Friday, September 28, 2012

Jaydium, Chapter 13


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 13

Kithri stood at the entrance to the dome and scanned the surrounding brush for any signs of discovery. Behind her, Brianna alternated between cursing under her breath and choking back sobs as she and Lennart sorted through the wreckage. Kithri kept her eyes away from the interior of the laboratory. The waste--the vicious, wanton waste--was more than she could bear. The central room, once filled with marvels of technology, was little better than a junkyard. Some equipment had been carried off, but what had not had been systematically rendered useless. Splintered glass and twisted metal housings lay everywhere, mingled with record books in sodden reagent-soaked lumps. Acids still smoked from the rubble that had been the main computer.

Kithri could understand disabling the communications gear, but to deliberately destroy scientific instruments... She remembered when her father would have given all he had for such treasure, now smashed past any hope of salvage.

The pirates hadn't overlooked much of value, although Brianna's sonic tuner was still functional and Lennart had found some short lengths of monofilament rope. The emergency medical kit was gone, along with the water purification supplies and the best of the survival clothing. They'd also taken the tangle, Brianna's only effective weapon, and irreparably disabled her surface transport. There was no way Brianna could have gone searching for Kithri across the forest-covered Plain.

Kithri's fingers ached from gripping the handle of her stungun. The camp and the surrounding bushes still looked peaceful, but it was only a matter of time before the escape was discovered, and every passing moment increased the chances of their being tracked here. She took a deep breath, hoping she wouldn't jump out of her skin at the first sign of trouble.

Lennart emerged from the laboratory and finished packing the rope lengths, along with some clothes and empty water containers. Brianna rummaged in a disorderly heap of papers.

"What are you bothering with those for?" Kithri scowled. "I said to take only what we need--"

"Ah!" Brianna slid a thin sheaf into her pack along with the other gear. "My field maps!"

Kithri held her breath practically the whole distance to the city. As they darted from one clump of brush to the next, she felt entirely too exposed. She wanted solid walls around her while they planned their strategy.

Too damned much time spent down jaydium tunnels. It's better to see the enemy coming.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

ROUND TABLE: Animals in Fantasy (Part I)

Pegasus by Odilon Redon
Here we are, back with another Amazing Traveling Round Table, and what a great topic! Animals and fantasy just seem to go together for many of us, whether we love fantastical creatures or wish we could talk to our beloved pets, whether we dream of worlds only horses (or dragons) can take us to or the places we dare not venture without our trusty animal companions.

To get the ball rolling on this topic, I'd like to point out some general aspects of the use of animals in fantasy. The first is simply their presence. Many fantasy tales take place in low-technology worlds (with the recent exception of urban and other contemporary fantasy subgenres). This generally means that animals will fulfill the same functions as they have historically been used for, such as transportation (horses, mules, donkeys, oxen, reindeer...), food, clothing (cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, pigs...), hunting/protection (dogs, cheetahs), and so forth. The exceptions (exotic animals or using an animal for an unusual purpose) can be lots of fun, but it's important to do the research and understand the proper handling and temperaments of whatever species is being portrayed. The ridiculously romanticized and unrealistic portrayals of horses in fantasy are notable, and what's sad is that there is a wealth of accurate information available, such as Judith Tarr's excellent Writing Horses .

A second role for animals in fantasy involves changing the nature of existing species,
such as making them telepathic or giving them magical abilities. I suspect that much of the allure of these animals is our own desire to communicate, but in our own terms. If a dolphin or a dog or an eagle speaks to us mind-to-mind, it is in human thoughts, from a primate perspective. Once we step outside the paradigm of projecting our own thought patterns and emotional responses on to another creature, however, we open the door to true encounters with the "other," which may not only be our equal but our superior, beings who can teach and inspire instead of be tools that obey us. Is there anything more magical than seeing the world through the eyes of someone -- no less a person -- with radically different senses, desires, thought processes, and knowledge?

A third, and perhaps the most challenging, way animals appear is as fantastical beings in themselves - dragons, phoenixes, unicorns, and the like. Every culture has such beings, so there is a wealth of material from which to draw. They can resemble ordinary animals (the kelpie appearing as a black horse, often to the peril of anyone who accepts a ride) or be chimeras, combinations of different animals, or be ordinary animals modified in some way (winged cats). Or they may be essentially different from animals we know, transcending the limitations of terrestrial biology.

A fourth category, perhaps a subset of the third, involves human/animal combinations -- hybrids, if you like. Certainly werewolves (and were-other-animals) fall into this category, as do centaurs and mermaids. One might argue that vampires do, as well. Whether they are essentially humans with the added physical (and magical) attributes of animals, or have a very different consciousness, culture, and personal goals, they offer a chance to explore what it is to be human, to be a person, to be kin to both people and animals. And that sort of exploration is, after all, one of the most profound gifts fantasy has to offer.


Theresa Crater: Getting inside the perspective of an animal is one of the pleasures of fantasy. Kate Forsyth’s dragons, horses and the witches who talk to them have always stuck with me. Kate Forsyth is an Australian fantasy writer of two well-known series, The Witches of Eileanan and Rhiannon’s Ride. Kate’s dragons are the most noble of all I’ve read—and they’re damned scary. When people come into their presence, they realize quite quickly how puny humans are. Their bowels always threaten to turn to liquid and their brains are beat upon by intelligence vaster and more powerful than they can comprehend.

One variety of psychics talks to animals, and there is one who is at pains to argue for animal rights. This young woman represents animals in human councils. One horse in her book reminds me of Malcolm X. He is proud and refuses to allow himself to be ridden. He sees horses are somewhat superior to humans, who have treated his kind like brutes. But when the fate of the world and his new human friend rests on him alone, he decides to allow one person on his back—without a saddle or bridle of course. If the human cannot trust him, she cannot ride. She accepts his terms and the day is won.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Jaydium, Chapter 12


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 12

Three days after she=d left Brianna=s camp, Kithri sat alone on a hillside at the western border of the forest, watching color slowly saturate the sky. Without dust to burnish it to eye-searing gold, the dawn glowed with a gentle, lingering light. Below her, the bushes covering the scrubjet looked soft, like brushed velvet.

She could not stay hidden long, she knew. Brianna would have metal detection scanners and any search would pick up the scrubjet. But first they=d have to know what area to fly over and she was a long way from the Manitous. She had time before they came after her...if they did. Time to think, time to decide. Time, but not much food or water.

Kithri jerked her hand away from her mouth before she could chew off another fingernail. It=s time to make up your mind. Do you want to be on your own again, maybe forever alone, or are you going back to deal with Eril?

No, the problem wasn=t Eril, although thinking about him sometimes left her feeling she=d gotten caught in a coriolis storm. He hadn=t dumped her on Stayman to rot. In fact, he=d offered her a decent way out and she=d been too ratshit scared to take it. What did she expect, that he wouldn=t be thrilled by the discoveries they=d made?
The problem isn=t Eril, Kithri repeated to herself. It=s me. Here I am with the same wonders in front of me, but all I can see is dust.

She brushed away a tear with the back of one hand, remembering the first joyous shock of the flower field and how quickly its sweetness had gone rancid. It had been easy to cry these last few days, without anyone to judge her weakness. Her eyelids burned as if they=d been scoured raw.

Albion is dead. I can never go back, and I=ve let that poison everything I touch.


She set the scrubjet down near the site of their original camp beneath a clump of umbrella trees that crowded between the crystalline city and the spaceport. The city looked exactly as she=d left it, but the vast cream-colored field was no longer vacant.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Thursday comes before Friday...Friday means Jaydium!

Thanks to everyone for being patient with my paucity of posts here, although I hope you've been enjoying the unfolding adventure of Jaydium. The next chapter goes up tomorrow, but here's a teaser:

She stepped into the room, moving silently toward the bunk. Just as she cleared the party-opened door, she caught a flash of movement from the side. She couldn=t see it clearly, only an instant of looming shadow before the man-shaped figure burst from the corner and lunged at her. Without thinking, she whirled and brought her stungun up. A booted foot lashed out and collided with her forearm. It was a glancing blow, jerked short, enough to break her aim but not make her loosen her grip entirely. Her arm muscles went numb; she grabbed the stungun with the other hand--

Before she could fire, her assailant fell heavily to the floor beside a bunk that had been concealed by the door. If she=d opened it all the way, she would have seen him plainly. "Kithri?" The voice was slurred but recognizable.


He grinned crookedly up at her and said in a harsh whisper, "You are a welcome sight!"

The next instant, she=d tucked the stungun through her belt and was kneeling at Lennart=s side. A trickle of dried blood ran from his hairline down one cheek. Like Brianna, he was chained to the wall, so that another inch would have moved Kithri entirely out of his range. A quick glance around the room revealed no other hidden prisoners.

"What the hell is going on?" Kithri said in a low voice. "Where=s Eril?"

"Damned pirates took him back to the city."

"Pirates," Kithri muttered as she inspected his wrist cuffs. She didn=t recognize the mechanism, nor could she identify any mechanical hinge closure. "They found my jaydium--I saw."

"They must have been monitoring Brianna=s transmission," Lennart said. "They knew we had a cache, and that there=s a source somewhere in this planet."

Friday, September 14, 2012

Jaydium, Chapter 11


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 11

Kithri followed Eril and Brianna through the shadowed parkland, Lennart at her side. The short grass cushioned her step and gave off a tangy smell. She glanced up at the stars but they were blotted out across half the sky. In the other direction, one moon burned stark and white through a rift in the clouds. The first cool drops of rain spattered her face.

Rain! Memories flooded up in her that last evening on Albion, walking in the pastel twilight through a field of tall, waving skyflowers. She=d stayed out until the rain had washed away her tears and she was soaked to the skin. Her father hadn=t said a word.

"Hurry!" called Brianna. She=d been heading toward the city, but now she veered off into a clump of low trees. Dense foliage blocked all but a gentle mist and the faintest dappling of moonlight. Low branches pressed in on both sides, forcing them to go single file.

Kithri walked slowly, feeling her way through the near darkness. Her moment of astonished joy at the rainfall had vanished. It was difficult to hurry and think at the same time, especially when a chorus of contradictory voices took up residence in her skull. 

How do I know this Dominion isn=t just as bad as the Fifth Fed? one part of her said. I=ll probably end up stranded on some backdust world that=s even worse than Stayman.
I should=ve insisted on staying behind with 'Wacker, another part grumbled. Who knows what might happen to it out there?

And yet, to see the Dominion woman=s camp, to ride in her ships, maybe to reach those stars that were so like the ones she=d dreamed of...

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Encountering Wannabee Writers

Elsewhere on the intarwebs, I read: "Authors Write Today; Pretenders Write Tomorrow." The implication, of course, is that if you are a real writer, you write all the time. Write as in, you deliver your thousand or five hundred or twenty-five hundred words, day in and day out. I think that's balderdash: it works for some writers, but not everyone. Some successful authors write in maniacal spurts, putting in 16 hour days, drafting novels in a few weeks, and then going long periods of time without any word output but with intense, deep rejuvenation and development of creative ideas.

The second, and perhaps more important aspect of the quote -- for I am by no means the first to point out that writers have different rhythms and one size does not fit all -- is the implication that being a "wannabee," a person who aspires to be a writer but never actually writes, is a bad thing. At best, a pathetic thing.

I am as likely as the next person to shower wannabees with advice on how to get started and stay motivated. I rarely pay attention to whether the advice is actually being solicited and whether it is helpful. I buy into the notion that this person should be other than the way he or she is, that wanting to write, dreaming about being a writer and talking endlessly about it, pretending to be a writer, are unacceptable.

Sometimes, "wannabee" is a stage people pass through and either go forward to do the work of writing, or leave and go on to dream about something else. Other people stay with wanting/dreaming/talking. It seems to be sufficient for their emotional needs, and that means they're getting something of value from it. A sense of self-importance? Of belonging to the "cabal of writers?" Trying out daydreams of different possibilities? Getting attention from well-meaning helpful authors?

I think there can be great value in daydreaming, even about things we will never do.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Jaydium, Chapter 10


by Deborah J. Ross, writing as Deborah Wheeler

Chapter 10


Night-faring insects chirped and whirred from the foliage of the umbrella trees, a descant counterpoint to Lennart=s rhythmic snores. Eril wasn=t sure of the exact moment Kithri fell asleep and her muscles went from tense to buttery under his fingertips. Her breathing became soft and regular. Soon he too drifted off, one hand flung across her back. His body grew warm and heavy, so heavy...

So heavy, gravity sucking him down into the denseness of the earth...


Suddenly Eril was no longer lulled three-quarters into sleep. He didn=t know exactly what was wrong, but something...

Lennart snored on, oblivious, but the insects had fallen silent. The instincts that had warned Eril of impending disaster so many times during the war now shrilled in alarm. He got ready to scramble to his feet, force whip in hand and ready for action.

The world froze around him.

He couldn=t move, not even his eyelids. He could barely breathe as an iron band held his ribs like a vice. Something warm and steely clamped tight over his mouth. Prickles of ice flared up all over his body.

Air! screamed his burning lungs.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Season Political

Whether I agree with them or not, it seems that many other folks are holding forth in much more articulate and media-savvy, not to mention louder, ways than I. While I occasionally pass on links to suchlike, I don't generally jump into the fray.

But this is an election year.

I'm not going to hold forth on candidates or political parties. Most of you either agree with me or there's nothing I can say to change your mind and certainly not worth damaging a valuable relationship by screaming at each other.

But this is an election year.

And there's an issue on the California ballot that I do feel strongly about. It's Measure 34, the SAFE California Act, that replaces the death penalty with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. I can give you all the calculations about how many tens of millions of dollars it's going to save and the risks of executing innocent people and the percentages of violent crimes that go unsolved because the funds go to a system that even its advocates admit is broken beyond repair. You can look them up for yourself. For me, such arguments are best left to activists.

I'm not an activist. I'm the family member of a murder victim, the very person who might be expected to support capital punishment.

Monday, September 3, 2012

GUEST BLOG: Chaz Brenchley on "Being Ready to Publish"

British writer Chaz Brenchley (who also writes as Ben Macallan and Daniel Fox) offers a perspective on self-censorship and who decides when an aspiring author is "ready."

We were talking to a wannabe writer and proffering wise words and good advices, as one does; and she used a phrase that only underscored for me how much people's approach has changed. A line I use a lot on panels and so forth is that I'm the last generation for whom writing really was a lonely business; these days it's all beta-readers and critique groups and writing dates in coffee-houses and scallions of advice and encouragement on the internets. Scallions and scallions.

And one of those advices, clearly, is that you have to reach the stage of being "ready to publish". Of course this has always been true, in the sense that you have to learn to write, you have to acquire craft before anyone is going to publish you - but that was not a judgement we ever made for ourselves. We wrote stuff and sent it off, contributed to the great slushpile mountain on which the publishing industry was built, began our precious collection of rejection slips. Other people told us when we were ready to publish, in the form of an acceptance letter and a cheque.

These days, apparently, you tell yourself that you're not ready yet; or your critiquing group tells you, or the internet does it, or... Maybe you subscribe to that notion that you have to write a million words before you're up to standard?

I'm really not sure how I feel about this. Keeping the slushpile down, easing the burden on agents and editors, encouraging people not to submit until they've worked up their craft, surely that has to be a good thing? But, I dunno, engaging early with the professionals also has its advantages. Even building that collection of rejections does no harm. And I'm uncomfortable with the self-censorship inherent in the idea, people not submitting work because in their own judgement or that of their friends they're not yet "ready to publish". I worry that there are people out there diligently writing, counting and trunking their million words. And then expecting to publish, because they're ready now.

I have no structured thoughts on this, just an uncomfortable twitch. Probably because I've spent, lo, these thirty-five years sending stuff out whether I was ready or not, and encouraging others to do so, and... yeah. Things change, and perhaps that is no longer the best advice - but I still stand by it. Make them turn you down, don't do it yourself. Make them all turn you down. And then go round again, because there's always someone new who hasn't seen it yet, and it only takes one person to say yes.


Chaz Brenchley has been making a living as a writer since he was eighteen.  He's the author of nine thrillers, including Shelter, and two major fantasy series: The Books of Outremer, based on the world of the Crusades, and Selling Water by the River, set in an alternate Ottoman Istanbul. His newest releases are House of Doors and House of Bells.
As Daniel Fox, he has published Dragon in Chains, Jade Man’s Skin and Hidden Cities, a Chinese-influenced fantasy series. As Ben Macallan, he has published the urban fantasy Desdaemona, with the sequel Pandaemonium.

A winner of the British Fantasy Award, he has also published five books for children and more than 500 short stories in various genres. His time as Crimewriter-in-Residence on a sculpture project resulted in the collection Blood Waters. He was Northern Writer of the Year 2000, and now lives in California with two squabbling cats and a famous teddy bear.