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eSPEC EXCERPTS – ARACHNE’S CRIME

From the eSpec Books blog, an excerpt from Chapter 1 of ARACHNE’S CRIME.

eSpec Books

We have a lot of exciting new titles coming out over the next six months. Here is a sneak peek of Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Crime. The first volume in his hardcore science fiction duology.


Arachne’s Crime – Chapter One

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 the boy, to give his…

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Isolation breeds self-sufficiency (sometimes)

August 19, 2020 1 comment

Remember how last week I was worried about having to let a repairperson into my apartment to fix my phone, only to be relieved when it turned out they could fix it from the building’s equipment room? Well, my relief was short-lived, because another breakdown came to my attention soon thereafter.

For quite a while now, I’ve heard an almost constant sound of water in the pipes in my apartment bathroom, and I assumed it was from somewhere else in the building, until I noticed some water leakage on the floor around the toilet. I checked the tank and saw that there was a small but constant sputter of water out of the top of the fill valve assembly. I was able to adjust the lid of the tank so the water squirting upward didn’t drip out the back, which seemed to be the cause of the water on the floor, but that didn’t solve the problem that my toilet was wasting water through this constant leak, and possibly had been for weeks, even months before I caught on.

In saner times, I would’ve gone to the office and alerted them to the problem so the maintenance guy could come fix it, but the staff of my building seems uniformly unwilling to wear masks, so I didn’t want to let any of them in if I could help it. At first I figured I could just live with the slight leak. But finally I had the thought that maybe I could do something about it myself. I found an instructional video online which showed me that the problem was probably a leaky washer in the cap of the fill valve, and that a replacement could be obtained cheaply and installed quite simply. My assembly matched the one in the video, so I turned off the water and tried detaching the cap to check the washer. I hoped maybe I could just push it more firmly into place or something and make a temporary fix, but when I put it back together, my fiddling apparently made it worse. Now there was more water slowly but uncontrollably leaking into the tank and spilling into the overflow pipe.

So I found a replacement cap and washer assembly on Amazon and ordered it, and I just hoped I’d diagnosed the problem correctly and it wasn’t a leak somewhere else in the fill valve unit, or that I hadn’t broken something else in my fiddling. In the meantime, I realized I could just leave the water supply valve turned off except when needed. That kept the problem in abeyance, and I just had to hope the replacement cap wouldn’t suffer the same delivery delays or cancellations I had with an order last month. Luckily, it didn’t. I ordered it on Saturday night and the part came an hour ago, just under four days later. Apparently it was delivered by an Amazon driver rather than the US mail; there was real-time tracking info on their site as she approached, and she called me on arrival to confirm delivery. (Her phone had a Seattle caller ID; either that was a really long drive, or it was registered as an Amazon number or something like that.)

So I picked up the part from the porch just after she left, read the instructions on the back, rewatched the instructional video, and went about the swap. I hit two snags. One was that the bit that clips the lever onto the rod connected to the float was clipped on pretty tightly, and I was afraid to get too forceful wresting them apart for fear of snapping the rod. I finally managed to pry the prongs of the clip far enough apart to slip them off the rod. Okay, so then I put it down next to the new one — and I promptly lost track of which one was the new one! Not to worry, though — back on Saturday, I’d taken a photo of the cap with my phone so I could check it against the Amazon items and make sure I got the right one. I made sure the photo was close enough to include the serial number (since I wasn’t sure if it was a more generic part number I’d need to know, though luckily it wasn’t), so I was able to tell the two valves apart by their numbers.

With that settled, I snapped the new cap into place and, with anxious anticipation, turned on the water. The tank refilled… the float rose… and the water stopped! The repair worked! Such blessed silence, at long last!

It was such a simple thing to fix, but it brought me such an enormous sense of relief and satisfaction, since I’ve been so worried about it not working. It’s a relief that my repair attempt went so smoothly and easily, that it didn’t require further effort or have any complications. And it’s satisfying to know I can handle something like this on my own (well, with a little help from people on YouTube). Sure, I had to spend money for the part and shipping, whereas the maintenance guy would’ve done it for free, but it’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make these days. (I figure the 13-odd bucks it cost is too low for a renter’s insurance claim.)

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Tea at last, tea at last

My tea tribulations have finally cleared up. First, the store finally got back to me about the tea that they charged me $3.79 for but was omitted from my pickup order. They say they’ve given me a $4 credit on my next order. I can’t find any mention of it on their website yet, but hopefully it’ll show up when I place my next order.

Anyway, that still left me close to running out of tea bags, so I figured I might as well try to buy a big box of tea bags from Amazon again, hopefully from a different vendor. This time, it went through without a hitch, and it just arrived minutes ago. It’s a relief to know the US Postal Service is still at least somewhat functional. It turns out it’s not one big box so much as three boxes of 104 tea bags each, shrink-wrapped together. Unlike the boxes of 100 bags I usually get from the store, the bags are individually wrapped instead of in four trays of 25 bags each, which I guess is why there are a few more. It’ll create more waste, but I guess if I were really concerned about minimizing waste, I’d get loose leaf tea instead (and I probably should). Anyway, I even found room for all three boxes in my cabinet, with a little shoving around of things. At the rate I go through tea, I figure this should last me for several months, maybe half a year or more. So I’m set for a while. (Amazon actually lets you subscribe and get a new shipment every X number of months, which is worth considering.)

On the downside, the pitcher I tried to buy for iced tea was still running late, so I contacted the vendor directly through Amazon, and they said they were out of stock and cancelled my order, which I hadn’t been charged for yet. I’ll just have to buy a different pitcher, but I like to buy enough stuff at once to get free shipping, and I already made an exception for the tea, so I’m a bit reluctant to place another single order so soon. And the iced tea is less necessary now that I have my regular tea bags back in stock.

As for the iced tea, I’ve made two batches now, using my orange juice pitcher while it was empty and then storing the iced tea in an empty, washed-out juice bottle. It’s okay, but it’s pretty strong. I guess it’s meant to be diluted by a lot of ice in the chilling stage; I’m probably not adding enough. I’m working out how much sweetener and lemon juice to add through trial and error.

So anyway, now that I’ve replenished my caffeine sources, I should really get back to work.

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The universe doesn’t want me to have tea, it seems

I’m having the hardest time restocking on tea bags lately. Last time I ordered groceries online, the store was out of the black tea bags I ordered, and instead of letting me search through available options for a substitute, their software picked a substitute arbitrarily and required me to either accept or reject it. The substitute they offered was a box of “iced tea blend” bags from the same maker, and I figured, okay, one tea bag is much like another aside from taste, so I’ll try it.

Turns out, however, that iced tea bags are really big and meant to make one quart per bag, impossible to use to make a single cup (unless it’s really strong, I guess). I needed a pitcher to make it in, and I only have one pitcher, which I use for orange juice so it isn’t available. So I didn’t have any way to make the tea. So I decided, what the hey, last time I needed stuff I couldn’t get from the store, I just bought it on Amazon. So I went to Amazon and bought a big box of tea bags, and while I was at it, I bought a pitcher so I could make the iced tea after all.

But I didn’t count on the US Postal Service becoming a victim of all the political awfulness going on and being actively sabotaged and delayed by the administration lackey currently in charge of it. My big box of tea bags got lost in the mail and Amazon wrote it off, giving me a refund, though they said it’s still conceivable it might show up someday. And my pitcher was supposed to arrive by yesterday, but Amazon now says it’s “Delayed, not yet shipped.”

Anyway, sometime last week, I finished a bottle of apple juice and realized that once I used up the current batch of orange juice, I could make iced tea in the empty pitcher, then use a funnel to pour it into the (washed) juice bottle, the only suitable-sized beverage container I have that isn’t in use. So I set out to do just that… but reading the instructions on the iced tea bags reminded me that I’d have to sweeten the tea. The only sweetener I keep in the apartment is honey, and that only works in hot tea. So I had to abandon that plan.

So, okay. I counted my tea bags again and figured that if I kept my intake to 2, at most 3 cups a day, I could stretch it out until my next grocery trip. So I put tea bags on my grocery shopping list, and while I was at it, I ordered a box of sweetener packets, so I could make the iced tea in my impending pitcher once all the ingredients came together (this was before I was informed of the pitcher’s delay).

To digress a bit for setup: I woke up yesterday morning to find the power was out. Not a nice thing to wake up to. All I could do was go back to bed, and the power came back on a bit over an hour later. Okay, good, but I didn’t know how long the power had been out. Would I have to throw stuff out from the fridge? I didn’t think it had been that long, since with my ceiling fan off, I would’ve been hotter under the sheets if it had been a long time. But I wasn’t sure. So I looked for outage info on the power company’s website, but they only seemed to list current outages, not resolved ones. I finally went to their Facebook page and messaged them, and they told me the outage had started no more than two and a half hours before the power returned. Which meant my food in the fridge should be okay, since it was under the recommended four hours and I never opened the door in that time. Though I only found this out after I’d had a breakfast without milk (frozen waffles and vegetarian sausage) to be on the safe side. Later in the day, I had other perishables from the fridge and they were fine.

So this morning, I confidently poured a bowl of cereal and dried fruit and took out the milk. With an excess of caution, I took a whiff… and it smelled badly spoiled! I guess it had been open longer than the other items, closer to the brink of spoilage already. Still, there was a fair amount I had to pour out, and I had to make do with coffee creamer diluted with water on my cereal — not great, but necessary because of the dried banana chips. (The cereal itself, a store-brand Cheerios equivalent, is actually quite palatable without milk. But dried banana chips are really hard and crunchy.) Anyway, this moved up my planned grocery trip to today, so yay, I’d finally get my tea bags.

And my car wouldn’t start.

Yup, once again, letting it sit idle for a couple of weeks (just 12 days, actually, which doesn’t seem like it should be enough) drained the battery. But this time, I had that portable storage battery/jumpstarter I bought back in June. (Whose built-in emergency flashlight was useful to me the previous morning when the power was out.) I went back up to my apartment and grabbed it, and after a few false starts figuring out how to hook it up properly and turn on all the switches, I got my car to start. Yay! I drove a circuitous route to the store to give the car battery time to recharge, and then I picked up my order, leaving the engine running while I waited just in case. And came home and unpacked my groceries.

Only to find the tea wasn’t there.

I was charged for it, it was on my receipt, but it wasn’t in any of the bags. I went out in the rain to double-check the trunk — no tea. (Which I guess makes it a runk.) Nor had I absently placed it in the wrong cabinet, nor was it on the ground anywhere between my car and my apartment. The grocery clerk (whose nose was sticking out of her mask) probably missed it while loading the trunk. Or the runk.

The one thing, other than milk, that it was most important to me to get on my trip today — and it’s the one thing that was missing. And it’s the same thing I’ve been trying to get unsuccessfully for nearly two weeks now! What the hell, universe?

I let them know through their website that the tea had been omitted and asked for a refund, or a delivery if possible. But as things stand, I’m down to my last half-dozen teabags, which I typically use twice each to stretch them out.

At least I have the sweetener now, so I finally have the option to make iced tea and keep it in the empty juice bottle (which I washed already), or in my pitcher when and if it arrives. And I suppose if I wanted hot tea, I could just heat up some iced tea in the microwave or something — couldn’t I? (Advice welcome.)

Plus I restocked on Folger’s Coffee Singles, which are like tea bags, but bigger and with coffee. I don’t have a coffee maker and these are better than instant; indeed, I’ve read that the flavor is considered pretty good compared to ground coffee. I’ve been avoiding coffee for a while, only having tea in the morning, since I thought the higher caffeine levels (or maybe the sugar in the creamer, or both) might be causing me anxiety. So I let my coffee bags run out and only had some instant (which I keep on hand because I like to add a bit of it to hot chocolate for flavor). But a day or two ago, I was sleep-deprived and decided to have a cup of instant coffee at midmorning. And it actually made me feel better, more alert rather than irritable. So I figured I should get more coffee as an alternative to tea, though I’d still prefer not to have more than one cup per day.

Still… I want my dang tea bags. This is getting ridiculous.

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Boldly Going Into Star Trek Adventures

A post from one of my fellow contributors to the STA Klingon Core Rulebook:

ENEMY LINES: Dispatches from a Cranky Writer

I’ve been working on the Star Trek Adventures role-playing game with the fine folks at Modiphius for some four years now, after being “drafted” by Jim Johnson. My role has primarily been as the canon editor, meaning I review the narrative text to ensure the details are consistent with the filmed canon across the multiple TV shows and movies covered by their license (basically everything prior to Star Trek: Discovery). In the very beginning, I also worked with Dayton Ward to develop the Shackleton Expanse, an unexplored region of the Beta Quadrant that served as a setting for a series of adventures in an early promotional campaign run by Modiphius. That was the last time I’d done any writing for the game . . . until now!

Star-Trek-The-Klingon-Empire-Cover-Promo-No-LogosFor the recently announced Klingon Empire Core Rulebook(available for preorder at the time of this post, or right now as…

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Today turned out better than it started

That’s the headline I thought of, but I should begin with yesterday morning, when my building maintenance people told me I needed to move my car from the rear lot to the front lot so they could resurface the rear one. (I didn’t see the notice on the front door ahead of time since I don’t go outside much these days.) When I got down there, I was the only person, resident or building staff, who was wearing a mask.

And my car wouldn’t start.

I hadn’t driven in a while, so the battery had run down. So I had to get a jump start from several people not wearing masks, not caring who they breathed on. At least they had their own cables so I didn’t have to interact too closely with them. Still, things like this that would once have been routine are scary these days, especially because so many people don’t seem to get that they aren’t routine anymore.

So anyway, that brief, sudden bout of anxiety ruined my mood for the whole day, not only because of the mask thing but because I needed to get groceries either yesterday or today and wasn’t sure my car would start when I needed it. Plus, while I finally got a new novel advance check last week, thereby easing a lot of my financial anxiety, I was waiting for a portion of it to complete the transfer to my other bank so I could put some more money on my credit card before grocery day. And though yesterday was the expected completion date of the transfer, it didn’t complete.

So this morning I was still kind of uneasy about things — especially when I went out to test my car and it again wouldn’t start. The automatic door lock worked, and the wipers worked when I tried them, so I knew the battery was still viable, just drained. The few minutes I ran it while moving my car yesterday weren’t enough. And I still needed groceries. I might need to spend the extra 10-12 bucks to get them delivered. More than that, I had a tax appointment I’d need to drive out to next week, or so I thought (see below).

Tired of my dependence on jumpstarts, I decided to look on Amazon for one of those portable charger units you can use to jump your own battery. Now that I finally have some money, it seemed worth the investment. I found what seemed like a good and inexpensive one, at a discount and the last one in stock, so I snapped it up — but the delivery date was the end of the month, so it wouldn’t help with any car trips before then.

Meanwhile, I tried watching last week’s Agents of SHIELD on the ABC website, since without a cable provider I have to wait 8 days to see an episode. But it was glitchy. The first act or so had the audio description turned on with no way to turn it off (the second week in a row it’s done that). Then it restarted from the top without it, so I had to jump forward to where it left off. But not long after that, my laptop shut down! Sometimes streaming sites work it too hard and it shuts down to protect itself from overheating. And these days I routinely keep a cool pack from the freezer on top of it when I watch videos, just in case (at least from sites that I don’t know are free of that problem). Either the pack wasn’t cold enough or the thing was just running too hot in spite of it. I rebooted and tried again, but it still seemed like my laptop was running pretty hot, so I gave up rather than risk it. So that was pretty frustrating.

Anyway, a while later, I decided to walk to the nearest mailbox to mail a check, so I could try to clear my head with some exercise. But I gave my car another try, just to see if maybe it had recovered a bit more charge. No luck. But this time, another tenant came out (masked, yay) and I asked her for a jumpstart. Neither of us was very experienced at it, but we managed to get my car started. (She had an electric car with the battery in the trunk and an engine I couldn’t even hear when it was running.) So I drove to the post office, dropped the check in the drive-through mailbox, and then just motored around the neighborhood for a while, since a Facebook friend told me last night that a half-hour drive every so often would keep the battery charged. Still, I could only hope there wasn’t some defect draining the battery and that I’d be able to go pick up groceries after all.

So things were still feeling kind of iffy. On top of all that, I needed to call my tax preparers and ask about the appointment I have scheduled for next week. (I hate to say I’ve benefited from the pandemic, but I’d never have been able to pay my taxes on time if not for the 3-month postponement.) Since the main offices were closed for the summer, I would’ve had to drive a very long way to get to the place, and that would’ve been just to drop off my documents so they could prepare things without me present. And I didn’t know if my car would even work. So I called to ask if there was an online alternative, and the guy told me how to sign up for their website. So that was one step of that problem solved.

Also, my bank transfer finally went through, so I was able to take care of the credit card and also pay some bills, as well as order groceries for later pickup. So things were starting to fall into place. When the time came to pick up groceries, my car did start — and this time, the clerk who brought them out was wearing her mask properly, unlike last time. And though my phone had trouble logging into the website you’re supposed to contact on arrival — which last time meant my order wasn’t logged in properly and I had to go back hours later and figure out how to complete it on my phone so that my card would be charged and I wouldn’t be an inadvertent grocery thief — this time they seem to have improved their process and the order went through properly after all. (However, they were out of sandwich turkey and I forgot to order cheese slices, so I’m not going to be able to have my usual turkey sandwiches for a week or two.)

So stuff was pretty much working out now, and I was feeling better. But the best news came just a little while ago. My new novel outline was approved, so now it won’t be long before I get the second part of the advance. I’m finally pulling away from the brink after all these frustrating months, and hopefully it’s for good this time, if certain other things continue to work out.

Hmm… you know, I wrote this post to celebrate how relieved I was feeling that so much stuff worked out well after the rough start to the day. But writing about how I felt before has made me tense again. Well, it will pass. Things are starting to look up for me now, and hopefully that will continue.

Incidentally, one thing I’ve been enjoying these past few days is DC Universe’s Harley Quinn. I’ve avoided the show because I heard it was really violent and crude, but I’ve seen glowing reviews of its character work and plotlines, so I finally decided to give it a try. It definitely is far more gory than I care for, and I avert my eyes a lot, but otherwise it’s a damn impressive show, with mostly effective humor and fantastic, nuanced character work. There have been some very funny moments, but also some incredibly poignant, moving, and dramatically powerful moments. It’s the first time I’ve liked Kaley Cuoco in anything; she’s surprisingly good as Harley. (But the last thing I saw her in was the original Charmed, which was 14 years ago, so long that they’ve already rebooted it.) Lake Bell is fantastic as the best version of Poison Ivy I’ve ever seen. And Diedrich Bader is easily the best Batman voice actor not named “Kevin.” Remember how rattled I felt yesterday? I spent much of the day bingeing this show, and it was very comforting. (I’m only up to episode 8 of season 2 as of this writing, so no spoilers in the comments, please.)

So that’s where I’ve been. My personal sources of anxiety are finally working out for the better, so now I just have to worry about the ongoing collapse of civilization going on outside. Still, it did seem that a somewhat higher percentage of people were wearing masks today than the last time I went out for groceries. More people may finally be catching on. I just hope my building’s staff figures it out soon.

the other cool thing at Balticon: eSpec launch party!

Reblogging from Keith DeCandido…

KRAD's Inaccurate Guide to Life

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I forgot to mention one thing I did at Virtual Balticon 54: the eSpec Books launch party! One of the highlights of Balticon these last years has been the launch parties run by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, and every since she, her husband Mike McPhail, and Between Books owner Greg Schauer formed eSpec in 2015, it’s been an eSpec launch party specifically.

This year, the launch was virtual, and since part of any launch party is the ability to buy books, eSpec set up a “virtual launch” section on their online bookstore.

The launched books included:

  • To Hell and Regroup by David Sherman & Keith R.A. DeCandido (that’s me!)
  • The Literary Handyman: Build-a-Book Workshop by Danielle Ackley-McPhail
  • Arachne’s Crime by Christopher L. Bennett
  • In a Flash 2020 by Christopher J. Burke
  • Stellar Science Fiction by Jeff Young
  • Death’s Embrace by Michelle D. Sonnier
  • new editions of Danielle Ackley-McPhail’s Eternal Cycle

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Picking up a new skill (and groceries)

Last time I went grocery shopping, I was concerned at how many people in the store — staff included — were unmasked, and how little concern there was for distancing in the aisles. So this time, I finally gave in and registered at the grocery store’s website so I could order groceries online and arrange a drive-in pickup (which usually has a fee attached but is now offered for free given the pandemic).

I found the website surprisingly convenient; I entered my shopper’s card number when I registered, and as a result, when I started shopping, I was shown a list of the specific items I’d bought previously, already in the store’s computer system. So it was easy to pick out my standard items rather than having to search for them. That was very handy and a real timesaver.

The pickup was straightforward enough. I got a text ahead of time telling me what number to call when I got there, so once I arrived, I just had to tap the number in the text and it connected me right to them. (There were signs in the parking spaces saying what number to call as well, but the text made it simpler.) Then I just had to wait a few minutes for them to come out, pop the trunk, and there we were.

The downside is that they had to substitute a few items due to supply shortages. A couple of the substitutions were harmless, but they gave me my antacid pills in the wrong dosage (though I can just take two at a time to make it up), and in place of my favorite vegetarian Italian sausage (the Tofurky brand, which has sun-dried tomato and basil and is very spicy), they substituted vegetarian kielbasa, which I don’t know if I’ll like. I knew I shouldn’t have gambled on that one, since they didn’t always have the Italian in stock even before all this. I wish the system were set up so we could specify or decline an alternate beforehand rather than gambling on their judgment.

The staffers who came out to deliver groceries to me, and before that to the person ahead of me, were all masked (as was I on general principles, even though I stayed in my car), but one of the people in the earlier group had his mask pulled down, defeating the purpose. I like to think that most people would be more diligent about mask use if they understood that it was to protect others more than themselves. There’s obviously a contingent of selfish people who don’t care about the risk to others as long as they aren’t inconvenienced, but I know they’re very much in the minority, despite what certain politicians claim. Also, based on what I’ve seen, I think more people need to be reminded that masks are not a substitute for social distancing and the rest, but a supplement to them. Parachutists wear crash helmets, but that doesn’t mean wearing a helmet means they get to skip the parachute.

Anyway, aside from those drawbacks, I appreciated the convenience of shopping this way. There were some things they didn’t have available for pickup, so I’ll probably have to brave the store again at some point, but it will be nice to be able to order through the website again in the future, at least as long as the pickup fee is waived. I do feel a bit guilty about making the grocery staff do the work for me, but at the same time, I’m not exposing them to the risk of my presence in the store, which is probably more important under the circumstances (I’m unlikely to have been exposed, but you never know).

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AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT – CHRISTOPHER L. BENNETT

Here’s a new interview with me to tie in with the upcoming release of ARACHNE’S CRIME and ARACHNE’S EXILE.

eSpec Books

eSpec Books interviews best-selling science fiction author Christopher L. Bennett, author of Arachne’s Crime (currently funding onKickstarter), Only Superhuman, Among the Wild Cybers, and a wide array of media tie-in novels.

eS: Hi, Christopher. Thank you for joining us today. Arachne’s Crime has some pretty detailed tech. How much of the tech is extrapolation and how much is technobabble? Please tell us something about the science of your universe.

CB: I’ve always striven to make the science in the Arachne/Troubleshooter Universe (as I’ve finally settled on calling it) as authentic as I can. I allow for a little poetic license with things like faster-than-light travel, but I ground them in real theory with a minimum of fudging. The novelette that Arachne’s Crime is expanded from — “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide,” my first professional sale back in 1998 — was a concept that came out of the…

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I have braved the realm of groceries

I’ve been trying to make it as long as possible without going to the grocery store, and fortunately I stockpiled a fair amount of stuff before the lockdown began and on my previous trip just over 3 weeks ago. It’s not just because of COVID-19 concerns, but also money — I’m still waiting on my stimulus check and on a new writing contract, and my bank accounts are quite threadbare at the moment. I thought I still had a few more days before I’d have to go, but this morning I discovered that the downside of trying to ration my milk usage and make a gallon last as long as possible is that, well, milk doesn’t last indefinitely. I had to dump out maybe two cereal bowls’ worth of spoiled milk this morning, and though I could maybe have managed one more day (I had two frozen waffles left), I decided I might as well go ahead and make the trip today.

It took some psyching out, though. I reminded myself that I was probably at more risk of exposure on my trips last month before the lockdown. By now, weeks of social distancing have probably reduced the presence of the virus, the grocery staff has presumably gotten lots of practice at maintaining sanitary conditions, and I’d be wearing a mask and rubber gloves. And the city health department’s map shows only a handful of cases in my part of the city, so I’m probably in a relatively low-risk area anyway. I probably take a bigger risk whenever I drive to Shore Leave or to visit family. Still, I was very nervous the whole time, since novel risks always seem scarier than the risks we’ve learned to take for granted.

Speaking of which, I was surprised by how many of the grocery staffers weren’t wearing masks. The cashiers were — mine was so bundled up I could only see her eyes — but the shelvers generally weren’t, and neither they nor many of the patrons were worrying much about keeping six feet apart. I took some roundabout routes to avoid people who didn’t seem as concerned with avoidance as I was. And this was despite the parking lot being relatively empty. You’d think with so few people, it’d be easier to avoid them.

Of course, the problem with only going to the store every three weeks or so is that you have to get a lot when you’re there — which, combined with not being able to use my cloth bags anymore, meant I had to pack quite a few plastic bags in the trunk, and needed three trips to get them all in. Plus there are still shortages (oh, good grief, I just realized I forgot to restock on refried beans — I knew I’d forget something), and I’ve had to settle for some substitutions here and there. For one thing, they didn’t have any single rolls of paper towels, only 6-packs — which I guess is good for the long run, since it means I won’t need more for quite a while. But it meant spending more right now, when I can barely afford it. (I’ll just leave my Patreon and Kickstarter links here…)

The hard part was getting unpacked, since I put the bags on the kitchen floor rather than the countertops, so I had to do a lot of crouching and standing up — which is not a good idea when one is dehydrated after a grocery trip bundled up in a coat and mask. I got dizzy and had to take a break for apple juice, and then after washing my hands, showering, and changing clothes, I went ahead and had lunch to restore my energy (leftovers, so I didn’t have to handle any grocery packages right away).

So now I’m going to spend the next 12 days worrying every time I cough or feel low on energy, even though both are fairly commonplace for me.

For what it’s worth, I got a call last night from my aunt in the DC area, and she tells me that she and my uncles (her husband and brother) are all safely isolated and well in their retirement home, which has a few positive cases but according to her is the best-run one in the region, so that’s reassuring. I admit I’d been a little afraid to contact my elderly relatives in case there was bad news, so I’m glad she called me and let me know they’re doing okay. And the rest of my family members seem to be weathering things too.

These are strange times. I’m talking about a trip to the grocery store as a momentous adventure. I’d love to go back to it being mundane and unremarkable, and leave the adventures to the characters in my fiction.

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Home repairs when stuck at home

Over the past few days, my kitchen silverware drawer has twice come loose from its track when I pulled it open. I managed to reseat the wheel thingy in the track, but after the second time, I realized that it was a problem that would repeat if I didn’t figure out what was wrong with it. I tried examining the side wheels that it rolls over, at least by touch (the drawers are over a cabinet so I could get to them through it), but I couldn’t figure out what the issue was through that alone. But given the current circumstances, calling in the maintenance guy didn’t seem like a good idea unless it were a real emergency, so I figured I’d better solve it myself somehow.

Finally it occurred to me — I have a second drawer right next to it! I don’t use that drawer nearly as often, so I didn’t think of it at first. I realized it would show me what the drawer mechanism was supposed to look like so I could diagnose the problem. It took me a few moments, but finally I realized that the lower drawer edges, the ones that roll over the side wheels, had eroded almost completely away! Many years of constantly opening and closing the drawer, with the weight of my silverware pushing down on it, had worn the edges out pretty much completely. Which finally explains why I kept having to blow sawdust off the lid of the peanut butter jar. I figured the sawdust was just from the general age and wear of the cabinet, but it was specifically created by my heavy use of the heavy drawer.

Anyway, this clearly wasn’t a problem I could fix; I’d need to replace the drawer altogether. But again it struck me — I have two drawers! I just had to remove their contents and swap them left to right. I don’t use the other drawer nearly as often, and its contents are far less heavy, so the erosion would be less of a problem there. I also put some tape over the worn parts to stop any further sawdust from falling, since that drawer is now over my spaghetti pot. Come to think of it, I should probably put tape on the other drawer as well, now that it’s going to be subject to the same abrasion that eroded the first one, but I’m too tired right now.

I’m just glad this was a problem I was able to solve by myself using the resources on hand. This would be a bad time for anything more serious to go wrong.

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A thought about our current predicament

Thinking about the coronavirus and the way we’re practically shutting down the whole of society for it, I realized something:

It’s commendable that we as a society are so willing to disrupt our entire lives and endure hardship in order to protect our most vulnerable members. Most of us could probably weather the disease, but we’re not willing to sacrifice the old and weak for the convenience of the majority. It’s not even a question. So maybe there’s more hope for us as a civilization than it’s often seemed these past few years.

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Full muddled jacket

December 14, 2019 3 comments

Just had a surreal and slightly embarrassing experience. I attended one of my infrequent social gatherings today, an early Christmas party for a local SF fan/writer community, and I hung my winter coat in the closet with the rest. When the time came for me to head home, I searched through the coats in the closet three times and couldn’t find my coat! I asked if there was somewhere else it might have been moved, but there wasn’t, and the hostess was just about to call the one couple who’d left before me to see if they’d taken my coat by mistake… when finally I recognized my sunglasses case in the pocket of what seemed to be an unfamiliar coat. I checked all its other pockets and recognized all their contents exactly where they should be… but I didn’t recognize the coat itself, even though it was definitely mine!

In retrospect, I realize that I’ve never really had to pay attention to what my winter coat looks like, beyond the fact that it’s heavier than my light jacket for cool weather. It’s just one of the two coats hanging there, and I just grab it and put it on. I usually leave both the light jacket and the winter coat hanging from the closet doorknob, so I usually only see the coat from the back when I’m not wearing it, plus it’s in a fairly dimly lit portion of my apartment. So I mainly know my coat from the inside, not the outside. I couldn’t even remember if it was dark blue or black when the others asked me. Plus I was seeing it from the front and side, quite brightly lit by the LED lights in my hosts’ hallway, which brought out the logos I usually don’t even notice, so it looked unfamiliar to me. Plus I was seeing it from the right side so I couldn’t see my sunglasses case in the left pocket. I think I usually hang my coat up facing the other way when I’m out somewhere. So I just couldn’t recognize my own item of clothing, not until the fourth time I looked.

Hmm… Maybe I should find some way to write my name on it?

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Q&A with Christopher L. Bennett

October 1, 2019 1 comment

Here’s my newest interview with The Astounding Analog Companion, in connection with my new Troubleshooter story “Conventional Powers” in the September/October 2019 ANALOG.

The Astounding Analog Companion

Christopher L. Bennett sold his first original story to Analog in 1998, and two decades later, we still get first-look at his tales before they’re expanded and published in future collections and anthologies. We’re lucky once again to offer you his latest, “Conventional Powers,” in the current issue [on sale now].


Analog Editors: What is the story behind this piece?

Christopher L. Bennet: “Conventional Powers” [on sale now in our current issue] is a loose followup to my first original novel, Only Superhuman (Tor, 2012). In this world, once commercial asteroid mining took off in the 2030s, it drove rapid advancement in space travel and colonization. Space dwellers embraced genetic and bionic modification in order to survive the radiation and harsh conditions, eventually experimenting with more radical “mods” to augment human abilities. The growing community of asteroid belt dwellers known as Striders embraced transhumanism as part…

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Happy 30th Anniversary, Alien Nation the TV series!

It’s the 30th anniversary of one of my favorite TV series, Kenneth Johnson’s ALIEN NATION, and my friend and fellow novelist Dayton Ward has written an excellent retrospective on it at his site. Check it out!

The Fog of Ward.

That was the scene in California’s Mojave Desert five years ago: our historic first view of the Newcomers’ ship. Theirs was a slave ship, carrying a quarter million beings bred to adapt and labor in any environment. But they’ve washed ashore on Earth, with no way to get back to where they came from, and in the last five years the Newcomers have become the latest addition to the population of Los Angeles.”

Cue funky opening music and credits.

AlienNation-01

Los Angeles, 1995: Aliens are everywhere.

After their very massive starship crashes on Earth, 250,000 genetically engineered aliens who call themselves “Tenctonese” find themselves forced to assimilate into a world very different from the one to which they’d been heading. The people already living here also find themselves dealing with the very harsh reality that not only is there life “out there,” but there’s actually quite a lot…

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COVER REVEAL – FOOTPRINTS IN THE STARS

Cover reveal!

eSpec Books

eSpec is proud to announce that this title has gone to press. Isn’t this a gorgeous cover by Mike McPhail of McP Digital Graphics? We certainly think so!

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To follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before, first we must find them.

Dreaded hope settles over mankind as we stare into the heavens, looking for a sign we are not alone. Fearing we will find it, puzzled when we don’t.

Among the stars or in our own backyard, lose yourself in the wonder of these tales as we humbly posit mankind’s reaction to the awesome certainty that ‘they’ are out there…or at least, they were…

Footprints in the Stars

With stories by Gordon Linzner, Ian Randal Strock, Robert Greenberger, Dayton Ward, Aaron Rosenberg, Danielle Ackley-McPhail, Jody Lynn Nye, Christopher L. Bennett, James Chambers, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Russ Colchamiro, Judi Fleming, and Bryan J.L. Glass

The following authors will…

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My week of superhero dreams

I’ve posted parts of this on the TrekBBS and Facebook, but since it adds up to a larger whole, I thought I’d consolidate it here. I’ve had two dreams in the past week of the sort where I’m both a viewer of and a character in a TV show/movie at the same time, and in both of them, I was a member of a superhero team.

First, on Sunday night (or more like Monday morning, since I only remember the dreams that happen just before I wake up), I had a DC’s Legends of Tomorrow dream that was unusually semi-coherent as dreams go, and that I remember more of than usual. There’s a lot I don’t remember, but I was at some kind of meeting or rally (in a library, I believe) where the goddess who was the episode’s villain was controlling people’s minds, including the Legends, using a glowing blue wine. (This is in keeping with the turn toward fantasy and the supernatural that this time travel-centric show has taken over the past two seasons.) Since I don’t drink, I demurred and remained uncontrolled — and I think some half-awake rational part of my brain was puzzled that I was allowed to get away with that. I also wondered what happened to Zari Tomaz, since as a Muslim she’s presumably a non-drinker too. The episode/dream went on in some stream-of-consciousness way in the library stacks, with the Legends being freed somehow, or my dreaming brain just forgetting the mind-control aspect, but the mystery of where Zari was remained.

Then we left the library and went oudoors for the climax, a big confrontation with the deity (now male due to my forgetful unconscious mind) over the font of power which he was about to merge with or draw on or do something cataclysmic with. And when we rushed there to try to stop the god, we found that Zari was there ahead of us, singlehandedly defeating the god because she’d been investigating the legal records and had found that the god had gained his connection to the font of his power through a murder centuries ago, and revealing that fact aloud somehow nullified the god’s power and bound him, either because that was how the font of power worked or because the god was subject to the human legal system within my dream logic. So while the other Legends and I were flailing around trying to fight evil the superheroic way and wondering where the hell Zari was, she’d been methodically doing the research so she could solve the whole thing far more easily. Also, in my dream, Zari was a lawyer. Who knew?

The second dream was the night after I saw Avengers: Endgame, so two nights later, and it was a dream about Thanos (no spoilers, because it’s a dream, not the actual movie). In the dream, as in the movie, it was after he’d won the previous battle, but his goal in this version had apparently been merely to conquer Earth. So he was the ruler of Earth… and he was living in the attic of what, in the dream, was my house. Or at least a house I shared with some dream version of the Avengers. The world, my house — in a dream, the difference doesn’t matter. Either way, it’s where I keep all my stuff.

So anyway, there was a point where Thanos, Ruler of All, came down from the attic to sit on our couch and watch TV. (Right next to where I was sitting. The dude takes up a lot of couch space, folks.) But I and my fellow Avengers/roommates/whoever weren’t just taking this occupation of our living room and/or planet lying down. (Most of them were standing or sitting in armchairs, since there was no room left on the couch. Personal space, Thanos!) No, we were planning to show him some book in the hopes that it would convince him that we didn’t need his rule anymore and he could go home. Because of course, even in this alternate dream narrative, he still thought he was a benevolent tyrant, and we just needed to prove to him, using the book’s contents, that whatever goal he’d conquered us to bring about for our own good had been fulfilled already, so we didn’t need him anymore and he could just fly off back to his home planet in his helicopter. (No, the Thanos copter wasn’t actually in the dream, alas. I’m interpolating. But it would’ve fit right in.)

I don’t recall whether the book in question was fact or fiction. We may have been trying to con him into leaving in much the same way Reed Richards conned the Skrulls in FANTASTIC FOUR #2 by showing them pages from Marvel’s monster comics to convince them that Earth was too dangerous to conquer. But we didn’t get very far before the dream ended. So it didn’t have the satisfaction of being a complete (if barely coherent) story like the Legends dream was — more just a vignette (or a comedy sketch, though in the dream we took it all seriously).Who knows? If the dream had continued, maybe Black Widow would’ve turned up some obscure legal precedent requiring Thanos to cede his claim to the planet. But then, as far as I recall, Black Widow was not in the dream. Alas, indeed.

 

eSPEC BOOKS AFTER-HOLIDAYS SALE

Reblogging this. For a limited time, you can get AMONG THE WILD CYBERS and many of eSpec Books’ other publications in e-book form for just 99 cents!

eSpec Books

What a year. From both a personal and professional standpoint, 2018 has been a jagged series of highs and lows. We have hunkered down and pushed forward, and in these final days of the year we rest and regroup, gathering our energy for 2019.

There are a lot of great things we are working on, and things we hope to get going again, such as the eSpec monthly flash fiction contest and Danielle’s personal writing. 

First, however, to kick off what we hope will be a year of amazing fiction for eSpec, our authors, and our fans, for the month of January we are having a sale on all our backlist ebooks at the ebook site of your choice. Because of the restrictions of when we can make price changes, the sale officially starts today, presuming the third-party vendors all make the updates in a timely manner. Below are links…

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Vote!

I have voted! The turnout at my polling place was as high as I’ve ever seen it, maybe more so. They’d even set up extra voting stations (chairs and privacy hoods) at a table since they didn’t have enough booths for everyone. It’s great to see — democracy, like vaccination, only works when most of the population participates. I profoundly hope that it works this time. Everyone, if you haven’t voted yet, then please find the time to do it. It’s not something you do just for yourself; it’s our responsibility to one another, to our entire community.

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FROM THE PUBLISHER – 2018 BESTSELLERS

Looks like AMONG THE WILD CYBERS is one of eSpec Books’ top print sellers for 2018 so far! Not bad, since it’s only been out for a couple of months.

eSpec Books

Just out of curiosity, we looked over our sales for the year and are delighted to share with you the following bestsellers to date for 2018. You can click on the image to check out the book.

eBook Best Sellers – from left to right

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IssueInDoubt_lgInAllDirections_lgProof-DragonPrecinct


Print Book Best Sellers – from left to right

Proof-4-5-ClockworkProof-DragonPrecinctProof-WildCyberslg-book-wwwProof-UnicornPrecinct

Goblin Precinct 2x3


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