All posts by stevestatham

Writer, editor and photographer. Oh, and skilled beer quaffer, too.

Forgotten Sci-Fi

Remarkable what you can find at one of those large, sprawling, craft-filled market days for a buck.  I certainly don’t need any more old paper clogging up the office, but when I recently stumbled across a vendor selling classic science-fiction magazines for cheap, my willpower vaporized like it had been raked over by a ray gun (note the period-correct terminology).

This example is the April, 1963, issue of Fantastic Stories of fantastic1963Imagination, with a cover by Frank Bruno. It caught my eye in particular because of the the Fritz Leiber story blurbed on the cover. Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser books were a major influence behind my teenage enthusiasm for sword-and-sorcery novels, but his stuff was never just pulp. Leiber went on to be named one of the earliest science-fiction Grandmasters by the SFWA.

But what really made me pull out my wallet was the early Roger Zelazny tale listed on the table of contents. Zelazny is one of my favorites SF writers of the generation that debuted in the 1960s, and Fantastic was one of the publications that nurtured his early career. His story, The Malatesta Collection, is not bad, but it’s evident that he hadn’t yet hit his stride. (This issue came out a full three years before his first novel was published.) It’s a somewhat overwrought tale about a future society uncovering a cache of books, and the contents aren’t quite what they expect. Still, when you really like an author, it’s a treat to find some forgotten story of his.

Fantastic was published as a digest-size magazine from 1952-1980. It was revived as a webzine by Wilder Publications a few years ago, but just ceased publication on January 18 of this year. Fantastic’s time may have passed, but finding any of these old issues for a dollar is money well spent.

January Mega-Sale

screen-shot-2017-01-02-at-9-46-23-amWhat better than a warm e-reader loaded full of books on a nasty winter day? I’ve teamed up with a talented group of SF/Fantasy writers for an e-book mega-sale on January 7-8. We’ve got more than 150 titles on sale for only 99 cents each, available through all retailers. The first novel in my Connor Rix SF thriller series, Rules of Force, is part of the promo, so this is a great chance to start at the beginning. Follow the link and start shopping!

2016: The Year in Books

chase-the-tiger01-duplicateAs the year winds down, my eyes are protesting. They have a point. My steely blue orbs have absorbed a lot of words these past twelve months. I made a point in 2016 of reading outside my usual comfort zones, as well as putting an emphasis on reading books from indie authors. Add in my own writing, plus editing jobs, plus trying to read menus in darkened restaurants, and I’m fortunate I can see at all.

But I can, so let’s recount the wonders of the written word! First, while I did cast the net wide for genre fiction and independently published works, I read my share of conventional literature as well. I finally got around to some Tolstoy, for example.  And I read The Commodore in Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin series, because I get the shakes if I go too long without reading one of those. I’m probably the last person to get on the Raymond Chandler bandwagon, but I’m making up for lost time. I read The Long Goodbye, and have another Phillip Marlowe mystery on deck.  I finished William H. Patterson Jr.’s Robert Heinlein: The Man Who Learned Better, 1948-1988, an exhaustively researched biography. I even worked in a couple political polemics, because it was that kind of year.

But the indie works really stood out in 2016. Nick Cole hit two homescreen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-09-23-pm runs with Ctrl Alt Revolt and Fight the Rooster. The former won a Dragon Award for its sci-fi melding of AI, video games and caustic social commentary, while the latter is a manic romp about a Hollywood director trying to  break free from the chains of success.

Also standing out from the crowd was Liberty Boy by David Gaughran, a work of historical fiction set in Ireland that I enjoyed immensely.  The Missionaries by Owen Stanley was a fun skewering of do-gooder UN types set on a Pacific isle.

I’m one of Michael Bunker’s Patreon subscribers, so I’ve enjoyed the delicious chapters of Hell and the Sea as they’ve been released each month. The novel is a fictionalized account of the early days of the indie publishing revolution, and it has a big future ahead of it when it’s released in its entirety.

Part of my “reading outside my usual comfort zones” vow includes paying more attention to the romance genre. There is some great work being done on that side of the fence, like Place Your Betts by Katie Graykowski. The term “laugh-out-loud-funny” get overused a lot, but not in this case. Katie’s work just crackles with wit.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-19-01-pmOf course, my heart has always been in the science-fiction and fantasy fields, and I found some gems here in 2016. Vaughn Heppner is one of those indies who sells so many books it makes my head spin, so I downloaded Alien Honor, and admired how he set the table for an entertaining space opera series. I kept noticing The Long Way Down by Craig Schaefer in the also-bought feed for my Connor Rix series so I gave that a read. I snatched up a copy of Hugh Howey’s Beacon 23 when it went on sale earlier this year. It didn’t do much for me, but YMMV. Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia isn’t indie published, but it hit a populist nerve and won a Dragon award. It’s the beginning volume in a great epic fantasy, and entertaining as hell.

I read The Night Land by William Hope Hodgson, first published in 1912, one of the strangest science-fantasy books I’ve ever read, and I mean that in a good way. It’s set in a future so distant that the sun has burned out and all of humanity lives in one vast redoubt. Speaking of distant futures, I finally (finally!) found a battered paperback copy of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth at Half-Price Books, devoured it, and then raced through Dan Simmons’ homage to Vance, The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-06-18-pmThis was also a year for short stories. I started the year picking my way through Neil Gaiman’s Trigger Warning. I snacked on the wyrd western Ledge Town by Jason Anspach, and enjoyed  Jessup’s Door, a time travel story by Michael Bunker.  I’ve also been working my way through the variety of indie voices in The Expanding Universe.

screen-shot-2016-12-31-at-4-05-49-pmIn my role as editor, I get the first look at a lot of fun and compelling fiction. I’ve enjoyed working with Kate Baray on her Spirelli Paranormal Investigations series, Cate Lawley on her Vegan Vamp series, Anthony Whitt’s  Hard Land to Rule westernand Lori Ryan’s Sutton Capital series of romantic suspense novels.

Of course, I contributed to the indie market my own self, with the release of the dark fantasy Fight for the Night, and the fourth book in my Connor Rix series, Chase the Tiger. If you’d like to make an author happy in 2017, sign up for my newsletter over in the sidebar, and give one of them a look.

New Release! Chase the Tiger

chase-the-tiger01-duplicateThe 4th novel in the Connor Rix series is now on pre-order! Chase the Tiger is officially available on Thursday, October 20, but you can reserve your copy now on Amazon at a special introductory price and have it automatically delivered to your e-reader on launch day.

As with all the other Rix books, it’s a fast-paced science-fiction thriller set in a near-future independent Texas Republic. Have a problem with a violent superhuman outlaw? Rix is the guy you call to set things right.

CHASE THE TIGER

The day of the bio-engineered superhuman is here, and the only limit is human imagination.

When two Animal Kids—young women modified to resemble their favorite jungle cats—hire Connor Rix to recover stolen black-market biotech, it looks like a straightforward case. No problem for a guy like Rix, with his unbreakable bones, advanced optical implant, and rewired nervous system.

But the mystery runs a lot deeper than Rix could have guessed. Untangling it will require getting past lethal enforcers with bizarre modifications, and facing down the larger forces operating in the background.

Imagine a superhuman private investigator in a near-future independent Texas, and you’ve got Chase the Tiger, the fourth novel in the Connor Rix series of SF thrillers.

Best Dollar Spent This Year

L'Amour: HangingWomanCreekBeing a writer, I have a library, and it’s a pretty good one. Despite the fact that my bookshelves groan and creak from the amount of paper I cram into them, I’m always on the lookout for more.

So you can bet that when I found myself at a sprawling small-town market days event this summer and found a vendor selling vintage Louis L’Amour paperbacks for 25 cents each, I had my wallet out faster than you can say “Hondo.”

L'Amour:RadiganLouis L’Amour was one of the greatest genre writers of all time. He died in 1988 but his books are still in print, and his sales count is somewhere north of 320 million copies and climbing. Besides being great reads, the four paperbacks I scooped up for a buck are a great window into a particular period of mass market publishing.

These books were first published in the 1950s and early 1960s, but  the Bantam and Fawcett paperback editions I found are from the late 1960s. All are priced at 60 cents, and all of them run from 115-125 pages—about 40,000 words.

That was a pretty standard genre novel back then. An inexpensive 120-page paperback is a format that has all but disappeared from bookstore shelves, although the short novel has found new life in the ebook era. My own Connor Rix SF thrillers (look over in the sidebar) run in the 50,000-word range, and I’ve found that to be a comfortable length for telling a complete story without saddling the reader with a long slog.

The cover art on these titles also L'Amour:LastStandcaptures a particular flavor of 1960s illustration. Sadly, none of the cover artists are credited in these books. The Radigan cover has a signature, but I can’t read it. The style is reminiscent of Fred Pfeiffer’s, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t do these.  Sharp-eyed followers of Western art will no doubt recognize these brushstrokes; if so, drop a line in the comments.

April Book Signings

I’ll be appearing at two events in Austin in April, so come say hi and maybe purchase a signed book or two.

First, on Saturday April 2, I’ll be reading an excerpt from one of my IMG_0019novels at Malvern Books on W. 29th Street as part of an Indie Authors at Malvern Books program. There will be four authors reading from their works, with refreshments afterward.

Next, on Sunday, April 17, I’ll be a part of Local Books, Local Beer 2.0 at Circle Brewing Company. This is a great event for sampling beer from one of Austin’s indie breweries, as well as meeting several local authors, who will be selling and signing books.

I’ll have copies of Fight for the Night, my newest novel, at these events, which will be the first public appearances of the paperback edition anywhere. See you there!

After the Apocalypse (Weird)

Short version: New release is only days away! Cover reveal below! Woo-hoo!

Long version (very): Okay, this requires some set-up. Many good things happened in 2015, but one of the disappointments was my paltry book release output. Normally I would have two or three books out in the course of a year, but last year I didn’t even meet that meager goal. That was not by intention. The year started well enough as I dove into the follow-up to my sci-fi space opera Gods and The City. I loved how this book was shaping up and was eagerly looking forward to a spring release.

But then an opportunity came my way. I was recruited by Michael Bunker to write a book in the Apocalypse Weird series. Michael, Nick Cole and some entrepreneurial partners had formed a new publishing company, Wonderment Media. They were constructing a shared universe of wonderfully bizarre end-of-the-world tales, all linked together by certain common story arcs and demonic characters. It was a bold undertaking, a “Marvel Universe” of post-apocalyptic characters created from the ground up by a cadre of mostly indie writers. It was exciting to be a part of it all as the books started to hit the market in February and March and the momentum began to grow.

I was asked to write a sequel to Texocalypse Now, co-authored by Bunker and Cole. In that novel, they had created a secondary character called “the Baron of the Scraps” that they wanted me to take and run with. I knew signing on with a start-up publisher was a risk, but the potential upside was definitely enticing. The publisher would have a greater market reach than I would on my own, and if one or two of these titles broke through to best-selling fame, we’d all benefit. Plus, Michael is a friend, and who wouldn’t want to be a part of an enterprise that included Bunker, Nick Cole, Eric Tozzi and so many other very talented writers?

So I agreed to do it and set aside my other projects to write the first draft of Fight for the Night over the spring and summer. It was a blast to work with characters created by others, building on the story, filling in the blanks. It was something I’d never done before and found I was enjoying it more than I thought I would.

However, even as I was finishing up the book, not all was well with the apocalypse. As my publication date got closer, the release schedule for the books was cut back. Publishing is a tough business, and it appeared that Wonderment was entering rough waters. My book was originally scheduled for a September release, and then was pushed back to December.

Still, Fight for the Night went through the editing process and feedback was extremely positive. But then the axe fell, with the October announcement that Apocalypse Weird would shut down at the end of November, with all books pulled from the market and the company disincorporated soon after. The month before my book was due out, the Apocalypse shut down.

It was a gut punch, as you can imagine, but that’s just business. Sometimes companies thrive, sometimes they fail, despite the best efforts of those involved. I took a risk and it didn’t pay out. It happens, and all you can do is move on.

So that left me with a completed book in an orphaned series. But Wonderment was treating its authors right, releasing the copyrights and the cover art back to the authors so they could independently publish the books, along with helping them transfer reviews. They freed everyone to use the common characters and the Apocalypse Weird brand, so the books would live on. It looked like there would be a place for my title after all.

Then the other axe fell.

Nick Cole and Michael Bunker decided not to reissue Texocalypse Now independently. It was being shelved, not to return in the foreseeable future. They had their reasons, which I can’t dispute. They both have bigger things on their plates, and if they don’t wish to continue the Tex Now storyline, that is certainly their prerogative.

But now, not only was I was stuck with a book in an orphaned series, but it was a sequel to a title that no longer existed. Krep.

I had to step back from this for a while, and rethink things. I turned to other article and copywriting deadlines in December while I planned the next step, and turned the book over in my mind.

That next step is revealed below. I revised Fight for the Night so it would stand alone, so that even if you had never read Texocalypse Now, it would make sense. I filled in backstory, I explained things that needed explaining. But I went even further than that.

You see, intellectual property is a funny thing. Wonderment went above and beyond what most publishers would do, in releasing rights and freeing up IP concepts and characters for its former writers to use. They handled it all with great integrity and decency, at least from my perspective at the margins. But the funny thing about intellectual property is that it sometimes gets sold, or inherited, or dragged into court in some dispute or another.

I therefore decided to rewrite Fight for the Night so that it truly stood alone—I recast the characters, I invented a new apocalyptic event, I dropped some elements of the original story. The AW villains, the 88, are gone, as is the black dragon. However, if you enjoyed Texocalypse Now I truly believe you will enjoy Fight for the Night. You’ll be able to identify the AW story that almost was. If you liked the Baron, you’ll like the Marshal. Fight for the Night is wild, pulpy, action-packed fun, and it is definitely still weird. But if you never read Tex Now, you’ll have no trouble following and enjoying the story.

And without further ado, the synopsis and cover reveal for Fight for the Night!

Fight for the NightIt’s been five years since the Doom shook the world to its foundations. Rivers of stars disappeared from the night sky, the sun erupted with an outbreak of flares that scorched the Eastern Hemisphere, and an infestation of previously unknown parasites turned millions of people into mindless roaming hordes of cannibals.

The survivors are scattered, few, and desperate. One band survives in the Texas Badlands behind the walls of a great fortress built from old cars. Led by The Marshal, the denizens of the Big Wreck scrape out a living by salvaging the remains of the old world, staying a step ahead of rival gangs, and avoiding the notice of the hordes.

Survival is tough enough, but when a mysterious otherworldly object alights in their territory, it brings with it creatures spawned from the darkest nightmares. Are these new arrivals aliens? Supernatural demons? Or simply the flesh-and-blood abominations of a post-apocalyptic world? And when a wandering band of Comanche indians shows up at the gates of the fortress, it appears that time itself has been twisted in strange new directions.

Fight for the Night is a novel of a weird apocalypse, a tale of desperate survival camped out at the intersection of where the Road Warrior meets the dark fantasies of H.P. Lovecraft.