Hey space-cadets! This is just an FYI to let everyone know that my Reality Engineers series will, for the time being, no longer be available on Smashwords or through any Smashwords partners, such as the Apple iBookstore, and will only be available — electronically, at least — in Kindle format, from Amazon. (Don't worry — you can still get a dead-tree version, if you like. :-) ) Why the big change? Well, the truth is, I just wasn't making any sales on Smashwords. 95% of my sales came from Amazon, so I decided to refocus my efforts there, via the KDP Select program, which means I should start seeing a little more revenue than I used to, and, best of all, I won't have to work twice as hard to maintain the publication side of things! Right now only Books 1 and 2 are available, because, as you might or might not know, I'm basically in the middle of re-writing Book 3, because as it turns out, readers were not — and I myself was not — entirely "happy" with the way Book 3 turned out. In fact, looking back, I can see that Book 3 was entirely not ready to be published. So, that's what I'm doing: Making it ready. Rewriting where necessary. And, re-plotting, too. The re-release of Book 3 will happen sometime in August, I'm fairly certain, if I can meet my self-imposed deadline by then, which I should be able to do with little trouble. Wish me luck!
You know, you always hear the same drumbeat from the "art snobs" of the world regarding movies like "Avengers: Age of Ultron," or any other superhero film (or any genre film, period), for that matter. It's always the same relentless message from these guys and gals: It's "low art"; it's "unsophisticated"; it's "uncultured" or "dimwitted.” “Style over substance,” they crow, as they giddily roast the filmmakers’ entrails over a campfire, and delight in eviscerating the husk of their corpse for further juicy vittles to pop in their mouths. Either that, or whatever film it is in question, it's always poo-pooed as being the harbinger of death for "good" movies as they're known . . or, it somehow signals the "death" of pop culture as we know it . . . or, it’s heralded as the death-knell of the movie-going intelligentsia.
This messaging, in its general tone, syntax, and grammar, often goes far beyond the realm of actual criticism — reaching beyond mere comparisons of form, style, and content, or measurements of a film’s objective merits and drawbacks — to encompass a much broader, much more emotional, and far more visceral reaction — one of an irrational, inchoate rage, approaching almost the pitch of near-Satanic hatred, as though the makers of the film in question have committed some grievous, personal, and perilous sin against the Critics themselves, a sin comparable in severity to the molestation of the Critics' children, or the murder of their extended families, or the theft of some prized artifact or heirloom that the Critics had spent years coveting.
Indeed, it would appear in many cases that the Critics’ excess of bile and vitriol toward genre cinema is paralleled only by the reaction of the fundamentalist zealot to the encroachment of secularism in his home parish, or perhaps the presence of the unwashed heathen in the midst of his holiest of temples. Indeed, this comparison is not far off the mark; for the Critic, like the religious zealot, must at all times keep in mind the purity of the Canon, lest it be fouled by inferior, “sinful” or “lower” material, and, once fouled, become impure, its value suddenly questionable. Like the zealot, the Critic must always abstain from fraternizing with those of “low” artistic character, those plebeians who might conflate the artistic dabbling of commoners with the holy-writ of the Greatest of the Greats. And, like the zealot, the Critic must ever aspire to draw a bright red line between what is “timeless” and what is “trash,” for heaven knows that those same plebeians — who would dare to place their crude expressionism side-by-side with that of the Greats! — would not, perhaps COULD not, ever know the difference for themselves.
Yet still, this does not completely explain the dark, almost violent reaction that Critics display toward genre cinema, the irascible, intractable rage that seems to flow from their inkwells onto the printed page at the merest use of either common genre tropes or simple plot-propellant devices. Could it be that these things are, by this point in time, trite and clichéd, perhaps a bit overused? At first glance, it would seem so. But then again, no, it cannot be that — for many a critically-successful film draws upon these same storytelling tricks, and uses them to much the same effect as does any film that unashamedly commits to being of one genre or another. No, it has to be something else, some other reason that Critics willfully, and gleefully, crucify these films and then joyfully drink the blood from their wounds. And, I’m fairly sure that I know what it is:
Simple jealousy. Not jealousy of genre cinema’s material success — though I’m certain that is a secondary factor for some — and not jealousy of its popularity with the everyday masses, either, though one could make (and many have made) such an argument. Rather, I believe it to be a strange sort of jealousy: The jealousy of the fiercely-powerful love triangle that exists between Creator, Creation, and Audience. And, nowhere is this love triangle more forcefully present — nowhere is it more on full, sometimes even lurid display — than it is in the societal realm known as “fandom,” which tends to pivot around the genres of science fiction and fantasy (and thus, by definition, the subject of superheroes as well). Nowhere else in the filmic or literary worlds does there exist a more fiery, passionate, creative, outspoken, and above all, *involved” audience as this one. And, that passion ripples backward, as well, and influences the emotions involved at the level of the Artist who does the Creating of the works in question, too . . . making that process, that experience, that much more rewarding and fun for them.
And that’s what the “art snobs” cannot stand — they cannot stand the idea that somewhere out there — right now — there is someone writing a science fiction novel and is having a total blast and making “Pew, pew!” sounds as they write. They cannot stand the idea that somewhere out there, right this very instant, is someone applying prosthetic makeup to an actor on a movie set, and that that actor is going to have eighteen kinds of stupid fun playing an alien from another world . . . and the thing is, he won’t be doing it with ANY LESS love for his craft in his heart than does the guy or girl who’s starring in the next production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This infuriates them and drives the “art snob” mad, because at some point in their lives, someone — somewhere — told these sad sacks that art — “real” art — wasn’t supposed to be FUN. No, no… Art — REAL art — they were told, is SERIOUS FUCKING BUSINESS. They were never allowed to run around the backyard wearing a tablecloth for a cape, pretending to be Superman. They were not permitted to build a spaceship out of cardboard boxes and take trips to other galaxies in their basement. They never beat each other with foam swords, or ate too much pizza during a marathon Dungeons and Dragons session. The ivory towers of academia are indeed quite beautiful places to visit (and as one who dwelled there for a time, I can definitely say this with confidence), but sometimes, they can suffer a shortage of monkey-bars and hula-hoops.
So, the next time you hear one of these so-called Critics panning an Avengers film, or ranting negatively about the latest installment of Batman’s adventures, or perhaps wailing and moaning about the death of the arts in general (because, woe unto thee, Zack Snyder or Michael Bay!), you can save yourself the trouble of wanting to smack them upside the head . . . and can instead walk up to them, and maybe offer to help them build a fort out of couch cushions some day . . . or perhaps ask them if they’d like to borrow your favorite cosplay outfit for the weekend, or something. Chances are, there’s an inner-child in there who, just like the chest-burster in Alien, is dying to be set free to have fun.
Finally, here's one of my favorite bits from Volume 3 of The Reality Engineers, entitled Geeking Apocalyptic Havoc.
“Damn,” said Lorenna at last, once Monstro had finished speaking. “So basically what you’re telling me is that it was you guys who’re responsible for exposing the whole alien threat . . . because you beat it!” She turned to Monstro. “You and your friends basically saved the world, and you never told me? What, are you thick? Hell, if I’d known that, it wouldn’t have taken you three months to get my panties off, you numbskull! Idiot!” She laughed, almost a different person than before the telling of the tale. Listening to their story had, at the very least, altered her perspective a little, or so it seemed to Buffy. What had really surprised her, though, had been Lorenna’s reaction to Misto’s new body . . . the girl had been thoroughly nonplussed by the sight, which was a wonder, given how conservative she could be with regard to science. Who knew—maybe having been what she’d been through already these past few days had numbed her somewhat, desensitized her to the madness inherent in being a part of this particular social circle. Either that, or she really was as liberal-minded as she claimed to be, and didn’t mind the idea of fucking an eight-foot-tall wolf-headed gorilla-man. If she didn’t, more power to her. She herself had been aghast—and to tell the truth, terrified—of the changes in Angelus when he’d first become a vampire. She wasn’t sure she could’ve handled it if he’d wound up like Misto had, and inwardly, she shamed herself for the thought. Perhaps Lorenna was stronger than she was. Again, who knew.
No matter, she thought. Angelus had still better keep his eyes off her ass. Then again, she also had more pressing things to think about. Such as saving the world . . . again. And saving herself. That was going to be weird. Try as she might to remember certain details of her captivity, though, much of it was garbled in her memory, so much static on her mind’s video-tapes. Why, she wondered? Did it have something to do with crossing her own timeline? Maybe Dizzy would know. Or Misto. (She steadfastly refused to call him “Monstro”—there was going by your ‘nym to be funny and weird, and then there was just being flat-out ridiculous.) Perhaps Schrödinger could offer some insight. She said so now.
“Well, it’s too bad we left him back in the bomb-shelter,” said Gadget. “He could probably really help us out with building the . . . what the frell are we calling it, again?” Buffy smiled. He and Dizzy did make a cute couple. “And should I do this consciousness-download thing? I don’t know . . .” Apparently, getting a girlfriend at long last hadn’t changed his problem with chronic indecisiveness. Poor guy.
“A Transcendental Reversal-of-Ontological-Paradox Engine,” replied Dizzy, “Engineered from Yesterday’s Ret-conned Inventions and Excursions, The acronym is a pun on the title of a filk song, Hope Eyrie: TROPE-EYRIE!”
“You have far too much free time on your hands, Roentgen,” said Victor, shaking his head. “I worry about you, I do.”
“In answer to your query, Buff,” said Dizzy, “we’ll simply have to go back and get Schrödinger, because you’re right . . . after all, when dealing with alien technology, it always helps to have an actual alien around to answer those niggling questions about the ultimate fate of all baryonic matter in the universe! And so on, and so forth. Besides, we’re the Reality Engineers, the hard-rockingest rock band this side of Europe—or Europa, for that matter. And we leave no roadie—nor kitty!—behind. That’s just how we roll, Lorenna. Yeah, that’s right. I was talkin’ to you the whole time.” She wiggled her eyebrows up and down at her. Lorenna merely regarded her strangely. Dizzy turned to Gadget. “Okay. If I send you back to get Schrödinger, are you gonna do something stupid, like get yourself killed?”
Gadget appeared to think it over for a second. “I’ll try not to,” he said and planted a smooch on her lips.
Aww, thought Buffy. They really are so cute together. If we survive this, we ought to throw a Dizzy-and-Gadget-Finally-Get-Together party.
“Do it or don’t, love,” said Dizzy, smooching him back, with tongue. Gadget looked as though he could explode with giddy lovestruckness. “There ain’t no try. Quoth Yoda, if he were a redneck.”
“I’m gonna be sick in a minute,” said Angelus, giving them a thumbs-up and a terrible rictus.
“See?” said Gadget. “How d’you guys like it?”
“Five bucks says you get creamed by zombies,” said Misto, grinning, though the rest of his face said he was worried, in the extreme.
“Oh yeah?” said Gadget, trying to sound confident. “Ten bucks—and a whole lot of hope—says I don’t.”
“You’d better not,” said Dizzy. “That would really put a damper on our wedding night.”
“Wait, out what?”
“Oh yeah?” said Misto, interrupting, “Well I raise you me going with you. Between bad aim and overkill, we’re bound to be able to defend each other.”
“Right,” said Dizzy, nodding in the affirmative. “My plan is forming, finally. So. You two go get Schrödinger, and meet the rest of us up in my lab . . . but remember: We may need Schrödinger, Gadget . . . But I need you. So please . . . come back alive.” She hugged him tightly, as did Buffy. She had a terrible feeling about this. Sending him out there, so close to him having had that breakdown a few minutes ago . . . was it a recipe for him to meet his fate? For surely if it had changed, he would’ve said so. She knew what Dizzy was doing, with all the wedding-talk and kisses—distracting him from thinking about dying. It looked like it was working. But once she was out of sight, and he was alone with his thoughts . . . she shuddered. Having witnessed his death once, she didn’t think she could stand to see it again, not without losing her mind . . .
“I know you’ll be safe,” she lied, and then, almost unaware that she was saying it, added, “because I’m going with you.”
“I am too, I guess,” said Lorenna, stepping forward. “Look, I know what I said earlier, but I want to—”
“The hell you say!” cried Angelus, grabbing Buffy by the hand tightly, surprising her. “You’re staying right the fuck here. With me. No arguments. The vampire has spoken.”
“Indeed,” said Dizzy, “I’m sorry Buff, but I need you and Angelus for the next phase of the plan.”
“Well, I have a question about that, actually,” asked Angelus.
“Does this phase of the plan involve the two of us venturing outside, and thus onto the set of Zombieland?”
“Well then I hereby humbly ask for a new assignment, Master Sergeant.” He snapped off a salute.
“No can do, soldier,” said Dizzy, “for your role in the plan is crucially important. Here’s what I need you to do. “Three blocks from here, and right next to the Denny’s where we always hang out, there’s one of those storage places, the kind you can rent for, like, a hundred bucks a month. It’s called ‘Pete’s Lock and Load Self Storage.’ I’ve paid on it since his death, five hundred smackers a month, for seven hundred square feet of storage, with a fifteen-foot ceiling. It’s been a long-kept secret, of course, but as you two already know but Lorenna and Victor do not . . . that’s where the saucer parts are, as well as all the parts to the Area 51 craft that my dad sent to me over the years. Plus some other stuff. I mean, what’s the use in secrets now? Get into the office at the place, and look up locker 3141592. I’m going to need, of course, the shrunk-down saucer—you’ll need all your super-strength to lift it, Angelus—plus the three containers full of other stuff sitting right next to it. Plus, we’ll need a dolly, big enough to lift a Coke machine. Oh. And of course, we’ll need a Coke machine. The one down the hall there should do. They should have trucks that Angelus can hot-wire at the storage place. Bring it all back here, and we’ll get started. As for me and Victor, here . . . we’ll head to his lab, pick up the stuff for Gadget’s consciousness-download—just to be safe, you understand, Gadget—and take it back to my lab. Now. Is everyone ready?”
“Hell no!” cried Lorenna.
“Nope,” said Angelus.
“Not even close, Diz,” said Misto.
“Are we ever?” asked Buffy.
“I’m sure as hell not,” said Victor.
“Anything for you, Diz,” said Gadget. “Always.”
Dizzy grinned savagely. “Just like old times, then.” She looped an arm around Gadget and kissed him once more. “You—come back to me. Everyone else? Ready, on three—” She put her hand out. Gadget put his in, as well. With a sigh, Angelus put his hand in, too. Then Buffy, then Misto, then—with extremely reluctance—Victor and finally, with even greater reservations in her eyes, Lorenna. Dizzy then said, “We meet back in my lab in one hour. One, two, three, break!”
And now for something completely different: An excerpt from Volume 2 of The Reality Engineers, The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth!
“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 the 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, SERENITY 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 SERENITY II, NCC-75634 thrusters blasting out bright, orange hellfire.
Proudly Presenting An Excerpt From the First Reality Engineers book, Volume 1: What Happens At Con Stays At Con.
“Take that, you frak-ugly son of a bitch!” Dizzy cried through gritted teeth, and punched her enemy in the jaw with one robotically-augmented fist. The metal gauntlets of the exoskeleton she’d designed—they were heavy, for each palm contained a dark-energy repulsivator—slammed into the stainless-steel helm of Professor Victor Arkenvalen . . . or rather, that of his lunatic alter-ego, Dr. Noonian Harkonnen. Naming things gave you power over them; it was an act of magic, or so Dizzy had read in a book on occultism that she had in no way stolen from the school library. Perhaps, subconsciously, Arkenvalen had been seeking some sort of power over the dark fires of insanity burning within him; a thousand perhapses, but none of them relevant to the fact that she was currently getting the ever-loving shit kicked out of her. Her ribs—and the rest of her bones, for that matter—were presently singing hymns to ancient gods of pain, and would most definitely not be singing her praises come morning . . . if, that was, she lived that long.
Harkonnen’s punches packed an extra wallop, thanks to the bioengineered serum flowing through his veins. Perfected by Arkenvalen and Dizzy’s father Walther some twenty years before, it was basically “evolution in a bottle,” and just by looking at him, Dizzy could see the horror that had resulted from twenty years of low-level exposure. (She was, however, fairly certain that he had always been frak-ugly and with an attitude to match.) He had beady emerald eyes and creases on his unnaturally-pale neck—perhaps the beginning of gills? He had lost most of his hair, the way chemo-patients did, and his eyes burned with a fierce intelligence and a crazed determination, the split in his soul gleaming darkly there. His evil experiments in artificially advancing human evolution were funded, in part, by the local Mafia. Together, they had been terrorizing the city for years. And, even before Dizzy had first donned her exoskeletal armor and taken up the cause of crime-fighting, Harkonnen had displayed an unhealthy fascination with her. Something to do with her father and that serum; she was sure of it. Her friend Misto had the answers, she knew, but he refused to open up about it for some reason. Time would tell, she supposed.
Dizzy hurriedly whisked a robotic gauntlet up in front of her face and caught Harkonnen’s fist in mid-swing, the arms of her exoskeleton whirring, moving with all the preternatural speed that one would expect from limbs powered by a wet-wired neural-interface. The superconducting quantum-interferometry field-receptors were hidden in the lining of the motorcycle helmet that covered her blueberry-colored, bob-cut hairdo. Hey—one had to look stylish when out fighting crime, didn’t one? She wrenched Harkonnen’s fist aside and forcefully head-butted him with a loud, metallic CLANK! He reeled backward, floating on repulsivators of his own—he had stolen the blueprints for the exoskeleton years before, and had built what was mostly an inferior knockoff. He hit a dumpster, knocking it against the wall of the alley in which they fought; a Chinese restaurant and a Burlington Coat Factory sat on either side of them, their windows dark and silent. Dizzy wore a corset of flexible, motorized segments—perfect for taking gut-punches like the one he’d given her earlier—over a thin leather tunic for cushioning; her gauntlets were adorned with clockwork, with a retro-style ray-gun bolted onto either wrist. Her arms and legs were enclosed in curved, form-fitting armored segments, all interconnected by flywheels, guy-wires, and sprockets. A mechanical tentacle snaked up her back, and power cables ran from that down to her boots. Harkonnen was shorter than she was, and his exoskeleton was similar, though sleeker, and a little less high-tech. His armor gleamed in the half-light, violence in ticking motion. He wore his tweed professor’s outfit beneath, replete with a soft green bow tie, and on his head, he had donned a medieval spangenhelm lifted from a suit of armor—the one that had been on display in the Robinson building, back at Wenzel U—along with a breathing apparatus that had been fashioned from an old-timey gas-mask. His eyes—glistening with murder-bright hatred—glared at her from over the top of it.
“Come hither, you sniveling excuse for a scientist!” he snarled, his voice muffled by the mask but perfectly understandable, each word prim and articulate. He rocketed back toward her, aiming to tackle her. She tried to duck out of the way, but he succeeded in grabbing her around the waist and knocking her off both her balance and her repulsivator beams, and she fell. She hit the pavement with an “Oof!” and the wind went out of her, the vibration of the impact traveling through the metal of the exoskeleton and back into her limbs. He rose to his knees and knelt above her, straddling her, and proceeded to try and choke the living daylights out of her, the metal of his gauntlets tight against her throat. If he fired his palm-mounted repulsivators while he had hold of her . . . No. She refused to even imagine that. He apparently wasn’t imagining it either, for instead of executing such a deathblow, he merely cackled and continued to choke her, moonlight and neon glinting off his spangenhelm and the teeth of his deranged smile, as the world began to blur and her brain screamed for oxygen. “Feel the pain, you freak! Feel the pain your father made Victor feel, you arrogant little cockroach!”
“Oh, I’m the freak. Right. That’s rich!” she managed to choke out, and grabbed the wrists of his gauntlets in hers. She mentally activated the neodymium electromagnets in them, and felt her gauntlets magnetize to his. With the motors of both their exoskeletons whirring in protest, she pulled at his wrists for all she was worth. “Not today, Harkonnen!”
Gradually, she pried his hands away from her neck. He growled in frustration and effort and Dizzy grinned. She reversed the magnetic polarity and shot out from underneath him, then scrambled to her feet. She drove her knee into his chin. He fell over backwards, crying out in pain as his knees tried to bend the wrong way. His exoskeleton whirred as he got to his feet and drunkenly stumbled back. Gasping for breath, he raised his left gauntlet; there, on the wrist, sat a version of one of Dizzy’s own inventions: the Romulanator, a plasma weapon capable of disrupting matter at the subatomic level.
“Oh dren,” she muttered, and dodged to the right just in time as a bolt of blue-white plasma shot past her head and slammed into the brick wall behind her, a small section of it disintegrating. Her exoskeleton didn’t have force-fields—not yet; she was working on that—and thus, she had to rely on computer-enhanced reflexes instead. Harkonnen aimed and fired again, and she ducked just in time; the bolt slammed into the wall, and another chunk of it vanished. Dizzy shot forward and tackled him, knocking him to the ground with a clanking thud. She grabbed him by the collar and repeatedly punched him until blood stained the metal of her gauntlets. He laughed. And laughed. And laughed, even as she busted his lip in two places. With a left-right gut-punch, she pummeled him, then leapt up, and brought a metallic boot down upon his chest, and heard the satisfying crunch of bone breaking. He grabbed her leg and wrenched it around at the ankle. Dizzy cried out in surprise, and hit the pavement hard.
Harkonnen got to his feet. He stumbled toward her, and feigned a right-hook; she fell for it, and he busted her nose with a lightning-quick jab from the left. A warm trickle of blood made its way down her face; it tasted warm and bitter. As the galaxy of colors cleared, Harkonnen clocked her in the jaw. Her skull rang and vibrated, and she felt a tooth wrench loose. Hopefully, it wasn’t part of her infamous, lust-inducing smile. She spit blood, staggered, steadied herself, and saw him coming at her. She executed a drunken roundhouse and landed a lucky steel toe to the side of his helmet, sending him flailing to the side and crashing through a wooden crate. Dizzy stumbled toward him, woozy, but still managing to cock back a fist.
He caught her next blow mid-swing, and grinned a bloody grin at her, his eyes wild and manic. Quick as a viper, he put his Romulanator to her throat, but she spun out of the way just as he fired, her augmented reflexes a split-second faster than his. They faced one another—he with his weapon raised and trained, she with her fists clenched at her sides—the only sound their mutually-heavy breathing. “Put it down, Harkonnen. I don’t want to have to hurt you.”
“You mean kill me, don’t you?” He spat blood and snickered. “Because you certainly don’t seem to have any problem with merely hurting me, my dear. But, that’s where we differ. I have evolved beyond such tired conceptions of morality. Hence, you have a problem killing me, but I have no problem with killing you—and I will. Your father killed the only person who ever mattered to myself and Dr. Arkenvalen. He did irreparable damage to Victor’s fragile, innocent psyche . . .”
“Well that’s fairly frakkin’ obvious.”
“Silence!” he yelled. “This isn’t one of your asinine sci-fi shows; this is reality! Now, then—as you people over in the Physics Department might say . . . this is where your relativistic world-line terminates, Roentgen!”
In a flash, Dizzy had her own Romulanator raised and trained on him, though it irked her to no end that she had allowed it to come to this. They circled one another for a moment or two, arms raised, weapons poised to fire. Dizzy licked her lips, and said, “Come on, Harkonnen. Arkenvalen. Listen. I know you’re in there. I know you can hear me. If you can, just . . . put down the Romulanator. Please. After all, the thing’s name loses novelty points each time we say it out loud.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, but Victor isn’t home just now,” said Harkonnen. “I’m afraid you’ll just have to deal with me.”
Instead of firing—or giving him time to fire—she flicked a mental switch, and went rocketing toward him on repulsivator power, tackling him once again. He fired, but the shot went awry just as she closed half the distance. They collided, metal clanking against metal as they hit the ground, with Dizzy on top. She drew back to punch him, but then she heard a familiar sound from the mouth of the alleyway: The wail and whoop of police sirens. Red and blue flashing lights suddenly painted the alleyway with a garish luminescence, and a voice cried through a megaphone: “You there, FREEZE!’”
“Gods-frakkin-dammit!” she muttered. “Why do they always show up at this point in the fight?” She sighed. “C’mon, Noonian. I’m gettin’ us outta here, before we both wind up in the hoosegow. It’s Finals Week, and it just wouldn’t do for one of Wenzel U’s best and brightest to be doin’ time in the pokey. Nor you, for that matter.” She shook her head. Almost to herself, she said, “For all your crimes, Harkonnen, your other half is innocent. Lucky you. We’ll finish this some other day.”
She punched him, her final blow hard enough to make his eyes cross and his head loll back as he fell unconscious. She grabbed him around the neck and pudgy waist, the motors of her exoskeleton whirring, and rocketed upward on repulsivator beams as gunshots rang out below. It was just as well, anyway. This encounter had gone on a little too long for her taste, and that ending . . . whew! Way too close for comfort. Indeed. Indeed. Besides, she had a sci-fi convention to attend. RetCon XVIII was the biggest of the local cons, and she wasn’t about to miss it on account of Arkenvalen and Harkonnen’s schizophrenic supervillain shenanigans.
Hey—she thought as she deposited Harkonnen on a nearby rooftop and quickly levitated away—it ain’t all bad, right? I mean, at least I’m already in costume.
I'm poud to announce my final "soundtrack selections" for my upcoming sci-fi musical screenplay. Still awaiting input from my co-writer, but this is pretty much what I want the finished set-list to look like, minus one or two more "heavy metal"-type songs to balance out the popish flavor of some of it. Now, I know that most prospective producers would look at this list and balk, barking with laughter at my chances of ever properly "licensing" many of them, let alone the rights to mix and mash them up and have them sung by different people. But at least they're a guide for what I'd *like* the finished product to sound like. Now, normally, when a writer writes a screenplay, the idea is to avoid mentioning the exact titles of songs to be used, leaving it up to the purview of the director. But, in this case, since this is a musical we're talking about — in which some of the lyrics are used in place of dialogue, or to establish an idea of setting or place, or as narration — it's important to nail down exactly what songs are to be used, even if they're not original compositions (since going with "original compositions" would pretty much invalidate the whole nostalgia-trip aspect of the film). So. Without further ado, allow me to present the top ten selections from the 26 songs which will be used (it's gonna be a long-ass musical).
1. "Fantasy," by Aldo Nova. I chose this song because the first time I heard it, I thought to myself, "Wow, that really needs to be in a science fiction or fantasy film." And lo, I needed a song that could be performed on the aforementioned "reality talent show" toward the beginning of the film, and this popped in my head! That, and it's a great rockin' song by an otherwise forgotten '80's hair-meta band, so how could I resist? This one song sets the tone for the entire movie, I think; it's cheesy, it's catchy, and the video's got ray-gun guitars! Seriously, how can you not like ray-gun guitars?
2. "Turn Up The Radio," by Autograph. Another gem from the same bygone era as the previous song, this one packs an awesome, head-banging chorus, a classic stadium rock anthem if ever there was one. Also to be performed on the reality talent show, "The Death Of Obsolescence," this terrific, jammin' tune pretty much sums up my attitude toward rock music in general!
3. "The Touch," by Stan Bush. Most folks remember this one as being the theme tune to the 1986 animated film, Transformers (back in the old school days, before CGI and Michael Bay). Here, it's the song that the lead character of Bethany (Spectre) will use to defeat the demon conjured up by Mother Gore.
4. "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through," by Meat Loaf (and Jim Steinman). One of my all-time favorite songs, this one will be played at the climax of the film, just after the titanic battle of good versus evil, and just before the film's finale. It's maudlin, sentimental, sweet, a bit silly, and absolutely pitch-perfect for what I'm going for!
5. "Land of Confusion," by Disturbed (covering Genesis). C'mon. How can you not love the classic 1980's video for Genesis's "Land of Confusion?" I mean, it's got a muppet Ronald Reagan launching a nuclear strike, and a muppet Superman tripping over his own cape. C'mon. Seriously. How can you not love that? Is there any possible way to improve it? As it turns out, yes. There is. Disturbed did it, and they did a damn fine job! This is the scene in the movie where Mother Gore forcibly converts people to her brand of Christianity . . . but turning them into cybernetic zombie soldiers! Subtle, no?
6. "November Rain," by Guns 'n Roses. I fell in love with this song back when it first came out, a looong time ago, back in the days when AOL ruled the Internet and Meat Loaf was rediscovering how to be cool again. This song will always have a special place in my heart, because it introduced me to the concept of a "cinematic" music video, a concept which Meat Loaf's "I'd Do Anything For Love" went on to expand in my head. This is the song which will be used in the movie to extrapolate upon a tragic backstory for one of the characters; I'm not sure who it is yet, or what the tragedy will be, but dammit, it's gonna be something epic, just like this song!
7. "Close My Eyes Forever," by Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne. This is a magnificent song, and was the first song to introduce me to the idea that rock music could be operatic and deeply romantic. And so here it is, showing up on this soundtrack! I love, love, LOVE this song — Lita's voice is hauntingly beautiful (and is somewhat like what I picture Spectre's sounding like), and Ozzy's performance here is sheer brilliance. I wanted this to be a "tragic" love story between two of the script's characters . . . Don't know who yet — probably Spectre and Thorin — but you can rest assured that it will be a tear-jerking romance for the ages.
8. "God Gave Rock And Roll To You II," by KISS. Ask any one of my friends, and they will gladly tell you that I am a bit behind the times. (Some will even say I've boasted of this.) At any rate, I was a bit slow as a kid,. and somehow did not hear this song until the movie BIll & Ted's Bogus Journey, the sequel to Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. There, it is used at the climax of the film, for when Bill and Ted finally get their big break, and get to play in front of a battle of the bands that no one will ever forget, one wherein the Grim Reaper raps and plays bass, and two robots from the future give them an assist on guitars. You may not know this, but shit like that is crack to people like me. So, I always wanted to use this song in a production of my own — for a similarly-themed moment, if I could — and this new screenplay project promises an opportunity to do just that.
9. "Makin' Love Out Of Nothin' At All," by Bonnie Tyler (covering Air Supply). This is probably one of my all-time favorite Jim Steinman songs. It's lilting, beautiful, and sweet. It's saccharine and sentimental, and it's got one of those awesome, larger-than-life, trademarked Steinman choruses. I chose this as the theme song for the character of Wolfgang, his unrequited love aria written for Spectre, whom he is madly in love with, but who doesn't seem to even realize he exists. Story of my life.
10. "Street of Dreams," by Rainbow. Okay, so it doesn't have the greatest of videos. But it's still an awesome, haunting tune from Rainbow, the band of Ritchie Blackmore! It's also probably my favorite song from them, too. It reminds me somewhat of Ozzy's "Shot In The Dark," only a bit lighter in tone. I chose this as a good song for establishing the movie's scenery, most notably the post-apocalyptic setting of Detroit Rock City.
For the longest time, I've wanted to produce a movie. The only problems have been that (1) a complete lack of money, and (2) no screenplay, which I would have to write. Well, at least one of those problems is about to be solved, as I finally managed to cobble together an idea for a screenplay the other day. Tell me what you think! The tentative title is "Glitter Rock: The Story of Next Laser And The Atomic Therapy." I know, it sucks, and will probably change sometime in the future. But, for now, here's the basic idea:
“One part ‘Fantasia,’ two parts ‘Moulin Rouge,’ three parts ‘Sucker Punch,’ and a pinch of ‘Pink Floyd: The Wall.’”
Our story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world, after the world has run out of oil and the ozone layer is very thin, and nuclear wars have ravaged the planet. Nuclear power is everywhere, as are lawless “Wasteland Zones” between the various Mega-Cities. Due to the cyclic nature of fads and styles and trends, the culture, music, and the fashion of the 1980’s have come back in a big way. Nuclear-powered, “legendary super-rockers” dominate the charts, with reality-TV talent shows being a way of life and death, with the losers exiled to the Wastelands in front of a worldwide audience, and with the winners elevated to the status of cultural gods — and sometimes made literally immortal! —with all the fame and glory that comes from winning that holiest of holy grails, a Platinum Recording Contract with the entertainment mega-corp known as "Radioactive Records.” Deadly “rock offs" are a common method of street warfare between rival bands, wherein musical instruments become sonic (and psychotronic) weapons of mass destruction! Set against each other by the forces of the economy and the environment, these rival bands vie for the chance to be chosen to perform for the harsh judges of the reality-TV shows that populate the airwaves. But, there is a strong backlash agains this “rock ’n roll as way of life” culture, in the form of the militant Christian matron known as Mother Gore, the leader of a dominionist movement called the The Lyrical Truth, who seeks to spread the “holy gospel of Christ” at the point of a gun, and who despises the rock ’n roll lifestyle, seeing it as a way for the Devil to influence and destroy the youth of the world. (Her television ministry is also a competitor for ratings with the Number 1 hit rock-reality show entitled "The Death Of Obsolescence," and thus is later revealed the real reason she fights . . .) Gore has created an army of cyborgs who will fight and die at her command, and now, she plans on using science and black magic to conjure forth a real-life demon from Hell, and blame its rampage on the depravity of the rock-warrior world. But, she cannot do this without the right tools, one of which is “the perfect pair of Heavenly voices,” the like of which Detroit Rock City has never heard . . . until now.
Against this wild dystopian backdrop appears a little-known rock band who calls themselves “Next Laser And The Atomic Therapy” who can only get gigs in the seedier parts of the cyberpunk Megalopolis known as “Detroit Rock City.” They are a group of dreamers and misfits who cling together partly out of nostalgia for better days gone by, and partly out of a deep sense of kinship, as they all share a common dream and goal: To be Number One on the Billboard Charts, which has become more important than the once-powerful New York Stock Exchange (and which functions as a sort of scoreboard for who gets to live, and who will soon die). The band’s lead vocalists — the sweet-natured siren Bethany “Spectre” Devine and the over-the-top, metal-operatic singer Chaz “Lasagna” Bozeman, who is also the band’s bass-player — are polar opposites who fight constantly, he being a passionate dreamer and she being a den-mothering realist.. Spectre is also the band’s resident sound-and-light engineer, and is in love with the band’s guitarist named Gabriel “Thorin” Oswald, a frustrated, self-centered megalomaniac who is blind to Bethany’s advances (but not those of attractive young groupies. The band’s keyboardist and lead songwriter, James “Wolfgang” Rockman — is a hyperactive spaz with cybernetic implants in his brain; he is a highly-eccentric genius who is somewhat blinded by his obsession with creating “the perfect Wagnerian rock-opera” (and who secretly has a “thing” for Bethany, which he will never tell her about). Rounding out the bunch is Allen “Motown” Sound, the drummer who speaks in arrhythmic, rhapsodic verse, will use anything as a set of drums, and is fond of quoting classical poetry in order to woo women. Together, these six weirdos form “Next Laser And The Atomic Therapy,” a little-known, down-and-out rock group that will change the face of Detroit Rock City — and perhaps the whole world — forever . . . if they aren’t killed on the road to fame and glory first, and if Mother Gore doesn’t get her hyper-religious, cybernetic claws on them. And, of course, provided they don’t kill each other before they become one with the stars. Can the rival bands of the world step up and unite together to fight the forces of evil?
So, I hit the 230,000 word mark recently in my latest novel, Dralkowynn's Doom. The projected length for the first book is 325,000 words, which is just a hair longer than the first book in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series, so that seems about right, for your typical epic fantasy. Then again, this isn't your typical fantasy novel — I had a lot of backstory to establish in the first 100 pages, and I think, to my chagrin, it shows a bit. But oh well — at least I'm still cranking out words, right? I decided long ago that I wasn't going to allow the length of my works to be dictated by the standards set by publishers for first-time authors, which is what I would be considered in their eyes, seeing as how not a lot of them count self-published works. Hopefully, once this (also self-published) series gets going, I'll be able to generate some sales . . . and thus validate myself as an author in terms of the almighty cash-flow factor. My thought is, that as a self-published author, I have a duty to the story and characters first, and to perceptions (and prescriptions) of length second. Not that I don't care about my readers' eyeballs — I do. I know that big, long books can be difficult, but then again, look at the last three installments of the Harry Potter series — so excellently told, so wonderfully, cleverly plotted — and tell me that Rowling would have been better off cutting 25% of them. Nah, didn't think so. Besides — this is one of those story's that's intended to be larger than life; it should feel like an epic when you hold it in your hands; should read like the War and Peace of fantasy books. Length by itself does not equate to quality, but, the more room that we as authors allow ourselves to really stretch out and explore our worlds, our characters' lives, etc., can — I think — make the resulting work that much more engaging and fulfilling for readers. Plus, I think todays' readers want to be challenged. I think they're tired of the easily-tossed-aside, disposable fiction that seems to dominate the bestseller charts, and cry out for something meatier to sate their literary appetites. Of course, I could be wrong about that. But, I'm betting I'm not.
Pardon me, folks, but I couldn't resist the urge to brag a little. So far, my first trilogy, The Reality Engineers, has garnered some rave reviews thus far on Amazon and in other places. Here's the on that I'm most proud of so far, from Fantascize.com:
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.
Hello everyone out there in cyberspace! For the past several months, I've been hard at work on a brand new novel, a romantic, adventurous blending of science fiction and fantasy, which will be the start of a whole new series that I call The Chronicles of Aeòvandàr. The first book in the series will be called Dralkowynn's Doom, with the other titles being similar in that they'll all be called "Dralkowynn's something," etc. These tales will, as I said, be a combination of high fantasy and hard sci-fi . . . a world where the masters of arcane technology are called Wizards, and where Faery creatures (modeled on the Celtic Túatha de Danann), are actually alien beings from the stars.
So, then . . . ladies and gentlemen — for your consideration, please allow me to proudly present an excerpt from Dralkowynn's Doom:
A thousand and one hundred years later, in Aeòthánia, capital of the Kingdom known as Lóeth-Lórica, King Evrin Dralkowynn paced back and forth in the throne-room of his castle-keep, studying the map of the city that his top two generals, Valarys Sagyren and Albrecht Stonewarden, had laid out for him on a large wooden table. Dotted with small pewter figurines, the map indicated potential defensive strategies, with hastily-scribbled notes scratched in places, the strokes of the two generals’ quill-pens as different as the men themselves. Valarys and Albrecht—the first a stodgy old-timer with a hard-lined face and a patch over the eye that he had lost in the last war, the second a somewhat younger, more fastidious man of thirty, his uniform immaculate and his tiny mustache finely oiled—stood on either side of their king, also looking down at the map. Whatever differences were between the two men, the expressions that they wore now were equally dark and grim. Outside the arrow-slit windows of the elongated, elliptical and finely-polished throne room, the rain continued, as did the boom of thunder from above. Perhaps a sign from the gods that his reign was soon to end. He would have to consult with Ibrahaim about that. Presently, the pious old priest with thin, greying hair and wrinkles beneath his eyes—dressed in a plain, grey robe as befitted his office—sat across from Evrin and between the two generals, quietly pondering a passage from that holiest of books, the Legendarium. The room was lit by candle-light and a fireplace, and their flickering fires cast a yellow-orange pallor over the faces of all those assembled, faces darkened by the sure knowledge that come morning, there might not be a castle-keep left to stand in, let alone defend.
From outside the keep came the sounds of a city under siege—shouts of orders, the ring of metal on metal, the hollering of attacking troops, the sound and smell of fires burning out of control—raged, the thunderstorm a gloomy backdrop for the city’s gradual destruction. That bastard Ronel Talamouth, ruler of the neighboring kingdom of Ardyngard, had declared war on Evrin and his people, and had vowed to overtake all of Lóeth-Lórica and to annex its lands for his own. He already occupied the river-city of Rydderton, and had now managed to slash and burn his way eastward, all the way to the very heart of Lóeth-Lórica itself, to the very walls of its capital! Since the end of the Great Winter in 100 A.E., nine hundred years before, his forefathers and their forefathers had labored to build Aeòthánia into the glorious city it was now—a grand mecca of commerce and affluence known the seven kingdoms over, the beauty of its architecture unparalleled by any other city anywhere—and now, it was all going to be torn down and destroyed, its tall, silver-needle towers toppled by a madman. And if the present siege lasted much longer, the destruction would begin from within, for without supplies from the outside world, Evrin’s people would soon begin to starve . . . and then the riots would begin, and he’d have yet another front on which to fight . . . but this time, the enemy would be his own people!
He did not have enough men to put down riots and drive back Ronel’s forces. He knew this, and so did Valarys and Albrecht. Trell, so did Ibrahaim, and he wasn't even a strategist! But, having enough men was not always the answer. He had fought both Dragons and Dràthýrg-hordes with fewer than “enough” men, and had lived to tell the tale. He would survive this, too, and so would his people. He would protect them with his dying breath, if he had to, for unlike that tyrant Ronel, he considered himself a good king who actually loved his subjects . . . when they weren’t rioting in the streets for his head, that was. Outside the castle, thunder crashed again, and lightning flashed.
“Well, your Majesty?” said Valarys with a sigh. “What do we do, now? If you ask me, we’re fresh out of options. We need to think about surrender. Doing so could yield a tactical advantage, in the long-run.”
"Prayer is always an option, your Majesty," said Ibrahaim, closing his battered copy of the Legendarium and sighing heavily. “The gods will always reward fealty and service with justice, your Majesty, no matter the odds against those who truly believe. So, I advise we pray, and wait for the gods to intervene. After all, it cannot hurt.”
“Ha!” barked Valarys. “Prayer! A perfect way to convince yourself that you’re doing something positive when in fact you’re doing nothing.”
“Spare us your irreligious cynicism, General,” said Ibrahaim, drawing himself up a bit. “That’s not helpful, either.”
Evrin pinched his nostrils together and sighed. “Is that truly the best idea that any of you have? To merely pray harder, and hope that the gods come down here and intervene? Come on, Ibrahaim. I’m as pious a King as any—it was through the mingling of my ancestors’ blood with that of the gods, once upon a time, that established the Divine Right to begin with—but even I have to say that ‘prayer’ isn’t exactly a compelling solution. What am I supposed to do—go out there on that balcony and tell my subjects to all just pray harder, and that food will Magically appear for them? Come on, pull the other one.”
Ibrahaim shrugged. “It couldn’t hurt, your Majesty.”
“No, I’ll tell you what we’ll do . . .” said Evrin, taking a sip of his wine. Outside, the sounds of steel on steel and of men dying in battle drifted up through the castle-keep windows. He refilled his goblet from the pitcher, took another drink, then sighed. “My old friends, it is time to take risks, to gamble. Even on long-odds such as this . . .” He snapped his fingers and set down his wine. He had had an idea. “That man, the one from the Guild. The one who came here yesterday for an audience with me. The one I dismissed as a ‘crackpot.’ You two were here at the time, weren’t you? What was that man’s name, again?”
The two generals exchanged a look. Albrecht looked thoughtful for a moment, then answered. “I believe his name was . . . Trevail, your Majesty. Yes, Arthur Trevail, of the Natural Philosophers’ Guild. Fairly sure about that. But sure, surely you’re not thinking of listening to that one! The man’s clearly unhinged, a lunatic!”
“Hmph!” snorted Ibrahaim, a sour look on his face. “‘Natural Philosophers’—bah! Sorcery, if you ask me. Little better than the invocation of demons. One problem does not solve another, your Majesty, and believe me, that lot are a problem just waiting to happen. Next thing you know, you’ll be calling on the Rangers to get involved!”
“This whole damned war is ‘unhinged,’ and I’m fighting a lunatic,” replied Evrin bitterly, shaking his head. “No. I should not have dismissed the man—nor his ideas—so quickly. We are tight on treasure, yes, and his plan is expensive, yes . . . and no, it isn’t likely to succeed . . . but perhaps we’re not so tight that we cannot gamble that he is secretly some sort of genius. Where’s a page when I need one. Elric? Elric!” Evrin looked around as he called to the young, sandy-blond-headed pageboy, who stood nervously at attention, just behind Albrecht. The boy had wanted to join the army and fight, Evrin remembered, but his lazy left eye had prevented it. He had spirit, though, that one, and Evrin liked spirit. “Ah, there you are, boy. Do your king’s will and go to tell the Guardsmen out front to go and fetch me a man named Arthur Trevail. He’s a member of the Natural Philosopher’s Guild, so he should be fairly easy to find. He’s probably somewhere in that blackstone tower of theirs, the one near the eastern gates. And tell them to hurry!”
“Yes, your Majesty!” cried Elric, snapping to attention. He darted out of the room, and closed the doors behind him. For a brief moment, when the doors opened, Evrin could hear the chaos of his great city, could hear the fires Ronel had set crackling, could hear each clash of swords, each scream as each spear went through each gut . . . and it sickened him. Was this truly the end of his reign? Aeòthánia? Lóeth-Lórica? Was his legacy to be a king who went down in flames, in utter defeat and ruin?
“Good lad, that one,” observed Albrecht, gesturing to where Elric had stood. “Pretty boy, too. I might want to borrow him sometime. For administrative purposes, of course.”
“So, your Majesty,” said Valarys, clearing his throat and casting a disapproving eye toward Albrecht. “We bet everything on this one man’s wild ideas about this ‘exploding powder’ of his, or whatever he called it? Mixing bird shit with ashes to produce . . . what again? Pfaw! Forgive me, sire, but surely—”
“For once the General and I agree, your Majesty,” said Ibrahaim, nodding fiercely. “I warn you, sire: We of the Magisteria cannot officially sanction or condone any course of action that draws too heavily on the talents of those . . . Philosophers and their blasphemous ‘researches.’ Anything that emboldens those men must be thought of as a last resort, and a last resort only! Surely, your Majesty will not entrust the safety of the kingdom to those . . . those impious atheists.” He cast a sharp eye toward Valarys.
“Wait!” said Albrecht, snapping his fingers, an idea lighting on his face. “I’ve got it. Perhaps we could use the old sewer tunnels under the city as escape routes! We could begin evacuating immediately, your Majesty. Why, some of those tunnels lead all the way to the Gorovalyne River! We could start getting our people to safety immediately. The river leads directly into Ashen Forest, and on through to the kingdom of Edòrica. Surely Queen Desdera would take us in, your Majesty. She has ever been our friend and ally, so why not?”
“No, no, no,” said Valarys, shaking his head. “We already discussed something similar when this siege first began, and those tunnels simply aren’t big enough. They can get as narrow as two feet across in some places, and there’s a very real danger of cave-ins . . . and then you’re dealing with dozens of dead or trapped people and a backed-up sewer-line. There’s a reason the sewers are closed to foot-travel, aside from the fact that they’re full of muck and stink to high-heavens. So, no.”
Albrecht looked crestfallen for a moment. “Well then your Majesty, perhaps we should consider surrender.”
Evrin scowled at him. “No. Never. I shall never yield to that bastard!”
“Normally, I would agree, your Majesty,” said Valarys. “But if the rumors I’ve heard about Ronel’s armies are true, then surrender may not be save us. I’ve heard he has Draytorilaen slaves fighting for him.” His tone was as grim as the subject he spoke of; the word itself carried terrifying weight.
“That can’t be true,” said Evrin. “The Draytorilaen are an unbreakable, indomitable people. We know, we’ve tried. So how can Ronel have some as slaves?” Still, the prospect worried him greatly. The Draytorilaen were not Human. They were large, blue-furred wolfen man-beasts—half wolf, half man, all appetite and savagery—who lived in the forests and glens and caves of the world, their primitive societies little better than tribal structures, their tongues crude and their weapons even cruder. They were fierce warriors, and it was known that they rarely took any prisoners . . . and when they seldom did, those prisoners were never heard from again. Centuries before, they and Humankind had become bitter enemies, with the Humans of the world hunting them for their rich pelts, and with them hunting Humans as food. The Legendarium spoke of a time when the two had been friends, even allies, but Evrin wasn’t so sure that he believed everything the Legendarium said.
Just then, there came a sharp knock at the door. The four men exchanged puzzled looks. As King, Evrin did not have any other business scheduled. He had made sure of that; he had partitioned off this time specifically for a discussion on strategy with these two, and to take some time to listen to whatever advice Ibrahaim had to give. All his aides knew better than to bother him when he was in session with someone—especially his two chief military advisers and his Magisterial adviser. Outside, the sounds of battle continued, the brutal cries of a city under attack, the roaring of great fires, the death-rattles of his mighty empire, his legacy . . .
“Tell whoever it is to go away!” Evrin yelled to the Guardsman by the door, and pounded his fist on the map in frustration. “The King is well-occupied!”
The Guardsman gave a brief salute—fist on heart for a quick moment, coupled with a bow of the head—turned and opened the door, and spoke softly to whoever was there. Then, he paused, and looked back at his king, a slightly consternated look on his face, as though he wasn’t sure what to do next. He shut the door, appeared to think for a moment, and then crossed the room to where Evrin and the other two stood. He gave a brief but respectful bow, and then said:
“Erm, your Majesty . . . they . . . they say it’s urgent that they speak with you.” He had a far-off look in his eyes, and his voice was tinged with a mixture of wonder and— fear? His expression said that he was currently very busy trying to sort out some complex problem. “They say . . . they say that if you grant them an audience . . . they can stop the siege of the city, sire. They say they can even stop the war.”
“Oh-ho!” Evrin laughed bitterly. “Can ‘they’ now? And just who might ‘they’ be?”
“I . . . didn’t get a name, sire,” the Guardsman replied, sounding extremely unsure of himself. “I’ve never . . . never really seen anything quite like this before. But they said they are here to help.”
“Great,” snorted Ibrahaim. “What now—the Rangers? Mercenary scoundrels, that lot! Or perhaps more godless Philosophers?”
Evrin squared his shoulders, sighed, and glowered at both Ibrahaim and the Guardsman. “Well tell whoever it is that their service is appreciated, but that their king commands them to go the Trell away. And if ‘they’ do not leave, then do your duty and arrest ‘them,’ whoever ‘they’ may be, Guardsman.” He returned his gaze to the map. “Now, then, gentlemen, where were—”
“But we can end this siege for you, and end the war, your Majesty,” came the ringing of a powerful-sounding female voice from every corner of the room at once. Quickly, Evrin and the others looked around for the source. The voice came again: “In fact, your Majesty, that is already in progress as we speak.” As startled as the rest of them, the Guardsman turned aside to reveal their new—and apparently, very insolent, thought Evrin—visitors. He and his two generals could only gawk at them. Strolling into the throne-room through the gilded double-doors that led to the rest of the palace, there came a group of three men and four women, all with unnaturally pale-white skin, no hair upon their shiny heads, and bright, glimmering, jewel-like eyes . . . eyes so bright they were almost aflame, like stars settled into craters on their faces. And, all of their eyes were the same, vivid shade of almost-glowing blue, Evrin noted. He would later remember thinking, breathlessly, such striking eyes! So odd.
Their visitors were dressed only in hooded robes of jet-black silk, their many folds held in place by small, black, studded leather straps that went to and fro. Odder still. And of the twelve, a regal young woman—or at least, she looked young; the skin of her face had a strange, ageless quality to it—walked out in front, a soft half-smile on her lips. The tip of her tall white staff had a bright, green jewel embedded in it, and it clicked softly against the polished stone flooring as she walked. And with each click of wood to stone, the jewel in the top of the staff flashed with emerald light. Even odder still. And upon those shorn heads of theirs . . . were those crowns? They had the look of silver circlets, with strange, glistening hieroglyphs inscribed on them. But no, wait . . . Evrin could see, with a small wince, that they were not crowns at all, nor were they merely decorative: No, they were part of their heads themselves, as painful and impossible as that sounded; the circlets were seemingly fastened to the skull itself, and protruded up though the skin like strange, ring-shaped metal bones. Their bearers did not appear to be in pain, though. In fact, the bald, pale woman with the tall, bejeweled staff and striking blue eyes was presently smiling at them. “You Humans,” she said with a sigh, looking Evrin up and down. “Still playing your ‘game of thrones’ after all these centuries. What are we to do with you, I wonder?”
I suppose I should write something meaningful here; this is, after all, my new home on the web, the place where you can come to hear me rant, rave, and scream from the hilltops about whatever is on my mind at the moment, any time of day or night. This is, after all, supposed to be your one-stop-shop for all things Andy-related, so I'd better make this post a good one, just to grab you and suck you in early, get you hooked like a junkie. Alas, I can think of no great sayings, no wise quotations, no witty rejoinders, so you'll just have to settle for this, the official inaugural post on the blog. Stay tuned for all sorts of weirdness, coolness, madness, and otherness; prepare to jack yourself straight into my stream of consciousness, and buckle up . . . 'cause Kansas? It's goin' bye-bye. While you're here, why not explore some of the links over to your left (or if you're on a mobile device, up at the top). There, you can find all my cool 3D artwork, as well as can find my books, which I promise are way more awesome than this lame, self-referential blog post. No, really, they are. You should go check 'em out post-haste, and maybe even buy one! I write science fiction and fantasy, and sometimes a blending of the two. I even throw in elements of horror and romance, too!
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