Archive for April, 2012

Need to read Part Ten first? Please do. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Eleven

I allowed myself a second or two of panic and then called out, “Tumble?”

“One moment, young sir,” the cat called back from somewhere up ahead.

I closed my eyes and rested my head sideways on the bottom of the duct. The cool metal felt wonderful on my flushed cheek and I stayed like that until I heard the scamper of tiny feet approaching.

“Okay, the way is clear now. Please follow me,” Tumble said.

He stood hunched over, bent nearly in half, but he would not resort to walking on all fours, which I thought was kind of funny. Then I noticed that he had his gun in his left hand and my cocoon bag in his right.

“Anything I should be worried about?” I asked as I begin to pull and shimmy my way through the ventilation system.

Tumble stopped and looked back at me. “There are rats in here the size of, well, me. Nasty creatures, I assure you. Since you barely fit in here”—Did he have to remind me?—“I had to disable a few traps along the way that you can’t maneuver around.”

He continued on a few steps and then looked back at me over his shoulder.

“I’m almost certain I remembered them all.”

He chuckled a raspy feline laugh and proceeded forward.

“Cat humor,” I replied. “Now my day is complete.”

This made Tumble laugh all the harder.

I blinked stinging sweat from my eyes. Whether it was from my fever, the exercise, or the tight fear at the back of my throat when I imagined becoming stuck in the duct, I didn’t dare dwell on it.

The journey was interminable and Tumble had certainly lied when he claimed it would only take a short while.

After seeming miles of conduits, some terrifying chimney climbs up vertical shafts, and a close call with a rat who sunk his teeth into Tumble’s shoulder before he could bring his gun to bear on it—(“On the plus side,” Tumble told me, proudly holding up the two-foot long rat by its tail. “Dinner!”)—we exited the ventilation system.

I unceremoniously slid out onto the floor, barely able to catch myself, and took some time to lie there, luxuriating in the freedom to move my arms and legs about and not hit anything except the floor. I had spent entirely too much time today in shafts, tunnels, and ductwork; I vowed to stay away from tight spaces for at least a week unless my life depended on it.

“Come now, friend, we are almost there,” Tumble interrupted my reverie.

“Like it was only a ‘short while’ to get here?” I groused.

“No, this time it is truly nearby, so make yourself presentable. You will soon be in the presence of His Illustriousness, He Whose Claws Can Slice Air Itself, The Most—”

I took advantage of the lengthy list of honorifics to get to my feet. Weary and woozy, I had to lean against the wall for support. Seeing me like that, Tumble cut himself off.

“Come, the sooner you are presented at court, the sooner you can rest and recover.”

He returned my cocoon bag and we were off again, but this time through corridors that felt decidedly more lived in than those I had frequented as of late. For one thing, they had power and light, so I turned off my coil and slid it into my shirt. For another, everything was clean. Most of the city I’d seen was grungy, run-down. Even the settlements I passed through were barely cleared of the debris of ages. Here, the walls were freshly painted, the carpet clean, and the air fresh. I mentioned as much to Tumble.

“And this is just the outer bailey!” he preened. “Wait ’til you see the real city! Ah-ha, here we are.”

We reached the end of a hallway and stood before a solid-looking metal door that was flanked by two gun-wielding cats, one jet black, the other calico. As we were expected, the guards did not put up a fuss but simply entered a code onto a keypad.

The door slid open silently for all its weight. These cats certainly had their tiny corner of the city running smoothly.

Tumble led me into a narrow, short hallway that I had to crouch-walk along to pass through. I noticed the thin openings regularly spaced along the walls and ceiling; murder holes. Either the cats were paranoid or they had more than just unusually large rats to worry about.

Once we were through a second gate at the far end, I could stand up again. Hands on my hips, I leaned back to give myself a good stretch and found my gaze traveling up, up, up.

The cat city filled a cavernous chamber whose upper reaches I could not make out. It had obviously been built on and around pre-existing old-world skyscrapers. The old city had been completely remade through the addition of myriad ramps and rooms that hung suspended between the existing buildings on massive strands of braided rope.

From far overhead, bright yellow light shone from an unseen but obviously artificial sun. The skyscrapers were tall, but not so tall as to make me believe I had reached the surface.

Tiny birds sang their songs as they dived and banked in and out of the cat-cradle city, and everywhere I looked, the bipedal cat-folk went about their business.

“Welcome to Pudlington,” Tumble announced proudly. “We hope you enjoy our hospitality for as long as you like.”

“How many cats live here?” I asked, jaw stuck open as I gaped at the sights.

“Not as many as there once were,” Tumble replied, his tone uncharacteristically dark.

I glanced down at him and grimaced. “That’s Earth in a nutshell, isn’t it?”

Tumble nodded and then did a full body shiver from head to tail.

“Enough of that,” he said, his tone boisterous once more. “The Emperor awaits!”

* * *

Meet the Emperor in Part Twelve, but take a gander below at my notes first, if you like.

4/29/12 News: I had fun writing Tumble’s lines (the one about “Dinner!” makes me laugh each time I read it) and I gave him a little more personality this week. Thanks to my cousin Gillian for saying she liked the little guy (and for reading each week!); it made me want to flesh him out more.

Why Pudlington as the name for the cat city, you may ask? No reason other than it sounded cute, and as much as the cats have sought to shed their past as domestic pets, their names are still very much influenced by their history as adorable companions for humans. It also makes me think of a tiny hamlet somewhere in the countryside, so… ironic, yeah.

I have been including little homages here and there in the story (besides the great big homage to Isaac Asimov’s Lije Bailey and Foundation novels). This week’s homage had to do with the unusually large rats. Can you name the movie this came from?

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Searching for quality genre webzines for the latest installment in my Webzines series has been a morbid affair, in that the number of deceased zines I found far outweighs the number of healthy, thriving ones. Despite the high mortality rate, I bring you today another crop of markets for your science-fiction/fantasy/horror stories.

As before, I picked a recent short story from each zine to read to get a basic feel for the types of stories they are looking for, and I will share my thoughts on those as well. (I will read more stories before submitting my own, of course.)

You can visit my Links page for a list of all the webzines I have researched so far.

Strange Horizons is looking for science-fiction and fantasy, not horror or stories with twist endings. (See their Guidelines page for full details on what they want and what they don’t want.) They prefer stories of less than 5,000 words and pay 7¢/word, minimum $50.00. Response time is within 90 days.

For Strange Horizons, I read Beneath Impossible Circumstances by Andrea Kneeland. At its core, this story is about a fractured relationship, but there are hints throughout about the futuristic setting where natural anything, including childbirth, is the exception instead of the rule.

Aphelion accepts short and long SF/F/H stories. See the Submissions page for full details. No mention is made of payment, so it’s safe to assume it’s publication only.

I quite enjoyed Second Suicide by Tim Britto, which is about an alien invasion that is derailed when they discover our arts and entertainment. But will music, paintings, and literature be enough to stave off Earth’s destruction?

FLURB is run by science-fiction author Rudy Rucker and has published stories by big-name authors but still seems to accept and work with new authors. FLURB is published bi-annually and there is no information about submissions for the next issue, but I am including it here because I think it is a webzine worth reading and one to check in on regularly to see if submissions open up.

For FLURB, I read Journey to the Center of the Flat Earth by William Highsmith. As you might suspect based on the title, it is a take on Jules Verne’s classic tale, except in this version, the Earth is a cylinder, not a globe. I couldn’t quite envision how this would play out but enjoyed the story nonetheless. The end of the story was… odd, but interesting.

Planet Magazine accepts short SF & F stories and payment is publication only. See the Submissions page for further details.

From Planet Magazine I read Little Brother, by Gryffyd Eamonn Dempsey. I liked the amount of world-building that Gryffyd managed to pack in to this short story, about a fantasy world where aliens have intruded on royal politics. When the King’s son dies, is it a blessing or a curse that the aliens bring him back to life? As the story shows, it depends on who you ask.

A last note: As you might know, I am writing and releasing parts of a rough draft novel each week, about 1,000 words at a time. It has been a great way to get my creative juices flowing and at the same time, get some of my work out there for people to read. To that end, I found a great site called Tuesday Serial which basically exists to collect weekly serial stories like The Only City Left. I appreciate what they are doing and I encourage you to check it out, whether it is to find a story to read or to submit your own.

Galaxy image courtesy of NASA, via Wikimedia Commons. Writing ball image also from Wikimedia Commons.

Welcome to a special edition of Webcomics Wednesday. Today, I only have one webcomic to talk about instead of my usual two. In exchange for the second review, I have an interview with the creators to share with you. If this more in-depth approach to my reviews is to your liking, please let me know and I’ll work on lining up more interviews for future posts.

I’ll start off with what my initial take on the comic was, and then get right into the interview.

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus is a full-color webcomic by Andrew “MAK” Makishima (Story/Script/Lettering), Matthew “JLD” Rice (Story/Illustrations/Colors) and Rory Walsh (Colors on issues 1 and 2). So far there have been two issues and a 12-page prequel story, and the third issue has begun online. There will be nine issues total.

The story starts with a costumed super-heroine falling to the street from the skyscrapers above. She ends up broken and bloody and we are left to wonder: Did her powers fail her? Was she defeated and cast down to earth by a super-villain? The answer is that the story is not that simple, of course. The story takes place in Vanguard City, which is a sort of sci-fi Metropolis, replete with super-powered bad guys and a lone super-hero, Guardian.

Madison Mercury is a blond-haired, dedicated reporter who believes that the city is overlooking the threat posed by a suspected terrorist group known as the Rebirth. When her twin sister Mara comes to town, she is caught up in events that prove Madison is right. Meanwhile, Guardian seems strangely reactive to threats rather than proactive. Is he kind of a doofy superhero or is there a more sinister reason he is always late to the party?

Some humans were harmed in the making of this scene.It should be noted that this is a pretty violent webcomic. At a guess, I would say the creators are fans of classic Paul Verhoeven movies like RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers, where the violence is a bit over the top and there is much dark humor. It is also reminiscent of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, both in art style and in the gritty approach to a world full of superheroes.

After catching up with the Birth of Venus archives, I felt compelled to talk to the creators about their webcomic, and they were kind enough to answer a series of e-mailed interview questions.

Creator Interview

What’s the elevator pitch for Birth of Venus?

Andrew “MAK” Makishima:  Birth of Venus is about a young woman named Mara Mercer who becomes the victim of rape at the hands of a super villain.  The trauma leaves her scarred…and pregnant.  But this is no ordinary pregnancy and Mara soon discovers that she has been imbued with amazing powers by the child growing inside of her.  She faces the dilemma of wanting to use these powers to get revenge on her attacker but also trying to live with the fact that she has this child growing inside of her now and whether she can ever love it.  Its a dark subject matter but ultimately I see it as a story of this woman finding strength she never knew she had and rebuilding herself into a new identity.

You had issues 1 and 2 of Birth of Venus for sale at Wondercon. Which comes first, the physical comic book or the webcomic, or are they concurrent?

MAK: The webcomic comes out first.  We’ve been printing the comics out after the issue wraps up online and have just started bringing those to conventions and comic shops.  We’ve only printed a very limited run of the comic books due to cost.  If we see a demand for it, we’ll print more and probably offer them for purchase on the website as well.

Matthew “JLD” Rice: We both grew up reading traditional printed comics and intended “Birth of Venus” to be done that way. (We actually did our first printing of the first issue as a pitch device… which was an expensive lesson. Ouch!) After re-evaluating our game-plan, we realized that we could release BoV one page at a time as a weekly web-comic but still stick to the traditional comic book format for printing purposes. The story has been tailored to work for BOTH purposes, having each page pack as much punch as possible and stand somewhat on its own while delivering the proper page-turn reveals needed to serve a printed book.

What is your expected timeline for completing all nine issues?

JLD: Whoo-boy! That’s a tough question and it really all depends on how this thing takes off. If we don’t hit any brick walls along the way, I hope that we can keep doing our weekly page-a-week frequency until we’re done… We should be done with Issue #3 by the end of the year and get about an issue and a half in the can each year after that…

What are your plans, if any, for a graphic novel for Birth of Venus?

JLD: We have the story broken into 3 distinct arcs, (or Trimesters if you will) and the plan is to finish the third issue and figure out a way to get some collected editions printed either by an interested publisher or possibly through a Kickstarter campaign. Each Trimester of BoV is meant to work strongly on their own while functioning as three major acts of a larger story.

MAK:  So that’s potentially 3 graphic novels of roughly 90-100 pages.  An omnibus of the whole series would be cool but at the rate we’re going, that’s a ways off from now.

What are your backgrounds, in education and work, that brought you to the point of making Birth of Venus?

A page of JLD's artwork for Helen KillerJLD: Graphic storytelling has been in my blood since I made my first comic book in 4th grade and I’ve been honing my craft ever since, now as a freelance illustrator and storyboard artist. After my first published comic work on “Helen Killer“, I knew that a follow-up would have to be something that I was passionate about. (These things eat up a good chunk of your life!) From the impetus of BoV we both knew that we really had something quite unique.

MAK: Echoing Matt, I grew up reading and collecting comics and wanted to be a comic artist/writer.  In high school, my interests drifted towards animation and filmmaking and I ended up getting a film degree at Cal State Long Beach.  I still loved comics though and wanted to write something in that format.

How do you know each other?

JLD: We first crossed paths at the introductory video production course at OCC Community College. After each completing our first solo projects we both saw the potential in one another’s work and we’ve been close friends ever since and creative partners as often as possible.

MAK:  I’ve known Matt for over 10 years now and he’s one of my best friends.  Once he finished his run on Helen Killer, I pitched him the idea for BOV and luckily he was game for it.

Is this your first project together?

MAK:  This is our first comic book collaboration.  Prior to that we made student films together.

JLD: And hopefully we’ll get around to putting all of them up on YouTube soon.

I guessed at some of your influences (see above) . Am I on the right track? What other films/comics/books/artists/authors influence your work?

JLD: The Verhoeven nod is quite apt, yet unintentional. We are both fans of his films as they tend to intermingle thought-provoking concepts, engaging characters and a good dose of ultra-violence! Good call! “Invincible” is a HUGE influence, as is “Savage Dragon”, “Powers” and even “Ultra” by the Luna Brothers. My art-style has also been greatly influenced by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley’s “Invincible” work, as well as the energy and organic line of Paul Pope’s ink-brush techniques. I am also a huge fan of Frank Cho, Walt Simonson, Will Eisner and Mike Mignola so I’d like to think that those influences might show up in my work from time to time… if I’m lucky!

Birth of Venus revolves around the results of a brutal assault and rape; was this difficult to write? Did you have any concerns that someone who picks up this book might stop reading at that point?

MAK:  It was difficult because there is a very different tone evoked when that is introduced into the story.  It has, and still is the most concerning thing for me that the subject matter be treated responsibly and in a non-gratuitous way.  It is dark so there is a certain level of discomfort that is unavoidable I’m afraid.  All I can say is that I hope by the end of the story, if people stick around they will feel that this was earned and necessary to the story we set out to tell.

I enjoyed the Mercury and Clay prequel story about McCoy and Madge’s first date. Are there more prequels planned for between later issues?

JLD: I would definitely love to do some more Clay McCoy short stories! What pulpy fun!

MAK: Hey, if you want to add more drawing duties to your plate, I can write some more!  The prequel comic was actually something we created to pitch the comic with initially so we had it in the can ready to go when issue #2 ended and Matt needed the buffer for issue #3.  There are some ideas for other prequel stories but nothing for sure yet.

What webcomics do you enjoy reading?

JLD: Probably my favorite long-form web-comic stories that are currently running are “The Meek” by Der-shing Helmer, “Sin Titulo” by Cameron Stewart, “Bearmageddon” by Ethan Nicolle and “Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether” by Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett. “PVP“, “Battlepug“, “Hark! A Vagrant“, “Hunter Black” and “Escape From Planet Nowhere” are also good, fun reads.

MAK: Don’t forget Ratfist!

What does success look like for you with Birth of Venus? I.e., you can quit your day jobs, this leads to more projects, etc?

JLD: If Venus can find a steady foothold out there with a growing fan-base to support it, then I would love to keep one foot permanently in that world while toggling between other projects. There is much fodder for potential sequel ideas to BoV.

MAK:  I would love to see BOV completed and out in the world for people to enjoy.  After that, more comic work would be great.  I don’t know exactly what it looks like but creating a sustainable model for creating content, whether it’s online or in print would be a dream come true.

Where can interested fans pick up copies of Birth of Venus? Stores? Conventions?

JLD: We just exhibited for the first time at Wonder Con in Anaheim and we plan to possibly get a table at APE in October and the Long Beach Con in November. We’re keeping things pretty local for the time being. We also currently have copies of the first two issues for sale at Meltdown Comics and Golden Apple in Hollywood, The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Comics Unlimited in Westminster and Nuclear Comics in Laguna Niguel. We’re also planning on selling printed copies through the BoV website soon.

* * *

Well, there you have it, my first big interview here at Lithicbee and I hope you enjoyed it. I would like to thank MAK and JLD for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly and for pointing me to some more cool webcomics, to boot. I wish them the best of success with Birth of Venus.

If you haven’t checked out Birth of Venus yet, please do so and tell them you heard about it from Lithicbee.

Next Up on Lithicbee

Friday: The third installment in my series on SF/F/H Webzines, for readers looking for stories and writers looking for markets.

Sunday: Part 11 of The Only City Left. This is the continuing story of Allin Arcady, a young man who is lost amidst the ruins of a planet-sized city called Earth. Think Trantor meets Cube meets Mad Max meets monster movies, and you have some idea of the setting. I am having fun writing and sharing this story and would love for you to give Part One a chance and let me know what you think, if you haven’t already.

Part Nine is right behind here if you need it. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Ten

I raised an eyebrow at the note. I had never heard of this Emperor Banshee and I certainly had no idea how he had ever heard of me. Dad had warned me about accepting gifts from strangers, but as I was otherwise naked and liable to freeze outside of the cocoon, I didn’t hesitate to make use of the clothing despite any misgivings.

Before I dressed, I drank from my towel reservoir and then toweled myself off again from head to toe. No point in getting these nice dry clothes soaked with sweat the minute I put them on. By the time I got down to my feet, I could already feel more sweat beading on my forehead, and even though I had emptied the reservoir, I still felt incredibly thirsty. As I had feared, swimming through and swallowing some of that brackish water had done me no good. Whatever I had picked up, my body was in full attack mode against it, and I felt achy and sweaty and miserable.

The dry clothing cheered me up, though. The shirt, pants, and jacket were all a light tan in color and everything fit me perfectly. The shoes were ordinary red-and-white sneakers and I briefly mourned the loss of my black cling-tights, but mostly I was curious about how my mysterious royal benefactor knew so much about me all the way down to my shoe size.

The note provided no answers. I checked the back side for more information, like how to find the Emperor, but it was blank. I shook my head, shrank and packed my cocoon, and left the small apartment unsure of where to go next.

On a lark, I turned left down the hallway but only made it a few feet before a tiny voice sounded from behind me.

“Hey, what’s the rush?”

I jerked straight and spun around so quickly on one foot that, in my fevered state, I got dizzy and had to slump against a wall to keep from falling.

“You don’t look so good. We better get you to the Emperor’s Court. He’ll get you fixed up.”

I blinked, forcing my eyes to focus and re-focus, not quite believing them. I was being addressed by a cat, a talking cat. He had gray and white fur, a thin frame, and was standing on his hind legs with his front paws resting on his hips. He wore a red-and-white loincloth and had a gun strapped across his back at an angle.

I had heard tales of such creatures but always as myths or as stories of genetic experiments that had disappeared along with the majority of humankind.

He approached me cautiously, waving his right hand at me as if to clear the air. I squinted and leaned in for a better look and, sure enough, he had an opposable thumb. Definitely genetically altered, then, but not so much disappeared.

“Woo-hoo, you in there, Mr. Arcady?” he asked, holding up one claw and moving it left to right before my eyes.

“How do you know my name?”

“It speaks! Good. Now come on, all your questions will be answered, your ills cured, and your—” he scrunched his nose and twitched his white whiskers “—bathing needs attended to, if you’ll simply follow me.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Oh, of course, where are my manners? My name is Tumble, Royal Envoy of the Emperor’s Court.”

That wasn’t exactly what I meant, but I thought it would be impolite to ask, “What are you?”

“This way then?” Tumble suggested, bowing slightly and waving his hand back toward where I had come from.

I shrugged and followed him. It’s not like I had any more specific place to go, Tumble didn’t seem dangerous despite the gun on his back, and anyway, I was curious about meeting more like him and finding out how they knew about me.

Tumble pointed out this or that landmark to me as we walked, places where great (feline) battles had occurred, commissaries that still bore the scent of food to a cat’s fine sense of smell even after being abandoned for hundreds of years, that sort of thing. He droned on like this for the entire journey as we moved through one indistinguishable hallway after another. Should I have wanted to, I would never be able to figure out how to get back to where we started from.

My feline guide knew so much about the history of this area, I interrupted him and asked, “What happened to the people who used to live here? The humans.”

“Ah, therein lies much speculation and little known truth. This sector has been ours for centuries. Some say it was ceded to us when the cats rebelled against their cruel and awful masters. No offense to present company, I assure you. Others claim that this sector became ours when the humans simply abandoned it, but there are as many stories about why they left as there are empty rooms around us. But, oh, we’re here!”

Here was a dead-end at the end of a hallway.

“It may be a tight fit for you, but I assure you it’s only for a small while. Follow me.”

Tumble stood at the wall and then sprang up its face. His claws were out but it seemed that he barely touched the surface before sliding under a loose grate and into a ventilation duct set into the wall about two feet above my head.

He popped his head back out and the grate swung upward on its top hinge. I could see that the duct was only about as wide as my body. This would not be a pleasant experience.

“Hand me your bag, young sir, and I’ll carry it for you.”

I balked at that; all my possessions except the lantern coil were in there. If he had wanted the bag, though, he could have taken it from me while I was passed out, so I handed it up.

Tumble held the grate open long enough for me to pull myself up and get my head and arms in, and then he had to back away to give me room. After a series of kicks, pulls, and wiggles, I made it into the coffin-like embrace of the duct and the grate slammed shut behind me. Ahead of me was empty ductwork for as far as my coil could illuminate; Tumble was nowhere to be seen.

* * *

Head further into the ducts with Part Eleven (or read my notes on Part Ten first).

4/22/12 News: Yes, I am one of those people who likes to put talking cats in my stories. I’m sure readers either love this or hate this, but there it is. And you know that if humankind ever develops the technology, talking cats (and dogs, and ferrets, whatever) will be a reality, because how cool would that be.

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

Okay, so even though I posted a flash fiction story yesterday to meet a deadline, I still want to have a Friday post. It just feels right. Luckily, there is plenty to discuss in the realm of Kickstarter Fiction, aka The Place Where My Money Goes.

The first thing I should mention is that science-fiction author John Scalzi has opened up a forum on his website where people can post pitches for their crowd-funding projects. He reports that he has up to 50,000 daily visitors, so this could be quite a marketing tool to match up projects with those looking to spend their disposable income.

Next, I would like to say “Congrats!” to the Tales of the Emerald Serpent team for their successful project. As I mentioned before, this is a fantasy shared world anthology, which is pretty much all they needed to tell me to get me to pledge.

Speaking of shared worlds, check out Have Blaster, Will Travel: A Bulldogs! Story Anthology. Like Tales of the Emerald Serpent, these stories are based on an RPG, but this one is billed as “sci-fi that kicks ass.” From the project page: “Have Blaster, Will Travel is an anthology of space opera adventure that follows the Bulldogs, people who signed on with the TransGalaxy interstellar shipping company to run away from the law, the criminals they offended, or a past that haunts them. Inspired by Firefly, Star Wars, and lots of other b-movie sci-fi, Bulldogs tells the stories of those who are desperate enough to take a job hauling volatile and hazardous cargo to the most dangerous places in the galaxy.” Sounds like fun, and very tempting…

I hardly need mention this next project since I have seen it talked about all over the place already, but since I overlooked it in the previous Kickstarter Fiction post, let me redress that wrong here. Tim Byrd has a series of young adult pulp adventure novels starring Doc Wilde and family. It has already surpassed its goal, but with over a week to go, you still have time to get in on the pulp goodness. You can find a sample of the first book here. Doc Wilde is over the top, more perfect than perfect, but this is the exactly the sort of adventure I enjoyed reading as a kid, and since I haven’t really grown up, it is another tempting possibility.

And speaking of pulp goodness, Spirit of the Century Presents: The Dinocalypse Trilogy is now even more of an amazing deal. As of this writing, you can get 7 ebooks and 2 RPG PDFs for $10. Remember, there are psychic dinosaurs, kung fu detectives, and an ape on Mars. Words fail me. If you have not pledged, do so now; the project ends on Sunday.

Sigh. I was going to make a disclaimer at the top of this post about how I am not necessarily backing each project just because I mention it, but writing about the projects made me excited and so I added Have Blaster and Doc Wilde to my list of backed projects. (I already had Dinocalypse, of course!) Don’t tell my wife, okay?

Over on Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog, he posted a challenge: “You have 1000 words to write a short story that prominently features death.” Here is my entry, which also fits into my The Only City Left universe.

The Brief Afterlife of David Sinclair

“You’re sure this is the only body?”

“We did a full scan, Chief Inspector. There’s no one else in here, dead or alive.”

“The other 1,500 residents? Any leads on where they’ve gone?”

Malcolm stood in the shattered doorway. He had the good grace to look sheepish as he answered, “Vanished, Chief. Or as good as. All the security footage inside the hab has been wiped, and there are no records of anyone leaving the sector.”

I swiveled in the victim’s chair, turning my back on Detective Malcolm, and drummed my fingers against the suicide note on his desk.

“They got out of here somehow. All of them except for…” I re-read the signature. “David Sinclair, here. There must be another exit that’s not on the books. Find it.”

“Yes, sir!”

Malcolm left me alone with the late David Sinclair, the only remaining resident of Habitat Two-Two-One Xerxes.

His suicide note was brief: “The Ascension is upon us. They all followed Him. I choose my own way.”

“Thanks for clearing that up for me, pal,” I thought out loud.

I stood up to leave when I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. With the ease born of long practice I spun around and scanned the room, gun held before me, but it remained empty save for me and Sinclair’s corpse.

No doubt about it, an empty hab was spooky; it even had me jumping at ghosts.


I slowly holstered my piece and hailed Malcolm on the two-way, “I’m almost done in here but I forgot one thing. Stop what you’re doing and bring me the Dee-Gee.”

Silence on the other end of the line for a few seconds. Then: “Chief, you got a—”

“Just bring it. Now.”

I eased myself back into the chair and waited. To his credit, Malcolm arrived within a minute and stood silently in the doorway, holding a bulky, specialized pistol. I nodded to him and he nodded back to show he was ready.

“Mr. Sinclair, you have three seconds to show yourself before my associate here degausses the room.”

Malcolm lifted the gun into position and clicked off the safety. An electric hum filled the air.

Two seconds later, a blue vapor poured forth from an air vent, hit the floor, and coalesced into a familiar form from the shoes on up.

“Don’t, please don’t. It’s not my fault!”

The ghost of David Sinclair stood before us. Well, not a ghost exactly, but a swarm of self-replicating nanobots imprinted with his consciousness upon death. It was the latest way for those who could afford it to prolong their lives.

“Spill it, Sinclair, or Malcolm’ll pull the trigger and end your afterlife here and now. Where is everyone else from 221-Xerxes?”

“Dead, they’re all dead,” Sinclair wailed. “I couldn’t stop them and they wouldn’t let me leave. It was all I could do to smuggle in the swarm and…” He looked down at his corpse. “Imprint myself.”

“I don’t buy it,” I told him. “If they’re dead, where’re the bodies? Where’re their things? Looks to me like they packed up and left.”

“The fools, they believed His promises. They packed their belongings as if they were going on a trip. But it was lies, all lies!”

“Slow down, Sinclair. Who promised what now?”

“The stranger, the man with the dead eyes. He arrived one day to speak out against the wretched conditions in the habs, the overcrowding, the forced blackouts, rationing. He claimed there was a better place and that soon the day of Ascension would be upon us.”

Sinclair paced nervously as he told his tale.

“He started to win converts, and soon everyone was preparing for Ascension. I didn’t buy a word of it, but when I tried to leave the hab, I found it sealed against me. Since I couldn’t get out, I sold all of my investments and had the nano-swarm smuggled in.

“On the day of the Ascension, everyone in the hab gathered in the central commissary, bags packed, ready to go. I hid in my office but that wasn’t good enough for the stranger. He wanted everyone to go with him.”

Sinclair bowed his head and sobbed spectral tears into his hands.

“I triggered the swarm and shot myself just as they broke in to the office. When I reformed, they were gone, every one of them. And I’d rather be a ghost than be wherever the man with dead eyes led them.”

I sighed, no closer to knowing what happened than before Sinclair’s stories. Obviously something had gone wrong with his imprinting; the man was around the bend.

“That’s an … unlikely tale, Mr. Sinclair.”

“But true, I assure you.”

The voice came from Sinclair’s ghost, but it was deeper, colder somehow. Sinclair raised his head and his eyes were dead inside.

“It’s not too late to join them, Chief Inspector. Detective? I am the End, I am the path to Salvation. Look into my eyes, follow me. Ascend.”

I looked into his eyes, I couldn’t help it. And damned if I didn’t see Sinclair, the real Sinclair, somewhere inside of them, begging for release.

“Malcolm, hit it,” I commanded, my voice rising.

He was already on it. The whine of released energy was matched in intensity by the enraged scream of whatever it was that had possessed the ghost of David Sinclair. With all the information in the nano-swarm suddenly erased, the ghost lost cohesion and ended up as a smattering of blue dust on the floor.

“Good work, Malcolm. Now let’s grab our team, get the hell out of here and seal this place up. The damned cats can have it for all I care.”

“Chief, what just happened?”

“A fate worse than death, I think.”

“What about the others? Where did they go?”

“Pray we never find out.”

As promised, I am back to reviews again this week, although I do appreciate the responses and re-tweets for last week’s “Why I read webcomics” post! In case you’re wondering, I still think webcomics are great and I have two more to recommend for you today. As usual, check my Links section for all the comics I have reviewed here.

First up is Ignition Zero by Noel Arthur Heimpel, which is a story of a hidden, magical world hidden beneath the surface of fictional Glory, Maryland, home to Godeliff University. But before I even get into the story, let me say that what initially drew me to Ignition Zero was the artwork. Within the first three pages, you have this wonderful title page and another splash page showing the front of Godeliff U, which really show off Noel’s watercolors to good effect right off the bat. That is immediately followed up with an attack by a monster that is an inky void that reminds me in a positive way of the Demon Bear from Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on the New Mutants. The monster is in fact a personified nightmare, which is a neat idea and an example of the invention that backs up Noel’s fabulous art. Noel uses graphite pencil (outlines), watercolor, inks, and salt for his artwork. (I can say this with authority even though I know nothing about art, because he says so right here under the splash page.) I think this is the only webcomic I am currently reading where the artwork is not partially or wholly done on the computer, and it makes for some very nice pages, such as the splash page I just mentioned and also this one and this one, to share a few examples. To me, the art feels more personal and unique this way, less like I’m reading a story and more like someone is sharing their sketchbook with me. Bottom line: it’s just cool.

Back to the story: Robbie is an artist and has been in contact with Orson online for years. Now he’s moving to Orson’s hometown, Glory, to attend Godeliff University and to meet Orson in person for the first time. Robbie has read Orson’s fantasy stories but he never suspected that they were based in truth. It doesn’t take him long, though, to be pulled in to a world where magical creatures and lands are hidden just out of sight of the mundane world. Sure enough, Robbie gets caught up in a war between powerful forces, but the story does not rush into that potentially epic battle. Instead it takes it time to present the various inhabitants of Glory, the vegans, the aces, the drinkers of soy, and an apple-sharing, blue-headed bug-bearish creature named Hugh. You know, a typical college town.

The story, the characters, and the artwork in Ignition Zero combine for a great webcomic experience. Go check it out.

Next up is Hominids by Jordan Kotzebue. I’ll start off this review by mentioning the navigation and archive system for Hominids. Normally I wouldn’t talk about something like this, but with Hominids it was the first thing that stood out for me. Most comics have the familiar First, Previous, Next, Last buttons and an archive page of some sort, but Hominids has an illustration of a tree for each chapter, with thumbnails of the pages draped and looped around the branches. It has an organic feel that works well with the setting of the comic. I’m not saying every webcomic needs such a setup, but it’s a pleasant, artistic change. The navigation is also nice. Click on any page and it balloons up to take center stage; the rest of the screen is black. Press the left and right arrow keys to scroll back and forward through the comic, with seemingly no load time. As someone who strives to read the entire archives of a comic before I write about them, I cannot express how much I appreciate being able to quickly read through the story this way.

Okay, if you’re still with me, let’s get down to the story and art. Chapter One is in black and white and starts off with a five-page prologue that I mostly forgot as I read the rest of the story. It details the different hominids who inhabit a forest and a nearby mountain, but only describes them and does not give them names. There are ones that live underground, wanderers with nasty-sharp teeth, bear-sized men who live by the water, ones that live in the canopies of the trees, and regular men who live on a mountain with scarce resources. It’s a bit much to keep track of with no labels to put on them yet, so I basically set that aside and read on. The next section is titled “Homo Neanderthalensis AKA Neanderthal,” so I figure each type of hominid will get its due at some point. The first Neanderthals we meet are Keyli, a hunter, and Sno and Gosh, albino siblings. Gosh is set up as being clumsy, and he is soon captured by tiny furry hominids (Australopithecus?). Keyli and Sno rush to rescue him but he apparently can handle himself just fine.

The story continues with a lone human meeting up with the Neanderthals with some information that completely changed, in a good way, where I thought this webcomic was heading. I won’t give away any more than that because it is worth your while to go read it yourself.

The black-and-white art in Chapter One is well done, but the later chapters in color were easier for me to follow and to tell who’s who. The art is very clean and to me I get some shades of Disney’s Tarzan movie mixed with a 300-era Frank Miller/Lynn Varley art style (although much less heavily inked). (I should note here that bare breasts abound in this webcomic, in a sort of National Geographic-like way. It’s not salacious but I guess you might not want to be reading it at work.)


The Kickstarter for Five Ghosts finished on Sunday and it exceeded its goal. Congratulations! The first issue isn’t due until September 2012, so I hope my future self appreciates the gift that my present self is sending him. (I know, I’m weird.)

Next up on Lithicbee

Friday: Some flash fiction for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. The theme? Death. (This will actually be up tomorrow to meet Chuck’s deadline, but I am still calling it my Friday post, so there.)

Sunday: Part 10 of The Only City Left. This is the continuing story of Allin Arcady, a young man who is lost amidst the ruins of a planet-sized city called Earth. Think Trantor meets Cube meets Mad Max meets monster movies, and you have some idea of the setting. I am having fun writing and sharing this story and would love for you to give Part One a chance and let me know what you think, if you haven’t already.

Head back to Part Eight to catch up if needed. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Nine

Up or Down, I had to dry off and warm up, so I put my brooding thoughts to the background and focused on the world around me. Unlike my shopping trip at the mall, which seemed like ages ago but was only this morning, the sector I was in was no help in the new clothes department. Whatever End Times the former residents had lived through, they must have filed out in a neat and orderly manner with their belongings in tow, because pickings were slim.

I got to the point where I was shaking so hard the lantern coil was hopping all around my chest, casting weird shadows that made it difficult to navigate the strange halls and rooms. I knew I had to stop looking and focus on warming up, so I stopped at the next bedroom I came across and set about making myself comfortable. There was still a mattress in the room but it was full of holes from where vermin had chewed on it, and anyway, I wasn’t looking for a bed. Much more promising was a small closet with intact doors where I could lie down and hopefully trap some body warmth inside.

I pulled the cocoon off of my back and pressed the buttons to switch it into a sleeping bag. Before I laid it in the closet, I pulled out my towel and unrolled it. Then, like pulling off a bandage, I stripped down as quickly as I could and toweled myself off.

Even though I was freezing, I took the time to squeeze and roll the dampened towel until the reservoir in one corner of it was full. The water was foul but the reservoir had a built-in filter that would make it okay to drink after about an hour of processing. I also laid my clothes out on the floor in the thin hope that they would dry out a little before I had to put them back on.

My teeth chattered violently as I stepped into the closet wearing only my necklace with the coil on it, and I felt achy and miserable as I eased into the cocoon and slid the closet door shut. I curled into a fetal position and the open end of the cocoon sealed itself. I wrapped my arms tight around my knees as my body was wracked with violent shakes, until it grew warm enough that I was able to close my eyes and slip into unconsciousness.

* * *

I had fever dreams, the kind that portend something important, that impart some wisdom just beyond the edge of understanding, but are actually just nonsense. I dreamt of rats scurrying over my body, nibbling at me until there was nothing left. I re-formed and stomped on the rats, who were now as small as ants. I wiped my foot on a wispy blue rug, but it howled and pushed me backwards. It stood up and I realized it was the werewolf ghost. He transformed into my father and looked at me with hard black eyes.

“Come play with me, Allin. We’ll have so much fun.”

I sank slowly to the floor, like honey dripping from a jar, and pooled there, playing dead. My father tsk-tsk’ed my demise and then turned away, saying, “I expected better of you, Allin.”

I found that I rather enjoyed being dead. I could still watch what was going on around me, but it was so restful just to lie there. Other ghosts came by and told me it was time to move on, but I ignored them and they went their own way. It was cold, being dead, and my teeth chattered until they came loose and began to fall out of my mouth. I tried to collect them and put them back in, but for every one I put back in place, two more slid out.

Then I was standing above myself looking down. I could see right through the cocoon to where I lay sleeping peacefully, my breathing even and my arms no longer in a death grip about my legs. I was happy for myself because I wasn’t dead after all, and I wished myself the best. But I didn’t want to stay there, buried in the earth, watching myself sleep, so I floated up and out of the room.

The ceiling was only a foot thick but moving through it was like clawing through hardened foam. I pulled myself into the next apartment up, but the floor trapped my foot and try as I might, I could not pull free. My heart began to race as I realized I would be stuck here forever, and the ghosts were going to come back and force me to leave. They would drag me down with them. Down, down, when all I ever wanted to do was to go Up.

I screamed and screamed and all of a sudden I was awake and whimpering and clawing to break free of the cocoon. I broke the seal and pushed my head free and lay there panting heavily, slick with sweat but warmer than I had been before. My heart still beat furiously from my dreams, and I had to work to control my breathing and to try to relax. I swallowed and wished I had brought the towel inside the closet with me. Oh well, I couldn’t hide in my cocoon forever anyway.

With a weary sigh, I slid the closet door back open, and for a minute I wondered if I was still dreaming. Before my eyes sat a neatly folded stack of clothing and a pair of shoes. Not my clothing or shoes, though. They had disappeared.

On top of the clothing sat a folded piece of paper. I reached out with one hand and brought it to up to my face. It read, in thin cursive script: “Allin Arcady, you are cordially invited to an audience with His Majesty, Emperor Banshee LXXVI. Please accept these gifts a token of His Good Favor.”

* * *

Please accept Part Ten as a token of my good favor, or read my notes below first.

4/15/12 News: All my talk of dreams lately has stirred up my mind and I am remembering my dreams more and more each morning, so it was inevitable that they would work their way into The Only City Left. But they also work well at this moment in the story, so I don’t feel like I shoehorned them in.

Most of what happens in Allin’s dreams comes straight out of my own. The playing dead, the teeth falling out, switching perspective so that I am in multiple places in the dream, sometimes observing myself, and the phasing through a wall/ceiling: all not uncommon in my dreams. (The losing my teeth thing, the worst.)

On a final note, I am catching some continuity errors during the editing phase of these posts. I am 9,000 words into the story, so there are already things I talked about in the beginning of the story that I am forgetting now. (Example: I had Allin pull a thermal blanket out of his cocoon bag in the first draft of this post, but as my faithful readers will remember from the very beginning of this tale, the cocoon bag is also a sleeping bag that completely seals up, so I didn’t need the extra thermal blanket.) I will of course try to fix these errors before you see them, but if you catch one that slips through, please feel free to let me know. And you can feel warm and fuzzy knowing that you have made this rough draft that much smoother.

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

Click here to vote for The Only City Left on Top Web Fiction!

There was a time, after I had devoured all the Dune books, that I read as many of Frank Herbert’s other books as I could find. Lately, I’ve been getting a hankering to re-read some of his non-Dune works, and read some for the first time that I never got to (such as the 2nd-4th books in the Pandora series). Now, as I may or may not have mentioned before, I have moved seven times in the past ten years. On the second-to-last move, I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided I had way too many books, and I donated them to the local library (not without a lump in my throat, let me tell you). Point being, this included all of my Frank Herbert novels.

Now that I want to re-read some of them, it’s time to see what Frank Herbert e-books are available in this new digital age. And for a change, the selection is actually very good (although the prices are all over the place). Here is a list of what is available on Amazon, based on this bibliography from Wikipedia. All prices listed are current as of 4/9/12 and are subject to change. (Tip: As always, the quality of e-books varies wildly. If you buy a book from Amazon and you find the formatting or scanning errors are too much for you to want to read it, you have seven days to return it for your money back. I have had to do this.)

Dune Novels:

1. Dune: $15 and rife with scanning errors according to reviews on Amazon.
2. Dune Messiah: $8.
3. Children of Dune: $8.
4. God Emperor of Dune: $8.
5. Heretics of Dune: $8.
6. Chapterhouse: Dune: $8.

WorShip aka Pandora Novels: The first two books in the series have been released as e-books by Kevin Anderson’s WordFire Press. Note: Books 2-4 are co-authored with Bill Ransom.

1. Destination: Void: $5.
2. The Jesus Incident: $5.
3. The Lazarus Effect: not yet available as an e-book, but as of 4/6/12, Kevin Anderson reports that the e-books are in the works and should be available in a few weeks.
4. The Ascension Factor: same as The Lazarus Effect.

ConSentient Novels

1. Whipping Star: $10.
2. The Dosadi Experiment: $8.

Other novels:

The Dragon in the Sea: $10.
The Green Brain: $7.
The Eyes of Heisenberg: $7.
The Heaven Makers: $5.
The Santaroga Barrier: Not available.
Soul Catcher: Not available.
The Godmakers: Not available.
Hellstrom’s Hive: $10.
Direct Descent: $5.
The White Plague: $10.
Man of Two Worlds (with Bill Herbert): $5.

WordFire Press also recently released a previously unpublished Frank Herbert novel called High-Opp which sounds interesting and timely, in that it is about class warfare between the lucky few rich and the majority oppressed. It is $5 at Amazon. (Note: All of the WordFire Press re-releases are $5. Thank you to Kevin J. Anderson and crew for selling these books at a reasonable price.)

Webcomics Wednesday: 4/11/12

Posted: April 11, 2012 in Comic Book, Webcomic

I have a list of webcomics to check out but I have been busy working on 1) The Only City Left and even more so , 2) a short story called False Negative, so I haven’t had the time to read through the archives of any new-to-me webcomics this week. In other words, there will be no reviews today. (New to Lithicbee? Check out the Links page for all of my previous reviews.)

Instead I want to talk a little bit about why I am enjoying the hell out of webcomics right now. If you’re wondering why I feel the need to talk about this, it’s directly related to a lot of back-and-forth I have been reading recently about comic books. For instance, here, here, and here. It got me thinking about how my comic book reading habits have changed over time.

Comic books used to be magical to me. I spent a lot of my money buying them and free time reading them and trying to draw like the artists (that last part did not work out so much). At some point, they lost their magic for me. There were too many comics to follow, they cost too much money, yadda yadda yadda. Bottom line: I grew out of comic books for a while. I still buy graphic novels when I can, but that excitement of heading off to the comic shop and buying new comics each week, I don’t think I’ll ever get that back.

But with webcomics, and I specifically mean long-form webcomics or online graphic novels or whatever you prefer to call them, I am feeling the excitement again. Why is that?

For one, there is little to no barrier to entry to read a webcomic. They’re usually free or available as PDFs that are cheaper than traditional comic books. You can explore as many webcomics as you want until you find the ones that speak to you.

The sheer number and variety of webcomics is the next great thing about them. I cannot find any sort of definitive list, but it sure feels like there are hundreds if not thousands of webcomics out there. I certainly have an ever-expanding list of webcomics I want to try out; for every one or two I read through and catch up on, it seems like I discover another four or five that sound or look like something I would be interested in.

Lastly, there can be an intimacy, a bond, between creator and fan as each page comes out and is discussed. It’s like the ultimate letters page at the back of a comic book. The wall between reader and creator is thinned, to good effect. The creator is not part of some corporate monolith whose only concern is the bottom line; they are passionate about what they are doing. It is as important to them as it is to the rabid fan. They are free to make the choices that someone who works for a corporation might not be able to.

The end result is that the stories out there as diverse as their creators. It is not all about putting Wolverine or Spider-Man (you can tell I’ve always been a Marvel fan) into as many different comics as possible to bump up sales.

Besides all of the above, and I’m being selfish now, reading all these webcomics has helped me to be creative again. I have started writing fiction regularly in my spare time, which I haven’t done since college. I’ve started this blog to force myself to write write write no matter what and to keep to a schedule. All of this is directly attributable to reading these webcomics, to feeling like I can talk story and character with the creators, like there is not a giant wall between me and them. I have met a lot of great, creative people this way, because the nature of webcomics makes them so much more approachable.

I can only speak for myself here, but unlike with traditional comic books, I want to spend my money on these webcomics. I want to support the creators. I feel excited to get a graphic novel collection of the webcomic, or a piece of commissioned art. I like buying PDFs of the comics for easy reading on my tablet. I feel like my purchase is having a direct effect on the creator and the continuation of the story; it is not just a blip on the bottom line of a shareholder’s report. It matters.

I don’t know if digital comics are the future. I don’t know if creators can make a living by giving their work away for free or selling lower-cost PDFs and then selling physical collections, art, and merchandise. I hope they can, though, because a future of thousands of creators making a living their own way looks better to me than one dominated by one or two corporate monoliths.

Okay, more reviews next week, I promise.

 * * *

Last minute addition: LeyLines updated as I was writing this entry and Robin has her latest podcast attached to it. I hesitated to start playing it because I had to write this post, but it was about dream sequences and how she develops dreams in LeyLines, so I had to give it a listen. Imagine my surprise when she mentioned my blog at the beginning. Thanks again, Robin, and great discussion of dreams in relation to the characters in LeyLines.