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Archive for December, 2020

“Safe Hex” on Patreon

Since I’ve been extra-busy this month writing my new novel, my Patreon Fiction entry this month is a very short story — no annotations, sorry. If my memory is reliable, then “Safe Hex” is technically the first story I ever had published, in a newsletter of the University of Cincinnati Honors Society, of which I was sort of an honorary member back in the late ’80s and early ’90s (i.e. I had friends there and they let me hang out in their lounge). Although that was an earlier draft of the story, less imaginatively entitled “Be Careful What You Wish For.” This version was written in 1996-7 and never sold; apparently I gave up after the first rejection, not having a lot of faith in the story. But I’ve always somewhat liked the idea, and it sort of works as a companion piece to last month’s “Vein Glory,” for reasons that will become clear. I did a bit of revision and updating for this edition.

As always, the story is available to subscribers of the Fiction tier at $10/month:

Fiction: “Safe Hex”

An automotive addendum

December 23, 2020 1 comment

Since it was fairly warm this afternoon (which meant I didn’t have to worry about my car being sluggish to start due to cold lubricants or whatever), I took that drive I mentioned above, to recharge my car battery and test the GPS on my new phone. Turns out the battery ran dry again even in just the two days since my grocery trip, so said trip was nowhere near long enough to charge the battery. And for a few moments, I was worried that my jump-starter battery pack wasn’t working. The cable bit that plugs into it is supposed to go from flashing red and green to solid green to let you know it’s working, and it wouldn’t go green. It eventually did, though, when I happened to tilt it 90 degrees from the way it naturally rests, though I don’t know if that was cause and effect or coincidence, since it stayed engaged when I tilted it back. Anyway, I started the car and moved on to the next thing.

The USB adapter worked fine, letting me plug in my 6-foot charging cable, and the GPS worked smoothly too. But I’m out of practice at looking down at the screen as the phone rests in the cup holder, or else the angle was less amenable with the new phone somehow, even though it’s a bigger and brighter screen. I’ve never felt particularly safe doing that anyway. What I really need now is some kind of phone mount for my dashboard or dashtop or whatever you call that flattish surface under the windshield. The cable is easily long enough to reach even from the outlet in the back seat (the lighter in the front doesn’t work as a power outlet, I guess because the designers figured only passengers would need one, since the car predates smartphones).

Not that I expect to need it anytime soon, as I said above. I thought about maybe going to some store or other, maybe pick up some food at a drive-thru, but I decided I’d rather not deal with exchanging cash with anyone, and I only have a few bucks in my wallet anyway. I ended up just driving around the neighborhood, including some areas I haven’t been to in years if at all, just so I could experience the change of scenery. I was willing to risk getting a little lost since I had a working GPS again. But I didn’t need it. I still have a fairly good sense of the layout of the area and knew which way I needed to go.

Although the same can’t be said for everyone. As I was coming up along the one-way street leading to my home street, another car was approaching me the wrong way in the same lane! But they were on the other side of an intersection and they turned off before they and I got too close — also going the wrong way into a one-way turn lane. I hope they got back on the right side of the 2-way street they turned onto after that. At least, I didn’t hear any evidence to the contrary.

Given how effective my little pocket-sized jump-starter pack is, I wonder why car batteries need to be so big and heavy anyway. I guess a car battery is meant to hold a greater amount of charge, though, since it’s used for more than just starting the ignition. Isn’t it? Also, the pack always needs at least two tries to start the car. I guess you want a larger charge in the battery to make it more reliable — providing you use the car often enough for the darn thing to hold onto its charge.

I didn’t really think I was using the car that much less frequently than I did before the pandemic. Maybe about half as often, at a guess. But I suppose the distance I drive is much less, just to the neighborhood grocery store and back, which is only about a mile every couple of weeks. That was still my most common destination before, but it wasn’t the only place I drove to.

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Taking stock as life settles down a bit

I think I’m in a pretty good place right now, relative to how things have been for the past few years and especially this year. I just finished that novel manuscript I’ve been working on, more than a week ahead of schedule, so I have time to tweak it and send it to a friend for consultation on his area of expertise. The writing on this one went really smoothly. I really struggled with the Star Trek novel I was working on before then, since I was dealing with depression and anxiety from being broke and isolated, and I had a really hard time overcoming writer’s block. But I guess I was feeling better with this new project, more optimistic, plus I was able to keep up the momentum I finally gained in the last week or so of the Trek novel, and maintained good writing habits so I didn’t lose it, managing to write at least something every single day.

Although I suspect maybe coffee was a factor. During my long period of depression this year, I started to suspect that coffee was giving me anxiety attacks, so I mostly avoided it unless I was really sleepy, and just had tea. But I eventually figured out that coffee was, at worst, amplifying the anxiety I was feeling for other reasons. I resumed having a cup every morning toward the end of my Trek novel to give me an extra boost, and I kept it up throughout this new novel, and I wonder if that made the difference. I remember that I had a similar amazing burst of productivity about five and a half years ago, not long after I first started drinking coffee (see Coming up for air). But it didn’t persist later on, so I started to question if there was any correlation with coffee. Maybe it’s a function of starting to drink coffee regularly after being off it for a while. I gather the body become desensitized to caffeine over time.

Anyway, it also helped that I was really enthusiastic about this new project, which was enormous fun to write. And it helped that it had a big, long, busy climactic sequence; things like that really give me a lot of momentum, as opposed to a more fragmented plot structure with lots of different threads of action happening separately. (Something to keep in mind in the future.) So I wrote a really huge amount, nearly 15,500 words (more than 20% of the total) in the final four days. When I managed to produce more than 4500 words on Thursday, I felt exuberant. But by Sunday, I was more like, “Help! How do I stop myself? My arms are so tired!”

But now I’m done with my first revision pass and have a week left to deadline, plus I’m waiting for my consultant’s comments, so I have time to relax a little and take stock before moving onto the next thing. It’s not easy to get back into that mode, though, after these past few months of having to write as fast as I could to finish two consecutive novels in time to avoid going broke. To paraphrase Doctor Who: “Robot,” I’ve been cultivating a sense of urgency for quite a while now, and it’s weird to think that I can finally relax, at least for a little while.

But it helps that some aspects of my life are starting to stabilize a bit. I have money in the bank again from the Trek manuscript, and once I get the payment for the just-finished novel (which I think will be announced quite soon so I can finally be more specific), I’ll be even better off. I was finally able to buy some stuff that I’ve needed for a while. For one thing, I bought some adaptors so that my Micro-USB charging cables will be compatible with my new phone’s USB-C connector. Which means I can finally use GPS in my car again (not that I’ve needed to anytime this year), and I expect Google Maps to work much more smoothly on the new phone than on the old one, which evidently didn’t have enough RAM for it or wasn’t up-to-date enough and kept crashing on Maps these past couple of years. Indeed, since the new phone came with its own charging cable, that means I can keep my 6-foot cable in the car permanently for keeping the phone charged on long drives — although I still don’t expect to be taking any until at least late next year, given how long it will probably take to get the pandemic under control.

Still, I’m thinking I should try it out with a test drive soon, probably today. I’ve needed to use my battery pack to jumpstart the car the past two times I’ve gone for groceries, which tells me I need to take it for a longer drive to build up a fuller charge. I gather it’s best to drive for at least half an hour every month or so to keep it charged — though I’m starting to suspect the problems with my car’s electrical system might be draining the battery, or maybe it’s just not a great battery, though at least it’s just draining and not dead.

My recent purchase also included a replacement for my old 2-quart water bottle that I kept in the fridge and also used for travel. I’ve been using an empty apple juice bottle as a substitute, but the narrower spout was less than ideal and I wasn’t confident about how safe or durable that plastic was for long-term reuse. It’s a relief to have a new bottle of exactly the same kind as the old, a nice feeling of restored normality.

I was also using an empty juice bottle to store iced tea in. I’d worked out a system where I’d fill the bottle with 3 pints of cold water, then steep two iced-tea bags (making 1 qt each) in a measuring cup with 1 1/2 cups of water, then add sweetener and lemon juice to the concentrated tea, fill the measuring cup with a further 1/2 cup of ice and cold water, let it cool a bit, and then use a funnel to pour it into the juice bottle. But again, I wasn’t confident about using those bottles long-term. So I bought a new pitcher that I thought I’d use for iced tea. But it was too small, with 2 quarts filling it nearly to the brim. But I quickly realized: my orange juice pitcher is larger, and one can of juice concentrate only makes around 1 1/2 quarts. So I’m now using the new pitcher for orange juice and the old pitcher for iced tea. Which is fine except that the new pitcher’s lid is much harder to turn in place or pull out. Still, it’s an improvement over the juice bottles.

So things feel a bit more normal now. I do still have some writing work I need to get to soon, but no firm deadlines on anything yet, so I should take advantage of the respite and give myself a chance to slow down and relax. I’ve been enjoying this burst of productivity and I’m afraid I’ll have trouble getting it back again once I let it lapse, but I can’t keep driving myself this hard indefinitely. Hopefully I can remember the good writing habits I’ve cultivated lately and have an easier time getting back into the groove later on. Being more financially stable and less desperate should help. But for now, I think I’ve earned a rest.

Arachne notes are now up!

I just did that major website update I promised yesterday. Here’s the main Arachne page:

The Arachne Saga

There, you’ll find ordering links, discussion, links to old blog posts about the writing process, as well as links to the annotations and worldbuilding notes for the novel. These include a new gallery page:

Aliens of the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe

This page contains concept sketches and notes for all the alien species that appear in Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile, as well as the two species featured in my ATU story “Twilight’s Captives.” I figured I should have a central ATU-aliens page that I could expand on in the future. I initially planned to hold off on revealing the Exile species until the book came out (though I already previewed them for my Patreon subscribers several months ago), but I figured it might be out in a few weeks anyway, and revealing the aliens’ appearance doesn’t really give away any major plot spoilers. If anything, hopefully it will spark curiosity about these species and their roles in the novel.

As a teaser, here’s the height comparison chart I whipped up from my pencil sketches and a free downloadable height-chart template I found online, doing some quick-and-dirty coloring or tinting on the black-and-white sketches:

Arachne Saga alien height chart
Height chart for species from ARACHNE’S CRIME (top) and ARACHNE’S EXILE (bottom). Green Blaze (1.67 m) included for scale.

As you can see, it’s a diverse galaxy out there, and humans are fairly small in the grand scheme of things, in more ways than one. Also, aliens usually face left for some reason.

I also did an update to my main Original Fiction index page, streamlining its layout so that it’s mainly just links to the more detailed book and series pages, and organizing it into distinct sections for the ATU, the Hub Universe, and miscellaneous short fiction. I’ve been meaning to do that for quite some time, but I needed to wait until I had at least one Arachne novel cover.

This is a good day

December 14, 2020 5 comments

Look what the UPS guy just dropped off!

(That’s my phone screen reflected in the cover, so technically this is one of those infinity images…)

Yes, I finally have my author copies of Arachne’s Crime! Now I can confirm the page numbers on my annotations, so expect a major website update very soon.

Also today, I finally got my manuscript delivery advance for my next Star Trek novel, which hopefully will be announced before much longer. Once again, I managed to get an advance just in the nick of time before I ran out of money to pay my bills. And this really should be the last time I get that close to the brink, because I’m already working on that other big project I’ve been hinting at, which should be announced later this month. That project, along with my other various, increasingly diverse sources of writing income, should bring me enough over the next year to pay off my debts at last. Beyond that, my long-term goal will be to keep earning enough to accumulate some real savings for the future, and I hope I can continue to gain Patreon subscribers and novel buyers to help me out with that. But I can finally be confident that I’ve broken the cycle of climbing a little way up from the brink and then sliding back again.

Also today, I got a book sent to me as a gift from my cousin, a Harley Quinn graphic novel by Mariko Tamaki, who’s new to me but whom I’ve heard good things about. I’m glad my cousin texted me to remind me, since I was distracted by the whole Arachne thing, and by trying to get my selfie to work. (My new phone is very hard to keep a grip on when it’s out of its makeshift case. Why do they make these things so slippery? Probably to make more money selling phone cases.)

And of course, today is the day the Electoral College makes it official, and the day people start receiving the first COVID vaccines. So it feels like today — Monday, December 14, 2020 — is the official beginning of the end of the bad times, although climbing back up will still take time and work, both for me and for the country.

Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe chronology

Inspired by a similar thread my friend Keith R.A. DeCandido did recently, I figured that with Arachne’s Crime now on sale and Arachne’s Exile about to be released, this would be a good time to make a list of all the stories in what I’m now calling the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe (since pretty much every story in it connects at least peripherally to either the Troubleshooter series or the Arachne duology) in their narrative chronological order. So here we go, using the era designations from the Historical Overview in Among the Wild Cybers:

Strider Era

November 2083: “The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of” (Footprints in the Stars): Origin of the Troubleshooter Corps

March 2085 – October 2091: Only Superhuman Ch. 3, scenes 1-5: Early childhood of Emerald Blair

February 2092: “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” (Among the Wild Cybers): Key incident in cyber rights

August 2098: Only Superhuman Ch. 3, final scene: Formative tragedy of Emerald Blair

April 2100 – January 2106: Only Superhuman Ch. 6, 10 & 14: Maturation of Emerald Blair

November 2106: “Aspiring to Be Angels” (AtWC): Emerald becomes the Green Blaze

May 2107: “They Also Serve” (Patreon exclusive): Vignette adjacent to Only Superhuman Ch. 1

May – December 2107: Only Superhuman main body: Green Blaze faces the Vanguard crisis

June 2108: “Conventional Powers” (Analog): Green Blaze at Ceres Mod-Con

c. 2112-15: Arachne’s Crime Ch. 1, scene 1 flashbacks: Childhood of Stephen Jacobs-Wong

Early Interstellar Era

2142: “Comfort Zones” (Kickstarter/Patreon exclusive): First meeting of Stephen Jacobs-Wong and Cecilia LoCarno

mid-2140s: Arachne’s Crime subsequent Ch. 1 & 5 flashbacks: Development of Arachne expedition

April – May 2176: Arachne’s Crime Part 1 [replacing “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” (AtWC)]: Arachne destroys Chirrn habitat Lesshchi en route to colonize Cybele; crew put on trial by Chirrn

September – November 2176: Arachne’s Crime Part 2: Arachne crew deals with aftermath of trial

November 2176: Arachne’s Exile: Arachne crew introduced to larger galactic society

2202: “The Weight of Silence” (AtWC): Early FTL research in Sol system

November 2250: “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” (AtWC): Cybele colonists face long-term consequences of Arachne‘s disappearance

Warp Era

2315: “Twilight’s Captives” (AtWC): Madeleine Kamakau negotiates conflict between Planetary Commonwealth and Nocturne League

c. 2480: “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” (AtWC): Love story between two long-lost human refugees in a remote star system

For information on the books and stories, see my Original Fiction page.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – ARACHNE’S CRIME

ARACHNE’S CRIME is on NetGalley in December for reviewers, librarians, and book vendors: https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/210157

For a sample, here’s an excerpt of the opening scenes from the eSpec Books blog.

eSpec Books

I may have already posted this one…or one similar to this, when we were funding the book, but I am giving myself a do-over now that we have a cover for the book!

I give you an excerpt from Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Crime!


FB-McP-ArachnesCrimeOne

Stephen kept his eyes on the lights in the sky, even as he lay in the mud. The more they tried to beat him down, the more he took comfort in the heights humanity could reach.

“Look up there,” he told them once he’d grown strong enough to defend himself and win the chance to be heard. “Look at what we have the potential to achieve if we use our energies together instead of wasting them against each other.”

At first, Benjamin was his only audience, gazing up with him at the points of light that swept across the heavens. Stephen spoke to inspire…

View original post 1,751 more words

More book news: My X-Men novel is getting an audiobook!

While checking the online bookstores for their Arachne’s Crime listings, I stumbled upon another discovery. Dreamscape Media, which now holds the Marvel Comics audiobook license and reprinted GraphicAudio’s full-cast adaptation of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder a while back, will soon release a more conventional audiobook version of my 2006 novel X-Men: Watchers on the Walls, read by Frankie Corzo. It’s due January 26, 2021, and can be preordered here:

Order from Amazon

Order from Barnes & Noble

X-Men Watchers on the Walls

The audiobook cover isn’t out yet, so here’s the original cover art for now. Here’s the original book description, though I don’t know if Dreamscape will use the same text.

For years, many have believed that the rise of superpowered mutants represents a threat to the survival of ordinary humans. The uncanny X-Men have dedicated their lives to proving that peaceful coexistence is possible. When a refugee spacecraft crashes on Earth, hounded by a warship bent on its destruction, the X-Men race to the rescue — only to learn that it carries beings of an entirely different order whose very existence may jeopardize life as we know it.

Now, facing a direct threat to all life on Earth, the X-Men grapple with an impossible moral dilemma — to defend the aliens whose only crime is being born different . . . or to embrace the methods of those who have long condemned mutantkind, joining forces with their own greatest persecutors to go hunt down their common enemy and end the evolutionary menace, once and for all.

Anyway, the audiobook version has apparently had the title tweaked a little; if the listings are correct, it’s now The X-Men: Watchers on the Walls. So it’s more definite now, I guess. Whatever the title, I’m glad it’s finally getting an audio adaptation and a new lease on life. It only took 15 years!

ARACHNE’S CRIME is out today!

December 1, 2020 1 comment

Today is the day! The story more than 22 years in the making is finally released! Arachne’s Crime has just gone on sale in trade paperback and e-book editions!

Is this a dream… or a nightmare? 

The crew of the interstellar colony vessel Arachne is roused from artificial hibernation to face a horrific reality, as an alien boarding party takes them into custody to answer for the deaths of tens of thousands of sentient beings.

But there is more to their trial than meets the eye, and the threads of intrigue weave a tight web as crewmates and friends are divided between those who feel they owe restitution for the actions of the ship’s AI in their defense, and those who refuse to bow down to a judgment they see as persecution.

What future can they hope to build among aliens who see them as mass murderers… presuming they have a future at all?

Available from:

The Amazon TPB and e-book entries will probably be combined soon. Other vendors’ links will be added on the home page as they become available.