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Posts Tagged ‘Earthfall’

And Now, For Something Completely Different…

…how about some Self-Contained Exploration Vehicle designs from none other than Singapore’s finest graphic artiste, the intrepid Marc Lee? This is to inform the cover art for the upcoming Earthfall 2, and I offer two pictures for you to contemplate.

First off, the initial draft, created with the simple guidance of “base it off a HEMT-T.” (And a HEMT-T is the acronym for Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck.)

Revisions followed, of course. Likely fearing a neverending circle jerk of “Well, yeah, but it’s really more like this…”, Marc responded with a series of potential uses for the rig:

Now of course, this doesn’t match what’s in my head, but what I see isn’t necessarily translatable into actionable artwork. What I see is something crossed between the Landmasters from Damnation Alley and the vehicle from Ark II. And if that isn’t an unholy union of absolute nonfunctionality, I don’t know what is. So I’ll just nod and accept Marc’s suggestions and go back to writing. Anyway, cover artwork is probably the only exciting thing about the writing process, so I hope you’ve enjoyed the glimpse into a rather desultory future.

 

 

For My Writer Friends

Duh…

This blog is mostly directed toward the readership—specifically, my readership, as nascent as it is. Today thought, I’m going to stab the right pedal, throw in a little right cyclic, and while keeping the power pegged at around 85%, exit the pattern to do something a little different.

Truth be told, I’ve always been a little pissed with authors who are always hocking their work. Back at the turn of this century, I made contact with one David Brin, the scribe who presented us with the Uplift War series, a truly fantastic science fiction serial that set the (SF literary) world on fire back in 1983 with his second entry, Startide Rising. (I’d bought his first entry, Sundiver, back in maybe 1980 but actually read it after the second book.) I’d thought back then that maybe, possibly, I’d be able to foster something of a relationship between us, author to author. Instead, I got the standard “buy my stuff!” with breakdowns of all the past works and upcoming works, and a quick “And hey, you’re from my home town!” just to ensure there was a bit of a personal connection. (At the time, I was in Los Angeles, California. I recall LA fondly, which is why I’m overjoyed to see it laid low in my series The Last Town.)

It was a turn-off, obviously. That a Big Name Author™ would respond to one of his readers in such a mercenary way kind of pissed me off. But of course, the fault is my own. What was I expecting, really? To a lot of authors, readers are just a means to an end. To this day, whenever I see an author hocking his wares on FB, or just posing holding his book out front, it sends a subliminal signal that at the end of the day, his/her target audience is just a series of dollar signs that need to be cultivated.

Lesson one: don’t do that shit.

Just kidding. We all have to mix in sales with our correspondence, because that’s part of doing business. Especially when you’re selling the fantasy of fiction; you need to lean forward in the foxhole and push yourself, otherwise you’ll be lost in the jumble. That was all Brin was doing back in 2002, trying to maintain some degree of awareness with his readership with the status of his work. While it pissed me off then, it doesn’t now.

Lesson two: Ignore Lesson One, but you need to be cool about it.

I get approached by incubating authors quite often. Taking time to read the work of others is a dicey thing; they invariably think they’re professional caliber, and you invariably think they’re not. This is an exercise in skipping across Occam’s Razor. You want to help, but in doing so you delay your own work. Sometimes, this is a gesture you should freely offer. Other times, it isn’t. Which is which I’ll leave to you to decide, but I’ll offer some tips—if the requestor’s Facebook posts are frequently misspelled, beg off. If the requestor is a fanboi who you suspect is going to offer a tired pastiche of other genres with Star Trek technology thrown in…pass. If the author is offering work that seems replicated from your own—oh sweet Jesus, find a way out of it. Legal reasons aside, you do not want to start reading stuff that’s like your own, because you never know what your wetware is going to recall years down the road, and the last thing you want is for someone to come after you for “ripping them off”. (By the way, plagiarism is only a real thing when you do what Stephen Ambrose did, and present another author’s work word-for-word as your own. Ripping off someone else’s intellectual property, such as retelling another story with different words and with different details, is a dicier proposition, but still capable of summoning legal injunction. Avoid this.)

Sidebar, yer Honor: I have about four point zillion story ideas already, yet people always approach me with “an idea” that could be a big hit if I were to write it. Sometimes, that works out, such as when Craig DiLouie came up with the idea for The Retreat series. In the most cunning of ways, he pitched the premise to me at Spark’s Steak House in New York City one summer evening, and waited to get to the pulse of the matter until after I’d consumed several glasses of wine while miserly sipping from his glass of home-brew rosé. Obviously, when a writer of Craig’s distinction comes to you with a request for a meeting, you should take it seriously. Regrettably, most of the folks vying for your attention don’t have his marquee value. So unless someone like Shawn Chesser or Hugh Howey or Scott Wolf (?) approaches you, go shields up and wait it out. Maybe they’re not nutters just looking to hitch their wagon to whatever star you might be in possession of, but be tough and analytical. This is a business. Be a businessperson, not just a glorified typist.

Continuing the sidebar, and this leads to some deep waters: I honestly write maybe nine hours a week. If I’m dedicated to it, that nine hours a week translates to six figures in writing income. In my normal daytime life, I work 40 hours a week and still make six figures, which sounds like a lot until you become familiar with New York City economics, and then you discover that makes you a near-transient member of the middle class (something New York politicians are desperately trying to stamp out; they envision a city populated by both the ultra-rich and the ultra-poor, so they can lobby the former for funds to support the latter). Now listen kids, nine hours a week isn’t a lot of time to spend on something so profitable. If my personal life didn’t include a foreign-born wife who can’t really integrate into American society and a child who wasn’t scoring a ten-point-zero on the special needs scale, I could so do that in my sleep. At my best, when I know where a story is going and I know what I need to do to get there, I crank 2,000 words an hour. In nine hours, that’s 18,000 words. In two months, that’s a long book. In theory, I should be able to pump out a minimum of six really fat books a year.

Damn me, but life just doesn’t work that way.

The boss needs you to go all in on a three million dollar project, and surprise, you’re the only smart guy on the team. The wife can’t get up before two in the afternoon for weeks on end. The kid gets sick. The truck throws a rod even though you change the oil religiously, and your mom goes into the hospital. The dog needs its shots, and the kid needs someone to drive him to therapy, and you’re the only one with a driver’s license. Then you get sick, because you’re exhausted from running full throttle for weeks at end. But sleep eludes you, because your bank has just encountered a severity one emergency, and remember, you’re the only smart guy. Your father dies, and he was penniless but somehow managed to amass a mountain of debt. The second car, the troop carrier you use for shopping and daily family errands, gets a critical recall but the dealership doesn’t have the parts in stock, and won’t for the next three weeks—so you can’t really drive it with your kid, and remember, the truck is getting repaired. You don’t own a bicycle, so it’s time to break out the Mark 1 running shoes and get busy in this thankfully pedestrian-oriented place you live.

Suddenly, that time-intensive thing called writing needs to be deferred.

Lesson three: Take care of life. The writing can and should wait.

Okay, okay. All of this should make common sense, at least to most people. If you’re already lost, you’re not one of the “most people”, so the following might be difficult for you. But if you’re made it this far, by all means–press on! The primer is over! (Warning: Mucho Foul Lingo approaches!)

THE REAL DEAL: WHAT IT TAKES TO WRITE SUCCESSFULLY (and if you disagree, blow me)

Ah, the business of writing! So much to say, so much experience to impart! These are where the real nuggets of knowledge exist, or at least those which I can present. Take note, class. Quiz later!

Listen, let me make it really, really simple. Pay attention, lads and lasses…this is a 54-year-old son of a bitch telling you what he knows. If you’re older than me, piss off, and let me know how your 401(K) is doing, because mine never included tending to a special needs kid who will outlive me by 50 years. So you think YOU have problems?

Bullet list, in my personal pecking order:

Write a fucking book. Sounds easy, but isn’t. Takes weeks, months, years. Be dedicated. Be thorough. Be able to push on past the fallacy of “writer’s block”, which is the code name assigned to your circumstances when you think you want to write, but instead want to watch America’s Got Talent or maybe check out PornHub and see what’s new. Nothing autobiographical in that last example, I guarantee. And if that isn’t sufficient, I plead the Fifth. I never knew about that rogue porn server, honest!

Get your work edited. Seriously, if you can afford to hire an editor but don’t, you’re fist-fucking yourself in the ass without lube. I learned this the hard way with The Gathering Dead, where I depended on my own editorial skills to see me through. I got very, very lucky here—the story I told was apparently strong enough to make most folks see through the maze of typos, illogic, and general asshattery that went on in the early drafts. Yes, a full-on edit of this morass of gonzo wordology cost me a thousand or so dollars, but in the end…it was worth it. Now recall, I make six figures at the outset. This means I can afford to piss away money on editorial expenses. For those who can’t, don’t release your work right away. Have it read. Not by your mother or your boy/girlfriend, but by people you trust to give you honest-to-God feedback. In the days of CompuServe, which my dear friend and occasional co-author Derek Paterson will recall most fondly, these were called “That’s Nice Dear” critiques. Meaning, these were offered by people who were afraid of offending you. Avoid these, they only prolong the agony.

And keep in mind that just because D.J. Molles managed to put out works that were ridden with typos, inaccuracies, and a Special Forces Hero™ who always got his ass beat and made the worst calls in history but still managed to score big sales, doesn’t mean that you will. More likely than not, you’ll be wondering why you make $3.42 every month.

Just ask my pal Jarret Liotta. Even my name on the cover of Dead in the City of Angels wasn’t enough. Sometimes, the story sucks, and you need to know about that before you release it. Personal experience here, folks…personal experience.

Get a real cover. Listen, I pay over a thousand bucks for most of my covers. My wife shrieks at that, but this is the first thing that people will see. Make an impression. And that impression doesn’t include whipping something up in PowerPoint using some image from the web and calling it a day. Sometimes, you have to pay it forward, and with covers? Dudes…pay it forward. Please. Because while no surveys have been conducted about home-brew covers, I’m operating under the presumption that they’re about as well received as Hillary Clinton’s home-brew email server. Which was probably running Exchange Server 5.5 in plain vanilla format, without even the benefit of ESMTP/TLS. (Though due to Bryan Pagliano’s limited immunity to prosecution, we’ll never know which best practices table was followed.)

When you think it’s ready for release…it isn’t. I came into this with a backlog of stories. City of the Damned was accepted and paid for by two publishers before ranks changed, new editors and marketing people came on board, and it was eventually tossed from the slots. I got to keep the advance money (Oh, an amazing 5,000 bucks!) because I wasn’t the defaulting party, but it still left me high and dry. My agent(s) got to keep their commissions, and after taxes, I was about $3,000 ahead per sale. But the book wasn’t published, meaning my champagne dreams and caviar wishes were once again deferred. But COTD had already been edited, so it truly was ready to do. The Gathering Dead? Not so much. I uncaged that one early, and have the poor reviews for it. Don’t be a dick like I was. Sit on your multimillion dollar, sure-fire best seller for a month or so and go over it with a fine-tooth comb. You’ll be amazed at what shakes out after a couple of rereads. “What, you don’t like that Hansel and Gretel go down on each other? You think there’s a problem there?”

Yeah, things like that.

Writer’s Block Doesn’t Really Exist. This is, like, the biggest whiny-bitch excuse to get around writing. Yeah, as I type this, I should be finishing up These Dead Lands: Desolation. Or Earthfall 2. Or the prequel to The Gathering Dead, titled Whispers of the Dead. But I’m not, so is this writer’s block at work? No, writer’s block is actually the sissy millennial’s way of getting out of work. But here I am, actually writing something as opposed to watching Magnum P.I. on NetFlix. Writing is a solitary profession, and it involves periods of the long, hard slog through your own mind and the desolate landscapes it presents. This is part and parcel of the job. Just do it, and save the excuses for another time.

Sometimes the story you came up with sucks/isn’t that awesome. Listen, this happens to all of us. I’d hoped for a major career change with Charges, a story about a guy with no special skills who manages to survive a mass EMP event. I happen to think it’s a damn fine story, because it’s one that average folks might be able to relate to…if they happened to be emerging from a skyscraper on Billionaire’s Row after the lights went out forever. While I still have enough hope for Charges to continue on with the series (next book is called Marauders and the third is called Ravagers), I’m smart enough to correct past mistakes going forward. (Look for an emphasis on action, and less on Navel Gazing, which I cover below.) And the fact of the matter is, I shot myself in the ass the moment I decided on the storyline. As someone who’s read his fair share of post-apoc stories, I know instinctively what the readers want to see: the maligned survivalist who’s at long last proven right when the hammer falls, and has to lead/defend/establish his new community in the next age of mankind. It doesn’t matter if the hero is a sixteen year old who suddenly, inexplicably, has all the depth and experience of a Marine with 35 years of service as a senior NCO or if he’s just a Joe with a bunch of guns and a gut full of fortitude down Fort Sam Houston way—at the end of the day, people don’t want to read about some New York City liberal who manages to get lucky, even if his back story is well-rounded and plausible. They want a hero who’s prepared to take on the new America.

Reread the above paragraph and learn from it, my erstwhile padawans. Sometimes, genre determines the outcome, not the author. You might actually be adroit enough to spin a tall tale that runs counter to consumer expectation, but unless your name is Cormac McCarthy not only will you be spurned, people will hate the fact you forgot what an apostrophe is.

Enough with the navel-gazing—get on with it! Sometimes, we as authors find ourselves confronted with a set of circumstances that require a lot of back story. Back story that, in the end, never becomes meaningful in the context of the story we want to tell. This results in boring text. And boring text has been typified by the oracle of writing, Elmore Leonard, thusly:

“Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.”

Yes. This. If you’ve written something long and convoluted and oh so priceless to your character’s development which he/she doesn’t actually do but only recalls in reverie, get rid of it. Then go see your doctor for a shot of antibiotics to ensure you aren’t carrying boredomitis with you for the rest of your life.

Now, if this can be sketched in a paragraph or two, then drop it in. A couple of paragraphs becomes motivation. If it waxes on for page after page—my personal standard is two, unless it’s a gritty flashback like the Afghanistan scene in The Gathering Dead, which illustrates the gulf between McDaniels and Gartell—then cut it out, or figure a way to distill it down to its bare essence. This is one of two areas where legacy publishing beats the tar out of self-publishing. The legacy guys know how to get a story moving. Well, mostly. Unless they’re editing a story by already-mentioned literary lion Cormac McCarthy, then they have to wrestle with the whole apostrophe-versus-Chicago-Style-Guide checklist maelstrom, which I’m sure had a lot of heads hitting desks over at Knopf-Doubleday.

This item ties in neatly with the following one, which is:

Get to the fucking point. You have a lean, mean story to tell, but you keep slowing it down because you’ve been infected by that disorder known as Purple Prose. Listen, really…who gives a good God damn that the draperies in the New York City penthouse apartment are wrought with actual gold filament? Who lives here, Hugh Hefner? And if so, what the hell is that crusty old fossil doing in New York City anyway, do they allow 8,000 year old Viagra patients to travel? Here’s a great example of what not to do:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

That’s, like, one fucking sentence. Even Roger Zelazny wouldn’t have churned that out (or would he?). Become close friends with Our Pal The Period and his slutty sister, The Comma. And at least check in every now and then with their dumb cousins, The Ellipsis and The Em-Dash. You never know, they might actually prevent someone from returning your book and cursing your name in their final epitaph.

Research is fun, but it’s not writing. This actually ties in to #1, but I’ve been drinking and didn’t think to add it up there. However, in a last-ditch bid to put off going to Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s also important enough to call out on its own. While I know and follow this rule, others don’t. There’s a guy I know, smart fellow, very up on what’s happening in the world, who wants to write a book. He keeps sending me fiery bon mots about what this character backgrounds are, what this plot point would be, how awesome that scene could play out. And mostly, he’s right—he’s got some solid stuff going on, stuff that I’d be writing right now. Literally, everything is laid out except for some bargain-basement mechanics that could be straightened out in twenty-four hours.

But instead of writing it, he keeps sending me more little tidbits about the book that still hasn’t happened. “Hey, did you know that X in this circumstance could result in Y? I should put that in my book!”

Why, yes. Yes, you should, you fucking jerkoff, except you’re apparently too lazy to get to writing that book you’re talking about.

In this instance, I transcribed one of his scenes to my Blackberry (My Blackberry! Oh, the humanity!) and showed it to him. He read it and said, “Hey, that’s my stuff! I mean, it’s written pretty well and the words are all different, but that’s like, my stuff! Right?”

My response: “Yeah, it was six months ago. Guess what, it goes in my next book, and you don’t get shit. I figured since it’s been all talk up to now, that it’s free for the taking. So, really man, thanks for giving me $25,000 in first-month royalties for free. Love you, bye.”

Now listen, I’m actually not going to do this. Like I said, I have roughly eleventy-billion ideas already—I don’t really need to crib from someone else. But my aside had the desired effect. The dude is now writing, as opposed to researching and playing a bunch of “what-if” games. And I wish him well, he has some dynamite scenes out there in his head, I hope he can distill them down to a linear format that eventually finds its way to one kick-ass post-apocalypse book.

Don’t do this, people. Don’t sit around thinking about something and never making it happen—this obviously has a larger context in life than writing a damn novel. Know a hot girl/guy you want to ask out? Plan the approach, then execute. Have a few grand in a bank account but are waiting for just the right moment to enter the equities market? Listen, Brexit was your cue, so if you missed it, get in now anyway. Saw a job opening but your resume isn’t fresh enough to make an impression? Get that stuff squared away RIGHT NOW, and that means stop reading this page.

Because really…research, plotting, contemplating? None of that is writing, and writing is where the money is.

Oh my God, this book sucks—I can’t release this!

Ah, the bane of every writer. At least, every writer who has managed to progress past #4.

So you’ve written 30,000 40,000 100,000 130,000 words over many months and many revisions. It’s been read, reread, proofed, edited, and proofed again. The prose is tight, the story is dynamite, and the characters and their motivations are solid. But you’re ridden by fear. What if it tanks? What if no one likes it? What if I get bad reviews? What if it charts at #4,389,000 like that shitty zombie novel Dead in the City of Angels by Stephen Knight and Jarret Liotta?

There’s a line in a famous novel that I like to quote in circumstances like this:

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Written by Frank Herbert in his science fiction masterpiece, Dune.

Alternately, I could offer up this sage advice from Scott Wolf, who in Army Special Forces was given one of Herbert’s honorifics from the same novel—Muad’Dib:

“Stop being a fucking pussy.”

It should be noted for those unaware, that Muad’Dib was described by Herbert thusly:

“Muad’Dib is wise in the ways of the desert. Muad’Dib creates his own water. Muad’Dib hides from the sun and travels in the cool night. Muad’Dib is fruitful and multiplies over the land. Muad’Dib we call ‘instructor-of-boys.’ That is a powerful base on which to build your life, Paul Muad’Dib, who is Usul among us.”

(The above should be read in the terse, husky voice of Stilgar.)

Both quotes basically take you to the same place. You’ve done the work, now let it run free. If it loves you, it will come back. If you’re lucky, it will come back towing a huge duffel bag full of money and the admiration of thousands, including pictures of nubile Tennessee girls flaunting their wares delivered directly to your email account. More possibly, it will just come back smelling really shitty like it’s rolled around in an open sewer outside of Shenzhen, China, and you should examine it for used condoms clinging to its matted fur before allowing it in the house. But either way, you’ll have to own up to it. Writing has never come with a warranty or a guarantee of any kind. If it did, we’d all be making millions.

And we’re not.

Keep the faith, brothers and sisters. Write, and keep writing. Success may not find you, but if it does, it will have done so only if you provide the world with the gift of your words. If not, if you only think about writing but never do it, then I can only offer the following (paraphrased from Sydney Poitier in the flick A Piece of the Action which I saw in 1977 in a theater in a black neighborhood of Akron, Ohio):

“What you’re talking about here is masturbation. It feels good, but generates nothing.”

So at least keep your happy sock handy. And use far less parentheticals than I did in this missive.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to SFC Ballantine trying to figure out how he’s going to handle Diana Li in These Dead Lands: Desolation.

This is the End…

February 25, 2014 6 comments

No, no, I’m not hanging up my writing spurs and calling it quits. This is just the ubiquitous “pimp” post for a collection I’m in, called This Is The End, where I’m featured with some other wordslingers with names like (in no particular order) DiLouie, McKinney, Ryan, Piperbrook, Adair, James, and Thorn. And hey, it’s less than a buck–seven works for less than a Snickers bar.

Unrelated errata: Still working on THE RETREAT #2: SLAUGHTERHOUSE. Have all the footage for the trailer for THE GATHERING DEAD finally, and as soon as I get the time to fire up Premier and splice it all together, I’ll send it off for sound and score. IMMOLATION #1 waits in the wings, and CHARGES is standing to and ready for deployment. And simmering on the back burners are the prequel to THE GATHERING DEAD, currently called WHISPERS OF THE DEAD, along with the rather unremarkably-titled EARTHFALL 2.

End of report–back to writing! Link to This Is The End is right about…here.

http://www.amazon.com/This-End-Post-Apocalyptic-Book-Collection-ebook/dp/B00I9E5G3U/

THE LAST RUN: Get It By 11/5!

November 3, 2013 1 comment

Get The Last Run by 11/5, and your price is…free! 😉 That’s 0 dollars and 0 cents, so if you haven’t read it yet, the price is right. It actually went up on a free promotion as if 11/1, but I’ve been so busy, I haven’t had time to let you folks know. In the meantime, I’ve been doing double duty on The Retreat #2 and the first volume of the Immolation series, and both products are putting me through my paces.

With regards to The Retreat #1, we’re delayed because of banking issues, of all things. Hope to have this resolved soonest!

THE LAST RUN Released!

September 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Happy to say that my Earthfall novella, The Last Run, has been released. Interest parties can find it here:

http://www.amazon.com/Last-Run-Novella-EARTHFALL-ebook/dp/B00EX4FY0K

Hope you guys like it. The novel Charges will follow up later this month, depending on editorial scheduling, and the first release of The Retreat by Craig DiLouie, Joe McKinney, and Your Man Knight should pop out at about the same time.

In November, I expect the second volume of The Retreat to be available, and in December, book one of the Immolation series and, I’m feeling especially saucy, Earthfall 2.

Have a great Labor Day weekend, crew!

THE LAST RUN: When The First MIRV Is Cast

A little bit from THE LAST RUN, which is standing ready for release…

TFR Title

“Ah, command, this is early warning,” a voice said over the headset Benchley wore. “Harmony Six, you need to take a look at this, sir.”

Benchley looked up from his console at the rear of the base’s command center. The center was the brain of Harmony Base, where all operations were overseen. A fairly large room, it consisted of a main situation display at the front, which in turn was surrounded by several smaller screens that were readable even from Benchley’s position. Three rows of computer workstations separated him from the display bank, and the center was currently fully staffed with thirteen section operators and the major players on the command staff—essentially, himself and Corinne Baxter, who sat at a second station to Benchley’s left. He cut his eyes toward the main display, which bore a computer-generated Mercator map. It was one of the constants at Harmony Base, for there was no better way to get an idea of what crisis might be brewing than to look at the map that was transmitted to them straight from NORAD, itself located deep in the bowels of Cheyenne Mountain. What he saw made him frown. Reaching out from Russian territory were two—no, three, then five!—fingers of light. And as he watched, more fingers rose from inside Russian borders, like great serpents rearing back to strike. But even this wasn’t a great shock; Benchley had seen it multiple times in the past, during training exercises. Which weren’t always announced.

Except to Benchley. And he’d received no notification regarding any pending training drills.

“What’s the confidence of this?” Benchley asked.

“Uh, waiting for verification, but confidence seems high, sir,” said the technician manning the early warning console in the first row. “We’re getting this straight from NORAD.”

Benchley reached for one of three telephone handsets in the console’s desk area before him. One was red, the other two were black. He picked up the red one. A tone sounded when he put the handset to his ear. “This is Harmony Six Actual. Over.” With those words, he was immediately connected to the commander’s desk at North American Defense Command.

“Harmony Six Actual, stand by for Hawkeye Six Actual. Over.”

“Roger that.” Benchley waited as patiently as he could, his gaze locked on the main display. As he watched, several more indications of intercontinental missile launches bloomed from inside the Russian border. So far, there was no response from the U.S.-based missile silos. He didn’t know what to make of that; in previous drills, the response had always been swift, and so far, the mission clock had churned out thirty seconds.

If this isn’t an unannounced drill, we are majorly fucked.

“Harmony Six, this is Hawkeye Six Actual. Marty, you there?”

“Here, sir,” Benchley said to the Commanding General of North American Defense Command, a four-star Air Force officer named Hank Hulse. Benchley had met Hulse only a few times, and he found the senior officer to be one of those commanders who treasured the casual approach when it came to dealing with his subordinates. Even now, Hulse still referred to him as “Marty,” a name Benchley had not answered to since he was ten years old. “We’re seeing multiple launch detections from Russia, but I didn’t receive any notification of any exercises.”

“That’s correct, Harmony. This is not a drill, this is a real-world event. Expect a response in kind as soon as the NCA gives authorization. Ahead of that, I’d advise you to button up, Marty—I’d be mighty surprised if missile defense was going to be able to save the day. This is going to be a real kick in the pants. Over.”

“Hawkeye, this is Harmony Six Actual. I understand that this is a real world event, and Harmony is to activate isolation operations. How’s our copy on that? Over.”

“Harmony, this is Hawkeye Six Actual. You have good copy. Execute your operation plan. Take care, Marty. Hawkeye Six Actual, out.”

For an instant, Benchley just stood there, the red handset pressed against his ear. He stared dumbly at the main display, watching as more missile tracks were added, each one of them climbing in an arcing parabola that would terminate inside the United States. And more tracks popped up, this time from the Pacific Ocean, as the Russian ballistic missile submarines and cruisers there released their own payloads.

It can’t be for real…

And then, launch detections from the United States finally registered. Blossoming upward from Colorado, Montana, and New Mexico, bright tentacles rose from the computer-generated North American landmass. Benchley slowly hung up the phone, then turned to Baxter. She looked at him with a blank face, but her eyes were windows through which her fear showed in unvarnished brilliance.

“Lock down the base,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, as of this time, Harmony Base is going operational. Let’s recall all our people from the surface, and send alerts to our personnel who are off-post. They need to get back here as soon as the possibly can.” His legs felt suddenly weak, and he half-sat, half-collapsed into his chair as alarms began to wail.

What’s Next: CHARGES

In between plugging away on the sequel to Earthfall, I’ve been moving on a novella called Charges. Set in the very near future, after a catastrophic corona mass discharge (CMD) fries all the electronics on Earth and rolls the clock back to somewhere in the early 1800s…

Here’s the opener. As always, first draft stuff, the usual disclaimers apply.

CHARGES

Over five billion years ago, a star was born.

As a gigantic nebula comprised of gas and dust slowly gained mass, it slowly shrank to form a spinning disk where our solar system sits today. As gravity pulled more and more of the gas and slightly heavier matter to the center of the disk, pressures beyond belief were induced. At first, dust particles collided, generating small, mini-explosions that released energy. By themselves, these explosions were fairly unremarkable. But as the motes met their fiery ends, at first in ones and twos and hundreds, the energy of their demise was transformed into heat. As the collisions mounted, and began to number in the millions, the heat began to mount. Finally, the gases in the mix—most notably, hydrogen on helium—caught alight. But by now, the pressure at the center of the disk was so great that more dust and gases were drawn inward. Over the course of thousands of years, with more and more fuel being added to the fire, the disk began to collapse upon itself. In an explosion of X-rays and gamma rays, the point of nuclear fusion was reached. Spinning faster and faster, the disk grew smaller and smaller. Fusion stabilized, and the newborn star greedily consumed the remnants of the nebula which had sired it, devouring all the hydrogen, helium, and other compounds it contained.

A billion years later, the nebula was no more. But the star remained, a yellow, medium-sized celestial body that illuminated the local firmament with its bright, shining light.
And the star itself gave birth.

Hurling matter outward from its fiery surface, it bathed the rather unremarkable rocks orbiting it. Several of these ejections contained atoms, which adhered to the spinning rock formations. These smaller heavenly bodies also collided with each other. Most of these collisions led to nothing more than obliteration, where gigantic asteroids were reduced to nothing more than a spatter of rubble. But in some cases, larger rocks subsumed the smaller, taking on their mass. They too spun and weaved through the now-illuminated void, and captured by the new star’s gravity, they swung around it, connected to it by gravity’s leash. Many of these survivors became planets. Mercury. Venus. Mars.

Earth.

For two billion years, the sun cooked these planets, as they themselves went through seismic upheavals. Mercury was far too close, and too small to host a protective atmosphere, so it remained lifeless, nothing more than a planetary oven. Venus developed its own atmosphere, but its composition was wrong; it captured the heat from the sun’s rays and held onto it greedily, reluctant to release it. Mars almost made it, but a chance asteroid strike pushed it farther away from the sun, relegating it to an also-ran. The distant bodies, Neptune and Pluto, remained cold and forbidding, more the afterbirth of the solar system than viable worlds. Even the great gas giant known as Jupiter and its smaller, ringed brother Saturn, were too distant to do more than reflect the sun’s light, though there was hope that several billion years later, some of their moons might be able to make use of this reflected light and form rudimentary biospheres of their own.

It was Earth. Only Earth, which through providence alone found the favor of its host. As the sun beamed great energy toward it and peppered it with energies from its slowly-stabilizing surface, the planet Earth formed. It developed a stable geology and a hospitable mantle which rode atop a dense core made mostly of nickel and iron. Tectonic changes allowed for gases to rise to the surface, gases that when reheated by the sun’s rays, formed a thick, protective atmosphere. This atmosphere, a scant fifty miles high, shielded the terrain below from the sun’s full, withering glare. As the eons slowly clicked by, the sun and its solar system steadied, grew less combative. On Earth, cellular life managed to gain a toehold. Another eon passed, and that existence managed to grab a full handhold. Over the coming millennia, that existence grew, became more complex, flourished. First came bacteria, then more organized life forms. Over the span of millions of years, plants grew and died, seas rose and fell, dinosaurs walked and then passed right into history.

And man was born. Finding his genesis among simple primates, mankind outgrew his simian shackles and, in the fullness of time, managed to obtain some semblance of intelligence. This intelligence was tested routinely, by disease, famine, weather, and on occasion, war. But while these were great matters of importance to man, the sun never took notice.
The sun merely continued to be the bringer of life, of light, of warmth.

Until on the day of June 7th, it decided a change was in order.

Building beneath several cooling areas on the sun’s surface, great energies coiled and flexed. Known as “sun spots,” these cooling regions were a normal occurrence in many latitudes of the star’s surface. In fact, they could be so regular that observers on Earth could literally predict their formations, and what they might yield when they finally gave way. On those occasions, great flares could be witnessed through special telescopes, both on the surface of distant Earth, or in orbit around her. Many times, these flares, while clinically spectacular, were of little importance. They posed no threat to Earth, and beyond the sporadic disruption of telecommunications, were rarely commented upon. In fact, solar flares or the more serious coronal mass ejections had only interrupted Oprah Winfrey’s show once.
But on the seventh day of June, the sun decided to play a different hand.

The gathering of sun spots on the star’s earthward side had lasted longer than usual, and as such, they held back a huge outpouring of stellar energy. When they finally lost their hold, the sun ejected a sizeable—though in comparison to its estimated mass, an irrelevant—amount of itself toward Earth, serenely rolling along in its orbit some 93,000,000 miles distant. This was no solar flare, nor was it as restrained as previous coronal mass ejections had been. This salvo was full of charged particles of iron and other matter, matter that retained its electromagnetic charge even as it cooled. Racing away from the sun’s surface at a speed of seven million miles per hour, the ejecta fanned out, reaching toward the Earth like the hand of an angry god.
It would strike the planet like a mace.

And there you have it. Looking for a release near the end of the month!