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Posts Tagged ‘Murder on the Cislunar Railroad’

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I had occasion to glance over the Only Superhuman Historical Timeline page here on my site, and I noticed it was a bit outdated in some of the details, as well as containing a significant typo in one entry (with the word “And” and several spaces inserted somehow in the middle of a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.

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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.

Announcing AMONG THE WILD CYBERS — and the return of the Green Blaze!

At last, I’m able to make my first new project announcement in over a year. Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman, a story collection reprinting nearly all of my previously uncollected short fiction, will soon be published by eSpec Books. And I have even better news: the collection will also feature a new, never-before-published novelette starring Emerald Blair, the Green Blaze, in her first print appearance since Only Superhuman!

Among the Wild Cybers will be available in both print and e-book form, and will be crowdfunded by a Kickstarter campaign that eSpec will soon be launching, probably later this month. The collection, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail, will include all my short fiction from my default/Only Superhuman universe, plus the bonus story “No Dominion” (“bonus” meaning it was the only one left over and I didn’t want to leave it uncollected). The title comes from the first story appearing in the collection, “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele,” but as it happens, the majority of the stories do feature cybers (AIs) in some capacity, though only three focus on them heavily.

Emerald Blair, "Green Blaze"

Copyright Christopher L. Bennett

The new Green Blaze story, “Aspiring to Be Angels,” is an 8000-word novelette depicting a key moment in Emerald Blair’s Troubleshooter apprenticeship. I know, I know – prequels. Not as exciting as a sequel would be. But Emry’s superhero training was a part of her backstory that I didn’t manage to include in OS’s flashback chapters; I tried to include it, but I ended up skipping over it for the sake of the novel’s flow. “Aspiring” allows me to fill that gap, and to explore the process by which Emerald Blair became the Green Blaze. Doing a prequel also allows me to bring back Emerald’s mentor Arkady Nazarbayev and delve further into his hero-sidekick relationship with Emry.

In some ways, though, “Aspiring to Be Angels” is more a horror story than a superhero story. It’s not gory or anything, but it’s more dark, bizarre, and creepy than my usual work. It’s something of an homage to the anime Serial Experiments Lain. But don’t worry, it’s also an integral part of Emerald Blair’s journey, true to her character and her world. And I’m hoping it’s just the beginning of her continued adventures, in one form or another.

Another story in the collection, “The Weight of Silence,” might as well be new for most readers, since the online magazine where it appeared, Alternative Coordinates, ceased to exist less than a year after the story’s publication. AC did have a printable PDF edition, as I recall, so there may be a few print copies of “The Weight of Silence” out there somewhere, but I doubt there are very many. So it’s been effectively a “lost” story for nearly seven years, and I’m glad it will finally be available again.

This will also be the print debut for two of my stories that have previously appeared only online, “No Dominion” and “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing.” Both stories are still available online as of this writing (see links on my Homepage and Original Fiction pages), but between them, “Aspiring to Be Angels,” and “The Weight of Silence,” half of the stories in Among the Wild Cybers are appearing in print for the first or nearly the first time. Which means, hopefully, that “Dominion,” “Caress,” and “Weight” will finally get added to my Internet Speculative Fiction Database author page. Apparently their editors don’t pay much attention to online publications, although they do list my Star Trek e-novellas.

I’d originally expected that the stories in Among the Wild Cybers would appear in chronological order, but Danielle and I decided instead to arrange them for the best reading experience, so no two adjacent stories would be too much alike. Here’s the tentative order, with original publication dates:

  • “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele” (Analog Science Fiction and Fact, Dec 2000)
  • “Aspiring to Be Angels”                     (new)
  • “Twilight’s Captives”                         (Analog, Jan/Feb 2017)
  • “No Dominion”                                   (DayBreak Magazine, June 2010)
  • “Aggravated Vehicular Genocide”     (Analog, Nov 1998)
  • “The Weight of Silence”                     (Alternative Coordinates, Spring 2010)
  • “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”    (Analog, June 2016)
  • “The Caress of a Butterfly’s Wing”   (Buzzy Mag, Nov 2014)

There will, however, be an appendix providing a chronological ordering of the stories and an overview of the future history they occupy – including a few new bits of history and worldbuilding that haven’t appeared in print before. In writing that material, I even thought of a way to tweak a part of that history so that a couple of stories have a stronger connection than they did originally.

Between them, Only Superhuman and Among the Wild Cybers will contain the entire published OS continuity to date. If you also buy Hub Space, you’ll have all my published original fiction so far except for “Abductive Reasoning,” which came out too recently to be included in ATWC (which didn’t have room for it anyway). But that’s all right – having a story still uncollected gives me an incentive to keep writing more so I can build a second collection. Hopefully this time it won’t take 20 years to do it.

I’ll provide the link to the Kickstarter page once it’s available. Keep an eye out for updates on publication date, cover art, etc. I’m so glad I can finally post news about this book!

“Twilight’s Captives” will be in the Jan/Feb 2017 ANALOG

As visitors to my home page may have already noticed, I’ve learned that my upcoming novelette “Twilight’s Captives” will be appearing in the January/February 2017 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Since the October 2016 issue seems to be the current one on sale, I guess that means it should be out before the end of this year. That’s roughly the same time that my Star Trek: The Original Series novel The Face of the Unknown will be out, so that’ll be a big month for me.

Given that it’s been only six weeks since I sold the story, and given that it took nearly a year for my previous Analog story to see print, I’m surprised that it’s moving so fast. Two stories in Analog only 7 months apart is a new record for me; my previous record was 9 months between “The Hub of the Matter” and “Home is Where the Hub Is.” And that makes this only the second time I’ve had two Analog stories separated by under two years. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

I’ve already proofread the story’s galleys, which is how I know the publication date, so I know that this story will have an illustration — though I don’t know what it will look like or who the artist will be. I have my own design sketches for the featured aliens, which I’ll post with the story notes on publication, but Analog‘s artist may well take them in a different direction. This will be my fifth illustrated Analog story; the only ones without artwork are “The Hub of the Matter” and “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” (although the former got a nifty illustration when it was republished in the Russian Esli magazine).

LIVE BY THE CODE annotations are up, “Cislunar Railroad” coming soon (UPDATE: now up)

Okay, I’ve finally gotten around to doing my story notes and spoiler annotations for Rise of the Federation: Live by the Code. I’ve also restructured the site a bit, combining the individual book entries for ROTF on the same page (which still has “a-choice-of-futures” in its URL, since I didn’t know if I should change that). Here’s the master ROTF page, and you can scroll down to find the general notes on LBTC and the link to its spoiler notes. (I’ve kept the original pages for Books 2 & 3 in existence so I don’t break any links, but I’ve removed them from the top menu.)

I’ve also added a section on my new Analog story “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” to my Original Short Fiction page. I’ll be adding spoiler notes for that story later.

“Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” has arrived!

I just got my author copies of the June 2016 Analog, containing my SF-mystery novelette “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad,” and I got my name on the cover again!

Analog SF&F June 2016 cover

Cover art by Bob Eggelton

So out of six Analog appearances over the past 17.5 years, I’ve gotten my name on the cover half the time — specifically, on the third, fifth, and sixth occasions. That’s kind of symmetrical. I’ve never had cover art based on one of my stories, though the covers these days usually seem to be generic space images. Four of my Analog stories have had interior art, though, the exceptions being “The Hub of the Matter” and this one.

It looks like I got my copies early; the  Analog homepage hasn’t yet been updated to June as of this writing. From what I can tell, the June issue goes on sale in about a week, on May 4. “Cislunar Railroad” is the last story in the issue, on pp. 92-103. I hope my readers find the mystery suitably confounding and the ideas and characters sufficiently interesting.

“Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” will be in the June 2016 ANALOG!

Well, it’s been quite a while since I first announced the sale of my mystery story “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad” to Analog, but I’m happy to report that it’s finally been scheduled for publication, and pretty soon, too. The story will appear in the June 2016 issue of Analog, which will go on sale May 3, less than six weeks from now.

This will be my sixth published work of fiction in my “default” universe, the one I set things in if I don’t have a reason to put them elsewhere — and the third of those to be published in Analog. Which means my Analog output will now be evenly split between the default/Only Superhuman universe and the Hub universe, at least until my next sale (which will hopefully be soon). As I mentioned before, “Railroad” is an indirect prequel to Only Superhuman, tying into the backstory of one of the novel’s main characters.