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STAR TREK: LIVING MEMORY cover art!

I saw that the cover art for Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory started to show up on the Trek news sites the other day, but it wasn’t up on Amazon yet, and I wasn’t sure if the version that was posted was the final draft, so I held off posting it here until I was sure. I forgot to check regularly, but I confirmed today that the final version is out, so here it is:

Star Trek Living Memory cover

I was hoping that Uhura would be featured on the cover, since part of the reason I wrote this book was because I felt I was overdue to give her a focus story. It also makes sense to feature Captain Spock, since this is my first book where he’s in that role throughout. Plus we’ve got Reliant photobombing the cover en passant, as it’s making a return appearance after The Higher Frontier (gotta get Chekov in there somehow, plus I like writing Captain Terrell).

Here’s the description again:

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure!

While attempting to settle in as commandant of Starfleet Academy, Admiral James T. Kirk must suddenly contend with the controversial, turbulent integration of an alien warrior caste into the student body—and quickly becomes embroiled in conflict when the Academy controversy escalates to murder. Meanwhile, Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise and Commander Pavel Chekov of the USS Reliant are investigating a series of powerful cosmic storms seemingly targeting Federation worlds—unstoppable outbursts emitting from the very fabric of space. Endeavoring to predict where the lethal storms will strike next, Spock and Chekov make the shocking discovery that the answer lies in Commander Nyota Uhura’s past—one that she no longer remembers….

™, ®, & © 2021 CBS Studios, Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Preorder links are here:

Living Memory will be released on June 15, less than three months from now. Getting closer!

2021 STAR TREK novel overview on TrekCore

I posted the news recently about Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory, my upcoming novel for this June. Now we have descriptions and information for most of the Trek novels being published this year, and TrekCore has done an overview of them, including a bit of entirely plausible speculation about Living Memory.

For some reason, there’s a gap of three months after January’s Picard: The Dark Veil by James Swallow, but we’re going back to monthly releases from May onward, and you can read more about them at the link.

Announcing STAR TREK: LIVING MEMORY

February 9, 2021 4 comments

Simon & Schuster has now posted the title and blurb for my new Star Trek novel, and the data has started to go out to the major book vendors, though some of the links only have tentative listings so far. So here it is:

Star Trek: The Original Series — Living Memory

An all-new Star Trek movie-era adventure!

While attempting to settle in as commandant of Starfleet Academy, Admiral James T. Kirk must suddenly contend with the controversial, turbulent integration of an alien warrior caste into the student body—and quickly becomes embroiled in conflict when the Academy controversy escalates to murder. Meanwhile, Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise and Commander Pavel Chekov of the USS Reliant are investigating a series of powerful cosmic storms seemingly targeting Federation worlds—unstoppable outbursts emitting from the very fabric of space. Endeavoring to predict where the lethal storms will strike next, Spock and Chekov make the shocking discovery that the answer lies in Commander Nyota Uhura’s past—one that she no longer remembers….

™, ®, & © 2021 CBS Studios, Inc. STAR TREK and related marks and logos are trademarks of CBS Studios, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Preorder links are here:

As you can tell, this is another installment in my post-Star Trek: The Motion Picture novel continuity, which was revived last year with The Higher Frontier (and which at this point has become more of a pre-Wrath of Khan continuity). Living Memory takes place during the gap between The Higher Frontier and Part Two of Mere Anarchy: The Darkness Drops Again.

Living Memory is scheduled for release on June 15, 2021, just over four months away. I’m surprised it took this long to announce it, but that means you guys don’t have to anticipate it for too long. And it probably means it won’t be too long before there’s a cover reveal. Stay tuned!

ARACHNE’S EXILE on NetGalley

February 3, 2021 1 comment

A quick heads-up for reviewers, librarians, and book vendors: Arachne’s Exile is available for review on NetGalley through the month of February 2021.

https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/215070

Arachne's Exile cover

I appreciate any efforts to get the word out about this novel and Arachne’s Crime. Professional reviews are welcome, as are reader reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.

The DTI comes to STAR TREK ADVENTURES in “Another Roll of the Dice”!

February 2, 2021 1 comment

I finally have a new Star Trek Adventures standalone RPG campaign to announce, and it’s a fun one.

Star Trek Adventures: Another Roll of the Dice

Experience time travel and engage Tzenkethi raiders!

“Captain’s Log: We have been ordered to suspend our routine patrol of the Tzenkethi border and proceed to the nearby Federation colony Natsumi’s World, where we will take aboard two agents of the Federation Department of Temporal Investigations. As usual, the DTI has provided no details, stating merely that we are to place ourselves at the disposal of the agents and follow their instructions. Thus, I have no idea whether to prepare my crew to face some unimaginable existential threat or, far more likely with the DTI, days of tedious routine and bureaucratic obstruction.”

When the player characters receive an assignment from the DTI to deliver a powerful alien artifact to DTI facilities, they are soon set upon by Tzenkethi raiders. The ensuing skirmish destabilizes the artifact’s energy field, and the characters discover that they have somehow changed into alternate timeline versions of themselves! Can the characters deal with the sudden changes in themselves and the rest of the crew, and also figure out how to get back to their own time, all the while battling the Tzenkethi?

This standalone 20-page PDF adventure by Christopher L. Bennett is for the Star Trek Adventures Roleplaying Game and is set during The Next Generation era. This adventure also contains advice for adaptation for use in campaigns based in other Star Trek eras. Download includes a regular version and a printer-friendly version.

Yes, it’s the triumphant return of Agents Lucsly & Dulmur! And it’s consistent with my DTI novels and novellas, while still standing alone as a game scenario.

Normally I’d talk more about the story and my creative process behind it, but I’ve already done that for the STA blog, in a piece that also went live today. You can read it here:

https://www.modiphius.net/blogs/news/sta-blog-another-roll-of-the-dice

Another Roll of the Dice is available as a downloadable PDF at the following links:

And this won’t be my last STA standalone. Another new one is currently wending its way through approvals, and I’ve just gotten started on writing a third. And I’ve begun talking with my editor Jim about something new and different on the horizon.

Arachne’s Crimes… of the Hub? Only on Patreon!

This month’s Fiction post on Patreon is a little unusual. It’s an excerpt from an early draft of the novel that became Arachne’s Crime and Arachne’s Exile, from a time when I was piling on too many characters and species that led me too deep into the weeds, requiring me to regroup and streamline the latter half of the story. One of those characters was the prototype for Tsshar, the adorably larcenous Mrwadj captain from Crimes of the Hub. She was meant to be comic relief, so after I cut her out of Arachne, she slotted neatly into the comedic Hub universe with minimal changes required. Now you can see my original version of the character, and get a few extra glimpses of Arachne worldbuilding that I ended up not having room for in the duology. Maybe not the best of both the Arachne-Troubleshooter and Hub universes, but a unique convergence of the two.

Fiction: Deleted scene: Arachne Meets the Hub?

Accompanying it on the Behind the Scenes tier is a second excerpt from my “Life in the Galaxy” worldbuilding notes, focusing on ancient galactic history and the evolution of the galactic institutions and social structures that exist by the time of Arachne’s Exile.

Worldbuilding notes: Life in the Galaxy (Part 2)

As always, the Fiction tier is available to Patreon subscribers at $10/month, and Behind the Scenes is $12/month.

Crimes of the Hub cover
It only just occurred to me that both these works ended up with “Crime” in the title.

Battery better-y?

January 26, 2021 2 comments

The latest on my car battery situation: Someone on Facebook suggested that the culprit draining the battery might be a power adapter in the lighter, if it had an LED. I have, in fact, been keeping just such a thing plugged in, so after the last time my battery ran down (this time so completely that I even had to unlock the door manually), I took out the adapter, and after I jump-started the car with my portable power pack, I went for an extra-long drive to recharge the battery as fully as I could, even going a few miles out and back on the freeway. I figured that if driving around recharges the battery, and if my short local drives weren’t enough to give it a lasting charge, maybe a longer, faster drive would do better.

A couple of days later, I was down in the parking lot to take out the trash, so I tried starting the car, and it worked. But the real test was today, when I went to pick up groceries. Luckily, for the first time in a month or more, I was able to start the car on the first try, with no jump needed. I’m not sure if that’s because of the adapter being removed, the long drive I took, or the fact that it’s only been a week since then. But it’s a relief.

Still, I’m going to need some car maintenance before long, since my wiper blades are turning into spaghetti. I suppose I could try buying new blades online and installing them myself, but I’ve never done that and I don’t know how easy it would be.

In other news, I’ve now been paid for that novel manuscript I recently finished and still can’t talk about, and I’ve finally paid off the remainder of that rather large tax debt I’d been paying in installments. The interest on that payment plan was pretty steep, so I’m glad to be free of it at last. I’m still waiting for the go-ahead for the next book, and I’ve just turned in copyedits for my next Star Trek book which also hasn’t been announced yet. So now I’m sort of taking advantage of downtime between projects, while thinking about what to do next.

Last week, due to bad weather and finally having some money to spare, I got my groceries delivered instead of picking them up, which didn’t turn out great. I had them delivered on the same day I ordered, which means I wasn’t given the chance to approve their substitutions for missing items. There was a weird substitution this time — instead of substituting my usual frozen orange juice concentrate with another variety of orange juice, they substituted some single-serve scrambled-egg cups, with ingredients that you’re supposed to mix into the cup with one egg and then microwave. I don’t have eggs; I don’t much like them. So I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the things. Luckily, it turned out that the distinct ingredients (e.g. diced ham, bacon bits, diced peppers, onions, and potatoes, and grated cheddar) were in individual pouches, so I’ve been using them in various other recipes. I had the ham with peas and grated parmesan atop fettucine, approximating something my father used to make, and it was pretty good. I didn’t expect to like the bacon bits, but I had them in a single-serve bowl of microwave macaroni and cheese along with diced tomato, and it was pretty good. I had the pepper-onion-potato mixture and more diced tomatoes with vegetarian Italian sausage and olive oil on top of rice, which didn’t turn out as well as I’d hoped. And I’ve had the grated cheese as part of my standard “chili” dog recipe with refried beans, cheese, chopped onions, and Dijon mustard on turkey dogs, as well as on top of a bowl of beef ramen soup with veggie crumble and mixed vegetables. So I found a use for all of the ingredients after all. Although I had to go a week without orange juice.

Ah, yes, that beef ramen. A few months back, they substituted a 6-pack of beef ramen packets in place of the chicken ramen I wanted, even though I asked them not to. I finally used up the last of it this week and tried ordering the chicken again — and once again, they substituted a 6-pack of the beef kind. Ugh. Just when I thought I was out. Well, I suppose I could just throw out the beef flavor packet and mix in some diced chicken and my own seasonings, and that would be fairly close. I keep meaning to try that, but I have kind of a mental block against throwing out food unnecessarily, even something as cheap as a ramen flavor packet.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll be glad when I feel safe to go into the grocery store again. Luckily, with the new administration and Congress in place, it finally looks like we’re getting onto the right track to get the pandemic under control. But it will still be months before things can begin getting back to normal.

Categories: My Fiction Tags: , ,

Starting anew

Well, here we are at the start of 2021, which will hopefully be the year we climb out of the hole we collectively sank into in 2020. So far the climb is definitely happening for me. I have money in the bank again, and I have more on the way. I turned in that new novel manuscript on schedule, after doing a few revision passes and incorporating some very useful notes from my consultant, and I was notified this morning that the payment is being processed and should be in my bank by next week, which is nicely prompt. And I’m making excellent progress at outlining what comes next. (Still waiting for it to be formally announced so I can say more.) I’m really feeling upbeat this past week or so, happier than I’ve felt in probably the past few years. That’s both from the financial relief I’m getting from this project and the creative satisfaction and fun of writing it.

Oh, and I got a call today from my eSpec Books editor Danielle McPhail, telling me that my author copies of Arachne’s Exile and The Arachne Omnibus are on the way, including a copy of the hardcover edition of the omnibus. That should be cool to have, a nice companion piece for the Only Superhuman hardcover on my shelf. I find it ironic that this duology that I initially wrote as a single book and then decided would work better as two books has ended up being available as a single volume after all. Anyway, Amazon has been showing the omnibus as one of the most popular books on my author page, though its sales rank listings don’t seem to agree. I wonder if popularity is calculated based on views rather than sales. (Also, for some reason Amazon isn’t showing my books on my author page at the moment.)

I got the aforementioned call while I was in the middle of trying once again to jump-start my car to go pick up groceries (which is why I was a little curt on the phone, Danielle, sorry). Yes, even though I drove around for half an hour 12 days ago to charge up the battery, it was drained once again. (The post title has a double meaning, see? See?) I didn’t think it had been that long; I’d been planning to go to the grocery store sooner this time now that I had a bit more money. But between my reluctance to drive in chilly weather (which makes my car sluggish for the first few minutes it’s running) and my preoccupation with finishing the manuscript, I let a whole two weeks go by between grocery trips and the battery ran dry again. At this point, I’m starting to wonder if it’s really just the car’s lack of use, or if there’s some glitch in the electrical system draining the battery.

The portable jump-starter power pack was acting weirdly again too; the power lights wouldn’t go on. Yet nonetheless, it successfully started the car. I don’t know what happened there, but I’m glad it worked after all. Still, I’m getting tired of having to jump the car every time I drive it. Maybe I need to take a longer drive soon, to charge the battery more fully. Or maybe I need a better battery. (What I really need is a better car, but my finances haven’t improved that much.)

One good, minor bit of car news, though, is that for once I remembered to write down my end-of-year mileage for tax purposes. Usually I forget until March and have to reconstruct my travels in the interim to estimate how much to subtract from my current mileage. This time I finally have an exact figure.

Anyway, for a moment it looked like I wasn’t getting the usual text from the grocery store asking me to approve their product substitutions, and I hoped I’d finally get everything I ordered, including the vegetarian Italian sausages I really love and haven’t been able to find since the pandemic started. But it turned out the text just came a bit late, and they did substitute a couple of items, including those. So I do have veggie Italian sausages, but a different brand, and just basic Italian instead of the really good sun-dried tomato and basil flavor. Hopefully they’ll be a reasonable substitute — or at least better than the veggie kielbasa I got as a substitute last time I tried buying those sausages (which was, wow, all the way back in May).

Oh, and I also made a second try at buying a frozen pizza, a Mediterranean veggie variety. Last time I tried ordering it, they put a spinach and mushroom pizza in with my order even though the receipt showed it was the Mediterranean one, and I don’t like mushrooms (though these were tolerable). This time, I finally got the right pizza, so that’s something. But ironically, they made the exact same mistake with my veggie burgers, substituting the wrong flavor even though the receipt shows the right one! (The online page also says that the cheese singles I ordered were out of stock and substituted with… the exact same cheese singles. Huh??)

I’ll close with a reminder — if you read either of the Arachne novels or the duology, please post reviews or at least ratings on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever. The more reviews the books get, the more awareness there will be for them.

The whole ARACHNE saga now on sale!

January 1, 2021 1 comment

Well, at first I expected Arachne’s Exile to come out at least several months after Arachne’s Crime, and then I thought they’d be out simultaneously. As it worked out, they were released exactly a month apart. Not only did Arachne’s Exile go on sale today, but so did The Arachne Omnibus, a deluxe hardcover volume (also available in trade paperback and e-book) containing both novels, plus the Kickstarter/Patreon prequel story “Comfort Zones” (in print for the first time) and the connected follow-up stories “The Weight of Silence” and “Among the Wild Cybers of Cybele.” It even includes my alien height chart, which you can also see on my Aliens of the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe page.

Here are the ordering links I have so far:

Arachne’s Crime

Available from:

Arachne’s Exile

Available from:

The Arachne Omnibus

Available from:

I’ve also gone live with the Arachne’s Exile annotations: https://christopherlbennett.wordpress.com/the-arachne-saga/arachnes-exile-annotations/

While I was at it, I also added some cover art notes to the Arachne’s Crime annotations, since I forgot to do that before.

So there we are. The entire Arachne saga is now available for purchase, either in two paperback volumes or in one hefty single volume available in hardcover (though Exile and the omnibus are not back from the printers yet). After all these years, more than 22 years since the original story came out and more than 11 years since I first started expanding it to novel length, the entire thing is finally out.

Although the saga of Arachne‘s crew may not be over yet…

Taking stock as life settles down a bit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arachne notes are now up!

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

The Arachne Saga

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

Aliens of the Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe

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

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

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

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

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

This is a good day

December 14, 2020 5 comments

Look what the UPS guy just dropped off!

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

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

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

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

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

Arachne-Troubleshooter Universe chronology

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

Strider Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Interstellar Era

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Warp Era

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

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

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

Cover for the SPIDER-MAN omnibus!

September 29, 2020 3 comments

Last month, I reported that Titan Books would be publishing a reprint omnibus of my 2008 novel Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder along with Jim Butcher’s The Darkest Hours and Keith R.A. DeCandido’s Down These Mean Streets. The cover art for Marvel Classic Novels – Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours Omnibus has now been released:

The cover art was originally a variant cover to Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 3 issue 19.1 (whatever that means) by the late Justin Ponsor (you can see his signature “J-Po” under Spidey’s left foot), though the background hues are different in the original. It’s a nice dynamic shot of Spidey, and the nighttime setting is a good fit for the “dark” theme of the titles (not that our books were any darker than the comics themselves at the period in which our stories took place).

Once again, here’s the official description and ordering links:

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

THE DARKEST HOURS by Jim Butcher

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

DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS by Keith R.A. DeCandido

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

DROWNED IN THUNDER by Christopher L. Bennett

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

 

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Penguin Random House

 

It’ll be out May 11, 2021. I can’t wait!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Troubleshooter art: Koyama Hikari/Tenshi

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

Koyama Hikari

Click to enlarge

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

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

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

Koyama Hikari (pencil art)

Click to enlarge

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

Troubleshooter Tenshi

Click to enlarge

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

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

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

Updates on various things

August 28, 2020 1 comment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE DARKEST HOURS by Jim Butcher

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

DOWN THESE MEAN STREETS by Keith R.A. DeCandido

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

DROWNED IN THUNDER by Christopher L. Bennett

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

 

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

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

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

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

Penguin Random House

 

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

My phone anxiety roller coaster

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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