After some heartening words from a few friends and some sage advice from a few experts, I’ve decided to try the whole #Kickstarter thing afresh, but this time using #Indiegogo and not “Kickstarter” per se (Indiegogo has a “flexible funding” option which allows me to keep all funds raised even if I don’t meet my goal). Worry not, though, dear friends — I will NOT be bombarding your Timelines with endless plugs and requests for money or clicks or shares. Instead, I will make infrequent appeals only once a week or so, just to keep public interest alive, and will mostly run things from my Twitter account. My goal is still around $3,200, but this time within 90 days (a much longer period of time), with a completely revamped description of the project (with much clearer goals), a much better edit of the video, and of course, a much more sane approach to marketing and a much more diverse set of rewards for potential backers. So, if you were turned off by my initially ham-handed approach to audience building here on FB and Twitter, please, consider giving me a second chance . . . and please consider donating to my #Kickstarter! Donations start at just $5, and go all the way to $100, and rewards include everything from free eBooks to signed physical copies, to t-shirts, posters, and coffee mugs and other swag. In conclusion, please consider throwing some spare change my way . . . I will love you forever, and at the very least, I can promise to deliver you a rollicking good story that might just blow your mind
Yo peeps, what be up, yo? Me, I've been hard at work completing Book 3 of "The Reality Engineers" and their adventures, but I've also been putting my nose to the digital grindstone in order to crank out yet another book trailer . . . a trailer just for Book 2! Check it out below!
Wow! My first-ever big time BOOK REVIEW, by the folks who manage "Fantasy and Sci-Fi Rock My World." Go read it right this very second, while the virtual ink is still warm! I'm all goosebumps right now . . . especially considering how much the reviewer loved it! Check it out at the link below!
Book Review: 'The Reality Engineers: Volume 1: What Happens At Con Stays At Con' by William Andy Hainline
by Jake Vyper
Published on 02-21-2014 11:23 AM
Escapism feels like a fiesta in William A. Hainline's The Reality Enginners, a sci-fi comedy novel that celebrates geek culture with undying passion. Like the fan conventions that define its charms, Volume 1: What Happens in Con Stays At Con takes you to a crucible of worlds, a hodgepodge of modern speculative entertainment where fandoms collide and geeks rule. If Kick Ass and Ready Player One had a love child, it would probably resemble something like The Reality Engineers.
The story is set in a popular convention called RetCon XVIII, and amongst the celebrities, cosplayers, and geeks who gather in this wild event, are two gifted scientists with a knack for mind-blowing technology and fandom knowledge. Desirée “Dizzy” Roentgen is a bad-ass inventor/heroine who reminds me of Hit-Girl from Kick Ass. The other genius is Terry "Gadget" Anders; his invention is a helm that gives him psionic powers–telepathy, telekinesis, and force-field formation. Their talents are as impressive as their expertise on comic books and popular sci-fi shows like Doctor Who and Star Trek.
Much of their activities are described in techno-babble; their conversations are dashed with in-joke humor, fandom quotes, and sexual innuendos (which could be a mix of all, at times). Some non-geeks might have to Google some references to fully get the easter eggs that Hainline expertly weaves in the story. The allusions don't feel forced; most of the time, if you get what the characters meant, you'd laugh at their outrageous contexts. They have to work together, along with their friends, to hunt down a tentacled alien disguised as a sexy female Vulcan who targets lonely geeks.
The extrapolation of technology sounds smart; Hainline would describe the inventions' mechanical aspects in fine details as if he knows exactly how they work. Their visual style is impressive and often pleasantly weird; yet you don't see the full potential of their functions til the latter half of the story. The early scenes drag a bit, with excessive demonstrations of their geeky passions: they debate about the philosophy of Star Trek fandom, play Dungeons & Dragons, flirt and role-play as they awkwardly quote famous sci-fi lines. The book's witty humor and visual spectacles would definitely entertain, especially if you're a part of the fandoms discussed. Hainline's anything-goes style has its ups-and-downs: It's fun to read, but sometimes I wished that the characters would be more focused on the plot, their quest to kill a monstrous alien.
The story, eventually gains momentum, however; it gets more interesting when the enemy is unleashed, causing havoc in a convention. The motive of the alien is strange; it's like a parody of alien invasion movies, and with the rampant chaos, I had a feeling that the scenes would go Hentai-mode, but Hainline keeps it at PG-13 level.
Hey, let's face it...if you were an alien on a jizz-collecting mission and you needed a bunch of horny men who were willing to stick their Shai-Hulud into almost anything with two legs and a heartbeat, where better than a con?
There are a lot of cute surprises such as pistol-wielding gorillas, pseudo-science, and time-travel, but the novel's strengths aren't just composed of its visual flares. Underneath its comedy and plethora of geek references is a story about alienation, courage, and friendship. It shows an honest view of the culture: geeks and nerds are alienated in the real world. This inspiring speech boldly presents the truth that the whole novel boldly conveys:
Basically, what I’m saying is that us nerds, geeks, and fanboys? We’re the intellectual Other. Because way deep down in our con- sciousness, there’s something diﬀerent going on. There’s a part of us that never embraced the process of social homogenization that society likes to call ‘growing up.’ They associate maturity with what they call reality, a narrow subset of pos- sibilities that they privilege. And man, they worship their reality, and treat any- body who doesn’t buy into it as the Other. But something deep in the core of who we are rejects their reality, just as they reject us because we reject it, an auto- immune response on the paradigm level. We dream of things like dragons, tele- porters, time machines, and aliens . . . of unknown futures, of other worlds. They dream about banging porn stars and getting promotions. Honorable pur- suits, to be sure, but ultimately meaningless, simplistic, Mundane, with little imaginative significance. Look at the past twenty-five years of scientific, techno- logical, and philosophical progress, and name me one mover and shaker who wasn’t a geek, nerd, or hippy, or some other type of social fringe event? When has a quote-unquote ‘normal’ person ever shattered the boundaries of human understanding? When has ‘fitting in’ ever gotten anyone into the history books? True fact: It hasn’t. Does being diﬀerent guarantee you a spot? No. But being diﬀerent and being great? Now that will earn you top marks. Notice, though, that ‘being diﬀerent’ is in the prerequisites. The Mundanes, they know this. They never speak it, but they know it in their bones. It’s why they Otherize us— makes ‘em feel more significant. Well, I say it’s high-time we toss ‘em kicking and screaming out of Plato’s Cave . . . help them wake up from the self-induced sleep they call ‘reality.’ Hell, you ask me? Freaking the Mundanes isn’t just fun . . . it’s a frakkin’ moral imperative! And the best way to do that is standin’ in the proverbial elevator with our backs to the door. Or by banging a Vulcan in there, either way.
The Reality Engineers is smart and funny. Hainline's passion for the geek community is genuine. Because of its comedic elements, nostalgia, and spectacular action, I would put it in the same shelf with John Scalzi's Red Shirt and Erenest Cline's Ready Player One. These days, the sci-fi industry needs more fun and optimism, and Reality Engineers is a rare kind of novel that fills that void.
Ladies and gentle-dudes! I am both ecstatic and swelling with pride as I say unto thee, verily, that the PRINT edition of "The Reality Engineers: Volume 2: The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth" is NOW AVAILABLE from CreateSpace, and will soon be available to order from Amazon. The list price is just $11.99 — a bit more expensive than Volume 1 because of its length — so go and grab yourself a copy right this second! It's sexier, darker, and far weirder than Volume 1, but of course you'd expect that, seeing as how it's a sequel. But worry not . . . it still has that same madcap whimsy as the first volume, and more! SEE the characters struggle with the real world; WITNESS apocalyptic battles between good and evil; HEAR the strains of Dizzy's guitar, and FEEL the pathos as Gadget quietly lusts after her. It's all right here in this, the SEQUEL to the soon-to-be-cult-classic, The Reality Engineers: What Happens At Con Stays At Con ! It's also available from Smashwords in eBook form, as well! So go check it out right this very second . . . get it while the ink is still fresh, and marvel at its wonders!
Hey everybody! Since the first trailer proved so popular, I've created a "remixed" version of it with all-new visual effects and a revamped soundtrack! It's uploading to YouTube as we speak . . . so, wait about fifteen minutes and then go check it out! 'Tis most righteously awesome!
This is it, folks! The OFFICIAL book trailer for my novel, "The Reality Engineers: Volume 1: What Happens At Con Stays At Con"! And yes, to answer your unspoken question, I did in fact make it myself, using only Final Cur Pro X and Motion from Apple, plus some royalty-free music from SmartSounds. Enjoy!
An enormous, antiquarian book lies before Gadget, latched on the side with a little bell attached to what remains of the lock. The crusty, weather-beaten pages are piled deep and thick, the top, fore-edge and foot of the book are all gilded, the gold shimmering in the half-light that haunts this place. Gadget runs his fingers over the book’s cover, and finds it rough-cut curls carved into its surface. So many creases, so many folds, as though the leather has been worked like steel. Then, he is seized by a sudden—but certain—knowledge of the cover’s material, and it is a sinister knowing indeed, for the book is bound in human flesh, dried and cured to look like leather, sculpted and decorated with arcing lines of alien script. The words look both beautiful and threatening, an oblong and awkward spiral of indecipherable runes and symbols that waltz from the outer edge of the binding to the center, where there is a dusty inlay, and there, ringed in copper rivets, is an oval-shaped plaque, made of a thin sheet of brass. He passes his fingers over the thin, filmy desert of dust-critters that covers the metallic plaque like a death-shroud, and finds that the metal and its lettering are glowing with a fierce bright light the color of a candle flame’s heart.
Gadget unsnaps the latch on the side; the lock is long broken. The bell tinkles a few stale notes, a clarion call in the brightening gloom around him. He opens the book, and its binding lets loose a shrill whispering creak. More dust flies forth. The pages are cobwebbed. Surely it has been centuries since this book has been opened. Why does it feel so familiar, then? Brushing the cobwebs and the filmy residue on the paper aside, he looks at the mammoth pages. They’re almost parchment-like; he suspiciously runs his outstretched fingertips down the surface of the pages, so as to read them better. He jerks his fingers back immediately. More human skin, this time sliced thin and flexible as any paper. It’s perfectly preserved, not dried or cured; to the touch it feels like the flesh on his arm, with a faint warmth to it, like the warmth possessed by freshly-dripped candle-wax. As the cloud of dust-mites dissipates, he can both feel and see just exactly what was used to ink the letters, with their mangled and yet somehow graceful strokes, looking almost like the alien glyphs on the cover, only tiny, infinitesimal, and almost microscopic. It’s some form of mathematics, he’s certain of that; but what sort of physics or concepts do these maths describe? He doesn’t need to guess at what the ink used to make the markings is, or what it was, once upon a long, long time ago. The color of the letters is a deep, fiery red, the lines bordered on all sides by more runes and flowing symbols, and—
No sooner thought than done. The dried, carefully calligraphed blood-strokes on the page break into iridescent ribbons on the air above the page. A feeling grows inside him, an uneasy feeling, a feeling that something is not wrong with the book, but with him . . . he gazes down, his eyes locked in movement left to right, reading and reading, and he sees hand is turning transparent. His eyes leave the page, and he is off, fading through the Nexus of all Worlds. Shadows consume him as he is translated from the language of flesh into the strange alien language of the book. A chorus of a ghosts cats is wailing and moaning and mewling in his ears, calling to the stars above, familiar stars that now rearrange themselves into alien constellations. Dizzy and lightheaded, too lightheaded to panic any more, he doesn’t bother with the fact that his breath is heavier than he is. Gently then, out blots not just sight, but the very fabric of all known space itself. The world of form and shape is swirling away down the Vortex, and he’s going with it. He’s being pushed out of his own Story and steered by some phantom captain into the waters of Another. His atoms scatters from their course, the destination of which he knows is only the grave. Next, she’s derailed and detoured, sailing off onto a tributary that ventures away from the main river of life and time, washing him onto and into the never-bright rapids of the Void that lies between All Worlds, All Times, All Places, All Dreams . . . and of course, All Nightmares. He tries to scream, but no sound issues forth; he tries to fight the translation process, only to watch his fingers glow with light and deconstruct into molecules, then into atoms, then into particles, and those into pure information, pure abstraction, pure thought and idea, becoming one with the mathematics on the page . . .
Well, I've reached a major milestone in Book 3 today: I just barely crossed the 80,000 word threshold about an hour or so ago. This means that the book is almost halfway written, and that I only have four more chapters to write, plus the epilogue. Then it's on to book 4, the first third of which — and the exceedingly complex fantasy mythology I've created for it — is already pretty much written; it's just sitting there, dusty on the shelf, waiting to be incorporated into the new overall storyline . . . with of course my sci-fi protagonists from Books 1-3 showing up halfway through the High Fantasy proceedings to wreak havoc — er — save the day. Oh, and I sold a book on Amazon today! $1.37 in royalties! Whoot-whoot! Also — Book 3 will be slightly longer than Book 2, but Book 4 will be much larger than either Books 1, 2, or 3 . . . because it's the launching point for an entire new chapter in the gang's adventures. Hope to see you within their pages!
“So what’s the plan?” asked Gadget as they walked out back to Dizzy’s garage—which was more of a small aircraft hangar, in truth— in which wonders untold were stored, as well as The Fangirl, Dizzy’s own version of a Battlestar Galactica “Viper jet”: An ambulance-conversion-model of a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor limo-style end-loader combination car—in other words, a jet-black clone of the Ectomobile from Ghostbusters, only with its own bevy of specialized enhancements that had nothing to do with the busting of ghosts, but rather made it resemble the tricked-out LTD from Men In Black, as the improvements Dizzy had made were specifically geared towards flight. This included structural reinforcement with a framework of roll-bars installed at fixed positions outward from the cabin and door-frames, and a wide pair of wings that stretched for fifteen feet in either direction from out underneath the doors. The body of the car was jacked up on specially-designed struts engineered from special materials available only to Mjolnir Technologies Aeronautics Division. Four gigantic monster-truck tires protruded from the struts, driven by a four-way power-train extending from an enormously powerful electrodynamic motor hidden beneath the hood. Attached to the back of the vehicle—and extending its length another five feet and attached via a special framework of spiral-shaped girders—were two gigantic jet-thrusters, replete with afterburners, and two large fuel compartments on either side of the cabin, just aft of the rear doors. Cables and wires and hoses snaked all over the car’s body, and it had a large pair of follow-spot klieg-lights for headlights. Written across one of the thrusters were the words: STARBUCK LIVES! The other one, on the other side, bore the hull-registry, DEFIANT II, NCC-75634. Coolant vapor steamed off the valves and hoses as Dizzy pressed a button on her keychain that activated the engines . . . a low rumbling hum and a high-pitched whine emanated from the car’s fuselage. The repulsivators—mounted on the underside and intended to provide additional lift—lit up with a cold, cobalt light, bathing the hangar in a pale luminescence.
“I am not getting in that thing,” said Victor, still carrying the EVI.
“Don’t make me beat you, Victor,” grumbled Misto. “Now get in the freakin’ car, asshole.”
“You call that a car?” he retorted.
“No,” corrected Dizzy, grinning. “She’s not a car. She’s the Fangirl. And she’s our ticket back to the university. The roads will be too dangerous . . . too packed with cars and trucks and people trying to get the frak outta Dodge. We’ll be flying the unfriendly skies instead, than you very much. And to answer your question, Gadget dear . . . well, right now, there is no plan. First, we get to safety. Then we plan. We can’t very well fight back—which I reckon we’ll darn-tootin’ have to do real soon—if we’re all dead and shiznit, right? We’ll begin by finding out where Harkonnen has taken Buffy and Lorenna—I’m assuming Victor is correct in that he’s absconded to the old mental institution just outside of town—and get them back, and then we’ll tackle this alien-invader business. Easy-peasy.”
“Says you!” muttered Angelus.
“Shush!” she quipped. “Okay then. Let’s go to school.” She punched another button on her key-ring. All four of the sedan’s doors opened. “Misto, you’re up front with me. Victor, you’ve got Schrödinger-and-EVI duty. Angelus and Gadget, you take the far side in the back with Victor.
One by one, they piled up the steel stepladders and into the car. Dizzy’s exoskeleton proved no trouble; it was sleekly-designed enough to just barely allow her to fit in the vehicle. Presently, she tossed a giant, lumpy duffle bag onto Misto’s lap.
“Oof!” he said.
“Supplies,” she offered when he frowned at her.
“Oof! I’m squished!” said Victor, snug between Gadget and Angelus.
“Buckle up, children,” said Dizzy. “Safety first.”
“Yeah,” said Angelus, “Ya don’t wanna be air-pizza, Vic. Do as your mom says. Like I do what Gadget’s mom says every night.”
“Fuck you,” said Gadget.
“Roger, Tower, we are ready for take off, roger, roger, wilco,” said Dizzy into a make-believe microphone. “Inertial dampener circuits are online and functioning within parameters.”
“Dizzy, what are you doing?” asked Gadget.
“Pretending,” she said with a shrug. “I figured we could use a bit of fun to distract us, y’know? Leastways, I could. Except of course for the part about the inertial dampeners. We kinda need those if we don’t wanna get squished.”
“Oh, Jeez, Diz,” said Misto, “Can we just—”
“Shush!” she said again. She cleared her throat and resumed: “Roger that tower, we’re ready for take-off, roger-roger. Okay, prepare for compartment closure—”
Dizzy punched a button on the purple-leather-plated dash, and the doors closed with powerful, mechanical latching noises. A hissing noise indicated oxygen flooding the compartment as the seals engaged.
“Roger that, alpha, zulu, pea-knuckle, chrysanthemum,” said Dizzy, “Betamax, eagle-eye, dichotomy—”
“For Christ’s sake, Dizzy!” said Misto. “Newsflash! There’s an imminent alien invasion and our friends are in danger! Jeez!”
“Oh, yeah, right, sorry,” she said with a sigh, and stuck the key in the ignition. “Got caught up in the moment, I guess. Okay. I gotta go slower ‘cause there’s so much weight. Ahem, Misto. But don’t worry. I think she’ll still McFly.”
“That’s so reassuring,” said Victor. “So instead of dying at the hands of a madman within the confines of my own mind, I’ll die in the wreckage of a flying car with a madwoman at the controls. I’ll bet that when the University crafted their policy on gender equality, such a thing was not in the fine-print, Roentgen.”
Dizzy poked her tongue out at him, turned the key in the ignition, the electrodynamic engine snarled into life like a rabid hellhound leaping at the throat of Cerberus. She punched a button on the steering wheel, and the glove compartment popped open. In it was a leathery bunch of straps, a small metal cylinder, and a lighter. She reached in and unfolded the leather, and a pair of old, World War II bombardier’s flight-goggles emerged. Dizzy strapped them on, pulling the cap down around her moussed-up hair. She opened the bluish-metal cylinder, and a cigar fell out. She popped it into her mouth, bit off the tip, spat, and then replaced the cigar between her teeth. She opened the Zippo and flicked a flame into life, lit the cigar, and sucked once or twice on the end of it.
“Boy, you really know how to torture a guy, don’t you,” said Gadget.
Acrid smoke filled the compartment. Victor coughed.
“Wussy,” observed Angelus.
“Fear not, Vic,” said Dizzy. “The air-filtration system will take care of the smoke. I just had to have my ‘Starbuck moment,’ if ya know what I mean.”
“Er, no?” said Victor.
The snarling, growling engine revved up as Dizzy fired the accelerator. The hellhound sounded ready to chew through its chains.
“There is no earthly way of knowing . . .” singsonged Misto, just loud enough to be heard, “of which direction we are going . . .”
The aircraft gauges lit up a bright yellow. Their needles ticked up and down. Dizzy punched a button, and an enormous, rumbling whiz-whir came from outside the car as the garage’s roof split in half. The halves began moving apart on clanking chains.
“And the rowers certainly aren’t showing any sign that they are slowing,” sang Gadget.
“Or is the grisly reaper mowing,” finished Angelus, looking up at the saucers above.
“Ready, everybody?” asked Dizzy, puffing on her cigar, and turning her head toward Gadget, then toward Victor.
“I’m gonna go ahead and say no,” said Angelus. “Safe answer.”
“I’ve had safer things to do,” said Victor, nodding.
“Whoever thinks this is a bad idea,” said Gadget, “Raise your hand.”
Four hands went up, all except for Dizzy, who merely rolled her eyes. “You guys, I swear. What a bunch of pussies.”
“That’s my girl,” said Misto, mussing Dizzy’s hair. “Now then, can we please get going?”
“Don’t mind if I do!” crowed Dizzy. “Ladies and gentle-dudes, without further ado”—she yanked back on the wheel—”YEEEEEEEE-HAW. . . !”
The car shot up and into the blazing morning sunlight, flying just below the armada of alien flying saucers. Then the car shot forward, rocketing toward Wenzel University, with the twin STARBUCK LIVES! and DEFIANT II, NCC-75634 thrusters blasting out bright, orange hellfire.
Check it out . . . courtesy of my new best friend in the entire universe, Jeanine Henning, may I proudly present the brand-spankin'-new cover art for The Reality Engineers: Volume 1 . . . Thanks Jeanine, for helping me realize my vision! If any of you were wondering what Dizzy looked like in my head, well, let all your questions be answered!
Today, I bought a digital copy of “(The Royal Philharmonic) Plays the Music of Meat Loaf.” Pretty awesome, especially their version of “Rock And Roll Dreams Come Through,” easily my favorite song of all time. I know it’s cheesy and perhaps lacks the depth of other songs out there, but something in Jim Steinman’s elaborate, theatrical power-chords and maudlin, over-the-top imagery speaks to me on a level that I can’t quite comprehend, let alone put into words. A lot of people like to hate on and diss the music of the 1970s and 80s as being too commercial and such, but I tell you, there’s something there, musically at least, that’s really enjoyable and almost spritual, as though those songs are hymns to gods that we fondly remember, but thaty have long since vanished — if they ever existed at all . . . they encompass and project and drip with a kind of nostalgia, nostalgia for a time that never was, but that perhaps was once our youth. Haters gonna hate, is what I’m sayin’ here, but deep or not, this is wonderfully-done music, and doesn’t deserve to be so easily critically dismissed as it oftentimes is.
Thunder rumbled, competing with the rock ’n roll and filk music blasting from the balconies of the Executive East Inn, where the three-day, twenty-four-hour party of RetCon XVIII—a phantasmagorical bacchanal of debauchery and imagination—raged like a gamma-irradiated scientist. Starry-eyed Wonder Women made out with drunken Spidermen, and short-skirted Sailor Moons dangled their legs off balconies as Starfleet-cadets tried to feel them up. The windows were alive with the silhouettes of toga-partiers and the photon-ghosts of Browncoats. Bartenders at room-parties served alchemical concoctions—maybe one part Mountain Dew, perhaps five parts Tullamore Don’t—as Kryptonian scientists and Time Lords alike imbibed. The whole hotel hummed with a psychic current, the mystic energy of the place a palpable, feelable thing, like a spiderweb of telepathic circuitry running through all those assembled, interconnecting a thousand-odd lives, fantasies, dreams, desires. Nothing was true; everything was permitted . . .at least for this weekend. Then it would be back to the grindstone, a return to the mill-wheel that crushed their dreams into dust.
Vulcans embraced old friends from Asgard, Middle-Earth, and Alderaan. Clandestine kisses in broom-closets led to lascivious groping in the hallways, which led to sexual depravity in the elevators, which led to the freaking of many Mundanes, and the lowering of many purity scores. Masks fell away as insecurities melted in the fires of momentary romances; once-lonely hearts burned like supernovae, desperate lights in the dark of being different. Filk-balladeers went to great paeans, and vampire-slayers, lightcycle jocks, and Viper pilots all joined in. The crowd of fershnickered fen cheered for Threes, shed tears for Hope Eyrie, sang solemnly along with Falling Free, and groaned with delight at Banned From Argo, that golden zombie oldie that simply refused to die.
Rangers and Paladins went in search of dragon’s gold, their fate sealed by a roll of the die. Klingons armed with peace-bonded bat’leths, Jedi sporting lightsabers, and pale Elves carrying bows all played at commanding armies of monsters at card-tables in the game-room. Elsewhere, small crowds of Ghostbusters, Wolverines, Delvian Pa’us and Dr. Manhattans gathered to wax philosophical as they eagerly conversed: Who was the better Doctor . . . David Tennant, or Matt Smith? Was Joss Whedon the next Spielberg, or just an overrated hack? When humanity finally journeyed to the stars, would they find wise telepathic dragons, or parasitic eels masquerading as gods? What was the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? The African, or European variety? How about in a warp bubble? How about in a warp bubble designed by Wesley Crusher? Elsewhere still, on the periphery of this zeitgeist, live-action role-players acted out vampiric fantasies in a world of blood, leather, and shadow . . . and they would punch you in the balls if you asked them whether or not they sparkled.
Were one to gaze upon this wild rumpus of wonder-junkies, one might miss the fact that up on the fourth floor, standing outside a room-party and talking to a short, moussed-haired man dressed in the tweed coat and bow-tie of the Eleventh Doctor—his personal favorite of the time-traveling Gallifreyan’s various incarnations—was the city’s missing superheroine, who had no idea that the fates of worlds whirled about her. She was a nexus of destiny on a pair of nice legs, the latter being the tweed-coated Doctor’s primary concern at the moment, although he knew all too well that legs like that were usually attached to rejection. For the nonce, though, he was happy to drift off and fantasize about single-handedly rescuing her from the clutches of a dragon, in whose mountain lair she lay scantily clad, chained, and screaming . . . an act of heroism for which he hoped he would be richly rewarded, and preferably in the same way that the damsels in distress of the Heavy Metal universe usually rewarded their rescuers. If, that was, she didn’t just kick the dragon’s ass and fly away without him. She looked like she could, and it would be just his luck.
Man, he thought, why is it that even in my fantasies, I can’t get laid?
As though it even needed saying, Jim Steinman is far and away my favorite songwriter — perhaps my favorite of all time. His theatrical, over-the-topness has been a major influence on my writing from day one, and my stories wouldn't be what they are without his music playing in the background as I write them. My iTunes library is filled with brilliant songwriters (and I harbor a not-so-secret love for filk music) but it's Jim's music that was there in the beginning, and which has always been there for me . . . the Wagnerian wellspring from which my muse first burst forth, all those years ago when I was trying to be a rock composer.
I remember, I would write these amazing, over-the-top dramatic monologues — most of which are sadly lost to history, now — and would perform them for my friends. It wasn't until I discovered that I was musically inert — that I did not, to put it politely, possess that particular spark — that I discovered the art of prose fiction, the subtlety of the short story, the beauty of the novel. And it wasn't until Stephen King told me so that I realized what I had been built to do: tell stories . . . just on paper, not through song. Nonetheless, Jim's music (and King's masterful storytelling) was like a emotional blueprint laid out on a cosmic scale; the passion that Jim's power-chords and King's characterizations inspired in me lifted me up on Icarian wings of fire, leading me to discover all sorts of hiding places for stories, helping me map the terrain of my own personal Neverland. Between King's awesome narratives and Steinman's rock operettas, I found a heterotopia I could inhabit, a refuge from the ragged, ravenous jaws of what everyone insisted was "the real world." Somewhere between the pages of King's tales and Steinman's glorious soundscape, I discovered an island of truth that I could cling to through the storm. Through King I branched out to Lovecraft, and from Lovecraft, Tolkien. And from Tolkien to Robert Jordan. And from Robert Jordan to George R.R. Martin. And of course, I read the classics of my genre — Stoker, Shelley, Wells, Verne, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Ellison — all the while with Steinman's epic rock tracks blasting in the background, Bat Out of Hell cranked up to eleven, the piano chords of Bad For Good pounding away in my ears. And somewhere between all that "weird fiction" and Steinman's rock 'n roll epics, a hammer struck an anvil in my head, and the first sparks of inspiration bloomed brightly in the dark. Soon, I became a man possessed , the voices of characters forever chattering away inside my skull, descriptions of nonexistent worlds practically bleeding out my fingers — much like the blood of a guitar player, baptizing the strings of his holy weapon of destruction.
Later on, right when I was really interested in Springsteen, my friend Joe — who had been the one to first introduce me to Steinman (and Franken-Steinman's monster, Meat Loaf), and who is now sadly deceased — would introduce me to the genre called filk music, the music of sci-fi conventions and fandom; songs about Star Trek and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, folksy tunes about time travel, aliens, gods, monsters, and mutants, and how awesome it was to be into all that. Most of what he played me was by a guy named Tom Smith; I now own several albums by him, along with albums by Mercedes Lackey, Heather Alexander, Julie Ecklar, and Leslie Fish, plus a few albums featuring them. Filk was the folk music of the science-fiction crowd, the musical bloodstream of the universe called "fandom," and I absolutely loved it, despite its stripped-down sound. In terms of musical styles, filk is the extreme exact opposite of jim Steinman; whereas he is loud and long and over-the-top, filk is quiet, folksy, homespun and more heartfelt, with short, in-and-out songs reminiscent of punk rock. Whereas Steinman is slickly overproduced, most filk was recorded bootleg-style at sci-fi conventions. And whereas Steinman's music was Wagnerian and larger-than-life, filk music was, well, more like folk rock than anything. But even so, it was upon hearing this glorious stuff that I finally took ownership of my identity as not just a writer, but as a geek; Iistening to Tom Smith's gentle, lullabye-like paean to geekdom, "Rich Fantasy Lives", I began to get a glimmer of something . . . of what, exactly, I wasn't quite sure yet. But, I asked myself, what if — just what if — I could infuse a King-like narrative with Steinman's "over the top" aesthetic, and use it to communicate the geeky, heartfelt sentiments that I find in such abundance in filk? What if I could produce a Steinman song on paper, and make it about all the stuff that filk songs are about? A 200-page epic that screamed "rock 'n roll," but whose roots were firmly planted in the soil of fandom?
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of how The Reality Engineers was born. The phrase — "reality engineering" — dates back to my days at U of L, and was coined on the spur of the movement during a meeting of the Pagan Student Union. However, the story itself was born in those moments when the Smith forged a Kingly pen upon a stone he borrowed from the Rock Man . . . and which became the pen with which I penned my tale. Yeah, yeah, I know — real big and dramatic, but very much from the heart, and a story got told in the bargain. What can I say? I'm a product of my influences.
I remember it vividly. The year was 1996. I had just been introduced to the world of Wicca and Druidism and all things pagan by two of my closest friends, and was enamored with all the magic that I saw occurring in the world all around me. But unlike many other pagans, who saw magic and science as arch-enemies — one celebrating the awe and beauty of the natural world, the other coldly deconstructing its mysteries — I saw them as natural allies, two sides of the same beautiful and wondrous coin. To paraphrase J. Michael Straczynski, I saw beauty in the mysteries of laser and circuit, of crystal and scanner, of holographic demons and in the invocations of equations. So did my newest friend at the time — Michele Lynn — who was, at the time, the president of the University of Louisville Pagan Student Union and a fellow student at Speed Scientific school (upon which my fictional Wenzel University is largely based). I was a member of the PSU then, and on my very first day as a member, at my very first meeting, Michele posed a philosophical question to the group.
"What is Magic?" she asked, slowly writing the question in stark silence on the whiteboard at the front of the room. For a moment, no one said anything; I'm not really sure any of us knew how to answer such a broad, fundamental question. Then, tentatively at first but with growing confidence, people started trying to come up with answers. I remained quiet, thinking it over. Then, Michele asked me directly what I thought. Very unsure of myself but confident that I had something close to the "right" answer (if there was one), I said, "Well . . . it's basically reality engineering, isn't it?" A bright light snapped on in Michele's eyes, and they twinkled a bit as she smiled. "Ooh, I like that," she said. "I like that a lot!" She proceeded to write it on the board in big, bold letters. We proceeded to have a conversation about that concept that lasted approximately six or seven years.
I'm no longer a "pagan" per se — I became a brooding atheist long ago — but there's still a bit of the neoplatonist left in me, I suppose. I mean, I still believe in magic, after a fashion (laser and circuit, invocations of equations, and the mystical beauty of nature's machinery and all that jazz), don't I? I mean, I sort of have to believe in it, right? After all, I'm a writer! What more magical a job is there than to cause the Inception of ideas in the minds of others on a daily — or at least an occasional — basis?
So that's it, I suppose . . . the day the term Reality Engineering was born. Later it would become the title of a short story, which would then become a novella, which would then become a novel, which I would then rewrite and turn into a very different novel, the one that exists today. But I like to think that the seed of the idea — the germination of the concept — began right there in that conference room at U of L that day in 1996, at that meeting of the Pagan Student Union.
One of my favorite episodes of The X-Files is the one entitled Musings Of A Cigarette Smoking Man, where it is revealed that CGB Spender (a.k.a, The Cigarette Smoking Man) is indeed not so menacing after all, but is in fact an aspiring science-fiction/noir writer! I absolutely love that episode, so I'll quote it here. This is from the scene toward the end, when he's just found out that the magazine he subbed to did indeed publish his work, but with an alternate ending that he didn't write. He sits on a park bench and muses, in what I think is one of that series' finest moments:
Greetings and salutations, and welcome to my obscure little corner of cyberspace! What you're reading is the inaugural post on this, my very own official blog, created mainly to promote my new book series, The Reality Engineers,. They say that every author has to blog these days, so I figured I'd dive right into the icy waters of public self-expression (as if I don't already regularly do that on Facebook!). Anyway: Just a few short days ago I submitted the final draft of The Reality Engineers: What Happens At Con Stays At Con to Smashwords, and, I'm proud to say, it's now available in over six different eBook formats for only $2.99! The print edition of the book, which will be distributed through Amazon.com, should be available within just a few days! Until then, watch this space for updates and other salacious info, plus whatever i feel like posting. Could be a deep thought, could be a picture of kittens doing cute things. So stay tuned — more awesomeness is coming!