Saturday, October 12, 2019

Serial Saturday: "Red, The Wolf" Part 3

Part 3

Red stared at the two youths struggling to straighten collars, refasten buttons, and restore order to their disheveled clothes. She recalled seeing the burly young man with the curly dark hair up at the pasture with Burch only this morning. What were they doing here--during a celebration, of all things?

"Why don't you watch where you're going?" growled the man. "We'd like a little privacy, if you don't mind! Be on your way!"

Red detected something in the edges of his voice, and she studied him closely. Did he not realize who she was? Just how much "privacy" did they think they would have in an open alleyway where anyone might choose to walk?

"Marc!" Henny murmured, tugging on his sleeve, "Let's just go..."

A warm, heady scent wafted off of the two young people, and Red grew keenly aware of the sheen across their faces. Everything pointed to a highly probable (if very indecent!) reason for their presence here--and one that she'd smelled before. Her hackles rose. She had always avoided that reek when it reached her in previous visits to Queston, but today she decided she would not tolerate it any longer. Privacy, indeed!

Red glared at Henny, who had just finished restoring the last button. "So this is the tailoring business you've been spending all your time at, while your mother, bless her soul, is working herself to the bone so that you might be able to make something of yourself!" Such long hours at the miliners', she said--oh, poor Deborah! If she knew the truth!

Marc's face twisted into a scowl, and he stepped forward. "Now see here--"

"What I do is my own business, thank you!" Henny piped up, lifting her copper-brown eyes defiantly to meet Red's gaze. "You don't know anything about how hard I work, nor how much Marc cares for me!"

"Cares for you?" Red grabbed the man by the arm and shoved him aside, not quite throwing him, but hard enough to separate the two. "If you think that, girl, then you're fooling yourself. I can tell just by looking at him that he means you no goodwill!"

Marc tried to interfere, but Red arrested him with an upraised hand.

Henny, meanwhile, gave a harsh laugh. "Oh my! What sharp eyes you have, to see such horrible flaws in people!"

Red didn't break eye contact with the defiant maiden. "All the better to see through a predator's lies, my dear," she quipped.

"Who are you calling predator?" Marc retorted, reaching for Henny's hand again. "Don't listen to her, Hen. You know me better than anyone, I will always--"

Red grabbed him by the arm, and this time, she didn't bother holding back her strength. He grazed the side of the building and tumbled into the stack of crates. "Spare her the deception, you dog. This is not the first daughter of Queston you've tried on in the last few years, anymore than you're her first 'trim on the side'!"

"How dare you!" Henny squealed, but Red kept going, pointing at the two of them, on either side of her.

"Don't think I don't know everything that goes on in these trees! What would Burch say if he knew--"

Marc arose with clenched fists. "I don't see how it's any of your business!" He planted his feet, crouching into a fighting stance.
Red faced him, folding her arms. "Everything to do with Queston is my business!" She declared, standing aloof before his threatening posture. "So what did you promise her this time? A tiny flock, a quiet home, faraway in some other valley where you will only have yourselves to look after?"

The events of that morning returned to her mind in perfect detail: the specks she found on the wool of some lambs, but not others--most likely paint or ink, and not a coincidence. In fact, now that she thought of it, the herd did seem to shrink every time the white wolf struck, even when there was no sign of an attack at all. "How many of the village lambs have you already marked for yourself, poacher? Too bad that wolf killed the bellwether this morning, or you would have been able to abscond with half the flock before anyone no--"

The heavy fist launched toward her face while she was still talking. Red ducked a little to late, so the blow aiming for the center of her head caught her in the cheek, knocking her backward.

Henny screamed, "Don't hurt her!"

"That's enough, meddling shrew!" Marc snarled, standing over the red-caped woman. "You might have the whole of Queston eating out of your flea-bitten hands, but I'm nobody's fool! I'm getting what the old man owes me!"

Red braced herself with her hand and pushed back onto her feet. She wiped the trickle of blood off her lip with the back of her palm. "If you think that, then you're the biggest fool of them all!"

Outside, in the square, the band struck up and people raised a cheer for the long-awaited arrival of Schoolmaster Remani. The noise out there covered the sounds of the scuffle from the alley.

Red pushed off with her legs and launched her body right at Marc's center of gravity, slamming him into the building. He threw another punch, but she dodged it and sent him a blow of her own, catching him full in the side. He grabbed her hood and yanked it off her head, but that only exposed her infuriated face. She pivoted back, reaching along his arm with hers and yanking forward while Marc's hand was still caught in the hood. He tripped and stumbled as his shoulder wrenched back with the momentum. Roaring in frustration, he came back around to charge at her. Back and forth they wrestled, Marc having the advantage of height and weight, but Red able to evade him thanks to wolf-like reflexes and a cunning knowledge of the most vulnerable areas to hit.

Henny crouched behind a large crate, shaking and blubbering. Red had shed her cloak, for the sake of the valuable jar in her pocket. She focused on evading Marc's blows and wearing him down with small, close hits while he flailed angrily. After one stiff jab to the face, he went down into a crouch. Red's instincts fired just before she saw the short silver blade in his hand as he stood again. No longer able to focus on his movements, Red followed the blade instead, dodging away from a feint she interpreted as a lunge. This mistake left her shoulder exposed to the blade.
Red roared with the pain as blood spread from under the knife, staining the tear in her sleeve. She wrenched Marc's forearm again. He released the weapon with a cry, but it had done its job already. She couldn't shove him hard enough to throw him off-balance.

Ha!” Marc grunted. “The fabled super-wolf bleeds like an animal, too! Guess you aren’t as all-powerful as--”

With a snarl, Red reached over and pulled the blade out with her opposite hand, gritting her teeth and grabbing the hilt in her injured hand. She howled with rage as she sprang toward the man, slamming her good arm against his throat. In two quick movements she slashed the side of his leg, and shoved the silver blade straight in, perilously close to his side--but it only caught his shirt and bit deep into the wooden siding behind him. He squirmed and gurgled as she pressed on his windpipe, but he couldn't move.

Red scowled at him and spoke slowly, through bared teeth. "Get. Off. My. Mountain. If I ever see your tracks around here again, if I so much as smell your stench on a westerly wind, I will personally hunt you down and then we will see how you stand against a real wolf!" She stepped back and picked up her cloak, tying it around her shoulders with one hand as she let her wounded arm hang still by her side.

Marc gasped and coughed as he recovered from the chokehold, and it took most of his strength to rip his shirt away from the blade--and yet the knife itself remained, sticking there with a piece of his shirt hanging from it. He nearly turned back to Henny, but the furious Wolf still stood there, staring at him with murder on a hair-trigger in her eyes. He thought better of it and backed away, the cool breeze whispering like fear against his exposed side. 

Red didn't tear her eyes away as Marc stumbled off into the hills, away from Queston. Her shoulder felt like it was on fire, but Red knew there was one more matter of business to attend to.
She turned to the quivering, sniveling girl still huddled behind the crate. "And as for you, Hepsibah Moriah Garrity--"

Henny sprang out of hiding at the sound of her full name. She couldn't even stand upright, but she groveled at Red's feet, reaching for her hand.
She pled, with tears running down her face, "Oh, please don't hurt me! And don't tell mother--I'll do anything you want me to!"

Red put her good hand on her hip and snorted. "Seems to me you are entirely too eager to do things for other people, when they don't require too much effort from you!" She shook her head and held out her hand, helping the young girl to her feet. "As a matter of fact, Henny," she continued, "this is what I want you to do: you will walk straight back into the dressmaker's shop. You will apologize to Bethany, and you will do everything she asks. When you are finished there, you will go straight home and apologize also to your mother--and you will do whatever she asks of you, and give her the rest she deserves. This will be your life for the rest of the year, and I had better not see you anywhere but exactly where you ought to be..."

Henny's eyes widened and her mouth dropped open as Red listed the requirements. She cringed as Red delivered her ultimatum. "Or what? Are you going to hunt me down like you threatened to do to Marc?"

Red gave a thin, firm smile. "No; I'll simply tell your mother and your employer exactly what kind of 'tailoring' business you've been running behind their backs this whole time."

Henny gasped and clapped both hands to her cheeks. "You wouldn't--you cannot--Oh!" She pulled a pouting frown and stamped her foot. "What big teeth you have, you savage wolf!"

Red grinned, showing all her teeth, adding special weight to her words as she replied, "All the better to deal with anything and anyone that would threaten the safety of this village... my dear." She said this last in a deep, rumbling growl.

Henny scurried out of the alley as fast as she could go.

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Saturday, October 5, 2019

Serial Saturday: "Red, The Wolf" Part 2

<<<<<<< PART 1

Part 2

*This part and the next are somewhat similar (with some key details added in) to the section I abridged for inclusion into the charity anthology Dreamtime Damsels And Fatal Femmes. I highly recommend supporting our cause and procuring your own copy for the sake of all the fantastic stories you are sure to enjoy as much as following this serial!

Red hesitated as she listened to the townspeople chatter excitedly amongst themselves.
"Is it the Schoolmaster already?" one woman asked her husband.
"I hope not! The cakes aren't quite finished yet, and the musicians are still tuning their instruments!" responded another.

Gradually the noise ceased as everyone caught the rattle and creak of a wagon echoing off the cliffs of the mountainside, and over it all, a clear, ringing voice.

"...and the maiden fair danced light and free, and the maiden fair danced free!"

Red rolled her eyes and slipped her cowl into place as the horse trotted into view, pulling a large wagon. It wasn't Schoolmaster Remani after all, but one of the regular peddlers who trekked up the mountain, a rover by the name of Justin. Though he only passed through the mountain villages a handful of times per year, Old Justin was as much a staple among the people of Queston as the swarthy band of shepherds. He kept his beard only a small patch of hair at his chin, and an impressive, slender mustache that spread straight out over his lip, and his twinkling eyes betrayed no guile as he politely nodded to everyone he passed.

His presence never failed to excite the children. They came running as he pulled his wagon to a halt.
"The Peddler! The Peddler!" they cried as they danced around. 
The horse came to a willing stop as it became too crowded to progress any further. Small hands reached up to pull at the tall wagon cover bulging with tantalizing shapes, and small feet danced around at the promise of fascinating new delights.
"Have you brought us new toys?" one eager boy asked.

Justin chuckled as he climbed down from his seat. He held out his hands to greet the children. 
"Have I?" He answered the little boy. "Let me tell you, the whirligigs I've collected in my wagon are guaranteed to give you hours of fun!" He pulled an object out of the back of his wagon. "Let me show you," he said, kneeling in the dirt. 

He placed the thing on the ground before them, a metal object shaped like some four-legged monster with a key in its back. Justin gave the key a few twists, and something rattled inside the monster. With a series of stiff jerks, the monster began to move by itself, waving its claws in the air. It pinged and crackled as tiny sparks burst from its jaws.

"A dragon!" Squealed a young boy, and all the children laughed and clapped.

Justin allowed the children to sample his array of whirligigs and colorful knickknacks. True to form, the young ones ran to show their parents and beg to buy the trinkets. The old peddler rocked on his heels and gestured to the decorations.

"This looks mighty auspicious!" he declared. "What's the occasion? You weren't expecting this much of me, I hope!" He laughed and winked at the lass standing near him.
"Oh no," she said with a blushing smile. "Our Schoolmaster is returning from his time in the city, and we're getting things ready for him."
Justin smiled. "Lucky sort, that is! What I wouldn't give to have a place of my own in every village I pass through!" He sighed, still staring at the maiden. "And whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?"
The young woman gave a curtsey. "They call me Wendy, if you please, sir."
Justin nodded. "Well, Miss Wendy, can I interest you in the latest beauty trend, straight from the King's court?" He reached into his wagon and pulled out another set of cases.
Wendy leaned over, eyebrows raised in curiosity. "Oh? What is it?"

Justin flung the lid back, aware now that he had the attention of several young women. "I have combs," he said, lifting them up and letting their shiny surfaces catch the light. "Beautiful combs that are all the rage in the king's palace! And dresses! Just look at these," he opened a chest and brought out garments of fine, brilliantly-hued cloth. "I went to a party at the Duke's palais," he said the word with a refined accent, "and I swear every high-born lady there was wearing this very style, along with these shoes," more boxes open, "and if I could have the attention of you men--long coats and baggy sleeves are out, don't you know! That's peasant-wear; you want to look like a classy gentleman, you wear this!" he pulled out a puppet decked in a sleek waistcoat and a shirt with close-fitting sleeves. 

Handing it to the nearest villager for a closer look, Justin pulled out a few items to demonstrate that he had normal-sized versions of everything the doll wore. "Doesn't that look a treat?" Justin asked the growing crowd with a wink. "No more catching your sleeve on anything or dragging it through the dirt and dust of your everyday life. Your wife will thank you when you don't smell like you've been in the trough all day!" He winked, and a few of the villagers laughed at the joke. He brought out a small stool and stood upon it, so that his voice could carry over the heads of the gathering crowd. "Step right up, folks! I have plenty of items for bartering! Bring your things, and let's strike a deal!"

From the far side of the Town Square, Red watched with folded arms as the villagers brought out their food preserves and hand-made items to trade for Justin's "new and very popular" trinkets.
Two small pots of soup and a skein of wool netted a set of dresses for the whole family. Half a cow of dried and cured meat got a set of pans that looked like tin, but Justin promised they would last far longer and hold up longer against the flames than their usual hammered steel dishes. Red observed every transaction, as farmers traded gardening tools to buy their children one of those new, key-wound toys; she listened as Justin presented a new kind of seed that produced an unheard-of plant bountiful enough to keep a family of five fed and happy through the winter months, grew in any kind of soil, and needed very little care. She saw beautifully-embroidered pillows and garments delivered to Justin, who barely glanced at them with a shrug. "Well, I hate to say this, Mrs. Haben," he told the woman, "but with the advent of machine sewing in the big cities, there just isn't much of a market for this kind of novelty needlework anymore."
The woman's chin trembled, and her eager eyes dimmed a little. "Oh," she murmured, "but I would dearly love to have a set of those combs! And this is all I have to barter with!"
Justin patted the woman's shoulder. "What can I say? You've won me over. I suppose I can let you have the combs, and I'll take these," he deftly removed the whole pile of cloth from her hands, "and see what I can do with them, how does that sound?"
Mrs. Haben squealed as much as the children as she picked up a set of the combs. She set one in her hair and admired her reflection in the tiny mirror built into the lid of the box. "My!" She gushed. "Don't I look fine!"
Red snorted. The woman's hair was already too thin--the comb looked as if it would fall out at the first sign of a breeze, but Justin replied, "I declare! You look as much like a courtesan as I've ever seen!" He extended a hand and raised his voice to the women whispering behind her. "This goes for anybody who wants to trade for me, as well: I'll take what you're willing to barter with--it might not have much of a market, but I didn't get to be a traveling peddler by being choosy!"

Red rolled her eyes. She'd seen enough. No one was working on the party preparations anymore; Justin had their full attention--and Red didn't think he deserved hers. Besides, she was rapidly developing a headache from the vast array of spices, perfumes, and colognes Justin stored in his wagon, and her back was aching even worse than before. Red turned heel and set off down the road. She could feel the Wolf just itching to leap out, to leave this funny little town, so easily amused, far behind much faster than her human legs could. The further she got from Justin and his smells, the more she detected something else--something that stoked the Wolf's ire inside her. Change now! Follow it! cried her instincts, but Red didn't want to make a move until she knew what prompted this feeling. She trailed the scent, until it led her down the alleyway beside the dressmaker's store--and so distracted was the young huntress that she nearly pitched head-first over a body laying there.

"Oh my!"
"Watch out!"

Make that two bodies. Red sprawled on the ground for the space of a breath, but her reflexes allowed her to gather her feet under her even as she fell. Only her wrists smarted from where she had banged them on the rough corner of an empty cloth crate.
She gathered herself and turned to face the two people in the alley as a young man helped a young lady to her feet.
"Henny!" Red gasped, recognizing the woman.  
Henny Garrity--Deborah's absent daughter--ducked her blonde head and bit her lip. 
"Hullo, Lady Red," she murmured softly.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Dreamtime Fantasy Authors Presents: 20 Facts About "Mobius" by Thomas Woldering

  1. The story centers around a girl named Elise, the Mobius Corporation, and its CEO, Doctor Rosalyn Schiller.
  2. The Mobius Corporation is the biggest and most influential technology company in the world, and are responsible for most of the technological advances of the second half of the 20th century.
  3. The story takes place at the Mobius Corporation headquarters in the fictional city of New Babylon, Delmarva – a super-state formed from Delaware, Eastern Maryland, and a tiny part of Virginia. The Mobius Corporation was powerful enough to have a new state formed around its headquarters.
  4. The story takes place in a 2012 that’s very different from the one we lived. Anti-gravity, speed-grown forests, and wrist-mounted holographic-screened phones are commonplace.
  5. The story specifically takes place on December 21st, 2012 – the end of the last Mayan calendar cycle which some people thought to be the end of the world.
  6. Elise, the main character, is working on earning a Doctorate in Dimensional Physics at New Babylon University.
  7. Elise also works a part-time job in a sandwich shop to support her ailing Mother.
  8. Elise and her mother escaped from her father when they were young. He was not a good man.
  9. Elise’s Mother had the help of her friend Rose, who Elise called “Auntie” to raise Elise until she was ten.
  10. The world in the story is focused on the Mobius Girls, a group of almost fifty women who are extremely powerful and influential. All of them were born on or around the day that the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.
  11. The story involves a unique type of time travel.
  12. When you time travel in this world it can only be to the past.
  13. Only your thoughts and memories can survive time travel, and everything in the universe gets re-set to your destination. There is no multiverse and there are no alternate timelines. You change the whole of reality.
  14. Only time travelers retain memories of time that was unwritten.
  15. Regardless of changes to events or how unlikely, the time traveler will still be born in the world changed by their travels.
  16. The basis of the story was a dream the author had in 2008. The story has gone through many incarnations and re-writes since then to reach its final form.
  17. The original story involved enemies chasing each other through time, but the story evolved to be more focused on the ethical implications of time travel.
  18. Several of the versions of the story have become smaller elements mentioned in the final version.
  19. From the Story: A mirror. No. It’s not a mirror, it’s reversed. That’s why I didn’t see it. It’s like having a twin!
  20. Also from the story: “When we send something into the Translocator, it leaves the universe and comes back in at any point.”

If you found these facts interesting, don't miss "Mobius" within the covers of Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes, by the Dreamtime Fantasy Authors!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Storytime Saturday Presents: "Mobius" by Thomas Woldering (BONUS: "Miss Hattie And The Hoppers" by Mary R. Woldering!)


I recalled what the Mobius recruiter, an older gentleman named Mr. Werner, had told me yesterday: "Elise Desoto. Dr. Schiller requests you for an interview at Mobius at 6:30 in the morning tomorrow, December 21st, 2012 for the position of head physicist once you finish your research. Your student loans will be absorbed if you accept the position, and you will be paid five thousand dollars for showing up even if you do not accept."

His offer was unbelievable. Anyone would accept it even if they just showed up and left, but it also made me incredibly suspicious. I wasn’t worthy of that job… yet. I was working on something revolutionary which would make me the best candidate, but I had been very tight-lipped about it.

My invention and the subject of my research was more like sci-fi or magic than something you’d see in the real world. An instant, one-way portal to anywhere that I called a Translocator. It would usher in the next era of humanity. I invented it and I knew it worked, but I hadn’t gone public because I couldn’t explain why yet.
Has Mobius found out? How?
They must know something if Doctor Rosalyn Schiller herself wants to interview me. 

She wasn’t just a scientist or corporate leader, she was the scientist and corporate leader. She had been reading books and solving math problems before she could walk. Mobius, my school – New Babylon University, the whole city of New Babylon, and even the new state of Delmarva grew here around the farm where she was born in what used to be Delaware. She was that important. I felt a bit intimidated, but my curiosity about what they knew and my eagerness to work at a place like Mobius outweighed it.

I straightened my gray suit coat and skirt again, hoping she or someone from Mobius would come soon.

"Miss Hattie and The Hoppers"

By the time I came out of the telegraph and postal depot with the latest story by Mr. Verne, some fine nonsense was going on at the nearby Cates Inn. I heard Jimmy Jay’s hilly twang rising above a gathering crowd. I couldn’t tell what he was fussing about, but by the time I hitched my horse at a water trough, a crowd had gathered outside the front door in a semi-circle. Men ran up each moment and behind them clustered curious women and children. All of this created a jam in the road and wagon drivers paused to stare. The late afternoon train to Knoxville grunted, hissed and puffed up to speed as it pulled out of the station. After the noise faded, I heard:

“Y’all ain’t from ‘round here, I can tell, but I don’t want no trouble. Now you fellas go on around to the back to do your business. Someone will see to you there.” Then a moment of silence was followed by: “You speakee English? How ‘bout him? Do he speakee English?”

Someone in the crowd called out. “Hey Jim--here comes Sheriff Poe. He’ll sort this out.”

Oh brother. This is not good. Someone had to get the sheriff. I pressed through the crowd to see just who the troublemakers were. When I saw them, I thought they were the oddest-looking fellows. I hadn’t seen gentlemen such as these anywhere other than in a big city like Macon or perhaps described in one of Mr. Verne’s stories. One was tall but sturdy looking and darkly tanned. His long and wavy sun-brightened hair made him look like a whisker-less version of General Custer.

The other man was a burly-looking dark fellow; most likely a ‘Hindoo’. They were well dressed, but wore only shirtsleeves, weskits and hats. The tall one was carrying a heavy carpet bag. He noticed me and said something to his friend, but Sheriff Poe put his hand on the darker man’s arm and said:

“Come on, boy. You fellas need to come on over to the--” which was followed by a “What the H****?” because his hand was snatched firmly away, and the darker man appeared to growl.

Look for "Mobius" and "Miss Hattie And The Hoppers" within Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes, by the Dreamtime Fantasy Authors!

More Excerpts:
-"Muliebral The Bold"
-"Nicole Falling: A Southwestern Horror Story"
-"A Wizard's Quandary"
-"Red, The Wolf"
-"Better The Thorn"
-"Count Vlasko's Curse"/"Mulo"

-"Sleeping Dragons"

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Dreamtime Fantasy Authors Presents: 15 Facts About "Sleeping Dragons" by Marc Vun Kannon

1. This story will be the first chapter of the sequel to my novel Ghostkiller, if I ever write one.

2. The story introduces Sarah Mack, but watch out for Mr. Tom. He's a carryover from Ghostkiller. I'm not sure if he's a villain or not, yet. Mostly a decent fellow who wasn't as strong as he thought he was.

3. In the world of this story, both psychic powers and magic exist. Sarah is one of the few who can do both.

4. I had to look up British slang to get 'four-banger'. Some other slang-y bits I made up.

5. I didn't have to look up the A1. Jethro Tull mentions it in their song Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die.

6. I have a lot of song lyrics and movie/TV dialog in the back of my head, pieces of which pop up whenever the scene I'm writing makes them relevant. That doesn't mean I use them. 

7. Most of the time I make a deliberate effort to do something different. My only rule of writing is "If you've seen it done before, don't do it again", so wherever you think my stories are likely to go, chances are they won't.

8. I also had no desire to delve into Arthurian folklore and skirted the edges as much as possible.

9. The reference to the grail is foreshadowing a foreshadow (if I ever write the sequel). Foreshadowing squared?

10. My preferred method for describing the world of the story is through the characters perceiving it, rather than from my author's-eye view, which is why slang like four-banger is important.

11. I also saw a few youtube videos on British speech patterns and how they vary depending on where you are. I'm not sure if word choice shapes character or character shapes word choice. Probably both.

12. When I write dialog, I hear it as the character would say it, accent and all.

13. I'm not big on research. If it helps me shape the characters, fine, but I don't do world-building for its own sake.

14. The line 'that is not for you' plays in my head in some sepulchral voice of doom, but I don't know the right font for that. This is the only bit of the story that I expected but I had no idea how the story was going to get there.

15. Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes is a charity anthology! As with Dreamtime Dragons, the Dreamtime Fantasy Authors continue to support the Abbington Ferret Refuge in Northamptonshire, England.

If you found these facts interesting, don't miss "Sleeping Dragons" within the covers of Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes, by the Dreamtime Fantasy Authors!

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Reader's Review: "Desert Runner" by Dawn Chapman

Synopsis from Amazon:

An NPC story.
With her pain potions in short supply, Maddie accepts a deadly run, pick up a package in Trox City and cross the desert plains to Port Troli, the only issues – an unwanted passenger and Tromoal breeding season. 


My Review:

A quick review... for an unexpectedly short book!

LitRPG (and its offshoot, "GameLit") is a format I haven't encountered a whole lot, it's just becoming realized as more and more video games emerge that give the player a role in a larger story, not just a series of puzzles and challenges to overcome... it's more than just a game, it's an actual narrative.
The more narrative video games become, then, the easier it is for novelists to then capitalize on it and write a narrative that feels like watching someone play a game. Hence "LitRPG"--or Literary Role Playing Game--becomes a genre in its own right, and "GameLit" (books that are more than just "players entering a virtual world" but that the "virtual world" and the way a "world" works in a game, is the "real world" of the story... like think of if the new Jumanji movie had taken place solely within Jumanji) is born.

The first one I suppose I read, that was sort of like "the characters are playing a virtual reality video game" was Cybermancer Presents by Andrew Barber--I enjoyed the premise, just not some parts of the content! Then there was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline--that was fun, in terms of premise and also content. Now we've come to yet another installment, Desert Runner, the first installment in the Puatera Online series. How does it compare?

Really, really good.
Chapman takes the tack of focusing the story on a character who is a "non-playable character"--they are the ones programmed along a campaign to give The Player stuff, to get The Player from one place to another, to dispense information, or just to "provide atmosphere" with repetitive, scripted responses that don't change tone, don't vary at all--a series of sound bytes that cycle through as long as The Player is within a certain proximity.
Maddie, though, is more than just an NPC--she's self-aware, and dissatisfied with just saying the same things, going the same places, and suffering the same fate every time she interacts with a Player. She recognizes that she has independent thoughts and desires, and she yearns to pursue them. The mission she takes has a chance of giving her just such an opportunity--if she survives it.

Reading the story actually felt like watching someone play through a campaign of a video game--which is a pastime I enjoy, far more than actually playing it myself! However, that sensation also meant that though there were snatches of fascinating sights and interesting "side quests" hinted at in the "playthrough"... those could not be explored to my satisfaction, because I wasn't the "player" in this "game." I did love those descriptions--the breadth and depth of the world, the descriptions and the uniqueness. The "monsters" of the world, the Tromoals, provided sufficient peril while also being a fascinating concept in their own right. I was pleased to find that, as much as Maddie was "supposed" to be a character who would be an easy love interest for The Player and not much good else, her self-awareness allowed her to actually carry feelings for another NPC, and fight against the programmed urge to entangle herself with the Player character--which meant the underlying romantic subplot was suitably mitigated.

I did enjoy this first taste of Puatera Online--but a "taste" is all I got. I could have used a whole lot more! I'd definitely be interested in reading more of the series--a quick search online reveals that there is a "box set" of the first three books in the series, so if they're all as short as this one, then it would probably be in your best interest to get them that way, so that you can experience the full "campaign"!

In terms of the story, character, plot, development, and resolution of Desert Runner itself, I would rate it a good *****4.5 STARS*****. It had a good set up, it built momentum--but that's about all it did. There wasn't anything too grand or epic to reckon with, only the anticipation of that all coming "later in the series"--which is good for a "Part 1" in a book, but perhaps not for a whole book itself. I'm going to cap this off with an Upstream Writer Certified RECOMMENDED endorsement, because Chapman really knows her stuff, and she's a talented world-builder, and if you enjoy video games like the one Maddie is a part of, then this series is definitely going to be worth your while!

Further Reading: (Also By The Author/Fantastic World-Building/Virtual Reality)

The Secret King: Letháo--Dawn Chapman
Domechild--Shiv Ramdas
The Arena--Santana Young
For None of Woman Born--S. D. Curran
Dissolution--Lee S. Hawke
The Children of Dreki--N. R. Tupper
Punk Anthologies--Jeffrey Cook et al.
       -Sound & Fury: Shakespeare Goes Punk, Vol. 1
       -Shakespeare Goes Punk, Vol. 2: Once More Unto The Breach
       -What We've Unlearned: Classic Literature Goes Punk
The Chronicles of Lorrek--Kelly Blanchard
       -Someday I'll Be Redeemed
       -I Still Have A Soul
       -I'm Still Alive
       -Do You Trust Me?
       -You Left Me No Choice

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Storytime Saturday Presents: "Sleeping Dragons" by Marc Vun Kannon

If the Holy Grail really was buried somewhere inside Glastonbury Tor, Sarah Mack couldn't feel it. She didn't expect to, but it would have been so cool if she could.

The Night of Echoes, when the magic had come back to the world, was only sixteen years in the past, nearly all of her life. Some geezer in the States, right there where it happened, had worked a spell almost immediately, they said. Before the magic had spread, before anybody else in the world even could. Now he was the Grandmaster of the Wizard's Union. She used to think he was a lucky bastard.

Years later, when the magic was strong enough, the creatures started coming back, and she stopped thinking he was so lucky. One of her earliest memories was watching a pixie invasion of Buckingham Palace on the telly, laughing. Mr. Tom told her to shut it, and together they watched as the wizards expelled the little flying buggers from the Palace and set up a shield to keep them out.

That worked, for a while, but over time larger creatures would appear, and they'd have to redo the shield. Yesterday a griffin the size of a four-banger was seen running up the A1, unable to fly. And if the magic wasn't strong enough yet to get a griffin off the ground, you could bet it wasn't strong enough to wake up the Grail. If it was even there.

So it was a good thing she wasn't there for the Grail.

If you enjoyed this preview, look for "Sleeping Dragons" in the upcoming anthology, Dreamtime Damsels and Fatal Femmes, by the Dreamtime Fantasy Authors!