The Spring Slog

“April is the cruelest month…”

Wife and I finally got Covid. (Happy Easter, eh?)

I’m on the mend but it really took the wind out of my sails. After-effects are hanging on.

On a positive note, it looks like there’s another Osprey rule book in my future. So that’s cool.

Fiction-wise, I’ve got another Exclusion Zone short in the queue and Shattered Worlds Book 2, “Into the Scorned Lands’ is moving forward.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Stay well. Have an excellent week.

Meanwhile, back in the Shattered Worlds…

Laying out my writing schedule for rest of this year, it’s past time to turn my attention back to the fantasy post-apocalypse of the Shattered Worlds. (think Middle Earth meets the The Road and you’re in the right neighborhood)

Part One, Beneath the Broken Moon, introduced Addas Dashag, the half-breed scavenger thrown into a damaged landscape in search of a dubious refuge. Next up is Into the Scorned Lands as the misfit company continues on their quest through a world more broken and dangerous than they’d imagined.

Scorned Lands will be released separately for Kindle as well as packaged with part one in print. (see the cover art above) Providing the river don’t rise, the cattle don’t spook, and hell don’t freeze over, both will be done and out before the year’s end.

Thanks for your time.

Keep heart, art hard, and have an excellent day.

More Words to Listen to.

With the release of the Soul Cache for audio, (as well as for Kindle and in print) I figured it was time to mention the other stories of mine that are available at Audible.

Tales from the Exclusion Zone

For those of you familiar with the STALKER setting – the book Roadside Picnic, the Tarkovsky film of the same name, and the Chernobyl-centered computer games – there are two short stories set in the mysterious Exclusion Zone: A Prayer to St. Strelok, and Strange Treasure. If you’re in need of a quick vacation from the real world, you can tag along with Zone Guide, Yuri Bonyev into the most heavily quarantined place on the planet.

NEAR-FUTURE MILITARY SCI-FI

If you’re more in the mood for some ‘15 minutes in the future‘ military action, there’s Hard Kill, The Stones Remember, and Sozo. Covert operations, Russian invasions, and veterans facing down traffickers, it’s all here.

A CELTIC-FLAVORED GHOST STORY

For lighter fare, The Barrow Lover is the story of two friends mucking about with buried treasure, a royal murder, and one angry ghost. Nice way to lean into the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day – if you’re so inclined.

All of them run a couple hours or less, and with a fine job by all the narrators, any one of them would be an easy way to take the grind out of some drudge work or liven up your daily commute.

That’s it for now. Thanks and have an excellent day.

New Release: Soul Cache audio book

Pleased to announce Soul Cache has joined the ranks of my audio book offerings.

The seventh of my spec-fiction shorts available for your listening pleasure, the story of an aging homicide detective’s hunt for an elusive serial killer in a sci fi mega city is deftly narrated by Justin Hyler. Coming in just over two hours (normal speed) it’s the perfect way to make your daily commute more interesting or liven up a stretch of drudge work.

Available at Audible/Amazon, you can pick it up here at Audible or from the full list here at Amazon.

If you’re partial to the heft and smell of a paperback, Soul Cache is also available as part of the short story collection, Fits and Orisons.

Thanks again. Have an excellent day.

Kirkus Review – Soul Cache

going for that cybernoir look

“A rich and meticulously described setting makes for an undeniably immersive reading experience.
Two (augmented) thumbs up.” – Kirkus Review

I paid a lot for those two sentences. I mean, there’s more to the review but that’s the blurb-able bit.

Yes, Kirkus reviews cost money. No, that’s not a guarantee of a good review.

So why spend the cash and wait 2 months? Because after ten years, three novels, four novellas, and five short stories I finally felt like I’d written something worth submitting, worth dropping the coin on.

That’s not to say I consider Soul Cache to be flawless or a short-form superlative example of the genre. Or even that Kirkus – respected as they are – is the definitive appraisal of my writing skill. I just remember finishing the story, after a much longer and more difficult process than I expected, and hearing in the back of my mind: ‘Here is something that could stand in the public market. Can hold its own. It’s actually pretty good.’

Meaning that it struck me I’d created something worthy of professional assessment and I wanted to hear that assessment bad enough to drop the money for a 321-word review.

Money well spent? Will this translate into sales and agents and movie options? Who knows? That’s another thing that is definitely not guaranteed. By life, the writer gods, or Kirkus.

Dumb, vanity move? Did I experience a surge of inspiration and creative confidence as I turn toward my next fiction project? Mmmmmm, not really. Honestly, I read it. breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn’t horrible, and thought, Well… Time to get back to work, I guess.

Which is what it all comes down to, emotionally exhilarated or not; putting my ass in the chair and chiseling away at the next story, trusting that by forging ahead and doing the work, the next one will be a little better.

Maybe even good enough to warrant another Kirkus Review.

That’s all for now. Thanks for stopping by. Have an excellent day.

———————————-

If you’re interested, you can read the full review HERE

Soul Cache. A story from the streets of New Kowloon is available electronically for Kindle at Amazon HERE. Or in print as part of a collection of short stories, HERE.

Starting 2022

Happy New Year.

Kicking off 2022 with the release of Fits and Orisons, a collection of five of my short stories. Previously only available for Kindle, this puts The Stones Remember, Sozo, A Prayer to St. Strelok, Strange Treasure, and the recent, Soul Cache in print. Quick reads all, if you like your mil-sci-fi with a dose of strange, this might scratch that itch. Click HERE for your copy.

I’m also pleased to say the Soul Cache audio book will be available in February. So there’s that too.

Thank you all for your support, particularly these last two years. Here’s to a happy, healthy 2022 filled with good friends, inspired projects, and met deadlines.

Have an excellent day.

‘Soul Cache’ – Now Available

I’m pleased to announce Soul Cache is now available for Kindle. A crime thriller novella set in future fictional New Kowloon, Detective Zeki Pemburu hunts a serial killer, his only leads the victims’ last moments illegally obtained from their neural chips. If you’re feeling a little technoir, this should scratch that itch. I’m also working on adding it to my catalog of Audiobooks. Watch for that announcement early next year.

For those of us who prefer print books, Soul Cache will be included in the upcoming collection, Fits and Orisons.

Once that is complete, I’ll be returning to the post-apocalyptic fantasy series, Shattered Worlds. Book One, Beneath the Broken Moon is available on Kindle and will also appear in print late in 2022.

Thank you for stopping by. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

To close the door on 2021

Well, that was weird. The last two years, I mean.

Feels like I was slogging through a fog, haunted by constant, low-grade anxiety from all the Huge, Bad Stuff happening around me. Sorta like seeing kaiju fighting in the distance everywhere I looked, knowing it was devastating and tragic no matter the outcome, and wondering what the hell I was gonna do if they stomped their way closer to my little house.

With 2021 drawing to a close, I have no reason to complain; I mean, I’m still alive, healthy, married. My family is good. I still have friends. Still chipping away at the To Do list, albeit in a slower, different way. And while I’m unconvinced we’re out of the Weird Woods yet, I have plenty to be grateful for.

FICTION

On the writing front, I finally finished another piece. “Soul Cache” is a cyberpunk, technoir, crime thriller. A short novella at 25K words/75 pages, it centers on an aging homicide detective hunting a serial killer in grimy, crowded mega-city. His only clues are the victims’ last moments, data he obtained by illegally hacking their neural chips. (it’s all fun and games until someone suffers Dissociative Identity Disorder. or gets brutally dismembered)

It’s slated for release 17 December and up for pre-order now at Amazon. Click HERE if you need a digital stocking stuffer this Christmas.

It will also be part of a print collection of short stories coming out early 2022. (for those who prefer holding a physical book.)

TOY SOLDIERS

Tabletop gaming has been taking the lion’s share of my creative attention. Echoing Willie Sutton, the audience response to my games is, well, a helluva lot more than my fiction, so… yeah.

Adding to the Exploit Zero and Nightwatch family of wargames is Insurgent Earth, a tabletop tactical miniature adventure game where players fight against alien invaders. Designed with Solo and Cooperative play in mind, you and your friends will band together, form a resistance cell, gear up and take back our home planet.

Even though the core dice mechanics are well established, our game group is running extensive play tests to smooth out the additional, RPG-lite elements for the player characters, and the command-and-control of the game-driven alien invaders. Everything needs to be as smooth, solid, and simple as possible; hate it when rules get in the way of an enjoyable game. Insurgent Earth should be out mid-2022.

In the meantime, you can drop by Stalker7.com for battle reports and other cool toy soldier stuff.

OTHER THAN THAT

The foreseeable future comes down to getting through Christmas and New Years celebrations. My kids and grand kids should be here Christmas morning, so I thank God for that.

Oh and The Witcher Season 2. That’s cool too.

In the meantime, I’m going to keep my head down, keep praying for God’s peace, paint some toy soldiers, and start pecking away at book two of the Shattered Worlds series, Scorned Lands.

Thanks for reading. Take Care.

The State of Things

First off, I want to thank everyone who still follows HSSJ and drops by. It’s been a hectic and strange couple months on top of a year-plus of the same, and I’m grateful for people’s support and encouragement.

Next, I apologize for recent lack of content on my part. Not my intention but Real Life business has picked up on top of everything else I was juggling. Out of my control, but I genuinely enjoy writing and the writing community.

So, to give an update:

Things must be tough at the Williams homestead..

The legal snafu over the word ‘hardwired’ is getting settled. I think. Unfortunately, not reasonably. I know there was no IP infringement or market confusion. My attorney knows. Anyone moderately familiar with the cyberpunk genre and the war game hobby knows. But that’s not how this is getting played, so there are changes coming. I’ll release details as lawyers finalize and specifics resolve. Timeline is vague though, because… lawyers.

For those unfamiliar with the situation, early this past March I was contacted by lawyers claiming my self-published table top war game HARDWIRED – offered free online in 2018, commercially released in 2019 – infringed on a trademark and caused market confusion with a 1989 RPG supplement co-written by their client, Walter Jon Williams. It was the usual C&D, along with threats, demands, and several ridiculous claims. (he practically invented cyberpunk, the new PC game is based on his 1986 novel… ) Also, they contacted Amazon and initiated a take down of two of my Hardwired game supplements: The Tsim Sha Tsui Expansion, and the latest, Hostile Takeover. But not the first, core book, Hardwired Cyberpunk Espionage and Mayhem. Make sense? No. Then again, this experience has been a little surreal.

More lawyers, some legal back and forth, a genuine effort to be reasonable all came to naught. At the end of the day, it would cost too much for me to go to court to prove the obvious. (my miniature war game has no reference or relation to Mr. William’s work, the out-of-print 1989 supplement, or the now outdated version of the RPG it was written for.) So, I’m getting shaken down for cash on a technicality.

Welcome to the Big Time.

The Miniature Post-Apocalypse continues, however

Pressing past that steaming pile, my latest miniature war game, KONTRABAND, is coming into it’s final stretch. The illustrator has promised me the images by the end of the month. (today, right?) Once I have them in hand, it’s another couple weeks for proofreading and layout, then I’m kicking it out the door. This will be a Solo/Cooperative supplement for Zona Alfa, the war game I hammered out for Osprey Publishing.

On the Spec Fiction Front

Several fiction projects that were abruptly shoved to back burners are coming around, slowly. My goal is to finish the TechNoir short , Soul Cache, next. (You can read the first ten chapters here.)

Next, I plan to move back to the Shattered Worlds series. Part One, Broken Moon, is available at Amazon. Part Two, Scorned Lands, will follow with a Kindle release before the end of the year. To put spurs to the project, I had some cover art made for a combined, part 1 and 2 printed version.

If you’re interested in the story of a half-breed outcast journeying through a weird and fractured world after a war between gods, then this post-apocalyptic fantasy might be the thing for you. Think ‘Lord of the Rings’ meets ‘The Road’, you’ll be in the right neighborhood. Again, the journey starts here.

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading. Thanks for your patience. Appreciate all of you.

Art Hard and Take Care.

TechNoir In Progress – Chapter 12

A Cyberpunk Crime Thriller WIP

***

12. DETECTIVE MAGIC

–dropped into a screaming gale. Memories lash at me, flash in millisecond illumination like rapid fire lightning strikes:

– – Work, work, work station screen glare names and numbers, files and accounts, pouting faces, kissing GIFs, Insta-snaps of kitchen area remodels. Surfing the rip tides of public appetites. Calculating swipe times for cat pix and dick pix, celebrity endorsements for deep discount phishing porn and exclusive meme-bership benefits.

– – Forty-five million users a day, two-hundred fifty million texts each hour, two-hundred and ten thousand videos per minute; a torrent of free range rage, locally-sourced boredom, artisan-crafted envy. The burnt rubber flinch at bad jokes, the wine laughter of a clever one. Hang ups and hook ups. Cancellation, affirmation, endless deliberation. Families and friends, late payments and lover’s quarrels. All vanity’s fair in love and war.

– – Day’s end one last vid-chat with supervisor Wang. Office gossip with Jane Ji. A late dinner with Lukas Yang – a frequent name in my phone log, my social feed, the visitor list at my flat. The swirl of food smells in an open space. Wind chill up my sleeves, on my cheeks. Sake with noodles, the warmth of a hand in mine, a parting kiss. Then – –

– – Older buildings on a narrow street, the gurgle of massive drain pipes descending from the upper city. A belly full of food, head pleasantly fuzzy. The smell rusty fog and acid rain. Savor dusty wet concrete and a wry pride. The sense of home on these streets, in this dark and dirty bottom shelf of a mega-city. An aerial drone buzzes overhead. Traffic’s white noise. Music. Someone singing gleefully off-key.

Then a man’s voice – the Voice . Rough hands grab me from behind, heavy with the smell of grease. I flail and kick. The sting of pepper in my eyes like the sting on my neck and I’m clawing in a watery blur with broken nails, crying as the world tilts and the lightning shrieks – –

— shrieks at the gloved hands around my throat. My body is gasping, flopping on a metal floor like a fish. I crave air to breathe, to scream, to stop the fire in my lungs burning like acid.

– – the acid that spreads through my chest, my body, up my throat, filling my mouth and nose, clouding my eyes in from the edges until they go dark and there is nothing.

– – I weigh nothing as I rise out of my body, a billowing sheet in the wind. A kite. A kite with no string soaring past the clouds and blue to the starry dark that’s huge and black yet not empty but bustling with singing stars and planets humming each a different note until there are millions of notes swelling together in a vast symphony of madness and beauty that makes my heart explode, shattering me into a million tinsel fragments that fall glittering through an open door.

– – A door that stands at the edge of the busy dark where a hand cups me in an ocean and carries me in waves back to the shore of this place. 

– – The city’s surf pounding in my ears, pounding at the metal door behind me where Jen Cheung’s voice told me the paper spacesuit crew was on their way up and I was on my knees in front of a dead woman in an empty metal box weeping, spitting black grit, grains of sweet mortality like volcano candy sand.

***

I stood, wiped my face and managed to get the gear back in the pouch, back in my pocket before the CSI techs barged in. They flowed around me. Filled the room with bright light and voices. I stepped back to watch them surround Tiffany Sui’s body and bit the inside of my check to keep from sobbing. Someone whistled, low and slow. Another patted me on the shoulder. I blinked, nodded at the goggles and masks, the click-clack of cases being unlatched, the swop-swish of white tyvek coveralls.

This wasn’t Ed Cho’s crew so I’d have to tap the report later. I stumbled outside to the walkway where Jen Cheung and her partner still waited.  

“Tiān a! You look worse than before,” she said. “How’s that even possible?”

“Detective magic takes it out of you.” I gripped the rail for support.

Jen stared at me, eyes narrowed.  A heartbeat, then she let it go. “So… you find anything?” 

The lightning was still shivering in my head, shrieking in my ears. I shrugged, tried to look cagey.

Jen Cheung grinned. “Ahhhh…  there we go. You got something, didn’t you? I can feel it.”

I put both hands on the rail and gave her a wan smile.

“Sneaky fucker shouldn’t mess with the Stonecutter Island Detective,” Cheung laughed. “Shit. I’d love to be there when you make the arrest.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” I gestured toward the unit door. “I owe you. Buy you breakfast?”

She shook her head. “Rain check. Gotta go. The So Uk demonstrations are getting rowdy.” She whistled to Wan. “Can’t say I blame them but really… they didn’t see this coming? Ice caps melt and corporates screw working folk. Death and taxes, lǎotiě. Death and taxes.”

I nodded absently, staring into space and licking my teeth for grit that wasn’t there.

 “Damn, Pemburu. Go get some food, will you?” She tapped me on the arm. “And I want to hear what you found later, eh?”

“Sure.”

She and Wan headed toward the stairs. “Rumor has it you got one of those new drones,” she called over her shoulder. “Captain Lee must have big plans for you.”

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I croaked.

***

Soy Park was a fog of contrasting food smells. This time of morning, the vendors were switching over from breakfast to lunch, so curries, fish sauce, and sizzling chicken were pushing down the earlier fried dough-and-egg odors. I was in the first ring of stalls, my stomach growling, when a memory hit me: the steamy warmth of beef and soba noodles, vinegary broth and scallions. I could taste it, stinging my tongue, stuck in my teeth.

I froze, my head reeling.  

I ate—no, she ate that. Here. In Soy Park. 

Tiffany Sui’s last meal.

It was like a kick in the gut and I’d have thrown up if there’d been anything in there. Hungry as I was, eating suddenly felt like I’d be desecrating… something. 

Well, shit … noodle bowl is out of the question. Maybe for the rest of my life.

Damn.

A cloud of charcoal smoke swept over me, carrying the earthy, sweet aroma of fried chestnuts. I made a beeline for the stall.

It had been ages since I’d had them, another relic of my childhood.

The vendor had a large cart, older; no solar panels or programmable ovens. Not even motorized wheels. Just a big, battered stainless steel set up under a faded canvas awning.  There were fryers and a grill on one half, a huge wok over an oil drum stove on the other. Something that size was usually a two-person job, but all I found was a lean, wiry man shrouded in smoke.  

He was bent over the wok working a long handled wooden spade in continuous figure-eight motions through the wok’s contents. Dozens of reddish brown chestnuts churned in a mixture of coarse black sand sprinkled with brown sugar.

“Those real? Not bio-printed?”I asked.

“Real. Gotta be,” came a soft reply. “Catch.” A quick flip of the shovel tip and he popped one up at me. “Try it.”

I caught it. The warm, hard shell in my palm, the smell of smoke and burnt sugar released a flood of sensations and images in my head. I tasted nut meat, earthy and strong. I saw my mother’s face, flickering candles on an altar. Memories. Some mine, others I didn’t recognize.

 “You OK?” the vendor asked. “You don’t have an allergy, do you?”

I shook my head. “Yeah, yeah, I’m good. Hungry is all.”

“Then you’ve come to the right place. You want a kilo?”

Shards of memory stuck to me like caramelized sugar on my fingers. “Why?”

He stopped scooping. “Why what?”

“Why do they have to be real?”

The vendor straightened. “Got to have something different to draw people in, right?” He gestured to carts on either side, the food stalls all around him. “Costs a lot but competition is tough. Everybody’s out here scraping to get by, day to day.”

“Right.” I nodded.

He ladled and sieved four quick scoopfuls into a paper bag and stepped out of the smoke. 

I was still pulling myself together but the sudden move made me look up. The haze, the bent posture, working a food stall in this sector, I’d pegged him as older; a retiree grinding a few extra credits on top of his Universal Basic, or a ‘Fugee family man starting over at rock bottom because even a dark district in LNK was better than wherever he’d come from.

But he was young, probably early forties, and ethnic Han to boot. That alone was different. Whatever his story, the streets had pared him down to bare essentials; bone, muscle, stubble. I spied an off-tone skin patch behind one ear – a cover for obsolete data jacks – and a permanent exo-brace around one knee. Seemed the guy had been worn down by bad luck and high mileage rather than age.  

There was a bandage on one cheek too, probably from hot cooking oil or a bad charcoal pellet. He looked up at me with eyes like dark stones in shallow water. “487 eYuan,” he said.

I blinked to pay and realized my Chip was still muted from Tiffany Sui. Another blink and I was back on the city net. My LNKPD credentials flashed and he stepped back.

“No, no,” I said. “I’m not checking permits. I was…”

I stopped. The image of Tiffany’s dismembered body flashed though my mind, pain in my joints. “I was working a scene,” I finished.

The vendor didn’t move. “More police around here lately,” he said tightly. “Usually you guys don’t give a shit about anything off Shao Bei Street.” A pause. “Unless there’s a protest. That gets you out in full force. There’s no lack of security in So Uk this morning, eh?”

I couldn’t disagree but I put on my best Community Policing smile anyway. “Not my department, friend. I’m investigating a murder. Several, actually.”

I paid for the chestnuts, added a tip, and held out my hand for the bag.

He hung back, clutching it. “Right. Thought I’d seen you before.”

I nodded. “Like I said, work.”

He still seemed reluctant so I kept my hand out and stuck with the ‘Firm and Friendly’ approach. “And my cousin has a shop nearby. In the Gray Market. Function Refresh. Heard of it?”

He sneered. “Heard of it? Yeah…. I heard it’s a charity hole.”

A ‘charity hole’ was a pro-bono clinic where corporates advertised their social awareness, dumped their surplus on the poor and desperate, and got a hefty tax write-off for their trouble. Last year, a walk-in infirmary in District Seven had been busted for using locals in clinical trials for an untested anti-viral. Seven-hundred deaths and a three part NewsNet exposé later, consensus was they did about as much harm as good. Loi would be horrified to learn she was labeled as one.

“No, no. It’s not like that. Really. My cousin is all about tech-equality. She’s just trying to help people.”

He handed me the bag. “Yeah. That’s what they all say.”

I took the warm bag without comment and left. I made it ten steps before the Tech Department pinged me: I was late from my Turd Copter synchronization.