A Vanishing Past

I’ve been working on a new short story that deals with a topic that’s at once close to my heart and more than a little frightening in a real-world sense. Set in the world of my Old Star/New Earth series, it tells a story of space pirate Captain Ellison Firebrandt and his father. Unfortunately, his father suffers from dementia. This part of the story is inspired by my mom who suffered the same thing. Despite my mom’s dealing with dementia, I never really realized that it wasn’t “just” brain chemistry but involved a physical alteration of the brain. This public domain image from Wikipedia provides a pretty dramatic illustration of the effects that can happen.

Alzheimer's_disease_brain_comparison

In the last years of my mom’s life, she lived in fear of forgetting who she was. Her short term memory became quite poor and she would forget whether or not she’d taken medications without assistance. Although she would remember events in her distant past with some clarity, I found that she started to forget events from my past, including many of the friends I’d had in high school and college. In a way, it felt as though my own past were being slowly erased, which I think was scary for both my mom and I.

One of the challenges of the anthology I’m writing for is that I have to show the person finding a path through the disorder. Unfortunately, no cures have been identified and there are few medications or therapies that can help, which makes finding a path out difficult. Fortunately, I’m writing science fiction, so I can imagine some hope in the future.

Writing science fiction, I do give the story a bit of an additional horror angle. The company Bradbury Firebrandt works for uses nanotechnology to keep him strong. He’s been an asteroid miner for so many years, he can do it even with the impairment of dementia and the company uses technology to keep him working, almost like an enslaved zombie. This is a future that I don’t want to see, but can imagine all too easily.

As for how our character saves himself, I’ll leave that as something you can read about if and when the story gets published—and I’ll be sure to share that news. What I will say is that I’m very thankful for the final years when I got to spend time with my mom and hear the stories of the early years of her marriage to my dad and spending time living with her cousin in post-World War II Los Angeles. My own past may have vanished somewhat from her life, but I still got to know her better and hopefully as I work through the story, I’ll be able to convey at least a few of the complex emotions that go with helping an older relative through the difficulties of dementia.

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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!

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!

Space Zombies

This past week, I watched the series Captain Herlock: The Endless Odyssey with my daughters. For those not familiar with the character, Captain Herlock is a space pirate whose primary objective is living a free life. His name is most often translated as Harlock—I gather in Japanese the “her” and “har” sounds are made with the same characters. His name is always pronounced as “Harlock.”

harlock

In this story, an entity called the Noo, which came into existence during the first hellish milliseconds of the Big Bang has found a portal to our time, and plans to use the Earth in a plot to break free and assert control over the universe. The Noo is essentially fear incarnate and it kills the first four scientists who discover it and possesses their bodies, essentially using the bodies as its slaves.

noo

These zombies are in some sense your classic slow moving, shambling variety with some important differences. Controlled by the Noo, they are wicked smart. They are also powerful zombies, who control a space vessel and guns capable of wiping out a fleet of spaceships. If smart zombies with guns don’t scare you enough, they can control you at a distance through your fear. I like these zombies because at some level, they go back to the roots of zombie lore, and are essentially slaves, yet they have some differences that make them as fresh as rotting zombie corpses can be.

Also, related to recent science news, the zombies used Pluto as a base for a while. It was interesting to see how the animators viewed Pluto and its moon Charon. Although they didn’t make direct reference to it, Pluto has greater significance in creator Leiji Matsumoto’s science fictional universe. In Galaxy Express 999 Pluto is the planet where humans who upload their minds into machines leave their bodies in cold storage. It strikes me these bodies could have been ripe vessels for Noo!

Unfortunately, finding all the DVDs of The Endless Odyssey is quite difficult in the United States. Volume 1 isn’t too difficult to find, but the rest are only intermittently available and often for over $100 per 3-episode DVD. Fortunately, the series is available to watch on YouTube. Hopefully, the owners will release a new edition at some point!

Zombiefied 3 low res

What’s not difficult to find are good zombie stories in the United States. Two great anthologies are Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie and Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials. You’ll find a story by me in each along with stories by such authors as Lyn McConchie, Cynthia Ward, David Boop, Dayton Ward, and Rie Sheridan Rose.

Also, thinking of places known for zombies, I’ve added a countdown to the sidebar. I’ll be signing my Scarlet Order vampire novels at Boutique du Vampyre in New Orleans on August 22 from 3 to 6pm. If you live in New Orleans or will be visiting the Big Easy that weekend, please drop by. I’d love to meet you!

Half off Some Scary Books

Smashwords is having a special promotion through July 31, which means this is an opportunity to grab anthologies featuring my horror stories for 50% off the regular ebook price!

These Vampires Don't Sparkle

You’ll find my story “Luftgeist” in These Vampires Don’t Sparkle. In the story the Nazi party attempts to hire the Scarlet Order vampires, but Desmond Drake turns them down, feeling Nazis are too evil for his band of vampire mercenaries to deal with. Because even vampires can be destroyed, Drake must flee aboard the Hindenburg. On the fateful flight, he encounters a strange being even more powerful and deadly than himself.

As for the anthology’s title—Sparkly Vampires? Oh Pluuueeeaasse! Since when have there been sparkling vampires? Are they a new brand of champagne or what? Vampires are supposed to be wily, tricky, and even evil. And they never, ever sparkle. In this book, you’ll find stories with some refreshing takes on vampires: vampire heroes, vampire villains, humorous vampires, among others. Check out 27 stories with the most bite by Lyn McConchie, Cynthia Ward, Lillian Csernica, Rhonda Parrish, John Lance, and other exceptional authors. Grab some garlic, wooden stakes, and crucifixes, and get ready to party, because these vampires don’t sparkle.

These Vampires Don’t Sparkle is available at Smashwords. Use the code SSW50 on checkout to get the 50% off discount.


Zombiefied 3 low res

It’s the apocalypse—again! It’s come in the form of shambling, brain eaters. What are you going to do? Pick up your copy of Zombiefied: Hazardous Material of course!

The anthology edited by Carol Hightshoe and published by Sky Warrior Publishing features my story “Born Again Miners.” The story is set in the steampunk world of Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves, or a closely related one. The mine owner Randolph Dalton finds a mysterious patent medicine salesman making a pitch to his workers. Dalton sends the men scurrying back to work but some time later, he finds the patent medicine salesman can cure what ails a mine owner losing money—he has a way to introduce cheap labor. Dalton is definitely interested, but might find the price a little more than he wants to pay!

The anthology features a total of 27 humorous, poignant, scary, and thought-provoking stories by such writers as Lyn McConchie, Cynthia Ward, David Boop, John Lance, and Rhonda Parrish. One read and you’ll be Zombiefied!

Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials is available at Smashwords. Use the code SSW50 on checkout to get the 50% off discount.

Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials

Quarantined: What Now?

It’s the apocalypse—again! It’s come in the form of shambling, brain eaters. What are you going to do? Pick up your copy of Zombiefied: Hazardous Material of course!

Zombiefied 3 low res

The anthology edited by Carol Hightshoe and published by Sky Warrior Publishing features my story “Born Again Miners.” The story is set in the steampunk world of Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves, or a closely related one. The mine owner Randolph Dalton finds a mysterious patent medicine salesman making a pitch to his workers. Dalton sends the men scurrying back to work but some time later, he finds the patent medicine salesman can cure what ails a mine owner losing money—he has a way to introduce cheap labor. Dalton is definitely interested, but might find the price a little more than he wants to pay!

The anthology features a total of 27 humorous, poignant, scary, and thought-provoking stories by such writers as Lyn McConchie, Cynthia Ward, David Boop, John Lance, and Rhonda Parrish. One read and you’ll be Zombiefied!

Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials is available at:

What Scares You Now?

“What Scares You Now?” was the name of a panel I was on at Bubonicon 46 on Saturday, August 2. On the panel with me were Craig T. Butler, Cherie Priest, Joan Saberhagen, and Scott Phillips. Craig performed an admirable job as the panel’s moderator.

Horror Panel

As we introduced ourselves, the subject of centipedes came up and several of us told scary centipede stories. I told about the time a centipede emerged from the console of the 4-meter telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory, did a few laps around the console, then disappeared down through the same hole never to be seen again. Scott told about a centipede carrying off a roach motel, pleased with the box lunch it found.

Much of the panel focused on zombies and vampires. Cherie Priest made the interesting observation that these two creatures are opposite sides of the same coin. Being a vampire makes you powerful, desirable, and in control, while being a zombie makes you undesirable and strips you of your control. I added my observation that in a way Dracula is to Americans what Faust is to Germans. In Faust a man sells his soul for knowledge. Dracula sold his soul for eternal life and power.

Joan Saberhagen mentioned that very little fictional scared her, but she did note that having her senses deceived was very frightening. We then discussed the real world issue and terror that comes of people living long enough to face dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. We also discussed the real world problems of plague and terrorists, and how horror monsters can serve as metaphors for discussing these issues.

Another thing we discussed was how zombies and vampires came into the popular consciousness from folktales. As such, folktales are a great source of inspiration for new terrors. For my own part, I turned to Apache legend to find a monster for my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt.

So, what scares you now? Are there any monsters in fiction that have particularly frightened you? Any good centipede stories you’d like to share? Let me know in the comments.

Before I sign off, let me say congratulations to Kenneth S. who won an ebook copy of Dragon’s Fall: Rise of the Scarlet Order. Thanks to all who entered!