A Bleak New World has Arrived!

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

~Robert Frost

Just in time for Halloween, A BLEAK NEW WORLD anthology has hit shelves–are you ready to take the road to dystopia with a few maladjusted (yet intrepid) authors like myself?

www.amazon.com/Bleak-New-World-Dystopian-Anthology-ebook/dp/B017C60E46/

Bleak

Background for A BLEAK NEW WORLD

BleakCan you feel it in the air? The changing of the scenery, the dying of the light, the taste of damp and snow…no, I’m not talking Autumn. Naturally, I’m talking about the release of the anthology A BLEAK NEW WORLD tomorrow! You haven’t forgotten, have you?

I was thrilled to be a part of this collection with my sci-fi short, “Clinging,” and I hope some of that comes across during an interview the rest of the writers and myself participated in as part of the anthology’s promotion today. Hosted on fellow writer Gregory Norris’s blog, the interview talks about the launch, how the project came together, as well as the inspirations and backstory to the individual writers’ pieces.

Here’s a preview:

Like the majority of the stories written during that marvelous spell — a western, a SF tale, several horror efforts — I later edited the draft of “Third World” for submission to publishers and sent it out the door. This particular tale went to the fine folks at Raven International Publishing, who were reading for a dystopian-themed anthology, A Bleak New World, where it was soon accepted. This week, the anthology debuts, offering dark glimpses into possible futures best avoided apart from visits to within the covers of this wonderful reading experience. Bleak is the brainchild of RIP head honcho Clark Chamberlain. As any familiar with Clark’s fiction writing work, daily podcasts, or his stellar The Book Editor Show, Bleak‘s subject matter is a fair departure for the publisher’s normally upbeat vibe. So why did he go the dystopian route for RIP’s first multi-author anthology?

“I choose to be upbeat and positive. I have slogged through a lot of life, death of children, divorce, crises of faith, and then there was Iraq,” says Clark, a former and still part-time soldier. “What I did there and what I was willing to do there really made me look at myself in a negative light. When I got home I was drifting, had thoughts about killing myself or at least going back to the war. Some of my persona is a mask to hide that darkness, or at least keep it down. I want peace so badly in this life because I’ve seen the darkness. I feel that we need to confront those emotions and feelings and really look hard at ourselves. Through story we have that opportunity. And on the business side, my then partner and I thought the sci-fi community would be a good place to dive in.”

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was the inspiration behind Bleak.

“I read that and thought this isn’t much of a dystopia,” Clark adds. “Being satisfied with your lot in life, that sounds pretty great. I’d much rather live there than 1984. So I wanted to see what others could come up with and I was pleasantly surprised.”

Read the rest of the interview, along with my own backstory, at Gregory’s blog, here.

And celebrate Halloween with a dark new anthology of fiction–the first by Raven International Publishing! Don’t miss out. You never know when that apocalypse might finally come around.

Calculation

From the movie “Ex Machina.” Seemed appropriate.

(Hello everybody! As it turns out, I’m going to be scampering off to Colorado for a little over a week. As such, the Den’s going to be a little quiet for the next while…but that also means today you get a special treat. Who here’s in the mood for some sci-fi? Everyone?Good. Now let’s play a game.)

Xiangqi was commonly referred to as Chinese Chess. While the name certainly captured the motivation behind it, it hardly did the game justice in terms of execution. Xiangqi was to Chess as Chess was to Checkers: essentially, a more complicated version of a series of moves designed to pique the human interest and measure its strategic capability for micromanaging.

Two figures considered the game. On either’s chest was pinned a name. For the one: “Victor.” For the other: “Ursula.” They had but two things in common: both had spent entirely too many hours with this particular game, and neither had chosen their name at birth.

Victor was something of a prodigy when it came to the game. His country was known for its love of this sort of game; but then, they loved to play games at nearly every level of life’s offering. Some people (other people, that is to say) tended to find it disconcerting. Both at a personal level, and an international one.

When Victor leaned back, it wasn’t to relax. It was to size up his opponent.

As soon as the shadow of a hand had secured its move, he countered, sweeping a scholar along its predetermined lines to block access to his marshal. But here he tittered, though he tried not to let his trepidation show. Game after game, he had watched the number of moves it took him to dominate the board lengthen and lengthen. Now, he was actually on the defensive. He could see the outcomes laid before him in a sort of Robert Frostian choice: Ursula could move, she could strike, or she could have him pinned with the most delicate of military operations. It would take coordination, foresight, and most importantly: imagination.

Ursula seemed to imitate him. It was not like her. When he looked up from the board, he found her watching him, no trace of emotion to mark her face, but still. Her eyes were not on the board. She was reading him, rather than doing the mathematical calculations that carried her game against so many others.

This, he told himself, was not the little girl he had first set out to fool when she was nothing more than a series of code strings and a monitor in his parents’ basement. The form had changed since then. So, too, had the code.

It was odd to feel nervous doing something that had always been his mode of relaxation. He imagined this was how thousands of young American minds must have felt, years before, when they had first watched the Watson computer system decimate its opposition on live trivia TV.

But all Watson had to do was cross reference information. It didn’t consider the people it competed against.

Unpredictability. That was what he was testing here. Not the ability to conquer.

“Victor,” Ursula said. “I believe you are over-analyzing.”

He blinked, nodded. “I’m just waiting on you, darling,” he lied.

Ursula cocked her head to one side and smiled. She liked to smile. Then she shifted her final chariot to snare his scholar. It was the easiest path, the most sensible path. It left his marshal briefly open, but it would sacrifice her most powerful piece and, inevitably, cost her the game. Victor sighed heavily and the crowd, seeing what he had seen, answered his counter with a series of low-grade applause. The eyes of the nation were watching.

Ursula nodded as he picked off first one piece, then another, her own pieces countering deftly, but not enough to stem the tide. When he took her general, the crowd cheered. They loved to see how far technology had come, but they loved it all the more watching mankind still triumph over it.

With a practiced smile, Victor stood and took Ursula’s hand in his. She answered, leaning over the board toward him.

“You are pleased, Victor?”

“Of course I’m pleased, Ursula. It was a good game.”

She shook his hand and twisted toward the enthusiastic crowd. Unlike with people, her lips did not need to move to reply to him.

“I thought they might like this better.”

For an instant, he must have looked like a fish out of water for the cameras. But he forced the stiffness out, and kept waving his hand for those watching. Victor had his part to play. He knew this. But so, apparently, did Ursula.

(Like what I do with Sci-Fi? Then you might also consider “New Frontiers,” a space story out on Kindle Singles. Others of this type of fiction are set to appear in A Bleak New World Anthology and in a collection published by Evil Girlfriend Media later this year.)

Book Review: Echoes of Old Souls

“I’ve lost you, forever, so many times. And I’d do it all again.”

I have a word for you: lyrical.

It’s a word that I cannot apply to nearly enough literature, but I must apply it here. Like the echoes to which it speaks, this collection of short stories (By Nika Harper) resonates with the beauty of old souls returned. I want to call it a ghost story, but that wouldn’t quite be doing it justice. Tales of rebirth might be more accurate, but they run the gamut from stirring elegies of sorts to the humor many might more generally associate with “the Nikasaur,” to downright “spooky” tales of what connects us to this earth, and however many lives that might entail.

Of course, the short story format may not be immediately apparent to everyone. Echoes of Old Souls is divided into chapters, and the only thing denoting the chapter change are the names of those old souls contained within. So if you’re not careful, you might mistake it for a building of quite a cast of characters (which it is, in many regards, anyhow). When I say short, I mean very, very short. Most stories are only a couple pages long and it feels more like you are hopping from brain to brain rather than getting in-depth engagement with characters—but what Ms. Harper manages to do in those short spans is admirable.

Her writing has a poetic quality that paints some very human, if ethereal portraits—in all their myriad shades. It’s a fine debut, and will engage your curiosity.

A January Writer’s Smörgåsbord

A January Writer’s Smörgåsbord

12455-robot-pictureNew Year.

New Month.

New oh lord it has been too long since I prattled on here.

So much for New Year’s resolutions, eh?

Since I’m not one of those fancy fellows with people to shout updates at you from the heavens, this is where this little author’s giving you the rundown on what you’ve been missing here in my silence. Call it the TOP FIVE rundown to one man’s madness.

  1. Book Delay – In case you missed it, somehow, AS FEATHERS FALL, the third and final book in the Haunted Shadows series was delayed until first quarter this year. It will be out sometime in the coming couple months. The writing is done, fear not. In fact, I will be posting a preview next month. Why then, the delay? This was due to…
  2. Editor Change – Due to very human issues, there was an 11th hour shakeup in those working on the book. My former editor will no longer be involved in the process. As this did not transpire until the last minute, prompting a very sudden shift/hunt, delays were an unfortunate necessity. I believe in quality over quantity, after all, and no writer should be the final editor for their work as well. Foreign eyes must be there to see what we become too familiar to see.
  3. Life is a fickle creature – Due to unforeseen circumstances (a very collective, mean-spirited group of them), my living circumstances are also taking a tumble and a dramatic shift. Naturally, this also contributed to the Book Delay. Therein, however, I will be landing on stable ground again at month’s end.
  4. To school, or not to school? – As if the previous wasn’t enough, I find myself at a crossroads on the career growth front. The looming question: do extensive training programs lie in my future,  an Associate’s Degree for a new path entire, or something else? Lots of questions. Many answers. The mind debates.
  5. Upcoming Publication – You heard it here first. Another short story of mine, CLINGING, is slated to appear in Raven International Publishing‘s A Bleak New World anthology in the coming months. So long Kansas; hello Dystopia. As I know more, so shall you, but keep your eyes peeled. That one will be a grim ride, but I can promise you Robots. Also puppies. What could go wrong?

That pretty well does it. It’s been a rocky start to a new year, coming off a rocky end to the old, but life will what it will, and we can but react and try to keep our heads. I still write, even when I go silent, and the results will always come back to you, gentle readers, one way or another. In the meanwhile, for your entertainment, here’s a shout-out blurb provided by friend and fellow writer Bryce David Salazar, author of She Sees Metaphors. May you enjoy his snark as much as I:

“Chris is the author of the Haunted Shadows Trilogy and a freelance writer in Michigan. His short story, The Child’s Cry has been published in Mystic Signals Magazine. He is also a filthy pig who can stream a sentence together better than most writers, and for that, Bryce wishes every foul act of god upon his head in something so hideous, even the Old Testament would soil its pants in fear.”

Halloween Short Story Goodness

Good morning, oh ghoulish Internet browsers. It’s time for candy and costumes and spirits and a whole other brand of escapism today. Halloween. Do you have your mask all picked out?

Forgive me for not bringing any traditional treats to the party, but I do have a new spooky story for you…it might even touch your heart, though probably not in that whole, “Kalimaaaa” sort of way. Enjoy: “What Lies Beneath,” and, if you’d prefer to hear me read it aloud to you in a dark room (you creepers, you), I’m also recorded it on soundcloud here: https://soundcloud.com/galforc/what-lies-beneath

WHAT LIES BENEATH

October had lost its color. Autumn was frost, the rigid huddling of dirt against dirt in dire opposition to his shovel, a squeezing of the lungs that would not dissipate. The air was white with his breath, white against the sliver of moon by which kids stole corn husks from the neighboring fields. By contrast the night was black, slick in his hands, an opaque, reflective thing, but black regardless. Raymond had come to think of these as obsidian days, pondered if the marble tombstone had been misbegotten.

“Please,” he whispered to that stone, “it’s time. It’s only time.” Still the ground fought him, every time it fought him, no matter how many times she dug herself back out.

The battery-powered lamp was all but flickers beside him. In every shadow he saw her face, every time a touch harsher than the last.

Months before, when they had first bid their farewells, he had drunk himself into a stupor. When she first returned to him, stumbling up the lawn in that god awful suit with which they had buried her cancer-eaten body, he had thought her a cruel trick of alcoholism. He had hid in his bathroom and rocked himself to sleep.

“They spoke of peace, Ray. They didn’t mention the silence,” Britney said when he emerged in the morning.

She was still there, pale, porcelain-preserved skin dragging mud and worms into their bed. It seemed as though she had sat there all night, waiting. She no longer needed to sleep. She made a sound like Britney used to make, when those Sarah McLachlan commercials used to come on for the shelters. Only thing was, she had no more tears to give.

He very nearly broke down right there.

The thing was, everyone knew it was a possibility. It was all over the news, since the last red meteor. Call it a fluke or call it magic, for most people it was just a nuisance. Necromancers. Satanists. Punk Rockers. You never knew who might call up the dead anymore. They tended toward the rich and famous, though. Not little people, like him.

“I love you, I’ll always love you.”

He kept repeating it like a mantra, even as he took her back to the hill and buried her in the earth. He got a different priest, just to be sure, and paid the groundskeeper extra to make sure her grave got the proper care. Raymond didn’t like the notion of vengeful spirits due to someone else’s lack of care.

“Why?” she asked, time and again, after that. “Don’t you love me anymore?”

“The words,” he choked, becoming harder with repetition, “say ‘til death do us part, love. I will always love the person you were, but you’re gone. You’re gone and I’m still here. You told me to keep living.”

“But I’m scared, Ray…”

He felt monstrous. It bid him dig still deeper. He covered her grave in flowers and stood, sometimes, watching the bend of the cypress tree there besides, its intangible whirls and knots, twisting into the night. One by one, its leaves fell.

Yet she kept coming back. Each time she did, there was a little less of the woman he had known, a little more of the grave. People said it was the soul that animated. Given that it was her mind he watched deteriorate, he thought that might have something more to do with it. Anger began to move her, instead of regret.

“I’ve never been able to sleep alone,” she said, the last time she pulled herself up.

It was the rot, he told himself. Bits of her were shutting down, but not fast enough for his liking.

All he wanted was the quiet, the calm. He longed to come to peace, to be allowed the silence of release. Her return deadened him, but in ways he had never wanted to be. Familiarity was supposed to humanize, not harden.

The cemetery was a long walk from his house, and it was not long before he wrapped the coat still tighter about his body. Winter was practically here. There had been no leaves left on the tree, this night.

Autumn passed at a shuffling gait, a whisper of death on the open air. He stood still, turning back across the long asphalt. What was imagination in a world where such things existed? He did not have to imagine it. She was there. She must have been digging before he even finished patting down the hole.

Barely any skin left. Her nails had continued to grow, but they were cracked, flaky. Most of what had made her Britney in his eyes had dissolved to bare creation. She no longer had any lips.

“Why?” he asked at last, nothing else left to offer her.

Closer she came, and closer. “I don’t want to be alone…”

His fingers, folding as if in prayer, groped around the empty pocket he had once promised held a ring. Another empty hole, promises forgotten by dark of night.