Friday Reviews: Review Till You Drop Edition

Okay, I’m sorry I missed Thursday’s post. I was tired and my bed was  inviting, the single most dastardly obstacle to any writer. However, since I am on my own this evening I thought I’d try a little marathon reviewing. I’m going to review as many books and comic books in a single post until my computer loses charge, my fingers fall off, I run out of things I’ve read, or my wife comes home.


The Mercenary Sea – Volume 1

Writer – Kel Symons, Artist – Mathew Reynolds

DIG027519_2On the eve of war a group of misfits and outcasts sail aboard the stolen German U-boat, the Venture, in search of adventure, treasure and a home. Everyone aboard has a past they are running away from, some with adversaries trying to catch up. The crew is hired to rescue a British intelligence operative from behind enemy lines in order to bring vital intelligence home that could change the course of the looming world war.

This is a good pulp story, particularly after you wade through the lengthy intro. The leader of this band, Captain Jack Harper (isn’t it always Jack?), comes off as a macho stone-faced type a first, but softens with a devilish sense of humor, and a penchant for the fantastical in the form of his search for a legendary lost treasure. There’s a lot of potential for more adventures with this crew if you can get past one glaring detail.

The artwork.

The artwork is flat, colored in matte solid colors with facial expressions that look like they could have been programmed into a computer. Think flash animation. It’s clear from the sketchbook section of this volume that the artist is capable of much more realistic and compelling detail. Whether this was a decision on the part of the colorer to give it a more nostalgic, almost poster-like look, or whether it was the main artist themselves the effect is to make the book look more childish than it is. Sure it’s a pulp action story, but this kind of work should have been reserved for the covers or maybe a couple of stills. Some scenery shots, like the one shown here on the cover, have more depth of field and even some compelling detail, but on the whole this looks unprofessional.

Still, I’d be willing to hire the Venture for another voyage if nothing else for an Indiana Jones like ride under the seas.

(3 Stars | Rounding down from 3.5, the art really is that bad)

Coffee Gives Me Superpowers

Writer – Ryoko Iwata

cover60866-mediumThis book is largely a series of info-graphics about everybody’s favorite beverage, addiction, obsession, coffee. I was surprised to learn that engineers do not drink the most coffee, though a lot of scientific professionals and writers do. I have definitely applied the principles of when to drink beer and when to drink coffee, and I’m pleased to know that the bumble bee enjoys the “buzz” from coffee as much as I do (their pun not mine).

This would make a better coffee table book than an ebook. You could probably devour this in one coffee break, especially if you’re sipping a Venti. Some graphics are just cleverly displayed stats, but I actually appreciated the graphic showing the differences between a cappuccino, a latte, etc. I don’t tend to drink these things (tried a flat white a little while ago and it just struck me as frothy, expensive coffee that tasted more bitter than black. But I might try variants of the red-eye (shot of espresso in your coffee). I wonder if I can coin the term purple eye to mean four shots?

Also McDonald’s coffee is apparently the weakest in terms of caffeine content. And if you ever watched the episode of Futurama where Fry tries to drink 100 cups of coffee, you might want to know he’d probably die of caffeine poisoning about 20 shy of his goal.

(4 stars | Good, maybe a little short)


Writer and Artist – Miss Lasko-Gross

DIG050249_2Henni is a coming-of-age story about a girl who questions the wisdom of a society that teaches that she should not learn, that her husband should be chosen for her by bribing a priest, and that she would die if she went outside the confines of her village. Her father went missing many years ago and soon Henni discovers that her father made it outside and that the world is far larger and stranger than she might have imagined. But that doesn’t mean it is necessarily better, at least not in all corners.

I liked this, and think it would be a great story for someone to read at about age 8-10. It’s enchantingly illustrated mostly in black and white with blue tones (as you can see from the cover). The dialogue is simple and straightforward but not childish, though it does occasionally descend into childish humor.

I particularly enjoyed the sequence where Henni is being trained in the ways of the new world and how their creation myth stacks up with what she’s been taught. Her own interpretation of the story may be closer to the mark than the people in this new city would want to admit.

The story ends a bit abruptly. Part of me wanted to find some more sign of her father, or to find a place that she could be accepted, but we are led to conclude this is eventually what happened. It may be that I just was hoping we could spend a little more time in this world.

(4 stars | Give this one to a daughter or son you love)

VS Aliens

Writer and Artist  – Yu Suzuki

cover55975-mediumKitaro is confronted by his classmate Aya with a startling claim, their fellow classmate Sana is an alien. To make matters more complicated Sana believes she may be an alien and that someone is out to capture her, or take her back to her home planet. Is Sana really an alien, or is there something more dark and sinister behind all of this?

This is one of the more engaging stories I’ve read from Gen Manga. The first couple of chapters of this story are in the Gen Samplers available on Amazon, but with the Kindle edition selling currently for $2.99 you really can’t go wrong with just buying this one. Most Manga volumes are at least $5.99 which is still cheaper than most American graphic novels.

The one thing I like about teen comedies from Japan, is that they tend to come without a lot of the angst that shows up in American stories. Sure there’s a little bit of hurt feelings or awkwardness in sharing a jacket, but the majority of the story is focused on fun and intrigue. The final reveal is equal parts entertaining as it is implausible. Ah, the lengths we’ll go for true love.

The art style is similar to other titles of this type, like Love Hina (you know I never did actually get to their wedding at the end of that., but I’m not sure I want to start back over from volume 1 just to remember what I read five years ago). In this case this volume is a “one and done”, like most of the Gen Manga volumes I’ve read, so it’s a great way to read a fun story without a whole lot of commitment.

(5 stars | Maybe 4.5, but worth the rounding up. Seriously, give this one a try.)

Yeah, the little red haired girl is home early. I think we can call a double post pretty good!

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Writing Violent Fiction

*Spoiler Alert*

Some post-apocalyptic stories involve people not being very nice to each other.

Working on Chapter 6 of The Sky Below last night I got to thinking about the role of violence in fiction.

I tend to take the Agatha Christie approach to violence typically. She wrote something like 70+ murder mysteries but very rarely was any blood spilled (usually poisonings and the like). Ironically, one of her more violent (and bloody) books was Hercule Poirot’s Christmas.

But different works demand certain circumstances. Much as I’d love to believe that everybody would be decent in the face of the world-wide disaster, there’s too much evidence to the contrary. And truthfully I’m not sure how many of you would want to read a book about everyone being nice to each other all the time. I am not writing the My Little Pony of disaster narratives.

When thinking about how violence is portrayed in the story you have to think about three audiences. The reader, the writer and the character.

Most readers have a threshold for violence they will tolerate. This is on a sliding scale, of course, based in part on exposure, context within the story, and particular hot-buttons. A more whimsical example of this is a guy being hit in the groin. To at least 50% of your readers, that might trigger a visceral reaction (i.e. ‘that’s gotta hurt’). My general rule here is to not dwell, to be economic but clear with words and not to describe things about how the blood is spurting, the bone is breaking through the skin, the colors of bruises, etc.

Which brings me to the writer. Writing violence requires thinking about violence, and to a certain degree, imagining or reenacting violence in some small way. Case in point, I was trying to figure out where would be the best place on the forearm to strike to break someone’s grip, and admittedly I hit my own arm a couple of times just to get a sense of it (no bruises, just checked). Occasionally I act out a maneuver in a fight just to get a sense of whether it is physically possible. Even writing this I worry that some of you might be freaked out by this notion. Let me assure you I’m a very peaceful guy. I don’t particularly like violence, I just feel occasionally it’s narratively necessary.

Writing about violence from the character’s perspective requires a sense of that character’s reaction to violence. Some are appalled, react physically, vomiting, etc. Some react coldly. Some react cruelly, and some just fly off the handle while others are pragmatic. Getting a sense of a character’s capacity to inflict and observe violence helps to make those scenes real and not glorified. A character can, and sometimes should, have a viewpoint that conflicts with the writer’s and good authors let the reader decide who is right.

How do you write about violence or do you avoid it altogether?

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What’s this I hear about IE going away?

You may have heard from some of the more hyperbolic news sources that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is dead.

Would that it were so.

Here’s the truth as I understand it. Microsoft is developing a new browser, code-named “Project Spartan”, designed to work on the modern web and built from the ground up. It’ll be geared to both mobile and computer views, and have options for distraction free viewing (because apparently Microsoft finally heard of Evernote’s Clearly plug-in). Older sites that run only in IE11 should run in the browser and will run on the IE11 rendering engine behind the scenes, with newer sites running on Spartan’s engine.

For enterprise users (i.e. businesses that run software that only works in Internet Explorer) IE will still be available though the exact nature of that is unknown. And since we don’t have a version of Spartan to play with there’s not a whole lot we know about that browser either.

Also, Microsoft is ending support for all IE versions lower than 11 in January of 2016. IE11 runs on Windows 7 and 8 and is probably what you have installed if you’ve been doing regular updates. Given Microsoft’s extended support patterns IE11 may be supported until 2023 (and given how long IE6 was around it could be longer).

So why should you give a hoot? Well, if you don’t use software that only runs in IE and you’ve been using Chrome for a long time, you shouldn’t. I doubt Microsoft, no matter what Spartan ends up being, is going to come up with something so good that it’s worth switching if you have something you like already.

If you’re like me and you have to write software that’s supported in IE as well as other browsers, well, good luck. Cross-browser programming is a pain, and all this really means is that you’ll probably have to accommodate both. Hey, at least you probably finally got to drop support for IE6 recently, right?

I switch browsers every 3-5 years. I used IE at first (maybe actually Netscape), I adopted Firefox in college (2004), Chrome sometime later (2009) and Opera a few years ago (2013). I like early versions of browsers because they don’t tend to be bogged down with all of the features these companies think I need. I like the plug-in and extension model. I add a couple of specific features I actually want and will use, and take the rest out. Even Opera, which I generally like, has been getting a little slower since it started adding synchronization features (which I’m not going to use), and did something to slow-down my speed-dial (which was one of the reasons I switched to them in the first place).

Personally, I’m not sure why Microsoft is wasting its time. I think there’s a case to be made for Microsoft taking all of the engineers working on the browser and instead focusing on improving their other products: Surface, Windows, Visual Studio, App Stores, etc. I know it seems like Microsoft needs to be a player here, but I doubt they’re going to turn the head of anyone who’s happy with Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Opera (and countless other fringe entries). Sure it might mean cutting off a data stream, or an ad-stream. But it’s not like Windows can’t track your every movement and beam it back to the mother-ship if it wanted to.

Take the bold step, Microsoft, and admit you can’t write a good browser. Then get back to being really good at the things you actually know how to do (and yes, these exist).

I probably have to try Spartan. You, on the other hand, stick with Chrome.

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Groggy from vacation

I tend to have two kinds of vacations. The first is more of a retreat where I get away from the distractions of the world and really buckle down. I design a new fractal algorithm, I write several chapters of a novel I’m working on, or I even begin the preliminary designing for a game.

Then there are other vacations where my main accomplishment is playing all of Portal 2 and lots of card games.

This last week  was the latter variant, which is not a bad thing. I spent some time in the cold of the Poconos enjoying the company of my in-laws and wife, playing games of pool in a garish activity center, and getting my butt handed to me in air hockey in the same arena.

Part of my telling you this is to say that the next chapter of The Sky Below will release next week not this week, as I managed to only get about half a draft of the chapter this week. The trouble with not writing most of the week is you feel a bit rusty and it takes a bit to get back up into the same level of production.

So as usual I’m fighting the battle between whether it was good to break from routine and reset my brain, or whether I should have made more of an effort to keep a regular schedule and produce since now I’m having to take time to get back in the swing of things.

Well first off family time is never time wasted, as is quality time with one’s wife, something that is important for the driven writer to remember. We do this because we have stories to tell, but the source of a lot of those stories is our relationships and it’s good to take time to work on them.

Second, even as I sit down here at my laptop in my office I can sense that the routine is coming back to me. I have to go to work in a little while, and I’ll experience some of the same phenomena, wondering how missing only six business days can make me feel so lost for a little while. But it’ll come back to me if I’m not asleep after a couple of hours of morning meetings.

Third, it is never a productive use of time to beat yourself up about time you should have been writing. Better to enjoy the performances of Stephen Merchant and J. K. Simmons in Portal 2 then to feel guilty about playing a game for 10 hours. What you should really feel guilty about was watching those seven Man From U.n.c.l.e.s and your only reading being Bloom County and All Star Superman.

Fourth, as much as writing is a routine, it does have rhythm and an ebb and a flow. While I’m not an advocate for succumbing to that flow on a daily basis, sometimes you might need to on a quarterly, or yearly basis just to hit the reset button. No car keeps running without regular oil changes or filling the gas tank. And writing is work just as much as your real job. Sometimes you need a vacation from both.

But hey, I’m back now and I’ll get to work on Chapter Six tonight. I promise you’ll see it next week and I’ll figure out something you’ll enjoy on Thursday in the meantime.

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Friday Reviews: Shoot First, Ask Questions Later Edition

Every Friday I review two books, usually comic books from NetGalley. This week as I am trying not to be distracted by the various noises made by my dog’s stomach, we’ve got a sheriff moving to a new town trying to escape her past, and an aging hero trying to recapture it.

Copperhead Volume 1: A New Sheriff in Town

Writer – Jay Faerber, Artist – Scott Godlewski

DIG054473_2Clara Bronson is tough to get along with. She has fought hard to become who she is while balancing being a single mother and a sheriff. But her uncompromising attitude has often run her afoul of her superiors, and now she needs to make a fresh start on the backwater planet of Copperhead. There she must deal with a deputy who resents her taking his job, and her race taking their planet. There’s corrupt tycoons, relics and wounds of a not long finished war, and a massacre on her first day.

This is more of a western view of a justice than a police procedural. While there is ostensibly a murder and an investigation, the case is solved not with evidence, but with grilling the right people and holding them in jail till they tell the truth. Bronson has some clear racial biases against the “arties” artificial humans created to fight the war against the indigenous lifeforms of Copperhead. Even when one saves her son, she is suspicious of their motives since they were created only to kill (think Blade Runner).

Her deputy “Boo” has a dry sense of humor, and even though he clearly resents Bronson’s presence is a consummate professional and warms to her pretty quickly. We get a glimpse of his war history during a scene where he is chasing down a subject (though the concluding action of that scene is a bit muddled). Everyone in this story has a past they are trying to run from in one way or another.

Faerber’s characters are interesting, but not particularly likable at first. I personally found the solution to the case a little unsatisfactory but it fit with the western motif of this ostensibly science fiction story. Given more time in this universe I think these could be people you could really care about. I love the design of the races and uniforms (complete with bullet holes from the previous occupant).

This one’s got style, and places to go with its character’s histories. Definitely worth the look.

(4 stars | A good beginning)

EGOs Volume 1: Quintessence

Writer – Stuart Moore, Artist – Gus Storms

DIG027506_1When an old enemy surfaces threatening the existence of inhabited worlds, an aging super-hero must bring together his old comrades and new recruits to stop it. To do so he may need to resort to methods he once fought to stop. Oh and he’s also a womanizing scoundrel with a marriage on the rocks with the daughter of a super-villain he once defeated. Think The Incredibles on a galactic scale with a far less stable marriage at the center.

This volume contains the opening three issue arc of EGO’s and a one-shot featuring some of the new team members, plus a prequel story told entirely in tweets.

Moore has a very imaginative sense with super powers, and is very good at revealing his twists a bit at a time. The big twist (involving the nature of our unreliable narrator) was a bit of a let down, but the revelations about the exact nature of the enemy, and who of the new recruits would actually be effective in combat (and where all these recruits came from in the first place) was really interesting.

Both of these comics are characterized by a rough edges sensibility, but Storms has a really good handle on how to portray the scale of certain conflicts. Moore’s work is a little tongue-in-cheek and a little unpolished, but definitely entertaining.

I also enjoyed the issue 0 story as it provided a decent amount of background to one of the initial characters. I haven’t seen too many examples of people using twitter as a successful story telling medium, but this one worked.

The production schedule for this seems to be slow, but we are finally getting an issue 5 and 6 so hopefully there will be more of this to enjoy in future.

(4 stars | Rough but entertaining)


PS. I’ll be taking next week off, returning on Monday March 23rd. That week we’ll have more Trube on Tech, thoughts on writing and Chapter Six of The Sky Below. Stay tuned!

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The Sky Below (Chapter Five)

In this chapter of The Sky Below a nurse tries to help the people in front of her and a lawyer makes the tough call. If you haven’t read chapters 1-4, don’t worry. You can download an eBook of the whole novella up to this point, or download individual chapters from this page.

Like what you’re reading or have a question about the physics of all of this? Be sure to post them in the comments!



Kammie was beginning to wonder if she was the only nurse still alive on the floor. She could hear the groans of maybe half a dozen patients, but nobody answered them except her. She’d gotten Margie stabilized for the moment, and with Grace’s help Kammie had been able to lay her out on one of the couches in the visitor’s lounge. After crying on Kammie’s shoulder for a couple of minutes, Grace had pulled herself together enough to actually be of some use, not that Kammie could be picky.

Kammie’s brain had given up trying to provide a wider context for what was going on, choosing instead to focus only on what was in front of her. Kammie felt a familiar tension at the base of her skull, a combination of sleep deprivation, stress and too much caffeine. Still, she was happy to find that several of the nearby vending machines had spilled their contents all over the ceiling. She grabbed a couple of diet sodas and tossed one to Grace before resuming her crawl to the next room.

‘There’s no such thing as too much caffeine,’ she thought to herself.

A rumble from behind her grabbed her attention and Grace blushed as she twisted the cap back on the bottle. “Must’ve been the building settling.”

Kammie’s smile lasted for the briefest of moments, vanishing completely as she opened the door to room five. A cheap hospital bed, like the ones used for patients receiving in-home care, weighs about 450 pounds. In a hospital like this one, the average bed could weigh upwards of 700 pounds. With the head tilted up and the railings raised, a patient might be trapped if the bed fell on top of them, but they wouldn’t be crushed. But if one of the railings was lowered, or if the bed tilted to the side as it fell, then even a fall of only a few feet could be deadly.

The depression in the back of the old woman’s skull indicated it had at least been quick. Grace had been hot on Kammie’s heels, eager to help in any way she could, but Kammie held out a hand to stop her before she could get to the door. Kammie did a five-second sweep of the room with her eyes to check for any visitors or nurses, and upon finding none, silently close the door and started toward room six.

The patient in room six had been in the bathroom when everything hit, and from the looks of him hadn’t had the chance to flush away the morning’s constitutional. This at least, was nothing new. Kammie sent Grace to the closet for a fresh gown and some towels. The man was in his fifties and kept insisting he could do it himself, despite the fact he’d probably been lying there for the better part of an hour. His right collar bone was obviously bruised or broken, as even a slight graze triggered a grimace of pain across his face.

When she’d gotten him as clean as she was able to, she sat him down in one of the chairs, figuring if gravity flipped again that the chair probably wouldn’t crush him. She pressed his skin gently asking him to rate his pain from 1-10 with each touch. The bone felt solid, but the tissue around it had been badly banged up.

“I’m afraid the best I can offer you is a sling at the moment,” Kammie said sympathetically, “Grace, can you take care of that while I check on room seven?”

Grace nodded and Kammie got back on her hands and knees, relaxing her face as soon as she was out of sight of the door. It was difficult enough to maintain a cheerful and professional demeanor after a long day without all of these added excitements. Kammie genuinely did want to help people, to care for them in some of the scariest moments of their lives. She tried to make the whole thing feel safe and comforting, like a stay at a luxury hotel where your every need and desire is met. But that level of charm takes energy, and she had very little in reserve.

This was why most of her time off was spent in silence; that and it’s a bit weird to carry on a conversation with your cat.

The thought of Alomar alone in the apartment caused a brief pang of guilt in Kammie. There was plenty of dry food, but all of the water had probably spilled out onto the floor. And it was going to be a while till Kammie could spoil her with tuna again, assuming she could even get home. On the other hand, Alomar probably had landed on her feet, unlike her master, and could be pretty resourceful when she wanted to be. Several times Kammie had to replace one of the neighbor’s fish when Alomar got the craving for raw sushi.

“Ow! Dammit!” Kammie swore as he slid her hand over something thin and sharp. She pulled back instinctively, but whatever it was had already dug in deep. In the flickering dull light she could see a thin shard of glass, maybe an inch on a side, sticking out from where it had embedded itself in the fatty part of her hand.

The muscles in her hand twitched uncontrollably, sending sharp pains down her fingers and into her wrist. She rolled over onto her side holding her hand above her head. She bit the bottom part of her lip and grabbed the shard carefully with two fingers, easing it out slowly so as not to make the cut any worse. The spasms seemed to trigger with every tiny movement, and she could feel every millimeter of the shard as it slid out. The last quarter-inch slid out quickly followed by a pulse of blood that began to run down her hand. She tossed the shard away angrily and began wrapping her hand with an ace bandage she’d found in room three.

The cut bled slowly. Somehow she’d managed to avoid the artery, but from the twitching she’d definitely done some muscular and possibly nerve damage. She looked in front of her to see dozens of tiny shards from one of the blown out ceiling lights. All things considered, Kammie was fortunate she’d only gotten stuck with one of them. Still, she was probably going to need stitches to properly close the wound, something she didn’t particularly want to do herself.

‘Where the hell are the other nurses?’

She stood tentatively, holding her throbbing hand above her chest to try to slow the bleeding. Each step was careful and deliberate, moving her past her original objective of room seven in favor of the nurses’ lounge just around the corner. Even if they’d been knocked unconscious by the fall, someone should be awake by now.

‘Maybe they just can’t get out,’ she thought.

It took an age to reach the door, and another to push up on the door handle and inch the door open. No sooner had she opened the door six inches when something tore the door out of her hand. Her face was struck by a cool breeze which kicked up the dust and debris around her in a low cloud.

The hospital had been surprisingly generous with its nursing staff. One of the few reasons Kammie spent any time in nurses’ lounge at all was the sky light and floor-to-ceiling windows which featured a great view of downtown. Glass was a funny thing. This building was built to withstand the worst tornadoes and snowy conditions with barely a scratch. But drop a half dozen chairs and a couch on that ceiling, and you’ve got yourself a big gaping hole.

Kammie stared at the hole blankly for a few seconds, then picked up a length of metal framing from the ceiling, bent the end into a hook using her thigh, and pulled the door closed.

* * *

“I have half a mind to sue this place,” Claudia said as she and Bethany dug through cabinets and drawers searching for a first aid kit. “I can understand not having the materials for a splint. I mean, who’s going to break their ankle making donuts, but I can’t even find a damn band-aid!”

Jared was still hazy. He obviously had some kind of a concussion but neither Bethany nor Claudia had any idea how to deal with it other than to try and keep him awake. This proved difficult as Jared seemed to be making every effort to disconnect from reality.

“There’s got to be something out in the mall,” Bethany offered. “They should have a first aid station somewhere.”

“You’re right, though if I remember correctly it’s on the first floor, which is a couple of levels above us now.”

The elevators, assuming they were even working at this point, were glass encased prisms with no floor. The escalators were out as well, unless Bethany could piton her way up through every groove. She vaguely remembered falling off halfway across the monkey bars as a kid. There the worst possible outcome was a few splinters. Here there was no telling how far she’d keep falling if she lost her grip.

Bethany shook her head, “Even if we could get up there, there’s no way we could get Jared up in his current state. What about service stairwells?”

Claudia shrugged, “Someone on the maintenance staff might know. Me, I go in and out the front door just like you. I don’t even use the employee parking, I take the RTA.”

Absently Bethany pressed the call button on her phone, hanging up and trying again as soon as she heard the three-tone alert message.

“You’re just going to drain the battery doing that. The system’ll probably be down for hours,” Claudia offered.

Even as she pressed the call button again, Bethany knew she was right. Why hadn’t she picked up the phone in the first place? What was so important about a damn cup of coffee?

Frustrated she slammed one of the cabinets shut, the force tearing the door off of one of its hinges, leaving it swinging loosely from the other. Claudia assessed the damage with a raised eyebrow.

“Good a solution as any I guess,” she said, tearing the rest of the door away from the cabinet. She put her foot on the seat of one of the plastic chairs and slammed the board down hard against the back. The board cracked and split, and after a couple more whacks broke into two roughly even pieces.

“Hand me some of those uniforms from the back closet over there. We’ll wrap these so Jared doesn’t get tetanus, and use whatever fabric we’ve got left to tie them together.”

The splint was crude but succeeded in keeping Jared’s leg straight, though Bethany had to snap some loose shards of wood so he could put his foot down on the floor.

“He’s still not going anywhere for a little while,” Claudia said. “We might as well see what else we can…”

The sound of gunfire is distinctive. Most lower caliber hand guns don’t set off the loud boom that everyone expects. The real noise is closer to a balloon popping, which in some ways is more frightening. Gunfire sounds more innocuous than it is.

“What the hell is going on out there?” Claudia whispered angrily.

The shots were soon followed by the sound of smashed glass and angry yelling.

“C’mon,” Claudia gestured, crouching low.

With the counter above them, the front of the store offered little in the way of cover. Their only real protection was the fact that a donut shop wasn’t usually the first on anyone’s list when it came to looting.

The shouting was clearly coming from their floor. Claudia and Bethany moved slowly across the aisle and up to the corner. If they were caught, Bethany didn’t have much of a plan beyond screaming, as running back to the donut shop offered fleeting safety at best.

Bethany leaned her head around the corner, then quickly pulled it back, burying her head as close to the wall as possible.

“What do you see?”

Bethany didn’t want to answer and just kept trying to bury herself in the wall. Claudia pushed her back gently and took her own quick look before pulling back as well.

Lying half out of the store window was a young man wearing a store manager’s uniform. He had a thick mustache and was wearing a tie and a whistle like the high-school coaches in movies from the 80‘s and 90‘s. His eyes were open and glassy. Most of his forehead and temples were covered in blood from a deluge of small cuts from the window, and one or several large blows to the head. His chest was dark crimson, the material too wet with blood to show any wound.

Bethany had regained some of her composure just as Claudia was losing hers, “Did you know him?”

Claudia brushed a tear away with her hand and spoke in a whisper, “Not really. I saw him around. He usually liked Boston creams, though who doesn’t like a bit of custard?”

Bethany shook her head, “Sporting goods store, that’s surprisingly smart for a mob mentality. That place has the climbing equipment to get out of the mall and to anywhere else you might need to go. From their attitude toward the store manager I doubt they’ll be too willing to share with us, though.”

“What do we do now?” Claudia asked.

“We’ve got to get out here before those goons start sweeping the rest of this floor. Maybe the emergency exits will work.”

“But what about Jared? There’s no way we can bring him with us,” Claudia said.

Often Bethany suspected that the people around her knew the answers to their own questions, but needed her to say the answer anyway. Her parents were getting a divorce, but they looked to her to make sure they were doing it right. Grace kept fighting with nurses and doctors, but all the while she was waiting for Bethany to say it was okay to let go.

“We have to leave him, at least for now,” Bethany said. “Maybe since he’s hurt they’ll leave him alone.”

Claudia clearly wanted to object. It was part of the social contract of being an uncaring heartless pragmatist that other people get to yell at you about it, before ultimately going along with your plan. Claudia seemed too drained at the moment to care.

“You’re probably right. We can come back down and check on him once we’ve found some supplies and these gangbangers have taken off.”

It was unlikely they were ever coming back to this store again, but if it helped the fiction of their reason for leaving, then that was alright.

Bethany dialed her sister one last time. When again she heard the three-tone message, she held the power button down to turn off the phone.


All text in The Sky Below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported license. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.


Copyright © 2015 Ben Trube

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Okay, so I’m a pantser

I admire people who outline books. I understand the principles of design. It’s good to define the structure of the architecture first before implementing the build. It’s the same with programming. Often you don’t solve a problem just by diving in and trying to code the solution. You have to take a step back and think.

Except when you don’t, either because you don’t have the time or the patience.

I’ve been having this recurring worry with The Sky Below. I’ve promised a 25-26 chapter story with an ending, split between chapters about four characters who each will maybe get about 15,000 words. That’s actually not a whole lot of space for a full character arc. I have to introduce my characters, throw them in a calamity, and get them out of it or at least a significant distance down the road in maybe 30-35 pages.

That means I don’t want to be retreading ground with one character that I’ve covered with another. But I also don’t want to miss a character’s specific reaction to an event, even if we’ve seen that event with another character. Then there’s the issue of how much time passes for each character when they’re off-screen. Are all of these things happening at the same time, or at different rates

And how do I solve these issues?

Mostly gut.

I know where the ending is. I know a few of the specific obstacles I want to throw in the way of my characters. But mostly I just know my characters well and try to let them guide their own actions. Each has a value associated with them, a theme to their story, and a way to deal with the circumstances in front of them (which are frankly ridiculous).

I’ll just get this out of the way right now. There are going to be a lot of physics types who are going to want to know the specifics of a world in which gravity goes out toward the atmosphere, and not down toward the center of the Earth. And I’m doing my best to present a somewhat realistic portrayal of those circumstances. But that being said, Armageddon was a pretty good movie right? (despite being riddled with scientific inaccuracies). This is a story proceeding from an already ridiculous premise. There is going to be poetic license. And some specifics will be gut (though I’ll admit to a little bit of planning of the mechanics ahead of time, particularly the rules of what can and cannot happen).

If it helps Cleveland is in a giant snow-globe and someone is holding it upside-down.

Gut gets you to places outlines never will. Already researching these buildings and this city has given me ideas I would never have had at the beginning. And the revision process for each chapter reigns in some of the crazy so that we can actually get somewhere with each installment.

All I ask is that you have faith. I may only know a couple of steps down the road right now, but we’ll find the ending, and it’ll be worth the journey.

I might even write a few alternate endings just for fun for all you physics nuts.

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