William A. Hainline: Reality Engineer

The Blog Of A Science Fiction Writer Living Just A Half-An-Hour And Some Change Into The Future . . . Sci-fi, fantasy, politics, visual arts, writing, more writing, literature, comics, music, movies, and madness in general. NSFW. Probably not safe for YOU, either. But don't let that stop you.

The go-to site for fans of science fiction writer William A. Hainline. Also the go-to site for non-fans, or anybody else who wants to follow what this curmudgeonly weirdo of a writer is currently up to in the depths of his mad science dungeon.

An Idea For A New Scene?

So I had this wonderful idea for a scene from the would-be movie adaptation of my novel set to the Pandora's Box version of "A Kiss Is A Terrible Thing To Waste.". It's the scene where the lead character — in flashback — loses his virginity at (of course) a sci-fi convention to a girl he meets there, while wearing the device on his head that gives him telekinetic powers. The scene is a montage. It's very innocent and gentle, but very erotic. She seduces him and is the one "in charge" so to speak. And as they . . . well . . . "get going" along with the music, things start to go haywire all over the hotel. Glass breaks, lightning bolts fly, sprinklers come on, doors slam, things levitate into the air. The bed starts to levitate, as does everything in the room, and starts to spin as the song revs up to its final galloping beat, and then-- pow, at their . . . well . . . final moment, everything comes crashing down as the song fades and she rolls off of him and they're both bathed in sweat and laughing and smiling. And that's the end of the scene. And the whole hotel is in utter chaos and everyone is wondering, "What the hell just happened!?" But they know what happened. And they'll always remember it.

Gimme a minute. I’mma gonna go write.

In Celebration Of"Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical"

Heya guys! In celebration of Jim Steinman’s Bat Out Of Hell: The Musical, I’m gonna share with you my favorite music video for my favorite Meat Loaf song by Steinman! It’s the video for “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through,” starring a young Angelina Jolie. Check it out! it’s my favorite video because it manages to combine some of my favorite things: Angelina Jolie when she was young and extremely hot . . . Meat Loaf and Steinman music . . . Elves . . . Jukeboxes and motorcycles . . . themes of rescue and redemption . . . . themes of music and imagination saving people . . . the ideas that the magic of soulful music can save you when nothing else can. And oh yeah, — the hot Angelina Jolie thing. But that’s mostly nostalgia for the days of my youth talking. :-)

You can count me in the club whom the song "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" has "saved." I don't mind sharing the fact that I was, at one point in my life, a suicidal wreck — before I got my act together and got therapy and got on decent medication for my illness (I'm diagnosed as "schizoaffective, bipolar type") — and one day, I had just about had it — I felt like life was a lemon and I wanted my money back, you might say — and was just about to throw in the towel and say "screw it" and just do myself in and not even leave a note or anything . . . maybe, y'know, just go ahead and swallow too many pills on "accident" . . . and then iTunes just "decides," while I'm sitting there crying, to play the Meat Loaf version of "Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" ONE MORE TIME. Now I normally don't believe in fate, or luck, or providence, or any of that crap — BUT — for whatever reason . . . the damn thing chose THAT moment to play THAT song. And . . . I listened. Truly LISTENED. And it touched something inside of me, the way it hadn't in a very long time. The song made me smile. Again. Just one more time. The way it had the first time I'd heard it, a LONG time, far, far ago, in the distant past, when I had very first heard it, way back in 1992. ("It was long ago, and far away.") And I thought to myself, in the words of the great Londo Mollari, "Mr. Garibaldi . . . whatever it is . . . IT CAN'T BE THAT BAD!" (That's a "Babylon 5" reference; don't worry if it's too obscure.) And y'know what? It wasn't. It really wasn't that bad. Any of it. I really did feel like I was "never alone because I could put on the phones and let the drummer tell my heat what to do." In that moment, the angels had guitars even before they had wings, and it was a somewhat "religious" experience for me. (Or as close as I, an atheist, was going to get to one.) And so i dried my face off, and I sucked it up for just ONE more afternoon and put one foot in front of the other, and kept on going. Because of that song. And that was the day I started writing again for the first time after a two year dry spell. And I felt such a feeling of relief." I kept on believin'. Because when I really, really needed it most, that was the day that rock and roll dreams came through. This is especially poignant, because this was a few years before my friend Joe actually DID commit suicide, and the tragedy shattered all of the lives of those who loved him. And since then, nothing has been the same; I look back now — objects in the rearview mirror may appear closer than they are — and I think, "How could I have been so shortsighted?" But I also think back to how that song saved me that day, and how Jim's music has that power . . . and how I wish maybe JOE's copy of iTunes had maybe played that song at just the right moment. What if . . . WHAT IF, y'know?

"The Technowizard Guardians" Secretly Has A Theme Song? Who'dA THOUGHT?

Well, I didn't really know this, but it appears that The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom has an unofficial theme song out there. I found it by accident. It's by a singer named Delain, who is pretty freakin' awesome. She's a hard rock singer from overseas, and this song of hers is absolutely the perfect theme song for The Technowizard Guardians. Why? Because it speaks to one of the core themes of the book, and that is that being "different" is a good thing, that standing out from the crowd is awesome, and deserves to be rewarded, not punished; that being a square peg in a round hole can be a beautiful thing, worthy of celebration. It's perfect. And, it's got an undertone that addresses bullying, as well, which is something that one of my characters has struggled with in his past. So there's that, too. My friend Greg introduced me to Delain and her work; he's a total metalhead, so that figures, right? Go check her out on YouTube if you get the chance; most of her stuff is pretty damn rad. She's enormously talented. But for now, enjoy We Are The Others:

So, What's Up, Doc?

Well! It’s been an exciting month! What’s been up? Well, let’s see. I’ve been working on the novel (as always), and I’m about two-thirds — well, maybe more like 3/4ths — done with it! I’m closing on the home stretch now. My friend Rommy was kind enough to beta-read the first draft of the first 2/3rds of it for me (thanks Rommy), and she did a terrific job of catching all sorts of problems I didn’t see myself, which is good. So I’m working on correcting those as well as finishing the beast. It will be done SOON, I promise. I’ve been working on my 3D art a lot (as you can see in my gallery here), and I’m now on DeviantArt! Check out my profile here. You can buy prints of my work there, and even download some of my work there to use as desktop art, if you’re feeling frisky and have the points! Let’s see, what else: I voted in the election back in November — straight Democratic ticket, of course. And I had several procedures done on my back . . . corticosteroid injections, designed to lessen the chronic pain I suffer from in my legs and back. And oh yeah . . . I had a colonoscopy. What fun. I had to starve myself into sickness for two days and then crap my guts out for a day, and then get anal probed like an alien-abduction victim, just so they could tell me that I’m fine. And my friend Mira moved back to New Albany (yay, someone else to spend time with!). And, I discovered a new band . . . they’re called Dragony, and they produce some AWESOMELY cool music! Here, check out a video from them:

But, whatever! It is of no matter! Work on the novel — and my work in the realm of 3D graphics — must continue apace! I have new renders to show you, and new writing I will be posting soon, too. So please stay tuned to this spot for more awesome stuff! And what about you, dear reader? What kinds of awesome stuff have you found just lying around the Interwebs since last we spoke? Show me in the comments!

On Keeping Going, And The Persistence Of Vision

Sometimes, you feel like giving up. We've all been there. Whether it's a home-improvement project, or a particularly difficult assignment at work, or, say . . . a novel you're writing. You get to a point where you feel like the task before you is overwhelming, and you've bitten off more than you can chew. You get to a point where you feel like "Oh fuck a duck, just fuck it, the whole thing; goddamn it, I'll never finish this. It's too big, too complex, too much for me. Just fuck the whole thing right in the ear, toss it in the garbage disposal, and rough it up into tiny pieces for the dog to chew on, because I'm fucking done with this sumbitch! The end! That's it, and that's all! I've had it!" Well, if you've ever watched Babylon 5 — and if you haven't, I'm going to ask, "What the hell is wrong with you? Go watch all five seasons right the hell now!" — you know that the Minbari have a saying. "Faith manages." And ti's as true in the real world as it is in fiction. When those times come, when you feel like throwing the whole project into the incinerator and gleefully cackling as it burns to ash and all your hard work goes up in smoke as you give up and jus forsake the whole thing as a lost cause, you have to remember something: You started this journey — whatever journey it is, whether it's a journey to fix up part of the house, or a journey towards the words "The End at the end of your novel" — with faith not just in the idea, or in the vision of the finished product, but with faith in yourself. You believed enough in yourself to think, "Fuck yeah, I can do this. I can make this happen. I can create this out of nothing, I can spin this into existence with my bare hands. I can manage this, make this a reality." And that is a tremendous act of vigilant belief in oneself. But somewhere along the way you stumbled, lost the faith. You lost faith not in the idea, or the vision, or the principle . . . no. You lost faith in yourself, faith that you could see it through. Faith that you had the power to make whatever was in your head come to fruition in reality. You lost faith in your own personal godhood, your ability to remake the world in your image. The idea is still there, the vision is still clear. It is your eyes that are the problem.

So how do you get that back? How do you jumpstart your belief in yourself, bootstrap your own process of self-empowerment so you can feel ready to take on the world and win again? 

You clear your eyes. You wash them out. You put on a pair of spectacles, you get a fresh perspective. How do you do this? Well, it’s easy. You just take a step back, take a deep breath, and blink a few times. You just keep calm . . . conjure up a tiny spark of desire . . . fan the tiny flame still inside of you, that part that still believes — because it’s in there, I know it is, and so do you — and you close your eyes . . . breathe in, breathe out . . . and look upon the work again, with clear vision. You see it as it once was, in embryonic form. The way you saw it in the beginning, as an egg. As it once began. You see it full of possibility, full of the promise of life, full of the potential it used to have. You see it the way you first saw it in your head, many moons ago when you first began it. And then you sigh, and clear away all the rubbish of worry, and doubt, and most of all, you clear away the fear that you can’t do it, that it’ll never be done, and that it’ll never be what you envision, or what you want it to be. You get rid of all that. Because all of that’s the future, and the future . . . hasn’t happened yet. It’s still the future, which is nonexistent in the now. And the time . . . is now. And right now, the idea is still an egg. It’s still new. It’s still fresh. It’s a baby. And it’s dependent on you — no one else — to bring it to life, nurture it, help it grow into what only you know it can become. So you pick up your tools, or maybe just one, for now — because there’s no pressure, there’s no deadline; right now, there is only just you, and the work — and you set to once again. You pick up your pencil, or your paintbrush, or your hammer and nails, and you once again begin the work. Because you can do this. You’re the artist. You’re the one who can bring this thing to life. You have the power. You are uniquely qualified to give this creation the blood in its veins, the breath in its lungs. Because only you know what it can be; only you can see it in its final form, only you can see it through. And that is a phenomenal power to possess.

This is how you get your groove back. This is how you get your mojo working again. This is how you get the muse to revisit you. If the muse seems to have abandoned you, it isn’t really so; it isn’t that the muse has left . . . it’s simply that you’ve lost the eyes to see her (or him), lost the ability to listen to their sweet song. So clean out your ears, wipe out your eyes. Take a step back, and breathe. And clear out your eye-boogers and your ear-wax as you do. Focus on the embryo of the idea. See it as it once was. And then see all it can be—again. And own your power as a creator . . . for only you can give your creation life. Only you can birth this thing. Who’s awesome? You are. You got this. Now go. Do it. Bring art into the world. And make it a more beautiful place.

So what’s your take on this? What keeps you going? What’s your persistence of vision? What inspires your muse when it seems the tank has run dry? Let me know in the comments!

My Friend Rommy's Son Wrote An Article On Autism... You Really Need To Read It.

For All You Neurotypical People out there, from one of us who is not so neurotypical: Read this article to get a little slice of our lives. It’s an eye-opener, I tell you. Let me know what you think of it in the comments. Please be nice to one another. Remember, intellectual debate is all fine and good until someone gets hit over the head with a flying monkey wielding a banana hammer.

New Cover Art!

Well, I completely redid the book’s cover art. And gave the book a new title. I felt that the word “Technowizards” was a bit clunky. Didn’t roll off the tongue, y’know? So I did away with it. The book is now just called “The Wizards of FantazmagoriCon.” I think that’s catchier and more whimsical. It better encapsulates the spirit of the book. And you should see this new cover art I’ve been working on! In fact, take a look right now! What do you think of it? Is it cool, does it suck? Let me know in the comments!

Happy New Year!

Ah, New Year. That time when we make resolutions, vow to stick to them, and then just as quickly break them and forget about them. Well, not me! No sir! This year, I vow to stick to my vows. I vow that I will not break my solemn oath to finish the novel. It will be done this year, by the gods! I swear it! Also, I will lose ten pounds! I will swear off the sweets! And no more sodas!

Now where’s my celebratory Coca Cola? Oh well. It was nice while it lasted. Happy New Year everybody!

Ho Ho Ho . . . Or Bah Humbug? I Choose "Ho Ho Ho."

Christmas and I have a strange relationship. It’s not that I don’t love Christmastime — I sincerely do — it’s that I’m an atheist. And Christmas is the most religious of religious-y holidays, not counting Easter. I mean, Christmas is the nerve center of the Christian calendar. It’s in the name, for crying out loud. So it’s a tricky river to navigate, socially at Christmastime. My family are all Christians, except for me. So I always have to watch what I say, and who I say it to. I don’t want to offend anyone, or start any fights. And I definitely don’t want to spoil the mood . . . Because I think Christmastime, even though it’s based around a religious figure I don’t necessarily believe in, is a good thing. People are nicer to each other, people give money to charities, people give each other gifts, people put up pretty lights and decorations, sing beautiful songs, gather closer together as families, act nicer to strangers, and all in all, promote a warmth and kindness to one another that isn’t seen the rest of the year. Of course, many of them do this because they are motivated by their faith as Christians to do so; their belief in the salvation offered to them by Jesus Christ, their belief in his forgiveness for their sins, and their belief in His kindness, is what prompts them to act in kind. (Of course, the idea that they should act this way year round escapes many of them. And that’s sad. But for now, we’ll focus on the positive.) And y’know what? I’m okay with that. See, I don’t want to convert anybody. I’m not one of those atheists who thinks Christmas should be outlawed, or who thinks that Christians need to change who they are or what they believe. I have what I believe, what I think I know; they have what they believe, and what they think they know. And as far as I’m concerned, there it ends. (The difficulty comes in when somebody tries to tell me, or someone I care about, how to live their life or behave, or talk, or act; or what place they can have in society because of who or what they are; then . . . it is on, bitch.) But really, I don’t care if Christmas is a religious holiday. I celebrate it anyway. Because it’s done so much good for the world. And that’s what really matters. The question is not, “Is Christmas bad or good because it is a religious holiday?” No. The question is, “Does Christmas serve a positive and useful function in our society? Does it do good?” And I believe the answer to that question is, undoubtedly, “Yes.” Yes it does. It’s a terrific time of year and it’s healthy, fun, and good for everyone (and hey, it’s good business, too). And it’s beautiful, it really is. I guess you could say it’s a “miracle” that we have it, if you’ll forgive my flirting with the maudlin and the tongue-in-cheekiness of that.. So I will most definitely celebrate it with my friends and family who are Christians. And if anybody wants to get their nose bent out of shape about that, well, let them. It’s no skin off mine. I love Christmas time. And especially Christmas movies, and presents, and candy. And the food, and the warm fires, and the togetherness. I am not going to “Bah! Humbug!” anyone or anything, ever, if it’s doing some good in this world, bringing joy to someone or something. Merry Christmas, everyone. I may not say “God bless us, everyone,” but I will say that we have in Christmas a time to treasure, each of us.

My Friend Rommy Has A Book Out!

My dear friend, Rommy Cortez-Driks, has a book coming out on November 13th, and you can pre-order it now! What kind of book is it? Well, it’s full of faery tales. But they’re not quite your ordinary faery tale. They’re . . . well, they’re a little off from your ordinary faery tale. They’re a bit bent, you see. Merrily zig-zagged. Strange. Odd. Eccentrically eccentric. Lovably weird. And a bit bonkers. Rommy’s writing reminds me of Neil Gaiman, with a dash of Douglas Adams, and a hint of Terry Pratchett for good measure. She’s a little like Stephen Moffat on happy-gas. But in a good way. Seriously, you should check out her book. You’ll love her take on Faery Godmothers . . . who they are, the politics of their profession, and what they’re most certainly not. And mermaids. And what they get up to when they’re . . . well, when pirates and magic are involved, and I’ll say no more on that subject. For real, go check out her book, and pre-order it right this very second. Your life might just depend on reading these faery tales. You never know when you’ll need to know the vital information contained in this volume! Well, okay. It’s not “Doomsday Prepper” important. But they are fun stories, and you should definitely give them a whirl. Let me know what you think of it — and better yet, let Rommy know by posting a review on Amazon!

ANOTHER Excerpt From "Technowizards!"

Annnnd here we go again! I’m posting a second excerpt here, just to see if you like it! This comes from earlier in the book, and concerns the “Dreamworld” that Gadget visits whenever he falls unconscious with the Mind-Weirding Helm on his head. Let me know what you think of it in the comments section!

Gadget—or as he was known in this world, the world of Fantazmagoria, Zanorak Prime—blinked the sun out of his eyes and rubbed the back of his neck as he sat high on the cliff on the back of his fusion-powered, clockwork horse, overlooking the Valley of Doom. Sunburn there on his neck. Damn. How long had he zoned out for this time? No matter. The sunburn was a grim reminder that daylight burned, so he’d better get a move on. Unlike the Wizards, he didn’t have any Magic to defend himself from the many and varied mutant creatures that ran amok in these lands after nightfall; and, he had a Quest to get on with, a Mission for the Sorceress. And of course, there were far worse things than night-creatures waiting for him in that Castle down there, in the valley, where he knew he needed to go in order to complete said quest. His damned fool “hero’s” quest. Heh. There were no more heroes in this world. The world had “moved on” from heroes. He admired the Sorceress for her nobility, her valor, but Fantazmagoria was a ruined world, a world beyond saving.

(Is this world even real? How do I know?) 

His Traveling was a recent thing. He didn’t understand it. He knew there were other worlds; everyone knew that. The Wizards had told of it for Ages now . . . but no one but them—and he—had ever seen these other worlds. And some said not even they had seen them, that it was all just a story that the Wizards had made up. Zanorak now knew it was no story. It would happen at the oddest times, too: One minute he would be here, in the “real” world . . . and the next minute, he would be waking up as . . . someone else . . . this world forgotten for a time, as though it were just a dream. It would feel like just a dream. As though it were nothing but a fanciful tale he had been told. And he would go about his business as this “otherself” in this “Otherworld” . . . Live their life, do their duties, attend a school in that world, accord with its customs . . . as though he had lived there all his life, and knew its ways as intimately as he did his own world’s . . . and then, without warning, he would “snap back” to this world. And then, that would would seem as though it were “just a dream,” a fleeting glimpse into a faery tale. It got confusing. He liked that world better. It hadn’t been ruined, like this one had.

Even the Wizards had lost their way. They didn’t even know how Magic worked anymore. No. That knowledge had been lost millennia ago, when the Great Burn had seared the World, and the power of Magic had arisen once more from the mutated ashes; the ability to enforce one’s paradigm of reality onto the physical world, heedless of the damage and destruction it caused. Now Wizards—Hedge-Mages and Dark Archmages alike—dueled over burned-out stretches of wasteland and claimed mastery of those upon them, places where farmers tried in desperation to get their crops to grow and where the people dreaded roaming bands of road warriors, diesel-fueled barbarians of the post-apocalyptic landscape. Clockwork animals like the one he rode upon plowed fields that saw sparser and sparser crops grow each cycle. Water was becoming somewhat scarce, too. Ancient fusion generators provided power, but for how long? And everywhere, virtual reality and the remains of the Great Network provided an easy escape for the weak-minded . . .

(Like me? Am I losing my mind?)

He shook his head. Yes, Fantazmagoria was a ruined world; a world beyond saving. Heroes here were hard to come by, and the Sorceress, though he admired her greatly, was probably wasting her time in trying to take back the Realm from the forces of Evil that now held it in their grasp. And she was starting by aiming for the heart of the corruption, the source from which all Dark Magic flowed—the evil Dragon, Schyzarchon, who haunted the Northlands of Cerebria.

(But is the Dragon even real? Or is it something I—he—imagined?)

But. To even try to take out the Dragon, the Sorceress needed the legendary Crystal Sword, Dràchynthýr . . . “Dragon Slayer,” in the Olden Tongue. And so she had sent Zanorak on a mission to retrieve it for her, and the Quest had led him here, to Castle Grayskull. Heh. Castle Grayskull. What a name for the place . . . though it had a ring of familiarity to it. Perhaps he had seen or heard the name in that place he called “the Otherworld.” In a show—or perhaps . . . a cartoon? Yes, a cartoon, he thought, most likely a cartoon. He sometimes dreamed of that world whenever he “zoned out” for periods of time; whenever he would feel his body growing thin, as though it weren’t really “here” in this world. The Otherworld was a place where there was no such thing as Magic, a world far into the past. A world where he was a simple “college student” named “Gadget” and where all of this—the real world where he lived and fought and survived—was the “dream.”

(Or is this the “real” world? How do I know?)

His lack of understanding frustrated him. The Wizards had gifted him with their arcane knowledge of techno-thaumaturgy—he knew, for instance, how to repair the fusion-powered, clockwork steed he rode upon; he possessed a roadmap of its innards, a schematic of its guts, in his head . . . and he had the tools and wisdom with which to fix it if it broke down, and the knowledge to know the difference between its various circuits. But still, he possessed no defensive or offensive Magic. Yes, frustrating as hell. All he had was the Multifunction Ray Gun he wore on his hip, and he was running out of charge pellets for that. Shit, that reminded him—he would need to find more soon. He also did not know how the Magical mechanics of his Travels to the Otherworld worked (and he was convinced it had to be Magical in nature). There seemed to be no rhyme nor reason to his departures from the shores of this reality and his entrance into that one. But when he was there, he was not himself. He was someone else. He had vague memories of his life here when he was there, but it felt as though it were all just a half-remembered dream . . . As did that world when he came back here. He possessed fragments of “Gadget’s” memories, pieces of his life. But that was not who he was. It couldn’t be, could it? He had tried to tell the Sorceress that he suffered from this condition—this Traveling sickness, wherein he would simply “vanish” for a time now and then—but she had been adamant that he was the one to do this, to journey here, to retrieve the sword. And so, he had obeyed.

(Yes, like a fool. But how do I know that this is real?)

Momentarily, he gazed down into the Valley of Doom, and looked upon Castle Grayskull. What vexed—and worried him—now was that against all reason, part of it was somehow a replica of a place he knew from his Travels to the Otherworld. But how? Castle Grayskull—the place he had come so far to find; crossed the breadth of Fantazmagoria to face; that had been written of in the Legends—bore a striking resemblance to a very real place he knew from his life as “Gadget” the “college student.” Impossible as it seemed, the lower four levels of the Castle were identical—sort of—to those of a place marked as 459 Broadway Ave, Cambridge Massachusetts, also known as “Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.” He shook his head to clear it, disbelieving his eyes. But there the Castle remained—unavailingly real, impossible but extant. And come to think of it, yes, he had heard of a place called Castle Grayskull, as a child in that Otherworld: A show, and yes, a cartoon. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, it had been called. Goddamn it . . . How? How could an ostensibly “real” place from the Otherworld be here? And part of a structure a thousand years old? And how could it share a name with something from a children’s show in the Otherworld? It made no sense. None of it made any gods-damned sense. Especially the way the school was built . . .

The “high school” portion of the Castle—for there was far more to it than just that—was not made of sensible concrete, stately steel, and other building materials one might find in abundance in the Otherworld. Though it shared the same basic architectural design, here it had been fashioned from blackened stone, and had crimson, glowing lava running between the cracks of its mortar, the iridescent blood that might flow through the veins of some rock monster stirring to life after centuries of slumber. The building’s main wings branched off diagonally in front, their square walls, made of crisp, black stone  and marked at intervals by dungeon windows with a slight arch situated over their tops. Smaller, needle-like castle-towers extended upward, erupting out of the structure like stalagmites—or fangs. Twin spines of stone on either side of the entrance held a roof aloft, and big letters spelled-out the name of the place in a suitably-gothic typeface. The entrance itself was two giant, steel-riveted double doors. And shooting up out of the “high school” was the rest of Castle Grayskull: A spiraling, miles-high, cankerous structure of charred concrete, charcoal, steel, onyx, agate, jasper, jade, silver, iron, and obsidian, a dark rip in the fabric of daylight that reached high into the sky, reaching toward the heavens like an enormous finger of smoldering stone, an endlessly-rising monolith of staircases, balconies, swooping arches, and shadowy windows that stared like empty eye-sockets at all they surveyed. It rose upward like an infinite spear aimed at the eye of God Himself. Its tall, sooty spires soared into the air, like the skeletal spinal columns of fallen giants who had long-since turned to stone, blossoming into gruesome parapets that pierced the clouds as they ascended beyond sight, dwindling as they approached the stars themselves at their invisible apex.

And goddamn it, I’m not a scholar, I don’t belong here trying to figure this out. I’m also not a hero, so why did I let myself get talked into doing this? I’m just a man, struggling to survive, like everybody else in this world, and trying to do the most good I can while I’m here. But that was it. Doing “the most good he could” meant doing things like this. He knew that in his gut, and his conscience bit him for even pondering the thought of considering backing out. But he couldn’t be blamed for being human, could he? There were times he wondered if it still mattered that anyone chose to do good at all. The powers of Evil and their twisted offspring, Malice and Cruelty, practically owned these lands now, and beacons of hope were few in number. The Childlike Empress had long ago fallen into the Odinsleep. Rule over these lands had been handed over to the Noble Sorceress, Lady Amalphia Gizmo Discordia, and though the Sorceress tried her damnedest to fend off the swelling hordes of Tyrannen-Orcs, and challenges from Dark Wizards, it was an ongoing battle with no end in sight. And now she had sent him here, into the heart of Fantazmagoria, to Castle Grayskull itself, to do the impossible . . . to retrieve the legendary Crystal Sword Dràchynthýr. Well, shit. Trying to do the most good I can. There was nothing for it, then. Even if it meant certain death, by gods, he was going into that Castle and he was going to retrieve that sword. Fuck everything else.

He gazed down at the Castle. Wraiths guarded the entrance. Wraiths were ethereal beings that wielded deadly phantasmal force. He could see their translucent, wispy forms as they glided back and forth before the steel-riveted doors. Who knew what else awaited him on the other side of those doors? Tyrannen-Orcs, certainly. Dark Wizards, too. And him, with no Magic. He only had his trusty Ray Gun with its many settings. That would help. But it wouldn’t be enough. And it would be useless against the Wraiths. He needed something more.

The sun’s light was almost gone. Zanorak looked to the sky, to the stars. Dràchynthýr could only be retrieved from the Castle’s hold on it when the stars were in the right alignment, and they would only remain in the right alignment for another twenty-six hours or so. He had been waylaid by those Mutants in Arcworld, and had gotten here two days later than he had wanted to. So he had to make his move soon.

 Zanorak sighed a deep sigh. So, this was it. This was where the Quest ended. Or perhaps began anew. Whatever. He breathed in deep breath through his nose; the wind carried with it the sage-like smell of the desert-growing creosote bush (a reassuring, restorative smell), what smelled maybe like some carrion off in the distance (yuck, gross), and the fresh, crisp odor of the ozone left behind after a lightning storm (always a good smell). He knew what came next. He needed to fashion a new weapon, something that could deal with those Wraiths on their own ethereal terms.

Thus decided, he dismounted with a nod. He patted the clockwork horse on its metallic neck, and quietly thanked the creature for the noble sacrifice it was about to unwittingly make. He went to his saddlebags, retrieved the extensive and rather elaborate portable toolkit he’d brought along. He reached up into the horse’s fiber-optic mane, found the master power-switch, and hesitated only a moment before he turned it off with a sigh.

 So sad. The pitiful creature. Its life of service was over. The horse’s head drooped, the light in its eye-orbs going out. It remained standing, though its posture slackened. He took a moment of silence to appreciate the fact that a living soul had passed from its circuits and into the afterworld, gone forever from this world into the next. Maybe. Really, he had no fucking clue what happened to the souls of sentient machines. He hoped for the best, though.

Then, high upon the cliff overlooking the arid valley and Castle Grayskull, in the light of the quickly setting sun, he set to work upon building his new weapon.

And when Twilight washed over the valley and the cliff three hours later, it found Zanorak with said weapon nearly finished. Its had a rectangular metal chassis made with backpack straps,. about three feet tall by one and a half feet wide, and eight inches deep. He had fashioned it from cobbled-together struts, gears, and metal pieces using his spot-welding kit. Shining coils of copper wire stuck out in places. Three exposed, glowing circuit-boards winked with LED lights or tiny flares of current. A translucent plasma globe sat at the bottom, with tubes and wires running to it. The upper corner featured a ring of glowing red lights attached to a long vacuum hose wrapped in a coil of wire, which ended in a mechanical “wand” that looked akin to a shotgun barrel attached to a motorcycle handlebar. Mounted toward the end, near a set of switches and dials, was another plasma globe. A small circuit board, wired to a glass nozzle sat at the end of the wand. The wand itself hung in a receptacle mounted to the side of the backpack, stowed when not in use, like a sword or a bow. This was some damn fine work, if he did say so himself.

“And there we go, by gods,” said Zanorak, wiping the grease off of his hands and onto his duster, and then clicking the final circuit board into place on the side of the main chassis and attaching the last of the wires. His Otherself Gadget, the one he was in his Travels to the Otherworld, would’ve been proud. He had seen something like this contraption in a “movie” once. Then, it had been called a “proton pack” and had been worn by a brave techno-thaumaturgical knight of the supernatural known as a “Ghostbuster.”

He lifted the machine up, put the straps over his shoulders, and hoisted the thing onto his back. Gods but it was heavy as fuck! But, no heavier than the back-load of books that Gadget had carried home every day from Cambridge Rindge and Latin. And if Gadget could survive that, he would survive this, by gods. He reached up over his right shoulder and grabbed the motorcycle handlebar, and pulled the wand free. Okay, pretty good; easy enough to access and quick enough to pull free. He aimed the wand at a nearby outcropping of rock, threw the power switch, and felt the machine on his back come surging to life, like one of the ancient generators buried beneath the earth. He dialed the power to 20 percent, twisted the handlebar grip, and a slithering serpent of brilliant, yellow-orange light erupted from the nozzle. Bright electrical arcs jerked around the beam as it slammed into the outcropping of rock. The rock glowed red, then white, and then exploded. 

Whoa!” cried Zanorak, and he ducked to avoid a large splinter that flew at him. He staggered back three or four yards as the shockwave hit him. Then he recovered, and looked at the smoking spot where the rock formation had previously existed. He turned the weapon off. He heard and felt it power-cycle down. He smirked savagely. “Successful test, I guess. Yeah. I dare those Wraiths to fuck with me now. Ahem. Now then. Onto phase two . . .

He sat back down— Gods but his legs and back hurt, and his arms were tired, but he kept  going anyway—and took off the Proton Weapon, and began work anew, this time on the second of his weapons. The first weapon would power the second. He wasn’t sure how he knew this; he just knew. He attached a long-length of cable to the fusion reactor on the backpack device—about forty feet or so—which he then wrapped onto a set of small, protruding hangars he screwed onto the side. The cable ran to a small cylindrical device that sat on wheels, and that had an iris-like opening on top, with a set of circuits soldered onto it that connected to the interior. He had outfitted it with electrodes and lined it with coils that would, when energized, create a powerful forcefield, situated just above a “nuclear magnet” capable of attracting individual, free-radical quarks en masse.

“If this actually works,” he muttered as he attached circuits and soldered connections, “Those damned Wizards back in Arcworld had better make me an honorary Mage, just out of fucking respect for my talents at this . . .”

This device took two additional hours to construct, the only light to work by that of the moon and the disconnected eye-orbs of the erstwhile clockwork horse. By the time he had finished, his arms had were aching and his hands were sore from working with so many fine-grained tools and doing so much delicate, small-scale work. He leaned back on the stunted grass and hard ground and closed his eyes, resting for a moment. He let out a breath and let the sweat cool his forehead, and let his aching arms, legs, and back take a much-needed break.

“Gods I am so sore,” he moaned. “My kingdom for some of that Otherworld . . . what’s it called . . . Tylenol. Or a Wizard with a health potion. One of the two.”

A compliment to the “Ghostbusters” proton pack, this new device was a “ghost trap,” designed to incarcerate phantasms. It looked nothing like its cinematic counterpart, and it operated entirely differently; this one could hold multiple ectoplasmic entities, and could hold them indefinitely. He got up from where he lay a half hour later, slid the trap onto two tiny rails on the side of the backpack, and connected a secondary cable to it, which he then connected to a foot-pedal unit. He clipped that just beneath it. Whenever he disengaged the trap from the Proton Weapon, the foot-pedal would fall to the ground, ready for use.

He stood up reluctantly and put the whole thing back on again. He turned around, walked to the edge of the cliff, and put his hands on his hips. He looked down into the valley, toward Castle Grayskull. The constellations above gazed down upon him, as the Realm’s overlarge moon, twice as big as Earth’s, gleamed in the sky. The borealis blanketed the sky in hues of deep purple, blue, and orange, as the far-off clouds draped the mountains in shadows.

He heaved a sigh, closed his eyes, and centered himself, as his mentors had taught him to do before riding into battle. He retrieved the Proton Weapon’s wand from its receptacle, and held it in front of him. He flipped the “on” switch, and once more came the whir and the revving-up noises. He opened his eyes, steeled himself. Then he turned, and started down the dirt pathway that aeons of travelers on this very same road had traveled down ages before, and set himself on a path to the Castle.

Once the gate-guardians there saw him, there would be no turning back; he would have to commit to the fight, a battle to the death between he and the demons of the “High School” part of the Castle . . . just as it had once been a battle for Gadget, so long ago in his Travels to the Otherworld . . . but not so long ago that he could no longer smell the brimstone.

He soon enough reached the bottom of the cliff, the dirt path bottoming out onto the floor of the valley. The enormity of Castle Grayskull lay directly ahead of him, approximately an eighth of a mile away from his current position. The steel-riveted doors of Cambridge Rindge and Latin stood even with the ground, beckoning him closer with pangs of both Otherworldly nostalgia and immediate creeping dread. From this vantage point, he could see no other gatekeepers. But of course the Wraiths were on duty. They couldn’t be seen easily; they remained translucent until they struck out to wound or to kill; then, and only for just a moment, would they become semi-tangible phantasms, and thus, vulnerable to the weapons he’d constructed.

A number of rocky outcroppings and the scarred husks of long-dead trees dotted the dusty floor of the valley, giving him ample cover to run and hide behind as he approached the Castle in zig-zagging starts and stops. But just as began to dart from a tree only a hundred yards from the entrance, he caught something out of the corner of his eye—a quick blur of movement, floating past the doors. He squinted to get a better look. Then, from out of the corner of his other eye—another burst of movement and illumination, very similar to the first: Just a quick, blurry form, lit from the inside, that flitted across the doors.

Zanorak hunkered down behind a nearby boulder, and then carefully poked his head out over the top to have another look. He reached down beside his foot and picked up a rock, and weighed it in his hand.

Please, God, or gods, whoevers up there listening—he thought, thinking of his life as his Otherself—please let this be the one time I don’t suck at sports.

He threw the rock. One of the lower windows of the Castle smashed to bits. The Wraiths guarding the entrance fell for it. Two blurry, wispy shapes zipped away from the steel-riveted doors to go investigate; they obscured whatever background lay behind them, and illuminated the path that they took. Zanorak reached up and over and grabbed the wand of his Proton Weapon, took it in both hands, and stood up, watching where the Wraiths had gone. Checking one last time to make sure he saw no more blurry forms near the doors, he set off toward the doors.

Gods fucking dammit; heavy interconnecting bolts barred them; they were locked tight, their entire surfaces covered in interlocking gears, wheels, metal cogs, and pistons; the doors themselves were part of the steam-driven locks that held them shut.

Oh well . . . The stealthy approach had never had much hope of working, anyway. He positioned himself about thirty feet away from the doors, dialed the Proton Weapon’s wand up to 15% power, and turned the handlebar. A slithering, whip-like beam of incandescent, yellow-orange fire shot out of the wand’s nozzle, with bright blue electric arcs whirling around it, and slammed into the center of the twin metal doors. The beam began to melt the metal, turning it to white-hot sludge. White and yellow sparks flew. The air began to smell like ozone and burnt metal. He chanced another glance at his surroundings as he tried to hold the slithering beam steady on the melting doors. He would need to get back to his hiding spot before the Wraiths returned. He would wait there for a few minutes, until the molten metal of the gates had cooled, then make a run for it and—

GAAAH! FUCK!” he screamed, as burning, crippling shards of pain suddenly shot through his chest like stakes made of ice. He fell to his knees and cried out in agony. Something had torn holes in his lungs, or at least it felt like it had. He clutched at the place from which the pain had spread, and chanced a look down . . . and there was a blue-white, translucent hand—or the suggestion of a hand—reaching through him, penetrating his flesh and clothes. As it withdrew, the pain lessened. And then as the entire body of the Wraith passed through him, the pain returned full-force, even more excruciating than before. A stabbing, bitter dagger of pure cold, like a bolt of arctic ice shoved through him.

Zanorak managed to get to his feet and stumble, only to come face to face with the other Wraith. It reached out with ghostly arms. The sleeves of its cloak gave way to spectral, skeletal hands aglow with eldritch energy and translucency. It had no legs or feet . . . the bottom of its cloaked “body” simply faded to nothingness as it fluttered in the air. The hood of its cloak formed its “head,” draped over the place where a real head should have been. It might not have had eyes, but Zanorak could feel the cold weight of its glare; it had a look that could turn human blood into ice-water. Zanorak froze, its gaze holding him captive; he tried to move, but could do nothing. His arms and legs refused his commands.

He stumbled back a pace or two. Sweet gods . . . the horror! Pure panic squirted into his veins. He had been in gun fights, tight spots, even on blood-soaked battlefields . . . Nothing had prepared him for that icicle of pain he had just felt go ramming through his lungs. Nothing. And nothing had prepared him for what this was like, looking into this thing’s non-face, it’s emptiness . . . He wanted to look away, but couldn’t.

And then they attacked again, this time both at once. One flew through his stomach. He cried out and clutched his abdomen. Like a large jellyfish swiping its tendrils across his belly. He doubled over, vomited. The other one floated through his head. Vice-grips squeezed his skull, the  bone about to split from the pressure. Blood ran from his nostrils, the pain excruciating. Visions flooded his brain . . . Men and women eating one another’s entrails after slicing one another open with knives. Brutal scenes of torture, of himself being ripped in two by wild dogs that sank their fangs deep into his flesh—he felt their teeth sink into his skin—as they tried to tear him apart. He tried to get to his feet, but his legs didn’t want to work. He staggered and fell to his knees again, and vomited a second time.

The Wraiths circled him like sharks, preparing for another attack. He couldn’t take much more of this. He was about to die. Death. The inevitable end. Here it came. The end of his career as an adventurer. And if he died here, in this world, he world he had known and lived in all of his life, he knew on pure instinct that he would never make it back to that “Other” world, the world of cartoons and movies and schoolwork, where he knew a man named Gygax and a woman named Zoë. Even if he made it across the gulf that separated the two, he would not emerge the same person. No. The Wraith thing would shred his mind, rendering him insane . . .

Then it hit him: He still had the Proton Weapon! Duh! He felt like an idiot. He grabbed the wand and cranked the power to 100%. dropped to the ground, rolled onto his back, tightened his grip on it, and wrenched the mid-section handlebar. The yellow-orange beam exploded out of the wand’s nozzle, bright, blue-glowing lightning bolts arcing as it flew at its target.  It hit the Wraith, and the force of the collision echoed back through beam. He scrambled to his feet, and tried to keep the wand steady. He dug in his heels and pushed back hard against the force of the beam. The beam doubled back on itself and wrapped itself around the Wraith in a complex knot of energy, trapping the Wraith inside a “cage” of nuclear power. The other Wraith shrieked—a terrible noise that sounded like blunt steel knives or claws scraping slowly down a slab of slate—but it dared not get any closer. It floated above him, near to the other one, shrieking at him. Gods, did that sound ever give him and instant headache!

“Aw, what’s the matter?” he yelled, a grim smirk on his face. “Can dish it out but can’t take it? Yeah, I thought so. Well how do you like it, huh? How’s that taste? Ready for phase two? Because I sure as hell am!”

Moving the wand to the side, he dragged the energy-knot—and therefore the captive Wraith—toward its still-free companion. The second Wraith backed away, but Zanorak handled his captive and the energy-stream with renewed confidence . . . and whipped it through the air, intercepting the other Wraith as well. The moving energy-streams enclosing the first Wraith “opened up” just long enough to ensnare the other Wraith, as well. In a flash, the energetic flux-knot healed itself, and both Wraiths were at last his! Yes! Huzzah!

“Now then!” he yelled at them. “Phase three. And we’ll see how good I really am at repurposing a fusion-powered clockwork horse’s innards!”

Zanorak reached up and over his shoulder, and grabbed the Wraith Trap he had fashioned. He pressed a button to release the cable that connected it to the backpack unit. He sat the cylindrical device down on its four tiny wheels and—still holding the Wraiths steady in their electronuclear prison—gave it a firm push toward the action. It rolled out ahead of him and out underneath where the two Wraiths hovered. He took a step back to where—thankfully, it had worked!—the foot-pedal unit had fallen to the ground when he’d pulled the trap free. He stepped on the rightmost pedal, and the iris on top of the Trap spun open, revealing a coruscating purple and yellow light-show. He felt around for the other pedal. He found it, then stomped on it as he immediately cut the power to the wand, the holding-streams disappearing. The purple and yellow lights inside the trap exploded upward in a brilliant, upside-down cyclone of green sparks, a yawning vortex of purple incandescence, and blue-white lightning bolts that twisted around each other like entwining serpents dancing in a corkscrew helix. The lights ascended toward the heavens and swallowed the two Wraiths as they shrieked. Zanorak turned away, averting his gaze. A few seconds later, and the shrieks stopped dead—suddenly silenced—and the dazzling display of pyrotechnic fury ceased.

He opened one eye, then the other. Had it actually fucking worked? Had it? He turned around to look. The Trap sat there, about ten feet away on the ground, a tiny red light on the side of it blinking, indicating success. Two tiny green lights lit up beneath the blinking red one, indicating two trapped phantasms out of the Trap’s holding-capacity of five.

Ha! Gotcha!” said Zanorak, stowing the wand of the Proton Weapon and walking toward the Trap. His heart beat furiously in his chest as he smiled, panting for breath after all the excitement and the adrenaline rush. “Bet you won’t ever . . . screw with a guy . . . packing a Magical . . . positron collider . . . again . . . will you!”

Now then. How many other potential attackers were there? He looked left. Looked right. Amazingly, there didn’t appear to be any other guards of any kind. The fools in the Castle had put all their trust in these two Wraiths. Well, more fool them!

He stood for a moment and let his heart beat wildly, and tried to calm himself. He felt exposed, just standing here. The heat of battle faded only a little in the slowly ebbing moments. No, fuck this. He needed to get moving while the adrenaline still flowed, while he remained sharply focused.

He took off his Proton Weapon and wound up the twenty or so feet of cable that connected it to the Trap, and put the Trap back where it went on the side. Then he put the Pack back on and grabbed the wand again, and took one more look around for potential attackers lurking nearby. 

Then he sucked up the rest of his courage, wiped the blood from his face, and approached the main gates of Castle Grayskull—the giant metal doors that led into this version of Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, one of which he had melted into goo—and stepped through them . . . and into a realm that his Otherself Gadget thought he had forgotten for good.

An Excerpt from "The Technowizards of FantazmagoriCon!"

Hey all! I thought I would post a quick excerpt from the novel. Just to whet your appetites! Here goes! This excerpt concerns Darmok, one of the aliens in the book. (Darnokj is a shapeshifter who is neither male nor female, but of a third gender altogether. So that’s what’s with the alternate pronouns.) Please feel free to critique it and give me feedback in the comments!

“So this is Earth, huh? In all its glory, the real thing, at last,” ze said to zirself. “The planet the Watchers prize above all others . . . except maybe mine. Or hell, maybe even that, I dunno.” Zir English, in zir opinion, was flawless. Ze had practiced it relentlessly in a thousand Simulations, training for this mission, thinking the chance would never come to demonstrate zir worthiness as a Field Agent. Afraid that ze would be stuck behind a desk, grading papers until well past zir prime. Heh. “Grading papers.” Zir words betrayed zir age. That saying still existed even on zir world, the Planet Shyphtor, nine hundred and eight cycles—and counting—since the last tree had been pulped and paper had become a thing of the past. But ze was young compared to the Eldar, who ruled Shyphtor with the wisdom and grace that could only come with Age. And it was they, who after communion with the Watchers, had sent zir on this mission. Why they had chosen zir—ze had terrific training, but little actual experience—was anyone’s guess . . . But dammit, ze intended to succeed, no matter what. The Watchers’ Will Be Done, come—as the Humans might say—“Hell or high water.”

Darmok was the designer, pilot, sole crew-person, and commander of The Renegade Angel, the craft ze now arrived in. Ze sat at the Helm on the ship’s expansive bridge—which had been designed for a much more comprehensive crew, but ze could be flown by just a single Shyphtorilaen, if the need arose—and carefully guided zir in with one hand on each joystick—one that controlling the ship’s power and pitch, and one controlling zir roll and yaw. The Renegade Angel responded instantly to the slightest of touches, zir motion through the clouds as fluid and smooth as warm butter. Darmok smiled. Ze was eminently proud of zirself, and even prouder of zir ship. Ze had slaved over the blueprints for zir—and especially the equations for zir next-generation engine core—for over a decade, and had fought a ton of bureaucratic red-tape and committees in order to get the funding secured for the dream of bringing zir to life, year after year, until finally, the Angel had rolled off the assembly line, as beautiful as any other baby’s birth. And now, Darmok zirself piloted the Angel on zir maiden voyage—and on zir maiden voyage, as well: They had finally granted zir what ze had wanted since the dawn of the Third of zir Nine Lives: An actual assignment in the field: Investigate the threat of a Zarcturean invasion of the Off-Limits planet known as Earth, a “special project” of the Watchers, a planet they also “loved,” insofar as they were still capable of feelings like “love.” Some of the Eldar thought the Watchers long divorced from such emotions; others thought the Watchers had become love in its purest form, surpassing all negative emotions when they had Ascended to a higher plane of existence thirty thousand years before. Darmok wasn’t sure what ze believed.

Descended from shapeshifters, they had long ago sacrificed most of their transformative ability; they had long since grown skeletons, and could now only shift between quadruped and biped forms. For this mission, Darmok had assumed zir ailuro sapien form, in order to pilot the ship and potentially interact with Humans. Many of zir kind—the Shyphtorilaen, their race was called in the Human tongue—stayed that way most of the time. It was simply the most efficient package that nature had come up with, they had observed. The simian body structure was unique in its utility and versatility. With a few tweaks, of course. For instance—if you took the Human form, and you added a muscular prehensile tale—like a monkey’s—only that could grasp and lift objects—you’d instantly have more utility. Also, the face: If you added whisker-like sensory feelers—like a cat’s—you would have better directional sense (if they carried an electrostatic current). In fact, if you changed the facial configuration to be more feline in general—zir culture had developed a fascination with the Earth species Felis silvestris catus—you’d be better equipped all around (the larger nasal passages; the ability to “taste” certain smells; the ability to see in the dark; much better hearing, with the larger ears; more and sharper teeth, for chewing food). Except, of course, in the speech department; if you wanted to use verbal communication, you’d have to slightly adjust the mouth, adding more muscles and finer-grained control over the lips and larynx than a normal, Earth-originated house-cat had. And fur, of course; one needed fur to protect one from the cold, and from sharp objects, and to cushion from close-range impacts. 

The only thing Darmok hadn’t decided upon yet was zir gender. Ze was late in life. Normally, in zir society, one had decided upon one’s gender by now. A Shyphtorilaen usually decided to “fix” their gender—setting it in stone, changing from being “Of The Third” to being either Masculine or Feminine—by their seventeen hundredth cycle. Darmok was twenty-three hundred cycles old, and ze had not yet chosen a gender for zirself. A Shyphtorilaen could only truly “set” their gender once, and could only shift their gender once every two thousand cycles . . . and could only usually do so twice in one lifetime, usually around eight thousand cycles. And doing so involved elaborate rituals, ceremonies; it was a big deal, culturally speaking. Not to mention that doing so involved the biophysical process known as Chrysalis. Darmok hadn’t the patience for elaborate ceremonies. Nor the twelve-cycle-long process of Chrysalis. Dear Watchers, what would ze do in there? Read a really long book? (That whole “paper” thing, again. Ze would really have to get better at this whole “dating” zirself thing with zir references.)

“Well, well, well . . . what do we have here?” ze muttered to zirself, as ze closed in on zir destination. The cybernetic hololenticular implants in zir eyes drew zir attention to a large, stately building outlined with glowing red lines in zir eye-displays, with tiny indicator arrows pointing toward the Zarcturean ship that had already landed there. Ze throttled back zir velocity and prepared The Renegade Angel to land. Ze set zir down about ten yards away from the Zarcturean ship, zir foursome of steel-wheeled pods gently crunching into the rooftop’s gravel. Like the Zarcturean ship, Darmok’s The Renegade Angel was far larger on the inside than zir exterior suggested, by way of transcendental dimensional technology. However, there the similarities ended. For example, zir ship’s engine core—the part ze was really proud of—was definitely superior to the other ship’s basic faster-than-light drive: zir engine—which ze’d dubbed “the Con-Fusion Drive”—was a device whose reaction chamber contained a rift in spacetime that took the form of a ten-dimensional Möbius loop . . . one wherein multiple parallel universes—which were always supposed to remain parallel and never cross paths—all intersected. The bottom line? It made everyone onboard the ship utterly immune to the effects of Temporal Paradox whenever ze flew the ship through a time-warp. In other words, it took a spaceship, and turned it into the ultimate time machine. Now, thanks to Darmok, the Shyphtorilaen had a time-ship that could visit any place or time that the Eidolon had touched—via the agency of the Zarcturean or any other race that had grown malignant and dangerous under their evil tutelage—and then work to uncorrupt, reboot, or “correct” that species’ timeline or evolution, without having to worry about a Paradox Fracture swallowing their world whole . . . and without risking permanent damage to Time itself.

Darmok shut down the Con-Fusion Drive and the ship’s Antimatter Propulsors, and put the Main Reactor into stasis mode. Ze then locked the controls to zir genetics and brainwaves, so that only ze could operate them. Ze rose from zir seat at the Helm, and walked into the Captain’s Ready Room, which sat off to the left of the bridge. Ze touched a glowing panel there on the wall, and it slid open. There, ze beheld what Ops called a “basic Planetside Wanderer’s outfit.” A smallish backpack unit featuring two pulse-thrusters; a long, thick, crimson duster made of what humans might’ve identified as a heavy, leathery material, with readouts and sensors attached to its left fore-sleeve. A dark pair of pants with air-seals at the cuffs and above its utility belt, and a special slit in the back for zir tail to poke through, along with a matching, long-sleeve tunic with air-seals at the neck, sleeve cuffs, and waist, with both it and the pants created from a soft-weave poly-alloy—comfortable and stretchy, yet capable of blocking almost any and all projectile fire and completely airtight—along with a pair of bright-red rocket boots that almost matched the duster. Finally, hanging there also, ze found zir gun-belt, meant to criss-cross around zir waist, its pair of Decimator pistols meant to sit on either hip. In the top compartment of the cabinet lay zir atmospheric-conversion helmet, with a built-in model of another of zir inventions, the Thought-Transilience Transmission Interoseter, and a pair of red, poly-alloy soft-weave gloves with seals at the wrists. An Earthling might’ve pegged zir headgear as looking like an ordinary motorcycle helmet . . . albeit one with a fancy illuminated face-shield and a rubber-and-metal seal around the neck, with hoses and bits of tech bolted to it in places, and with a pair of tall antennae on either side.

Ze got dressed, adjusted zir guns, and then put on the helmet and locked it in place—mostly just as a precaution, as ze wasn’t yet positive ze could breathe the Earth’s atmosphere. Zir superiors had told zir that it featured nitrogen-oxygen-rich air, the same as planet Shyphtor, but had also told zir that the humans wantonly toxified their atmosphere with harmful pollutants, even though in doing so, they actively murdered their only planet, and they knew it. Next, ze put on the red, soft-weave poly-alloy gloves, which featured magnetic grips on the underside, and connected the power-couplings to the tubes that fed from the duster’s wrists. Lastly, ze donned the small pulse-thruster unit, and strapped it in place between zir shoulders. Then, ze closed the compartment, turned, and exited back onto the bridge, then went to the glass elevators that stood in the rear.  The doors slid open, then closed behind zir. The transparent elevator carriage began lowering itself on antigrav beams, moving through the ship’s lower levels—the mess hall, the engine room, the various storage and landing bays—then through a water-like membrane and the transdimensional bulk, the higher dimensional space between the inside and outside of the ship. Soon, the elevator gently touched down outside the craft, landing feather-light upon the gravel of the rooftop, and its glass doors parted.

Darmok ventured out, one Decimator pistol at the ready as ze scanned the rooftop for movement of any kind, zir hololenticular implants aiding zir. Dozens of sets of footprints—Humanoid, bipedal footprints, led back and forth all over the gravel rooftop, to and fro from the Visitor’s ship. Hmm, curious.

Ze approached the Zarcturean ship. Looking upon it, ze sighed, shook zir head, and said aloud, “Dear gods, how pragmatically fugly can you get?” One of zir briefings back home, entitled “Human Languages: English: Formal, Informal, and You” had been filled with some very strange words with even stranger usage contexts. It  was a ruffian’s tongue, vulgar yet clever and sharp; colorful and oddly efficient, though at times bizarrely wasteful. Ze liked it a lot, and had made a mental note then to try and learn more about it, especially its more “colorful” side. Ze put zir hands on zir hips and shook zir head again. “What kind of species doesn’t even try to make their ships more streamlined and beautiful? Jeeze . . . what a piece of space-trash. Now then . . . if I were a Zarcturean Visitor, why would I come to this place, of all places?”

Just then, ze felt a stabbing pain slice through zir head, like someone had suddenly shoved an ice-sickle through zir eye and straight into zir brain. Ze dropped to zir knees, short of breath and with sweat beading on zir forehead as ze fumbled for the controls that governed the Thought-Transilience Transmission Interoseter. Ze turned the Gain control all the way down from +11 to +0. The pain receded, but did not go away completely. It was directional, as well . . . if ze turned to the right or the left, the pain abated. Not all of it, but some. Only when ze faced forward—and only when ze looked directly at the Zarcturean ship—did it come back in full force. So, that was it: the Zarcturean ship had a telepathic security system, one with a limited kind of sentience . . . it wasn’t fully sapient, but it was alive enough to defend itself, and alive enough to be deadly whenever it chose to be. It would have to be Mind-hacked in order for anyone other than its pilot to get aboard.

Luckily, one of zir electives during zir field training had been in a skill-set called “Affinity-Tech Hacking,” which had covered how to hack into systems similar to this ships’ psionic security system. Ze only hoped ze remembered at least part of the mental protocols correctly. Doing so would mark the difference between getting aboard the ship, or getting zir synapses fried from within. With a deep breath taken, ze sat down on the roof, zir legs crossed over one another, and put zir hands on zir knees. Ze slowly turned the gain-knob up once more, until ze could hear the thing whispering in zir head. Ze closed zir eyes, and began to work . . .

Book Review: Clive Barker's Imajica

I just finished re-reading Clive Barker’s Imajica for the first time since high-school, and wow, it’s been a while. I first read this book in 1991, when it was first published, and wow, so much has changed since then. Since that time, I’ve actually taken courses in college where I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on things like religion, belief, ideology, and gender; on men, and women, and their roles in the world and society; on sex, its amazing power to heal and to curse and to drive us to do things, its power over us, its role in shaping who we are, what we do, and on people and society; on desire, its potency, and what it does to us; and on the power of belief and on imagination, and what that does to us, and how it inspires us, shapes the world we live in, and how it can help us, and maybe save us. And of course, I’ve thought about magic. Is it real? Does it exist? If so, what is it? How does it—or if it were real, how would it—really work? Are there other worlds beyond this one? Other planets with life on them? In other dimensions? What would other worlds beyond this one look like, feel like, seem like? Could we travel to them? What kinds of people and creatures would we meet there? I’m not religious, but, I’ve wondered, if there was a God, would it possible to find—and meet—God? And what if—and this is a big one—what if we found out that God, in all his “glory,” was actually the Bad Guy?

Imajica is a book that seeks, with immense majesty of prose and with drastic and breathtaking scope, to answer all of these questions and address all of these issues in one fell swoop; with one gigantic story arc that spans over thirteen hundred pages (in eBook form, at least). It remains Clive Barker’s most ambitious work, ever, and his most daring. It posits that there are, beyond the boundaries of our four dimensional world, four other, parallel dimensions—four other “Dominions”—each teeming with life beyond our wildest imaginings; cities of vast scope and methods of architecture that span a dizzying array of styles and inventions; and societies, landscapes, governments, and cultures of such dazzling variety as to make one wonder—how does Barker come up with it all? But all is not well in the worlds of the Imajica; for the Fifth Dominion, Earth, it cut off from her sister Dominions, floating in the dreaded wastes of the “In Ovo” (think of it as a kind of supernatural “hyperspace” hell filled with monsters and demons), and the other Four are controlled by the Autarch, a monstrous tyrant who, from his city-state of Yzordorrex in the Second Dominion, rules with an iron fist. The only hope for the “Reconciliation”—the bridging of the gap between Earth and the other Four Dominions, which can occur only every two hundred years—lies with a man who has no clue that he is the key to this great event: An art forger and womanizer named “Gentle,” who, when he meets a mysterious assassin named “Pie ‘oh’ pah”—who is in reality a shape-shifting, gender-fluid alien from the reconciled Dominions—finds there is more to life than just anonymous sex and faking great masterpieces. And also, part of the mystery lies with Judith, a woman desired by many men, but belonging to none of them; she and Gentle share a turbulent past, but neither can remember more than ten years into either of their own. With Pie ‘oh’ pah as a guide, they will find their destinies intertwined, and Gentle will, hopefully, reclaim his destiny as the Reconciler of Dominions . . . or else every world will perish in the coming apocalypse . . . an apocalypse brought about, perhaps, by the very God that the Reconciliation is meant to serve the will of . . . that God being, of course, the great “Hapexamendios,” better known in the Fifth Dominion as Jehova Yahweh.

The heroes have their work cut out for them, and the book’s villains don’t make it easy. First there’s the Tabula Rasa . . . an ancient society dedicated to stamping out all magical activity on Earth and stopping the Reconciliation at all costs, because the last time it was attempted, things went horribly wrong and a few people got eaten by creatures from the In Ovo. Oops. And then there’s the Autarch, mad with power and raging in his palace to his Queen, who bears a striking resemblance to Judith, and who might just be her twin, or her doppleganger, or her clone. Maybe. And then there’s Dowd. Dowd is the Familiar of Oscar Godolphin, one of the members of the Tabula Rasa, and he is a nasty piece of work. Just imagine a Neo-Nazi with the calm and almost sweet disposition of Alfred the Butler, and you’ll have Dowd. He has mites that he spits up out of his mouth and that can “unmake” you if you cross him though, so watch out.

Imajica is a fantastic epic “dark fantasy,” and I remembered enjoying it very much when I was in high school. And that hasn’t changed. I still love it. It’s filled with terrific, almost phantasmagorical and dream-like imagery, some of it whimsical, much of it dark. Some of it terrifying. Luscious, vivid descriptions that practically leap off the page and into your mind’s eye, picturesque mental images that are so lifelike in their prose-rendering that you just want to savor the words rather than speed past them, luxuriating in Barker’s turns of phrase and his gift for descriptive language. His action writing—when there is action, and there is quite a bit of it—is good too; he doesn’t waste time lingering on details except when he really wants you to notice something, or someone, and remember it for later. His dialogue is . . . well, not quite as good as his gift for terrific descriptions. Some of it is a little stilted and wooden, at times. But much of it is good, bordering on excellent; when he writes from the heart, you can really tell . . . But when it’s up to the characters to deliver exposition, that’s where he falters a little bit. But other than that, the writing is excellent, bordering on divinely inspired—if you’ll forgive the obvious pun—and you can almost see Barker frantically working on this manuscript as you read it, obsessively typing out every line, sweating over it long into the night like a maniac at the keyboard, a man gone wild with ideas and invention. Because that’s what it feels like most of the time—like this is Barker’s mind unleashed on the page; like this is Clive Barker’s mind let loose like a ferocious, feral animal to roam the wilds of our imaginations, stalking the printed word, and lashing out at us from the sentences and paragraphs of this book.

Of course there is sex in this book. It wouldn’t be a Clive Barker book without the freaky sex! And by God, there is a lot of it. And I do mean a lot. There’s so much sex in this book it ought to be retitled  Imajica: Screwing Your Way Across The Reconciled Dominions. Really. I mean, this book has a lot of freaky sex in it, so if you’re not up for that, don’t read it. Laurel K. Hamilton would be proud of this book, let’s put it that way, okay? I’m personally not a big fan of graphic sex in fantasy or other fiction . . . I mean, okay yeah, they fucked. So what? I don’t need a full page description of what the guy’s penis looked like. (And Barker does exactly that on one page of this book. He spends three long paragraphs describing Oscar Godolphin’s rod.) I mean, okay, yeah, great, they’re horny and they love each other’s bodies. Great. What’s next in the freaking story? But. In this case, I understand why he’s doing it. Because it’s not just sex scenes that are scattered throughout Imajica. Sex, and sexuality, are woven into the DNA of the book’s plot, story, theme, and overarching narrative superstructure, and that’s part of what makes it so interesting and so fascinating a book to read; they’re part of the book’s psychocosmic structure, and they’re what define the boundaries of its mythological architecture. 

Also, gender. Or more appropriately: Feminism. Clive Barker wrote this book in 1991, back when “#MeToo” wasn’t a thing yet; back when feminism was still gathering steam. But yet he wrote a book that is, basically, an “essentialist gender narrative” in which “men” and “masculinity” are depicted as the devouring, destructive, and conquering force, and “women” and “femininity” are the driving, creative, and nurturing force; in which men are portrayed as being both desirous and jealous of women’s power to create and nurture, and wherein they are often destroyed by this very desire and jealousy. And in which women are the true source of creation and magic, and in which men are the usurpers of that power; and in which they are the conquerers who create cities upon Mother Earth because they cannot be within Mother Earth. Yeah, he wasn’t subtle about it, folks. In the world of Imajica, the God everyone prays to on Sunday actually (SPOILERS) raped women to create the Reconcilers, like Gentle, and Christ before him, and others. It’s fascinating to note that in Imajica, God has either killed or imprisoned all the Goddesses (those who were too powerful for him to kill) before he took up residence in the First Dominion; and that at the end, (SPOILERS) all the Goddesses have returned, and thus we’re supposed to think that since God is dead (somewhere, Nietzsche is doing a fist pump), everything is okay, and that though the past was designed by men, the future will be written by women, and that this is somehow a better thing . . . even though Barker has already made big deal of telling us how, in the past, the female led cults and societies of the Imajica were just as bloodthirsty as this created and led by men.

It is good that the book addresses gender-fluidity, though. Pie ‘oh pah is a wonderful character, and he (or she, or — problematically — “it” as Barker refers to Pie) makes a fine best friend and later (SPOILERS) a loyal and loving spouse to Gentle. Pie is a complex character, and Barker writes him (or her) with a certain grace and tenderness, and yet a complex darkness that is at once beguiling and charismatic. One could accuse Barker of going for a “magical negro” (only in this case it would be a “magical androgynene”), but what of that? Pie is a great character, and I fell in love with him (or her) as I read the book. (SPOILERS, but really, you saw this coming) I was extremely upset when he (or she) died, though Barker does manage to “bring him (or her) back” in various ways through flashbacks to Gentle and Sartori’s past, and when he (she) comes back at the end of the book . . . whoa, major tear-jerker moment. Major. I admit it, I cried. The only problematic thing about Pie is the way Barker uses the pronoun “it” to refer to the “mystif” (Pie’s species), though no other pronoun really “fits.” Pie can become whatever the observer wants, you see; he’s (she’s) not just any old “shapeshifter’: he (or she) becomes whatever the onlooker most desires, and he (she) doesn’t just appear that way . . . No, she (he) literally becomes that person or thing, changing even her (his) gender or her (his) internal organs to match whatever you wish she (he) was. This is part of what makes him (her) such a powerful character and such a symbol for change and growth. And Pie is such a fantastically rendered guy (or gal) that, like Gentle, you just never want to say goodbye to him (her).

Other than Barker’s radical approach to feminism — which I don’t entirely disagree with, in principle, but still, it kinda drives me up a wall, because, well, I’m a dude, and I don’t appreciate my entire gender getting slammed as “basically evil just because the author says so” — I still love Imajica with all my heart and soul. Truly, I do. I love this book to death, just as much as I love Barker’s other great fantastic adventure, Weaveworld (though I confess I love that one a little bit more). It’s one of my favorite dark fantasies, ever. It’s gloriously imaginative, fantastically written, and wonderfully majestic, flowing, epic, and dreamy. It’s got terrific imagery, beautiful prose, and great characters who I fall in love with every time I read it, for better or for worse, despite some of their personal failings — or perhaps because of them. It’s got action, suspense, horror, flights of fancy, and of course, it has lots of freaky sex that, while I personally could do without it (I’m not a prude or anything, I just don’t get into graphic descriptions of sex; I mean, okay, yeah, they fucked; big deal, get on with the story), I understand why it’s there, and I understand the role it plays in the overall story and it’s themes. (And hey, it’s good for a grin, and some of it never fails to make me scratch my head and wonder, “Uh, Mr. Barker, is there something you want to tell the nice psychotherapist?”) But yeah, Imajica remains one of my favorites that I will definitely revisit once every few years from now on, and will want to spend some time with now and then, remembering the waters of the Merrow Ti’ Ti’ and the grey wall of the Erasure; the Lenten Way and the desert of the Kwem; the heights of the Jokalaylau snows and the palaces of the city-god Yzordorrex. All of them are there, in Clive Barker’s Imajica, an epic, Dominion-spanning adventure that is guaranteed to take your breath away—and maybe even use it as a weapon!

So, dear reader, what books have you enjoyed recently? Anything good? Or have you also read Imajica? Or, do you just want to throw in your two cents? Give me a shout in the comments!

If Ever You Haven't Before, VOTE.

When you vote for someone, you’re not just voting for a person. You’re voting for a philosophy, an ideology. A worldview. You’re voting for a system of ideas and beliefs, a way of looking at the world. And when you vote, you’re taking that system of ideas and beliefs and putting it into action. You’re basically taking someone else’s — and your own philosophical convictions — and casting it out into the world and saying, “Make it so.” You’re programming the System. Everybody says that “You can’t beat the system.” But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you vote. You’re “beating” the System into shape — a new shape, one defined by your ideas and values, and the ideas and values of the person you’re voting for. You’re programming the System to produce a certain result. And if the person you’re voting for has no moral convictions, no compunction about lying, cheating, or stealing — like Donald Trump does — then what you’re going to get is a System that lies to you, that cheats you, and that steals from you. Which is exactly what the Republicans have been building since they got elected to a majority way back in 2010: A System that lies to, cheats, and steals from the People who elected them, and everyone else. And President Trump is their chief enabler. The reason the Republicans will never impeach Trump — or speak out or act against him — is because he is their Useful Idiot. He will rubber-stamp anything they put on his desk, no matter how Draconian or cruel-intentioned or mean-spirited it is. No matter if it steals from the poor to give to the rich, no matter if it cuts the social safety net to ribbons, or cuts taxes on the rich at the expense of students and seniors, or whether or not it weakens protections for women and minorities, or whether or not it takes away healthcare from millions. They don’t care about the People who elected them, they don’t care about anyone else. They don’t care about anyone but themselves. And Trump doesn’t care about anyone but himself. He is a classic narcissist. Hell, his attorney doesn’t want him to testify to Mueller because he’s afraid the idiot will perjure himself; he has no faith that Trump can sit there and tell the truth, even in a mock interview. Think about that; Trump can’t even practice telling the truth. That’s how pathological he is. And this man is our President. He got elected because a lot of stupid people voted for him, out of racial animus and fear. Hopefully, the Democrats will take the House and Senate back in the midterms and soon, we will be rid of him. We can only hope. But that can’t happen unless you — yes YOU — vote. Vote like your life depends on it. (Because with the current administration’s views on healthcare, it just might.) Vote your moral convictions. Vote to put a philosophy into action. Vote to put ideas and beliefs into action. Ideas and beliefs that reflect fairness, honesty, justice, integrity, and compassion. Vote not just for what is easy, or what is “practical”; vote for what is right. Vote to change the world.

Changed The Title Of The Book!

Hey all! Well, I had an epiphany the other day. You’ll never guess what I discovered: The title of the book is too long. Yeah, yeah, I know many of you are slapping your foreheads right now and saying to yourselves, “Well duh, we could’ve told you that.” But I digress. Yeah, it’s too damn long. The Technowizard Guardians Of The Infinite Worlds Of Fandom had a cool sound to it, I admit, but the problem was it was just too long to fit on the damn cover of the book and still have some decent cover art showing! So, I changed it. Are you ready for this? The new title of he book is . . .

“The Technowizards Of FantazmagoriCon”

Neat, huh? I just decided that since 80% of the action of the book takes place at FantazmagoriCon anyway, and since the lead characters are sort of the characters who fight to protect the Earth while at FantazmagoriCon, it makes sense to call them the “Technowizards” of FantazmagoriCon; they’re from there. They come from FantazmagoriCon. They’re a part of FantazmagoriCon. Get it? That’s their point of origin. Because so much of the book is centered on fandom and fan culture, I wanted to make a statement that this is the place the heroes are coming from; this is the cultural origin they originate from and spring from. This is their true home. The castle they seek refuge in. And, the place where the final showdown between good and evil is ultimately fought.

So, there ya go. New title for the book!

Hi All! It's Been A While!

Hi hi! Kermit the frog here! Just kidding, it's just me. Whew. It's been a while. Sorry I've been away. Have you missed me, world? No? Well that's good. I haven't missed you, either. You're all a bunch of pains in my asses. Just kidding, I love you all. No, for real, I've been in a massive amount of physical pain these past two months from an apparent spinal cord problem . . . I had to have corticosteroids injected into my spine in order to fix the problem . . . but now the problem is fixed, and I can actually sit at my computer again for long periods of time without any excruciating pain setting in! Whoo hoo! Which also means I can write again. Thank the gods! I can work on ye olde novel again, which I've been neglecting these past few weeks or so. I wish i hadn't had to take so much time off from writing, from you, but alas, it was necessary. Anyway. Here is my latest attempt at 3D rendering, using PBR shaders, PBR stands for "Physically-Based Rendering," and you can really see the difference, can't you? The metals look like freaking metal, don't they? I'll be writing a more lengthly blog post on self-care and writing and the need to take time to care for oneself during the creative process in a little while. But for now, feast your eyes on Dizzy's new exosuit below! Iit took me FOREVER to model this in Autodesk Maya, folks. Really it did.)  


Latest Render!

Hey folks! Thought I would share my latest adventure in 3D rendering with you. Here it is, in all it's glory! It's a render of Dizzy in her Exosuit, standing next to The Fangirl, her trusty, tricked-out car that she drives around. Notice that the engine is bigger than the windshield. Not to worry; the driver sees by using a holographic heads-up display. And yes, the things on the back are warp nacelles, and the thing mounted in the trunk is an Engine. The thing on the top of the cab is an oscillation overthruster, just in case she needs to drive through solid matter!


Subscribe to This Blog by Clicking The RSS link Below!

Powered by Squarespace

Latest Twitterizations