Stories for the Masses

The mutterings of a half-mad Canuck who writes stuff

Human 76 – The Ballad of Ash & Hum

Alison DeLuca has written what I’m going to call a “non-traditional romance” (that means the romantic partners are gay*) and I hope she’ll forgive me, but when I figured out what was going on I have to admit I rolled my eyes a bit.  You see, on my Facebook I have as friends a great number of other writers. Among those writers, the great majority (of the regular posters, anyway) seem to write romance, and of the romance writers it seems to be split about half and half between very muscular Scotsmen and very muscular gay men (with a small fraction of very muscular, gay Scotsmen). It seems like gay romance is the flavor of the month (or year, I suppose) and I tend to resist that sort of thing as a knee-jerk reaction.

This, though, is a well written romance story about a couple of interesting people. The plot is well paced and suspenseful, and there is nothing formulaic about it. I should have known this from the beginning:

Hum thinks about infinity a lot. Dirt and stone surround Pandora Alliance that lies underground. No one knows what lies above their buried city. Thanks to his enhanced neural wiring, Hum can call up an exact picture of the entire facility, rotate, flip the image, and figure the fastest way to get from one port to another, including airshafts and what Ash calls ‘smuggler tunnels’ – passages known only in Alliance legends.
These mental images come to Hum as music, a strange symphony of bytes and constant input. No one quite understands the constant tune in his head, although Ash comes closest to hearing the crackles and whines of Pandora’s song. The melody uses zeroes and ones instead of notes, wires and hardware for instruments.
Ash stands and twists his back. When he doesn’t move for long he becomes restless. His enhancements are all physical: strengthened bones, perfect eyesight, the balance and poise of a dancer. HUMAN 272 is tatted under his long hair, but only Hum gets to see it.
They are bred to perform perfectly together. Ash is all hard muscle and sinew, ready to spring to action when Hum makes the call. One theorizes, the other acts.

It did get me thinking about why I see so many writers going the route of the gay romance. From a writer’s standpoint I asked myself, “What would I get out of making my characters gay?” Well, first off, I would get to drop the bullshit gender roles that seem to go with that particular territory and focus on writing about a couple of interesting, three-dimensional people. That’s always nice… and that’s when I realized. I’ve more or less already done that. To Ride the Wind Dancing is basically a romance story between a guy and a spaceship. Similar idea from a gender roles standpoint.

At any rate, I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Ash, Hum, and Bhari are all well defined and compelling characters. They speak with their own voices, which is harder to do than you might think, and they have interesting things to say. Also, the bad guy is a right dick.

That’s also a good thing.

The book is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback) and Amazon (kindle). All proceeds go to Water is Life.

Human 76 – Sheshwahtay

Sheshwahtay is a story that has stayed with me since I read it. KJ Collard has wrought something worthwhile here.

The story has a pseudo-native feel to it, not simply because of the names Two Horns and Red Foot, but from the pacing and the focus and the feel of the story’s fabric. This is a fully imagined society populated by fully realized people. Redheaded people. I really do wonder if I missed a story meeting somewhere along the line.

As I sat on my front porch, I could not help but beam at the tableau surrounding my young cousins. Two Horns had been born eleven years ago with both middle fingers gracefully extended. His recklessly carefree attitude was with him from the day he was born. But where Two Horns was antagonistic and playful, Red Foot was creative and loving. Their personalities could not be further apart on the spectrum, but their twin-like looks made it undeniable they were related. I loved my young cousins It did my heart good to see them act like children. The reports coming from our sister community in The Valley painted a very bleak picture of the world that they would inherit.
“One day, Two Horns will learn better than to tease you. Now, come here, Red Foot,” I coaxed, unable to control the urge to hug her.
Red Foot’s face broke into smile. “I love you, Ahma!”

Third Rosemary, A.K.A. Ahma, is a sympathetic character with a wonderful and unique voice. I found myself really sympathizing with her feelings of loss and regret, and rejoicing with her when.. well, let’s leave that at that. I’ll not give away the ending here, save to say that I’m glad it wasn’t written by the Wombat, and it was nice to see that particular old friend again.

If you haven’t yet gotten the book, it is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback) and Amazon (kindle). All proceeds go to Water is Life, and it is a very good book, so you should buy it.

Human 76 – The Oasis

Rebecca Fyfe’s tale is very short in comparison to the others in the collection, but it packs an awful lot of story into its brief span of pages. Also, the protagonist is a mutant. Finally, someone wrote a mutant main character (and this one can fly) who isn’t an experiment!

The squirrel leapt from the tree and swooped down to land softly by my feet, folding its bat-like wings against its side. My gran had once given me a book about animals that showed a picture of a flying squirrel. Those squirrels from before the Blast didn’t have wings like this one and they didn’t actually fly; they just sort of glided on flaps of skin that stretched between their forelegs and hind quarters. The Blast had changed a lot of things. I’d never seen a squirrel without proper wings that allowed them to fly, to take off from the ground and soar through the air as easily as any bird.
I wish I had that kind of freedom. My wings were more like the ones those former squirrels had possessed. It meant I could only fly if I took off from somewhere high enough and if I could catch the air currents long enough to get some real lift. Of course, it also made it easier to hide my mutation and blend in when I came across others.

I’m struck by how many of the stories have young people who were raised by a grandparent or similar. I wonder what it is that makes that setup such a feature of our post-apocalyptic thinking. It’s a fairly commonplace situation here in China, actually. Maybe that makes China a post-apocalyptic society.

Here’s a weird thing. This story has the characters from Michael Wombat’s “Sand” meeting our mutated protagonist, but I can’t figure out which of the stories came first. That is, I don’t know if Wombat wrote “Sand” and Rebecca Fyfe included his characters, or if Rebecca wrote this story first, and Wombat wrote a prequel story. This is a good thing, as it means the integration between stories is solid.

If you haven’t read the book, it is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback) and Amazon (kindle). All proceeds go to Water is Life, so you should buy it.  Also, it is a very good book so you should buy it. Have you bought it yet?

Human 76 – Sand

Another Michael Wombat story here, and the opening of this one combines both of his greatest literary loves: really weird piratical vessels, and (made up) words that make polite company wince.

Under an impossibly azure sky, the cutter Jack’s Bitch sailed at a steady ten knots, her single mast fore-and-aft rigged, her two headsails swollen by a foehn wind, thrusting her way across the fast sand that layered the scorched desert of the Wastelands. The only sounds were the hiss-tick of the wide wheels, fitted to enable the vessel to sail oceans of sand as well as those of water, and the occasional shout from the crew.
The desert wind was hot and dry. It curled my hair beneath the sweat-stained old baseball cap that sat uncomfortably over my antlers; it tugged at the white square of cloth that covered the back of my neck; it made my nerves jump and my skin itch. Its constancy nagged like an unsatisfied lover. It could not possibly get what it wanted, this wind, but it incessantly worked at my skin, trying to make me … different; trying to erode that which makes me Ghabrie. It whistled through the rigging, modulated, singing without melody. It reminded me that no matter how many friends I might have, or how many people love me, in the end I will die alone. Some things we must do alone. Dying is one of them. The desert wind whispered that truth in my ear even as it grazed my cheek.
To starboard the beautiful Shadow Mountain shimmered into the blue, forming a barrier to more temperate country beyond. Wisps of cloud on the high ridges betrayed the strong katabatic winds that raged high above the vessel. As Jack’s Bitch drew abreast of a rocky promontory that provided refuge for a swarm of wolf spiders, the captain beside me bellowed orders. Crew scrambled to lower the sails. The cutter glided to a stop. Silence, save for the song of the wind and the creaking and ticking of the wooden hull under a burning sun. I adjusted my irises as I gazed out across the sunbright ripples of sand.
“Bloody hell, Jack,” I growled. “There’s nothing here. I swear if you’re double crossing me your entrails will soon be your extrails.” I had heard that threat once in an old movie that Alphaeus had shown us, back in the shipping yard, and had been waiting a long time for an opportunity to use it.

This is one of the very few stories to use Ghabrie as a viewpoint character, and I believe the only one at all to use first person while doing so. I have to be honest, I found that closeness a bit off-putting and would have preferred to keep a certain amount of mystery to Ghabrie’s inner voice. Everything else about this story was wonderful, mind you, so feel free to ignore my misgivings about voice choice.

Items of note in this story: Ghabrie saves some kids (Huzzah),  and we see the reappearance of the skystone from the end of my story (Aha!) that Wombat asked me to put in. Also, explosions, radioactivity, and the breaking down of doors and such with mighty kicks. This is an action-packed kind of story.

The book is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback) and Amazon (kindle). All proceeds go to Water is Life, so you should buy it.  Also, it is a very good book so you should buy it.

The Summer Indie Book Awards are now finished, by the way, and we came in 2nd (WooHoo). I guess that means I still can’t refer to myself as an “Award Winning Author”, but I might start using “Award Nominated Author” and see if it catches on.

Human 76 – The Song of Aiden

KR Smith has written what at first seems to be a classic love story. And indeed, the plot does follow the girl-meets-boy, girl-falls-for-boy, girl-loses-boy structure. Where it veers off the beaten path is in it’s inclusion of girl-avenges-boy’s-grisly-murder, and girl-becomes-a-badass plot elements.

This story starts off with Maeve, a young red-headed lady (I must have missed the story meeting where everyone decided to make all the young ladies red-heads) and her cousin Kendra, who are excited to see  a locally-famous young man sing in the town square.

“Hurry, Maeve! We don’t want to miss the show!”
“But, Kendra, I’m supposed to finish my chores and put away the clean laundry. Your mother will be furious!”
“Never mind that,” she laughed. “If we get there too late to see Aiden, I’ll never forgive you!”
“Oh, all right! I’m coming! And he’d better be as good as you say. He’s all you’ve talked about for the last week.”
“He is! You’ll see!”

Kendra took her hand, giggling as she pulled Maeve through the doorway and down the street.
A crowd had already gathered in the dusty square at the center of the village when the girls arrived. Snaking their way through the gathering, they approached an impromptu stage which was little more than empty carts tied together, with a stepladder for access. Atop them stood a single man, young and tall, his hair a tangle of brown wavy curls. He held up his hand and smiled to the crowd, and after they quieted, he began to sing.

Maeve watched his fingers move over the strings of the instrument he held, their tones soft and rhythmic, carrying the words to her ears. As she listened, her mind traveled to places she’d never been, never known, into dreams that seemed too real. It was so different from the little music she had heard before. There were no hymns of battle, no chants of warriors facing death, no drums beating out a march. Words of warm evenings, of passion and love, of romance lost to time danced through the air. He glanced over the crowd as he sang, and when he looked at Maeve he smiled, or so she thought. When he stopped the words and melodies still filled her mind

If I were to nit-pick this story a bit, I might say that the titular Aiden is a bit of a Marty Stu. He seems to have no flaws and therefore seems to be more plot element than character. If I were to nit-pick further I might mention that I only notice this because I’m prone to doing the same thing myself and it stands out to me more than it would to most. Aiden’s flawless perfection doesn’t actually bother me, though, for three reasons.

  1. Maeve’s character is more than interesting enough to pull all of my attention away from Mr. Perfect,
  2. He isn’t in the story for very long, and
  3. He may not be a tremendously interesting character, but he’s a pretty great plot element.

I quite enjoyed this story. If I were to Hollywood summarize it I’d say it’s like a When Harry met Xena: Warrior Princess origin story with a bit of Top Gun thrown in.

If you haven’t read the book, it is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback) and Amazon (kindle). All proceeds go to Water is Life, so you should buy it.  Also, it is a very good book so you should buy it.

If you have read the book, Human 76 has been nominated for a Summer Indie Book Award in the category of Best Anthology. It’s a public voting sort of thing, so you should go to http://www.poll-maker.com/poll533527x2B2C4bFb-22 and vote for Human 76. You would be best advised to “Ctrl-F” and type ‘human’ to locate it. As of this writing, it is also listed twice for some reason, and the page allows you to vote for multiple books, so you can effectively vote for Human 76 twice. You can vote 1 time per day, so off you go.

Free (as in beer) Book! (Beer Not Included)

Hey, did you know that Soul of the Universe is currently available for free? That’s right! From the morning of September 2nd until midnight on September 6th (Pacific Standard Time) Soul of the universe is free in the Kindle store.

If you are in the UK go to https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00IYP4ATK

If you are in the US go to https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IYP4ATK

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Soul of the Universe was the first book the Anthology Club ever published. It’s a collection of six stories by four authors. All the stories are inspired by a particular piece of music, and they span all the genres under the sun, from western to sci-fi to eye-leaking sentimentality. Here’s the cover:SotU300logo

This book is one of the things I’m most proud of having been involved in. If you haven’t read it, go get it while it’s free (and then buy one or two of the other books I’ve published – the links are in the back).

Human 76 – Underneath

Aaaaaaaaaand we’re back to futuristic tech and some neat toys and things. Also, genetic drift! This is awesome!

I really enjoyed this story by Denise Callaway. In it, we meet two tunnel rats named Cievette and Eisle. The tunnel rats live under cities and settlements, siphoning of electric power and supplies as needed. They are adapted to their underground life with pale skin and larger eyes. I think that’s cool, and wonder why none of the rest of us thought to include this idea (that, and the bicycles).

The tunnel rats had a knack for thievery, stealing anything from food and clothing to power. They only found independence in the deep spaces beneath cities. Over the years, they had learned to network with the rats in other cities, sharing skills, trading resources. Cievette’s skill was one of those resources, and it held her in rare regard. Her assignments were often dangerous, but fortunately having Eisle with her had gotten her out of a tight spot or two.

Taking over at the code screen, Cievette studied what Eisle had managed to unravel. “Not bad, Eisle. Keep this up and they’re going to start sending you out on your own.”

His quiet laugh rumbled as he settled in near the door. Commander Harkins had made it clear that Cievette’s safe return was to be Eisle’s only concern.

Our main characters meet Ghabrie when they are all imprisoned together by the Promethean Alliance. That’s right, Ghabrie was captured! The story isn’t really about that, though, but rather is about drawing a neat (in the sense of interesting) little picture of the tunnel rat’s world, and of the relationship between Cievette and Eisle.

I do have to say, in passing, that while I understand the hold implanted tech has on our collective psyche, given the upgrade cycle of modern technology I really can’t see implants becoming too popular. Before or after the holocaust. Wearable tech seems much more likely to me, but hey, I’m currently writing a story about an 800-year-old lady with a spaceship for a body, so obviously not even I listen to me.

If you’re looking for the book, it is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback) and Amazon (kindle). All proceeds go to Water is Life, so you should buy it.  Also, it is a very good book (so far) so you should buy it.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out that Human 76 has been nominated for a Summer Indie Book Award in the category of Best Anthology. It’s a public voting sort of thing, so you should go to http://www.poll-maker.com/poll533527x2B2C4bFb-22 and vote for Human 76. It’s hard to find things in the list, so you can “Ctrl-F” and type ‘human’ to locate it. As of this writing, it is also listed twice for some reason, and the page allows you to vote for multiple books, so you can effectively vote for Human 76 twice. You can vote 1 time per day, so off you go.

Human 76 – What You Put In

Oh, Julia Rios, where have you been all my life?

What a lovely, satisfying, and well written tale.

In this story we meet a young lady named Kayera who isn’t Ghabrie, but who is frequently suspected of being her on the slim evidence of having dark hair. People do tend to believe what they want to believe and see what they want to see, don’t they. Even fictional people.

“I’m sorry.” Kayera spoke more softly this time, as softly as she could over the roar of the grinder. She made eye contact with Eneri, willing her to know that if she could help she would. “I’m not her. I don’t have the gift. I’m just a girl who’s willing to do hard work. That’s all.”
Eneri grabbed her arm. “But surely if you try—”
“No,” Kayera said. “I have tried. I don’t have it.”
When the last of the grain spilled from the sack into the grinder’s hungry maw, Kayera took it to the pile of empties and then signalled to the foreman asking to go on a break. “Please don’t follow me,” she said to Eneri. “I need to be alone.”

At any rate, in this story we meet another faction – one that goes by the name of The Green Stripes, and that is likely a militarized version of greenpeace rather than something started by the descendants of Jack and Meg White. They value nature and so forth and, as with most groups with a similar bent, forget to include people within their concept of nature. They aren’t very nice.

The story revolves around the aforementioned Kayera, who has run away from home to avoid the Promethean Alliance, and finds out that, while they have moved on, the city is now controlled by the Green Stripes, who are unlikely to leave her aged grandmother in peace.

There’s some good suspense and decent action in this story, but above all it seems to be about hope and rebuilding and responsibility. This was one of the highlights of the book so far for me.

 

As usual, the book is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback) and Amazon (kindle). All proceeds go to Water is Life, so you should buy it.  Also, it is a very good book (so far) so you should buy it.

Human 76 – The Hunted

Steven Paul Watson has a lovely story here. At the risk of being a bit spoiler-y, it has a happy ending. This is noteworthy in any project headed up by Mike Wombat.

In this tale, we have a man working hard against impossible odds to lure cannibalistic reaver-type folks away from his injured daughter while hoping desperately that his wife is still alive.

We also see not only Ghabrie’s bad-assery and toughness, but also the more emotional and vulnerable side. It’s good to be reminded that she is still a very young woman on a very difficult road. It’s good to be reminded of why she’s on that road. It’s good to see her as a more rounded character with depth and vulnerability.

It also, as I’ve mentioned, has a happy ending which is a great change of pace.

The book is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. The e-book is no longer free, but all proceeds from either format go to Water is Life, so you should buy it. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback) and Amazon (kindle).

Human 76 – Human X

Human X tells the story of Ael, a mysterious man who mysteriously survives a nasty disease and is mysteriously blind (these things are all related). This is the first story to take a decidedly supernatural turn, and I like it. The horror elements are more muted than they probably would have been if this book hadn’t been specifically meant for a YA audience, but they are there and strongly enough to do their job.

Human X is also the first story in the collection told in the first person. I feel pretty ‘meh’ about first person, it’s never really been my thing, but by the end of the story I could see the reason for it. It’s still not a voice I like reading, but it was necessary to tell this particular story, and Michelle Fox does it better than most.

One thing I’m having to remind myself of over and over again while reading this book is that the stories are stand alone items. I was thinking about how the evil creatures in this story were going to fit in down the road, but they don’t need to, do they? There are enough shared elements from story to story that it’s easy to forget they actually aren’t interconnected in any meaningful way.

I think that’s pretty neat.

The book is available at Lulu.com in paperback and e-book formats. The e-book is no longer free, but all proceeds from either format go to Water is Life, so you should buy it. It is also available at Barnes and Noble as paperback and for the Nook, and at  Amazon (paperback only, e-book coming soon).

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