Shifters and Climbers (a scifi short)

gearsHe adjusted the gravity suit, playing with the knobs that kept out temperature and forces of physics while he waited for his turn to come. She was there again, working, the way he always saw her. Thick black braces covered each wrist, synthetic material coating steel, all wrapped tight with velcro. He wondered how her wrists would look without it. Would they be thin and delicate or permanently lined, thick with work?

“Morning, shifty.” She smiled at him, eyes lighting up in her moon shaped face. She was pretty, not exactly beautiful, but each time he climbed down off the great machine he though she was the best looking girl he’d ever seen. Her hair wasn’t just shaved off or pulled back, but set into elaborate braids all around her scalp, dips and swirls of them that sometimes drew pictures and sometimes spelled words. Today it was a star, probably for Founder’s day. He’d ask her to the picnic when he got down, if he got down.

“Morning, climber.” She watched his smile for a while. Normally all she had to watch was monitors and cursors, lines upon lines of code telling her the great machine needed a shift or would need one soon. Then she’d start the program to determine how much, what kind, where. Math. She did math and ran math programs all day. She thought big thoughts, and talked about concepts even bigger than that: planetary alliances, orbital patterns, the need to keep the universes spinning in just the right direction, how a small shift could cause a big reaction. This guy – she gave him a glance up and down – with his meaty arms and squat stature, he didn’t know big thoughts. Just climb the machine, fix the problem, climb down. Maybe because if he thought too much he’d think about the number of climbers who fell each year, or the numbers that caught in the gears each day. “Ready to get started?”

“Sure.” He knew lots of climbers that didn’t have an arm or a hand, a few that were in tongue-operated wheel chairs, lots of lucky ones that were just plain dead.  “Do you understand how it works?”

The question was a break in protocol, but his shifter, she didn’t blink. “Aliens left it for us, so not really, but I think the gears you work on move because of heat down in the planets core.”

“You’d think the aliens would make it perfect then, self-lubricating, never get stuck.”

A lot of shifters thought so, but she only laughed. “It’s the 9th gate again. Stuck open. I’ll try to hold the shift, but once you pop it in place things will move pretty quickly.”

“They always do.” Maybe this time he’d be too slow, spring out of the way a second too late. His suit would stop him from hitting the ground too hard. It would seal the pressure down around the wound. Lots of guys made a living one handed. Losing the arm would be worse, but not impossible. He just needed to fall right. He latched the suit on to the heavy wire line that ran up the side of the great machine, a wedge of metal seven stories high and stuck into the earth’s crust. The machine hung at the bottom of the world, upside down when you looked at the globe, but streaking into the sky above him. Now he hung with it. “Well if we want to see winter I’d better get going. See-ya, Shifty.”

“Hey wait.” She looked at him and he half turned back, one leg already moving against gravity as he went up the side of the machine. “The Founder’s Day parade. You up for it?”

“Sure. It’ll give me something to look forward to.” She watched his grin while he climbed. It faded away after thirty feet and she gave her attention back to the monitors. After all, someone had to make sure the Earth moved.

Books you need to read: Monster Hunter International

I know blogs are meant to be about an author’s ‘brand’,  marketing platform, and blah, blah, blah… But today I want to gush about a great book I finished reading, Monster Hunter International by Larry Correia. Thanks for humoring me.

A little background: every March I judge the Daphne du Maurier writing contest. Thus I get to/am obligated to read several romance-mystery novels in a limited time.  When my judging deadline rolls around I’m usually sick of romance novels and bored with happily ever afters.

It was so refreshing to read a book when I didn’t know how it would end. The delicious tension as I gulped down the story one hundred pages at a time can’t be explained. Would the hero live? What about the girl he loved? At any point any of the characters I’d come to care about could’ve been killed. Several of them were, some more than once. The story went fast, made sense, and avoided every cliché I could think of. The love triangle at the end of the book I was dreading never materialized. The bittersweet self sacrifice? Totally avoided. This was a fresh story, with a lot of fun elements for someone like me who loves monsters, myths, and legends.

And guns. Lots of them. Big guns. Small guns. Artillery. Nukes. Oh my, Correia knows his weapons and he uses them just so. Gun nuts will find lots to love here. There’s no ever refilling magazines here or shooting for hours with no one bleeding. People run out of ammo, guns jam, knives slip out of bloody hands in the middle of a fight. Realism and technical details go together to make great fight scenes.

But I’m a demanding reader. Great scenes and a great story aren’t enough for me. I want writing skill, I want finesse with words. I want someone who commands a symphony of nouns and verbs, who builds a story like a tapestry, weaving threads in a way that surprises me when I step back and see the whole image.

On this aspect alone Correia deserves an award.

The crowning achievement is Holly. Holly is not a main character. I’d put her at tertiary – the character who makes funny quips to break the tension.  She’s a throw away character introduced as an ex-stripper from Vegas. Not much there, right? Wrong. Correia shines with Holly. When the other characters share their back story Holly abstains. It’s not until 50 pages later that a nothing line gives you any indication of what happened to her. It takes another hundred pages before a completely unrelated character in a totally different setting reveals enough for the reader to piece together Holly’s experience. Even then, Holly herself doesn’t discuss it for two hundred pages.

Completely woven into the story, never forced, with just enough information to tease the reader into wanting more. A brilliant piece of character development and it isn’t even his hero.

I’ve read 15 or 20 romance novels this year, along with a dozen mysteries I can remember and a few books that were in between like the latest Charlene Harris. The stories were interesting at the time but nothing special.  They didn’t stick with me. Monster Hunter International is in a whole other class, rivaling the very impressive The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bedsole to be the best book I’ve read this year.  Go read it.

Avoiding Scams at DragonCon (or any other Convention)

Writing scams are many and varied. No one does a better job of covering them than the amazing Writer Beware blog.  If you’re writing you need to read their blog on a regular basis. It will protect you and your work.

But what about your pocket money? What about the money you’re hoping to blow at DragonCon or ComicCon or the money you’re saving up for next year’s Romance Writers of America conference? That’s what I want to talk about, because even though we’re a year away from some Cons (SDCC, RWA), we’re only 30 days away from others (DragonCon). My tips to keep your money safe at any Con:

Be cautious when buying commissioned work. Walking through an artist alley your fingers itch to take things off the walls. In the dealers’ hall your eyes are nearly blinded by the sparkly objects. What you see is amazing, but it could be truly awesome with just a few small changes. An easily approachable salesman strikes up a conversation, and moments later you hand over more money than you expected to spend with the promise of a custom piece in the near future. But will it ever come?

Maybe. Most artists are honest people. They know they live by their reputation in the community and they won’t risk that for your commission. Mistakes do happen though, so before you plunk down money do a little homework.  Check out the artist or creator on the web. Do they have a web page? Is it filled with grammar and spelling errors? Are there people complaining in their Facebook feed? Check Twitter and MySpace for complaints too. Google the name of the artist and words like ‘scam’ or ‘commission’. Ask if they’re delivering any work at the Con. See if you can speak to some of their customers.

Remember there are no returns. The one-of-a-kind light saber, the prop from your favorite movie, and the amazing software package to use on your author website all have the same restriction: once you’ve bought them you can’t return them. Protect yourself by doing research, is this item truly one-of-a-kind or are there fifty of them on eBay? Take a close look at what you’re about to buy, does it seem sturdy? I’d walk away from any sale where I couldn’t touch the item before I purchase. For software and collectibles, check to see that the box is truly sealed, and not just resealed with glue after having been opened. The web is your friend again, google to see that you’re getting all the parts you should be getting. If it’s software, check the web for reviews. In general, don’t spend so much that you’ll be crushed if something falls apart before you get it home.

Don’t be pressured. It’s easy to believe that a special show sale is the only thing that will ever make a book editing service affordable to you, or that if you walk away from a set of stormtrooper armor someone else will snatch it up. However, it’s just as possible that you don’t need that editing service and the armor will sit until Monday morning when you’re sure about it. Most of us don’t make our best decisions under pressure. Watch out for used car salesman techniques like failing to give a firm price, being unwilling to put a price in writing, blaming someone else for a price or policy, or pushing you off from one salesman to another. If you know you’re bad at this, enlist a friend or a stranger for help. It’s easy to say to someone “what do you think?” and break the salesman’s strangle hold on the conversation. Remember, you can always walk away.

Know your limits. If you’re arriving at a convention with twenty dollars in food money, don’t seat yourself in the most expensive restaurant in the hotel. If you can’t resist shiny new corsets (that’d be me) don’t stop at the corset booths without someone to bail you out. If you have a set budget for purchases, don’t take more than that amount of money on to the trade floor. If your credit cards are maxed out don’t carry them in your pocket, stash them in your  hotel room safe.

Don’t trust people just because they share your passion. Writers, Trekkies, and Steampunks can all be scam artists. The MMO player you’ve exchanged a few messages with here and there can hurt you just as much as a total stranger you meet in a bar. We want to believe that our fandom is filled with kind and giving people but that isn’t always true. Trust but verify. Be cautious, real fan clubs have letterhead, t-shirts, and a logo. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Above all, please remember that if you can’t trust someone with your wallet, don’t trust them with your body.

Have I missed any tips? Am I too gloom & doom? Am I just plain wrong? I can’t wait to hear about it in the comments. 😉


Accepted by SWFA

Like all high school cafeterias, my cafeteria was divided by social structure. Jocks and cheerleaders by the glass doors so everyone could see them, country kids in the back, cowboy hats and smuggled tobacco marking their turf, the rank and file in between, and outside, some five hundred feet across the quad, my own motley crew. I’d made the mistake of trying to sit at an empty table on my first day, the scathing glares and nasty words are best left unremembered. After that the group of outcasts broiling in the Florida sun, far away from the air conditioned comfort of socially cataloged seats, felt welcoming.

My group understood the things that mattered to me: stories, philosophy, science, life. They knew the difference between telekinesis and telepathy. They watched the ‘new’ Star Trek religiously. They quoted Asimov and Tolkien. They got my jokes. Outside of high school people like that were rare, in the writing world they felt even rarer.

Writing groups vary, and, of course, no group is perfect for everyone. I will forever be indebted to RWA (Romance Writers of America) for teaching me the ropes. But RWA conferences focus on the hero and heroine, their romantic journey. They don’t know the difference between a parsec and a light year. I remember attending my first RWA conference and feeling horribly alone. I didn’t know any of the authors everyone mentioned, I wasn’t part of that group.

Then just a few days ago I received my acceptance letter from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Suddenly there’s another group for me to sit with, another place where people understand the things I wonder about whether it’s an orc or a wormhole.

I’m also basking in a certain level of prestige. SWFA doesn’t take everyone, and I’ve know some pretty good authors who didn’t make the cut. Even if that weren’t true, I think I’d still be walking on air. As I kid I devoured SciFi and loved fantasy. When I look around at the members of SFWA, I’m seeing the people who wrote my hopes and dreams. Now, I’m one of them, and it blows me away.