Whence Cometh Evil?

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Plenty is happening on the writing front but I want to post something on a serious note.

In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, my wife and I attended an interfaith service at the Cape Cod Synagogue last night. Not the sort of thing I would have done earlier in my faith and religious walk. Not at all. But sometimes, things changed for the better.

No, I haven’t embraced warm and fuzzy, Kumbaya ecumenicalism; we were invited and I believe it’s critical to be numbered among those who stand against savage acts of violence and hatred.

Hundreds in attendance, the facility packed beyond capacity, I admit I was astonished by the level of the response, encouraged by it in many ways. Our society grants us the privilege and liberty to find common ground and see our common humanity.  I also admit I was discouraged in that as far as I could tell, there was zero Evangelical representation. I have distanced myself from that particular religious label with all its baggage in these past few years but still…  Not everything has to be a Revival Meeting – a little empathy, respect, and solidarity speaks volumes.

The service went on for 90 minutes or so as speaker after speaker came to the pulpit to offer comfort, express support, and grapple with the enormity of the tragedy. And to try to offer some facet of explanation and guidance. But in all the talk, songs, and even poetry, the topic of Evil, particularly human evil or depravity, wasn’t really mentioned. Sure, there was the menu of generic ills: hatred, bigotry, senseless violence, intolerance… And the common recommended cures: love, tolerance, faith, compassion, seeing the sacredness and divinity in human beings…. Nothing wrong with that, not at all.

But for all the feel good, hopeful optimism, spiritual ideals, and the huge show of solidarity, I left the synagogue worried, worried that for all the activity, there was no real advance. No actual traction. I woke up thinking about it still uneasy because I didn’t hear a clear call to personal action, change, or responsibility, precisely because for whatever reason, that one vital issue – human evil, AKA ‘sin’ – was skirted or ignored.

It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who pointed out ‘The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.’ That’s really the matter at stake here. It’s always struck me that at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel, Jesus commands that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations…”

The idea there is that individuals must turn from not only the world’s wickedness, or that of their family, tribe, generation, whatever… but their own brokenness, isolation, and defiance to God. Like it or not, that is the defiled wellspring of contempt, cruelty, envy, resentment, violence, hatred. Not out there, but in us, all of us, each of us. In me.

It’s only after that acknowledgment and change of mind, that primal shift from Self to God, that ‘remission of sins’ takes place. To me, that word ‘remission’ says the internal corrupting influence can be, will be, checked. Not completely removed, mind you, not in this life. But its spread and power, its decay and deception, is beaten back. Then I can heed the better angels of my nature, see that Imago Dei in others and treat them with a measure of the grace God has shown me.

Exercise can change a body, Education can change a mind, Discipline can change a habit, but only God can truly change a heart. (even then cooperation is required) In my understanding, He is the cure we so desperately grope for in times like these. God – not religion – is the answer. God who is Love, who is able, who is willing, who is present and yet for all that it seems somehow we never quite grasp on long enough or deep enough to let Him actually do the work only He can do.

Why do I say that? Because we’ve been here too many times before.

How long, Oh Lord? How long?  

***

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

– 2 Cor: 13:11

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Sunrise photo from Anton Gorlin Photography

 

 

More Audio Book news

Narrator Madison Niederhauser has agreed to read ‘The Stones Remember’. His work on ‘Hard Kill’ was pitch perfect and I’m fortunate to have him do another of my short stories. Should be done end of September and I’m looking forward to it.

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In case you were wondering, here’s HARD KILL at Audible. The eBook at Amazon.

Thanks. Have a great day.

 

Four Audio Books Released

New Titles Now Available at Amazon/Audible and iTunes

If you’re new to audio books, click on the titles below for more information and to sign up for a free trial at Audible.  Or simply log in to your Amazon or iTunes account and give them a look. Four quick listens. Well written, -if I do say so myself  – excellently narrated, and all at a good price.

The near-future short ‘Sozo’, included in The Crossover Alliance 2015 annual anthology. Narrator Steven Floyd’s weary cynicism is pitch perfect.

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The Celtic-flavored ghost story ‘The Barrow Lover’ about two small time treasure hunters who dig up more than they bargained for.  Narrator Daniel Purcell went above and beyond telling Declan and Paddy’s story.

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‘Hard Kill’, the ’15-minutes in the future’ action piece about a spec-ops team racing to stop an attack in the American Heartland. Solid narration by Madison Neiderhauser.

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And ‘A Prayer to Saint Strelok’ – inspired by the Russian Sci Fi film ‘STALKER’ by Tarkovsky and the Ukrainian horror-survival video games of the same name.  Charles Cromer captures the mystery and terror of the Exclusion Zone.

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As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the stories and the narration. Or if you’re busy, leave a star rating. Every one helps.

Thank you again for your support and encouragement.

Take care and have an excellent day.

 

Audiobooks and the magic of story telling

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I’m told all the Cool Kids are into Audiobooks these days, so I’m taking my first steps in that direction. I’m happy to announce the short stories ‘Sozo’ and  “A Prayer to Saint Strelok’ are now available at Amazon’s Audible and iTunes/Books.

The first is a straight-razor of a story about a combat vet returning to a broken, near-future America. Remarkably, it was included in The Crossover Alliance’s 2nd annual anthology in  2015.  (I note that of the three TCA anthologies, that year is the only one without a single review. “Coincidence? I think NOT!”) Sorry guys.

OTOH, ‘Saint Strelok’ is a recent short piece inspired by the Ukrainian post-apocalyptic S.T.A.L.K.E.R.  video game series. Set in and around the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, those games rank in my top 10 all-time favorites. They’re dark, brooding, terrifying, and wonderful. “Call of Pripyat” is the one you want. It’s the most accessible to the first-time stalker.

Back to audiobooks though… I have to say auditioning narrators and hearing my own stories read back to me was immensely sobering. ( I gotta keep at this. God help me.) But on a happier note, I was reminded  of how I used to read to my children – and now my grandchildren – and how there’s something truly wonderful about those hours that’s hard to express because the transaction of those moments goes beyond words.

Dr. Seuss to Tolkien, Kipling to Dahl, R.L. Stevenson, Lloyd Alexander, and a hundred more, reading out loud gets me thinking about the wonder of stories, the music of language, and what I think is a strange but essential osmosis of meaning.

Call me crazy, but I’ll go so far as to say that simple thing, more than any other everyday, ordinary practice in modern society, imparts not just parental/adult care and concern; it cultivates a sense of wonder and adventure. It feeds the imagination, exercises it. I think – depending on the stories- it’s how the core values of being a decent human being in the face of Life’s monsters and perilous journeys are transmitted to our kids.

Now some might label it frivolous but I say it’s a critical investment. Yes, STEM them chillun ’til they wins the Nobel Prize, but this is more than coding classes or the latest tablet/phone. This is heart, not mind, and I suspect this is probably one of the simplest but most profound investments a parent or guardian can make in a child. And all you need is a book. A library card. And an hour or two per week.

Now I’m not equating ‘St Strelok’ with Willy Wonka or Treasure Island. God no. I’m just letting folks know they can listen to two of my stories on their Kindle or phone or whatever device now. I think the narrators did an excellent job and I hope you will too. Please give them a listen or recommend them to a friend who likes my kind of stuff. Fire off a review if you can. It’s nice to get feedback.

Hard Kill‘ is next. My Celtic-flavored ghost story ‘The Barrow Lover’ should be available by September. I’ll let you know for sure when they’re ready.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day.

Note to self: find that hard cover copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

*** Other Links

Click to see those two stories at AMAZON.

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SOZO                                           ST. STRELOK

A short book review

Of Dan Abnett’s The Magos

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I know the cover looks cheesy. I know game-verse fiction is often (rightly) dismissed as little better than fan-gush, but if you’ve never read Dan Abnett, I think you’re missing out on some truly good Sci Fi.

It was the Eisenhorn trilogy that did it for me. I’d never heard of Mr. Abnett before. Apparently he writes comics. Cool, but not really my cuppa. But as an avid table top wargamer and spec-fiction reader, the books appeared on my radar screen and I took a chance on the first one. Then I bought the second. And had to get the third.

I was hooked.

Yes, it helps to be familiar with the Warhammer 40,000’s grim, Gothic setting, but it’s not necessary. Abnett’s Inquisitor novels are ‘domestic’ 40K; all about conspiracies, cults and covert operations. The ‘total war in the grim darkness of the far future’ is an ever-present backdrop, sure, but they have more in common with police procedurals and Gothic mystery thrillers than grand-scale military Sci Fi. Interesting characters, twisted plots, good pace, depth, solid, efficient prose, I kept flipping to the back cover picture asking ‘Who is this guy?”

An incredibly talented and prolific writer, apparently.

Mr. Abnett is now on my very short list of writer’s I’ll pre-order. (William Gibson and Steven Pressfield are the other two)

The Magos is a collection of short stories packed in with a new Eisenhorn novel. Some of the shorts appear in the Eisenhorn Omnibus and other Inquisitor novels, but several are brand spanking new. Plus there’s a novel at the back of the book.

I’m not a spoilers/book report kind of reviewer, so I’ll spare the synopsis, but if the previous Inquisitor books caught your attention, you’ll want to add The Magos to your Summer reading list. Enjoy.

You can get a copy (hopefully) at your local book store, or Here at Amazon

Have a good day.

My lodestars for drafting

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Second editing pass though my next novel, I’ve got a new Post-It on the bottom of my monitor: three  points to steer by as I hack, slash, and burn my way through the undergrowth.

1. Err on the side of the reader’s intelligence.

Aside from the fact my latest isn’t a YA novel, I’m writing to a capable, nuanced audience who, while new to my particular story, is familiar with the genre as well as Life’s genuine struggles and victories. I will not talk to them like they’re pets or three-year olds.

2. Don’t BS the reader.

See above. The reader has been gracious and given me of their time and money. I don’t want either to be a waste. Of course the story has themes and the author has opinions and values, but the reader can smell an agenda a mile off. There may be types or tropes that function as fiction shorthand, but they cannot devolve into cliches that cheapen or interrupt the story.

3. Less is more.

There’s a fine line (and a yawing chasm) between poetic and verbose. This is the ‘right word versus almost the right word’ dilemma. I will not fall in love with my prose and will cut what doesn’t best serve the scene, regardless of how clever the turn of phrase. I’m not padding my word count. Make it lean and precise, not bloated or boggy.  Remember the Failure Mode of ‘Clever’ is ‘Asshole’.

***

Time to hone the machete, top off the flamethrower, and get back to work.

Have an excellent day.

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Zombie Six Release and Notes

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In the 22nd century, the ethnic Uyghur in Western China still dream of independence. Decades of discrimination, surveillance, and repressive policies by the Chinese government have only strengthened their resolve. Frustrated with the separatists , the Beijing enacts a final solution: the forcible deportation of all dissidents to Mèng Tiān, a desolate mining colony in the Kepler system, five hundred light years from Earth.

When the relocation program backfires and a full-scale insurgency erupts, the elite operators of Zombie Six arrive as part of the U.N.E. Peacekeeper force. Ordered to kill or capture the Uyghur leadership, the team finds itself in a deadly crossfire of corruption, deceit, and drone-borne IEDs. To survive, Zombie Six must first remember Truth is still the first casualty of war.

“Enemy of my Enemy” is a stand-alone novella from the author of the Eshu International novels, the ongoing Clar1ty Wars cyberpunk series, and other spec-fiction works.

***

Enemy of my Enemy –  A Zombie Six Mission is now available at Amazon, both in print and for Kindle.  I wanted to take a moment to let folks know and thank everyone for their support, both online and in the real world. That anyone takes the time to read my stuff still amazes me. So… a few words about how ‘Enemy of my Enemy’ came about:

There’s always that initial something that pushes a story into motion. A spark that gets the creative gears turning or a seed that takes root and grows. Enemy of my Enemy was born out of a hard kernel of news concerning the Chinese Government’s treatment of the ethnic Uyghur in their western provinces. It didn’t show up on my radar all at once, mind you. It was more jigsaw puzzle pieces, assembling over  a year or so to form a genuinely disturbing image of relentless, hi-tech coercion, forcible assimilation, and repressive policies.

My eldest son was the first to bring the situation to my attention, and to be honest, I filed it under a Communist administration’s usual rigid treatment of dissidents.  Remember, these are the same folks who brought us the crackdown of the Tiananmen Square protests back in 1989.

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It wasn’t until I read This article. This one. And this one. that I began to grasp just how pervasive, insidious, and invasive the PRC efforts were.  The more I thought about it, the less I was able to sleep.

Yes, I added elite spec-ops, gun drones, firefights, and a high body count on top of it all to make a typical Mil SF action story, but the foundation is a picture of real-world authoritarianism made frighteningly more wicked and effective by advanced technology. This part, tragically, is not made up.

‘Enemy of my Enemy’ is a spec-fiction action piece set in the next century, but perhaps, in some small way, the mention of this real life, present situation can do a little to raise awareness – not only of the Uyghur’s treatment, but of the rise of ubiquitous, invasive monitoring and surveillance, and the corresponding erosion of human rights and dignity.

Because if history is anything to go by, this trend and this technology will only grow and spread. We need to be vigilant and proactive against it in every form.

If you want to do more, take a look at Human Rights Watch. They deal with these kinds of issues and have an excellent rating at Charity Navigator. In fact, I plan on donating a portion of the first 6 months of ‘EomE’ sales to them.

So buy the book. Tell a friend. Or donate direct.

Art hard and have a great day.