WIP 4: Cyberpunk Detective Story

an ongoing thing

4. VESTIGIAL

The nave had seemed so much larger when I was young, the vaulted ceiling and high stained glass windows made for giants, not humans. Not me. I was always a trespasser.  An ant in God’s room.  

Walking down the aisle in the muffled quiet under that high, deep darkness, I felt that old familiar discomfort. I suppressed an urge to genuflect; another muscle memory triggered by flickering candles and the smell of old upholstery, wood wax, and incense. It was an older one, faded. Easier to ignore.

I slid into a pew and sat instead. I had seven minutes to get to Loi’s shop.  

It had been more than three decades since I’d been here, and my only visits to other churches had been funerals or the ultra-rare traditional wedding – deaths outpacing matrimony more and more lately.

I wasn’t so much lapsed as self-exiled, and part of me would be fine if it was another thirty years before I came back.

Another part was scared shitless for my mortal soul.

Those weren’t the exact words. My grasp on the notion of ‘soul’ was slippery at best these days. The fear was more a pull at the back of my mind, like a diver low on oxygen tugging on a line to be pulled up out of the deep. Wordless, but pretty damn insistent. 

What do you say to God in three minutes after three decades of ignoring Him?   

Hey, I know I walked away and told everyone you’re not up there, but I need to stop a psychopath. So how ‘bout a little help here, eh? In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Not great.

I folded my hands and tried to form better words as a host of unwelcome memories barged in.  

My mother had cried when I told her I’d left the Church. Asked why. Said I would damn myself in unbelief.

I’d just graduated top of my class from the police academy. Successful, cocksure, so certain I knew more about the world than an old lady who refused to get a Chip and still fumbled with her smart phone. I confronted her on the Church’s stand on clones. Demanded she explain what a soul meant in an age of neural fiber cybernetics and artificial intelligence. 

Technology was threaded through society like a kudzu vine. It invaded and reshaped everything. Police were constantly asking what constituted ‘crime’ now – let alone ‘sin’ or ‘damnation’ – in an era of programmable robot companions and stimsense virtual reality. From replicant celebrity androids to murder-fantasy VR apps, a person could screw or slaughter anyone as many times as they wanted. Feel every thrust, every warm splash, all in the privacy of their own home, their own mind. No real world consequences.

God obviously didn’t care, I said; He didn’t stop real murders, let alone fake ones.

I told her religion was an appendix; a vestigial organ from when humans tried to swallow the indigestible. We were defined by science now. Nourished by a universe of data and technology. Life fed itself from the slime of that trinity. Nothing more, nothing less.

“There’s no meaning beyond the meat, ibu. The meat spoils, the spark dies. That’s it.  I’m not wasting any more time on bad, outdated answers to wrong questions.”  

I remembered her silence. A long one, tears on her cheeks, staring out the kitchen window. Finally she dried her eyes and turned to me.  “There’s more than one way to measure the universe, Zeki. Some day you’ll see there are mysteries beyond all your data.”  

After a few years on the force, the notion of a ‘spark of the ineffable’ in each of us only became absurd. The shit people did to each other in the real world made religion seem like just one more hoax for the desperate, the delusional, and the downright stupid.

It had taken thirty years but there I was kneeling in front of Mary and Her Son, teetering on the edge of that mystery cliff between faith and science. Right then felt a hell of a lot like an I-told-you-so moment. 

Fuck.

I looked up at the altar. “Sorry.”  

I closed my eyes. Bowed my head.

“God, this is tough. Here I am and if you’re there, then you already know what’s going on. Know what I’m about to do.” I swallowed. “So… so help me. Help these people. Please. Amen.”

Weak as shit – but it was all I had.

I thought about crossing myself when I was done, but decided that would stretch it too far. It wasn’t much of a prayer but I’d meant it as much as I could; token piety wasn’t going to bump my request to the top of God’s To Do list. 

I stood, brushed my knees as a call came in. Loi.

“Where are you? You’ve got two minutes. I should see you in the Soy Park by now.”

“On my way.”

“What the hell, Zek?”

“I ran into Quan. Had to stop and kiss the ring.” 

“Kiss his ass, you mean. What’d that old bastard want?”

“I’ll tell you when I get there.”

She ground her teeth. “Zek…”

“I’m leaving now. Five more minutes. Promise.”

A sigh. “OK.”

WIP 3: CYBERPUNK DETECTIVE

a cyberpunk short story in progress

3: NIGHT SWEATS

There were beggars outside Our Lady of Pompeii.

The night sweats were coming down hard and every square meter of church yard under the awning was packed with people. Late-comers jostled at the edges, huddled under scraps of poly-sheeting, all shoving to get out of the downpour. The church looked besieged by an army of trash pickers.

Every day, the steam and smog from the Lower City rises and collects on the thousands of kilometers pipes and struts on the underside of the Terrace. After sunset, when the cool ocean winds come, all that moisture condenses and falls; twenty minutes of oily, rusty chemical rain. Every night. The Upper City pissing on our heads.

Long-term homeless get ‘Beggar’s Spots’, a permanent burn mottle on their skin. Some go blind after too many years on the street. Those who can’t afford replacement eyes stay blind. That’s why cover was currency in the under-city.  

I got closer, heard angry voices. An argument in front of me turned into a shoving match. One of them pulled a knife, the other a length of pipe. My Chip widebanded NKPD I.D. and the conflict dissolved like wet rice paper. The crowd parted and here at a church, I thought of the Red Sea. 

“No more or I call the district watch to clear the area,” I said as I jogged past.

Everyone looked away, even the junkies and low-life thugs who picked on the homeless. A threat like that, everyone would at least wait until I was out of sight. Which was fine because I didn’t want to call Loi again. 

Two-hundred and fifty years old, the Rosary Church dedicated to Our Lady of Pompeii was the last Catholic place of worship in New Kowloon. Perhaps the entire Greater Hong Kong Metro area. I didn’t pay attention anymore, plus the faithful were few and far between in this part of the world. But the tiny cathedral was on UNESCO’s historic register, so the vaulted awning over the property kept the worst of the underside’s effluent from damaging the building. Nestled at the foot of the dark urban sprawl towering all around, old Rosary looked like a Gothic lawn ornament in a half-shell.

I was on the stairs when I heard my name. “Detective Pemburu.” A man’s voice.

My hand shifted toward the pistol under my coat. I kept moving.

“Over here,” the voice insisted.

An obese man with milky eyes sat beneath a spindly hibiscus tree. He grinned in my direction. Fat Quan, gutter king of Shìchǎng.

I stopped and slowly showed both my hands. “Mr. Quan. What a surprise.”

“Doubly so. Doubly so,” he said. “Do you have a moment?”

I didn’t but I walked over anyway. Quan was not a man to ignore.

He waved a pudgy hand and several homeless around me relaxed. “How is your mother, Detective? In good spirits?”

I nodded. “Still walks in the park, morning and evening. And you? You look healthy as ever.”

He chuckled sagely. “Losing weight, they tell me. Wasting away to nothing. Must be all the recent stress. It has everyone on edge though, don’t you think?”

“Lower city life – lower city problems,” I replied. “Still, less of a fall than Upstairs.”

He gave a tired joke a hearty laugh that ended abruptly as it began. “Never found that much of a consolation.”

Silence settled between us. He fixed his cataract gaze over my right shoulder. The milky eyes were an affectation; if you believed the street talk, half his cranium was packed with net ware and sensory gear. Fat bastard knew exactly where I was. Probably my credit score and my heart rate too.

Quan finally spoke again, softer this time. “So Detective Pemburu, are you here seeking spiritual solace for your own problems? I thought you were long departed from the fold.” 

I shrugged. “I was in the neighborhood when the sweats started. Forgot my umbrella. Plus I heard the sisters in the kitchen were serving fish balls tonight.”

Quan rolled with my deflection. “And how is your cousin?” he countered. “She still in the Gray Market?”

“Yes.”

He tutted, double chin bobbing. “Never understood why she stayed in the Lower City. Smart, that girl.” His round face turned up toward the awning over the church, the underside of the Terrace. “She could have worked her way up and out.” 

“She could have,” I agreed. I still remembered the family feud that erupted when she rejected her fifth corporate employment offer. It was the last she ever got. “Loi believes tech should be in the hands of those that need it most. Down here.”

“A noble sentiment.” Quan pressed his hands together and shook his head. “I used to think so too. For many years. Now, I’m not so sure.”

“Oh?” I checked the time. Loi wasn’t kidding about me not being late. Fat Quan had better get to a point soon. I still had something I wanted to do.

“Technology does violence to the soul,” he continued. “Someone said that long ago. I’m starting to believe it. What was meant to liberate, to make life easier, has instead separated us. Alienated us from ourselves. From one another.” He pointed up. “Take our fine city as an obvious example.”

Under the scrawny tree, one hand raised, a frown on his big round face, Quan looked the very picture of a fat, sad Buddha.

“You don’t sound like a man who’s lost his faith.”

He smiled. “Don’t I? Well, you would know.”

That did it. “Forgive me, Mr. Quan, but I must excuse myself.”

Another time check: thirteen minutes. I’d need to hurry.

I turned toward the church.

“Zeki.”

I turned back. “It’s Detective Pemburu.”

He bowed his head. “Apologies. If I can be of any help to the NKPD…”

“I appreciate your offer but there’s no reason to—“

He cut me off. “I count eight reasons.”

Eight reasons?

The gutter king of Shìchǎng nodded. “Eight.”

I entered the church without another word. 

Eight.

One more reason to see Loi.

And to pray.

WIP 2: CYBERPUNK DETECTIVE

short story in progress

2: FOOD CHAIN

Shìchǎng is the largest market district in the center of Lower New Kowloon and Shao-Bei is its main drag, which means even this time of night, the street runs like the Mekong in monsoon season.

I stepped out of the alley into a torrent of people and traffic, all surging through a neon-bright canyon cliffed in steel and smartglass. Celebrities smiled down at the masses, endorsing hot ware that could sync and sex up anyone to be just like them. Holograms swam in a smog of bio-diesel and steam, spiced with curry and hot peanut oil, all buoyed on a hurricane of sound.

The Bank of Shanghai’s Neu-Deutsch Techno jingle announced a branch opening in district three. Ten-story tall Thai androgynes in Gosha Streetwear catwalked to West African Griot Folk Rap. A vendor stall next to me was blaring specials on cloned carp and sex dolls, while across the street, a bar’s window screen simulcast a cage fight in first-person view.

Bus stops flashed political ads and air quality notices. End-of-the-week sales floated past my face, everything from loom-grown beef to 3D bio-printed replacement organs. Shao-Bei Street was a valley of lurid consumer hallucinations.

Not only were the shops and stalls doing brisk business, the street species were in full bloom. Market center or no, a dark district is a poor district so the bottom-feeders had swarmed to nibble at the edges. I spotted beggars and buskers by the dozen, the thick shapes of grafted bodyguards herding intoxed corporate suits past burnt out wire-heads pleading for per diem memory courier gigs.

On the corners, missionaries from every faith competed with hookers of every flavor, all hoping to evangelize the wallets of the unwary one way or another. I spied a dozen grifters shadowing their marks.

Politicians who try to sound smart claim each district has a distinct eco-system, a unique civic biome subject to an arcane blend of location, economy, and residents only they can divine. I don’t know about that, but the sprawl certainly has a food chain. Step onto the street, you’re fair game.

It looked like everyone in the lower city decided to do their shopping here, tonight. Crowds like this, the only way to get where I needed to be was to find the right current and be carried along.

I felt the wind again just as the P.A. chimed the night sweat warning. It was misting already. A thousand holo-ads fuzzed as the oily drops started to fall.  I cut across the avenue under a sea of blooming, clear umbrellas, all seething with reflections – a riptide of electrified jellyfish – and joined a swarm of Japanese tourists.

They were headed my way, south, toward the electronics and ware boutiques in the Gray Market. I got a couple of sidelong glances but my virtual NKPD tags insured they didn’t linger.  No one wants the trouble that comes with police. 

I made it six blocks under borrowed cover with uncomfortable but polite Japanese salary men before I finally ducked down a side road. They bowed and waved goodbye. Relieved.

I tried to be, but my second thoughts bred geometrically with every step. I was going to see an illegal software dealer and even she thought my idea was bad. 

Two blocks off Shao-Bei, my low-light implants kicked in. This was the “other”Shìchǎng, the Naya Dalit slums where the Scrape, Scrap, and Shit gangs lived. Stuck here, two blocks from stuff they couldn’t afford, were the immigrants and refugees who worked underside repair, recycling, and sewage. Or any other filthy, dangerous, non-contract job they could find. No pretty lights and corporate jingles adorning these neighborhoods. Just teetering stacks of foam-crete apartments, salvaged fiberboard shacks, and cheap LEDs.  

The new untouchables are shackled by technology, not ethnicity. Or rather lack of technology. Some can’t even afford a neural chip. The rest simply can’t pay the monthly subscription fees. A domestic or dock worker with a basic Musk package can live in an edge district where they get a few hours of sunlight one way or another. Here in the middle of the Lower City, they’re in the dark and disconnected. 

“Casualties of the neural interface revolution,” one journalist once called them. Poor bastards stuck on the wrong side of the technology gap. It’s the latest version of an old story: without money they can’t get tech. Without tech, they can’t get money. No info-net, no social credit, no bank history, no identity – nothing to help them claw their way up and out of here.

Sunlight doesn’t reach this deep under the Terrace and with the girded underside of the Upper City squatting over their heads, Shìchǎng might as well be the fucking Mariana Trench.

No wonder these people riot every few years.

Or snap and start murdering their neighbors.

Lights from the Gray Market played on the buildings ahead of me but I turned onto Chatham Road South. I needed to make a stop.  

I ‘faced and called Loi Cao. She picked up instantly. Tense. “Zek. You coming or what?” she asked.   

“I’m three blocks away but I have to make a quick detour. Thirty minutes.”

A soft curse. I could hear her scowl. “Not a fan this ware.”

“Twenty minutes, then.”

Silence.

“Please?”

“Okay, Zek. Not a second later.”

“I’ll be there.”

“I’m serious. Not one second later,” she said, and hung up.

WIP 1 : CYBERPUNK DETECTIVE

new short story in progress

1: REASONS

I tripped over my own feet coming to the gate; my body stopped to let the surveillance mast read my chip the same instant my mind remembered I didn’t need to do that anymore. Everything was faster these days. Smoothed into the NKPD Net. I’d probably been scanned and approved a hundred meters back. The pause was an old habit – the muscle memory from other summer nights a decade gone.   

This stretch of wall had gone up in ’46 at the height of the water riots. It was a hot summer, a bad summer. Protestors had taken over the entire Shìchǎng district. The mayor’s council was worried the demonstrations would spread through the rest of the lower city, so the wall was constructed: a hundred-plus kilometers of interlocking ferro-crete slabs, five meters tall, topped with cameras and sonic turrets and loops of writhing live wire. Every secondary street was closed off and the main avenues sprouted checkpoints and steel gates overnight. The district went from street markets to triple max prison overnight. On top of that, half a dozen concealed access points were installed so undercover teams could outflank the barricades and conduct what officials called ‘containment operations’ to secure public safety and prevent civilian casualties.   

Not that the protestors had killed anyone. Sure, there were the usual torched cars and smashed shop windows, but mostly it was regular line up of popular demagogues, opportunist celebrities, day-swarms of idealistic cause groupies all hitching a ride to the moral high-ground on the backs of thousands of sick, thirsty, low-tier workers and their families who couldn’t afford another rate hike for clean water.

This particular access opened into an alley at the south end of Shao-Bei Street. My squad had used it every night for three months to slip in and do things I’d rather forget. Back then, the neighborhood was all cheap noodles, puppet brothels, and pachinko parlors. Now it’s shops and micro-apartments, tea houses and boutique knock-offs. LNK’s version of gentrification.

I pulled the hinged slab shut behind me, felt a shudder as the bolts thunked back in place. The turrets and wire were long since removed but the alley looked the same. Less trash maybe. I wiped slime and grime off my fingers, shook off a clutch of ghosts, and was back in Shìchǎng.

The night was young so the passage was empty, which was good because I was running late and this put me five blocks closer to where I needed to be. Plus it let me bypass a serious bar fight, an in-progress robbery, and a full blown raid. The bar fight was just another drunken brawl, police drones were already on scene at the ramen stand, and the raid… the raid was an omnishambles presided over by Captain Lee himself.   

None of them were my concern – there were no bodies – but the system would log me going through the perimeter, so I would need an explanation.

The bouncers would get the fight under control before it turned serious. It was highly unlikely someone would get killed in the ramen stand hold up. Fēng Niú, the local Red Pole, took a dim view of anyone messing with the revenue stream in his territory. Everyone in Sector Nine knew it and any junkie stupid enough to slot a shop owner would be dead before I ever chased them down. All I’d get was a courtesy email telling me where to find the body. So no real pressure there either.

The raid was a thing to avoid for a lot of reasons, most of all because it was nothing but dick swagger. Our fearless leader had requisitioned two tac-teams in a Norinco 6-wheeler to pay a visit to a new, gray market cyber-ware clinic. Lee’s official reason was the place might be a front for HK separatists. In reality, our district captain was killing two birds with one sledgehammer, intimidating a new business with a welcome wagon while reminding everyone on the street he was still a big kid in the neighborhood.

Hunu, one of my CIs, said the clinic was mostly legit, specializing in geisha-mods and copycat Faberge cyber limbs. That it was backed by the Macau Triad, no less. Then again, she insisted one of her regular johns was an alien from the Andromeda galaxy, so on the off chance she wasn’t full of shit and ‘Phoria, Captain Lee might lose serious face – and maybe a finger depending on who he pissed off. If not, he’d be a few thousand e-Yuan richer when the doctor paid the ‘licensing’ fee to operate in this part of Lower New Kowloon. 

Maybe I’m thick, but it seemed to me twelve heavily armed ninja trolls backed by a Pacification droid was a bit over the top for a chop shop micro-surgeon and a pair of cloned nurses fresh out of Chiba City. A polite ‘meet and greet’ at the station would have sufficed. But what do I know? I’m just a homicide detective with just enough sense not to stick my hand in the middle of that mess. Either way, smart money said the clinic would reopen this time tomorrow.

The captain would grill me at roll call in the morning, but I had reasons – seven, bloody, dismembered ones – that would save me the worst of his scorn. Even he realized he needed to get ahead of this mess before the stink reached higher up the chain of command. Or worse, the newsfeeds got wind of it. Between the noxious election rhetoric, the latest SARS outbreak, and rumors of another hike in electric rates, tensions in the poorer districts of Lower New Kowloon were high enough. No need to add ‘serial killer panic’ to the mix.

I needed to get ahead of it too. Not to preserve my reputation – too late for that – but because it was my job and so far I had seven bodies, not a single, solid lead, and only a really bad idea on how to get one.

There was a chill on my neck. The wind off the South China Sea had finally reached under the Terrace. I cursed for forgetting my umbrella, turned up my collar and started down the alley.

Writing these days

Got a newsletter recently from one of the Indie Writer groups I lurk around, asking if/how the Covid-19 lock down affected my writing. Have to say ‘Quite a bit” if I’m being honest.

It’s not just the Covid-19 though. That was tough. Weird. But do-able.

Nope. In short order, global pandemic was at the bottom of a pig pile of deaths, crises in leadership, international strife, economic uncertainly, racism, political and social animosity, demonstrations, looting*… and then I got sick and spent a month in an out of the hospital.

It felt like I was breathing smog. Gasping, every time I sat down at the computer. It was hard to think straight, let alone relax and get creative. “Flow Space, anyone?

I pushed on. No props to me, really. It was some combination of prayer, grace, and mule-headed desperation. Had to keep busy with something and I didn’t have the energy for anything new, so I stuck with the familiar.

Felt like I was clawing at granite with my fingernails but things got done.

At the top of the fiction list, the first portion of my post-apocalyptic fantasy saga was polished and kicked out the door. Finally. Beneath the Broken Moon. Shattered Worlds, Book One is currently available as an ebook at Amazon.

Rachelle Stewart Ramirez of the Story Grid and Leonora Bulbeck over at Reedsy were both invaluable. A debt of eternal gratitude to them both. I can only hope I did justice to their hard work and excellent advice.

Next, my second STALKER/METRO 2033 flavored short story, Strange Treasure is now available as an audio book as well as a Kindle read. For anyone other than me keeping count, that makes six audio books: Strange Treasure, Prayer to St. Strelok, Hard Kill, Sozo, The Stones Remember, and The Barrow Lover. A little light listening for your daily commute. You’re welcome.

While we’re getting post-apocalyptic, I should mention my writing for the table top wargame hobby is still going strong. Zona Alfa has been available since late January, courtesy of Osprey Publishing. (Thanks, guys) The S7 Facebook Group is approaching 800 members and is filled with some very cool, creative, and inspiring war game comrades. I’m quite grateful.

It’s not limited to a Soviet-style apocalypse either. Gamers from all sorts of interesting places also seem to enjoy my solo/cooperative cyberpunk skirmish game, Hardwired, and the expansion, Tsim Sha Tsui Expansion.

I was encouraged enough by the support to build on the same game mechanics to hammer out a set of Fantasy-genre, monster hunting rules. Titled, Nightwatch: Terror and Treasure in the Dark Corners of the World, it’s nearing completion and should (God willing) be out in August, 2020.

It’s been a slog, I have to admit. I feel like I’ve been tunneling out of a POW Camp with a soup spoon; cramped, sweating, panting in the dark, measuring progress inches at a time. Not quite the artist’s life I imagined, buoyed by a supportive community of like-minded creatives and a brisk, tail wind of the Spirit.

Erm… nope.

Still, stuff got done. There’s more stuff to do. Forward motion – even in inches – is still progress. We’re all going though it, getting through it. That’s the season we’re in. It’ll turn. Until then, we persevere and keep doing the next right thing.

I’ll leave you with a quote from a book you really should read: Robert MacFarlane’s Underland.

Dissonance is produced by any landscape that enchants in the present but has been a site of violence in the past. But to read such a place only for its dark histories is to disallow its possibilities for future life, to deny reparation or hope – and this is another kind of oppression. If there is a way of seeing such landscapes, it might be thought of as ‘occulting’: the nautical term for a light that flashes on and off, and in which the periods of illumination are longer than the periods of darkness.

That’s all for now. I hope and pray you are all safe and well.

Until next time, take care.

***

*what happened to the Murder Hornets? Are they still around?

Now Available: Tsim Sha Tsui Expansion

The TSIM SHA TSUI EXPANSION. A supplement for the co-op/solo table top war game HARDWIRED. New weapons, new gear, new missions, new threats.

Available in PDF format at WARGAMEVAULT.COM or for Kindle at AMAZON .

Hardcopy version is on the way.

Here are some pictures from our games.

If you’re looking for ready-made figs to run a few test missions, you could always pick up this excellent set of cyberpunk flats from ArcKnight.

HARDWIRED and the TSIM SHA TSUI EXPANSION – It’s definitely time to put on your mirrorshades and get to work.

Thanks. Have a good day.

Next up: Clar1ty Wars 3

‘Strange Treasure: Another Tale from the Exclusion Zone’ is done, now it’s time to circle back to the Clar1ty Wars.

It seems Cyberpunk is making a comeback, what with CD Projekt Red’s upcoming game causing a huge nerd buzz in the PC and console gaming worlds. On the table top, the venerable RPGs, Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020 are getting new editions. And then there’s my fast play, miniature wargame rules HARDWIRED and Osprey’s upcoming mega game, Reality’s Edge

Gameplay video: https://youtu.be/RfmB1eoyzwY

Coincidentally, it wasn’t until very recently I started to receive a lot of feedback and questions about the books. Juggling a full-time business and all-time Real Life means fiction writing gets dropped from the To Do List . Obligations, everyday emergencies, and plain old end-of-the-day exhaustion pile up so fast – which is why I’m only now getting back to the next installment. My apologies and gratitude to those who wondered if it fell off the edge of the map – I’ll do my utmost to make it worth the wait.

I’ve resurrected the old notes, files, and assorted scraps of inspiration, and begun hammering the next set of stories. Things are getting ugly in Kepler22, and Seeb, Detectives Lynch, and Junior-Inspector Sarin are about to get stuck in the crossfire.

In case you’re interested, here are links to books one and two:

One Bad Apple and Under Strange Stars

That’s all for now. Thanks for all your support and have an excellent day.

Now Available: HARDWIRED

cover

HARDWIRED – a table top war game set during the Corporate Wars of 2069 in the mega-city of New Kowloon. Miniatures agnostic. 1 – 6 Players, Co-op or Solo Mode. Made for 15mm – 28mm miniatures. Grab your friends, create a team of elite Agents, and select a mission. It’s time to put all those cool, random sci fi miniatures to work.

***

For those of you who don’t know, I’m a long-time table top war gamer. (4 + decades) HARDWIRED is a set of simple, war game rules that allows players to reenact the desperate missions and frantic firefights from their favorite cyberpunk books, games, graphic novels, and movies. Select a mission, create your team of Agents, and gear up for a run-n-gun.

Also available in print:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/1071441671

Thanks and enjoy.

Settling into the reins

calvin-writing

Happy 2019.  Hope you’re recovered from the holidays and settled into the reins of a new year.

On the fiction front, Beneath the Broken Moon is currently under the editor’s knife at Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid. My previous experience with an Editorial Service was, to put it politely, disappointing. (I don’t appreciate being viewed as an ATM, strung along with vague promises of actual helpful suggestions for my MS if only I purchased the next tier of services… )

Now I don’t know a thing about Rachelle Stewart Ramirez , but Shawn Coyne’s, Story Grid is on my very shortlist of genuinely helpful books about writing, so he’s got street cred with me. That, and the fact he’s Steven Pressfield’s editor and business partner. If you’ve never read The War of Art or Gates of Fire, you need to remedy that. Right now.

According to the website, the manuscript evaluation includes:

  1. The 6 Core Question Analysis. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will read your manuscript and apply the Story Grid 6 Core Question Analysis to your work. This is a deep dive into your manuscript, analyzing what works and what doesn’t work.
  2. A One-Hour Phone Consultation. You will talk one-on-one with your editor, discussing your own questions and the editor’s analysis of your story. You’ll leave the call with a clearer global, big-picture view of your manuscript and its genre.
  3. A Story Grid Spreadsheet of Your First Five Scenes. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will provide a full Story Grid work-up of the first five scenes of your manuscript. This will give you a black-and-white, close-up view of which scenes are working and which aren’t—and why.
  4. Next Steps Recommendation Letter. Every writer is at a different place in his or her journey. Your Story Grid Certified Editor will provide suggested next steps you can take to level-up as a writer. This will include specific Story Grid homework to help improve your skills and your manuscript.
  5. Masterworks of the Genre Recommendations and Additional Resources. Throughout the Story Grid Diagnostic process, your editor will help you identify and refine your genre choice. Once that’s done, your editor will provide a list of Masterworks to study along with the Story Grid Genre Cheat Sheet for your genre.

All delivered within 30 days.

Nothing so far. Then again, it’s only been two weeks and I remain cautiously optimistic. After all, I need a good editor. I want a good editor. Learning what works and what doesn’t is critical to learning how to write better. More on that as the story develops.

In other writing news, ZONA ALFA is complete. For those who aren’t familiar, I’m a long-time table top war gamer and ZA is a set of rules for miniature wargaming in a Russian-flavored post apocalyptic setting. (Think STALKER and METRO 2033)

Turns out the fine folks at Osprey Publishing in the UK had seen my painted toy soldiers and battle reports at my S7 blog, and were crazy enough to ask me to develop the rules for them. There’s still a lot of Polish and Tweak to do, but this has been a wargaming nerd’s dream come true. My heartfelt thanks to them for the opportunity.

scene2
ZA interior art and possible cover. Cool, eh?

In line with that, I’m currently hammering out another short Tale from the Exclusion Zone featuring veteran Zone Guide, Yuri Bonyev. (Vodka, AK74s and mutants… what can go wrong?)

And when that’s done, I’ll start in on the next installment of The Clar1ty Wars.  Been a long time coming but I assure you the shadow war between the Orbital Corporations and the Planetary Government is about to spill into the streets. The current working title for book 3 is Gun Monkey Rumble. Autonomous drones, genetically engineered agents, cyber-enhanced soldiers, criminal gangs, religious terrorists…  Our hero, black market pharma fence, Seeb Gilani, is going to have her hands full of flaming vials of nitro glycerin.

That’s all for now. My other job (stained glass work) calls. Have an excellent day. Live well. Art hard.

– patrick t.

 

 

Altered Carbon, Common Humanity

alteredcarbon-final

Binged ‘Altered Carbon’ this weekend, Netflix’ latest and reportedly most expensive series to date. ($6-7 million per episode? whoa) A 10-part cyberpunk/noir piece based on Richard K. Morgan’s book of the same name, it’s a bloody, sensual, cynical look at the future. Designer clone bodies, digitized consciousness, virtual imprisonment and torture, galaxy-spanning Spec Ops/Secret Police, obscene wealth disparity, functional immortality… the future’s so dark, you gotta wear NODs.

A solid Sci Fi show with a gritty story and great effects, but if ‘Altered Carbon’ says anything about the future, it’s that science is really secondary; humanity’s progress is not and never will be linked to technology. The bottom line is we never advance beyond our morality. Period.

In fact push it as far as you want, technology remains just another function of old-fashioned human cruelty, conceit, greed, lust, and rage. Dub, sample, and remix – it’s still the same old song all over again. Hide behind chrome and smart glass and mirror-shades, dress it up in gene-spliced, supermodel customized sexiness with neurachem lethality, package it in alien alloys and complex algorithms, our depravity still shows.

When the end credits rolled on episode 10, I was brought full circle back to 2009 and the fundamental conviction I had when I decided to try and write a SF novel as a Christian: only a spiritual ethic that upholds life as sacred can restrain humanity from becoming inhumane. Lose the preciousness of life and you open the door to contempt and cruelty; commodify people and you end up committing atrocities.

That’s not to say I want my fiction to be sermonizing. No, I aim for entertainment, escapism, and action. Most of my stories have loads of firepower and a high body count. But I want to build the work on a solid foundation. I want substance, themes, meaning in there as well.

Despite the cool visuals, wicked action scenes, and great acting, I was disappointed when Altered Carbon was over. Not that it had ended but at the sordid sameness of it all. It was almost a relief. What was meant to be action-packed cyberpunk coolness and world-weary wisdom was just so uninspired, so sad.

There was a smack upside the head afterwards too: a call to confront the question of faith in spec-fiction once again. To respect the conventions of genre, the demands of the medium, and the expectations of the audience  and aim for quality, and yet somehow portray spiritual realities organically in the plot, characters and fictional world.

Guess I’d better start praying about that again, eh?

Thanks and have a great day.

c9de0-cyberpunk_city

***

BTW, that first novel, RUNNING BLACK, and the sequel SHIFT TENSE are available at Amazon. HERE and HERE

Option2    SHIFT_TENSE_final_rgb_flatten_6x9inches_with_bleeds