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The Long, Slow Burn Home

Posted: December 4, 2020 in Uncategorized
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“The Long, Slow Burn Home”

by Mike Douton

“You can’t go in there.”

Standing outside my hospital room, they had no idea, the stranger and the nurse. No idea that I could hear them through the door.

“I need to evaluate her condition.”

I heard a hand on the door handle. I heard a footstep. I heard hesitation in a breath of silence.

“Doctor, she hasn’t slept since she was recovered by ISRO,” the nurse said. “She needs rest.”

I heard a laugh. It might have been mine. It came across my lips but it didn’t sound like mine.

“I am aware. Twenty-seven hours and counting since she was recovered by the shuttle from India and she won’t tell us how long she was awake locked in her suit,” the new voice outside my room said. “For whatever reason, she will not or cannot rest. That is why I am here.”

A longer pause and some murmurs outside.

“You’ve done it now.”

I glared at the woman in the hospital room with me. “Go. Away,” I hissed.

Chandra laughed. “Never.”

The door opened with a snap. I bit my tongue.

“Dr. Hobbs. How are you today? You’ve had quite the ordeal.”

I watched the man at the foot of my hospital bed. He wore his white lab coat over a blue button down like a stock photo tagged “Kindly middle aged doctor.”

He refused to look at Chandra. No one ever looked at Chandra. I tried not to. No matter how hard I kept my eyes trained on the doctor, I saw Chandra’s manic smile spread across her face.

“Doctor Hobbs?”

Chandra showed her teeth when she smiled. It was the brightest smile.

“Doctor?”

I closed my eyes. The ping of the heart monitor made my head throb in time with my pulse.

“You should answer the man,” Chandra whispered.

I opened my eyes and tried not to look at Chandra perched near the window.

“Yes, I will.”

“You will what, Doctor Hobbs?”

“I will answer,” I said with a glance at Chandra. “I am doing… well.”

The other doctor frowned over my charts. “I’m Dr. Darrell Theo. Dr. Hobbs, I know we never had a chance to meet before the Mars mission. I wanted to talk to you about what happened.”

“Which part?” I said as my eyes followed Chandra. She paced the room behind Theo. Chandra always got antsy when people asked me what happened.

No one ever asked her.

“Whatever you want to share with me, Allison,” Theo said. “May I call you Allison?”

“Allison. Not Ally.,” Chandra said over Theo’s shoulder. “She hates when people call her Ally. She told me while we had all that time to talk. Isn’t that right? Ally.”

I shrugged. “Sure.”

“Allison, I’m interested in how you held up after the accident onboard the Promise Explorer.”

Chandra rolled her eyes. “Everyone is interested in you. Always interested in the living, they forget about the dead.”

I turned my head to look at Chandra.

Theo frowned.

I forgot he was there. I tried to play it off as a stretch.

“Careful Ally,” Chandra said. “Don’t want to mess up the doctor’s psych profile of you.”

Chandra was by the window again. Smiling. Always smiling. “You better answer the man or he’s going to think something is wrong, Ally. You do not want him to suspect anything.”

“The ship exploded,” I said, keeping a side eye on Chandra. “Violent decompression if you want to get technical.”

For Dr. Theo, there was a very long pause with only the be-beep of the heart monitor to break it. That sound crept up faster as Chandra hovered near my ear.

“While you have been telling this story without me,” Chandra whispered, “I’ve gotten better at being dead.”

“That’s all?” Theo asked.

“I don’t like being dead, Ally.”

My eyes darted around the room looking for Chandra.

“But the only part of my body left on Earth is within you,” her voice echoed in my head from everywhere and nowhere all at once. “I need it back, Ally.”

A bead of sweat rolled down my cheek. The air caught in my lungs. I turned my head to look for-

“Allison.”

My head snapped back towards Theo. The sudden movement jolted my broken leg and the whomp of pain pierced through my exhaustion.

“Go ahead,” Chandra’s whisper said. “Answer the man.”

“Dr. Hobbs,” Theo said. “I’m really concerned if you’re-“

“Ok,” I said with an exhale. “But I’ve already told the general. I am not a pilot. Neither was Chandra. Emergency protocols on board. They walked us through resetting the navigation.  Mission Control … Mission Control… they…” The pain from my leg and the exhaustion in my head pulled my focus away. I had to force the words out of my mouth. “Mission Control has all that in the… the debrief.”

“And by then your trajectory home had already destabilized and-“

My eyes lost focus. I tried to hold them open. Open. My head nodded to the side. I shot back upright.

“…stay awake…” I murmured.

Theo was gone. Wait. No, he was on the other side of the room. I must have made a face.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“I… must have nodded off.”

Dr. Theo shook his head. “You were just telling me how Dr. Patel reprogrammed the navigation after the Promise Explorer missed the gravitational boost from Rhea.”

“I was?” I didn’t remember. I spied Chandra out of the corner of my eye smiling. Smiling that bright smile. My head felt full of sand. I jabbed a thumbnail into my leg under the blanket. The prick of adrenaline cleared my head for a moment. “I thought we were talking about my debrief with the team from Mission Control…” I trailed off from the look on Dr. Theo’s face.

Chandra appeared beside me. “Are you sure that was you?”

“That was ten minutes ago, Allison,” Theo said. “If you need me to come back-“

“I’m ok,” I interrupted. “I, uh, the new orbit missed the gravitational boost from Rhea. JAXA’s Mohri engines are fast but only if they’re pointed in the right direction. I was up there on the long, slow burn home. Without enough food. Or water. Or air. I told all this to the general already. And NASA. And JAXA. And ISRO. And-“

Theo put up a hand. “Ok.”

He wrote something on his clipboard. Chandra peeked. The manic smile returned.

“You’ve talked a lot about how Dr. Patel saved what was left of the ship-“

I cringed at Chandra’s name. I tried not to talk about her. I would have remembered saying her name. It made me remember… other things.

“-but can you back up the narrative?” Theo asked. “Can you tell me about the accident?”

I looked at Theo. I glanced at Chandra. I bit my lip as the word ‘No’ hovered on the end of my tongue.

“Can you humor me, Allison? Mission Control is being stingy with the transcripts of the debrief.” Theo shrugged.

“Yeah, Ally. Whaddya gonna do? Don’t leave Theo hanging.”

I glared at Chandra. Theo looked to his left and frowned.

I let out a huff. “Fine.”

Chandra was over by the window again. She leaned over, watching the readout on my heart monitor. Beep. Be-beep. Be-beep.

“Must be nice,” she said. “The dead get jealous, you know. Of the living. Do you know how empty it sounds in my head without a heartbeat? I never knew how loud my veins were until someone stopped them from moving.”

Chandra’s manic smile faded.

“The dead get desperate to feel alive again, Ally.”

“Allison. Dr. Hobbs.”

I jerked my head back to Theo on the other side of the room. I tuned him out. Forgot he was there. Thought I was alone with Chandra. I twisted a fold of the hospital blanket in my hands. It took slow, deep breaths to keep that be-beep sound under control.

“Allison, I’m worried about you.”

“Why? I’m fine. I’m excellent.”

Chandra laughed. She was over by the door now.

“Allison, you survived an accident in space-“

“Yes.”

“-you barely survived.”

“Better than the rest of the team,” Chandra said.

“You are extremely malnourished,” Theo said. “The IV is all that’s keeping you alive.”

I looked away from both sets of prying eyes. My stomach gnawed away at me. The IV didn’t help the empty feeling. It was so much like up there before I… so much like up there. One little bite of food would fix it. One, tiny, bite. But I sent away the hospital breakfast. Chandra’s laugh echoed in my ears when the smell of sausage made me wretch.

Be-beep. Be-beep. Dr. Theo was patient. He looked at me with the clipboard held under his arm like he didn’t have a care in the world.

“I watched them die, Dr. Theo. All of them. When the forward module ruptured I watched Stephano claw at his suit as it shredded around him…”

The rogue meteorite shattered the Promise Explorer’s hull. Too small for our sensors to give us any significant warning but big enough to doom us. Commander Stephano Garcia Lorca was strapped in the port pilot’s seat closest to the breech. Shards of titanium hull perforated his suit. Blood flowered into the zero gravity. Violent decompression pulled it out of the hull breech. Stephano’s blood crystalized in the cold void.

“Despite the pain, it was a beautiful way to go,” Chandra said. “Wasn’t it, Ally? The crystals looked like fairy dust.”

Theo looked relieved to get something out of me. He pulled up a chair on the side of the bed nearest my broken leg. Chandra sat on my good side near the window.

My eyes closed and it was hard to open them back up. My head lolled to the side before I could stop myself. I shot upright with a sharp breath. I forced my eyes wide until the air burned them. I pinched my leg under the blanket. The needles of pain pulled my focus back. Be-beep be-beep be-beep. My heart rate spiked.

“Let it go, Ally,” Chandra’s voice echoed in my head. “Just let it go.”

“Allison, if you need sleep-“

“No!”

Theo looked taken aback. “I can come back later.”

“No. No, it’s ok. I’m fine,” I insisted.

Chandra laughed. She was near my pillow now. “You sure about that?”

“Allison,” Theo kept his tone low. “The nurses said you have not slept since the Promise Explorer was recovered by the ISRO shuttle.”

The adrenaline spike faded. I felt shifty and twitchy. I jabbed all my nails into my leg.

Theo noticed.

I shook my head. “I can’t sleep.”

“Why?”

My eyes grew heavy.

With the structural integrity of the forward module compromised, the breech grew. Decompression stole our air and pulled me against the belts. The void wanted me. It wanted us all. Anything shook loose by the breech tumbled into space. Stephano’s body freed itself from the seat. The void took him. The module broke apart, failure cascading into failure. Commander Shinji Aoki’s hands flew over the controls. He looked over his shoulder at us. The decompression in the forward module pushed us further off course every second. Shinji knew this. Shinji knew what little chance the Promise Explorer had to get home, it was not like this.

His eyes were sad.

Shinji slammed his gloved fist down on the emergency decouple button. The Promise Explorer broke into two. Redundancy controls in the aft module meant we had a chance to limp home but partial systems failure meant the hatch did not close before decoupling. Chandra unbuckled and closed the hatch before decompression could pull her away. The decoupling ring sent Shinji on an arc to drift somewhere between Earth and Mars for eternity.

“Shinji was alive,” I whispered. “He talked to us. Drifting away. Until…” I trailed off.

Theo leaned toward me. I shied away from him. That brought me closer to Chandra.

“Tell him,” she whispered in my ear. “Tell him how Shinji’s last words were for his mother. How she wanted him to be a poet. How he tried to compose a haiku for her as the cold void of space froze him in his suit. Tell him that Shinji laughed that his haiku wasn’t any good as he died.”

I shook my head. My hair whipped around my face. It still smelled like the inside of my spacesuit.

“Tell him or I will.” Chandra echoed. “Let me finish the story…”

My mouth opened. My body felt far away. “Shinji told us…”

My throat felt cold. The air hitched in my lungs. I brought a hand to my mouth but the worlds fell out like someone else put them there. “He wanted to-“

I forced out a cough. It drowned out the words. I doubled over, shaking. Dr. Theo jumped up and came to my side. He said… words. The blood pounded in my ears and I didn’t hear those comforting platitudes. I locked eyes with Chandra.

Chandra was frazzled. She was meticulous in her appearance, always made sure she was put together well like a proper professional, it was the most mussed up the other woman had been since… since I last saw her in space.

“Allison. Dr. Hobbs,” Theo had a professional consoler’s voice. “You need to remain calm, but if you don’t process what happened to you, nothing will improve. This is nothing to be ashamed of-“

Chandra chuckled in my ear.

“I did what I had to do, Dr. Theo.” I glared at Chandra who was by the window now. “I survived.”

Theo sat back in the bedside seat, but he looked ready to leap. He made more notes and kept one eye on me the whole time. The tapping of his pen drilled into my head. I shuddered at every punctuation mark.

“I did what I needed to do.” I tried to keep the desperate defensiveness out of my voice. “Communications were lost when the Promise broke apart. I couldn’t die up there. I looked into the void and it looked back at me. I couldn’t die up there.” I squeezed my eyes shut like I could hold the world at bay if I didn’t see it.

“No tears left, Ally?” Chandra snorted.

“It’s ok, Allison.” Theo said. The warm tones of his voice were back. Honed over hundreds of patients like me. Yet none were a thing like me. “No one blames you for anything. The world watched the Promise Explorer drift closer. The Indian shuttle that recovered you expected a funeral, not a rescue. The world is in awe of you.”

I forced my eyes open. I was dangerously close to drifting off. I dug my thumbnail into the raw patch on my leg, the pain keeping my eyes open a moment longer. I looked to the window. Chandra watched the sun set beyond the glass.

“It will be night soon,” she said. “Dark like the void of space.”

I shook.

“Allison.” Theo sounded like he was approaching a scared animal. “What happened to Dr. Chandra Patel?”

“I don’t know.”

“LIAR!” Chandra bared her teeth at me, fists clenched at her sides.

“She was with you. She survived the decompression. You told me yourself,” Theo said.

“No I didn’t. I lost track of her in the rupture,” I blurted out.

Theo frowned. “That’s not what you said a few minutes ago.”

Be-beep-be-beep-be-beep.

Chandra’s manic smile showed too many teeth. “That machine is going to give you away, Ally. Sure you don’t want me to tell the story for you?”

A cold that rivaled the void of space crept back into my throat. The numbness slid its tendrils up into my mouth, my tongue-

I bit my tongue. I swallowed the foreign words. The trickle of blood in my mouth chased the cold away.

“Allison. There was a lot of… blood in the recovered module. Especially around the airlock.”

“Yeah. Well. Zero gee. Little bit goes a long ways.”

“That would not account for what the ISRO recovery team saw,” Theo said. “Tests show it was Dr. Patel’s.”

“I don’t know what happened!”

“Ha!” Chandra laughed. “No one believes you.”

“Dr. Hobbs,” Theo got up from his chair and circled the bed to where my heart monitor and IV were. “Just how much of the Promise Explorer’s supplies survived the accident?”

“Enough,” I blurted out. “Barely. Just for one person.”

“I am worried about your well-being, Allison.” Theo said. “I can see the number one thing you need for your recovery is sleep. We can worry about everything else after you wake.”

“No I can’t sleep,” I rolled towards him but without sleep, my brain was a half-step behind the world. I pawed at him but missed completely.

Theo hooked a syringe into my IV line. “This sedative will help you sleep.” He rolled me onto my back. “Don’t fight it Allison. We’ll get you all the help you need to remember and recover.”

“She already remembers, don’t you, Ally?” Chandra hissed.

The sedative made me heavy. “I did what I had to do…” Words felt like a jumbled mush in my mouth. “I survived… I didn’t let the void take me…”

The door opened and the nurse was still outside waiting for Dr. Theo. “And you’re a hero for it, Dr. Hobbs. Now rest.”

He left.

He left me with her.

Chandra loomed. “They won’t call you hero for long.”

“Go away.” The words were weak. My eyes drooped. “Can’t sleep. Stay awake.” It took all my focus to keep them open.

“You don’t get it, Ally,” Chandra said. “You are stuck with me. The dead want nothing more than to live, Ally. All that’s left of me is within you.”

I turned my head away from her. Now she was on the other side of the window, face pressed up against the glass, gasping. Her eyes glittered in fear.

Chandra’s hands pounded against the airlock viewing port. I secured the lock.

“Why?!”

I could not look her in the eyes. I flipped the switch to pump the air back on my side.

“Survival.”

Night fell outside the hospital window. Chandra gasped outside the glass. Vacuum stole the air from her lungs. Her skin paled. Capillaries in her eyes burst.

Her dead red eyes stared at me on the other side of the airlock.

“There wasn’t enough air for us to both survive. We lost too much air in the rupture. You would have done the same.” I turned my head away.

And right into Chandra’s red-eyed stare.

We fell into memory.

I was in the airlock. I looked into my own face on the other side of the port. My cold stare cut into me.

Chandra’s voice spilled over my lips. “Let’s turn the tables, Ally.”

I watched my hand reach for the buttons on the other side of the airlock. I reached out with hands that weren’t my own for the door handle, felt the lock hold strong. The hiss of escaping air filled my head. I exhaled before decompression could swell my organs. My feet, my hands went numb as the oxygen faded from my body. I tried to draw in air that wasn’t there. Panic crept into my head. I felt lips that weren’t mine form the shape of “Why?”

Synapses slowed. Vision faded.

“Survival,” my own voice echoed in dying ears.

Darkness.

“I had every opportunity!” Chandra yelled in the void. “I could have let you drift away into the black with Stephano. I could have let you fall away as nothing more than space debris with Shinji. You were a dazed waste of resources. A threat to my survival, but I let you live!”

I shook my head. A shock of air filled my lungs. I came up from Theo’s sedatives. Blinked against the florescent hospital lights.

Chandra stood at the foot of my bed, scalpel in hand. She placed it on her ashen wrist.

“What will you do when they find out how you went all that time without food?”

Raw emptiness clawed at the inside of my stomach. No food for five days. The rupture took too much of the supplies. I rationed as much as I could. The new orbit added time to the trip home. Still a week out. No food left.

Except I never opened the other side of the airlock…

The scalpel slid across Chandra’s skin. Dead blood came out in sticky globs. Black-red orbs drifted around the hospital room. Remembered hunger pangs gnawed at me. Bile churned in my stomach.

“I live in your head now, Ally. I can remember. I know how my own flesh tasted on your lips.”

I turned away from her.

“No. You don’t get to forget, Ally, because I cannot forget. The scrape of the scalpel as you cut to the bone. The coppery tang that stuck to the back of your throat. The cold sliver that wiggled down your throat when you swallowed it whole because you couldn’t stand the squish of raw meat in your teeth.”

“Stop it,” I whispered.

“Why should I?”

I closed my eyes tight as if that might help.

“Look at me damnit!” Chandra yelled. “Look at what you did.”

A touch of ice slid into my head.

The ISRO shuttle tracked an intercept course with Promise Explorer. A rescue mission. Jubilation. Relief. Panic. Shame. ISRO was all that and a little blip on the one working Promise Explorer screen heading my way, still days out. I left it inside and cycled the airlock for my impromptu spacewalk. Earth, Mars, my rescue, all blended into the background of the Milky Way. I was alone, and about to get more alone.

I needed to be alone when ISRO found me.

I threw Chandra’s helmet into the void. Her boots. Gloves. The bundled wad of her suit. What was left of Chandra drifted out of the airlock. I still couldn’t look at her red-dead stare. I kicked her away from the ship. Chandra’s dead arms, stripped to the bone in places, reached back towards me as she drifted into the void.

The scalpel I used… it was the last thing to go. I held it in my gloved hand.

“Do it,” Chandra’s voice echoed in my head. “Leave ISRO nothing but a ghost ship.”

“No,” I threw the scalpel into the void after Chandra, no, after the dead thing. The tainted steel flashed the sun’s light at me once, twice, before I lost it against the background of stars.

 “Go away,” I moaned. “I survived. Just go away.”

Chandra was in my ear again.

“I am a part of you now. You stole the air from my lungs Dr. Allison Hobbs. You stole the blood from my veins and the flesh from my body. You will never be rid of me now,” Chandra said.

The sedatives dragged me into sleep.

I woke to Dr. Theo’s voice. “I’m glad you’re feeling better, Allison.”

I wasn’t. Not really. I felt distant. Out of sorts.

“I-

“I must admit, the sleep helped a lot, Dr. Theo.”

Who said that? It sounded like…

I opened my eyes. How did I end up out of my hospital bed? Why was I sprawled out in the chair? Theo stood in front of me, facing away. Wasn’t he talking to me?

Theo chuckled. “The human body can recover from a lot with good old fashioned rest. Humans are survivors like that.”

I stood. Wasn’t my leg broken? Theo didn’t hear me, didn’t know I was there. I reached out to him, grasped nothing in my fingers.

Around Theo, I saw my bed. I was laying in it. I saw myself.

A smile spread across my lips. A manic smile. A bright smile with too many teeth. Eyes that weren’t mine anymore looked past Theo and right at me.

“The spirit will go to great lengths to live, don’t you agree?”

Scars

Posted: June 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

Scars by Mike Douton

They say every scar tells a story and I’ve got a mighty one. What’s the tale that’s left its mark on me? I’ll tell you, but the answer you get depends on the day you ask.

Monday I’ll tell you I fought a werewolf under a howling moon. A fight of cracked teeth and tarnished silver. Blood was shed upon the forest floor that night, but the witch down the lane says I don’t have the curse. Besides, the moon is only a quarter full tonight.

Tuesday morning is for a back alley swordsmith, oathbound to avenge their master. I swore to them I wasn’t that guy though. But an oath is a tricky thing. The words that bind will tangle blades and blood together faster than a wisp of winter breath.

Wednesday’s tale will only spill out halfway through a bottle. But only a bottle of golden hyacinth mead that will stir up half remembered scents of another tavern across the table from a god. We drank until the stained oak tabletop soaked up the dregs of our spilled cups. Which god? It will take another bottle for me to remember.

Ask me on Thursday and hear a tale of bone. Of sharp broken things left to rot, raised up again and again with a dark will. Except there is no darkness without light and the only light to reach my eyes that starless eve came from an old metatarsal and splintered pieces, emptied of marrow. Nine bones to slay them all, but only eight to be found.

A Friday doppleganger stole my face to breathe light into a crooked scheme. I stole the scheme and let my scars take the fall. So next time you see my face, check for the scars. Check that it’s really me.

Saturday scars come from the air and a falcon who cocked their head to the side and asked “Why are you such a fragile thing? Why does your blood stain my talons?” I have no answers for the creatures of air, only those of moonlight.

Sunday. On Sunday, the scars are fresh, barely healed and still hurting. Bruise sore and red raw. You don’t get to ask about Sunday scars. Keep your polite platitudes to yourself. Sunday scars are my scars alone.

Behind the Story: Payments

Posted: February 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

Payments,” as

meboskone

Boskone Flash Fiction Slam. Photo by Brenda Noiseux

seen on this blog and the staff issue of Syntax and Salt Magazine, has a story behind the story.

That’s me in the picture to the left. Or above if it’s on mobile. I am in the middle of reading the story aloud at the First Inaugural Boskone Flash Fiction Slam a few years back. The number of participants was capped so when I saw the sign up announcement cross my twitter feed, I jumped on it.

Then I read the details of the rules.

The rules of the Slam had an extremely strict three minute time limit.

Did I have a story short enough to read in three minutes?

No. No I did not.

Three minutes goes by extremely fast unless you want to sound like that old school Micro Machines fast talking guy. But I took the whole thing as a challenge. In case you haven’t noticed before, my natural tendency leans towards the verbose. Novels are my natural length, especially back then. I’ve gotten better at keeping my storytelling tight for shorter stuff, but it’s a conscious effort and a skill I have to keep at. But you know? Challenge accepted!

The first draft of “Payments” was about 1k words. I felt pretty fancy that I got a proper story in such a short amount of space. At the time, the short stories I was shopping around tended to be in the 3-5k range.

Of course, reading it aloud wasn’t even close to three minutes.

I agonized over every word in that story and trimmed it down to 700 words so I could comfortably read it in three minutes with some wiggle room to spare. I agonized over every single words and cut that had to be made. I was harsh.

So on the day of the Slam, I read it. I’m a natural introvert but I can switch on Performance Mode when i need to. Which is a good thing what since my current day job is teaching people in the shipyard.

The story went over great.

You can’t see it in the picture but I got real into the reading. I scattered the pages about me as I went cause I was just in the zone.

Now it’s time for comments from the panel of judges. The judges consisted of Nancy Holder, James Patrick Kelly, Walter Jon Williams, and Paul Di Filippo.

The first comment from James Patrick Kelly is word for word burned into my brain forever. I remember exactly how he sat in the middle of the row and looked at the notes he made on a 3×5 index card.

“Bold move bringing a cyberpunk story to the guys who invented the genre.”

Oh snap. I knew who they all were but I didn’t put two and two together until that moment.

They didn’t just judge my story, it was a full on critique at a whole different level. I was the guy who wanted to play in the same sandbox they helped build after all.

So I didn’t end up winning but the whole thing was a great experience. Performing something you’ve written like that brings a whole different understanding of your writing and its flow, particularly if you rely heavily on dialogue.

A lot of people came up to me afterwards to say how much they dug the story.

Bonus points because that’s where I met Carrie Cuinn and Rob Greene aka R.W.W. Greene, who’s debut novel, The Light Years, dropped this week and I’m enjoying a lot.

Obligatory Year End Post 2015

Posted: December 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

It’s time for the Obligatory Year End Post!

My reading level has gone down this year because of the job I’m working and my time management is still lacking so I never get to write as much as I should. But I have read some awesomesauce books this year and this time of year is a good excuse to talk about said awesome things.

Favorite Book of 2015

I straight up cannot pick just one. I keep a whole Shelf of Honor for my favorite books in general because I can’t narrow it down too much. While the overall number of books I read this year is not as high as some years, almost every book I read was an excellent experience. However, two books stood head and shoulders above the rest.

Wake of Vultures by Lila Bowen (aka Delilah S. Dawson)

Empire Ascendant by Kameron Hurley

Both of these authors are part of the Writing Role Model Voltron (along with Cole, Sykes, Wendig and McGuire) and I will put anything they write on my To Buy List sight unseen.

wakeofvulturesLet’s talk about Wake first. First of all, I love genre mashups. Weird West, a marriage of Lovecraft or urban fantasy with a Wild West setting, is a small blip in the grand SF genre map and that makes it fresh and new to me. I’ve read it a few times and actively seek it out now because I’ve enjoyed it each time. Dawson sets Wake in an alternate Texas where monsters are real, but not everyone realizes it. Dawson writes about the setting and the world and you can tell she is excited to be writing the book. Nettie Lonesome is one of the most badass characters that I have read in a long time. The book is marketed as YA because Nettie is a teenager, but seriously, people need to stop letting the term YA scare them. Nettie’s external journey through the wilds of Durango provide a road map for her to discover who she is and wants to be as a person. There’s nothing scary about that at all and Dawson writes Nettie with a deft touch. I recommend this book to anyone and the end of this book is one of the most perfect ending pages I have ever read. I eagerly await the chance to throw money at the sequel.

empireascendantNow let’s talk about Empire Ascendant. First off, this a Book Two. A Book Two is difficult and the more I write myself, the more I appreciate how difficult it is to write a Book Two. Book One in a trilogy tends to be stand alone-ish to rope in the readers and also from a practical point, often books two and three aren’t under contract until a publisher can see if the first did well. That means book two is in a thorny position of having to raise the stakes from the first book, but cannot really wrap up everything in a nice little bow. Kameron Hurley’s Empire Ascendant provides a platonic ideal of how to do the middle of a trilogy correctly. It’s right up there with Empire Strikes Back in “how to do this right”-ness. She puts her character’s through a friggin’ meat grinder. You have zero well being as a character in a Kameron Hurley book. I have no idea what kind of narrative wizardry she is going to pull in book three because the end of two leaves no easy answers. That is a fantastic thing because it makes sure each book has its own distinct identity. Hurley busts her ass to put out the best writing in the genre and levels up with each book she writes. You are doing yourself a disservice if you are not reading her Worldbreaker Saga.

Favorite Short Story of 2015

lightbrigadeI don’t read nearly as much short fiction as I should and I am trying to fix that. Short fiction is a great place to find SF that is pushing the boundaries of the genre so I think everyone should at least dabble in the form, both reading and writing.

My favorite short story of the year is… Kameron Hurley again for “The Light Brigade.” I read it as part of Hurley’s Patreon service, but the story was also reprinted in Lightspeed. In between writing three novels this year, Hurley is putting out some more of that envelope pushing short fiction via Patreon. The Lightspeed link is right above, so instead of listening to me yammer on about it, just give it a click and enjoy the story for yourself.

Related, I enjoy the Patreon service in general as a way to directly support rad people.

Favorite Short Story Collection of 2015

xenowealth Xenowealth: A Collection by Tobias S Buckell

As part of my ongoing quest to read more short stories, I got in on Buckell’s kickstarter to create this collection of short stories set in the same world as the series that began with Crystal Rain. The stories are all collected in one place for the first time and includes two new stories published for the first time. Pepper is one of my favorite characters in sci fi so I knew I would enjoy this collection. The kickstarter is long over, but the book is available to preorder now if you want in on it.

Favorite Comic Books of 2015

I read comic books like some people watch Netflix, binge it online six months after everyone else watched it new. The two best things that I have found in Marvel’s giant digital library are…

Ms. Marvel and Squirrel Girl

msmarvelsquirrelgirlKamala Khan and Doreen Green are the most fun super heroines out there right now. Everything about their comics is a total delight it is only a matter of time before I give in and start buying them all in dead tree format because I can’t wait until they show up on Marvel Unlimited. G. Willow Wilson writing Ms. Marvel in particular is what drew me into giving comics a shot again after years of mostly ignoring the genre. The writing she puts into Kamala Khan has more nuance and care than half the novels I’ve read this year. Amid all the shenanigans of the Hugos this year, Ms. Marvel took one home and I was more stoked about that award than any other award in the genre this year. Even if you’re a comic newb or lowbie, you should be reading both of these titles.

Famous People

Posted: February 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

This whole thing is an expansion on the comment I threw down today over on Jim C Hines’ blog entry called “Fame and Fanboy Fails..” He gave me some good thoughts and after I sent the comment, I had another thought and was all like “Hell I can get a blog out of it.” Make sure to look at the pictures he put in his superior blog entry. They’re funny.

Although in my head I never use the word ‘blog.’ It tastes bad on my tongue and I loathe using it. Thanks to twitter’s character limit, I’ll actually write it down now, but I try my damnedest to never say it aloud.

I always feel very weird when around famous people. I’m not the most extroverted person around new people and there’s always the question of “What the hell do I say?” How many times can I people hear “I love your [insert creative work here] and you’re just super swell!” Well… I guess you’d have to go backwards in time to hear someone say super swell. I once went to a Kevin Smith Q and A (which I highly recommend) and I felt I was in between a rock and a hard place. I knew enough to avoid asking newb questions, but I wasn’t such a ridonkulous fanboy to actually come up with an in depth question. I got a copy of A Visit from the Good Squad signed by Jennifer Egan. She was at the Ocean State Summer Writing Conference I rolled at last year. Standing there saying “Hi I enjoyed the whole point of view thing you did with your book. Can you make it out to Mike?” left me feeling like I had something odd growing out of my forehead and since I was probably the fiftieth person in like, seemed like an awkward situation all around. What was she supposed to say “Ayup, that’s why I won a Pulitzer.”

All the best stories of interactions with famous people happened to my dad who could walk into a room in a foreign country not speaking the language and find someone to talk random stuff with. Around 1980 he was hitchhiking and got picked up by Ozzie Osborne, who happened to be on the way to New Haven from Worcester. My dad rode for 20 minutes before the other guy in the car couldn’t contain it anymore. Back in the general vicinity of 2000 he sat next to Aaron Lewis from Staind. This was right around when they started being mega hits. On a Texas to wherever the hell my dad’s connecting flight was flight did they talk about performing or touring or classic albums or anything related to him being a star? Nope. Fishing. My dad hung out with with a rock star and talked about fishing. My dad knew who he was and was all like “Sure I’ll check out the album” but they just talked fish. For some reason I always felt this guy must have found it refreshing to have a normal person conversation.

The big thing Hines talks about with is blog is the disconnect between the famous person and the person. Seriously, go read it if you haven’t. But come back and read the rest of this. Getting into what I said in my comment, twitter has bridged that gap a lot. I’m gonna go copy and paste it so I don’t have to tab back and forth a lot.

In all honesty, this is part of the beauty of twitter. I dismissed it for a long time as hipster techno crap. My wife convinced me it would be fun to follow because Wil Wheaton is hilarious as a person. Mostly I follow authors and New York Giants players. Its refreshing to see these people as people. As someone who is working on being a writer while holding down a horrible day job, it is strangely motivating to see published authors deal with a sick kid. Not that I want their kids to be sick. It’s more of a “He’s a regular guy who is a dad ontop of everything else.” Logically I know authors don’t pull things out of their butts, but logic doesn’t always play nice when I’m staring at a blank page or am too busy to get the word I have written.

That said, when I was at Boskone I still couldn’t bring myself to go up to any of the authors I knew. Scalzi was busy each time I saw him and some woman looked like she was hitting on Myke Cole after the pannel. I didn’t want to be “That Creepy Awkward Guy” with nothing real to say nor did I want to be disrespectful while they were clearly doing something else.

So yeah. Being around writing helps me with my own writing and it sounds kinda dumb but twitter helps even with the writers never mention putting pen on page. It brings this craft down to earth a little bit. People can say how tough it is to get things finished all they want but its different when you can read how an author finished something for the first time in weeks just like me.

So next time you read a book you like, search for them on ye old twitter. They’re probably there, being regular. But they all seem to like a friendly hi now and again anyways.

Khaaan!

Posted: February 17, 2012 in Uncategorized

And by Khaaaaaaaan! I really mean Con. And by Con I really mean Boskone 49. I’m going there tomorrow for day two. I said it twice, it must be true.

I’m really excited to be going. I’ve been to a few cons before, but they were nerdy affairs more than writerly affairs. I’ve been to ConnectiCon twice a few years back when I still existed in Connecticut and it was a practical thing. They were heavy on the anime. A few weeks ago on Friday Nerd Night, we were Frednapped and went to Templecon 12 which was an amazingly convenient mile from my house. They’re heavy on the steampunk.

As part of their steampunkiness, they invited author CJ Henderson. Holy crap he is a cool guy. We randomly found a reading and/or writing talk he was giving. Honestly I don’t think a single one of us had read his stuff before although I recognized the name. But multiple members of our party are up in here with writing so we had it. He read us some really sweet pieces including something brandy new no one else had heard before. He talked a lot about his writing process and to quote Jim, our party’s off-tank, “I don’t know what I’m going to do this semester because I just got more out of sitting here with you than I ever have in class.” He was realistic while still motivating. The next day was my most productive writing day in months. It was great.

That’s what I’m hoping for coming across at Boskone. The program is chock full of writing things. The guests are all people I want to be peers of mine. There are parts of me that want to run around like a dork highfiving everyone I can find and parts that want to throw up at the thought of saying hi. There are panels on character creations of all sorts like aliens or geniuses, DnD retrospectives, how to make your sci fi world consistently unstable, ebook production, steampunk world building and that’s just in the after lunch time frame. I want to be around writing. I want to learn some cool stuff. I want to discover new people and new books to read.

I’m not gonna like though… sword fighting demos.