Neurocrypto, my cynical take on cryptocurrencies, is now up at Martian Magazine.
I’ll be honest here, I put cryptocurrencies and NFTs on the continuum between libertarian grift and outright scam. Topped off with a generous helping of environmental destruction!
I remember years ago their proponents touting them as absolutely secure, intrinsically safe (No regulatory regime required!) and destined to be the future of frictionless, secure financial transactions.
Nowadays they make the news when yet another massive scam and theft has been perpetrated, while the sales pitches now sound like con men pitching their latest grift.
An art exhibit I visited a decade ago has an influential role in the events of my story, “Diamond Tear,” now free to read at James Gunn’s Ad Astra magazine.
About ten years ago, in the early 2010s, my wife and I made our second or third visit to the Huntsville Museum of Art. While we’d lived in the Huntsville area for ten years by then, we’d only just started checking out some of the local attractions–downtown Huntsville didn’t have a lot going for it before then…
We visited on a Thursday night, when the Art Museum stays open late and admission is half price. There was an exhibit of art glass, along with works from other artists. The glass came from the studio of Stephen Rolfe Powell, born in Birmingham, Alabama, and then working out of the glass studio he’d founded at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky.
The museum had enclosed a portion of one gallery, leaving it dark but for overhead full spectrum lights projecting straight down onto the Echoes exhibited in the room. Echoes are glass bowls. And they are…stunning.
“Stunning” is the right word because when I stepped into that room I literally (literally literally, not figuratively literally) stopped in my tracks.
There’s an episode of the 90s SF series Babylon 5 where Kosh, the enigmatic Vorlon ambassador, brings B5‘s Commander Sheridan to a place to experience “one moment of perfect beauty.” (There All The Honor Lies, S2 E14.)
That’s what I experienced when I stepped into that room: one moment of perfect beauty.
When I came back to myself I just immersed myself in that exhibit. I don’t recall the names of the pieces I saw, and I didn’t have a camera at the time, so that experiences lives–and is savored–solely within my memory.
There are some **spoilers** for Diamond Tear just ahead, so if you haven’t already, you ought to go read the story.
At the Remembrance service, Jezendra needed to get away from the well-meaning, supportive, and sympathetic crowd, there for her and her lost husband. It can be a bit overwhelming. As I wrote this story I knew that Jez needed to briefly step away, to go somewhere quiet to catch her breath, to regain some stamina before returning to the crowd. She needed…one moment of perfect beauty.
And I had one for her.
I don’t recall if the the piece in the story, Cherry LP Cyclone, was part of that Huntsville Art Museum exhibit all those years ago, but when I went looking for images of Powell’s glass bowls, I spotted it in an art catalog. It had the colors that were deeply meaningful to Jez and Alonde: the dark red for Pluto’s moon Charon, blue for the color of Neptune that hung above Alonde’s birthplace on Triton, and white for the frozen nitrogen plains of Sputnik Planitia, where the two met, fell in love, raced together, and where Alonde all too soon set off on his solo ride with eternity.
This was such a perfect fit for the story–the experience I had at the art museum, the colors of this piece, the story that I was telling, all built on a foundation of the discoveries of the New Horizons spacecraft on its lone journey to the furthest reaches of the solar system.
Stephen Powell himself passed away unexpectedly in 2019, leaving a legacy of art and artists that will forever enrich the beauty of this world.
Diamond Tear, a story about ice skimmer racing on Pluto, random tragedy, art, and recovery is now available on James Gunn’s Ad Astra website.
The genesis of this story came about a little differently from how I typically come up with one, and due to that approach even has two siblings. It went something like this:
I tried to write a story that took place in the outer solar system a few years ago. It dealt (or tried to) with joy, loss, and recovery set against a backdrop of interplanetary travel. The writing did not go well. I couldn’t rein it in, couldn’t come up with a good direction for it, so I finally just put it on the shelf. Thought that maybe I could revisit it after a while and something then might click–after all, doing just that did work for The Gardener of Ceres.
But nope, in this case it just wasn’t happening. However, there were some sections in it that I thought had some potential–not really vignettes that could be extracted and molded into a story, but seeds I could transplant that might sprout up into their own story.
The first story that grew from this scrapped story was a drabble, “Mercury’s Ice,” that was published in Martian Magazine. It captured the experience of just the loss that was present in the original.
Pluto had worked its way into the original story at the end, and from that grew a whole new story, Diamond Tear, that was simply set on Pluto, and that incorporated one of my science fictional hoped-for-someday activities: racing ice boats–skimmers–across that world’s frozen nitrogen ice sheet, Sputnik Planitia.
Diamond Tear ended up with all the joy, loss, and hope of the initial aborted attempt at a story. And after several productive back-and-forths with the Ad Astra editorial team, captured what I was going for in that original story way back when.
Along the way it ended up merging in the secret language that a heart-bonded couple can’t help but create, pineapple pizza, and a stunningly beautiful (and real!) piece of art glass.
While the original story never itself saw the light of day–nor beta readers–it’s heritage lives on here in Diamond Tear and the two sibling drabbles.
PS: There’s more about Diamond Tear I’d like to talk about, but I’ll save that for another post.
The Shacklebound Books anthology, Dark Stars: Sci Fi Horror Drabbles, is now available at all fine book outlets for a small pittance. There are seventy-nine stories, so you’re talking pennies apiece, and if it helps, three of those seventy-nine are mine! (At the Amazon link, you can sample the first few drabbles, including one of mine.)
When an irrevocable decision is even more irrevocable than you realized:
For An Additional Charge
When a hole in the rock might be more than just a hole in the rock:
When a fragrance is more than a fragrance:
Esprits des Lames
Be revolted, disgusted, scared, and amused! Enjoy!
My drabble, Another Leg, is now up as one of Flash Point SF’s Drabble Contest winners (along with co-winner K.A. Honeywell’s “Companion”). This is the first writing contest I’ve ever won, so I’m a bit chuffed about it.
I want to take a moment to break down Another Leg, which means there’s going to be some pretty complete SPOILERS here, so take a half-minute to read the story first.
Another Leg jumps right into the action, into the midst of a full-on fantasy sword fight. As they clash, the combatants sneer their bravado, hissing to one another that this is to be their ultimate and final battle. They push off, set, and commence the final charge.
So far we’re following the script for climactic sword fight scenes…
And then, we’re not.
Puppet strings? Severed? Wait, these aren’t mortal enemies?? They’re puppets? Making a break for freedom?
Hey! What was that they hissed to one another when they grappled a few lines back? Was that not saying what it appeared to be saying?
No plan ever goes exactly as planned. A string was missed, and the puppeteer countered to stop the escape. But at least one now has a chance at freedom. Take it or stay?
In this situation, though…well, puppets have certain options regarding their limbs that they do not share with the flesh-and-blood among us.
Thanks again to the editors of Flash Point SF for selecting Another Leg as a winner, and congrats also to my co-winner in brevity, K.A. Honeywell.
UPDATE: I wanted to add a quick comment about Flast Point SF’s excellent illustration for the story, as created by Kevin Pabst. I thought the presence of the vertical white lines in the background was quite clever 😉 They appear merely decorative, to supply some visual interest, but as it turns out they’re quite literal!
Mandatory Donation, out now at Martian Magazine, is the first story I’ve written as a direct response to an event.
When the right wing ideologues that hijacked the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022 and stripped women of the right to control their own bodies, I was infuriated. I added my voice to the outrage, and opened my wallet to those defending a woman’s right to choose.
Mandatory Donation is a small literary effort to express some of that outrage.
While not about abortion per se–as a man I don’t feel that I could incorporate that into a story without a great deal more research and care–it does address the growing cancer that too many in power think they have the right to control other’s–especially women’s–bodies. In many states this is already manifesting as the “criminalization of pregnancy” through the use of “fetal protection” laws. Alabama’s Attorney General recently asserted (and then subsequently backed away from) the position that women in the state could be prosecuted for taking legally prescribed abortion pills.
Mandatory Donation posits yet another step in taking away one’s control of their own body, not just asserting that one no longer has the right to control what one does with their organs, but that proper lifestyle “care” of them must be taken under penalty of law; reducing a person to little more than an organ bank.
Legislating that people do not have the right to control their own bodies is not just “un-American,” it’s an affront to humanity.
Galaxy’s Edge #60 has published my story, “The Gardner of Ceres,” in the January 2023 Issue.
This story was a long time coming.
The very first draft version of this story was created in December of 2016. Not terribly long before then–though I don’t know exactly when–I’d seen a photo of a surface taken from space that had used a vivid green to highlight areas of interest against an otherwise dark surface. Mostly likely it was Ceres, since I was following the Dawn asteroid exploration mission at the time (and I did then set the story on Ceres), but it might’ve been somewhere else. That image sparked an idea: “The gardens of Ceres.” Unfortunately I don’t recall the specifics of where I saw the image, or even actually what it was depicting. Anyhow, it really struck me as what I imagined the view would be like as one descended onto a terraformed asteroid during local night. With “grow lights” adhering to an Earth-based schedule, rather than the local day length, Ceres–courtesy of its nine hour days–would regularly have the gardens lit up at night.
I sat down and worked on a first draft, which for me takes several weeks. I really liked the way it opened with the initial descent into the spaceport, with everyone oohing and aahing over those illuminated gardens of Ceres. Of course you need more than a cool opening, so I plotted one out and eventually finished the first draft.
I read through it and considered the draft I’d just completed:
It was…not good.
This is not the first time this has happened. My first drafts are typically very rough, so now it was time for my favorite part of writing–editing! My very first story published in a pro-paying magazine also started poorly, and went through numerous edits and at least two nearly-complete rewrites. I have done this, I can do this.
This time it didn’t go so well. After reworking the story I came to the conclusion that it just wasn’t getting any closer to being presentable. Not to a market, not to a beta reader, not to any writing groups. I pulled it out of my In-Work folder and put it in my In-Limbo one. Then I went on to something else.
Other stories were written, other sales were made. Every few months I’d peek in on this and other In-Limbo stories to see if anything might spark when giving them another read-through. Nope.
In late 2019 I ran into a sort-of writer’s block that persisted well into 2020. I just couldn’t think of a decent story idea to save my life. I decided to take another run through the In-Limbo stories. I read through the garbage draft of The Gardener of Ceres again–and I still loved the opening imagery. After that it got all meandery and dumb. It suddenly occurred to me that if I cut out the meandering–along with some silly, cutesy tech I’d come up–and initiated some conflict right off the bat, it should give the story a big boost of energy. So the story went back to the In-Work folder and I deleted pretty much everything after Xenia’s arrival at the farm transit station.
A few more weeks of writing and editing finally got the story into a condition I was willing to put out for peer critique.
MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!
Critiques came back, more edits were made. The hardest part of the story was making sure what was going on with the mind/body transfers was understandable…and plausibly constrained. Without constraints, allowing mind/body transfers to happen at will would pretty much eliminate the obstacles Xenia and Mayvonne would have to deal with. I realized I really had to thread a needle with this one, and finally got to a final version that was ready to submit to story markets.
So out it went! And in came the rejections. Mostly form rejections, but yeah, well, that’s the most common response to a story submission for most writers. In between rejections submissions I’d read through it again and maybe tweak a few sentences. After one rejection I took another hard look at the mind/body transfer descriptions and events and saw how it could be still further clarified. I took some time and worked on doing just that, and in the new revision concluded that it was now much clearer that what was in the version I’d been submitting. Though it was unfortunate that I’d now blown it with a bunch of markets. Oh well.
Off it went to Galaxy’s Edge. A few weeks later I received a glowing acceptance email. Absolutely chuffed that I finally found a home for this story!
One little tidbit for you if you’ve read this far: The “Sena” in “Sena reserve” stands for SouthEast North America. The flora and fauna that reside in that botanical area within the gardens of Ceres will be familiar with that namesake region on Earth–like where I live in North Alabama.
I’m a slow writer. It takes me a long time to grind out a first draft. When that’s done, that’s when the fun–no, seriously, fun–starts for me: doing the editing to shape a garbage fire first draft into something that I’m first willing to show other people, and then start submitting to story markets.
Drabbles are a type of micro-fiction, i.e. very short stories. In the case of a drabble, a story that is told in exactly one hundred words. I wrote and sold my first one in 2018 to Martian Magazine. There are two characteristics of drabbles that really draw me to them. The first is…they’re short. Which means it takes me a lot less time to crank out that first draft than it does to write a short story. And second is that because they’re so short, every single word has to be carefully selected; so it’s editing nirvana for me!
I decided to spend some time this year focusing on drabbles, and ended up with about sixty. (A few started as drabbles, but the draft went so far past the hundred word limit that I opted to convert them to a flash story instead.) I may self-publish a collection at some point, but along the way I’d also submit them to story and anthology markets when I saw there was a good fit.
As a result of this prolific drabbling, fifteen of my stories–eleven drabbles and four original short stories–were published in 2022, far more than in any other year since I started writing. And there were some very nice reviews!
While Martian Magazine is the premier SF drabble publication and the majority appeared there and in anthologies produced by its publisher, Shacklebound Books, I was happy to place drabbles in other publications as well. These other markets included Sylvia, where one of my favorite drabbles, Daffodil Ghosts, appeared this last summer; and two in Julia Rios’ “Worlds of Possibility” project and podcast. I’d submitted a drabble, Fencepost, which Julia accepted, and they suggested I write a complementary story, which I was happy to do–noting also that it was my first-ever solicited story. Another favorite story, Robot Coal, is the subject of a painting I’ve commissioned by local Huntsville artist Chris Wade. I’ve seen the concept sketch, and am eager to see the completed work, hopefully early in the new year.
I was also quite delighted with the other stories of mine that appeared in 2022, some of which had been banging around for quite a while. You can check out my entire list of publications for 2022 (and prior years) on my Bibliography page.
I’m hoping everyone has a solid, successful (or at least less stressful) new year. And to the writers: Keep writing! Keep submitting!
Received an email notifying me that my entry for Flash Point SF’s first drabble contest was selected as one of the two winners! This is the first writing contest I’ve won, so that’s another item checked off the writing bucket list!
Watch for “Another Leg” coming out in February 2023, along with co-winner K.A. Honeywell’s “Companion.”