LepreCon 42

LepreCon Science Fiction Convention is Arizona’s Annual Sci-Fi & Fantasy Convention with an art emphasis. “Life, the Universe & Everything” is the theme for LepreCon 42 to be held June 23 – 26th, 2016 at the Park Terrace Suites in Phoenix, Arizona. The guests of honor include Jennie Breeden, creator of the webcomic The Devil’s Panties and D.C. Fontana, who wrote for Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Bonanza. For more information about the convention visit the LepreCon Website. Below, is where you can find me at the convention.

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Thursday, June 23

    9:00-10:00pm. What Is Steampunk? Suite C. Steampunk is often referred to as the “greatest era that never was.” Our panel discussion will open the door to what Steampunk is for those new to the genre. On the panel with me are Ben Woerner and Johnna Buttrick.

Friday, June 24

    1:30-2:00pm. Autographing. Suite E. You’ll find me happy to sign your wares. I’ll have a selection of my books available to purchase.

    5:00-6:00pm. Future of Steampunk Literature. Suite E. A brief look at the history of Steampunk literature and where the future might lead us. On the panel with me is Scott Wilke.

Saturday, June 25

    11:00am-Noon. Responding to Reviews. Suite C. Learn how creators can best respond to the good, bad, and funny reviews they receive online. On the panel with me are Ben Woerner, Elizabeth Leggett, KellyAnn Bonnell, Shanna Germain, and Jennie Breeden.

Sunday, June 26

    9:30-10:30am. Surveying the Universe. Suite E. Kitt Peak’s mission is evolving. A new large spectrographic instrument is being deployed on the Mayall 4-meter and a new Doppler Spectrometer is being deployed on the WIYN 3.5-meter. What are these instruments and what do we expect to learn? What’s different about this science than the astronomy that’s been done at Kitt Peak in previous years.

    Noon-1:00 pm. Steampunk Before It Was Steampunk. Suite C. A discussion of film, TV and books that had steampunk elements before the term “steampunk” was coined. On the panel with me are Michael Flanders and Hal Astell.

In addition to these events, there’s a masquerade, a terrific art show, demos and gaming. If you’re in Phoenix, Arizona this coming weekend, I hope you’ll come in out of the heat and join us at LepreCon!

Vampire Novella Giveaway

Back in 2009, my publisher approached me with a proposal to write a series of five interconnected novellas, which would be released as ebooks, featuring my Scarlet Order vampires. Once all five novellas were released, a print edition with all five novellas would be published. The series was called Dragon’s Fall and the first two novellas were released as planned. When the third novella was in production, the publishing company changed owners and the new owner decided to forego the remaining novellas and went straight to the final combined edition, which is the novel Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order.

Cover of Dragon's Fall: Bondage

As it turns out, those first two novellas are still available and it occurs to me this is a great opportunity to give readers who haven’t sampled my world a taste of the Scarlet Order vampires. I’m giving away five copies of the first novella, “Bondage.” Set in Hellenistic Athens, “Bondage” is the story of the slave Alexandra. Sold to Theron, a mysterious banker, she wonders about her new master who is never seen during the day. As time goes on, she notices that slaves called upon to serve Theron in his chamber in the night do not return the next morning.

When Alexandra’s turn comes she learns Theron is a vampire who binds his slaves, takes his pleasure with them, then drinks their blood. She refuses to be a victim, but as she fights his embrace, Alexandra ingests some of Theron’s blood. Now a vampire herself, she becomes Theron’s concubine. Yet even as she learns the ways of the vampire, Alexandra yearns for freedom…

I’m giving away five copies of the Kindle edition of the novella at Amazon. Follow the link below for details. You’ll find out instantly whether or not you won.

Click here for a chance to win an ebook copy of “Bondage.”

Please note, this book is recommended only for readers eighteen years or older. If you already have read Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order, you’ll recognize this as the first part of the novel, which now goes by its original title, “A Gorgon in Bondage.” If you’re a new reader and you win the novella and enjoy it, be sure to write a review on Amazon and then pick up a copy of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order so you can read the rest of the story!

Earth vs. Aliens

In recent posts, I’ve written about some of the ghost stories I’ve heard about from assorted observatories. However, there’s another topic people frequently ask about, and that’s whether or not I’ve ever seen a UFO or evidence of aliens. The short answer is that I have not. The closest I’ve come is that my undergraduate advisor, physicist C.B. Moore of New Mexico Tech, claimed to be responsible for the Roswell Incident, but that’s a story for another time.

In fact, looking up at the stars night after night, it’s hard not to wonder about the possibility of alien civilizations. There are so many and we now know that many of those stars have planets. It’s hard to imagine that life hasn’t evolved out there somewhere. Now what will that life be like? I hope it will be peaceful and benevolent and we can learn from our contact with it. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee this will be true. In fact, Stephen Hawking recently said in an interview with the newspaper El País, “If aliens visit us, the outcome could be much like when Columbus landed in America, which didn’t turn out well for the Native Americans. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach.”

Earth-vs-Aliens

This essentially summarizes the premise of T. Jackson King’s space opera novel Earth vs. Aliens. As the novel begins, astronauts mapping objects in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto’s orbit encounter an alien ship. The aliens offer to open diplomatic ties and invite the human captain to a meeting. When the humans arrive, the aliens pounce on them and attempt to eat them. Thinking fast, the humans left behind aboard the Uhuru—Jack Munroe and Max Piakowski—find a way to defeat the aliens and return home, but not before learning that by going beyond the orbit of Pluto, humans have shown that they are now subject to proving themselves and if they fail, they will be subjected by one of the many races of the stars and used as food stock.

Despite this clear threat and video footage of the initial attack, not all humans believe the alien threat. Without the support of Earth, Jack and Max must find a way to learn more about the predatory aliens and keep them from conquering the solar system. Through a series of engagements, they find allies among fellow humans and capture alien technology that help in their campaign. The upshot is an exciting novel with enough solid physics to make it believable and a look at several plausible predatory alien species with advanced star drives and weapons. In the end, the novel’s most compelling question is whether or not humans are a sufficiently dangerous predator to stand up to the alien threat.

You can find Earth vs. Aliens in paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.

The 1979 movie Alien demonstrated that predatory aliens can be a great subject for a horror story. Although T. Jackson King opts to tell a more science fictional story, he does show why encounters with aliens could be truly terrifying.

Sharks and the Walking Dead

Today is release day for my steampunk novel The Brazen Shark! It tells the story of samurai who steal a Russian airship in 1877 to foment war with Russia so the Shogunate will be reinstated. Meanwhile, a couple from New Mexico Territory on their honeymoon work to reveal the plot so the world won’t fall into chaos. This is the third of my Clockwork Legion series and it’s available at Amazon as an ebook and in print.

Admittedly, The Brazen Shark is not a horror novel, and this blog focuses on my horror fiction along with horror that I find engaging and worth recommending. Acheron Highway As it turns out, Sky Warrior Book Publishing, who publishes The Brazen Shark does have a number of fine, frightening novels and anthologies. About a week ago, I listened to the audiobook edition of the dark urban fantasy novel Acheron Highway by Gary Jonas. The novel opens when Miranda Hammond walks into the office of Jonathan Shade. The thing that makes this remarkable is that a stalker literally stole Miranda’s heart. She has an incision in her chest and the heart is just plain missing. Shade himself is no stranger to death, having defeated it once himself. He takes the case and while he does, he must contend with zombies who have been raised by the lovesick goddess Persephone who is seeking the man of her dreams, Charon, the ferryman who has gone missing. Shade reminds me a bit of Jim Rockford from The Rockford Files. He’s the kind of detective who does his best to stay out of the trouble he gets himself into. In one scene worthy of a Ray Harryhausen movie, Shade must fight animated skeletons in a bowling alley. The ending is by turns frightening, shocking, and set up perfectly. If you like dark urban fantasy, be sure to check out the Jonathan Shade novels by Gary Jonas. Acheron Highway is available at Amazon.

Sky Warrior also publishes These Vampires Don’t Sparkle and the Zombiefied series edited by Carol Hightshoe. These Vampires Don’t Sparkle includes my Scarlet Order vampire story “Luftgeist” which tells about Lord Draco’s fateful voyage aboard the Hindenburg. The anthology Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie includes my story “The Zombie Shortage,” which tells the story of a community that has recovered after the zombie apocalypse but find finds it has become too dependent on zombies. Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials includes my story “Born-Again Miners,” which is set in the same world as The Brazen Shark. It tells the story of mine owner Randolph Dalton who discovers a cheap source of labor. Dalton was the antagonist in the first novel of the Clockwork Legion series, Owl Dance. So yeah, turns out there’s some scary potential in my steampunk books after all!

Scary Fairy Tales

A trend that’s developed in recent years is to produce gritty reboots of classic fairy tales, which amuses me because in many cases, it’s hard to get grittier or more frightening than the original stories! Children’s book and movie adaptations often give us the impression that fairy tales are lighthearted moral tales. What’s more, the original Grimms’ Fairy Tales were actually titled Kinder- und Haus Märchen which translates as Children’s and Household Tales. In fact, the collection compiled by the brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm consists of old German folktales and they were meant to be passed down to children, so they could pass them down to their children, but that didn’t mean the tales were lighthearted!

Blood-Sampler-375 One of the best known of Grimm’s Fairy Tales is “Schneewittchen” or “Little Snow White.” In 2002, I purchased a copy of the tales in German which included the original notes. I was writing a lot of my vampire tales at the time and I couldn’t help but notice how vampiric the Snow White story is. In the story, Snow White’s mother pricks her finger while doing needlework. A drop of blood falls on new-fallen snow covering an ebony window pane which makes her wish for a pale child with lips bright as blood and hair of ebony. I realize that in medieval times, pallor was considered a sign of wealth, but the pale creature associated with blood made me think vampire almost right away. In the original notes, the Grimms describe a romantic sleigh ride with Snow White’s mother and father. The blood on the snow with the ebony almost takes on the connotation of black magic.

Later, Snow White’s step mother demands her heart as proof of her demise. This scene is even in Disney’s version. When Snow White does bite into the poison apple, she’s laid to rest in a glass coffin. In the Grimms’ original, the wicked queen actually kills Snow White three times. She’s resurrected not by a handsome prince’s kiss, but instead when the handsome prince’s men drop the coffin, dislodging the apple piece in her throat. I took these vampire-like elements, emphasized them, and wrote them as “The Tale of Blood Red” which appears in the collection Blood Sampler available in print from Alban Lake Publishing. You can also find the ebook at Amazon.

Another story I’ve been thinking about lately is “Der Teufel und seine Grossmuter.” The most straightforward translation of the title is “The Devil and His Grandmother.” In the story, interpreted this way, the devil appears before three runaway soldiers and gives them a whip that can produce gold from thin air. In seven years’ time, the devil will return and pose a set of three riddles. If the soldiers answer correctly, they can keep the whip. If they fail, they will be carried off to Hell to serve as the devil’s minions. This deal-with-the-devil story is pretty heavy stuff for a kid’s story. Not to mention the whole theological implications that the devil has a grandmother!

Now, “der Teufel” can also be translated as “dragon.” This is most pronounced in translations of the Biblical book of Revelation where Teufel is used both for Satan and the metaphorical dragon in St. John’s vision. When der Teufel appears in the story, he flies in on wings and breathes fire. To me, that seems more like a classical dragon than a devil, so I translated the story as “The Devil and his Grandmother.” Not too long ago, I gave the story a steampunk twist, set it in India and mechanized the dragon. “The Steam-Powered Dragon and His Grandmother” will appear in the anthology Gaslight and Grimm coming from eSpec Books. They are running a Kickstarter Campaign right now. Please click the link and check it out. There are some awesome rewards and it’s the best way to find out how a mechanical dragon can have a grandmother any more than the devil himself!

The Weather as Monster

Happy New Year! This year, I rang in the new year at Kitt Peak National Observatory. My shift started on the first and I wanted to get to the observatory before too many people who had been up late celebrating hit the road. Also, this time of year, there can be ice patches on the road to the observatory, which meant that I wanted to be as alert as possible during my drive. Up here at the observatory, the weather is force we have to contend with regularly. The photo below shows a rain storm happening in the valley below the observatory. Imagine what it’s like when a storm like that is on top of us!

Rain-120819

Clouds that threaten rain or snow keep us closed not only because optical telescopes can’t penetrate such a layer, but also because the precipitation will damage the equipment. One job of a telescope operator is to make sure the equipment remains functional and observers stay safe.

Rain and snow actually can present a bigger hazard than simply stopping observing. Rain can cause rock slides on the road to the observatory and has been known to unseat boulders larger than my car! The wind up here can blow strong enough that it’s almost impossible to open the door to the telescope enclosure. In fact, one night we had a wind gust so strong that it caught the door and slammed it into the back of a co-worker’s head, stunning her! She went to the emergency room, which is over an hour away, but fortunately she proved to be okay.

Sometimes when we get snow at Kitt Peak, it builds up on the catwalk that surrounds the outside of the building, where we can walk around and get an unobstructed view of the surroundings. If temperatures freeze that snow becomes chunks of ice which can plummet fifteen stories to the ground below. One of those hit my boss’s car, destroying his trunk.

Stephen King wrote about monsters lurking in a mysterious fog in his novella The Mist. However, sometimes I find the weather itself can be as scary as any monsters I might imagine out in it. I explore that idea in my forthcoming novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. When I write about weather trapping people in buildings and doing damage because something large has been hurled into a dome, I’m writing from experience!

I hope the weather doesn’t get too severe for you in this new year. If it does, I hope you can relax somewhere in warmth and safety with a good book. Until The Astronomer’s Crypt comes out, I might suggest Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order or Vampires of the Scarlet Order. All best wishes for the new year!

Pale Rider: Zombies versus Dinosaurs

I have made good progress working through the editor’s notes on my novel, The Astronomer’s Crypt. My progress would be better, except that I’ve also received edits for another novel—my steampunk adventure set in Japan called The Brazen Shark. In addition to editing two novels, life goes on, and I still have my work at Kitt Peak National Observatory, which means once a week I have either a long drive to the observatory or the long drive home. Because of the long drive, I was pleased to win a copy of the audio book Pale Rider: Zombies versus Dinosaurs by James Livingood in a contest sponsored by Dab of Darkness.

Zombies-Dinosaurs

This novella only took about an hour to listen to and I found its approach to both zombies and dinosaurs to be interesting. The zombies in this novel are humans infected by a contagion that causes their brains to mutate, turning them into sociopaths with an insatiable taste for flesh—especially human flesh. Like most zombie stories, what makes these zombies frightening is their ability to overwhelm their victims with sheer numbers. Any large, mindless group can become frightening when the numbers grow large enough.

One seemingly unlikely example from Kitt Peak are lady bugs. The lady bug has a well earned reputation as a fairly benign beetle. If one crawls on your hand, you simply blow on it and they fly away. The lady bugs of Kitt Peak are tenacious creatures. They do not fly away when you blow on them. They just dig in their feet. What’s more, they swarm in quantity. I’ve seen them mounded up against walls, making a black spot several feet wide. I was in one of the telescope domes when a swarm of lady bugs came by so thick, it sounded like a hail storm. What’s more, lady bugs in quantity have a very odd, almost electric smell. I didn’t use lady bugs in The Astronomer’s Crypt, but I might use them in a later chapter in the Wilderness of the Dead series!

The dinosaurs in Pale Rider were genetically engineered from birds, which seems plausible, especially since birds evolved from dinosaurs. It also seems rather frightening because birds can be very aggressive. It’s not hard to imagine a Tyrannosaurus Rex as a giant predatory chicken that doesn’t much care what it eats. What’s more, just because a dinosaur is an herbivore, it doesn’t make it safe. We’re very small creatures compared to some dinosaur species.

One of the creatures in The Astronomer’s Crypt is a monster from Apache legend called “He Who Kills With His Eyes.” This monster is also called “Big Owl.” My editor originally didn’t want me to use the name “Big Owl” because she thought owls were too cute, but my thought was that modern owls are just an evolved dinosaur. So perhaps the Apache monster from the beginning of time is actually a creature that’s a bit more dinosaur than owl.

Getting back to Pale Rider, the story imagines a world that has fallen into decay because of the zombie virus. Nevertheless, humans have endured, partly because they brought dinosaurs back to help them. The story follows Pale Rider, a man who works to clear potential farm land of zombies, so it can be worked by farmers and their dinosaurs. Pale Rider gets a hold of a particular promising plot of land for a good deal. The reason for the good deal is that it’s infested with zombies. Pale Rider recruits help and from there the novella pretty much gives you what you expect from a story with “Zombies versus Dinosaurs” in the title. Our human characters are threatened by both. One particularly inventive part of the story is when the zombies seem to act in concert and find a way to control the dinosaurs, giving us double the fright factor. I found the story fun and worth a listen.

I’ll just wrap up by mentioning that if you do like zombie stories, you can find stories by me, along with a lot of other great writers, in the anthologies Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie and Zombiefied: Hazardous Material. In the former anthology, I tell a story about people becoming reliant on zombies and the consequences that result. In the latter anthology, I show the menace that comes from zombies that swarm, but the real horror is in the mind that controls them!