Friday, December 9, 2016

The New Normal

"It's silly to appeal to people's moral sense."
It was inevitable.  When we allowed Trump to continue as a viable candidate after his first round of lies, we established and validated a pattern that we'll continue to see for at least the next four years.  Trump is no longer accountable to anyone, and we made him that way.

The new normal is:

Trump lies.
He gets caught in the lie.
He lashes on whoever called him out for the lie.
Trump doubles down on the lie.
There are no consequences.

We created the monster, gave him power over us, and now all we can do is watch helplessly from the sidelines.  The next four years will show Trump repeating this cycle.  He’ll malign individuals over perceived slights, and take credit for something he didn’t accomplish, and never mind that the numbers don't work.

Or, to put it more succinctly:

But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.

Hermann Goering

Nuremberg Diary
(The dude in the picture)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Fantasy Bounty Hunters

“Who are those guys?”
Butch Cassidy Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

Whaddya mean "no disintegrations"?
Bounty hunters rank right up there with pirates, ninjas and Vikings as one of the coolest jobs every romanticized into mythic proportions.  A recent question about bounty hunters in a Medieval fantasy setting prompted quite the conversation, and pointed out that there are precious few fantasy-genre bounty hunter stories.

There’s a very good, historical reason for this.

Independent individuals who captured criminals for a monetary reward (bounties)—didn’t exist in the Medieval period.


Bounty hunting, as a profession, doesn’t become a thing until the late 1600s and early 1700s.  Before that, there wasn’t a reward system in place that would create and sustain a profession we know as “bounty hunting”.  This isn’t to say that rewards weren’t offered, from time to time, by a government or an authority figure.  Those certainly happened.  But there wasn’t a system of “bounties” that would create enough demand for an individual not attached to the government in some way to make a living, even part-time, hunting them down.

My!  That is a large bounty you have there!
Why wasn’t there an economy of rewards?  There was no need for it.  The agrarian society of the feudal system tied the majority of people to the land.  To survive, they had to work the land, and that just didn’t leave a lot of time for master minding a castle heist.  Wealth was generally in the hands of the aristocracy, whose prime concern was on maintaining and expanding their holdings—meaning walls, forts, and plenty of guards which sharp metal that would leave holes in your favorite liver.  Crimes that did occur, even minor ones, were harshly punished (see the aforementioned guards), which acted as a major deterrent.  Getting your hand cut off for stealing a loaf of bread really puts the kibosh on a reasonable person’s dreams of becoming a master-thief.  Most criminals were of the petty variety and locally sourced—they wouldn't have the means or ability to travel outside of their region to “pull a job” or “make a get away”. Those that did, wouldn't really be worth tracking down in a “bounty hunter” fashion, and they rarely if ever made the radar of the local lord or reeve.

If a criminal, or criminal group, did become a problem, the local authorities would put more effort into capturing or killing them, even to the point of placing a reward—but the enforcement would remain in the hands of the local government.  The rewards were one-offs, and not regular occurrences.

Add to that the relatively small population of the time.  On average, everyone knew everyone
Will work for bounties . . . or noodles!
else and everyone knew what everyone else had—next to nothing.  If your next to nothing was stolen, and Goodman Smith suddenly had slightly more next to nothing, it's a good bet where he got it.  It takes the rise of a merchant class/middle class to spread around the wealth, and see a rise in crime, such that enough criminals become a problem, you need to start putting bounties on their heads to keep the crime rate down. Reward-systems started to come into place in the late 1600s and early 1700s when the merchants were well established, wealth was better distributed, and populations were on the rise.

None of this is to say you can’t have a bounty hunter in your Medieval-based fantasy world.  In fact, you very much can and should!  There appears to be very little bounty hunter fantasy out right now (the aforementioned discussion turned up only a handful of titles).  You don’t even need to explain the economy of your fantasy world to make bounty hunting viable—just get out there and start writing!

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Clear and Hold - Flash Fiction by R.A. McCandless

Here, there be . . . stories!
Writing in a genre or a format that is outside your comfort zone can really expand your skill set as an author—at least that’s the hope.  The following was submitted for a contest which encompassed both, and added the restriction of using an image to guide the story.  This piece wasn’t selected as a finalist, but I’m pleased with the attempt and the results.

Please enjoy!

Clear and Hold
I loved search and destroy operations.
 That’s the standing order for the Voll.  Their blood carries diseases and impurities.  They kidnap children to infect them.  They seduce pure men to get pregnant and coerce or rape pure women.  Command says they must be destroyed.
I agreed.
The Voll’s burrow was an old bunker—civilian, abandoned, and in ruins.  Dark and dank—the kind of thing they like.  Drones were useless in the confined space, so it was limited sat-comm with heat signatures on IR for the op.  The LT sent four of us.
We went in by the numbers.
I curled my fingers around the hard composite of my MTAR-33 assault rifle and found the biometric studs.  ARES chirped phys-chem recognition and overlays leapt into view.  A targeting reticle—gray to indicate no active target—floated while ARES scanned the bunker.  A 3D map bounced in front of me.  ARES estimated two hostiles.
We were ninety meters in when all hell broke loose.  Heat sign went off the scale around us. They had a boiler working and flooded steam through the piping.  Smokers went off and IR became useless.  ARES switched to full VR of the bunker.
A light blue wireframe overlayed the flowing white smoke and outlined the corridor, doorways, rooms and service access.  Two glowing semi-circles gave me estimated distance and time to contact from my current position.  I peered past the blue VR lines through the smoke and strained to make out the enemy.
ARES was wrong.  Four or five Volls came out of the walls, and they came fast.  They used some kind of heat shields—insulation or something.  Private Stinson got it first—goddamn axe handle to the back of the head.
Barry crumpled to the ground without a sound.  It wasn’t how a soldier should go down.
Bell and Greengar managed to open fire, but in the smoke and heat and confusion—the Voll had the advantage.
ARES finally caught up to the action.  The system painted the four hostiles with red chevrons to mark their position and yellow targeting reticles.
They came at me, screeching and clicking, chittering like bugs.
I lined up my MTAR with the first targeting reticle.  The crosshair circle changed from yellow to green and I squeezed the trigger five times.  My rifle thumped softly against my shoulder while ARES muted the gunfire sounds to small pops.  Two Voll dropped to the ground.
I swung to the next reticle.
There was too many.
ARES pulsed a red proximity alert over everything to warn me.  The second Voll swung a club at me.  I dropped the Voll at point blank range with two hasty shots, but the club bounced against my helmet and cheek with a dull thud.  I was momentarily blinded as pain blossomed through my face and eye.
The next Voll swung a broken pipe that tore my MTAR from my grip.  The weapon clattered across the floor.  I drew my sidearm and ARES switched the targeting reticles and ranges.  The Voll swung again.  I jumped back and fired.  The first two shots pinged off the concrete floor.  The third caught the Voll in the abdomen.  ARES confirmed the kill.
Too many.
ARES pulsed the red proximity warning faster.  I got off a hasty shot at the last Voll with the axe handle.  The Voll screamed, smashed the thick wood into my hands twice and knocked the sidearm free.  I drew my KA-BAR.  ARES painted pink splashes to adapt to the tactical knife.
The Voll swung the axe handle at my head.  I stepped into the creature and used my left arm to catch the strike near the Voll’s hands.  It stung, but the block did what was needed.  I stabbed toward the pink splash target, but wasn’t fast enough.  The Voll punched me in the face.  ARES registered the hit, and flowed quick calculations for damage, fatigue and chance of recovery.
I caught the next two punches with quick blocks.  I ducked down, spun and kicked the Voll’s legs out from under him.  The Voll fell backward and I lunged with my knife.  The blade slid into his left shoulder.  He screamed and hissed, grabbed my hand and trapped it against the knife handle.  ARES streamed information about the Voll’s wound—debilitating but not fatal.
The axe handle careened off my helmet in a series of wild blows.  My cheek broke under the barrage as I fought to free my hand from the knife.  The Voll dropped the handle and punched me.  Inky black flared in front of me from each blow.  ARES fritzed—the words and numbers froze, vibrated and hissed with static.  The red pulse of the proximity warning missed a beat, and then another.  It picked up again on my right side, but not the left.  I had a split-world view.  On the right, ARES functioned normally, but my left was stripped of the overlays.
The Voll chittered and hissed—underneath a voice spoke.
“Jesus Christ!  Please don’t kill me!  Jesuschristplease!”
I looked down and froze.  On the right, I saw the Voll as they’d always been—a hideous, hairless creature with a deformed head, melted features and dark, mottled skin.  My left eye showed a human.  A man.  He was emaciated by hunger and streaked with dirt from living in a bunker, but he was a man.  His clothes might have fit him a year ago, but now they hung off his frame.  The man’s face was contorted in fear and pain.  Tears streamed down his face and drew tracks across his cheeks.  It was a brutal contrast to the alien anger and rage my right eye showed me.
I scrambled back from the man.  ARES helpfully pointed out where my rifle and sidearm were, easy to reach.  I ignored the information.  The downed Volls were identified by ARES as dead.
To my left eye, all of them were human, bleeding red blood, looks of horror and pain carved on their faces.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Don't Silence Me!

Silent, but not too silent.
Silencers do not silence a firearm.  Silencers are better named “suppressors” as in “noise suppressor”.  Despite what we’ve been taught by movies and television—who rarely, if ever, get anything wrong—a suppressor will not change a gunshot to a sound like popcorn popping, or make that cool “fftt” noise.  Depending on the ammunition and the suppressor used, it will only reduce the sound by around 30dB.  Most guns crack off at around 160dB or better.  So a “silenced” gun will still sound like a gun shooting, just a little quieter.

On the other hand, modern suppressors no longer use the wipes (physical barriers of any number of materials meant to trap the exploding gasses) which would physically touch the bullet and effect the velocity.  Reducing the velocity of the bullet will reduce the range and accuracy—not a lot, but it should be noted.  Suppressors now use baffles and spacers which are machined with such great precision that they tend to no longer have these drawbacks.  In some cases, suppressors can actually increase muzzle velocity, although it’s not very much.

Proper hearing protection!
So, if you’re not getting James Bond-levels of assassination silence, what do you get with a suppressor?  First, dropping the dB from 160 (which is dangerous) down to 130dB definitely saves wear and tear on the eardrums, especially if they're unprotected.  It also cuts down on noise pollution for those areas around gun clubs and hunting areas where gunshots are more likely to be heard.  Aside from the noise, suppressors also cut down on the recoil as the lighter mass of the gas is slowed and expelled over a longer period of time.  Finally, you increase your ability to communicate if your ears and theirs aren’t ringing from the sonic boom of a gunshot, and your voice isn’t being drowned out by louder-than-a-rock-concert noises.  For military operations, this is incredibly desirable for obvious reasons of tactics and on-the-fly orders.

One final note is that suppressors wear out over time.  If we’re talking about an older unit, which uses the wipes, they wear out pretty quickly as the bullet is literally tearing through them.  But even more modern suppressors are worn down by the corrosive gasses and the passage of the bullet over time.  Automatic weapons are generally never suppressed for this reason, as the suppressors simply can’t stand up to the wear and tear.  Some of the highest quality suppressors may last over 30,000 rounds.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Don't Forget to Cover It!

Goggles? Airship? Female protagonist?
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover—but you do.  Everyone does.  This is why marketing exists in the first place.  There are literally (see what I did there) millions of books, all clamoring for a reader’s attention.  That cleverly engaging first line/first page of your work may not even be seen if you a reader is unwilling to pick up the title because the cover is unappealing.

The cover, for the reader, could easily be considered the true first page of the story.  It sits right there for Thor and everyone to see, and it gives an immediate first glimpse into the story.  Images of a goggle-wearing protagonist with a crashing airship reflected in one lens immediately tells your reader what kind of story this is likely to be.  If the cover is dull or drab (unless you’re writing in a dull and drab genre) readers are less likely to be interested.

More, the cover helps convey the quality of the work to the reader.  If you're asking people to pay money for something, you owe them a certain amount of value.  The cover can provide one assurance that the work about to be read meets some basic requirements of story and editing.  A professional cover lets readers know that they aren’t paying for a rough, first draft of the story.

Good cover designs, like the first line/first page of your story, draw the reader’s attention.  The artwork can take hold of them emotionally, and make them want to turn the pages—which is ultimately any writer’s goal.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Flashiest of Flash Fiction

Flash, goes the lightning!
The last two weeks, from a writing perspective, have flown past and not in a good way.  Deadlines are Eighth Circle of Hell.  Mix that with a science fiction theme and a flash-fiction maximum limit of 1,000 words and it’s like scrubbing with a cheese grater in a lemon-juice shower.

Until that brief, shining moment when all the random threads come together in a story that makes you salivate with wonder and hope.  Finalists will be announced November 28th, but whatever the outcome, a new story is a new story.  Here’s the opening:

I loved search and destroy operations.

That’s the standing order for the Voll.  Their blood carries diseases and impurities.  They kidnap children to infect them.  They seduce pure men to get pregnant and coerce or rape pure women.  Command says they must be destroyed.

I agreed.

The Voll’s burrow was an old bunker—civilian, abandoned, and in ruins.  Dark and dank—the kind of thing they like.  Drones were useless in the confined space, so it was limited sat-comm with heat signatures on IR for the op.  The LT sent four of us.

We went in by the numbers.

Pretty light stuff, huh?

Thanks goes out to all the folks who participated as beta readers or offered advice!

If this doesn’t make the finalists, the entirely will be posted up for your reading enjoyment.  It may be posted up anyhow.  It’s also possible this is the start of a new novel . . . but time will tell.