Archive for the ‘My Fiction’ Category

Annotations update: dead links fixed

A TrekBBS member called Extrocomp was kind enough to go through the Star Trek annotations pages here on my blog and alert me to the various links that have gone dead in the years since I posted them, even providing updated file names from Memory Alpha. I spent the morning correcting the dead links — either updating the file locations, linking to Internet Archive snapshots of the now-defunct pages, or finding suitable alternative links to convey the same information (such as Wiki pages, or in one or two cases, the original source of an article that I’d linked to a mirror of). After which, since I can never resist being thorough, I went through my Original Fiction and Marvel annotations on my own and updated or replaced broken links as needed. So now all the annotations should have fully updated links, although there might still be broken links I haven’t yet found on some of the non-annotation pages of the site.

So, thanks, Extrocomp, for your diligence!



At long last, Hub!

I’m happy to report that I can finally announce another upcoming fiction project. Analog Science Fiction and Fact has bought, not just one, but three new stories in my “Hub” series of comedy SF tales! That’s right, after five years, Nashira Wing, David LaMacchia, and Rynyan Zynara ad Surynyyyyyy’a are returning to the pages of Analog for a whole trilogy of new adventures. Since the original three stories formed a loose story arc that I collected in the e-book Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy, I decided to write and submit the next three novelettes back-to-back, with an eye toward a second collection. Each story stands on its own, but there are character arcs that evolve through them, as with the first trilogy — though perhaps they’re somewhat more integrated this time.

Nashira, Rynyan, and David – art by Vladimir Bondar

The first story, “Hubpoint of No Return,” is thus a “season premiere” of sorts, introducing new characters and a new status quo for the returning cast. It’s scheduled to appear as the lead story in the May/June 2018 issue of Analog, going on sale at newsstands on April 24 and probably reaching subscribers even sooner. I would’ve announced it earlier, but I wanted to wait until I knew the fate of the other two stories, which took longer than expected.

The second story, “…And He Built a Crooked Hub,” is a four-dimensional bedroom farce involving the Hubcomplex’s tesseract hotel rooms, and by far my zaniest story yet. (Yes, that is a Heinlein nod.) And finally, “Hubstitute Creatures” will wrap things up with an adventure that takes our heroes to the heart of Hub civilization and puts them through some major changes, in more ways than one. These two have yet to be scheduled, as far as I know. Once I find out, I’ll let you know.

In retrospect, it might have made things easier for Analog‘s editor Trevor Quachri if I’d sent the stories one at a time — I thought that submitting them as a set would speed up the process, but if anything, it probably slowed things down by making the decision more complicated. Still, all three stories are finally sold, and it was an immense relief to get the contracts, just when I was really getting worried about my financial situation and desperately needed some good news. I immediately printed out and signed the contracts and hastened to the post office to mail them back ASAP, barely even noticing the below-freezing temperatures. (I walked because it takes my car a long time to warm up and start moving in cold weather, and I was too impatient to wait.)

Money matters aside, I really got invested in these stories, so it’s very satisfying to make the sales. In these new tales, I got to flesh out the Hub universe and delve deeper into the main characters’ personalities and relationships; I got to expand the cast with some fun new characters; I got to amp up both the comedy and the drama to new levels; and I finally got to realize a couple of story ideas I’ve had in mind since the early development of the Hub premise. (Ironically, the first story of the three has the newest concept behind it, though it incorporates a character I created more than a decade ago for a different project.) There’s something really satisfying about getting to develop a cast and a world over the course of an ongoing series, and this is only the second time I’ve been able to do that, the other being Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation. So I’m really glad Analog‘s readers will get to see these stories — and that I’ll be able to release them in collected form once they’ve all seen print in the magazine, though I don’t yet know how long that will take.

Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy


I’ve also got a couple of other Hub-related things on the horizon — one that’s already in the works but not quite finalized yet, and another that’s more tentative but should be really cool if it happens. I’ll announce them when and if they finally come together. So stay tuned. After years of being just a lonely little e-book collection, the Hub lives again!

Looking for work

February 26, 2018 4 comments

As I mentioned a couple of months back, this past year has been a dry spell for my writing career, due to several different projects being unexpectedly and simultaneously subject to massive delays. Since I kept expecting one or more of these projects to pay off much sooner than it has, I didn’t do enough to look for alternative sources of income, and now I’m in a tight spot financially, in need of something to tide me over until things start moving again. So I’ve finally started trying to look for some kind of non-writing job to fill the void, something that will pay off sooner and more regularly than the various writing projects I’m currently pursuing.

The thing is, I’ve been a full-time writer for so long that my job-hunting skills — which were never all that good to begin with — have become rather atrophied. Ideally, I’d like to line up some kind of writing-related work that I could do from home, like perhaps a column for a website or a copyediting job. But I’ve never quite figured out how to look for that kind of work. On the advice of a couple of colleagues, I’ve signed up with the job-search site Indeed, but I’m still figuring out how to make use of it. I’ve also tried applying for a job at the local public library, something I’ve tried to do a number of times in the past without success, but I figure it couldn’t hurt to try again. The most fulfilling non-writing job I’ve ever had was the 3 years I spent as a student shelver at the university library in college. I love working with books — imagine that.

A couple of weeks ago, when I was more unsure of my options and kind of panicking about what to do, I got an e-mail out of the blue inviting me to come interview for a temp job at a business out in the suburbs. At first, it seemed like a job I might be content to do; the long drive and long hours were less than ideal, but I couldn’t afford to settle for ideal. And I was paralyzed by having too many options to consider, so having one clear option to latch onto felt like a lifeline. Still, as the day of the interview approached, I became more and more unhappy at the prospect of the job — not only was it a long way away, but it was the kind of full-time office job that I’ve always wanted to avoid — but the pay that was offered seemed too good to pass up, and I needed something that would pay off quickly, so I saw no choice but to make the tradeoff.

On the day of the interview last week, though, I quickly realized the job had more negatives than I thought. The introductory speech we were given specifically mentioned that they wanted people who could suppress their own opinions and slavishly follow the rules — which didn’t feel right either for me or for the kind of work it was. The person who interviewed me seemed to be just mechanically following a script and didn’t have any useful, non-packaged answers to my questions and concerns. And I discovered that the work wouldn’t begin right away after all; I couldn’t expect to see any money until the start of April. Once I realized that, it resolved the conflict. There was no tradeoff, no difficult choice to make; the job simply didn’t have any positives for me, period. The moment I realized that I’d have to look for something else instead was surprisingly liberating. Before the interview, I’d expected that if I didn’t get the job, I’d be panicked, not knowing what to do next. Instead, I felt incredibly relaxed and relieved once I got out of there, as if I’d dodged a bullet. Which tells me I really would’ve hated that job.

If nothing else, I think that the mental work I did convincing myself to try out for that job despite its drawbacks has helped firm my resolve for further job searching. It’s made me think “I can do better,” and I hope that will turn out to be true.

So if anyone out there needs a columnist, a reviewer, a copyeditor, a transcriber, or the like, I’m available. And of course, I’m still taking donations through PayPal in the meantime. Even if I do find work soon, any help my readers can provide would be of real benefit to me in the short term.

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Minor update to ONLY SUPERHUMAN Historical timeline

Today I had occasion to glance over the Only Superhuman Historical Timeline page here on my site, and I noticed it was a bit outdated in some of the details, as well as containing a significant typo in one entry (with the word “And” and several spaces inserted somehow in the middle of a word). In particular, I referred to the conflict in 2076 as the Belt War, a leftover term from early drafts that didn’t appear in the final text of OS, whereas in “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” (Analog, June 2016) I’d renamed it the Orbit War, since it was as much between Earth and its orbital habitats as between Earth and the Asteroid belt. (The Orbit War name also appears in the historical appendix to my upcoming collection Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman). I also realized that the description I’d given of the conflict didn’t quite jibe with “Cislunar” or with the background given in the first chapter of OS. So I made some tweaks to the Timeline text to make it more cohesive. (I also updated “Belt War” to “Orbit War” on the Character Profiles page for the novel.)

Only Superhuman MMPB coverIn the course of doing this, I discovered a convergence that had never occurred to me. In Chapter 3 of OS (the first flashback chapter), when Emerald Blair’s father Richard is explaining the backstory of the Earth-Strider tensions to his young daughter, he says at one point that, as a pacifist, he couldn’t fight in “the war or the troubles that followed,” meaning the dissolution of the Strider states into chaos and internecine struggles in the years after the war. It struck me that if that period had actually been known as “the Troubles” (also the term used to refer to the Northern Ireland conflict of the 1960s-90s, a similar era of political/social strife and violence), that would provide a nice explanation for how the superpowered peacekeepers who emerged to save lives and promote order during the period came to be known as the Troubleshooters. I’d always assumed that they’d picked up that nickname before then, and there are lines referring to early Troubleshooters’ involvement in the war, but those lines are in retrospect, spoken years after the fact, so the name could be applied anachronistically. Even if some of these private vigilantes were informally called “troubleshooters” before the actual Troubles in the early 2080s (and before the Troubleshooter Corps’s founding in 2083), it could’ve been the reason the name caught on during and after them. It’s got a nice resonance, and it doesn’t overtly contradict anything in the text, so it works. Indeed, I wonder if I might have had something like this in mind when I wrote the line “the troubles that followed,” but didn’t remember it later on.

In real life, I chose the name “Troubleshooter” because I initially envisioned the characters as an elite class of problem-solvers within a larger Solar Security Bureau, before I realized the premise worked better without a central Solar System government and started over from scratch with OS. But with that backstory gone, the etymology of the name “Troubleshooter” for what were now outright superheroes became a bit more random. I kept it because I wanted to stress that my heroes were primarily problem-solvers, not just fighters. But this new insight gives the name more of an in-universe justification. And it fits neatly, because in OS I used the word “trouble” as a recurring motif in chapter titles and dialogue (including the Green Blaze’s catchphrase, “Looking for trouble? You just found her.”) I’m kind of surprised I didn’t think of it before. Whether I ever get to use it in an actual story remains to be seen, though.

Anyway, this is a reminder to be more careful about curating my website content. When I check the text of my stories to ensure they’re consistent with each other, I don’t always remember I have further material on the site. That material may not be strictly canonical, but I should remember to check it for consistency with new stories. I’m glad I caught this before the release of Among the Wild Cybers, which will hopefully bring some new readers to my site.

I’m writing for the STAR TREK ADVENTURES role-playing game!

February 17, 2018 1 comment

I’m now able to announce another one of the writing projects I’ve been working on over the past few months. I’m writing campaigns/game scenarios for the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game from Modiphius Entertainment. This is a new tabletop RPG that debuted last year, with a lot of the writing being done by fellow Trek prose authors that I know from the Shore Leave convention, including Jim Johnson (who’s the line editor in charge of the writers), Dayton Ward, and Scott Pearson. So last year at Shore Leave, I asked Dayton and Scott if I could get on board, they put me in touch with Jim, and here I am.

Star Trek Adventures has several different game threads. There’s the Living Campaign, which you can sign up to join at the site, and which has ongoing storylines in the Original Series and Next Generation/Deep Space Nine/Voyager time frames, written largely by Dayton Ward and Scott Pearson. (EDIT: Rather, I’m told that Dayton & Scott created the basic outline of the Living Campaign, but other writers are doing the regular installments.) There are also a bunch of standalone adventures, which are being written by various different authors, including me, and will be available online as PDF downloads. These are self-contained “episodes” that gaming groups can play in one or two sessions, usable for just about any set of characters. They’re usually set in a specific time frame, but most can be adapted for play in different Trek eras if the players desire.  And of course, Gamemasters can buy the Core Rulebook and use it to create their own campaigns as well. Indeed, we’re encouraged to conclude our standalone campaigns with hooks for possible sequels/continuations that GMs can develop themselves.

I’ve never really gotten into any Star Trek or other role playing games in the past. There was that time a while back when a college friend worked with me on a two-person e-mail game we called Dragon Trek, where I played a Starfleet character who got transported into a Dungeons & Dragons world that she ran as the Dungeon Master. It was her attempt to ease me into gaming by combining our different interests into something we could share, and it was fun for a while, but unfortunately she got too busy with family and parenting, so we never really got past the preliminaries. But the character I created for that game was the basis for the T’Ryssa Chen character I debuted in Star Trek: The Next Generation — Greater Than the Sum about 7 years later.

Aside from that, though, I never really got into gaming, particularly Trek games, since it seemed to me that they often tended to focus far too much on combat and war scenarios, which are not my preferred thing for Star Trek to be about. What drew me to the Star Trek Adventures game is that its focus is less on fighting and more on plot and character development, emulating the structure of Trek TV episodes. Character creation is focused less on physical skills and training (since all Starfleet officers are presumed to be experts to begin with) and more on personal attributes like Control, Insight, Daring, Presence, and Reason, as well as personal values and life experience. For instance, the character creation process even includes a step where you choose a couple of important “Career Events” that give your character backstory and inform their behavior in the here and now. I found that so intriguing that I made a point of developing a campaign that would bring the characters’ backstories into play in the main story. (No, it’s not a time travel campaign.)

The goal of gameplay in STA is not merely to gather loot or gain combat experience points, but to advance character development by challenging the character’s values and achieving personal milestones depending on how those challenges are resolved. There are combat mechanics, but they’re a subset of the larger set of Conflict mechanics that focuses more heavily on Social Conflict, i.e. persuasion, reasoning, deception, negotiation, intimidation, etc. Action is presented more in terms of Tasks and Challenges to overcome, which can be anything from winning a fight to upgrading a ship’s system to making a scientific discovery to convincing a hostile alien to make peace. I think the game’s system does a very neat job of converting Star Trek‘s values and style of storytelling into game mechanics. Just in general, it seems like a pretty versatile system.

For those who are curious about such things, you can read more on the website link in the first paragraph, but the game is based on a 2d20 system, which means that it uses two 20-sided (icosahedral) dice, a staple of tabletop RPGs. It also uses a variable number of 6-sided dice (the more the better) as “Challenge Dice” for determining success in Tasks, Challenges, and Conflicts; Modiphius sells specialized dice with Starfleet delta emblems on them, but you can substitute regular 6-sided dice. I actually have a set of gaming dice including 2 d20s and a bunch of 6-sided dice, among others — it’s actually my sister’s old gaming dice pouch from high school, which she left behind when she went to college and I eventually claimed for myself. (I don’t remember whether I had her permission or not, so I might have technically swiped them, but then, my sister got most of her 6-sided dice by swiping them from the family’s board games, so it evens out.) I used them for the Dragon Trek game, but I haven’t used them since. (I even made a dice roller out of a paper towel roll, but these days it’s a pencil holder on my desk.) I thought it might be necessary to use those dice in the course of creating campaigns for the game, but as it’s turned out, I haven’t needed to. Creating a game is more a matter of following the Core Rulebook to determine what the mechanics and success parameters are for a given Task, so I just need to say what you need to roll to succeed; I don’t need to roll any dice myself. I suppose I could use the dice if I wanted to create a character by random means, but since I’m creating characters to fill specific story functions, it’s better to customize their attributes.

Even with all the help from the Rulebook, it’s been a challenge for me to adjust to a new style of writing. I’m used to coming at a story from the perspective of its main characters, to build plots that are driven by characters’ distinct personalities and objectives and values. Now, though, I have to figure out ways to tell stories in which I don’t even know who the main characters are — stories that can be adapted to any main characters and still work regardless of their personalities and choices. That’s not easy to do. One way is to focus on plot and the problems the characters have to solve, while creating room within the plot for individual character development, or alternative paths the plot can take depending on what the characters choose to do or whether they succeed or fail at a task. Another way is to focus on the personalities of the “guest stars,” the non-player characters I create, and how their values and agendas drive events and compel the Player Characters to respond. That’s kind of the way the original Star Trek and most 1960s-70s television approached things — keeping the lead characters constant from week to week and having most of the character development and growth be driven by the featured guest stars. But that’s less satisfying for me. What I’ve tried to do is to design situations that will challenge the PCs to make difficult moral choices, confront their personal issues, or try to win someone over with arguments based on their own core values, then leave them a lot of room to role-play and debate and work through it all, with their success or failure affecting what happens next in the story. It’s been quite a challenge, figuring out ways to do character-driven storytelling in the absence of specific characters. I hope I’ve managed to pull it off.

However, I have done one campaign so far that’s much more of a big action-adventure epic. I actually tried to do that one first, but it was too complex in its game mechanics, so I got stuck. I ended up writing a couple of others first, getting a handle on how the mechanics worked, and then tackled the big one. That one hasn’t gotten final approval yet, but hopefully it will soon. It should be a pretty fun one.

I’m not yet sure when my first campaigns will go on sale, but I’m told it should be within the next couple of months. I’ll let you know when they become available.

Locus bestseller again!

Blowing my own horn department: Star Trek: Enterprise — Rise of the Federation: Patterns of Interference has made the Locus Bestsellers list in the Media & Gaming Related category for the third month in a row! After two months at first place in the category, it’s now fallen to #4, but I’m still on there!

Thanks to David Mack for the heads-up!

AMONG THE WILD CYBERS: Putting it together

I’ve just e-mailed the corrected galleys for Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman back to the publisher, which should be the last step for me in putting the interior of the book together, though I still need to work on coming up with a first draft for the cover blurb. Anyway, it was nice to see the whole thing put together as a book, and to get a sense of what the experience of reading through it will be. I’m pretty satisfied with how it worked out.

I thought it might be worth explaining how we arrived on the story order for the collection. My first thought was to go with chronological order, because that’s my natural inclination. That order would’ve looked like this:

  • “No Dominion” (2059)
  • “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” (2092)
  • “Aspiring to Be Angels” (2106)
  • “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide” (2176)
  • “The Weight of Silence” (2202)
  • “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” (2250)
  • “Twilight’s Captives”  (2315)
  • “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing” (c. 2480)

I thought it made for a decent story order, with a fairly strong starting story and a really strong closing story, and a good mix of lengths and focuses in between. I figured that if I inserted transitional passages explaining the intervening history to tie the stories together, it would give it a better flow. “No Dominion” wasn’t in continuity with the others, but as the odd one out, it seemed to make sense to put it either first or last, so including it in the chronological ordering seemed to work, however awkwardly.

But there was a glaring problem right off: That order opened with two murder mysteries, which would’ve given a wrong idea about what to expect from the rest of the stories. I was sufficiently attached to chronological order that I was willing to live with that, but my editor, Danielle McPhail, felt it was important to keep the two mysteries separate, to improve the flow. She agreed with me that “Butterfly’s Wing” was the strongest story and should go last, but she felt the next-strongest one was “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” and that it should go first (hence the name of the collection). Beyond that, she left it up to me to pick the story order, requiring only that the two mysteries be separate. I took it as a general guideline to avoid putting similar stories together.

I felt that the brand-new Emerald Blair story, “Aspiring to Be Angels,” should come second, so the audience wouldn’t have to wait too long for it. I put “Twilight’s Captives” and “No Dominion” next because I wanted to front-load the collection with stories featuring strong, impressive female leads, particularly ones I hope to revisit in future works. I put “Captives” first because that let me alternate between stories with an interstellar/alien focus and a Sol System/investigation focus.

I couldn’t follow “No Dominion” with either “Cislunar Railroad” (both mysteries) or “The Weight of Silence” (both first-person narratives), so the fifth story had to be “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide.” And I didn’t want to put “Weight” next to “Butterfly’s Wing,” because those are both two-handers about a man and a woman dealing with a crisis in space. So “Weight” had to come after “Vehicular,” making those the only two consecutive stories still in chronological order. And that left only “Cislunar” for the penultimate slot. That broke the alternating pattern between interstellar settings and Sol System settings, but I guess it’s good that the pattern isn’t too rigid.

The upshot is a collection in which no two consecutive stories are set in the same century: 2250, 2106, 2315, 2059, 2176, 2202, 2092, c. 2480. That’s a pretty good mixture. In reading through the collection for the galley edits, I found that the jumping around in the timeline didn’t bother me. After all, the stories have fairly little direct connection to one another, so a linear progression from one to the next isn’t hugely important. It does feel a little odd to see “Wild Cybers” referencing the events of “Vehicular Genocide” when that one doesn’t come along until later in the collection, but in its own way, that kind of works. Referencing something near the start of a book and only explaining it later is a fairly common storytelling device, and this particular reference isn’t crucial to the story, just a bit of backstory that can wait to be fleshed out. There’s a similar instance of that connecting two other stories, though it’s looser.

Of course, there is a historical appendix at the end to put the stories in chronological context, so readers can use that as a guide if they want to read (or re-read) the stories chronologically. The appendix is put together from the transitional passages I wrote when I expected the collection to be in chronological sequence, although I was able to restructure and expand it once I put it all together into one essay, so it actually works better that way. It does, however, assume that the reader has already read the stories.

All in all, I’m really glad that this is nearly a book. I only announced it to the world two days ago, but I’ve been working on this collection on and off for nearly a year now. I can’t wait until all of these stories are finally available to my readers in one comprehensive package.