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ARACHNE’S CRIME/EXILE update (and more art!)

Okay, folks… You may have noticed that I now have preorder links for both Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile up on my homepage. Both books have now been edited and typeset, and all that’s left is the cover art, which eSpec Books’ Mike McPhail is about to take up. Oh, and hopefully collecting a few promotional blurbs.

So I talked it over with my editor, and we decided that, instead of releasing the two books separately as originally anticipated, we’re going to release the whole duology at once! I figure, hey, we’ve all been waiting long enough, so why create an artificial wait for the second book if there’s no need to?

There’s a definite irony here, though, since I originally wrote this story as a single really long novel. It was when I decided to shop it to small publishers that I decided to split it in two to fit their word count limits, and I realized it worked better that way, as two distinct, more focused stories connecting into a larger sequence. So I rewrote with that in mind, making sure AC had a reasonable degree of closure and completeness while AE opened with sufficient recapping and reintroduction to refresh readers’ memories after a gap of, I presumed, several months. Now it turns out the whole story is coming out all at once after all.

Still, it’s good that it has that flexibility. Readers can buy both books at once if they like (and I hope they do), or they can start with AC and then get around to AE later if they prefer. It really does have a better structure as two consecutive installments, but I guess that’s true regardless of how much or little time separates them in the reader’s experience.

As for when they come out, that depends on how long the covers take. But it should hopefully be fairly soon. Of course, you can preorder right now with the above links.

Meanwhile, given all this, I’ve gone ahead and posted an advance look at four Arachne’s Exile alien designs on my Patreon site, following up the sketches I posted of Arachne’s Crime aliens back in June (when I thought the book might be out in July or so). Both sets of sketches are available to anyone at the $1 subscription level, though they’ll all be included with my novel annotations here on Written Worlds when the time comes. For now, though, they’ll hopefully tide us over until the covers come out.

Oh, and I should have another big announcement about a different project very soon.

Troubleshooter art: Koyama Hikari/Tenshi

(Reposted from my Patreon site, originally posted August 7, 2020)

Koyama Hikari

Click to enlarge

One of my favorite supporting characters in Only Superhuman was Emerald Blair’s best friend “Kari” Koyama Hikari, aka Troubleshooter Tenshi, a young woman who was “deceptively cute, girlish, and innocent” in appearance but was engineered by her yakuza-boss father to be the ultimate martial-artist assassin, and had rebelled against that fate to become a superhero instead. I’ve always wanted to do a sketch of her to accompany my previous sketches of Emerald Blair and Psyche Thorne. Unfortunately, if my mental image of Kari was based on a specific person, I’ve long since forgotten who it was, and I’m not a good enough artist to work without a photo reference.

Since I watch a lot of Japanese TV and movies, I’ve kept an eye out for actresses I could use as models for Kari. But every time I thought a given actress was a good fit for Kari, I changed my mind when I revisited the candidate later on. It took years to find someone I didn’t change my mind about — someones, rather, since I wanted at least two models so I could blend features and create a distinct face.

I finally settled on two tokusatsu actresses who played characters with coincidentally similar names. My primary model was Yuumi Shida, who played the female lead Mai Takatsukasa in Kamen Rider Gaim. I based the nose and mouth more on Mariya Yamada, who played Mai Midorikawa in Ultraman Dyna. I think the final result comes pretty close to what I pictured in my mind. I don’t think my drawing is nearly as gorgeous as either actress, but that’s probably for the best, since Kari is supposed to have a more understated beauty than Emerald’s.

Koyama Hikari (pencil art)

Click to enlarge

I’ve included my original pencil sketch because I like how it turned out, possibly even better than the color version. I didn’t want to risk ruining the original if I goofed with the coloring, so I retraced the whole thing, resulting in some subtle differences. It was a challenge to get her hair dark enough with colored pencils; I lowered the brightness on the scan considerably to get it to look right, as you can tell from the gray background. Still, I think it turned out pretty well, considering that I haven’t done one of these in eight years.

Troubleshooter Tenshi

Click to enlarge

The third image shows Kari in costume as Troubleshooter Tenshi. It’s basically as described in the novel, a stylized judo gi in red with saffron trim over a silver light-armor leotard, but I’ve added a couple of new details. The jacket trim has a traditional Japanese yagasuri (arrow fletching) pattern, suggesting a hagoromo, the feathered kimono of a tenshi/angel from Japanese mythology; the pattern also symbolizes the fight against evil in Buddhism, Kari’s faith. (I considered a more elaborate hagoromo pattern for the jacket, but I couldn’t find anything within my ability to draw. I happened upon the yagasuri pattern and decided it would be appropriate.) The end of the belt has what’s supposed to be a stylized lotus blossom as the Tenshi logo, since I’ve decided that Troubleshooters should have individual logos.

I had wanted to draw Kari holding one or both of her tessen (war fans), but in looking for reference art, I realized the only way to do them justice would be to redraw her from scratch in a tessenjutsu stance, and I didn’t want to throw out the work I’d already done. I thought of drawing them folded on her belt or something, but I decided she’d probably stow them up her sleeves.

The costume sketch is colored with a blend of pencils and computer coloring, not unlike my Psyche portrait from 2012. After creating the pencil art (retracing the body from an old sketch attempt that didn’t get her face right, and tracing the new face on top), I scanned it and color-filled it digitally as a “color study” to guide my colored-pencil version. But I wasn’t satisfied with the pencil version (partly because I seem to have used up my pure red pencil and had to make do with orange-red), so I just translucently superimposed the color study on top of the pencil art. It worked surprisingly well, considering that I again retraced it to preserve the original. Despite that, they line up pretty perfectly except a little around the hands and feet.

More free Patreon samples!

I now have free samples up on Patreon for all three of my main membership tiers. I hope they entice at least a few more people to subscribe to my Patreon page.

At the $5 Reviews tier, up since last Tuesday, is the first of my weekly reviews of the 1988 syndicated Superboy TV series:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/40266250

At the $10 Fiction tier is a reprint of my 2017 Analog short story “Abductive Reasoning”:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/free-fiction-41459524

And at the $12 Behind the Scenes tier, I’m offering a glimpse of my worldbuilding notes for the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe, an overview of the distribution of life in different parts of the galaxy:

https://www.patreon.com/posts/worldbuilding-in-41460817

These are pretty representative of the kind of content I offer regularly. I post a new review every Tuesday (I’ve got enough written in advance to last about a year at this point), and new (or sometimes reprint) fiction and Behind the Scenes content roughly once a month. Also, at the $1 Tip Jar level, I have a couple of posts’ worth of old cat photos you can check out (no new ones likely to follow, alas) and occasional advance glimpses at character and alien design sketches I’ve done for my fiction (which will eventually be reprinted here on Written Worlds).

Feel free to check it out!

Updates on various things

While I wait for the cover art to Arachne’s Crime to be finished so the book can be released, I’ve been working on some Arachne art of my own. Back in June, I posted sketches of the three alien species from Arachne’s Crime on Patreon, an advance look for patrons at the $1 subscription level before I eventually post them here on Written Worlds where everyone can see them. Well, I’ve been working on drawings of the four new alien species that debut in Arachne’s Exile, which I’ll do the same with at some point, once I have a better idea of the release schedule.

I’ve done some doodles and design sketches for these four species in the past to get enough of a sense of their anatomy to describe them in the novel, but some were more developed than others. There was one I already had lightly drawn that I just needed to refine and go over with darker pencil lines, which was pretty straightforward. Another was a rethinking of a species I designed and drew decades ago, with the same head and upper body but a redesigned lower body, so that went quite quickly. For the other two, I had thumbnail sketches of the body shapes (and I scanned them so I could enlarge them and trace them straight from the screen to make it easier), but I still had to figure out a lot of the details, like the shape of the limbs and extremities and in one case the entire head design, since I was unhappy with the rough head shape I’d sketched in. The first one of those took a few days, since it had an unusual surface texture that I had to figure out how to draw. The other went pretty quickly once I settled on a head design, though. I guess I’m going faster as I get back into practice at this.

Today I even did some copying and pasting in a drawing program to put together a comparative height chart for all seven species plus a human, using a blank height-chart template I found free online. So now those are all ready to go on Patreon at some point, and eventually on this blog as well.

Progress on other projects is slower going, though. I’m still awaiting the contract for that big new project I mentioned getting a “yes” on two weeks ago, and now that I’ve gotten all the side projects out of the way, there’s another work in progress I really need to rededicate myself to. So there’s nothing else professionally I can say much about yet.

Last week I reported my success in doing my own repair to the fill valve in my toilet tank. But it turned out not to be complete success. I woke up a day or two later to find the tank continuously trying and failing to refill, apparently because the stopper — or the flapper, as I now know it’s called — wasn’t properly closed, so whatever came into the tank was promptly drained into the bowl through the flush valve (as I now know it’s called). Fortunately, fiddling with the flapper a bit seemed to fix it. I figured some gunk got dislodged in my repairs and got stuck under the stopper the night before so it wouldn’t reseal. I hoped that was all it was.

However, over the next few days, I heard the refilling sound briefly every few hours, suggesting that water was still slowly leaking out through the flush valve, triggering a refill when the float sank low enough. (Apparently these are called “ghost flushes.”) I remembered how, when I’d kept the water mostly turned off while waiting for the replacement part to be shipped, the water in the tank drained after a few hours. I realized that the slow leak in the fill valve may have been compensating for a slow leak in the flush valve the whole time! Would I have to buy a replacement flapper too? I once again went to YouTube in search of repair videos (which is how I suddenly know so much terminology) and started looking into replacement options.

When I investigated, though, I found I’d been pretty much right the first time: some flecks of stuff on the flapper were preventing a perfect seal. Maybe some kind of mineral encrustation inside the tank because of the hard water in my area — perhaps I was right about stuff getting dislodged during repairs. I wiped off the flapper and the valve edges, and it seemed to solve the problem for a day or so, but since then I’ve had another instance where the flapper didn’t close, and the ghost flushes have returned, and there still seems to be some loose debris in the tank despite my efforts to wipe it up.

I should probably replace the flapper at some point (the info I found online says you should if it’s more than 5 years old), but it’s not urgent. At least it’s an intermittent, manageable issue rather than the constant leak I had before. So I can live with it as it is.

Especially since I have work I need to stop distracting myself from…

SPIDER-MAN: DROWNED IN THUNDER is being reprinted at last!

August 20, 2020 1 comment

Great news! Titan Books has been doing a series called Marvel Classic Novels, comprising themed omnibus reprints of various past prose novels based on Marvel Comics superheroes. I just learned from Keith R.A. DeCandido that they’re doing one called Marvel Classic Novels – Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours Omnibus, which includes my 2008 novel Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder along with Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours and Keith’s Down These Mean Streets.

No cover yet for the omnibus, but here’s the official description:

Collecting three classic fan-favorite Spider-Man novels together for the first time in a brand-new omnibus edition.

THE DARKEST HOURS by Jim Butcher

When Black Cat foils Spider-Man’s attempts to stop the Rhino rampaging through Times Square, she informs him the Rhino is just a distraction. The real threat comes from a group of Ancients, members of the same race as the being called Morlun, seeking revenge for Spider-Man defeating them years before. Spidey must rely on Black Cat if there’s any hope of stopping them again, before they can steal his life force.

DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS by Keith R.A. DeCandido

A mysterious drug known as Triple X has been giving users super-powers as well as rendering them mentally and physically unstable. Only by teaming up with a police force that hates him can Spider-Man find the source behind this lethal drug and protect people from those using it. But one of Spider-Man’s most fearsome enemies may be behind it all as part of a greater scheme to bring down the city.

DROWNED IN THUNDER by Christopher L. Bennett

The ongoing conflict between Spider-Man and his longtime outspoken nemesis, crusading newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson, reaches a whole new level when JJJ exploits several mysterious attacks on Manhattan island in his propaganda war against the web-slinger.

 

Drowned in Thunder was my second Marvel novel after the previous year’s X-Men: Watchers on the Walls, and my last one to date. It’s a book I’m very proud of, so I was disappointed when it turned out to be perhaps my weakest-selling novel, due to lack of promotion. I was pleased when it was re-released in audiobook form in 2013, in a full-cast audio drama adaptation by GraphicAudio, which was declared one of the Best Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Audio Theater Audiobooks of 2013 by AudioFile Magazine. But I always hoped the print edition would be republished someday, and now that’s finally happening.

These three novels are a natural fit for an omnibus, too. Not only are they all from Pocket Star’s mid-2000s Marvel line, but by chance, Keith, Jim, and I all chose to set our books at almost the exact same point in the timeline, between Mary Jane Watson starting a stage career and Spidey joining the Avengers — a period in which Peter and MJ were still married, Peter was teaching science at Midtown High, and Aunt May was aware that Peter was Spider-Man and had become his most ardent supporter. Indeed, I referenced both Keith’s and Jim’s novels in my own, explicitly tying them all together. If they appear in the order listed in the blurb, then they’re in the right chronological sequence too; Down These Mean Streets was actually published first, but The Darkest Hours apparently takes place a bit earlier, judging by the state of MJ’s theatrical career, at least. All in all, it’s looking pretty great.

Unfortunately, it won’t be out until May 2021, but you can preorder it starting now. Here are the ordering links:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Penguin Random House

 

With the audiobook also back in print from Dreamscape Media, I’m really glad that Drowned in Thunder is getting a new life. Face front, True Believers!

My phone anxiety roller coaster

August 13, 2020 1 comment

I woke up Tuesday to find that my telephone landline was completely dead. Once, this would’ve been alarming, but these days, it’s of little concern, since I have my cell phone, and the lack of landline service mainly just meant a blissful lack of robocallers. Still, I’m paying for the service, and the building’s front-door intercom is hooked up to my landline number, and some people like family and doctors’ offices have that as my contact number, so I let the phone company know online and they scheduled a technician visit for today. I was worried at the prospect of letting someone into my apartment during the pandemic, and wondered if it was really worth the trouble.

But then my internet connection started to drop out intermittently, getting worse into the afternoon, then better again, then worse again. I updated the phone company about the new problem and resigned myself to the service call. I figured if I and the technician both wore masks and I kept the windows wide open and the ventilation fans on, the risk would be manageable, though I was still very nervous about it.

The next morning, the phone line seemed to work again, dial tone and everything, and my internet connection was solid. Maybe phone elves had come along in the night and fixed the problem. I was elated at dodging a bullet and finally able to relax. So I was about to contact the phone company and cancel the service call, but I figured I should make extra-sure and tried calling my landline from my cell. I only got a busy signal. Somehow, I could call out, but not in. And a couple of times, the phone briefly rang when someone tried to call, but then it cut off. So I resigned myself once more to the need to let someone into my apartment today. Even with the internet connection stable, I couldn’t be certain it would last.

So today, when the tech called to let me know he was approaching, I let him know about all the precautions I’d set up for our mutual safety — only to be told that he didn’t need to get into my apartment, just to the room in the building where the phone equipment was! Whew! All I had to do was go into the hall and prop the building’s front door open before he got there, and then sit around reading for a bit (since my internet went down too while he worked) until he finished, and then he called me from the hallway to confirm it was fixed. (I was actually trying to call my landline from my cell, and was confused when the caller ID was from a “CINBELL TECH” number and the tech’s voice came over the line. Had he somehow shunted my phone line through his phone? I eventually figured out it was just that he called my landline at the same time I was trying to call it, and his call got through first. Duh.)

So now my phone and internet work again, and I’m very relieved I didn’t have to break quarantine, as it were. Although I still wonder why I could call out but not in. If I’d been able to interact more directly with the tech, I would’ve asked him what the problem was. Now I may never know. Does anyone reading this know enough about phone systems to have an idea?

 

Anyway, my anxiety lately hasn’t just been about that, because I’m a bit swamped with work right now, getting sent revisions on stuff (including Arachne’s Exile and a new Star Trek Adventures campaign) at a time when I really need to be getting caught up on another big project I can’t talk about yet. I’m trying to reassure myself that I can make up my delays later when I get into the right groove, so I don’t get too anxious about my lack of progress and make it even harder on myself.

However, part of why my phone/internet problems Tuesday were so worrisome was because that same day, I also got a piece of really great news that I’ve been hoping to hear, about a new project that I’ll hopefully be able to say more about quite soon. So it was frustrating to get this great news and not be able to enjoy it because of my connection problems and COVID fears. Luckily, that’s all out of the way now. Stay tuned for more!

Update on ARACHNE’S EXILE, Patreon, and other projects

We’re still waiting for the Arachne’s Crime cover art to be completed and the book to be released, but in the meantime, I recently got the copyedits for the second half of the duology, Arachne’s Exile. I had to wrap up an assignment for Star Trek Adventures first, but I got that done last week and then applied myself to the copyedits. My editor Danielle correctly pointed out that the opening scene I’d written to recap the first book was unengaging, so I found a way to work the necessary exposition into the subsequent scenes more gradually and organically, and I got a nice new moment of character interaction out of it by turning an internal monologue into a dialogue scene. (To make sure I covered all the relevant exposition, I copied the cut recap scene into another file, bolded the text, and then unbolded each part I worked in elsewhere or decided was unnecessary, so I could be sure I didn’t miss anything.)

Along the way, I also realized that I could improve the pacing of the first few chapters enormously by moving forward a couple of scenes, so the intercutting between the two main groups of characters flows better. The new arrangement lets me re-establish more of the main characters and their emotional arcs and conflicts before getting into the heavy plot and science exposition, and it lets me postpone a crucial revelation so that it comes at the end of a chapter rather than one scene before the end.

After turning in the copyedits yesterday, I took a look at a recently rejected short story to see if I wanted to revise it one more time before resubmitting it elsewhere. I decided it was okay as it was, which is good, because I have another, major project that I really need to get on with, though it’s not something I can talk about yet. It’ll be keeping me busy for the next few months, though.

Also, I had occasion today to reread a story I wrote a while back and decided to abandon because it didn’t turn out the way I wanted. I had what I envisioned as a comedy idea, but the story I wrote didn’t turn out to be all that comedic. I just glanced at it to see if there were character names I wanted to cannibalize, but in reading it again, I realized it might be okay the way it is. Too bad I don’t have time right now to revise it for submission, but I’ll keep it in mind for later.

Meanwhile, I’m told that I’m close to getting an answer about another project I was invited to pitch a few months ago, and the prospects look pretty good. I’m trying not to get overconfident, but if I get it, it will be a great help to me financially and should be pretty fun to write — though it’s likely to make me even busier over the months ahead.

 

On Patreon this month, my fiction post will be a reprint of the Troubleshooter story “Conventional Powers,” originally published in the Sept/Oct 2019 Analog. It’s the first time my Patreon story has been a reprint rather than new/unpublished content, but hopefully it’ll be new for some of my patrons, at least, and I thought it was a good idea to have the story archived for people who didn’t manage to read it in Analog. It goes live on Saturday, August 8, a date I chose because it’s the anniversary of the day I conceived the character of Emerald Blair and the earliest form of the Troubleshooter premise (I remember it because it was 8/8/88). The following day, my Behind-the-Scenes Patreon post will be a glimpse at my Sol System geography notes for the Emerald Blair/Troubleshooter series, including some locations from as-yet-unpublished works. I’m also working on a couple of new pieces of Troubleshooter character artwork to accompany this month’s releases at the $1 level, debuting as a Patreon exclusive, though I’ll eventually repost them here.

Starting next Tuesday, my Patreon reviews return to DC Comics TV shows with a look at the short-lived 1992 Human Target series from the producers of the 1990 The Flash. That’ll be my shortest rewatch/review series yet, covering the unaired pilot and the seven aired episodes in four posts, after which I’ll begin my longest one yet, covering all four seasons of the 1988-92 syndicated Superboy series. That should take the better part of a year to get through, so I’ll probably intersperse some other reviews along the way for variety.

Star Trek eBook deals this month include A CHOICE OF FUTURES

Every month, Simon & Schuster offers an assortment of Star Trek novels in e-book format for $0.99 apiece. Here’s this month’s set:

https://www.simonandschuster.com/c/ebookpromoaugust2020

Since August 12 is Federation Day according to the novels, the deals include three books with “Federation” in the title: Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens’s classic Original Series/Next Generation crossover novel Federation (an alternative take on Zefram Cochrane and World War III predating First Contact), Keith R.A. DeCandido’s equally classic Articles of the Federation (a year in the life of Federation President Nan Bacco), and my own Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: A Choice of Futures, the first installment in my ROTF series.

Since August 19 is Jonathan Frakes’s birthday, there are also three Will Riker-centric novels available: the TNG novels A Rock and a Hard Place by Peter David (set during the series) and Takedown by John Jackson Miller (set in the post-Nemesis novel continuity with Riker as an admiral), and the first Titan novel, Taking Wing by Michael A. Martin and Andy Mangels.

And since… well, I don’t know if there’s a thematic reason, but they’re also offering three Star Trek: Voyager novels, including two of the numbered novels released during the series, The Garden by Melissa Scott and Chrysalis by David Niall Wilson (now the editor and publisher of my Hub collections), and Full Circle, the beginning of the acclaimed post-finale series by my friend Kirsten Beyer, who’s now on the writer-producer teams of Star Trek: Discovery and Picard.

Watch my Shore Leave 41.5 panels!

While it’s too bad that current circumstances prohibit gathering for the Shore Leave Convention this year, the good news is that the virtual panels we’re holding in its place can be watched online by anyone! Just go to the Shore Leave website’s Past Events – Shore Leave 41.5 page and click on “Watch the Panel” below any one you’re interested in, and you’ll be taken to the YouTube page for the video.

For my panels in particular, I’ll post them right here. First up is the panel I participated in two weeks ago to talk about the upcoming Star Trek: Strange New Worlds TV series focusing on Captain Pike, Spock, and Number One (which, if you think about it, is arguably the first Trek series that isn’t a spinoff, since it’s finally taking the original pilot to series after 57 years).

Second is the panel I was on earlier today, the Shore Leave Authors’ Summer Book Release Party! (exclamation point included). This is the closest thing we could manage to the Friday Night Meet the Pros event, gathering as many authors as we could (13 in all) to talk about our respective upcoming projects, Arachne’s Crime in my case. This one was recorded in Zoom’s Speaker Mode rather than Gallery Mode, so you’ll see us one at a time rather than Brady Bunch/Hollywood Squares style. I show up about 31 minutes in.

Apologies for the poor image quality; as I mentioned in the first video, I have a pretty old webcam on my desktop computer. Although I did manage to improve my lighting situation this time around by using my bicycle’s detachable headlamp as a frontlight (with a tissue wrapped around the front as a diffuser).

Keep an eye on the Shore Leave 41.5 Schedule page for more panels, which are planned to come out every other Saturday into October at least. Hopefully I (and my hat) will be in a few more.

Shore Leave Summer Book Release panel this weekend!

The cool thing about Shore Leave 41.5 being online is that it doesn’t have to be limited to one weekend! Since we could only do so many Zoom panels per day, the organizers are continuing to put further events together, with the plan evidently being to do panels every second Saturday:

https://www.shore-leave.com/programming/schedule.htm?

First up, this Saturday, July 25 at 1:00 PM Eastern, it’s:

STAR TREK Authors’ Summer Book Release Party!

Many of our talented authors have new books about to be released and they can’t wait to tell you about them! Join us for this preview party to celebrate all the great new stories you’ve been waiting for!

I’ll be there to talk about Arachne’s Crime, which should be on sale as soon as the cover’s done.

New story on Patreon: “Growth Industry”

My newest Patreon story, “Growth Industry,” is now up for subscribers at the $10 Original Fiction level and above. It’s an affectionate parody of Super Sentai/Power Rangers and a particular trope of the franchise that’s always bugged me. I didn’t have any luck selling it to magazines, probably because it’s too much of an inside joke, but I hope my subscribers find it entertaining whether they get the references or not. Annotations will be up for $12 subscribers tomorrow.

Incidentally, Written Worlds readers may notice I’ve made a couple of visual changes to my blog. Something happened to my page theme that replaced whatever background it had previously had (I forget what it was) with blank white, so I went looking for a way to add some kind of header image or something to add visual interest, and I found a set of background pattern options. I chose one with an emerald theme, for what should be obvious reasons. I also discovered it was possible to insert a “gallery” widget along the side to display the covers of my recent releases, making it easier to promote them beyond the main page (basically I copied this from Dayton Ward’s blog, once I realized it was also WordPress). I still haven’t figured out how to add a header image, though. Maybe I’d need a different theme for that.

Announcing STAR TREK ADVENTURES: THE KLINGON EMPIRE Core Rulebook

I have a bit of a surprise announcement for a Star Trek project I contributed a little bit to and have only just been cleared to talk about. Star Trek Adventures is releasing an alternative version of its Core Rulebook, told from the perspective of (and entitled) The Klingon Empire rather than Starfleet.

STA Klingon Empire Core Rulebook

 

According to the StarTrek.com press release:

This core rulebook contains the same rules presented in the Starfleet-focused core rulebook released in 2017. The award-winning design team, including 2d20 developer Nathan Dowdell, took the opportunity to edit and streamline the rules chapters based on fan feedback since the game’s launch, and introduce new rules for reputation, honor, glory, and house management. Now, for the first time, you and your fellow players can create your own noble Klingon House and seek out glory. Everything you need to create brave Klingon warriors and fearsome Klingon warships are available for you to use.

In addition to the revised rules, the book contains extensive chapters on Klingon history, culture, politics, military, and planets. Players have more than a dozen Klingon starships to choose from and make their own, creating their own ship to crew and take into battle. Players will be able to play Klingons from most any Star Trek era, including pure-bred Klingon warriors as well as those afflicted with the Augment Virus, the QuchHa’. Fans of Star Trek: Enterprise, The Original Series, and The Next Generation era will all find materials to use in their games and play in any time they choose.

 

The STA creative team headed up by Jim Johnson called on a bunch of Trek Lit writers to contribute various material to the book, with Klingon authority Keith R.A. DeCandido contributing a considerable amount of content. Other contributors familiar to Trek Lit fans include Derek Tyler Attico, Kelli Fitzpatrick, Scott Pearson, Dr. Lawrence M. Schoen of the Klingon Language Institute, and Dayton Ward. My own contributions are relatively minor (several of the Non-Player Character descriptions, just a few pages’ worth), but I’m in there somewhere.

The new rulebook is available for preorder here:

Star Trek Adventures: Klingon Core Rulebook

Buyers will immediately get a free PDF preview version of the book, with the physical book shipping in the fall or whenever it becomes feasible given the current state of the world.

So remember, a Qapla’ a day keeps the Fek’lhr away. Or something like that.

It’s Arachne Week on Patreon!

We’re probably less than a month away from the publication of Arachne’s Crime, my second original novel and the first half of a duology from eSpec Books. To promote the book, and hopefully to draw in some new subscribers to my Patreon page, I’m devoting this month’s fiction and behind-the-scenes content to Arachne’s Crime.

It begins at noon today with the release of the entire Chapter 1 of Arachne’s Crime for subscribers to my $10 Original Fiction tier and above. Tuesday will be the usual weekly TV review for subscribers at $5 and up, and on Wednesday, all Patreon subscribers at $1 and up will get an advance look at my design sketches for the three alien species featured in Arachne’s Crime, two of which are brand-new. Then on Friday, the $12 Behind the Scenes tier will feature an exclusive look at my worldbuilding notes about the featured aliens’ evolution, behavior, and culture.

If you haven’t tried out my Patreon page before, this is a great time to start!

I’m all out of deadlines…

I just met my deadline for submitting a proposal for a new, potentially quite interesting project that I hope will pan out. It’s audiobook-oriented, so in my sample chapters, I tried to write the whole thing without any “said” tags on the dialogue, which is surprisingly easier than it sounds. (I was following advice from something I coincidentally read a while back with tips for writing with audio in mind, though I can’t remember where it was.)

Anyway, now I don’t have any looming deadlines, not for nearly 5 months, anyway. At the moment, I’m officially between projects, and for the first time in a while, I’m reasonably sure I’ll have enough money for the foreseeable future, providing things go as expected. (Well, at least enough to pull back from the brink for hopefully the last time and start paying down my debts.) So you’d think I’d be relieved, ready to relax and enjoy some downtime. Oddly, though, I feel a little depressed about not having any solid plans or projects to focus on (other than new reviews for my Patreon page, of course).

Maybe it’s an aftereffect of the past few months where I had to find something to work on to avoid going broke, so the prospect of having nothing definite on the horizon makes me reflexively worried, even though I don’t need to be anymore (probably). Or maybe it’s just that I’d gotten on a roll writing the sample chapters so stopping now feels unsatisfying. Or maybe I just have fewer distractions from the increasingly horrible news from the outside world.

Anyway, I don’t plan to be idle for long. I don’t know how much downtime I’ll have before I get the go-ahead to start writing my currently contracted project, but I have a whole list of stories and outlines to work on this year that I’ve only managed to check a few things off of so far, so hopefully I’ll finally be able to get started, at least, on one or two of those. I also have a couple of more Star Trek Adventures campaigns to write, though the world crisis has slowed things down for Modiphius so I’m not under any time pressure on those. So I have options.

Meanwhile, just yesterday my editor Danielle and I worked out the back cover copy for Arachne’s Crime, and I think the completion of the cover art and design is the only remaining step before publication. And I know that process is underway. So the book may be out very soon now. Remember, you can preorder it here.

 

Also meanwhile, I just completed my second online order for grocery pickup, which I scheduled for tomorrow morning. I discovered it was possible to customize my order, to disable substitutions for individual items or give specific instructions, so I could avoid unwanted substitutions of the sort I got last time. So I ordered my acid control medicine with substitutions turned off so I wouldn’t get the wrong dosage this time, though if it turns out they don’t have it at Kroger, I’ll have to go across the lot to Walgreens and actually go into the store. But I’ll have my mask and gloves, and I read recently that it’s reasonably safe to be in a public place for under 15 minutes if it’s not too crowded, which it never has been in my experience even before the pandemic.

The other substitution that turned out poorly was that vegetarian kielbasa that was subbed for my favorite veggie Italian sausage. It did too good a job simulating the aspects of pork flavor and texture that I particularly dislike. I tried the first sausage cut in half and served on hot dog buns, as I often do with the Italian; it was tolerable. I then tried cutting it up in red sauce on top of spaghetti, and that didn’t mesh well at all. So I tried to think of something I had that would go well with a pork-like flavor, and I decided to marinate the next sausage in barbecue sauce. That was decent, but not too satisfying. For the last sausage in the package, I’m wondering if topping it with melted cheese would help, but I’m in no hurry to try.

I’m reminded of how, when I was a kid, I would smother the meat my father cooked in steak sauce to make it more palatable. I remember what may have been the first time he had me try ham, and I didn’t like it so I slathered on the sauce, and when he asked me how it tasted, I said “Like hard A-1 Sauce.” I think he found it pretty funny, which might be why I remember it so clearly.

ARACHNE’S CRIME is out for preorder!

Last night, eSpec Books held a virtual launch party for its new slate of books hosted by the Virtual Balticon online convention (oh, the times we live in), and in conjunction with that, they’ve put up a page on their online store where the upcoming books can be ordered, and where one can enter a raffle for prizes:

https://especbooks.square.site/

So you can now order Arachne’s Crime in either trade paperback or e-book format, right here:

https://especbooks.square.site/product/arachne-s-crime-by-christopher-l-bennett/77

Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for the cover to be finalized. But the Kickstarter backers who won Tuckerizations have had their names snuck into the book in a few places, and I think the cover is the last thing we need to get done before the book is released.

The virtual launch party was conducted over that Zoom thingy everyone seems to be relying on as a substitute for direct contact these days, and I didn’t let folks know about it before because I wasn’t sure until yesterday whether I’d be able to participate (due both to my hesitancy with new technology, the age of my webcam, and my looming deadline on a new writing proposal). But it turned out that Zoom was easy to install and works fine with my webcam, so I was able to join the event, which included most of the participating authors doing readings from our upcoming works. I did a reading of the prologue to Arachne’s Crime, to complement the earlier reading of the first part of Chapter 1 that I did on the eSpec Books Author Reading Series last month. I don’t know if the video of the launch party is available anywhere. I don’t even know if we had much of an audience, since there was little advance publicity except what Danielle McPhail and we authors could manage over Facebook. Still, it was nice to get to socialize with other folks, including my friend Keith R.A. DeCandido, who tends to be as big a ham in his dramatic readings as I do, though he does better character voices. Plus, now I have Zoom, which might be useful for other things going forward.

How well do I Bechdel, updated

It’s been nearly four years since my “How well do I Bechdel?” post, where I assessed the gender inclusiveness of my fiction by applying the famous Bechdel test (an imperfect but useful assessment for an aggregate body of work, as discussed in the original thread). I was surprised at how poorly my original fiction came out, since so much of it is female-centric, but the problem was that it was mostly short fiction that often centered on one male and one female lead. Anyway, I’ve had a significant number of new stories and novels published (or due for publication) since then, so I figured it was worth updating the list.

To recap, a work of fiction passes the Bechdel test if it meets three criteria:

  1. It includes at least two named female characters…
  2. who have a conversation with each other…
  3. about something other than a man.

There’s also the related Mako Mori test for works with only one female lead; such a work can pass if:

  1. It includes at least one female character…
  2. who has her own narrative arc…
  3. that isn’t about supporting a male character’s arc.

Of course, as I mentioned last time, passing the test doesn’t guarantee a work isn’t sexist, or vice-versa, since it’s more about the aggregate than an individual work. A great example I came across a while back is the Roger Corman horror movie Forbidden World (1982). The movie passes Bechdel handily thanks to a scene where the two female leads have a lengthy conversation with each other about how to communicate with the monster attacking their lab… however, the entire conversation is conducted while they’re fully frontally nude together in a futuristic shower. Indeed, they’re treated throughout as sex objects and victims. So Bechdel alone is not a definitive assessment. But then, part of the point is that it’s an absurdly low bar to clear, so there’s no excuse for so many stories in popular culture to fail it.

So let’s see how my total body of work stacks up now. My first post covered my published or pending works up through Star Trek: The Face of the Unknown from January 2017. Most of my published works since then have been original, so we’ll start with those. In publication order, and including sold works awaiting publication:

“Twilight’s Captives”: Passes Bechdel. The female lead Madeleine Kamakau discusses the rescue of hostage children with the mother of one of the hostages, as well as with a female alien leader and an alien of a third “brooder” sex using a female pronoun. An asexual, non-gendered alien also has conversations with several female characters.

“Abductive Reasoning”: Fails Bechdel, but passes Mako. A two-hander between an alien female and a human male, but the alien’s pursuit of her own goal (which involves reconciling with her sister) drives the story.

“Hubpoint of No Return”: Ambiguous pass. Nashira Wing and the female alien Tsshar have a conversation that is partly about rescuing the male lead David, but evolves into one driven primarily by Nashira’s own agenda. Passes Mako twice over, as both Nashira and Tsshar have their own independent agendas shaping events.

“Aspiring to be Angels”: Passes. Emerald Blair and a female scientist have several discussions about the driving concepts and themes of the story, with the male lead only occasionally discussed.

“…And He Built a Crooked Hub”: Limited pass. Nashira converses with several female characters about various matters, although her overall goal is to locate and help David. (Also contains a metatextual joke about this very subject.) Not a Mako pass; three female characters (Nashira, Yldai, and Tsshar) have narrative arcs (i.e. storylines that develop and resolve rather than just unchanging motives/goals), but all are about David in some way.

“Hubstitute Creatures”: Limited pass. Nashira argues with a female colleague about her work (though her relationship with a male character is brought up) and discusses a medical matter with a female alien doctor. Mako pass, since Nashira’s personal agenda and narrative arc drive the story.

Crimes of the Hub: The new bridging material added for the collection includes one scene that passes, where Nashira speaks with two female colleagues (one human, one not) about their respective careers.

“The Melody Lingers”: Fails Bechdel and Mako. There are two primary named female characters (arguably three, but one isn’t truly present), but they have almost no direct interaction except through the male viewpoint character, and neither has an independent arc (one is subservient to him and the other is reacting against him). But this is arguably more a feature than a bug, since the intent is to critique and challenge the viewpoint character’s self-serving treatment of women.

“The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of”: Barely passes Bechdel. There are several named female characters discussing the artifact around which the story revolves, but they’re mostly discussing it with the male lead, and there’s only one paragraph in which one woman addresses another. Probably passes Mako, as Captain Veronica Moyo has a clearly defined agenda that, while it ultimately puts her at odds with the male lead, is not specifically about him, and her actions in pursuit of her goals are a primary catalyst of the story’s events.

“Conventional Powers”: Full pass. Emerald Blair discusses multiple subjects (largely her own actions, aspirations, and beliefs) with at least five other women, four of them named (or at least code-named).

“The Cat Who Chased Her Tail Through Time” (Patreon): Full pass. My debut Patreon story is a self-indulgent piece I wrote long ago about my cats, so it has no “onscreen” human characters except myself; but all but one of the cats in the story are female and they interact and discuss a great deal; also, the story is catalyzed by the actions of two female humans based on my two best friends from college.

“The Moving Finger Writes” (Patreon): Borderline pass at most. There are several named female characters, two human and two alien, but the two female aliens only briefly converse to establish their kinship, and all other conversations are with or about males. Probably a Mako fail; several female characters do have their own independent agendas, but their narrative purpose is to support and advance the male lead’s arc.

“They Also Serve” (Patreon): Fail. Emerald Blair is the only female character, and she’s merely the audience for Arkady’s narrative about meeting his husband.

Arachne’s Crime (upcoming): Full pass. There are multiple central female human characters, a female-identifying AI (Arachne), and a genderfluid alien species for which 3/4 of the most prominent characters are female for most or all of the narrative. They have numerous conversations and debates about a wide variety of topics. (Includes the events of “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” discussed in my previous Bechdel post, with most of the conversations mentioned there present here as well.)

Arachne’s Exile (upcoming): Full pass. There may be a higher ratio of female-male interactions to female-female ones here, but there’s still a number of the latter, and one of the two female leads becomes a more active driver of the narrative and shares several scenes with a female alien ally discussing various topics (spoilers!).

“Comfort Zones” (Kickstarter bonus): Pass. Has two main female characters who discuss their respective future plans and debate exploration policies.

“Vein Glory” (Kickstarter bonus): Only 2/3 Bechdel pass, Mako fail. Two named female characters who speak to each other, but only about matters pertaining to the male lead.

So… as of my previous post, my original fiction had 6 Bechdel passes out of 10, many of them borderline. Now I make it 18 out of 27, so I’m up from 60% to 67% (and only three unambiguous Mako fails) — a moderate improvement, though it could be better. However, I’ve succeeded in substantially improving LGBTQ representation in my original fiction, since about half of the above works feature overtly LGBTQ characters, 7 feature same-sex romance or attraction (8 if you count an ambiguous same-sex kiss), and three feature characters (mostly nonhuman) of non-binary sexuality. And 100% of my novel-length original works (Only Superhuman, Arachne’s Crime/Exile, and Crimes of the Hub as a fixup novel) succeed at both Bechdel and LGBTQ representation. It’s easier to achieve with novel-length works where there are more characters and interactions.

And now my comparatively few Star Trek works:

DTI: Shield of the Gods: Passes, briefly. Two female Aegis agents discuss their business.

ENT: Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference: Passes, though not extensively. Caroline Paris and Kivei Tizahr get acquainted; Devna and Maras discuss various matters (including but not limited to a male character); Tizahr discusses transporter ethics with Regina Tallarico (and two male crewmates); etc.

TOS: The Captain’s Oath: Moderate pass. It’s mainly from Captain Kirk’s perspective and relies on TOS characters, so it’s strongly male-centric, but there are a few Bechdel-passing scenes between female characters original to the novel, mainly Starfleet/Federation personnel discussing their work or crisis situations, though there is also a close female/female friendship depicted between Kamisha Diaz and a Caitian classmate. Mako pass, since several female characters have independent agendas and arcs.

TOS: The Higher Frontier: Moderate pass. As before, most of the passing scenes are between book-original characters, including Reiko Onami returning from Ex Machina, but Miranda Jones has a conversation with Chief DiFalco from ST:TMP, and there’s a scene or two of Uhura reasoning with a (more or less) female community leader of a group of aliens (though a male community leader is also involved). A strong Mako pass, as several female characters’ agendas drive much of the narrative.

Before, 20 out of 23 Trek works passed the full Bechdel test, though all passed at least one part. Now I make it 24/27, bumping up the percentage slightly from 87% to 89%. On the LGBTQ inclusion front, there are prominent/returning bisexual characters in the DTI novella and the ENT novel, although The Captain’s Oath only manages a few incidental references. The Higher Frontier establishes one returning Ex Machina character as lesbian and another as bisexual, but only in passing.

In the case of my Star Trek Adventures RPG campaigns, it’s impossible to assess whether they pass, since of course I have no idea who the Player Characters would be in a given gaming group. But as far as Non-Player Character interactions go, Call Back Yesterday, The Whole of the Law, and Stolen Liberty have only one named female NPC each; The Gravity of the Crime has several prominent female NPCs who interact with each other; and Hard Rock Catastrophe has three named female NPCs, two of whom share a scene but do not necessarily address each other directly (depending on how the Gamemaster plays the scene). So only Gravity is a guaranteed pass; the rest depend on who the PCs are and how and whether they choose to interact with the NPCs.

So overall, a limited improvement, but I think it stacks up pretty well. Since Bechdel is more of an aggregate assessment, it may be unreasonable to aim for 100% success; an overall success rate of 2/3 or more across an entire body of works is reasonably good. After all, the goal is diversity; there’s nothing wrong with stories centering on male leads or a single male-female pair, just so long as they’re part of a wider mix instead of crowding out more female-centric stories.

(Just a reminder that you can find more information and purchase links for these publications elsewhere on the site, by following the menu options up top. And if you read them, please post reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, and the like; the more reviews a publication gets on Amazon, the more its visibility improves in searches.)

StarTrek.com talks to me about THE HIGHER FRONTIER

A new interview with me has just gone up on StarTrek.com:

Star Trek’s Higher Frontier is Out Now

I talk about my inspirations behind the book, the importance of TOS to me, and so on. I also just noticed that I mistakenly gave the impression that Marvel’s 1996 Star Trek/X-Men crossover came out after my 2005 novel Ex Machina — I got a little confused there. But never mind that part.

I also mention my Patreon page, so hopefully that’ll attract some new patrons.

Kickstarter: SUCCESS!! That’s a wrap!

We did it! The eSpec Kickstarter has ended, and I can report virtually complete success! We met our final $6000 stretch goal earlier this morning, unlocking the hardcover omnibuses, and our final tally was $6,181! Over the past month, we have achieved twelve stretch goals in addition to our initial goal of funding Arachne’s Crime and To Hell and Regroup. This campaign has been a runaway success thanks to the 151 of you who backed it, and I’m very grateful to all of you for making the Arachne duology a reality.

Just to sum up, this Kickstarter has funded at least five books for publication — Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile by me, To Hell and Regroup by David Sherman and Keith R.A. DeCandido, the lost novella Get Her Back! by Sherman, and a new story collection by Jeff Young. If you include the omnibus hardcovers of the Arachne duology and The 18th Race trilogy, that makes seven books! And Kickstarter backers will get six bonus stories — “Comfort Zones” and “Vein Glory” by me (the former an Arachne prequel, the latter standalone, both brand new), “House Hunting” and “Alien Invasion of Earth!” by Keith, “Slow and Steady” by John L. French, and “Child of the Wood” by Young, plus the flash fiction collection In a Flash by Christopher Burke. We also unlocked three bonuses for backers — a free audiobook of the story collection The Die is Cast by Danielle Ackley-McPhail & Mike McPhail and free e-books of Robert E. Waters’s Devil Dancers and Keith’s collection Without a License. The only goal we didn’t achieve was the 175-backer bonus of Keith’s novel Guilt in Innocence.

Additionally, three of our backers have earned signed copies of Only Superhuman, including two rare Advance Reader Copies, and two have earned the right to be Tuckerized (have background characters named after them) in Arachne’s Crime!

This has been my third eSpec Kickstarter, and it’s been so much more successful than the first two. The first two both achieved their primary goals but only half of their stretch goals, and the first one made it to $2383 with 87 backers, while the second one ended with $3077 and 109 backers. This time we earned more than twice as much and met every stretch goal, including the last huge pie-in-the-sky one that I thought was unattainable until yesterday. Maybe it made a difference that the primary books were all novels this time rather than a novel/collection mix. Or maybe it’s just that so many more people are stuck at home with time on their hands for reading. Whatever the reason, this Kickstarter has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Thank you all.

Oh, and a note from our editor:

And for those who wanted to add on or increase for the hardcover but you didn’t see the notice in time, it is not too late. You can increase by sending the difference through PayPal to especbooks@aol.com. Just message me what you are increasing for and what email payment is coming from.

Thank you again, because we can’t say it enough!

 

Kickstarter: Last day — last chance to fund the hardcovers!

We’re now in the final hours of the Kickstarter, and we’ve gained more than $1000 since my post just yesterday! That means that our final, boldest goal, the limited-edition omnibus hardcovers of my Arachne duology and David Sherman’s The 18th Race trilogy, might actually be attainable, since we have 21 hours left and less than $1200 to go. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible, but now it seems it could actually happen, with your support.

Our publisher at eSpec, Danielle McPhail, has asked us to share her final appeal on the Kickstarter page:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/e-specbooks/two-for-one-science-fiction-novels/posts/2833194

An excerpt:

We want hardcovers in the worst way for several reasons:

  • This is David Sherman’s last novel. He will be doing short fiction, but there will never be another novel.
  • Most small presses don’t have the capital for hardcovers. They are expensive to make using POD processes, that makes them special to us. We want special, for you and for us.
  • And finally, the more we bring in, the more we are going to be able to pay our authors, even given the added expense of producing hardcovers. (That’s why the goal is so high.)

This is not unattainable. We have 22 hours left and we have a plan. See, if we do hit that last goal, we are realistic enough to realize it’s going to be in the final countdown. That means precious little time for interested parties to upgrade. That doesn’t work for us. Like I said, we want special for you, just as much as for us.

Here is what we are going to do. If we hit the $6000 hardcover stretch goal, all backers pledging at a the One-And-Done  Print pledge level (Issue In Doubt, In All Directions, and To Hell and Regroup, for David Sherman; and Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile for Christopher L. Bennett) will automatically be upgraded to the limited edition, signed and number omnibus collections. You will, of course, have the option to decline the upgrade.

There’s more info at the link on how you can adjust your pledge, and how you can get an extra bonus by helping to spread the word about our campaign.

I hope we can make this happen, folks. Those of you who have Only Superhuman in hardcover will now have a chance to put a hardcover of Arachne’s Crime/Arachne’s Exile on the shelf right next to it. But it’s a race against time now. These are your last hours to help us win it, and get a ton of goodies for yourselves into the bargain.

Kickstarter: One more goal met, and two days to go!

We’ve now got less than 51 hours left in the eSpec Books Kickstarter, and as of last night, we unlocked one more goal, the reprint of the lost DemonTech novella Get Her Back! by David Sherman. That novella has been added to the Add-Ons section of the Kickstarter, so anyone who wants it can add $5 to their pledge to receive the e-book edition or $15 for the paperback edition.

And just a reminder: Anyone who pledged before Arachne’s Exile was funded and added to the rewards and add-ons should look over the revised options and adjust your pledge to include AE if you want to.

This is my third Kickstarter campaign, and in the previous two, we got a surge in pledges right at the end. I’m hoping that will be the case here too. I’ve already met all my goals (the Arachne duology, “Vein Glory,” “Comfort Zones”), but there’s still one more book that backers can get out of this campaign, a new story collection by Jeff Young, which will be published if we make it to $4000, just another $190 away now. And there’s the 18th Race emblem patch that will be added as a bonus at $4400, and finally the real long shot, the limited-edition omnibus hardcovers of David’s trilogy and my duology, if we make it all the way to $6000.

This campaign has already been significantly more successful than either of my previous two, and it’s not over yet. Let’s try for a big finish!