Thursday, December 27, 2012

That's quite a Grasshopper hop...

SpaceX's reusable rocket prototype "Grasshopper" flies 40 meters into the air before landing successfully.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Harrison Ford says he'd do it again

Last week, Disney announced the purchase of Lucasfilms, and the Star Wars franchise.  The next three movies look to be a go.

Harrison Ford and crew are apparently eager to be on board (the Millenium Falcon?).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

TNE Interviews Heath Lowrance, author of "City of Heretics"

Good friend to the Naut, Heath Lowrance, is quickly gaining a reputation for tight fiction always delivered with that bit of something extra that really sticks to yer proverbial ribs.  In conjunction with the recent release of his most recent novel, CITY OF HERETICS, Heath took a few minutes to let us grill him about his work, his process, and his thoughts on all things fiction.

TNE:   Do you think violent-themed entertainment fosters violence in reality? Does a writer of fiction have a moral responsibility to the public?

HL:   Start right off with an easy one, why don’t you?
I think violent-themed entertainment has the potential to foster violence in reality, but only among people who might be drawn to it anyway. Also, it has a great deal to do with media saturation. If you display anything in popular culture long enough and hard enough, it will creep into the mainstream. Hence our acceptance these days of vapid celebrity culture icons as perfectly acceptable role-models.

Having said that, I think a writer’s only responsibility is to the truth. The characters and situations have to be honest. In a way, that IS a moral responsibility. 

TNE:   What draws you to themes that are violent or skirt the edges of the law?

HL:   I’ve always been fascinated by outlaws and rebels, I don’t know why. As a kid, my admiration for them was pretty shallow—they fought authority and that made them cool. Now that I’m older, though, I’m more aware of the gray nature of them. My characters, and the characters I’m interested in, are not good guys or bad guys, generally. It’s the conflicts they represent that interest me most.

TNE:   Do you think there are degrees of criminality? For instance a character who accepts with no qualms the idea of theft, but bristles at the idea violence. Or a computer hacker vs. a gentleman jewel thief?

HL:   There are criminals we can get behind, at least in fiction and movies. Maybe even to some degree in real life. You mentioned the “gentleman jewel thief”—what we admire about him isn’t the crime he commits, exactly, so much as the audacity and cleverness of it. And we’re ready to condemn a typical murderer because, frankly, anyone could do that; it doesn’t require any skill set, and it doesn’t have any broader implications. It’s just murder.

If our hero in a story is a killer, we at least want him to have some kind of code about who he kills, like say “Dexter”, or (if you don’t mind me saying) my character Hawthorne.

TNE:   Do you have a secret pet project that is so unusual it will probably never see the light of day?

HL:   No, not really. It’s a new century, there are no genre limits anymore. I feel that I can write anything I want to.

TNE:   Would you consider your protagonists anti-heros?

HL:   Yes. I’ve only ever written one truly heroic character before, and he wasn’t even my creation. Edward Grainger’s Gideon Miles fits the hero bill nicely. He was fun to write about because he has built-in conflicts and lots of personality. But generally I’m more interested in writing about characters who are a bit darker like Hawthorne, or Crowe in CITY OF HERETICS

TNE:   Most people would have to be in pretty desperate straits before actively pursuing the sort of criminal activities some of your characters indulge in. What drives your characters? What would drive you to a life of bad-assery?

HL:   Ha… At this point, given my background and general view of life, I don’t think I could ever be a bad-ass in that sense. I think environment has everything to do with it—what you grow up thinking of as acceptable, or what you’re like genetically. I’m not stoic or taciturn or tough-minded, and those are the things that make up your classic fictional bad-ass. I wish, though.

TNE:   Have you ever killed a man?

HL:   In Reno. Just to watch him die. 

TNE:   Writing is a solitary business. How does spending so much time alone with your thoughts affect your personal psychology? How does it affect your personal interactions?

HL:     It is pretty lonely, sometimes. You’re trapped a great deal of the time in your own head, and it becomes hard to get out of it and function in the real world. One side effect is that I know my own mind, probably better than most people know theirs. Because I’ve had time to indulge in thinking about things that are important to me, I’ve learned to follow the thread of something all the way to the bitter end, and not stop at the first comfortable place I come to. That helps, considering the sort of stuff I write, but it’s also frustrating because you become hyper aware of the amount of bullshit people feed themselves sometimes, just in order to feel good about the world and their place in it.

It can affect personal interactions, for sure. Communicating, even with your closest friends, requires you to put on a face that you’re not entirely comfortable with anymore. The real you is hidden, always. Not by choice, just… that’s the way it works out. And sometimes it’s impossible to articulate exactly what’s happening in your head—and that’s assuming anyone is really interested, anyway.

TNE:   What else do you have in the pipeline? Any release dates to tell us about?

HL:   CITY OF HERETICS and BLUFF CITY BRAWLER (my FIGHT CARD novella) have both just come out in the last month. Before the year is over, I’ll have a second Gideon Miles novella for you, one that takes place in the ‘20’s, and finds Miles facing off against the Axeman of New Orleans. Also, a third Hawthorne horror/western and a handful of short stories. I plan on spending most of next year concentrating on a third and possibly a fourth novel, along with a few more Hawthorne’s (That Damned Coyote Hill and The Long Black Train).

TNE:   Would you ever utilize alternative literary devices such as epistolary writing or 2nd person narrative?

HL:   That’s doubtful. The goal of writing is to be understood, so I don’t see any point in making your work more obscure.

TNE:   Who do you read? Anybody current from the large publishing houses worth your time? What small presses are putting out the best stuff?

HL:   I haven’t read much from the Big 6 publishers in the last couple of years. That’s not by design, it just worked out that way. And the small presses seem to be the ones keeping dark crime fiction, horror, Westerns and other fringe genres active and interesting. I’ve been lucky to work with some of my favorites, like New Pulp Press, Beat to a Pulp, Snubnose Press.

I’m reluctant to name writers you should check out, because for every one I can think of, there are ten more I’d forget to mention. But if you keep an eye on my blog (Psycho Noir), I’m always recommending great authors and great books.

TNE:   Is self-publishing (electronic publishing in particular) hurting the business or is it creating opportunities? Is it harder to promote yourself?

HL:   I don’t have a lot of experience in self-publishing, since the only thing I’ve put out myself is the short story collection, DIG TEN GRAVES. But I suppose the glut of self-published stuff out there does make it harder to get noticed. We’re in a transitional stage in publishing now, and with every door that’s closed now to new writers, there are other doors opening up. I guess we’ll all have to wait and see.

TNE:   Tell us a little about “City of Heretics” and how you came to write it.
HL:   Glad you asked!

CITY OF HERETICS is my second full-length novel, a dark crime thriller. The protagonist, Crowe, is a hard man just out of prison and back in Memphis to even the score against his former Mob employers. Along the way, he crosses paths with a secret society of serial killers posing as a very Old Testament-style Christian church. He uncovers lots of ugliness in the process, including some things about himself he’d have been better off not knowing.

I was reading a lot of Richard Stark and Dan J. Marlowe at the time, and a lot of that stripped down tough-mindedness made its way into CITY OF HERETICS. It’s a very different sort of novel from my first, THE BASTARD HAND, which was, I guess, a bit more leisurely. CITY OF HERETICS is fast and nasty.


TNE:   What is the best motivator to give a character? Greed? Revenge? Hate? Fear?

HL:   I don’t think there IS a “best” motivator. As long as one exists, that’s what matters.

TNE:   You've spent time in the south and as a yank. How do the two subcultures speak to your writing?

HL:   Memphis had a huge impact on me as a writer, and made me realize that the setting of a novel or story is very, very important. And what you as the writer can draw from it makes all the difference. Detroit is, of course, very different from Memphis, but it still rings all the same tough yet melancholy bells.

TNE:  “Is reading becoming obsolete?”

HL:   No, I don’t think so. People are reading more now than ever, from what I understand. But our methods of reading are changing, obviously.

People will always read fiction, because we’ll always need stories to see us through. 

TNE:  Ain't that the truth.  Heath, thanks for stopping by the Naut.  We love your work and we're always looking forward to the next Lowrance release.  Continued good luck and success to you!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Monday, September 3, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

A giant leap for Neil Armstrong. RIP.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to step foot on the moon, or any celestial body off the earth, for that matter, has passed at the age of 82.

I was all of two and a half when Armstrong landed on the moon, and I'm told I slept through all the good parts.  Still, the space bug hit me hard in the early seventies and my mom would occasionally let me be late to school to watch the telly if a launch was scheduled.  I would write letters to NASA and they would send me these great big packets of pamphets, brochures and posters.  My favorite book for a time was Heinlein's "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel".

There was a time when I knew all the names of the crews of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo.  Now it's just Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins.  Well, and Shepard and Glenn.

Past the confines of the atmosphere is cool.  Round and round the earth in a truly spacey orbit is amazing.  But to spin a few orbits, then risk it all to zip out to that other crazy nearby round rock of rubbley regolith, actually land and have a hearty look around, well, that my friends is a jaw-droppin' pants-wetting good time.  We throw around the word hero a lot.  And generally speaking, I like to reserve it for people who risk their own lives and well-being to help others in immediate danger.  That being said, I'm more than OK with the moniker hero being stuck on Neil Armstrong.  He and Buzz and Mike certainly risked their lives.  Not so much to save lives, but to further science, to inspire a nation, to set a stepping stone to skylab and the space shuttle and hubble and the ISS and all our dandy probes to Mars and out to the edges of the solar system.  And to give this young fellow, and I'm sure countless others another dream to add to fireman, race car driver, and fighter pilot.

Thank you Neil Armstrong.  I hope the eagle soars again.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Goodnight, Harry Harrison

File:Harry Harrison 2005.jpg

We've lost one of the greats of 20th century sci-fi -- Mr. Harry Harrison has passed.  I spent many an hour reading countless Stainless Steel Rat novels.  Mr Harrison, I thank you for the adventure, the escape, and so, so much entertainment.  Harry Harrison has passed at the age of 87.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Electric City

Tom Hanks' Electric City.  What's your take?  Promising or not so much?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Fiction! "The Forgetting" by Holly Day

The Forgetting
by Holly Day

John sat on the floor, wishing desperately he hadn’t stubbed his last cigarette out. If he was outside, he could smoke, but he wasn’t outside, and the idea of getting up and walking all the way to the front door just to go outside and smoke seemed ridiculously tedious. If he was going to go that far, he might as well just go home. Which didn’t seem like such a bad idea, really.

He climbed to his feet, steadying himself against the wall. His hand was completely encircled by one large yellowed water stain, a blemish that started in the top right-hand corner of the room and widened and narrowed, almost artistically, all the way down to the floor. He stared at the stain for way too long, thinking about how much fun it would be to trace the shape of the stain with a black magic marker, fill in the shape with doodles and squiggles, turn it into a real piece of artwork, before forcing himself to take the two small staggering steps that would take him out of the room and into the hallway leading to the living room, the hallway full of family photos framed in cheap flowery metal frames, all the pictures of Keith and Sarah’s family, including the ones of the two children they lost. The little girl, aged five, and the little boy, aged nine, both dead.

This hallway never seemed right to him. There was too much before photographed and cataloged in this walk, and it bothered him. This hallway belonged to a nice house, of a happy family, and of him as a welcome guest, wearing clean clothes and bearing gifts like nice bottles of wine and take-out food and even flowers, like some smarmy character from a feel-good television show. The walk through the short hallway always felt to him like drowning, and it was only with the greatest exertion that he pulled himself along the wall and into the living room.

Keith was sitting on the couch with a little boy. The room was full of hung-over people ruffling the little boy’s short hair again and again, with the boy smiling patiently through it all as if happy to be in the center of attention. “That’s my boy!” said Keith, again and again, his arm around the boy’s shoulders. He also ruffled the little boy’s haircut. Sarah, in the kitchen, making Irish coffees for everyone, smiled every time Keith said, “That’s my boy,” patting her stomach as though to reassure the baby inside that he or she would also receive similar accolades once born.

“This kid, he’s so smart,” said Keith. “He’s just great. Tell everybody something smart, little boy.”

“Did you know that there might be planet-sized moons inside of Saturn’s rings that could be terra-formed for human habitation?” piped the little boy, smiling around the room. “It’s true, I read it in National Geographic. We don’t even know how many moons Saturn has, because we can’t look inside the rings properly. It has hundreds of moons.”

I know the names of at least a dozen of Saturn’s moons, John thought suddenly. Why can’t I remember the names of Saturn’s moons? He opened his mouth, determined to list at least one of the moons, but nothing came out. It seemed really important to him to remember just one of the moons.

“Wow.” Keith looked at the little boy with renewed adoration. “That is so cool. This one, he’s like a rocket scientist, he is.”

Like I was, thought John. That wasn’t right. He wasn’t a rocket scientist, but he was something, something different than this. He had that feeling like he had when he was in the hallway, like he was drowning. He opened his mouth to speak, only to find a beer bottle heading toward it, propelled by his hand. “That boy, this, it’s not right,” he muttered just barely under his breath, swallowing half the bottle in one draught. He looked up to see the little boy staring across the room at him with a look like drowning on his face. Bobby. The boy’s name was Bobby.

“Fuck you,” said Sarah, coming in from the kitchen, glaring at John as she walked by. “Little boy, I need you in the kitchen for a second. A minute, maybe. I don’t know.” She wrinkled her forehead as if concentrating on something really important. “Right now.”

“Aw, I never get to spend any time with my boy,” protested Keith, but let Bobby get up anyway. The little boy held onto his sweet smile all the way out of the room, held onto it in such a way that John could tell he was trying not to cry.

“Aw, shit,” John said, and got up himself. “I didn’t mean anything by it,” he said to Keith.

“Well, you’d better go and apologize, asshole,” said Keith. “You can’t talk to kids that way. Especially my fucking kids.”

“All right, all right. I’m going.” John quickly walked through the hallway to the kitchen. Sarah was standing at the stove, holding a knife in her hand, a blank expression on her face. Bobby was standing next to her, two pieces of bread laid out on the counter in front of him, as well as an open jar of peanut butter and an open jar of jelly.

“I think I can handle this part, Sarah,” said Bobby, reaching up and taking the knife from her.

“No!” Sarah shouted, suddenly coming to life. She pulled the knife back from the little boy. “See this knife, little boy?” she said, pointing. “It’s too sharp for peanut butter and jelly. You can’t use this kind of knife for making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You need a knife that’s less sharp, so you don’t cut yourself.” She put the sharp filet knife down on the counter in front of Bobby and stared off into the corner for several quiet seconds. Bobby looked up at her expectantly, then sighed. He picked up the filet knife.

“No!” shouted Sarah, grabbing the knife. The blade slipped across her palm, cutting a thin red line through the pale yellow skin. She dropped the knife on the floor and sucked at the blood welling out of the wound.

“It’s okay,” said John to the boy. He reached down and carefully picked up the knife. He grabbed a paper towel and wadded it around the blade, then put the knife and the towel in the trash can, pushing it deep beneath a mound of coffee grinds and filters so that no one would accidentally cut themselves if they reached into the bag themselves. He opened first one drawer, then another, until he finally found a butter knife.

“You won’t be able to hurt yourself on this one,” he said, handing it to Bobby. Sarah looked at him with gratitude in her eyes. Bobby began scooping globs of peanut butter and jelly on the pieces of bread.

“I have to teach him,” said Sarah, grabbing John’s arm. Her voice sounded like she was forcing herself to speak very clearly and evenly, as though that was some sort of extreme effort. “I remember why my own—my other—children died. I didn’t feed them, John. I forgot to feed them, and dress them, and put them to bed, and they got sick and died. What’s wrong with me?” she hissed through her clenched teeth. “How could I forget to feed my kids? They were eating crap out of the trash can, and I just—I just—I drank. I smoked, I drank, and I think I even went out for a burger. And all that time, they were sick, and then they were dead. I can’t…”

“…let it happen to Bobby,” nodded John. He ruffled the little boy’s crew cut, and seemed to remember doing the same thing to some other little boy, some boy who was his. “We won’t let it happen to Bobby. See how good he is at making his own sandwich? He barely even needs you here, right, big guy?”

“It’s a pretty good sandwich, Sarah,” nodded Bobby. “I can make you one, too, if you’d like.”

“No.” Sarah shook her head. “I want to you wash off the knife when you’re done, then put it somewhere where you can find it again, okay? Put the peanut butter and jelly in your backpack, with the bread, so that any time you feel hungry, you can just make yourself a sandwich. This is important, Bobby,” she said, kneeling down so that she could look her son straight in the eye. “Don’t let the backpack out of your sight. When you run out of bread, get more out of the kitchen and put t in your bag. Or crackers. Or you can just eat right out of the jar. Any time you get hungry, promise me you’ll just eat, okay? You won’t wait for me to make you something?”

“Okay,” said Bobby. He looked like he was about to cry again.

“And, and, you’ll start calling me ‘Mom’ again, right?” said Sarah. “What kind of kid calls his mother ‘Sarah?’” She stared hard at Bobby again, and a confused look clouded her face. After a couple of seconds, she reached over and set the open peanut butter jar on the stovetop. She turned the burner on and began humming.

“Whoa.” John reached over and turned the burner off. He grabbed the jar of peanut butter and twisted the lid back on. “Put this stuff in your backpack. Now,” he ordered Bobby.

“When are we going home, Dad?” asked Bobby quietly. Sarah stopped humming for half a second, and Bobby backed away to stand behind John. “I want to go home.”

“Just a minute, Bobby,” John murmured out of habit, then stopped. “What do you mean, ‘Dad?’”

“I just want to go home.” The little boy choked back a sob and wiped his eyes furiously with the back of his hand. John felt the beginning of a scream build in his chest. How long had he been here?

“You have to show me the way out of here,” he said, finally. He grabbed the little boy’s hand and pushed him towards the door. “You have to get me out of here, before I forget you again.”

“And then everything’ll be okay?” whispered Bobby. He pulled John after him, out of the kitchen and into the living room, through the room full of people and past the sofa where Keith lay sprawled out, smoking a cigarette and laughing at the television.

“What the fuck?” said Keith, watching John and Bobby. “Where’re you taking my kid?”

“We’ll be right back!” called Bobby, squeezing John’s hand tightly. “We’re going to the store to buy more cigarettes!”

“That’s a great idea,” said Keith, nodding and smiling. “That’s a fucking awesome idea.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a thick wad of bills. “Buy me this many cigarettes, okay?” he added, passing it over to John.

“Sure thing!” John tried to pull his hand free from the little boy, but Bobby held on tightly. “Hey, little dude,” he started, smiling, trying to pull free.

“I can’t buy cigarettes by myself,” said Bobby loudly, looking over at Keith. “I’m too young.” He pulled again, and John nodded, following him out the door.

The light outside was so bright that John just stood there, blinking, for several seconds. How long had he been inside? It felt like weeks, or even longer, since he couldn’t remember for the life of him when he’d actually arrived here, or where he’d even come here from. The party that had been going on inside seemed to have followed him outside, though, which was somewhat comforting. A yellow schoolbus squealed by him and Bobby, nearly tipping onto its side as it turned the corner. “We’re number one!” shouted the bus driver, half his body hanging out the window as he drove by, both arms waving wildly. “Number one!”

“All right!” John shouted back, holding up his index finger and hooting back. “Number one! All right!”

“Do you think Mom’s all right?” asked Bobby quietly. The little boy sat on the stoop of Keith and Sarah’s house, his arms wrapped around the blue backpack on his lap. “I tried counting the days we were here, but the sun didn’t come up for a real long time, and now it won’t go down.”

“Yeah. It’s real bright out,” said John, sitting down on the stoop next to the boy. “You still brushing your teeth?”

“I don’t think it’s the sun at all,” the boy continued, his voice so quiet it was practically a whisper. “It’s too bright, and it’s on all the time. And it’s so noisy out! Do you hear it? It’s like a car revving its engines, but it just keeps going on.”

“Oh, that’s just traffic. It’s a busy street,” said John, ruffling the boy’s crew cut. “See? There’s a car right now.” A Volkswagen bug careened down the street, fire shooting out of its tailpipe, the driver slumped over the steering wheel. “Now that’s a noisy car,” he added, nodding sagely at the boy. “Was that what you heard?”

“No.” Bobby opened his backpack and pulled out the peanut butter. He twisted the lid off and stuck his finger in the jar, pulling out a big glob. John watched the little boy eating the peanut butter straight from the jar, until it was all gone. He felt like he was supposed to say something, but didn’t know what it was. All around them, in the street, in the sidewalks, people were lying down on the ground, as if they were asleep, except their eyes were open, staring at the sky. Some of them looked as though they had been run over by a car, with big, comical drag lines bisecting their bodies, while others were in perfect condition.

Overhead, something huge and noisy was making another pass of the neighborhood. John looked up at the huge gray object, the gigantic flat metal disc that was blocking out the sun. It was really huge! Bobby was looking up too, his mouth wide open, screaming too quietly to be heard over the noise of the disc. John giggled and put his hands over his ears, trying to block out the wave of noise that seemed to be rushing at him from all directions.


Holly Day is a housewife and mother of two living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her poetry and fiction has recently appeared in Hawai'i Pacific Review, The Oxford American, and Slipstream. Her book publications include Music Composition for Dummies, Guitar-All-in-One for Dummies, and Music Theory for Dummies, which has recently been translated into French, Dutch, Spanish, Russian, and Portuguese.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Cipher by Kathe Koja

Kathe Koja's memorable and creepy debut novel, The Cipher, is being re-released "in a hole new format", as an e-book.  Koja and her creative cohorts filmed a very atmospheric book trailer to commemorate the the book and introduce it to a new generation of readers.

Read more and watch the trailer here:

And be sure to check out Koja's latest, Under the Poppy.   And for a real treat, go dig up some of Koja's short stories like those in Extremities.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

happy Nikolai Tesla day!

The Oatmeal (always awesome) posted on some Tesla awesomeness today.  Check it out:

Nikolai Tesla is my hero!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Carole A. Ward -- Professional Writing/Editing Services


 Need a writer, ghostwriter, editor, or proofreader? Carole A. Ward is a professional writer/editor/proofreader.  I can't stress enough how much you should have a set of objective eyes look over your work before submission to publishers.  Even with the myriad of self-publishing options available today, your work will look amateur if released with problems (everything from the obvious spelling and grammar, to bigger issues of continuity and plot holes).

Carole's work has appeared in online and print publications, blogs, published tomes and the occasional cereal box (written in her own hand with a red pen - we all have our hobbies, don't we.)

If you have a need for the services of the pen, I urge you to consider Carole A. Ward.  After her gentle ministrations, your work will shine like the morning dew!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Imported From Gotham City

Imported From Gotham City:

Chrysler and The Dark Knight Rises team up to give you a chance to create a TV spot to win a trip to Hollywood to work with a professional editor and a trip to NYC to attend the red carpet premiere of The Dark Knight Rises.  Christopher Nolan will personally pick the winning entry and it may air on national TV!

Go to the site for more details and media assets that may be used.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Ugly Behavior by Steve Rasnic Tem

First review of Steve Rasnic Tem's upcoming collection "Ugly Behavior".  It sounds awesome and I'm not just saying that because I designed the book cover.  Oh, no.  Not just because of that.  Available in August, 2012.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury, beloved science fiction author, dies | The Lookout - Yahoo! News

Ray Bradbury, beloved science fiction author, dies | The Lookout - Yahoo! News:

They did a nice job with this notice.  Read for more.

RIP, Ray Bradbury

I think our ol' cohort in crimes of fiction, Heath Lowrance, speaks to the loss of Ray Bradbury about as eloquently as anyone could.  So, I'll merely say that my sentiments echo much of what Heath has to say over at his blog today.

You can read it here: .

Have a joyful journey, Ray.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

one way to mars

     "It sounds like a science-fiction fantasy, but the company Mars One says it's for real—and that it will really establish a settlement on the planet Mars by 2023.
     The privately financed Dutch company has a plan. All it needs is a lot of cash, equipment and four Mars-bound astronauts who are willing to take a one-way trip to the red planet. 
     The idea is to first send rovers, which will stake out a good site for a settlement and then build out living units. In 2022, the crew will take a "transit habitat" for the seven-month trip to Mars and settle in to their new home. The intention is that the crew will live on the planet for the rest of their lives. Every two years after that, another group will join the settlement to populate the colony."

How to Watch the Transit of Venus

Click image to see more photos

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Bastard Hand eBook: FREE!

The Bastard Hand The Bastard Hand eBook: Heath Lowrance: Kindle Store:

This is NOT to be missed.  Right now, for a few days (but exact timing is unknown) The Bastard Hand by Heath Lowrance (New Pulp Press) for the Kindle is free!  Go get it.  You won't regret it.  Best read at any price from the last two years!  Go!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Skydiver planning world record 120,000-foot jump from space | The Sideshow - Yahoo! News

Skydiver planning world record 120,000-foot jump from space | The Sideshow - Yahoo! News:

'via Blog this'

"This summer, Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner will attempt to break the world record for the longest jump, plummeting more than 23 miles from the Earth's stratosphere.

"I've done a lot of test jumps, so I'm good," Baumgartner confidently told Fox News before adding that he would "probably say a little prayer" before making the jump that could literally make his blood boil if something goes wrong.

Baumgartner has been preparing with retired Air Force Col. Joe Kittinger, who set the current world record back in 1960 when he made a 102,000-foot jump."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

/Film » Edgar Wright To Start Filming ‘The World’s End’ In September; Plot Details Revealed

/Film » Edgar Wright To Start Filming ‘The World’s End’ In September; Plot Details Revealed:

After years of anticipation, it’s finally happening. Edgar Wright will direct Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in The World’s End beginning in September for Working Title and Universal aimed at a Spring 2013 release. It’s the third film in the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy (which includes Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) and, after the jump, we have the first details of the plot.

Thanks to Deadline for breaking this news. Here’s their story info for The World’s End:

20 years after attempting an epic pub crawl, five childhood friends reunite when one of them becomes hell bent on trying the drinking marathon again. They are convinced to stage an encore by mate Gary King, a 40-year old man trapped at the cigarette end of his teens, who drags his reluctant pals to their home town and once again attempts to reach the fabled pub, The World’s End.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Lotto Man by Duke Droste

I should have realized that I pushed things too far. A simple mistake really, but I learned a valuable lesson. It started when I won the Texas Lottery twice in the same month. It’s not as amazing as it might seem. I’m a software engineer by trade and I had cataloged the winning numbers for several months when I saw a pattern. It’s akin to predicting where a raindrop will fall as it rolls to the bottom of a window. Instead, it’s applied to fifty ping- pong balls. So I see this pattern in the way the numbers fall, and I wrote a software app to help estimate within an acceptable variance the likelihood that a certain series might drop.

I’ll try not to get too technical, but I study the printout of future numbers until I see them pop into my head, then I break them up into combination sets of six. I repeat purchase all the combinations so that my numbers have a chance to hit every Wednesday and Saturday for a month.

This is how I won twice. Two different sets matched three weeks apart, and I won approximately eleven million dollars after taxes. It’s not chump-change, but not crazy-let’s-buy-an-island money. The second time I arrived at the Austin lottery offices they scrutinized me but chalked it up to dumb luck. Loving the attention received from friends and family, I also became a celebrity at work; my co-workers couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t quit.

Curious if I could pull a hat trick, I wanted to continue my research and tried again. I had heard of people winning the lottery twice, but never three times. Three was statistically more difficult, but the ‘Wow’ factor resonated huge to my ego, and I couldn’t resist the challenge. I won again, not realizing the consequences.

Another week passed, and as usual, I was working late at my company’s office. Everyone had left for the day, except me. The quiet helped me concentrate. A noise came from down the hallway. I thought it must be the cleaning crew. Buried deep into a problem, I hardly noticed anything, but this creepy, tickling feeling crawled up my spine, telling me something was wrong. I looked to my left and leaning against the door frame stood this guy. He dressed well, wearing a dark suit with shoes shined to a glossy sheen. He appeared as if he had just come from church. I didn’t know whether it was his clothes, or the way he waited at my door, like he owned the place, that bothered me most.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

The man shifted his weight off the door and folded his arms in a supreme sense of being.

“Yes, you can, Eric.”

“How do you know my name?”

“It’s on the placard beside your door,” said the man with a cool smile. I felt a slight sense of relief. Maybe I had let my imagination run away, but he continued. “What I do know is you’ve got liquid assets of roughly ten and a half million. That’s after you bought the new house and the Porsche. Sweet ride … it’s really cherry. Saw it parked outside before I broke into your building.”

“Who are you? What do you want?”

“Oh, nothing really… I’d like to know how you did it.” The man spoke with his hands as much as his mouth. “Friends call me, Ralph.” He didn’t offer a handshake.

“Did what?”

“Don’t play coy with me.” Ralph sauntered a few steps toward me. “You know…how’d you hit the jackpot three times? Once is sweet. Twice is special. But three times? Well, that causes people to ask questions … especially the kind of people I represent.”

“And who do you represent?”

“Let’s just say their names end in vowels. Now, if there’s a goose laying golden eggs in the neighborhood, my associates want to know about it. So what’s your secret? You have someone on the inside? ‘Cause if there’s criminal activity, they’ll want their cut.”

“I haven’t rigged anything. I’m just … lucky I guess.” I tried to stay calm but I stammered the last part. Ralph raised an eyebrow as if he didn’t believe me.

“Oh … so you’re tellin’ me, wee folk ar’ whisperin’ numbers in your ears, eh?” he asked in an Irish brogue and chuckled at his joke.

“Look, I’m calling 911.” Feeling my pulse rise, I got twitchy and reached for the phone.

“Whoa, there Chief … no need for getting all pissy. I’m just here to see if I can be of assistance. Like I was saying … the people I represent have the financial means to help. You can’t keep winning the lotto over and over and not raise any suspicions. Other enterprises like ours … other governments … our government…”

“I pay my taxes. Uncle Sam has no beef with me.”

“Sure, but let’s say you win more jackpots. Don’t you think someone will notice? Who knows, there might be a criminal investigation. Maybe someone starts digging in areas my friends find … uncomfortable. But what if they find nothing? The Feds could get real interested in how you’re able to predict certain things. They might force you into the NSA and tell you it’s for the good of the country. Make you lay gold eggs for them.”

I hadn’t looked at it that way. It did make sense, but still I didn’t want to have anything to do with this guy.

“You know the old saying about give a man a fish …” Ralph moved closer to me. “What do you say? Teach me, Eric. Teach me to fish.” He sported a wicked grin.

I started to reply but a wry smile must have given me away as Ralph closed the distance in two quick steps and slapped me hard across the face. My head felt like it were on a swivel—the pain, clear and bright.

“Now, don’t give me any lip.”

“I don’t—”

He grabbed me by the neck and slammed my face into the keyboard and held me there with his forearm against the back of my head. My computer bell began to chime in staccato.

“I need you to tell me … now,” he said in a cool whisper. He released me, and I straightened myself. My head swam, and I’m sure I had key indentations on my face.

“Hey, what’s that for?” I managed to splutter out.

“That’s for whatever smart-ass thing you were about to say. Do you need another demonstration?”

“No … Let me speak.”

I explained my process and how my app worked, but I didn’t add the part about my contribution. I gave him a printout with the numbers he needed to play.

“Just so we are crystal on this. I want you to see something,” said Ralph.

He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out some papers, handing them to me. I unfolded them and saw pictures of my family: Mom, Dad, my brother, and my sister.

“I know where they live. Have names and addresses of more. Your sister’s sure is a cutie. One thing to remember Eric: there are worst things then dying.”

Stunned, I didn’t utter a sound as he glided out of my office.

As any good scientist, I spent the rest of the night organizing my thoughts and analyzing the situation to solve it like a puzzle. It took me a couple of hours to get focus and calm my nerves. I had to rationalize my emotions and think through this cold and Spock-like. Funny, he mentioned my brother. I hadn’t seen him in years, but it was the spark for an idea. I just needed to buy some time.


Ralph appeared a couple of weeks later as I was getting out of the car in my garage. That damn Porsche sat so low to the ground that I was off balance when he jammed me between the car door and the frame with one foot on the ground.

“The numbers didn’t pay out,” he snarled. He pushed harder on the door crushing my chest.

“I … told … you … it … could take several weeks,” I said pushing to counter him.

He relaxed and allowed the door to open. “You never said weeks. Do you take me for a fool?”

“Do you take me for a wizard?” I said regaining my breath.

He flinched threatening to strike me.

“I told you the number patterns had to be played in various combinations for several weeks to get a hit.”

“Let’s just say, Patience in not one of my virtues.”

“You have virtues?”

“Sure. Trustworthy—if I promise to hurt you, I will. Loyal—if you do what I say, I won’t hurt you. Helpful—if you don’t help me, I will hurt you. Should I continue?”

“No, I get the picture.”

“Good, I’ll be back in two weeks. You‘d best hope these numbers hit.” Ralph pushed on the door one last time to serve me a parting crunch.

I needed those two weeks to prepare for the next meeting.


I rarely left my house. I wanted to be assured the next encounter with Ralph would be on my home turf. I stuck to a pattern of working from my bedroom with the curtains open. I knew he kept an eye on me since he had left. It didn’t matter. The front door remained unlocked, but it was the patio door he came through. I waited for him at my desk, feigning to be lost in my work. Ralph’s face glowed crimson, and he held the Saturday night lotto ticket crumpled in his hand, shaking it with violent intent.

“I told you I would be back if you didn’t lay some gold eggs for me.”

“Not with those numbers. My app pulled them out of thin air,” I said leaning back in my chair with a wide smile.

“That will cost your sister, dearly,” grumbled Ralph.

“Nope … I don’t think so. I have something for you.” I handed him a few printouts of my own.

“What’s this?” He looked at the papers.

“So what, little Eric took some pictures.” He stepped closer to me.

“No, no, no,” I teased. “Look closer. Those are pictures of your associates, I believe. I took the liberty of placing contracts on them. I did so in your name, and they can be dead before you can do anything about it. It’s amazing the kinds of things you can do with fifty million.”

“Fifty million?” He looked at the photos and appeared to control his rage.

“Oh, yeah, here is another piece of paper you might want to read.” I wadded it up into a ball and threw it at him. “That’s my second cousin twice removed. She just won the Illinois Mega Jackpot—372 million dollars. She was happy with her modest take of 30 million. Then she deposited the rest after taxes into an real estate entity set up that belongs to another which belongs to another and so on and so on,” I said rolling my finger to make the point.

Ralph’s jaw dropped. “I’m going to kill you,” he said in a soft voice.

“No you’re not. You’re going to be my employee. Hold still, though. There’s a nasty red bug crawling up your shirt.” I so enjoyed this.

He looked to his chest, saw the laser sight, and froze. “Why would I work for you?”

“Well, it’s more like an arrangement. You’re going to make sure nothing happens to me. You see, I put up another 50 million and split it among several hard-case people. They’re paid in full and have nothing to do so long as you don’t screw things up.” I put my hands behind my head and stretched. “If I so much as stub my toe, they’re going to hack your foot off. That goes for my family and friends.”

Ralph seemed weaker and more pliable to my words.

“You’re going to be head of my security. We’ll negotiate your salary later.”

“But …”

My cell rang. I held a finger up to Ralph. “Hold on a sec. Yes, come in.”

Ralph and I could hear the front door open and close. Footsteps came up the hall. A large man dressed in black holding a pistol with its laser sight pointed at Ralph, entered the room.

“Hey li’l brother, this guy hasslin’ you?” The man smirked.

All the blood drained from Ralph’s face and his hand relaxed letting the crumpled ticket and papers fall to the floor.

“Ralph, you remember my brother Shawn? You were so kind to provide an updated photo of him the first time we met. Shawn, as you know, has been living in New Orleans for a number of years. I’d lost touch with him, but I thank you for encouraging our reunion. You see Shawn is sort of the … black sheep of the family and knows some …unsavory characters with whom I set up my retainer for your contract. Ten people flushed with five million each and all they have to do is kill you in any way they deem fit, should something happen to me. They’re also watching each other, so if you have any thoughts of turning one, the other nine will eliminate them.”

Shawn flashed forward and cracked Ralph’s skull with the butt of his pistol. Ralph fell to his knees. “You may be head of security, but you’re my bitch, now,” growled Shawn.

“Ralph, it seems like you’ve learned a valuable lesson here,” I said.

“Wha…?” asked Ralph still kneeling and gazing back at me through a fog.

“Never mess with someone holding a quarter billion dollars of disposable income.” 


biconic, indeed

"The curtain of secrecy is being raised by Blue Origin, a private entrepreneurial space group designing both suborbital and orbital vehicles.
Backed by mogul Jeff Bezos, the Kent, Wash.-basedBlue Origin group has completed wind tunnel testing of its next-generation craft, simply called the "Space Vehicle." It would transport up to seven astronauts to low-Earth orbit and the International Space Station. Though the company has been stingy on public information in the past, new details of the recent work have been released.".....

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The Mail Order Brides by Kurt Heinrich Hyatt

The Planet Uthane, never forget that place. All women. The last man died over a hundred years ago. They have him on display in a glass tank of preserving fluid. You should see it. Something went bad in their water or air; they haven’t figured out what yet, kills the Y chromosome. If they hadn’t found a way to clone artificial sperm they’d probably gone the way of the dodo.

Kind of a strange place to visit. Beautiful buildings, statues, gardens. The women for the most part real lookers, kind of dark eyed, dark haired Mediterranean. But the general atmosphere of the place, you feel a tenseness, like everyone walks around on a hair trigger, obsessed with being calm and super polite to one and all.

I hear the planet was one of Earth’s first colonies on the Outer Rim, way back before they invented timephase space travel. A place too far out for anyone to give a damn about until they discovered a load of laserite crystals near Tantrus, their main city. Enough to energize every fusion converter on Earth for a hundred years.

Interworld Mining Corporation hired my jumpship away from a regular supply run to Dropoff for the trip to Uthane. Even before we eased from orbit we had to sit down with the head sales honcho, Ms. Calori and listen to a lecture on the importance for the Homeworld ecomomy on concluding a trade agreement with the Uthanians. In other words, no checking out the booties, peckers in pants, no wisecracks about the acres of foxy wedges. Don’t know why they didn’t hire an all-female jumpship operation but I think there was a big rush to get a deal inked before any other planets in the League showed up to get their mitts on the crystals.

I’ll have to say the Uthanians really rolled out the red carpet when we touched down outside Tantrus. They insisted not only on Ms. Calori’s saleslady team as honored guests at the palace but yours truly, Jack Radnor, my crew, Ralph, Big Mike and Stinky Ed. There were trumpets blaring while Ms. Calori and Paladara, the Queen Regent in ceremonial robes exchanged gifts. Stinky Ed started to whisper a joke about hoping they each liked their new vibrators when one of the salesladies stifled him with a look that could burn retinas.

After a grand tour of the palace we sat down in the main hall and endured a bunch of toasts and speeches in Uthanian which caused a diplomatic stink later on when they found out only Ms. Calori spoke Uthanian. When me and my crew were led off to our quarters things started getting kind of uncomfortable. Crowds of female Uthanians lined the walkway, staring, pushing each other aside for a better view of the male freaks. It became so unruly they had to honk up a squad of real amazons to escort us to our digs. Even then a couple of the amazons hung around, smiling and acting chummy, pinching our butts before we could push them out and slam the door.

A little while later a pair of maids, one cute and the other looking like the constipation queen of Tantrus arrived to hand out platters of food and what tasted like watery fruit juice. This was the first thing I noticed about Uthane I didn’t like. No booze. Either the original colonists were teetotalers or they just forgot how to make the good stuff, I don’t know. Which is probably a good thing in this neck of the astral woods. If I had to do without a well-filled female bodysuit containing indoor plumbing and a high voice I’d probably be tanked every night.

I had just taken a bite of some weird-looking fruit when I felt as if I had mashed out my front teeth. I let out a yell causing Ralph, Big Mike and Stinky Ed to drop forks and spoons while I pulled a folded paper from my back molars. Inside the paper was a laserite crystal the size of a pea, worth about five hundred creds on the open market. They all did a major double take and immediately started hacking open every item of food on their platters.

“There is more of those to be had, Outworlder Radnor,” read the note. “Uglitha awaits outside.”

Looking at the crystal I did some serious and carefully thought out reasoning about what course I should follow. About two seconds worth. Of course, my three roommates were less than happy about my decision, probably influenced that the offer hadn’t been extended to them. I pulled on my dress flight jacket and nodded somberly as they whined about me wandering off alone in an alien city, keeping your dong in your drawers, how the wrath of Interworld Mining would fall on them should I get caught with my pants down.

Uglitha, who I recognized as one of our food servers did indeed await outside the door. The name was a good fit. I’ve seen less wrinkles and a sunnier disposition on a wartpig with terminal indigestion.

“You follow Uglitha, Outworlder. Come now,” she said, tapping my arm with a skinny claw, pointing down the corridor to an arched passage framed by a star-filled sky.


“So you are a male. Frankly, I do not see what the attraction could possibly be.” She had introduced herself as Sinaren, having a lush, inviting body but the predatory eyes of a hawk.

“Well, I was invited to see you before I had a chance to freshen up,” I explained, sampling a glass of the disgusting fruit juice they all seemed to drink here. She sure had expensive tastes in her hangout. Plush carpets, meters of speerwood and marble, Uglitha lurking by sateen drapes.

“In truth, I prefer my female consort. You have too much bulk in the arms and chest. And the growth on your face-“

“Beard stubble. Like I said, I didn’t have time to shave and slip into my tuxedo.”

She took a sip of her drink and studied me like some kind of interesting but pungent science experiment. “You did acquire the laserite crystal I enclosed with the note Uglitha secreted in your food?”

“Yeah, very nice. It’ll help pay for some of the dental work I’m gonna need. Listen lady, I’ve had kind of a long day and if the sales team from Interworld comes to an agreement with Paladara tomorrow I’ve got a nine hour trip through timephase back to the barn.” I was getting a little tired of her cat and mouse game and this fruit juice swill I was pretending to drink reminded me of the case of aged moonshine we had picked up on our layover on Dropoff.

She drummed her fingers on the table as if gathering her thoughts. “I manage the custodial and food service for the Tantran palace. Which means I am a businessperson. And the first tenant of business is supply and demand.”

“You’re talking about laserite crystals, right?”

“I have access to them, but no. Are you familiar with the colony on Dropoff?”

“Sure, the Homeworld Guild started up a bunch of agricultural stations there. We dropped them off some supplies on the way to Uthane.”

“I have been in contact via warpspace with a number of the farm workers. It would appear there is a surplus of males on Dropoff and we have come to a mutual agreement.”

I wasn’t sure if I was hearing her right. “You mean you’re running a dating service out of Uthane involving mail order brides?”

“How crudely you put it, Outworlder. We are dealing with supply and demand: we have a surplus, they have a shortage.”

She pulled out a fat pouch, dangling it in her fingers. “I have an initial five applicants ready to board your vessel.”

“I think there may be a few details of immigration, quarantine procedures-“

“I hold three thousand creds worth of crystals in my hand. I will instruct my executive assistant, Uglitha, to deliver them to you just prior to liftoff.” She raised an eyebrow. “I do not believe we need to trouble ourselves with petty bureaucratic details best left to petty bureaucrats at a later date. Do we?”

I stared at the pouch, a few details of my financial status coming to mind. The overdue insurance payment on my jumpship, damages due to the bar fight on Satellite, support payments to a number of ex-wives and similar trifles.

“I think my crew could find a nook someplace to tuck them away.”

“What a pleasure it is doing business with you, Outworlder Radnor.” She shook my hand with the grip of a dockloader. “And now, Uglitha will be happy to escort you back to your quarters.”

I eyed the grim figure by the draperies. “She’d be happy, huh? This I’d like to see.”

Uglitha scowled.


“Twenty five women! She was supposed to send only five!” I shouted at the lovely Uglitha. The crew’s dining room was packed wall to wall with Uthane femininity, luggage at their feet. Big Mike fidgeted nervously by the airlock, Stinky Ed hovering and drooling by the younger ones.

“Five at first. But kitchen friends hear, want to come also,” she retorted. “This big ship, you find room.”

“Oh yeah? I guess I can pressure tape a couple to the external drive stabilizers.” I looked away from Uglitha’s warm and sunny face and did a double take. A tall girl standing in front looked somehow familiar. Lots of expensive jewelry. Proud and haughty bearing. I was just mulling over what kind of potscrubbers Sinaren was hiring these days when it hit me. “Holy shit!”

Stinky Ed paused in his salivating appraisal of one of our new shipmates. “What’s up, boss?”

“That’s her! Paladara’s consort, Tristine!”

“Holy shit,” echoed Big Mike.

I confronted Uglitha. “Okay, Smiley. What in hell is going on?” She jammed knuckles on her hips and glared back at me.

“Tristine catch Paladara with other woman, have big fight,” she explained. “Hear about Sinaren’s plan from other maids, want to come. She go to Dropoff with other womans.”

“Oh no, she’s not. Time out, end of game!”

“You make agreement with Sinaren!”

There is an old Earth saying about when you think things can’t possibly get worse-they do. The airlock door to the dining room slid open and Ralph stumbled inside.

“She’s on her way down, boss!” he gasped. “Ms. Calori wants a word with you!”

At this point if I was wearing a sword I probably would have fallen on it. I grabbed Big Mike and Ralph, pushing them out into the hall. “Stinky! Close the airlock and try to keep those wedges quiet,” I ordered. A moment later Ms. Calori came striding up, the expression on her face somber. Not a good sign.

“Morning, Ms. Calori,” I greeted her. “How are things going with the Uthanians?”

“Not very well, I’m afraid. Can we talk?”

“Sure, but Stinky Ed is, um, waxing the floors in the crew’s quarters. Pretty slippery right about now.”

“Well... this won’t take long.” She glanced at Big Mike and Ralph. She was too shrewd a salesperson not to notice something off-key. “Another jumpship from the Guild landed last night. My sources tell me they’re going to make a better contract offer to Paladara.”

“Sorry to hear this. What happens now?”

“We have another ceremonial meeting today with the Uthanians. They’re very big on ceremonies, you might have noticed.”

“Yes Ma’am. We’ll wash behind our ears, put on our spiffiest duds and be on our best behavior.”

She pondered a drop of sweat running down Ralph’s chin but gave me a faint smile. “On that note, I’d like to compliment you and your crew on your exemplary behavior on Uthane, especially Mr. Valdez.”

“Yes, Ma’am. Stinky has been the soul of propriety.”

Big Mike had to cover his mouth to stifle a guffaw and his elbow bumped the airlock button. The door swished open.

Twenty four female Uthanian faces were framed in the doorway, the twenty fifth enthusiastically kissy-facing Stinky Ed, his hands cupping her buttocks.

There was a long moment of pained silence while Ms. Calori took this all in, her complexion changing from red to an interesting shade of puce. The she recognized Tristine and I thought her jaw was going to hit the deck. She slowly turned to me.

“Mr. Radnor, you have five minutes,” she grated out. “Five minutes to get those women off this ship as discreetly as possible. After the meeting with Paladara and the Uthanians today we are going to have a long talk.” And she stormed off up the corridor.

It took a lot longer than five minutes to escort our guests from the ship with all the arguing, shrill protests in machinegun Uthanian and an ongoing litany of threats from Uglitha. As the last one departed the ramp dragging her luggage I crooked a finger at Uglitha.

“What! You change mind now?” she demanded.

“Nope, I just need to chat with you a bit.”

“Chat! Time is money, Outworlder. I have to organize food and drink staff for Calori and Paladara meeting.”

“That’s what I need to chat with you about.”


 The meeting with the Uthanians later in the day started off on a different note than the previous one. We were welcomed with icy correctness and escorted to our places in the Grand Hall, Ms. Calori and her sales team to the big circular table, me and my crew packed off to the nosebleed section. A squad of amazons from the palace guard took up a position behind us, ostentatiously fondling the butts of their pulse guns. I had a good hunch word had somehow gotten around about the early morning fiasco on the jumpship. Paladara, Tristine and a fussy little interpreter filed in next and seated themselves in the ornamental chairs, followed by a flock of Sinaren’s serving girls setting out goblets and carafes of drink.

Paladara rose, nodded to Ms. Calori and started in about what a pleasure it was to see the first representatives from the Homeworlds, how at some future date they might consider doing

business with Interworld Mining and so on in Uthanian, dutifully passed along by the interpreter with an apologetic smile. She then proposed a toast, the goblets were raised and quaffed.

I watched Paladara as she drank, coughed and peered into her goblet. Ms. Calori stood up next, made her speech and proposed her own toast. Tristine, Calori’s sales staff were next to get up and flap their lips, propose a toast, the goblets being refilled by Sinaren’s crew.

Gradually the group relaxed, smiled at each other and began cracking jokes. Tristine held apart from this unexpected cordiality, glaring at Paladara over her goblet. Abrupty, she stood up and began screaming at her in Uthanian, pounding the table with her fist. Then she burst into tears.

Paladara looked at her for a moment, rushed up and embraced her. For awhile they cried on each other’s shoulders, babbling away. At the other end of the table Ms. Calori got unsteadily to her feet, grabbed her goblet and proposed a toast to them both. In what was either farce or high comedy Paladara tore herself from Tristine, rushed up and embraced Ms. Calori, and through the interpreter scampering in her wake declared on due reconsideration the contract for laserite crystals on Uthane should go to Interworld Mining. She smiled around at all, her hand discreetly sliding over Ms. Calori’s rump, a gesture which ether Tristine didn’t see or chose to ignore.

“Boss, could you tell me what the hell is going on?” Big Mike whispered.

“I had a case of the moonshine we picked up on Dropoff sent over to Sinaren to use in place of their fruit juice shit.”

Ralph, leaning closer to eavesdrop whistled silently. “Boss, you’re a genius!”

“In a small way,” I was forced to admit modestly, noting with relief the amazon palace guard behind us had stopped fondling their pulse guns and were eyeing us with bland approval.

A flock of Sinaren’s hostesses appeared and began passing out platters of food. Having had a painful lesson in the culinary ingredients of Uthanian food I pried open what looked like a snot sandwhich to find- you guessed it- a note wrapped around another laserite crystal.

“There are yet more of these to be had, Outworlder Radnor,” it read. “Uglitha awaits outside.”

I ordered Big Mike and Ralph to keep an eye on Stinky Ed who had zeroed in on one of the amazons and was swapping saliva in an alcove. As I crept out a rear entrance I looked back to see Paladara, Tristine, Ms. Calori and the whole bunch with their arms about each other’s shoulders, Ms. Calori teaching them to sing and old Earth song. It sounded a lot like “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”


“Moonshine. What an interesting name for a beverage.” Sinaren studied the earthenware jug in her hands. “Did you say it contains something you call alcohol?”

“About 200 proof.” I was back at the table in her digs, eyeing the pouch of Laserite crystals before her, Uglitha lurking in her usual place by the draperies. “Listen, if you’ve called me back here to talk about your mail order bride scheme I’ll have to point out everyone on Uthane must have heard of it by now.”

“Yes, such a pity. Such a potentially profitable enterprise.” She reluctantly put the jug back on the table. “No, I was considering what I have heard about the effects of drinking this moonshine and I surmise a potential demand. What is its provenance?”

“Excuse me?”

“Where did you obtain this beverage?”

“Two of the farmers on Dropoff are old buddies of mine. They have a couple of stills going, putting out some really smooth stuff.”

Sinaren’s hawk eyes bored into mine. It didn’t take much of a genius to figure what was on her mind. “How many jugs would you like the first shipment?” I asked.

She pushed the bag of crystals toward me and held out her hand. “Once more, a pleasure doing business with you, Outworlder Radnor.”

I endured another crushing dockloader handshake. “Of course, there’s still the issue of the farmers on Dropoff looking for their brides.” I nodded toward Uglitha. “You think she might want to make the trip into the waiting arms of true love?”

Sulking by the draperies Uglitha scowled.

The End

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Stephen King - Main - Neil Gaiman Interviews Stephen King

Stephen King - Main - Neil Gaiman Interviews Stephen King:

Like the link says -- an interview of King, by Gaiman.  King is a consistent stylist.  He has his ups and downs with story ideas, but you can always count on good writing.  And even my feelings about his rare klunker -- I should certainly just shut the hell up, because his catalog of good and great tales would fill a very, very large steamer trunk (of doom).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

"Room of Masks" by Chris Castle

He is above her, his eyes searching for any sign of expression. Her fingers tear into his back, drawing blood, skin accumulating under each nail. Each pant reverberates and echoes. Again, he looks for her eyes and only finds mist. In the dark room, their bodies are white enough to almost glow; ghosts who draw breath. As it reaches a conclusion he gasps but the sound is muffled and unreal. He presses harder and the tips of the gasmasks brush together. The friction of the rubber material colliding brings it all to an end.
For a second, the two lay next to each other, one synthetic breath following another. He looks to the ceiling and waits for the mist before the eyes to dissipate and clear. It feels, in those few moments, as if the room is another world; a swamp, a place shrouded in mystery and unknowable. A place, he realises, where they could feel safe. The fog clears and the single light-bulb comes into focus. The world returns and the idea of it make the heart sigh. He climbs off the bed, the body suddenly heavy and sluggish and stumbles to the bathroom. At the doorway, he glances back, only to see her still staring at the ceiling, the mist still in her mask, her dream-world not yet broken. The pang of envy he feels makes him grip the steel frame; the hatred that follows, watching her still so at peace, makes him turn away to the sink.
The procedure they’ve agreed on is a single candle. It is lit and he goes about his business. He carefully un-straps the mask, looking away from the mirror at all times. When it is free, he sets it in the small dish by the side of the sink. With eyes closed, he brushes teeth and follows this by stepping into the shower, lids not opening until the water sprays onto the naked face.
In the near darkness, he goes about these necessary duties, concentrating on the structure of each task in order to offset the panic he feels without the protection of the mask. The face itself feels not so much at risk as weightless. The ears feel glaringly exposed to every small sound in the room; her sighing, toes on the steel floor, even the friction of the body parts in motion. The eyes remained half-lidded in order to sustain the darkness but even they feel widened, at threat from any spark of light. The most unnerving, though, is the mouth. Even gritted tight, he is aware of every molecule of dust and dirt slipping freely through the clamped jaws and filtering down into the bodily system. Though he is momentarily free of the weight of the mask, the filth that enters makes him feel both bloated and clotted.
Finished, he slips the mask back on and tightens the straps, pulling them tighter than ever before. There is no question of it hurting the scalp, or drawing a gasp of pain from the mouth; the extra pressure is a welcome gift against the skull. In a flash, all the unregulated sounds of the room are removed from the senses. In its place, the controlled breathing, the filtered sounds, the faintly waxy quality of image returns. As he steps out of the small enclosed space, the candlelight trembles but does not extinguish. The woman rises, strips the sheet and walks straight past him. He sits on the edge of the bed, making sure no part of her face is visible to him as he hears the straps loosening in-between her fingers.
He looks around basement enclosure; nothing is on the walls, nothing adorns the ceiling save the bulb. On the floor there is no clutter or detritus but only the cool, clean surface of the floor. Even the bed where he sits is simply a mattress and nothing more, shorn of its single, thin sheet. There are no pillows or blankets. Somewhere, wired into the wall, is a temperature gauge that maintains the room at a level that is neither warm nor cool. It is a self styled Room of Nothing, save for themselves.
It is his favourite place in the world.
He slips back down onto the mattress and looks back up at the ceiling. Somewhere, seemingly far away, the woman goes about her duties. It is the place they come together and pull each other apart. Afterwards they remove all traces, the skin build up under the nails and the blood from each other’s lips. All of it is erased by candlelight in that small space, until nothing remains but the scars on the skin. If not for those blemishes, it would be as if it had never happened at all.
The sound of the straps brings him back and the woman pads back into the room, the water still drying on her skin. She waits until the body is almost dried and then lies on one side of the bed. A thin, invisible line divides them. She adopts a familiar pose, hands knitted together just below her chest, while his arms lay straight, each finishing just below the hips. Their breathing gathers speed and pace, until the noise almost fills the room with its volume. The panting swells until it is ragged and uneven. It is the sound of animals gone unchecked. The delirium engulfs the man; inside the body, he is aware of the heart setting to rupture. The briefest of flickers from the other side of the bed, tells him the woman is experiencing the same sense of total, furious panicking. He swallows hard and braces himself.
“It’s time,” he says, the voice metallic through the filters of the mask. It is a distorted, raging voice that is disturbed and one he recognises entirely as his own.
“But…” the woman’s voice pleads. A hand comes across the bed and a single nail almost brushes against the hairs of his wrist. He flinches.
“It’s over,” he says, trying to keep any trace of need or want out of the throat. He knows there will be a time when he will be the one to beg and he wonders if the woman will be strong enough to control the situation. Without waiting for another response, he rises. As he pads to the far door, her footsteps follow.
At the heavy door, he reaches for the steel handle and grips it. The woman takes his free hand and he squeezes it just as tight. It is always a moment of truly feeling alive and he savours it. In the next, he opens the door and draws her up to the stairs and the darkness. The door closes automatically, the system codes enabled. As the led lights disappear with the snap of the lock, he begins to lead her up the stairs, counting each one off inside the dark.
At the second door, she rests her head against his shoulder. The cool rubber surface of the mask chafes against his skin but it is a sensation he has always enjoyed. Aware that time is running out, he does not dwell on sentiment this time and instead, forcefully pushes the door open. The light bursts in and fills their masks until they are blind. As always, they stagger and then recover and before they can turn and run, the second door closes behind them.
The two of them walk through the living room and over to the staircase. The curtains are drawn, but the pre-dawn light is still strong. The dust of the TV screen is evident and the magazines on the table have somehow become spread out and messy. As they reach the stairwell, the postman’s letters slip through the letterbox, making them both jump. As they walk upstairs, a neighbour’s dog barks once.
In the bedroom, he pulls the suitcase from underneath the bed and sets it down. He opens it and begins to prise the mask from his skin. The suffocating heat of the room hits him as soon as his face is freed and he fights the urge to sneeze. He looks over to his wife and sees her hair has matted with the force of the straps. She tightened them like me, he thinks with a pang of sadness. She hands it over with a weak smile and then walks to the bathroom to straighten her hair. He holds the masks in each hand and looks at them, before carefully setting them back in the case. Outside, the first car engine ignites and begins its journey to work.
He straightens the tie as they approach the door and she flicks off a white speck from the jacket. As he steps outside into the sunlight, the two of them do not kiss. Instead, she waves from the door as he walks down the driveway to the car. As he adjusts the seat and turns the ignition, she waves once more and then disappears behind the door. The man looks up into the mirror and adjusts it. The glass is still foggy with early morning heat and for a moment, offers him a moment of memory: the true vision he felt behind the safety of the mask. He wipes it away with his thumb, smudging it. The memory lingers, though and he drifts into the muddle of the daily commute with a smile.