war, never mind the wonton murder of Commonwealth citizens and innocent races.

Solis supposed that was why the Guiranam were a threat. They were witnesses to the Kruath presence. That was why they had yo destroy the Kr’tk’tk. That was the reason, for that matter, that she could not be allowed to live. If anyone from the Commonwealth were to find out about the Kruath presence then the galaxy would be at war.

Even if the Kruath were acting on their own and not on behalf of their Taarkaan masters (which Solis considered extremely unlikely) the Commonwealth would still be dragged into a conflict. But why? Why risk an all-out war? What were they doing here? Was Urwald merely a staging area? Perhaps it was a foothold into Commonwealth territory in advance of an invasion. It was not an unlikely scenario, but Solis thought that there msut be something more to it all, but she could not quite see it. What would make the Kruath think that an invasion of Commonwealth controlled space would be successful?

“Hey there, Giraffe,” Said a voice. Solis looked up to see Carstair’s lackey, Hathan, looking down at her with a smile that made Solis sick to look at. “You’re in quite the pickle, girly.”

Solis said nothing. She dropped her eyes and kept them fixed on the ground directly in front of her feet.

“You know, I could help you,” he said, unmindful of her sullen attitude. “I could get you special treatment… if you’re nice to me.”

“Let me go,” she said through clenched teeth.

Hathan laughed. “Oh, no. I can’t do that. But I can make it pleasant for you. All you have to do is be nice to me. You can do that, can’t you?”

Solis suggested he perform an anatomical impossibility on himself.

Hathan grimaced. “Hmph. No need to be a bitch about it. You might change your mind.”

Solis shook her head. “Why are you doing this?” she asked. “You and Carstairs. I don’t get it. The Kruath commander called him the Traitor. Why?”

Hathan scowled. “Is that what they’re calling him?” he shook his head. “They don’t understand. He’s not a traitor. He’s a patriot. He sees the way things are going in the Commonwealth and he wants to change them.”

“By allying himself with the Hegemony?”

“He sees the strength the Commonwealth needs in the member races of the Hegemony. That’s the model he wants for the Commonwealth.”

Solis made a face. “The Taarkan rule the Hegemony races with fear. They are all subjugated to their will and live and die at their command.”

“Exactly! Now imagine that situation in the Commonwealth, but instead of the Taarkaan, it would be us — Terrans — Humans — in charge!”

“Humans subjugating the other Commonwealth races? Is that what Carstairs wants?”

Hathan nodded. “As it should be. But his name’s not really Carstairs. It’s Callin.”

Solis looked up at Hathan in shocked disbelief. “Callin?”

“Hathan!” Carstais — Callin — called from a few steps away. He had come up to them while they were talking. “You talk too much. Come with me.”