Category Archives: Fiction

Stories I’ve posted here.

I’m on PodCastle! Read/Listen to “The Masochist’s Assistant” Right Now!

Hi, friends!

My story “The Masochist’s Assistant” is now up on PodCastle. It’s a free audio production of my work and it, more generally, a fabulous site if you dig fantasy (and check out companion sites PseudoPod and Escape Pod for all your horror and scifi needs, too). I’m very proud of this story (which was originally published in F&SF) and narrator Matt Dovey has done an excellent job reading it! Do check it out if you’ve got a chance!

Also I’m going to be in Dublin for WorldCon very soon! If you’re there too, I hope we cross paths. I’ll be sitting on a couple panels (both on Saturday – one on Improv and its uses for Writing and one on Luddites of SciFi) and it should be a great time. I’ll be traveling a lot leading up to the con, so I won’t be posting here until afterwards. I’ll see you all in Dublin and, barring that, I’ll let you all know how it goes!

Later!

New Story Out: “What the Plague Did To Us” in Galaxy’s Edge

Hey, everyone! I’ve got a new short story out (well, a flash story – it’s very short) out in this July 2019 issue of Galaxy’s Edge. I’m in a great issue, too, alongside such brilliant writers as Robert J Sawyer, Nancy Kress, Kevin J Anderson, Gregory Benford, and more! The best part is this: for this month only, you can read my story and others for free online! Just go to the website and check it out!

My story is my take on the zombie apocalypse and it is like, maybe, 1500 words, so you have no excuse not to read it. Go and check it out now!

About Readercon:

So, Readercon this past weekend was a lot of fun, even though I was only there for one day. I saw two very interesting and engaging talks, one by Graham Sleight about Instrumentality and Science Fiction (is SF useful as a predictive tool for the future) and one by Austin Grossman about the origin of genre. Both fascinating, both mixtures of things I didn’t know and things I did, and both of which I’ll be chewing over for a while.

I was on a panel about World’s Worst Jobs that was great, great fun and I heard a bunch of crazy stories (and got to tell one, too). I gave a reading from Dead But Once that had a small audience, but was well received. To wrap it all up, I went to the launch party for Max Gladstone and Amal El-Mohtar’s This is How You Lose the Time War, which just sounds like an amazing book you should all go out and buy right now.

So, overall a great experience at another great Readercon!

Writing Updates

I continue working through the summer on not just one novel, but two. Well, in truth, the first draft of the first novel I wrote this summer crashed and burned last week and I need to let the wreckage settle while I consider how to make another attempt (probably not until after Christmas). So I’m working on a second one now, which I won’t have time to finish before the Fall Semester kicks in, but I’m hoping I can at least get a sizeable chunk done. What kinds of books are they? Well, the first is a gritty space opera full of bizarre aliens and no humans whatsoever and the second is a more humorous thing set in a modern mall involving mythical creatures. So, in other words, totally different things. Is this good? Bad? Unwise? I don’t know. My agent seems to think it will be fine, but one wonders nevertheless.

In any event, onward and upward! Talk to you folks soon!

The Union of Stars: The Quinix (and the Lesser Races)

(Author’s note: what follows is a bit of world-building for my current novel project, tentatively titled The Iterating Assassin)

There is a simple and clear distinction to be made between the Great Races of our Union and the Lesser Races. The Great Races are those species who have overcome the Great Filter and achieved interstellar civilization. This has most commonly culminated in the achievement of FTL travel with slipdrive, but not necessarily. The Voosk, for instance, achieved it with slowships of incredibly ingenious design and the Bodani with sublight, self-propagating probes, even if both species went on to steal slipdrive technology later in their development.

Those species who have failed to achieve interstellar civilization are, by definition, lesser than those that have. This can be seen as unjust, but this is not a question of justice, but merely a practical question of social and intellectual maturity. The Great Filter is the single most important challenge any civilization faces, and any civilization that has never grappled with it and won cannot be considered equal to those who have.

So, the Filter exhibits as a series of converging crises. Any one of these crises can destroy a planet-bound or even system-bound civilization utterly, and every one of them is inevitable. These crises are as follows:

The Resource Crisis

Any successful civilization reaches the point where it uses more resources than any given planet or star system can reasonably provide via what we shall generously term “conventional” means (i.e. means outside of quantum or dark matter sources). Without tackling the Resource Crisis, the civilization will starve itself out of existence.

The Belligerence Crisis

Any sufficiently advanced civilization has at its disposal weaponry able to destroy itself. Civilizations that cannot find a way to cooperate and avoid self-destruction obviously will never overcome the Filter, as they will become extinct.

The Population/Travel Crisis

Advanced civilizations will have a positive birth rate. Inveitably, this birth rate will exceed the civilization’s capacity to provide for that population. This can be a direct side-effect of the Resource Crisis, but even if provided for materially, the growing population will lead to added instability, exacerbating both the Billigerence Crisis and the Contact Crisis. There is some argument among scholars whether this is a distinct crisis at all, but rather just a side-effect of other crises. This is also called the “Travel Crisis” for some, since this crisis can be alleviated (however temporarily) by being able to escape the confines of a single planet or series of planets.

The Contact Crisis

Advanced civilizations often will make quite a lot of interstellar noise. This attracts the attention of interstellar species, who frequently seek to make contact. In the best case scenario, a system-bound species that encounters an interstellar species is quickly overcome and becomes a vassal state to the more influential and more powerful species. In the worst case, one of the planet-eating Marshals discover the civilization and consume it.

So, the barrier to becoming a Great Race involve solving the Resource, Belligerence, and Population Crises before the Contact Crisis happens and the civilization in question reaches a satisfactory resolution to said First Contact episode. This is a rare thing indeed, and hence there are only six Great Races (eight if one counts Skennite and the Marshals).

And what of the Lesser Races? Well, that is a complex tale, perhaps best illustrated with a case study: the Quinix of Sadura.

The Quinix

Physiology

The Quinix are arachnids of great size and intellect. They seem to grow indefinitely, but the largest specimens have

Please note the remarkable intelligence and sharpness of the eyes and expression.

been recorded as being some 3.5 meters in diameter, from leg to leg. On average, they are between 1 and 2 meters in diameter, with eight legs, each of which sporting a three-fingered “hand” of remarkable strength and dexterity. They have six eyes and can see deep into the infrared spectrum, which serves them well in their very dim natural environs.

Quinix are omnivorous, but have a noted preference for meat. Like most arachnids, they digest their food outside their bodies using a venom injected via their fangs. Given their large size, their fangs are not of considerable size. The Quinix do not kill with their fangs, but usually use tools or even their thread and cables to kill prey before eating.

The Qunix have spinnerets, like many arachnids, and are able to weave fibers of incredible strength and elasticity from their bodies. A single adult Quinix can weave several kilometers of fiber before exhausting their stores and needing to rest. When working as a group, they are capable of building complex structures of all manner of shape and size, all with their bodies.

Sociology/Psychology

The Quinix are clan-based organisms by dint of biology. Quinix females only lay a single egg during their lifetime (and the process of laying the egg and caring for it is usually fatal for the mother). If successfully fertilized, that egg hatches to produce many hundreds of offspring who are, as of that moment, a single social entity. These young clans receive guidance from their father’s clan and revere their mother’s clan as holy and sacrosanct. A complex web (please pardon the pun) of social and clan relationships governs Quinix society, tied together by a mind-boggling network of relationships. Mortality on Sadura is high (the vertical environment, the constant tectonic activity, the predators, and wars between so-called “oblique” clans – clans with no familiar connection) and therefore population numbers are low, overall.

As the Quinix live in a subterranean environment (and have to – the surface of Sadura is a radiation-soaked wasteland thanks to its proximity to its red giant sun), they have no conception of night and day. Indeed, they have a very poor reckoning of time in general and, to the extent that they do tell time, it is only via generational figures (clan related, again). They follow erratic circadian rhythms that are difficult for other species to tolerate, and do not seem to rush to do much of anything.

Additionally, their concept of life and death are likewise complex. For the Quinix, one’s life includes not only the animate existence of their body, but also the continued existence of their woven cables and webs. Without destroying the cables that they wove in life, a Quinix is still considered “alive” by all social standards. Therefore, buildings woven out of Qunix fibers are quite literally “alive” in a sense difficult for other species to understand or appreciate. Cutting a cable on purpose is an act of fatal violence.

Technology/Status

Due to the confluence of these physiological and social factors, the Quinix have not and never will be able to exceed the Great Filter. While they developed metal-working technology (made difficult by Sadura’s highly flammable high-oxygen environment), their natural building abilities hampered their interest in exploring more complex materials science that would have allowed them to progress from the construction of iron-based tools and trinkets. They therefore have never and would never develop the technology capable of destroying themselves, are not successful enough to have a resource shortage, have (or had) a near-zero birthrate, and would eventually have been discovered and consumed by a Marshal if they ever developed a radio transmitter.

Fortunately and also unfortunately for them, they were discovered by the Dryth Solon, Kaskar Indomitable in C30.10, and have spent the last two and a half cycles as a Lesser Race under the auspices of the Union of Stars. This means they they will not be haphazardly eaten by a passing Marshal (good), but also means that any further technological or social advancement will be under the influence of the Great Races that have come to their planet. They are in a permanent state of arrested development.

Furthermore, and perhaps even more unfortunately, the changes wrought by the Union to make Sadura more hospitable to the Great Races has had an exacerbated effect on Quinix society and Sadura’s ecology. Stabilizing the tectonic activity has permitted huge cities to be built, resulting in a spike in the Quinix birthrate but also nowhere for those Quinix to go except into off-world settlements. They are a servant species on their own planet, their old clan wars and dreams of dominion crushed beneath the off-worlder’s technological superiority. The Quinix are gradually losing their cultural identity and are no longer masters of their own environment. It is difficult to say what will become of them, but whatever it is, they will never again control their own destiny. Unjust? Perhaps. But also inevitable and unavoidable for those who fail to overcome the Filter.

All things considered, being relegated to a servant species is vastly superior to many of the other alternatives: ecological or military extinction, or possibly being devoured by a void-dwelling macroorganism.

The Ultimate Challenge (Rules and Bylaws)

Welcome, brave adventurers! Do not be afraid – I am not your enemy, only a guide. You have journeyed far and suffered much to attain the summit of this, the Mountain of Prophesy. Here lies the Ultimate Treasure for one of you to claim. But be warned! The Treasure is not for the meek nor the idle; it asks of you a terrible price. One of you must sacrifice yourself willingly for the good of others by leaping from the top of this cliff, falling to your death. Only then will your companions be gifted with the Ultimate Treasure and your quest will be at an end.

Of course – and please bear with me here – there are a few provisos and rules to go over, just so we’re clear on what’s being asked here. I know, I know – this is supposed to be your climatic moment, I understand, but I’ve been here a few aeons and I think we’ll all be happier if I dispel any gray area before we begin. In my experience, everyone will be happier in the end.

Look, I feel what I’m asking is pretty clear, too – one of you needs to jump to your death right there and then you get the treasure. Pretty clear. But, just in case you were hoping for some kind of technicality, here, let me be explicit: there is no scenario that ends with you getting the Treasure and also all of you walking away alive. No resurrection. No creating a clone of yourself and getting the clone to jump off the mountain (oh, and by the way, everybody who’s tried that has really regretted it, believe me. Total shitshow, that plan).

And jumping off the mountain presumes you will die by hitting those jagged rocks way down there. No jumping, levitating halfway down, and then arguing that we’re all mortal or some nonsense and that you’ll totally die someday. Same thing goes for those of you so tough you hit the rocks down there and you’re fine – you’ve got to die.

I’m really very sorry, but these are the rules. I didn’t even make these rules, so threatening me won’t make any difference. This is some immutable, Laws of Creation-type shit. I just work here, and I’m not even technically alive, so getting me to jump off for you guys won’t work either.

Oh, and no psychic bullshit! No hypnotizing your friends into jumping off in your place or finding some poor hapless villager and charming them so that they’ll do anything for you and getting them to commit suicide. Consent, assholes – learn the word.

And yeah, it’s got to be one of you guys who climbed the mountain. You can’t teleport in your aging grandma who has two weeks to live and talk her into it. This is supposed to be an ordeal, people. There is a price to be paid. Don’t be dicks.

Look, there’s no point in getting mad at me – it wasn’t my idea to take on this quest to defeat the Ultimate Evil. I’m not the jerk here. C’mon – you were just talking about throwing your grandma off a damned cliff, you little shit.

Hey, nobody’s saying anybody needs to jump – you can go walk yourself down the mountain, for all I care. Live a happy life somewhere. I don’t give a shit, honestly I don’t. I don’t get paid on commission or something. It’s just no jump means no Treasure. Them’s the breaks.

You know what – fine! Leave. Oh stop with all the whining. Oh – oh really? You went there, huh? You think I haven’t heard all this before? Fuck off, you self-entitled little piss-ants. Beat it! Go on now – get. I got better shit to do than listen to this abuse – me, who later on has to climb his old bones down the whole damned mountain and clean your dead ass off those rocks. Fucking exhausting, is what that is. Not jumping is doing me a favor, honestly.

Ye fickle gods, some people.

Maybe I should just post this on a sign or something.

 

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Hey! Those of you in the Boston area tonight (May 9th, 2019), come by Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge. I’ll be there between 7pm and 9pm, signing books and chatting with fans. See you there!

Vrokthar is Disgusted at Thy Inferior Boasting!

Behold, it is I, Vrokthar, Scourge of the Northern Wastes! I have once more emerged from my winter feasting, the stores of my longhouse long since depleted, and the meatier of my servants devoured. I look upon thy lands with a hunger that may be sated only by the screams of the cowardly, and soon will my ravaging hordes ride forth in battle.

First, though, I caught up on thy many professional sporting events, wherein you weakling fools pretend to be warriors for a limited period of time while maneuvering various spheres past various posts and, for some reason, slaughter no one and leave their weapons behind. Of this I have proclaimed my displeasure before, and it is not Vrokthar’s mighty purpose to repeat himself. No. There are other things that must be declared the farce that they are.

What is going on with post-game “entertainment?”

At first, Vrokthar assumed this would be an hour-long victory celebration, where we would watch the victors divide the spoils of their conquests, make merry with one another, and heap insults upon vanquished foe all while boasting that still greater victories were to come. This would be a worthy use of time, as few enjoy a good boast more than Vrokthar the Unspeakably Mighty and Crusher of Mountains. Ask any of my thanes, and they will tell thee that my hall is thick with the smoke of roasted meat and the roars of drunken warriors, describing their feats.

But this…this “post-game” nonsense was nothing of the kind. It was merely prattling bards asking idiotic questions of blank eyed athletes: “How did you think you did today?” and “What are you going to do to win next time?”

And their answers? Drivel! Garbage! Useless swill! “We worked real hard” these imbeciles relate, as though a man sweating from physical exertion to the point where he seems to have been greased like a pig has just enjoyed a leisurely stroll. “We went out there and we gave it our all and it was close, but we won.” OBVIOUSLY, you half-drunk donkey! We just witnessed this thing! Is this all you have to give us? Is this the extent of your insight?

Mayhap we should make these faux-warriors excuses – they are not employed to be great speakers, but great workers of deeds. Leave it, then, to the bards of your indolent society to make them seem mighty. And yet, AND YET, these puttering, puerile sycophants add even less to the meager boasts of their pathetic champions! “Did you see the way he moved his feet,” says one, as though being in motion and moving one’s feet could be exclusive states. “I mean, the reason these guys keep winning is they keep putting it in the goal.” OBVIOUSLY, YOU INCOHERENT SWINE, AS SUCH IS THE OBJECTIVE OF THE GAME!

Vrokthar knows how to talk trash. LET NO MAN DENY IT!

What has become of the vigor of your people, wetlanders? How can it be that here, even in the midst of what passes for glory among your kind, can you be such wretched wastes of time and space and energy? Were Vorkthar to win one of these so-called “playoffs,” you would not find him shyly mincing words in the room-of-small-closets. NO! Vrokthar would be drinking deeply from the helm of his defeated foe! He would steal from the vanquished their livery and cast it down before the fawning masses. “BEHOLD,” sayeth he, “THE FATE OF THOSE WHO FACE VROKTHAR IN BATTLE IS FORETOLD!” Then there would be urination and the speaking of mighty oaths. I would swear to those present that upon the next meeting, I should slay their captain in open combat in center ice and, when the referees came to detain me in the Box of Ignominy, they too would be slain. And then the goals I would score would mount unto the heavens, so numerous would they be! The Scorekeeper would expire from exhaustion, and him too I would skin and mount upon my wall, so that ever afterward, when Vrokthar stood upon the field of contest, the other teams would weep and gnash their teeth and Vrokthar would be given ten goals as an offering to sate his eternal, volcanic rage, lest it melt the ice itself and the whole game be for naught.

Even now, as I speak these words, there are those among you who grow angry. “This cannot be said,” you say. “It is wrong, it is impolite, it is inaccurate.” Fools, I say! This is the point of boasting! Laugh in the face of thy foes, weaklings! Scoff at their warriors, scorn their pride –  drive them to madness with your mighty speech. And if you were to lose (which obviously would happen often, because you are as a whole are an impotent and incompetent species), what of it? You would be shamed, and rightfully so, for those who are vanquished should be ashamed of themselves. And then you may plot vengeance! See, wetlander imbeciles? The fun never ends!

Methinks your post-game sports foolishness would be greatly improved by Vrokthar’s reforms. Nay, it is certain to be so. Go and see that these changes are done, or face my inestimable wrath.

So I hath spoken!

Read “Applied Linguistics” in this month’s Analog Science Fiction and Fact

Hi, everybody!

I’ve got a new story out! Check out “Applied Linguistics” in the Jan/Feb 2019 issue of Analog! It’s available online or in print form, and I’m pretty damned proud of it – it’s about language and learning and how cultural context can change, inform, or even create behavior and self-knowledge. And shape-shifting aliens on alien prison planets, so that’s cool, too!

There are a lot of other very cool stories by very talented authors in there, too. I especially liked “Ring Wave” by Tom Jolly and Adam-Troy Castro’s latest Draiken tale was a lot of fun. Check it out – you won’t regret it!

Riker is Down With It

Why hello there,

My name is Commander William Riker and I just want you to know that whatever you’ve got in mind, I am down with it.

Honey, you don’t even know…

Don’t believe me? Well, buckle up.

If I’m your second officer, I commit to going on every away team and running toward the danger. In fact, I won’t let you come along. Even if you do come along, I will do my absolute best to be shot instead of you. “Sure, sure, it’s what every Starfleet officer would do,” you say.

But I’m not done.

Need me to eat something gross? Like, seriously anything? A bowl of wriggling worms? Delicious. Weird alien food? Bring me seconds. I will seriously put anything whatsoever into my mouth, chew, swallow, and smile. My dietary habits are so flexible, I convinced a species of insectoid parasites that I was one of them.

Okay, okay – that’s grossing you out? What about this:

I have no personal space limits or boundaries. You can implant alien organs on my face, send me into a riot, and I promise to have sex with the alien nurse if she’s got a fetish about that shit. I’m not even shy about it. Want me to dress like an idiot? This I will do and have done on many occasions.

My real dad wants to pummel me in a blind-folded stick-fight? I am SO there!

You can pawn me off to some alien warlord as a sex slave, and I’m cool with it.

Want me to live among bloodthirsty violent aliens and sleep on a slab of steel for a month? I’m in.

Got a whole scheme where I pretend to go rogue and work with a pirate crew trying to rip off my own ship? Sounds fun – where do I sign?

Hell, I even play the trombone. In public. Often.

Danger? Don’t even get me started.

Need me to climb inside an experimental spaceship built into an ancient ICBM and go on a ride while listening to Steppenwolf? I’m already smiling, baby.

Is my captain and father figure currently trying to destroy the Earth because he’s an evil cyborg? Give me a ship and I will fuck him UP!

I work with an android who tries to kill us all every couple years or so, and me and him still play poker.

Once I let a twelve-year old fly Starfleet’s flagship and I didn’t even blink.

Hell, I’m so down with whatever you need, I even went and made a separate version of myself who’s running around and being a terrorist and shit. And yeah, I’m cool with that, too.

So yeah, baby – I’m Will Riker, and I’m down with it.

Just don’t give me my own ship, okay?

New Story Published: “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea” in Stupefying Stories!

Hey, gang!

Check it out!

I’ve got a new story released! You can find it in Stupefying Stories #22, currently available on Amazon!

The story is called “Upon the Blood-Dark Sea” and its a kind of in the vein of (and a response to) the Conan stories of Howard and other sword-and-sorcery stuff, but with a healthy dollop of dream magic and boiling oceans and weapon-symbiotes and stuff. Yeah, it’s bad-ass and I’m very glad it’s in print.

And also, when I get a chance, I really have to go back to Nyxos (the world in which this place is set) and do some more world-building and storytelling, because it’s just so damned cool.

Anyway, do go and check out the anthology. Editor Bruce Bethke always puts together a great collection and he’s been a good friend and ally over the course of my (still fairly new) writing career. Support his magazine!

Be back soon with more posts, I promise. The Thanksgiving week was crazy, with copy-edits and paper grading and hosting my family and so on, so I missed.

Which reminds me: the copy-edits for The Far Far Better Thing (Saga of the Redeemed #4) are in and everything is done. The grand conclusion of Tyvian’s epic journey will drop on March 5th, 2019. Pre-order now!

The Far Far Better Thing: Pre-order NOW!

Pre-order now!

Big news: the final book in the Saga of the Redeemed, The Far Far Better Thing, is now really (for serious) coming out in March of 2019. You can pre-order it now from everywhere fine e-books are sold! At long last, the dramatic conclusion of Tyvian’s journey is at hand! Check it out:

Auston Habershaw’s epic fantasy series, The Saga of the Redeemed, which began with The Oldest Trick, comes to a powerful conclusion in The Far Far Better Thing.

War has come to Eretheria.

With Tyvian Reldamar feigning his death, the forces that still carry his banner are left to fight a vicious battle against the warlord Banric Sahand and the noble houses that flock to his side.

Led by Myreon and Artus, this band of freedom fighters and angry rebels is faced with an enemy the likes of which they’ve never faced before: one who will do anything, no matter how brutal, to secure victory.

Having had his fill of death, Tyvian tries to run away from the war fought in his name, but it just isn’t that simple. With his mother held prisoner, Artus and Myreon in grave danger, and Xahlven pulling the strings in the background, the ring drags Tyvian to return and set things right.

But how can one man fix a world this broken? And what will be left behind when the smoke clears? No one can say for sure.

Least of all Tyvian.

 

Sounds grim, right? Ominous? Yes! But it’s also fun and wonderful and I daresay I’m very proud of it. I can’t wait for you all to get a chance to read it, and thank you to everyone who’s supported me and gotten me this far!

Oh, and did I mention pre-orders really help my Amazon ranking once the book releases? It’s true! And, for those of you who have read the previous books but haven’t told anyone – tell people! Word of mouth is the best way to sell books there is, and these books of mine could use some attention, so if you liked them, recommend them to a friend! Write a review (anywhere! Goodreads, Amazon, B&N, your blog, Twitter, whatever!)!

Thanks again, everyone, and pre-order Book 4 today!

“Are We Gonna Make It” – an article on the Astounding Analog Companion

Hey, folks! I mentioned a few weeks back that I had a story in this month’s Analog (on newsstands now!), but I’m back to tell you that I have an article up on their blog right now which is probably the closest thing to an academic paper I’ve written in a long while (and it is very, very far from an actual academic paper). Check it out here! It’s all about optimism and pessimism in post-apocalyptica!

Click to see what I think of this picture!