eSPEC EXCERPTS – WRITTEN IN LIGHT


This week’s author has a brilliant talent for envisioning non-humanoid sentient life and bringing them to life on the page. Not only are his races diverse, but they are also relatable. I am in awe of his skill. I hope you enjoy this brief taste as much as I did. This is the title story from Jeff Young’s solo collection Written in Light, which is scheduled to release August 1, 2021. Follow the link to pre-order.


Written in Light 6 x 9Written in Light

For a moment, Zoi’ahmets stood as still as the tree the wickurn resembled, watching as the unknown creature stumbled backward from her. Perhaps it was the fact that Zoi’ahmets rose twice its height, her triple conjoined trunks, or the orange eye that she swiveled in its direction. Two podia, how could it manage like that? So inefficient in dealing with gravity, unstable surfaces, and even the strain over time on such a small surface area, certainly nothing like Zoi’ahmets’s designs. She had so little time to be certain that everything remained prepared for the Diversiform Dispute judging, and what in Winter happened here? The cognition engine finally linked with the translator nailed to her bark. Only then did she grasp that the sounds striking the translator were attempts at communication.

Amazingly, the intruder turned its back completely on Zoi’ahmets and began to dig through the grass—a very anti-survival trait in an unresolved situation. Perhaps it lost something. She fed its image into the cognition engine, which identified the creature as a human. Trying to imagine what it might be searching for, the wickurn cast about with all her eyes looking over the thick verdure of the pampas and nearby bushes. There. Something black and lumpy with a short set of straps hung in the top of a shrub nearby. One branch reached for it as another gently spun the human around and faced it toward its property. The human awkwardly trudged through the grass. Zoi’ahmets gently handed it the case. It spared a moment to eye its benefactor thoughtfully and then dropped gracelessly to the ground to open the case. The human quickly extracted a silver device which, when clipped behind its ear, opened up like a flower. The shiny metallic petals spun and clicked restlessly in the afternoon sunlight. Another device fit about its neck and a third nestled in the center of its hand. Then Zoi’ahmets finally heard the human begin to speak.

“_____ wickurn ______ about 3 meters ______ seems to be looking out for me. ______ see why it’s here. Since I’m as far into the Disputed zone as I am ______ ______ _______ _________. Can’t understand why it hasn’t ___________ with me yet.”

“Communicated?” Zoi’ahmets offered as she pulled herself slowly to the human.

“Yeah, actually,” the being stammered.

“You were not exactly making intelligible sounds until just a moment ago.”

“And you were pretending to be a tree! No, I’m sorry, you are a tree. You can’t help that. I guess I just never expected you to move.”

“Why would I require help if I am in my natural state?”

“Look, this isn’t going well. You’re one of the workers on this Diversiform Dispute, and I’m obviously keeping you from your job. I apologize for startling you, if that’s what I did.” It took a deep breath and continued, “I’m Kiona. I’m … a student of the art of photography. I rode the ground vehicle over there until it stopped. Then the flight craft following us crashed into a tree. I’m so sorry to disturb you. I only wanted to learn more about the Disputed Zone.”

It bowed slightly in Zoi’ahmets’ direction, focusing two green eyes on her.

Zoi’ahmets raised a branch, and its eye could see there were fragments of debris at the base of a windrake tree. Flight craft? That could simply a result of the inaccuracy of the translator. In fact, now that Zoi’ahmets looked at the wreckage, it bore a resemblance to an automated sampling drone. The small craft hung, entangled in the net of branches, its weight dragging down the tendrils and breaking them. Looking where indicated, she could see a surface sampling rover. A makeshift seat mounted to the top of the six-wheeled drone sat directly over the solar panel. Kiona must have ridden the sampler until it ran out of power. The aerial drone would have lost its guidance and then crashed. Could it really be that stupid, or could this be deliberate? Zoi’ahmets wondered.

She turned back to the human in front of her. Perhaps an introduction, “I am Zoi’ahmets Calinve, chief architect of the Wickurn Diversiform entrant in this Dispute.” Gently tipping forward, she returned the bow as much as she could manage. Kiona backed up another step.

“I am so sorry. I had no idea this is your environment. I never wanted to harm it.”

Zoi’ahmets cocked a lower eye toward it. “But you had no problem entering the contested area to gain images of the Dispute—did you? You appear to have subverted a sampling drone to carry you. It’s surprising the drone made it this far.”

With that, she began the typical spiraling walk of a wickurn toward the drone. All the while, she thought to herself, I must find a way to get this thing out of here as quickly as possible. She’d heard that humans were allowed onto this Dispute World and didn’t know how she felt about the imposition. Now she had one interrupting her work. For a second, she considered that her opponents might have put the intruder here to hinder her.

Kiona started after her, but the wickurn found herself waiting as the human pulled at one of the coverings on its feet and set to work on something lodged in an ankle. When it held the annoyance to the light to look at it, Zoi’ahmets dropped a branch eye to view it as well.

“Caltrop seed,” she said. “Something I designed that will allow animals to transport seeds. Helps to propagate various bushes. Basically, harmless, but in your case perhaps annoying.” Also, a distraction, thought Zoi’ahmets, instead let’s find out why you are here. “Let us have a look at your conveyance.”

Her eyes studied Kiona for a moment as her branch, vane leaves unfurling, drifted across Kiona’s shoulder to urge it along. She pushed aside rising annoyance and moved forward.

While the human trotted beside Zoi’ahmets as the wickurn’s three root clusters rolled through the thick grasses, Zoi’ahmets took a moment to access the cognition engine and review the biology reports for humanity. Just to be thorough, she’d made certain to download a full bio-summary of all the judges’ species and anyone who might be visiting the Dispute. Thank Summer, there were no immediate concerns regarding her bio-system.

Looking briefly at Kiona, Zoi’ahmets suddenly realized this was a female of their species and estimated her age at about twelve winters. At first glance, Kiona appeared to be in good health. However inappropriate, one of the humans may have decided to take a firsthand look at the entrants to the Dispute rather than waiting as tradition dictated.

Zoi’ahmets looked briefly down at Kiona, considering her again. Humanity had joined the galactic community later than most, and there were concerns among the established species. Humans bred faster than most galactics and still had not modified themselves to limit their numbers. In a community where the primary means of gaining additional planetary growing room was based upon the ability to create effective complete environments for the Diversiform Disputes, most participants learned by modifying their homes and themselves first. Humanity had done a remarkable job of terra-forming numerous worlds, but the issue of their unregulated propagation still remained.

Because Zoi’ahmets’s contemplation slowed her pace, Kiona darted ahead of the wickurn toward the crash of the airborne sampling drone. With a quick glance, Zoi’ahmets noted that it was made of tensioned monomolecular fabric. The remains of a nearby wing swinging overhead seemed to be mostly gas cells with monomole struts. Looking back toward the ground sampler, unease made her stomachs churn. Zoi’ahmets studied Kiona for a moment. Was the human not telling her everything? What was going on here? Did she have time for this?

Zoi’ahmets paused in consideration and looked up at the sky. Reflexively, she called up a weather survey. The cognition engine brought up a real-time satellite map displaying the relatively calm but cloudy current weather and a storm front moving toward their location. Perhaps Kiona hadn’t intended to be out for long, or perhaps being trapped here was all part of the plan. The transmission faded out as Zoi’ahmets became lost in her own considerations.

In the meantime, the human walked about the surface drone. Kiona pulled out another strap-bearing bag from the grass and rummaged through it. Her hand showed through a hole in the bottom as her face skewed, and she murmured something that the translator box didn’t quite register. She turned to Zoi’ahmets.

“Something ate my food, and the only thing left is a snack square. Hopefully, it wasn’t anything of yours that might be poisoned by it.”

That briefly perplexed Zoi’ahmets. It certainly wasn’t the type of comment someone with a nefarious purpose would make unless Kiona’s intent was to deliberately mislead her.

Zoi’ahmets watched as Kiona crawled further among the pampas, where she found a round container twice the size of her palm and pushed that into her black bag. “The rover is ruined,” Kiona commented.

Sadly, the human appeared to be right. Slipping into a gully after it lost power and communication with the satellite grid, the drone snapped two of its three axels.

Zoi’ahmets noticed that the base of Kiona’s leg where it emerged from the grass was no longer the same color as the rest of her. It was the same foot from which she’d withdrawn the caltrop seed.

Zoi’ahmets reached into a mouth. Probing gently past her gullet into one of the xylem spaces, she pulled out a round cylinder. She shook out the tiny arrow-shaped chenditi that clung to the sides. They landed on her lower trunk. Zoi’ahmets’s large orange eye watched as the chenditi absorbed enough solar energy to fill the lift cells in their small bodies by splitting moisture from the air into hydrogen and oxygen. Separately, the little creatures were mere animals. A small swarm equipped with send/receive components acted as a collective intelligence.

Kiona stopped her scavenging to watch as the swarm lifted into the air. One half of each arrowhead was dark black, and the opposite canted at an angle covered with a shiny prismatic surface. Zoi’ahmets noticed that when Kiona stood up from the rover, she favored her left leg.

At first, Kiona shied as the chenditi flitted about her but was apparently familiar with their ability to do chemical and medical diagnostics. They quickly surrounded the human, and she held her arms out from her body as they spun about her. “Like a cloud of butterflies.” Kiona laughed at the image. She drew her gaze back to Zoi’ahmets. Her glance was quick, and her lips slid to one side, a slight breeze lifting her shoulder-length blonde fur. “I do know what they’re for. What do you think is wrong with me?”

“That is what they will tell us.”


Jeff Young headshot

Jeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.

He is an award winning author who has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future V.26, By Any Means, Best Laid Plans, Dogs of War, Man and Machine, In Harm’s Way, If We Had Known, Afterpunk, In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, Clockwork Chaos, Gaslight and Grimm, Fantastic Futures 13, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson, TV Gods & TV Gods: Summer Programming and the forthcoming Beer, Because Your Friend’s Aren’t That Interesting. Jeff’s own fiction is collected in Spirit Seeker and TOI Special Edition 2 – Diversiforms. He has also edited the Drunken Comic Book Monkey line, TV Gods and TV Gods –Summer Programming and now serves as the CMO for Fortress Publishing, Inc. He has led the Watch the Skies SF&F Discussion Group of Camp Hill and Harrisburg for more than eighteen years. Jeff is also the proprietor of Helm Haven, the online Etsy and Ebay shops, costuming resources for Renaissance and Steampunk.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – BREAKING THE CODE


We have another Systema Paradoxa title for you, Breaking the Code by David Lee Summers, a part of the Systema Paradoxa series created in conjunction with Cryptid Crate. It releases May 21, but you can pre-order it now via the link.


SP - Breaking the Code 2 x 3Chapter One

Friday, February 20, 1942

Cheryl Davis parked her Ford Coup in the Gallup High School parking lot and walked to the gym under leaden skies. 1942 was off to a dismal start. The United States had declared war against Japan and Germany and now they needed young men to fight their battles for them. As a teacher, she’d been asked to spread the word among former students who might want to enlist in the Marine Corps. The Marine recruiter who contacted her was himself a former student. He showed a special interest in recruiting Navajos well-versed in their native language. Cheryl was part Navajo, on her mother’s side, but most wouldn’t know it to look at her. She had inherited her strawberry-blonde hair, blue eyes, and fair skin from her father’s side of the family.

Cheryl entered the gym and found the bleachers full. The high school band played “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” She groaned as a tuba went flat for two notes, but no one else seemed to notice. The crowd cheered and whooped as the band finished the song.

The principal, Sherman Smith, stepped up to the mic. After a burst of feedback, he introduced Cheryl’s former student, Duke Ogawa. She smiled as the young man approached the mic. She had taught him during her first year at Gallup High. He’d graduated five years ago. Now he wore a smart blue uniform with yellow and red sergeant’s stripes.

“It’s good to be back home,” Duke said. “I spent a lot of time in this gym learning teamwork and sportsmanship. I’m here today because I need people on my team for something far more important than beating Farmington in the basketball championships.” A cheer went up at that and Duke flashed a charming smile. “As you know, the United States is now at war and Uncle Sam needs your Tiger pride and your Tiger courage to defeat the Japanese and the Germans.”

“So why does the Marine Corps send a Japanese man to recruit Diné to do their dirty work?” A hush fell over the crowd and all eyes turned to a teacher named Frances Todachine. Cheryl noted the woman used the name the Navajos used for themselves. It was shorthand for the story of how five-fingered people came into the world. The small, wiry Navajo woman had earned a grudging respect around the school because she worked with known troublemakers and helped them find jobs around town when they graduated. Murmurs spread throughout the auditorium. Miss Todachine’s words seemed to have struck a chord with the audience.

Duke’s smile didn’t falter. He waited for the murmuring to die down, then responded with the certainty that had always served him well on the school’s debate team. “Ma’am, my parents were born in Los Angeles and moved to Gallup during the last big war to open a feed store. Their action helped feed the troops. The United States is the only country I’ve known. It’s my country.”

Cheryl clapped her hands at the succinct, polite response. Soon other people around the gym joined in. An icy chill went down her spine and she glanced toward Miss Todachine. The woman glared at her for a moment, then turned her attention back to Duke.

“Why should Navajos give their lives for a country that killed so many of them?” Miss Todachine shouted so she could be heard over the applause.

The applause ceased and the murmurs resumed.

Another Marine joined Duke at the mic. Cheryl didn’t recognize him. “My name is Sergeant Randall Yazzie. My people live over in Arizona, near Show Low.” A hush fell over the crowd. The man wasn’t a local like Duke, but he was Diné like many people in the audience. “I joined the United States Marine Corps because it gave me the chance to fight for my homeland. Adolf Hitler and Emperor Hirohito want to take our country away from us and we can keep that from happening.”

Miss Todachine scowled but fell silent. She couldn’t be more than a year or two older than Cheryl, but she carried herself like a much older woman. Several young Navajos huddled with the history teacher and spoke in hushed tones while Duke and Randall continued their presentation. The recruiters highlighted the rewards a soldier could expect, including good pay, regular meals, a pension, and lifetime medical coverage. Cheryl knew these things would all sound good to families who had scraped by through the Great Depression. Although Western New Mexico had been spared the dust storms that plagued the eastern part of the state, Navajos had still suffered through a bad drought.

“You’ll get valuable training in the Marines that will help you find a good job after the war,” Duke said.

Duke and Randall wrapped up their presentation and mentioned they would go to the gym’s foyer and sign up anyone who wanted to enlist. “We’ll be back on Monday to make another presentation,” Randall said. “Be sure to tell your friends. We’re interested in any recruits between the ages of eighteen and forty-four. A bus will pick up those who enlist a week from Monday. It’ll take you to Fort Wingate to be sworn in and then we’ll catch the train to San Diego where you’ll enter boot camp.”

They opened the floor to questions. Cheryl feared that Miss Todachine would try to cause more trouble. She couldn’t quite understand her fellow teacher’s objections. She knew relations between the Navajo—all American Indians, really—and the United States had been strained by westward expansion. She understood the bitterness, but did Miss Todachine really believe that Hitler or Hirohito would be better leaders than Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

Once the question-and-answer session finished, people filed out of the gymnasium into the foyer. Duke and Randall sat at their table and walked a handful of young men through the enlistment process. Cheryl hung back, hoping to speak to Duke. One of her current students, Jerry Begay, approached the recruiters. She couldn’t hear what they said to each other, but they shook hands and Jerry signed a piece of paper.

She looked around and noticed Frances Todachine along with a half dozen Navajos standing in the shadows. They also seemed interested in Jerry Begay’s conversation with the recruiters. His family had a hogan a short distance from town where they raised sheep. They may be poor, but Jerry’s grandmother was a respected matriarch in the Rock Gap clan and he was a good, well-liked student. People paid attention to Jerry and expected him to go far.

As Jerry Begay stepped away from the table, Miss Todachine and her followers seemed to lose interest. They stalked off into the cold night.

That was odd. Miss Todachine wore a fur coat—a strange choice for a Navajo. Most Diné considered wearing a predator’s pelt taboo. Then again, Cheryl couldn’t see the coat well in the dim lighting. It could well have been rabbit or imitation fur. Even with her fair skin, Cheryl wouldn’t wear fur at a gathering with so many Diné. There could be talk that the person wearing the fur might practice witchcraft. Though Cheryl was only part Navajo, she had grown up here. She knew the legend of the skinwalkers, witches who sought the knowledge of magic for power, not healing. Whether she believed or not, she would never give the community a reason to wonder about her the way Miss Todachine did.

Cheryl made a point of stopping Jerry Begay on his way out. “Did you just sign up?”

He flashed her a broad smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

“I’m pleased you want to defend your country, but don’t you think it would be a good idea to finish your high school diploma first?”

He shrugged. “I’m eighteen. I don’t need my diploma to enlist. What I’ll get from the Marines is more than the diploma will be worth. Plus, they said I’d get extra pay because I speak Navajo.”

Cheryl narrowed her gaze. “Did they say why that would give you extra pay?”

Jerry shook his head. “I should get going, my parents want me home before it gets too late.”

Cheryl sighed and nodded. “Have a good night. Will I see you in class on Monday?”

He nodded. “I’ll be there. The bus won’t come through for new recruits for another week.”

“Good.”

As Jerry left the gym, Cheryl began to wonder if Miss Todachine was right to question these recruiters.

“Penny for your thoughts?”

Duke Ogawa’s voice made her jump. He no longer sat behind the recruiting table, but had come up behind her.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you, Miss Davis.”

Cheryl put her hand to her chest and smiled. “It’s good to see you, Duke. It looks like the Corps is treating you well.”

He nodded and smiled. “Actually, my enlistment ended last month, but I signed on again after Pearl Harbor.”

Cheryl sighed. “Yeah, it’s a bad business and I’m glad the United States is finally taking a stand against the fascists and the imperialists, but…” Her voice trailed off as she followed the direction Jerry had gone.

“You don’t like seeing kids as young as Jerry Begay signing up for war,” he guessed.

She nodded.

Duke led Cheryl back to the table and introduced his partner. “Randall Yazzie, this is Miss Cheryl Davis, she was my math teacher here my senior year.”

“Pleased to meet you, ma’am” Yazzie said. “Call me Rand. So, who was that woman with the smart mouth?”

“Oh, that’s Frances Todachine.” Cheryl shrugged. “She’s a history teacher. She actually does good work with a lot of the kids. She helps them find jobs.”

“I got a strange feeling from her.” Rand shook his head. “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there was something more than concern going on there.”

“Yeah, she had a chip on her shoulder. She was looking for a fight,” Duke said.

“Single woman, a group of close followers, all men,” Rand mused. “Back home, there’d be talk…”

Cheryl snorted a laugh. “You don’t think she’s having an affair with any of those young men, do you?”

Rand shook his head. “That wouldn’t be the worst of it.” He leaned in close and whispered. “They’d be talking witchcraft.”

~*~

As Jerry Begay drove home from the recruitment rally at the high school, snow began to fall. At first just a few light flurries drifted through the air, then the flakes fell heavier as he cleared the city limits and drove the ten miles south to his family’s land. Smoke wafting from the stovepipe poking from his family hogan’s roof gratified him. It would be warm inside. His mother no doubt left some stew on the fire for him. He guessed two inches of snow already blanketed the ground by the time he walked from the pickup to his front door.

The hogan was a small, cozy home. A cast-iron wood stove sat in the building’s center and the scents of lamb and vegetables simmering told him he had been correct about her having dinner ready for him.

“Yá’át’ééh,” his father said, speaking the traditional Diné greeting, which asked whether Jerry was well.

Jerry responded by saying he was well, “yá’ánísht’ééh,” and sat down at the table. His mother brought him a bowl of stew and he began to wolf it down.

“So, how was the meeting?” asked Jerry’s mother, Maria.

“Good,” Jerry said. “Lots of people showed up.” He took another bite, then swallowed. “I signed up.” He said the last quietly.

Jerry’s father, Javier, frowned. “We need you here on the farm this season more than ever.”

“You need to finish your high school diploma,” his mother chastened.

“I’ll earn money faster in the military and I’ll get skills that can help me after I’m back.” Everything the recruiters had said about joining up sounded better than continuing to feed sheep and take boring old classes. “Besides, if people don’t go, evil men like Adolf Hitler will send his soldiers to take our lands away from us.”

“It has happened before, and we have survived.” His father sounded tired.

“You sound like that history teacher at school, Miss Todachine.” Jerry scooped up the last of his stew.

His mother’s jaw tightened. “Don’t speak her name in this house.”

“What?” Jerry shrugged. “She’s just a loud-mouthed do-gooder. She found a job for John Claw, of all people. I thought the sheriff would throw him in jail for sure.”

Maria Begay nodded. “She consorts with all kinds of troublemakers and keeps them from finding justice. She spends way too much time with those high-school boys.”

Jerry snorted a laugh. “She’s not much older than we are. She’s gotta spend time with someone.” He took his bowl to a washtub near the wood stove and put it in to soak until the morning when it could be washed.

“Mark my words, she’s trouble,” Maria reiterated. She walked over to the woodstove and tossed in more wood from a nearby stack.

“When would you leave us?” Javier’s eyes narrowed.

“A bus will come through Gallup week after next. It’ll take us to Fort Wingate where we’ll be sworn in, then they’ll take us to San Diego for training.”

Javier grunted. “California is very far. How long will you be away?”

“Three years,” Jerry said.

Maria put her hand to her chest. “So long?”

Jerry held out his hands. “I’ll talk to the guys at school. I can find someone to help you here on the farm.” He walked over and gathered his mother up into his arms. For the first time he could remember, she looked sad and frail.

“Our need for help is not our main concern,” Jerry’s father said. “We’ll miss you.”

Jerry gave his mother a squeeze then sat down opposite his father. “If this were the old days, warriors would be sent out to meet a threat. This is no different.”

Javier pursed his lips and nodded. “I suppose you’re right…”

“But three years?” His mom shook her head.

“I’ll write,” Jerry promised. “And if you guys ever let them install a telephone out here, I could probably call now and then.”

“We’ll consider it,” Maria said, “but only for this reason.”

Javier reached out and took his son’s hand. “We’ll miss you, but I understand why you believe this is necessary.” He stood and walked over to the bed. “Now, this snow is arguing with my bones. I think it’s time to get some sleep.”

The hogan didn’t allow much room for privacy. Many families had moved into homes in town, only to lose those homes during the Great Depression and return to traditional dwellings out on their land. Jerry’s family was one of those. His parents had a bed along one of the hogan’s walls. Jerry’s bed was along the wall across from it. They’d set up an old-fashioned privacy screen between the two. Jerry’s dad blew out the oil lamp next to him. Cloth rustled as Jerry’s parents changed into their nightclothes.

Jerry followed suit and climbed under a stack of warm blankets. Despite the snowstorm outside, he was snug in his family’s home. The idea of sharing a barracks with other soldiers didn’t bother him. His parents began to snore, and the wind whipped outside. His eyes grew heavy and he began to drift off to sleep.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The tapping caused his eyes to spring open. No trees grew up against the hogan to cause the noise. He listened. Maybe he’d just dreamed the sound as he’d started to drift off to sleep. His parents still snored. Whatever he had heard, it hadn’t awakened them. His eyelids grew heavy again.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Again, Jerry’s eyes sprang open. The tapping resumed. It sounded like it came from the wall beside him. He tried to picture the outside of the hogan. He didn’t think there was anything there but grass. The wall had been constructed from solid logs. Nothing light could make a tapping loud enough to wake him. He tried to dismiss it as his imagination.

Wide awake now, he thought more about the Marine Corps. He wondered what boot camp would be like. He had no doubt he would cut it. He’d been up early in the morning and working hard ever since his family moved back out to their traditional lands. His chest swelled with pride as he thought about continuing the long tradition of Navajo warriors.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The sound returned. No doubt about it, this was no dream. He thought more about what could cause the tapping. He wondered if some wood had broken loose in the high winds, or if the roof had been damaged. It could probably wait until morning, but he thought he’d better go check it out. He wouldn’t get to sleep until he knew what it was. He shoved back the blankets, pulled on his trousers and heavy boots, and lit the lamp.

As he walked toward the door, he looked back at his parents. Still asleep. He went outside. The snow was coming down heavier than before and swirled in white eddies. He stayed close to the house, so as not to get lost in the storm, crunching through snow deeper than the tops of his boots. He reached the back wall of the octagonal structure, and inspected the building.

There were divots in the snow, as though an animal had been there and left. Had a sheep gotten loose and butted the wall?

He held up the lantern and looked around.

In the distance stood a tall figure on two legs. Its long ears lay back and it snarled, revealing long, sharp teeth. A forbidden word came to mind—a word as shocking as the vilest pornography. Although this did not involve ripping off clothes, it involved ripping off the very skin to reveal the monster underneath.

Yee naaldlooshii in the Diné language.

Skinwalker in English. It didn’t mean the same thing, but it sounded almost worse.

The creature turned and walked away.

He knew he should follow his path back to the front door, blow out his lantern, and forgot what he’d seen. Good sense almost prevailed, but curiosity got the better of him. He took a step away from the house and then another.

The skinwalker continued to prowl through the snow.

Jerry followed a few more steps.

The wind picked up. The snow came down faster until he lost sight of the creature.

He ran forward a few more steps, heart pounding furiously. The skinwalker had vanished.

The cold began to seep through his clothes. He needed to get back inside before the storm grew worse. All he had to do was keep a clear head, turn around and follow his path. When he turned, he could no longer see his footprints. He could no longer see the hogan. He should only be a few steps away. He began trudging the direction he thought home should be. Despite the cold, exhaustion came over him. It would be so good to lie down and go to sleep.


DLSummers

David Lee Summers is the author of a dozen novels and numerous short stories and poems. His most recent novels are the space pirate adventure, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and a horror novel set an astronomical observatory, The Astronomer’s Crypt. His short stories have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Cemetery Dance, Realms of Fantasy, Straight Outta Tombstone, After Punk, and Gaslight and Grimm.  He’s one of the editors of Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales from WordFire Press.  He’s been nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards. When he’s not writing, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  He’s also been known to drive lonely desert roads, watching for cryptids. Find David on the web at http://www.davidleesummers.com.

 

MAY NETGALLEY LISTINGS


It’s that time again. We’ve been running listings on NetGalley to promote the books and those listings certainly work better when you promote the listings themselves! So, this month we have two titles running and here’s a bit about them, along with the link to the NetGalley Listing.

For those not familar with NetGalley, it is a book listing site aimed toward librarians, booksellers, and reviewers. Anyone can sign up for a free account and request advance reader copies in exchange for posting review on blogs, GoodReads, Amazon, etc. For details, see the NetGalley site.

Click the below links to go to the NetGalley Listings for these titles.


FBMcP--FoxsFireTHE FOX’S FIRE: And Other Fantastic Tales  by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Dance Among the Embers, But Don’t Get Burned…

From a kitsune slinking through the mists… to an elven champion tied to every crossroad in the moment of Midnight… to the heir of Underhill ruling the road on a Harley, the mystical and magical intersect nearly unrealized with the world of man.

Do you dare to walk among them with open eyes? Do you seek a glimpse of their power? Take care and proceed with soft steps among the folk of magic and moonlight. Fickle is the least of what is said of them. But well worth the risk, for those looking for something more…

Includes the Stories The Fox’s Fire, The Promise of Death, The Devil in the Details, A Moment Out of Time, Forever and a Day, Crossroads and Curses, Mis En Place, and Mama Bear


SP - Breaking the Code 2 x 3BREAKING THE CODE by David Lee Summers

There are creatures lurking in our world. Obscure creatures long relegated to myth and legend. They have been sighted by a lucky—or unlucky—few, some have even been photographed, but their existence remains unproven and unrecognized by the scientific community.

These creatures, long thought gone, have somehow survived; creatures from our nightmares haunting the dark places. They swim in our lakes and bays, they soar the night skies, they hunt in the woods. Some are from our past, and some from other worlds, and others that have always been with us—watching us, fearing us, hunting us.

These are the cryptids, and Systema Paradoxa tells their tales.

***

1942. Gallup, New Mexico. Marine recruiters have come to town looking to fill their ranks with a secret weapon against the Axis powers—what would become Navajo Code Talkers—but not everyone supports the prospect of young native men going off to war.

When one new recruit is found dead, and a rancher’s cattle are mutilated, whispers of witchcraft and skinwalker filter through the town and interest in enlisting wanes. Is there evil afoot, or is that just what opponents to the cause want everyone to think?

Whether guided by magic, mischief, or malevolence, without a doubt, nothing is as it seems…

COVER REVEAL – BREAKING THE CODE


A part of the Systema Paradoxa series under eSpec’s new NeoParadoxa imprint, this is Breaking the Code by David Lee Summers. A cryptid novella based on the skinwalker.


SP - Breaking the Code 2 x 3

There are creatures lurking in our world. Obscure creatures long relegated to myth and legend. They have been sighted by a lucky—or unlucky—few, some have even been photographed, but their existence remains unproven and unrecognized by the scientific community.

These creatures, long thought gone, have somehow survived; creatures from our nightmares haunting the dark places. They swim in our lakes and bays, they soar the night skies, they hunt in the woods. Some are from our past, and some from other worlds, and others that have always been with us—watching us, fearing us, hunting us.

These are the cryptids, and Systema Paradoxa tells their tales.

***

1942. Gallup, New Mexico. Marine recruiters have come to town looking to fill their ranks with a secret weapon against the Axis powers—what would become Navajo Code Talkers—but not everyone supports the prospect of young native men going off to war.

When one new recruit is found dead, and a rancher’s cattle are mutilated, whispers of witchcraft and skinwalker filter through the town and interest in enlisting wanes. Is there evil afoot, or is that just what opponents to the cause want everyone to think?

Whether guided by magic, mischief, or malevolence, without a doubt, nothing is as it seems…


DLSummers

David Lee Summers is the author of a dozen novels and numerous short stories and poems. His most recent novels are the space pirate adventure, Firebrandt’s Legacy, and a horror novel set an astronomical observatory, The Astronomer’s Crypt. His short stories have appeared in such magazines and anthologies as Cemetery Dance, Realms of Fantasy, Straight Outta Tombstone, After Punk, and Gaslight and Grimm.  He’s one of the editors of Maximum Velocity: The Best of the Full-Throttle Space Tales from WordFire Press.  He’s been nominated for the Science Fiction Poetry Association’s Rhysling and Dwarf Stars Awards. When he’s not writing, David operates telescopes at Kitt Peak National Observatory.  He’s also been known to drive lonely desert roads, watching for cryptids. Find David on the web at http://www.davidleesummers.com.

COVER REVEAL – WRITTEN IN LIGHT


Here’s something new on the horizon, Jeff Young’s Written in Light, a collection of both reprint and original fiction that includes some of the most fascinating and alien creatures I’ve ever read about. (Click link to preorder.)

Written in Light 6 x 9

Original cover art by Tithi Luadthong; Cover art modifications and Cover Design by Mike McPhail, McP Digital Graphics.

Eighteen stories that span from the near future to the far, from next door to the deeps of space. Meet aliens who struggle to determine if we are a threat or equals. Discover what really makes us happy. Join the war effort to free the outer planets. Find out how far a man is willing to change to gain a true talent. Uncover the gift and the danger of memories.

Includes the Writer’s of the Future award-winning story “Written in Light.”


JeffYoung

Jeff Young is a bookseller first and a writer second – although he wouldn’t mind a reversal of fortune.

He is an award-winning author who has contributed to the anthologies: Writers of the Future V.26, After Punk, In an Iron Cage: The Magic of Steampunk, Clockwork Chaos, Gaslight and Grimm, If We Had Known, Fantastic Futures 13, The Society for the Preservation of C.J. Henderson, TV Gods & TV Gods: Summer Programming, the Defending the Future Military SciFi Anthologies and the forthcoming Beer, Because Your Friends Aren’t That Interesting. Jeff’s own fiction is collected in Spirit Seeker and TOI Special Edition 2 – Diversiforms. He has also edited the Drunken Comic Book Monkey line, TV Gods and TV Gods –Summer Programming and now serves as the CMO for Fortress Publishing, Inc. He has led the Watch the Skies SF&F Discussion Group of Camp Hill and Harrisburg for nineteen years.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – GONE TO GROUND


Yes… there is a theme here. Aaron Rosenberg’s Gone to Ground (Systema Paradoxa Vol. 2) released three days ago and we are so excited we have to share it with you. Today we have a brief excerpt for your enjoyment.


SP - Gone to Ground 2 x 3Chapter One

Everyone always agreed that, whatever else you might say about him, Trevor Kinkaid threw an excellent party. His house was of the larger variety, being done in the old style with high, vaulted ceilings, handsome inlaid floors, and a wide, sweeping staircase. It sat by the edge of the woods on one side and the sea on the other, thus taking advantage of both soothing sea air and welcoming shade. There were always plenty of spare bedrooms for those who imbibed too heavily and needed to be put up for the night. It was also a mark of distinction that it was even possible to imbibe, for Trevor was one of those who did not hold with Prohibition. He had no compunctions about acquiring whiskey and other potables from Canada and then making them freely available to his friends, or at least to those who chose to accept his frequent weekend invitations. He also stocked a good deal of food and nonalcoholic beverages, all of it of the highest quality, and as a result, his parties were the highlight of the season, and everyone made a point to attend.

This particular evening was no exception. The house was nearly full of people, or at least there were some in every room, so that while one could certainly still move around freely, it was also a bit of a challenge to find more than a moment of privacy. The women, mostly young and pretty, wore the latest fashions, with fringes and beads aplenty. Fascinators and feathers bobbed in time to their conversation, while cigarette holders dangled from their gloved fingers as they gestured. Their other hands cradled martini glasses, which they occasionally raised to brightly painted lips, hints of jasmine and rose and sandalwood and vanilla drifting about them. The men were either young and dashing or older and distinguished, dressed smartly in ascots and brightly polished shoes. Pipes or cigars outnumbered cigarettes, while martini glasses were as   prevalent as heavy cut-glass tumblers. Laughter and conversation rose everywhere, while music played from radios and record players, a different tune in every space but somehow not at all discordant, as if all the songs together melded into a single larger melody like flowers in a bouquet forming a harmonious whole.

Always the gracious host, Trevor drifted from room to room, carrying his habitual coffee mug rather than any actual glassware, pipe clamped firmly between his teeth, perhaps a touch paunchy now, his hair beginning to thin from its former thick waves, but his whiskers still neatly trimmed, his jaw still mostly firm, still a striking presence in his traditional red velvet smoking jacket. He knew most of his guests by name and always stopped to speak to each one, inquiring after their health, their recent pastimes—most of his guests were not so gauche as to have anything like an actual job!—their travels, and so forth before moving on with a smile and an encouragement to avail themselves fully of his hospitality.

It did not go unnoticed, of course, that for many of these perambulations, Trevor was not unaccompanied. This was nothing new, for he was still a handsome man and a charming one, if a trifle overbearing, and possessed of a fortune well in keeping with his grand home. Women were always eager to win his attention, and Trevor himself was more than happy to grant them such notice, for as long as it—and they—continued to amuse him.

At most parties, however, he played more of the gadfly, moving from lady to lady as easily as he went from room to room. Thus, the fact that one particular lady wandered with him for much of this evening drew some attention and a good deal of gossip. All of which seemed to entertain Trevor himself, while the lady appeared alternately flustered and determined to act as if oblivious of the whispers that trailed behind her like ribbons fluttering on the breeze.

Her name, it was gathered, was Lisette Barnes. She was from somewhere in the region, which is to say New England, and her manner and posture spoke of good breeding even if her robin’s egg-hued dress was only barely still in fashion, her scent more clean soap than expensive perfume, and her beads of polished stone rather than pearl. Still, she was striking with her bright blue eyes, pert nose, petaled lips, and feathered blonde hair, and she did appear to enjoy Trevor’s attentions, although there were those who wondered after they had disappeared from view whether indeed the pair were walking together or whether Lisette preceded their host, much like a scout before a patrol—or a lamb fleeing a wolf.

Still, no one heard her say a word to rebuff his advances, nor did anyone think that Trevor could be anything but gracious, even in defeat. Thus, when the couple failed to turn up in the next room after a time, those whose presence they had just vacated smirked amongst themselves, giggling and whispering and glancing furtively toward the upstairs, in the direction of Trevor’s grand master bedroom.

When Trevor did reappear, however, it was not by descending the stairs, nor did he look triumphant. Indeed, he wandered into the sitting room in something of a daze, his face red and beaded with sweat, mud spattering his trouser cuffs. He went straight to the sideboard and poured himself a stiff drink, adding it directly to his mug and downing the lot in a single go.

Of the young lady, there was no sign.

After a few moments, he seemed to collect himself again and began to glance around, smiling and engaging in small talk with those guests nearby, his voice slowly returning to its customary volume and cheer, the furrows in his brow and by his eyes steadily easing.

He was his usual self again, all geniality and consideration, by the time they heard the screams.


AaronRosenberg

Aaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob SF comedy series, the Relicant Chronicles epic fantasy series, the Dread Remora space-opera series, and—with David Niall Wilson—the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. Aaron’s tie-in work contains novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, World of WarCraft, Stargate: Atlantis, Shadowrun, Eureka, Mutants & Masterminds, and more. He has written children’s books (including the original series STEM Squad and Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles, the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel, and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books on a variety of topics, and over seventy roleplaying games (such as the original games Asylum, Spookshow, and Chosen, work for White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight, Pinnacle, and many others, and both the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets and the Gold ENnie-winning Lure of the Lich Lord). He is the co-creator of the ReDeus series, and a founding member of Crazy 8 Press. Aaron lives in New York with his family. You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.

 

COVER REVEAL – GONE TO GROUND


Releasing in two day, Gone to Ground by Aaron Rosenberg. This is the second volume in our brand new series Systema Paradoxa, released under the NeoParadoxa imprint. The series–created in conjunction with Cryptid Crate–is a collection of novellas featuring obscure cryptids. This volume was featured in the April Cryptid Crate, which contained exclusive content created specifically for that box.

SP - Gone to Ground 2 x 3

There are creatures lurking in our world. Obscure creatures long relegated to myth and legend. They have been sighted by a lucky—or unlucky—few, some have even been photographed, but their existence remains unproven and unrecognized by the scientific community.

These creatures, long thought gone, have somehow survived; creatures from our nightmares haunting the dark places. They swim in our lakes and bays, they soar the night skies, they hunt in the woods. Some are from our past, and some from other worlds, and others that have always been with us—watching us, fearing us, hunting us.

These are the cryptids, and Systema Paradoxa tells their tales.

***

In the heyday of the Roaring Twenties, Trevor Kinkaid’s house parties were the highlight of the social season, with lively music, the most fashionable of clothes, excellent food, and, of course, illicit drink.

Not just the place to see and be seen, but the place to be noticed.

But when a fresh new face catches Trevor’s eye and she later turns up dead, no one sees a thing. Or do they? As the cream of society look on their host with speculation, his protests of innocence fall on jaded ears.

Even with some unexpected help, can the local detective unearth the truth in time? Or will the real perpetrator go to ground?

 


AaronRosenberg

Aaron Rosenberg is the author of the best-selling DuckBob SF comedy series, the Relicant Chronicles epic fantasy series, the Dread Remora space-opera series, and—with David Niall Wilson—the O.C.L.T. occult thriller series. Aaron’s tie-in work contains novels for Star Trek, Warhammer, World of WarCraft, Stargate: Atlantis, Shadowrun, Eureka, Mutants & Masterminds, and more. He has written children’s books (including the original series STEM Squad and Pete and Penny’s Pizza Puzzles, the award-winning Bandslam: The Junior Novel, and the #1 best-selling 42: The Jackie Robinson Story), educational books on a variety of topics, and over seventy roleplaying games (such as the original games Asylum, Spookshow, and Chosen, work for White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Flight, Pinnacle, and many others, and both the Origins Award-winning Gamemastering Secrets and the Gold ENnie-winning Lure of the Lich Lord). He is the co-creator of the ReDeus series, and a founding member of Crazy 8 Press. Aaron lives in New York with his family. You can follow him online at gryphonrose.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/gryphonrose, and on Twitter @gryphonrose.

NETGALLEY POSTINGS – APRIL


Reviews are important for a book, but there are things more important than nice words. NetGalley offers the opportunity to get a title noticed not only by reviewers, but also librarians and booksellers. The service is used by publishers and authors at all levels and business models, from the big houses to the smallest.

It isn’t free to post, but many writers organizations have paid for memberships that allow them to post so many titles a month and they then ‘sublet’ those slots to members and the outside publishing community for a marginal fee.

This is invaluable to independent publishers and authors, who likely don’t release enough titles in a month to justify an ongoing membership, which can be costly.

eSpec Books makes use of an application offered by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and while there is no guarantee a title will receive reviews–or that the reviews it does receive are favorable–there is generally some noticable impact on future sales. Certainly enough to justify the $30 sublet fee.

As far as how NetGalley works, for those not familiar with it, if you have an account you can request titles for review. Those listing the titles will evaluate your request and determine if they will grant it. It is free to sign up for a NetGalley account and anyone can do so, but your responses on where you post reviews and how quickly and often you post them will contribute to whether or not your request for a particular title is approve.


This month, we have posted two titles (click the below links to request these titles on NetGalley):

Proof-KindlyOneThe Kindly One by Danielle Ackley-McPhail

Guilt, the venom running through humanity’s veins,
The cancer eating mankind’s soul.
Death, both courted and earned, well fed upon denial.

Balanced on the delicate edge between madness and damnation, clarity comes to us all. There is one thing more terrifying than the darkness at the edge of your vision staring back. The seed of that darkness peering from within your heart. What is real? What is imagined?

Right, or wrong, the price of your answer is your soul.

Includes the Stories:

The Kindly One, Skippy, Ruby Red, The Carrier, The Forest of a Thousand Lost Souls, Uncast Shadows, In the Dying Light, Burning Conviction, Purgatory

 


SP - Gone to Ground 2 x 3Gone to Ground by Aaron Rosenberg

There are creatures lurking in our world. Obscure creatures long relegated to myth and legend. They have been sighted by a lucky—or unlucky—few, some have even been photographed, but their existence remains unproven and unrecognized by the scientific community.

These creatures, long thought gone, have somehow survived; creatures from our nightmares haunting the dark places. They swim in our lakes and bays, they soar the night skies, they hunt in the woods. Some are from our past, and some from other worlds, and others that have always been with us—watching us, fearing us, hunting us.

These are the cryptids, and Systema Paradoxa tells their tales.

***

In the heyday of the Roaring Twenties, Trevor Kinkaid’s house parties were the highlight of the social season, with lively music, the most fashionable of clothes, excellent food, and, of course, illicit drink.

Not just the place to see and be seen, but the place to be noticed.

But when a fresh new face catches Trevor’s eye and she later turns up dead, no one sees a thing. Or do they? As the cream of society look on their host with speculation, his protests of innocence fall on jaded ears.

Even with some unexpected help, can the local detective unearth the truth in time? Or will the real perpetrator go to ground?

MEA CULPA FOR THE RADIO SILENCE


 

G&GRed-Gold Leaf-150

It has been a while since I have posted. Completely selfish, I have to admit. I was in the final stretch of finishing my military science fiction novel, Daire’s Devils… and the stretch was a little longer than expected.

Time for me to get caught up.

For now, we are delighted to have made the cut on the Way Too Fantasy blog last week. Check it out for some of the blogger’s thoughts on Gaslight & Grimm and a few other intriguing books.

More to come, as several of the things I have to catch up on deserve posts of their own.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – ARACHNE’S EXILE


This week’s excerpt is from Christopher L. Bennett’s Arachne’s Exile, the sequel to Arachne’s Crime.


Arachne's Exile 6 x 9

Chapter One

Stephen Jacobs-Wong had spent most of the journey from Shilirrlal on autopilot, putting up the front of leadership and charisma that came effortlessly, but not really letting anything outside his ship and crew engage him even as the wonders of the galaxy passed them by. His thoughts were still preoccupied by the series of tragedies for which he blamed himself—and by the schism between himself and Cecilia LoCarno, Arachne’s captain and his dearest friend, over their responsibility for making amends. With the onset of the migration, Stephen and Sita had finally begun to reconnect and heal each other’s grief at the loss of their baby, easing the burdens on his spirit. Yet that effort had required keeping his focus inward.

But in time, the sky became too beautiful to ignore. The caravan had entered the Upper Scorpius subgroup of the Scorpius-Centaurus OB Association, a lively star-formation region dominated by bright young stars like Antares and Sigma Scorpii and vast clouds of nebular matter surrounding them. The nebulae were barely visible to the unassisted eye at close range, but those stars were far brighter than they’d ever appeared from Earth, and with a little adjustment of their adaptive optics and a little enhancement from Arachne’s viewports, the Arachnen could see the beauty of the yellow-orange and magenta hazes surrounding them, a mix of reflection and emission nebulae. Stephen soon found himself gazing out raptly with the rest of the crew.

Yet once they reached the Antares system—a journey of over 550 light years from Shilirrlal, made in only eight days—the fleet’s port of call made the sky around them look positively dull. The habitat, orbiting the blue-dwarf companion star Antares B at some fifteen AUs, was a sphere nearly fifty kilometers in diameter, a garish starburst of incredibly tall fairy-tale castles, impossibly slender spires, and massive, clear-roofed aerodromes, all crafted from gleaming crystals, metals, and metamaterials and festooned with vivid, multicolored lights. It was like a cross between Escher’s Tetrahedral Planetoid, the skyline of old Shanghai before the floods, and a sea urchin dressed up for Mardi Gras. The interplay of illumination from the piercing blue star nearby, the bloated red-orange Antares A nearly six hundred AUs away, and the dense planetary nebula surrounding them both made the habitat gleam with particular resplendence, and its architecture strove to match the grandeur of its surroundings. Twelve enormous towers jutted from its equator, supporting a scintillating docking ring over a hundred kilometers above the surface and tapering dozens of kilometers further into elegant launch spines, slender threads that gleamed in the multidirectional light. It was a gorgeous vista, albeit a bit garish to Stephen’s eyes. But Sita wept at the sight, and they were the first tears he’d been happy to see her shed.

“It’s a Star Palace,” Arachne’s voice announced over the cockpit speakers. The humans reacted to the name with recognition.

Mediator Broadwing blinked his lower two eyes in surprise. “You know of them?”

“Human astronomers have imaged several megastructures of this design around various giant and supergiant stars,” the shipmind answered. “A few are internally lit, but most are detectable only by reflected starlight and are believed abandoned. As yet, we have been unable to make contact with the species that constructed them.”

“In fact, you have,” Broadwing fluted in his elegant calliope voice, produced in resonating cavities within his three iridescent headcrests. “One spreads his wings before you even now.” The lean-bodied, silver-hued pterosaurian matched his actions to the words, clicking his three beak mandibles together as he did so.

“The Zenith built the Star Palaces?” Sita asked.

“Yes.” Broadwing refolded his wing dactyls and membranes back along his forearms, leaving his shorter dactyls to function as fingers. As always, he moved with a grace that made the zigzag shape of his legs, and the way his wing-arms went up from his shoulders before bending back down, look totally right even to human eyes. His crests sang again, the translation appearing as subtitles in Stephen’s retinal HUD. “As Seekers of the Zenith, my people were naturally drawn to space. When we reached the stars, we built aeries around the brightest and most impressive ones so that all would know of our majesty.”

“That explains a lot,” Stephen said. For decades, human astronomers, engineers, and xenobiologists had debated how and why the structures were built in this configuration. Given the Zenith’s acrophilic nature, it went against their grain to build Chirrn-style habitats where the sky was inward. No doubt, he realized, the Star Palaces used programmable quark matter to generate artificial gravity. If PQM could take on the properties of the exotic matter necessary to make warp cages and wormholes possible, then surely it could also, say, generate gravitons with a greatly increased coupling constant, allowing a relatively small mass to exert the pull of a planet-sized one. The Zenith most likely lived only on the surface of the Star Palace, competing with one another for increased status and the privilege to live higher up in one of its many ornate spires.

“Hold on,” Haim Silbermann said. “Isn’t Antares A due to go supernova sometime in the next few million—I mean, the next yanarrenn or so?”

“Enough time to relocate,” Broadwing told the gray-bearded engineer. “For now, this is the most glorious star in the region, so naturally the Zenith must claim this height.”

“With your technology, couldn’t you prevent the supernova? Lift away enough of the star’s hydrogen to reduce the pressure on the core and prolong its life?”

“Why would we want to do that?” R’nilinnath wondered. “Supernovae create heavy elements. They promote evolution on planets. If we stopped supernovae, we’d prevent new species from evolving. Few enough worlds spawn sophonts as it is.” Nilly shook her mane, a Chirrn smile. “Now do you see why smart civilizations don’t live on planets? It’s hard to move a planet out of danger.”

Stephen recalled Sita’s musings about the Fermi Paradox, the mystery of why evidence of alien activity had been so hard for humanity to detect. What the old Kardashev theories of galactic-scale engineering had overlooked, it seemed, was that the civilizations that survived to the interstellar age were the ones that learned to live in harmony with their environments rather than forcibly reshaping them. Nilly’s words drove home that the galaxy had its own ecology of star and planet formation, one that galactic society took care not to disrupt, so that its footprint was nearly invisible except at a fine scale.


Christopher L. Bennett

Christopher L. Bennett is a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, with a B.S. in Physics and a B.A. in History from the University of Cincinnati. A fan of science and science fiction since age five, he has spent the past two decades selling original short fiction to magazines such as Analog Science Fiction and Fact (home of his “Hub” series of comedy adventures), BuzzyMag, and Galaxy’s Edge. Since 2003, he has been one of Pocket Books’ most prolific and popular authors of Star Trek tie-in fiction, including the epic Next Generation prequel The Buried Age, the Enterprise — Rise of the Federation series, and the Original Series prequel The Captain’s Oath. He has also written two Marvel Comics novels, X-Men: Watchers on the Walls and Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder. His original novel Only Superhuman, perhaps the first hard science fiction superhero novel, was voted Library Journal‘s SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012. He has three collections reprinting his original short fiction, Among the Wild Cybers: Tales Beyond the Superhuman from eSpec Books (containing an original Only Superhuman prequel novelette) and Hub Space: Tales from the Greater Galaxy and Crimes of the Hub from Mystique Press.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – DRAGONS (2 of 2)


We posted an excerpt from this book earlier, but that was pre-edit and we now have a cover, so I wanted to give another sneak peek. Enjoy!


FB-Proof-New-Dragon

TWO – Days 1-2

Conceal and Protect.

Those words, always capitalized in my mind, were drilled into my head from toddlerhood—so much so that I, as Tony and Bonnie Brand’s son, grew up thinking of it as our family motto. Back when I was in fourth grade, I learned about familial coats of arms. Afterward, totally jazzed, I drew one for my family. It depicted a fire-breathing dragon shooting flames out over a charred and blackened field. I even wrote the words “Conceal and Protect,” very carefully, above it in big block letters.

Eight-years-old and largely friendless, I showed this “masterwork” to my mom, who immediately paled.

“It’s beautiful, sweetheart.” My father was at work, and we were alone in the house. Even so, I remember the way my mother looked furtively around as if worried that someone might see. “You’ll be a great artist someday if that’s what you want. But… this isn’t something that you can ever show to anybody.”

I was crest-fallen, pun intended. “But… I thought we could put it above the fireplace!”

Without warning, Mom pulled me into a desperate hug. “I wish we could, Andy. Your father and I would be so proud to have it there. But it’s too dangerous. We’ve talked about this.”

I squirmed and pulled away. “Dad says we shouldn’t be ashamed of what we are.”

“And he’s right,” Mom replied tearfully. “But we’re not the only ones in danger.”

“Why do we have to hide? If we’re not supposed to be ashamed, then why are we always hiding? I’m so sick of hiding!”

She looked at me, stricken, and suddenly my newly found, pre-pre-adolescent fury vanished like smoke.

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said. “I know you want to be like the other children. But you’re not. Our family is Kind, and we need to remember how few we are and how many they are. Andy, human beings scare so easily, and they always strike out at what scares them. This means that to live among them, we have to try to appear human… even though we never will be. But it’s not about shame. It’s never about shame.”

Now, alone in this strange cell, my mother’s words echo. That day’s conversation was a pivotal one, grimly transformative, and I never forgot a word of it.

We have to try to appear human… even though we never will be.

This, of course, is how my captors must see me.

Inhuman.

When I wake up after being “vectored,” whatever that means, I’m stretched out on the tile floor where I fell. The room is unchanged. I have no idea how long I’ve been asleep. Hours, certainly. Maybe longer. Without a clock or window, time’s a bit of a mystery.

What isn’t a mystery is how hungry I am.

“Hello, Andy.

The Voice—yeah, I’m capitalizing it now—makes me jump a little. I try to hide the reaction and don’t reply.

“You must be hungry.”

This time, not replying’s harder. My stomach growls.

“No? Well, let’s skip breakfast then.”

“Wait!” I call, jumping to my feet. “Yes, I’m hungry.”

I immediately hear a scraping sound, and another wad of paper lands on the floor in front of me.

“Breakfast is waiting. All we ask in return is a little cooperation.”

My stomach growls louder. “What do you want me to do?”

“You know the answer to that question.”

“So… what? You’re not going to feed me unless I obey?”

“Cooperate,” the Voice corrects patiently.

I glare down at the new wad of paper. Then I kick it into the corner with the first one.

“No hurry, Andy. When you’re hungry enough, just say so. I’ll keep your food warm.”

The Voice goes silent.

I wait, but it doesn’t return.

Time passes furking slowly. The growling in my stomach deepens. I struggle to ignore it. Drinking water helps. Every so often, I go to the sink and fill my belly from its tap. But the feeling doesn’t last and, before long, I have to pee like a racehorse. After a while, I get into a torturous rhythm. I wait until my stomach’s too empty to bear, and then I drink myself full and, later, pee myself silly.

Rinse and repeat.

It makes for a brutal day. I keep expecting the Voice to return, maybe to tempt me, first with lunch, then dinner. But it doesn’t. They’re letting me, as my mother sometimes likes to say when I’m being a snot, “stew in my own juices.”

It frankly sucks.

But they want me to break Conceal and Protect.

And. That. I. Will. Not. Do.

Eventually, and without warning, the lights dim. They don’t go out completely. If they did, I’d be in pitch darkness in this windowless room. But they drop low enough that I sense this is supposed to be “nighttime,” that I made it through a full day without eating. I wish I could call it a win, but every second of the ordeal feels like a minute and each minute like an hour. And I have no reason to think the night’s going to be any easier.

I do my best to sleep. Cramps twist my guts, forcing me to lay curled up in a tight ball.

I’ll never know how, but eventually, sleep finds me.

In the “morning,” after a fitful night of pain and terrible dreams that left me sobbing in the dark, I awake to find a big bowl of oatmeal waiting for me.

I run to it and eat greedily, shoveling the food into my mouth with the included spoon.

As I do, the Voice says, “You’re a stubborn young man.”

I don’t reply as I lick the bowl clean. I half-expect to vomit, but I don’t. The stuff tasted like paste, thick and sticky but easily digestible. Maybe they don’t want me puking either.

Nice of them.

“This would all go so much easier if you’d just cooperate.”

“How?” I ask.

“You know how.”

“What I know is that you want me to somehow start a fire without a match. If you’re expecting me to use my heat vision, then I suggest you try a big guy in a cape and with a red “S” on his chest.”

The Voice says nothing more.

Sometime later and without ceremony, my lunch arrives.


Ty Drago

Ty Drago is a full-time writer and the author of eight published novels, including his five-book Undertakers series, the first of which has been optioned for a feature film. Torq, a dystopian YA superhero adventure, was released by Swallow’s End Publishing in 2018. Add to these one novelette, myriad short stories and articles, and appearances in two anthologies. He’s also the founder, publisher, and managing editor of ALLEGORY (www.allegoryezine.com), a highly successful online magazine that, for more than twenty years, has features speculative fiction by new and established authors worldwide.

Ty’s currently just completed The New Americans, a work of historical fiction and a collaborative effort with his father, who passed away in 1992. If that last sentence leaves you with questions, check out his podcast, “Legacy: The Novel Writing Experience,” to get the whole story.

He lives in New Jersey with his wife Helene, plus one cat and one dog.

eSPEC EXCERPTS – WHEN THE MOON SHINES


Something a bit different than our usual fare. We hope you enjoy this excerpt from John L. French’s When the Moon Shines, which includes a bonus reading by the author at the end.


SP - When the Moon Shines 6 x 9

Prologue

They had been asleep for several years. Resting, renewing their strength, living off the fat they had stored prior to their slumber. But now it was their time. Their bodies stirred, their hearts beat faster, and their blood warmed. Soon, they began to awaken.

Kona woke first, looking about, smelling the air, listening to the sounds of the woods. She sensed danger, there was always danger, but others could not get close to the place they had chosen for their nest, not like the cave.

The cave. She remembered the sorrow of the cave, and if she could have, she would have wept. But weeping was not in her nature. The past was a painful memory, but the present was all that now mattered.

Kona wanted to cry out, to announce to the forest creatures that their queen had awakened, but it was not yet time. He must awaken, then they must feed to restore their strength.

A low whistle sounded, one heard only by her. Forra was stirring, his blood warming. Soon his eyes would open. He would see her, and the bond between them would be renewed.

Forra’s eyes opened, and he gazed into hers. Both felt the warmth that was not caused by blood. A yearning for each other that could not yet be satisfied as neither had the strength.

He raised his head, looked around at the place they had chosen. It was good. Clear ground, high up, difficult to approach unseen. Not like the cave.

~*~

The cave had been well hidden to the eyes of men and common beasts, but not to the hairy ones. They had sniffed and felt them out. When the chicks arrived but before they could fly, when Forra was out hunting, the hairy ones came.

The cave was narrow, and there was no escape from the back. Two by two, they attacked, trying to get past her, trying for the hatchlings. Kona fought. Lacking the room to use her wings or tentacles, she ripped at them with her sharp, shiny beak. She killed some, but others came and kept coming. She fought for their lives, a fight she could not win, not with the numbers against her. Her hatchlings—one like Forra, two like her—would be devoured, as would she.

Knowing that her death would not save her offspring, and with the cold reasoning of her kind, she fought her way through, killing more of the hairy ones but taking injuries from claw and tooth, wounds that would take a long sleep to heal. Once free of the cave, she lifted into the sky to escape the overwhelming pack. As she fled, her children called to her. Their young minds reached out to hers with desperate pleas for help. Their cries pierced her heart, but Kona could not save them. She could only avenge them.

When Forra felt her mind seeking him, when he saw her flying toward him, he knew that the cave and the young had been lost. Kona would not have left them otherwise. Their eyes met as they felt their bond, but this was not a time for the dance and the embrace. Together they flew from the cave, hunting the hairy ones. They caught three in a clearing, old ones that could not keep up with the pack. They would do.

Swooping down, she lifted one in her claws. She did not feed on it, did not pull the blood from its body, for it had fed on her offspring, and she did not want to taste her own.

The others Forra destroyed. One he tore apart with his teeth. The other he carried high as he searched for the pack. Once he found it, he dropped the corpse in their midst.

Their vengeance, such as it was, would not bring their offspring back. But it did show the hairy ones the cost of their attack.

Abandoning the cave, they flew south and, after a search, found the high ground. Landing, they searched by scent, sight, and mind. Not finding any trace of the hairy ones, they hunted and ate until they were more than full. Then it was time for the sleep. Their wings folded, Kona’s tentacles holding Forra close to her, they used their minds to fade away, to become part of the landscape, a part that would be ignored by anyone who came upon them. Only then did they sleep.

~*~

The pack was starving. They were too great in number, and there was not enough prey. There were fights, and leadership changed many times.

To survive, they dared to attack the nest of the flying ones. The female fled, leaving her small ones. The three strongest of the pack had feasted on these. The ones that did found their minds strengthened, their senses heightened, their power to freeze and compel prey increased.

They should have fought, should have battled each other until two submitted. But their minds connected, and they joined their thoughts. As one, they directed the pack in the hunt.

No leader could bring food that was not there. In desperation, they led the pack away from the shadows and darkness that was their home and into the open ground to prey upon placid beasts as they grazed and slept. But then came their protectors, men with the power of thunder and pain. The pack was driven away; some were hurt, some left the pack forever. One of the three that lead them surrendered his essence to the earth.

Knowing there was only one path to survival, the pack split, some of its members following one leader north, some following the other south, back to where their kind had come, but where they had not been for many seasons.

~*~

In the light of the fat Moon, Kona and Forra left their nesting place and soared through the sky. They saw foxes and rabbits and once chased an owl from the sky, from their sky. Later they would share it with other raptors, but that night it was theirs alone.

Foxes and rabbits were too small to feast on that night. So they flew low, sending the prey their thoughts, awakening them, and sending them running in fright. Forra chased a doe out of hiding and into the open. Kona swooped and grabbed it in her talons. She did not take it home. Instead, she flew high and fastened her tentacles around it. In the air, she drained it dry, then let its bloodless body fall to the ground. Forra saw cattle sleeping in their pen. They were restless, nervous, knowing something was not right, but unaware of what it might be. He too swooped. Using both claws, he lifted one of the beasts and flew it back to their high ground where he let his mate drink her fill before his razor-sharp teeth ripped the carcass apart so he could devour its meat.

Having fed well, Forra and Kona launched themselves into the sky as one. Once aloft, they became one in fact, her tentacles wrapping around him, taking pleasure from him and returning it to him. Rejoicing in their awakening, in their meal, and in each other, they cried out their delight, announcing their presence to all.

~*~

The pack had been in the woods for a half cycle of the Moon. To the other dwellers of the forest, the ones with instinct but no inherited memory, easy prey upon which the pack would grow fat, they were death on two legs.

More creatures came, creatures that walked like pack but moved like prey. They spoke loudly and made their way without caution so that all knew of their presence. Pack memory called the creatures “Man.” Night after night, the pack watched them from the darkness but took no action. Man knew of the pack but had not seen them for many, many seasons. They were legend and myth, cautionary tales to frighten Man’s young into obedience.

Verr, the pack leader, recalled that Man possessed the power of thunder and pain. They also called light to their command. Light that burned bright and hurt the pack’s eyes. Still, Verr thought, they are in our territory and have marked it, and this cannot be.

We will attack them, kill them, devour them, Verr thought to his pack. When you charge, close your eyes and be guided by their scent. Feast well.


JOHN L. FRENCH is a retired crime scene supervisor with forty years’ experience. He has seen more than his share of murders, shootings, and serious assaults. As a break from the realities of his job, he started writing science fiction, pulp, horror, fantasy, and, of course, crime fiction.

John’s first story “Past Sins” was published in Hardboiled Magazine and was cited as one of the best Hardboiled stories of 1993. More crime fiction followed, appearing in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, the Fading Shadows magazines and in collections by Barnes and Noble. Association with writers like James Chambers and the late, great C.J. Henderson led him to try horror fiction and to a still growing fascination with zombies and other undead things. His first horror story “The Right Solution” appeared in Marietta Publishing’s Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak. Other horror stories followed in anthologies such as The Dead Walk and Dark Furies, both published by Die Monster Die Books. It was in Dark Furies that his character Bianca Jones made her literary debut in “21 Doors,” a story based on an old Baltimore legend and a creepy game his daughter used to play with her friends.

John’s first book was The Devil of Harbor City, a novel done in the old pulp style. Past Sins and Here There Be Monsters followed. John was also consulting editor for Chelsea House’s Criminal Investigation series. His other books include The Assassins’ Ball (written with Patrick Thomas), Souls on Fire, The Nightmare Strikes, Monsters Among Us, The Last Redhead, the Magic of Simon Tombs, and The Santa Heist (written with Patrick Thomas). John is the editor of To Hell in a Fast Car, Mermaids 13, C. J. Henderson’s Challenge of the Unknown, Camelot 13 (with Patrick Thomas), and (with Greg Schauer) With Great Power

 You can find John on Facebook or you can email him at him at jfrenchfam@aol.com.

eSPEC BOOKS AUTHOR READING SERIES – 2/5/2021


So…this is what happens when you keep your authors busy. They have no time to create promotional content and your options are mostly to listen to me read. I like to think that’s not a bad thing, but we are working on generating more content, so please do Like and Subscribe when you on the playlist enjoying the following videos.

If you are an author and would like to participate in one of these series, please visit the eSpec Books Author Reading Series Facebook page for details.


The eSpec Books Author Reading Series

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her story “Casualties of War,” from her upcoming collection Dawns a New Day.

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her story “The Fox’s Fire” from the collection of the same name.

Dance Among the Embers, But Don’t Get Burned… From a kitsune slinking through the mists… to an elven champion tied to every crossroad in the moment of Midnight… to the heir of Underhill ruling the road on a Harley, the mystical and magical intersect nearly unrealized with the world of man. Do you dare to walk among them with open eyes? Do you seek a glimpse of their power? Take care and proceed with soft steps among the folk of magic and moonlight. Fickle is the least of what is said of them. But well worth the risk, for those looking for something more…

Danielle Ackley-McPhail reading an excerpt from her story “The Kindly One,” from the collection of the same name.

Guilt, the venom running through humanity’s veins, The cancer eating mankind’s soul. Death, both courted and earned, well fed upon denial. Balanced on the delicate edge between madness and damnation, clarity comes to us all. There is one thing more terrifying than the darkness at the edge of your vision staring back. The seed of that darkness peering from within your heart. What is real? What is imagined? Right, or wrong, the price of your answer is your soul.

Award-winning author, editor, and publisher Danielle Ackley-McPhail has worked both sides of the publishing industry for longer than she cares to admit. In 2014 she joined forces with husband Mike McPhail and friend Greg Schauer to form her own publishing house, eSpec Books (www.especbooks.com). Her published works include six novels, Yesterday’s Dreams, Tomorrow’s Memories, Today’s Promise, The Halfling’s Court, The Redcaps’ Queen, and Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn, written with Day Al-Mohamed. She is also the author of the solo collections Eternal Wanderings, A Legacy of Stars, Consigned to the Sea, Flash in the Can, Transcendence, Between Darkness and Light, and the non-fiction writers’ guides The Literary Handyman, More Tips from the Handyman, and LH: Build-A-Book Workshop. She is the senior editor of the Bad-Ass Faeries anthology series, Gaslight & Grimm, Side of Good/Side of Evil, After Punk, and Footprints in the Stars. Her short stories are included in numerous other anthologies and collections. In addition to her literary acclaim, she crafts and sells original costume horns under the moniker The Hornie Lady Custom Costume Horns, and homemade flavor-infused candied ginger under the brand of Ginger KICK! at literary conventions, on commission, and wholesale. Danielle lives in New Jersey with husband and fellow writer, Mike McPhail and two extremely spoiled cats.

David Lee Summers reading an excerpt from his story “The Steampowered Dragon” from Gaslight & Grimm, edited by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Diana Bastine.

Once Upon a Time, ageless tales were told from one generation to the next, filled with both wonders and warnings. Tales of handsome princes and wicked queens, of good-hearted folk and evil stepmothers. Tales of danger and caution and magic…classics that still echo in our hearts and memories even to this day, told from old, cherished books or from memory at Grandma’s knee. Oh yes, tales have been told…but never quite like these. Journey with us through the pages of Gaslight and Grimm to discover timeless truths through lenses polished in the age of steam.


All purchase links in these posts are Amazon Associate links
and we do receive a token commission if you should purchase via these links.

ARACHNE’S EXILE on NetGalley


Looking for a new read? Did you enjoy Arachne’s Crime? For the month of February, the sequel, Arachne’s Exile, is available for request on NetGalley.

Christopher L. Bennett: Written Worlds

A quick heads-up for reviewers, librarians, and book vendors: Arachne’s Exile is available for review on NetGalley through the month of February 2021.

https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/215070

Arachne's Exile cover

I appreciate any efforts to get the word out about this novel and Arachne’s Crime. Professional reviews are welcome, as are reader reviews on Amazon, Goodreads, etc.

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SYSTEMA PARADOXA UPDATE


We have had a bunch of new activity on this series as the first book under the NeoParadoxa imprint has premiered this month in the January Cryptid Crate. As today is a catch-up day, I wanted to share the relevant videos that have come out within just the last week or so. Two author readings from different volumes in the series, and two interviews featuring the first book, John L. French’s When the Moon Shines. We hope you enjoy!

And speaking of interviews… Are you curious about #SystemaParadoxa? Want to meet our authors? We would love to hear from you! Just drop us a message and we can set something up.


Author Readings


Interviews