Red Flags Release

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Now available at AMAZON ON KINDLE. Read/Reviews would be much appreciated.

Special thanks to Michal Oracz for the cover, Mark at Angel Editing for the clean-up, and a heap of patient readers. I’m grateful.

Part 2 is under the copy-edit scalpel right now.

An Ocean of Storms. (a Clar1ty Wars story)

Fact is I’m a slower writer than I care to admit, but here’s the prologue for the next Clar1ty Wars installment, ‘Under Strange Stars’.

PROLOGUE: AN OCEAN OF STORMS

“– the Check-In at Gate E –”

He sat on the edge of the red-padded couch and stared at the domes’ apex; a thin, impeccably dressed man surrounded by luxury fascinated in the polished navel of a titanium skeleton twenty meters above him.

He stopped and looked around the empty room. ‘Executive Lounge.’ He bristled at the name; Executive Waste is what it was. One man in a bubble of light and warmth and oxygen that could easily house fifty. The profligate disgusted him. Oblivious, entitled, they flaunted the wealth wrung from the sweat and air of thousands of people. People like him.

This place was a profanity. God damn them all.

Drop City was below the horizon, so the Lounge windows swelled with a deep, star-dusted black. He kept looking up, hoping to see it peek over the horizon, but he calmed himself. He would be there soon enough – God willing.

When he left fifteen years ago, he was certain he was gone forever. He had elbowed his way to the bulkhead and stared for hours out a tiny porthole, first at the pale blue orb receding from him, then when the tears dried, at the stars.

There was so much light. He had been stunned to think of space as bright, but he soon learned a billion suns scintillate in the void. The farther out, the clearer they were. Sorrow begets revelation begets rebirth. This too was from the hand of the Almighty.

But that was long ago and he was here now. Today.

The spaceport’s landing pads gave him enough light to make out the rough gray of the crater lip on his right. Without a reference, it was difficult to gauge the distance, but the panels were so clear, he swore he could have stepped between the struts and bounded across the dark basalt.

He snorted. The electro-stat needed to keep the view dust-free for a month probably ran more than he made in a year. More squandering.

He grit his teeth, swallowed. His old bio-suit, a few hours oxygen, a good ship, and he could be far away from this blight, this poison, back where God spoke in the endless silence among the frozen dunes. Back home.

But leaving wasn’t an option. The Prophet had declared a great and effective door was open – but only for a little season. They must move swiftly, at any price.

“– Jumaat please report to –“

And what a price. He tugged his shirt collar for the hundredth time. The tie was still tight, but not knowing how to retie it, he feared loosening it further. The jacket, with its smooth, iridescent silk, bunched under his arms, cinched around his waist. This mission must have cost dearly; the outfit, a new identity, a Movado Charm, even this Shuttle ticket. But he had been assured a thousand-fold reward. How could he refuse?

A wallscreen beside him pinged on. Twice his height, it blossomed with high-def color. Are they blind as well, that it needed to be so huge, he fumed. At least the Auto-Serve had stopped pestering him about a beverage.

Two News Net personalities were blathering about a mega-storm south of Drop City’s equatorial land-chain. Satellite imagery flashed a cotton-pearl swirl on a bed of azure blue. The frowny faces of the newscasters nodded thoughtfully at projected path icons and wind speed data. Raging thousands of kilometers wide, the storm crept northward. Massive oceans and twin moons conjured furious weather patterns on a gigantic scale, Drop City’s southern hemisphere being particularly volatile.

Oceanum Procellarum, they called it. An Ocean of Storms.

He smiled at that. He decided long ago Irony was God’s most common figure of speech. A storm was coming indeed.

“Will Mr. Tenuk Jumaat please report –“

He heard the name and froze. Why were calling him?

A split second of fear tingled down his spine. What had he forgotten? Had he missed something? His cell leader had drilled vigilance into him: every step closer brought another level of surveillance. Threatened, defensive, the Orbitals and their TTA lackeys layered it around their dens: monitors, retinal scans, voice and facial recog-ware, chemical and biological sniffers… Paranoia revealed their corrosion, their weakness, but he must be careful.

Without moving his body, he glanced around. He checked the reflections in the glass. No CE uniforms bursting in, no security turrets sprouting up, no micro-drones… Why were they calling him?

“Will Mr. Tenuk Jumaat please report to the Check-In at Gate E.”

He stood, swept his hair back, smoothed his jacket. Slender, with dark, delicate Malay features, he looked every inch the refined technocrat now. The skin next to his eyes was still tender from where they lased the Glare Lines smooth, but not rashed. Spacer Squint would have been a dead give-away. Certainly something Mr. Tenuk Jumaat wouldn’t have. Everything was in place. He set disdain on his face, and strode out the door.

Twin TTA attendants, eerily beautiful in their bio-sculpted symmetry, perked up as he approached the Check-In.

The female lit up with a smile as bright as arc-light wattage. “I’m so sorry to disturb you, Mr. Jumaat. As a courtesy to our Executive Class Passengers, we wanted to personally inform you the storm system has delayed all in-bound flights to Bradbury Space Port. We apologize for the inconvenience, but TTA Control is re-routing shuttles as we speak.” She double checked her station screen. “It shouldn’t be more than a twenty minutes before we have you on your way.”

Relief shivered through him but he nodded thoughtfully, just like the newscasters on the wallscreen. “No worries. It’s the season for storms, right?”

“Exactly,” she said.



Copyright 6/2013. P. Todoroff

Is my work ‘Science Fiction’?


I recognize my work isn’t ‘Christian’ in the traditional sense. In preparing Shift Tense: Red Flags for release I wondered if it really counts as science fiction in the traditional sense. I gots no wise-cracking aliens, no FTL, Jedi Knights, death rays, or time machines.

Is it cyberpunk? Moreso, perhaps. Its got that ‘high-tech fluff/lowlife’ spice. But there are no big hair/metal-band, leather-clad punks. (You’re welcome)

Fact is, I wrote Shift Tense to illustrate the friction between First and Third World armies with their widely different weapon systems and soldiers, and the general social, technological and financial inequality that in my opinion will remain and widen.

So is it near-future thriller? Espionage? Vanilla Action and Adventure? Or something else? I’m interested in your opinion.

Side Note – I do love this trailer:

Sneak Peek: Red Flags cover

It’s really coming.
Here’s the first stage cover art. Minor changes and “Red Flags” subtitle pending. Each portion of SHIFT TENSE feature a different cover and will be released for Kindle over the next six months. The full novel will be available after in both trade paperback and electronic format. (About time, eh?)
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The science fiction of no God

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.”
– Alan Alda

We all make them. We all run into them/get run over by them. Common ones I have dealt with:

1. I’m male, an artist, so I must be gay. (my wife is always amused at this one)
2. I’m physically disabled so I must be mentally challenged. (One potential client saw me walking with my cane and asked if I was capable of doing her job. I replied it was fortunate you don’t cut glass with your feet. Fact is, one of the reasons I started using a cane in public was the tediousness of people talking to me like I was a three-year-old about to have a seizure.)
3. I’m a Christian, so I must be willfully uneducated, uncultured and hostile toward science, literature, etc. (After all, only stupid, poor hicks believe in God.)
4. I’m pushing 50, been saved longer than ten years, so I must be like Statler and Waldorf, a religious ‘old wineskin’ hindering ‘real’ revival.
5. Because I have a Pentecostal Christian background, I’m a hop, skip and a jump away from prancing about in my undies like King David waving a prayer banner whilst frothing in tongues. (See #2)

*Ahem*

To clarify, it was Iain M. Banks‘ passing and his last novel “The Hydrogen Sonata” that prompted this post. The above have been simmering for a bit – Guess I needed to get them out.

It’s just that the ‘H.S.’ typifies science fiction’s traditional assumptions toward religion, spirituality and faith. And it got me thinking.

Before I go any further, I’m not disparaging Mr. Banks. Far from it. The man was an absurdly brilliant and prolific writer. Would to God I could write half as much half as well. I agree with Neil Gaiman who said ‘his bad books were good while his good ones were astonishing.’ His Culture series novels are sprawling space-operas filled with Red Giant-sized ideas, story-arcs measured in parsecs, tragedy in gigadeaths. If you’re a sci-fi fan, you owe it to yourself to read at least one of his books. “Consider Phlebas”, “The Player of Games”, or “Against a Dark Background” are all good starting points. His work is at once an inspiration, a challenge and a rebuke, all in the best possible way.

Mr. Banks’ assumption was common to the genre: that technology renders religion and faith spurious. That humankind will mature beyond the need for an Imaginary Friend/Sky Bully, and develop the ultimate, prosperous, tolerant, secular-humanist utopia under the new omniscient, omnipotent, and ubiquitous gods of Artificial Intelligence. That thought was the foundation for every novel, a common thread, implicit or expressed.

I couldn’t help but note Mr. Banks didn’t so much discard God as replace him. With all the disdain for religion, future fictional people still require a guiding hand. The A.I.s are as much protagonists as the deities of Greek Mythology. Indeed, they play much the same role in his plots.

I’ve heard it said we’d ‘need to invent God even if there wasn’t one’ for ethical, moral, transcendent philosophical purposes alone. This isn’t so much an essay on apologetics but a question of how realistic is a fictional future without people who believe in God? Odd that as a Christian, I’m accused of wishful thinking and unreasonable fantasy. For the record, nearly half the characters in Shift Tense profess some form of religion, be it genuine, misguided, or manipulative. It’s not simply my preference – it made sense that in depicting the future, people would still be made of the same stuff.

Despite centuries of predictions, the sheer number of religious people is telling. God is far from dead. If a writer’s job is to construct a credible fictional universe, how plausible is it to discard religious faith? In the context of an unknown future/exploring an unimaginably vast universe, is it reasonable to think people will leave God behind?

If anything, I suspect religion will be cherished, will be preserved even more for inspiration, guidance, comfort, certainty, rationalization… Just like today.

RED FLAGS Excerpt

Heard from my editor: Part One is finished. Waiting on the cover, then it’s off to Amazon/Creatspace. Til then, here’s a taste:

***

PART ONE: RED FLAGS

“Mars is not an aesthetic God.”
Confederate Commander John Brown Gordon, at Shiloh.

CHAPTER ONE – Mini Puka Boy
Somewhere on the Gulf of Aden.

Abdi was sure he was dying.

His head was dizzy, loose on his neck like a door with one hinge. His stomach clenched with every wave, every jump and roll the boat made. He had nothing left to throw up. He felt empty, crumpled as a paper sack. Surely the angel Azra’il stood ready to escort his soul above the skies.

Thirteen years old, he couldn’t remember ever feeling this bad before.

It had started the second day out at sea. He had spewed hardbread and goat over the rail, and after that, he couldn’t keep anything down. The older soldiers, all SPLM men, had laughed, dubbing him Mini Puka Boy. Now, they sang out the name whenever he came near and wouldn’t let him sleep in the bunks below. Instead, they shoved him toward the ‘puke nest’; a makeshift tent on the bow made from an old tarp and big coils of greasy rope. There, they said, he could vomit over the side whenever he wanted.

Veteran pirates, the older fighters were full of advice, telling him it would pass on the fourth day, that he must stare at the sky not the ocean, claiming that smoking jaad or chewing khat would make him hungry, make the sea-sickness stop.

But nothing helped. The shakes, the weakness, only grew worse the farther out into the Gulf they went. Three days later, all he could do was lay on the deck like a limp rag.

Last night, one of the SPLM men, the one with the dirty pink rubber hand, brought a bowl of mishaari and spooned the corn mush into his mouth. Abdi managed five bites before it went all over his boots. Pink Hand gave up in disgust, and the older soldiers had cackled even louder. Abdi didn’t even have the strength to get mad. He simply curled up and bit his lip when he wanted to moan.

He has felt better briefly, earlier that morning. He’d woken from the metal stock of his old AK-47 digging in his ribs. Shifting, groping in the dark, his fingers had found a half-filled tin cup beside him. One of the younger boys must have brought it sometime in the night. The water smelled dusty, but Abdi sipped its coolness and kept it down.

The world had been silent save the low wind and the soft lapping of waves. He had actually managed to stand for a minute or two, steadying himself on the rails at the very front of the boat.

The Gulf had spread out around him like a great dark field while the stars shone like hard, bright sparks; a thousand thousands of them spilled across the dome of heaven. Wobbly, stretched thin, Abdi had nevertheless sensed something vast in that moment. Perhaps that was what the Hand of Allah felt like.

He must have fallen back asleep, because the sun was high when he opened his eyes again, and the water tasted like boiled sweat. His gut was in knots once more, so he lay there under the tattered blue tarp and tried to muster up hatred for the captain of this torture voyage.

His cousin Ghedi had lied to get him on board. Abdi was sure of that now.

Ghedi had found him at Dhubbato with their grandmother. Like most other members of the Isaaq clan, the massive UN refugee camp was the last safe place in Somaliland. Teeming, filthy, filled with crime and poverty though it was, at least the Hangash, General Dhul-Fiqaar’s secret police, or roving units of elite Duub Cas, the Red Beret Regiment, couldn’t come and slaughter them at night. Not with so many Peacekeepers watching.

Abdi’s cousin was shahiba, a gang-banger, and Ghedi ran with a crew of other Somali teenager boys, all of them orphans, angry, and Isaaq. A year ago, they had gotten their hands on some old army rifles and started calling themselves the “Harimacad”, the Cheetah militia. Soon after, they had disappeared into the bush to join Professor Hamid and his rebel Somaliland People’s Liberation Movement.

Then, all these months later, Ghedi had barged into their tent as if he’d only been gone a day. Mouthing big talk, he claimed he was no longer a shahiba; the Professor had made him a very important man. A captain. Abdi was suspicious, but Ghedi wore tiger-striped fatigues and had two gold pins on his shirt collar. And he flashed a huge wad of Euros. That was very different.

His cousin boasted he and his militia had been ordered to go on a secret mission for the SPLM. But he needed more men. Was Abdi interested? Ghedi promised a handful of bills and an AK-47 if he came. A real gun, a man’s gun, all for a quick boat ride, he had said.

Abdi hesitated. Then Ghedi had pulled out a nice red shirt. Almost new. It could be Abdi’s right then as a bonus.

That clinched the deal.

Abdi looked down at his new shirt now, all foul and puke-stained. Ghedi had bedeviled him. If he’d known the truth about being a budhcad badeed, he would have grabbed that shirt, kicked his cousin in the stones, and run as fast as he could. Now it was too late.

His cousin had only promised those things because this was his first time pirating and he wanted to impress the SPLM men by bringing his own fighters along. Lying wacaal.

Abdi was going to tell their grandmother about this swindle the second they got back to shore. May Allah bring that day quickly. The thought of their grandmother beating Ghedi with her old belt strap like she used to raised a smile on his cracked lips.

A sudden wind shook his little tent and he peered out across the deck of the pirate ship.

It was one of four that had been towed out to the deep water by a much bigger boat. An old twelve meter, Italian fishing boat whose name was long-buried under layers of paint, the nets and winches had been replaced with battered Dushka 12.7 heavy machine guns. The motors were new and strong however, and Abdi had heard them growling in the back. Originally meant for fifteen men, almost two dozen were packed in for this trip: thirteen SPLM veterans and ten of Ghedi’s Cheetah militia.

Twenty-three fighters, five days, the hot sun, endless slapping waves, the stink of diesel, bodies, and vomit… this was misery. The Dhubbato camp was better.
Waiting made everything worse. Abdi couldn’t understand why they didn’t just attack one of the big cargo ships right now. The SPLM men said there were dozens of them passing through the Strait of Hormuz every hour. Pick one, fire the engines, and converge on the massive target like jackals on a buffalo. Problem solved.
Unless the Russian or Indians had a frigate nearby, all a pirate had to do was circle a few times, fire off a RPG, then go aboard. The men said the shipping companies paid most ransoms within a week. The trick was not to ask for too much. The executives figured pay-offs were cheaper than delaying the cargo. That way, no one suffered.

Abdi couldn’t have agreed more. Even getting shot at was better than getting bounced around and roasted like peanuts.

But no. Ghedi insisted his mission had come from SPLM Headquarters, from Professor Hamid himself even. They would wait, starving, vomiting, baking, until a certain ship came by. The Mashona Breeze. No other would do. Ghedi even had a laptop that sent him messages and pictures from planes high in the sky.
Abdi doubted the commander of the entire rebel army was emailing orders to his cousin, but he was pretty sure the dozen fighters had come along to make sure Ghedi carried them out to the letter.

The boat jumped. Abdi swallowed sourness at the back of his throat. No more after this. insha’ Allah, he prayed. Please. Only dry land from now on.
Abdi shut his eyes and let his head roll with the Gulf’s motion. He had dozed off when a burst of rifle fire stuttered loud and close. He sat up, heart in his throat.

Ghedi stood on deck, rifle in hand.

“It is time,” he shouted. “Commanders send the signal to me. The ship is close. We must go, go now.”

Ghedi ripped another burst into the sky for effect. “Crazy fast. Quick. Quick,” he screamed. “The revolution needs us and we will not be late.”

Abdi heard ammo belts clinking, the clatter of weapons being chambered. Brown, shaved heads scurried to pull the anchor. The motors throbbed deep and low.

Thank Allah, Abdi thought, and sank back. Then he saw Ghedi staggering towards him.

Abdi tried to stand, but a wave hit. He fell back, tangled in his frayed blue tarp. He flailed, swept it aside and looked up. A shadow was there; his cousin standing over him, red eyes and little captain gold badges shining. The fat muzzle of Ghedi’s AK-107 was pointing down at his chest.

“As Captain Boss, I order every badass gangsta have his finger on the trigger.” A grin, filled with stained, crooked teeth. “A dog that refuses a bone is not alive. Are you alive, little soldier?”

Abdi nodded.

Ghedi jerked his gun up, fired into the air. Abdi flinched. His cousin laughed.

“We are the fierce lions of the sea,” he screamed. “We will bring this Mashona Breeze down. Strike a blow for the people of Somaliland.”

The motors roared from the back and as the boat swung north, bucking in the waves, Abdi’s stomach knotted tighter with each passing second.

Two emails today


The first from someone in Portugal who wanted to let me know he really enjoyed Running Black and was looking forward to Shift Tense. The wonders of the internet and ebooks. The second from an agent I queried six months ago. Six months for a rejection. I’m not sniveled, really. It’s just no wonder indie-publishing is on the rise.

Mr. Todoroff,

It is with kind thanks that we respond to your submission to Kimberley Cameron & Associates Literary Agency. We apologize for the long delay in our response–the number of submissions we received in 2012 far surpassed our capacity to review and respond. We thank you for your patience as we work to amend this. Please be assured that we have carefully considered your project. Unfortunately, we don’t feel the manuscript is right for us at this time.

Because we receive more than two hundred submissions per week, it is necessary to be extremely selective on a very subjective basis. We wish you the best of luck. There are numerous excellent agents that might be the right fit for your manuscript. Don’t give up!

Sincerely,
xyz…..

Losing my religion?


I was asked recently about the ‘religious’ characters in my stories and ‘all that Christian stuff’, and figured I’d post some sort of answer.

I’ll freely admit one of my central goals as a writer is to integrate Christian themes into my work. However, I’m committed they work organically in the plots and I avoid heavy-handed, preachy narrative, or contrived ‘alter call’ moments. I’m not ashamed of my faith or trying to be coy and ‘sneak in’ definite truth-claims, but I feel part of my job as a writer is to keep the story line internally consistent. That means characters – Christian and non-Christian – have to act/re-act in ways that are authentic to their particular worldviews. That’s part and parcel of the calling of any writer. More so, the believer.

I’m never comfortable analyzing my own work, but Running Black intentionally addresses the sanctity of human life, specifically the premise that a transcendent worldview is the only thing that restrains Man’s inherent inhumanity against their fellow Man. Historically groups dehumanize, demean, and demonize ‘others’, caricaturize them as outcasts and opponents. As a person who has dealt with a physical disability all his life, I’ve encountered this dynamic before.

One of the catalysts for the Eshu International series was the fear that cloning technology will one day allow us to mass-produce human beings, who in turn be viewed legally and culturally as solely as property. A high-tech version of slavery. Hopefully, Running Black and even Shift Tense touch that nerve in the midst of all those firefights, explosions and betrayals.

Now Clar1ty Wars is a different animal. It is a serialized, sci-fi re-imagining of the 19th Century Opium Wars. The big picture is this nasty, shadowy war between the planetary government and massive, space-bound corporations who have been controlling an entire planetary system with a drug. I’m trying to portray the conflict on the street-level using an immersive, mosaic style. There are recurring characters, but each chapter offers a different perspective, a new piece of the puzzle. The Clar1ty Wars focuses on regular people – the good, the bad and the ugly – caught in the crossfire of a war.

Acknowledged or not, religion and spirituality play a major part in our societies and people’s lives. This has been true all over the planet for centuries up to today. And wishful humanist thinking aside, I don’t see that dynamic disappearing any time soon. For me and my writing, it means devout characters will play their parts along side the rest as the conflict unfolds. For example, the cabbie in One Bad Apple’s ‘The Doubter’ learns to see the protagonist, Seeb, in a new light. Little does he know it, but he’s slated for another appearance at a crucial time in a later installment.

Hope that helps. If you have an further questions just ask.

Red Flags in June

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Quick Announcement that SHIFT TENSE Part OneRed Flags will be available sometime in June. The manuscript is at the editor and Michal Oracz is working on the first of three new covers, one for each installment. He should have the first completed soon. So if all goes according to plan, the full novel will be released in both trade paperback and ebook at the end of the year.

I’ll post the cover art as soon as I get it.

Thanks.

To Serialize or not to…

Serialize. That is my question.

Several thoughts:

1. I’m a Part-Time Writer
Full-time glass work commands a majority of my creative effort, on top of which comes family, friends, ministry obligations and Life’s usual responsibilities. I strive to write on a consistent basis. I’m part of a local critique group, a member of the Cape Cod Writer’s Center. I’ve got the obligatory notebooks in the car, in the workshop, on the bed stand to catch those random flashes, but fiction is more a pressure-relief valve than a job, and lately carving out time to get my head in a sci-fi space has been increasingly tough.

Serialization spreads out the obligation in manageable increments.

2. SHIFT TENSE isn’t complete yet
I know the second book is the hardest to write. People tell me I’m fussing with it too much. But the fact remains I’m still not happy with the novel’s end. I’m battering my head against the wall tying up the loose ends here. however, the first two thirds of the current manuscript are solid with all the major plot-lines firmly in place.

Serialization give me more time to work out in intelligent climax worthy of the story.

3. Serialization seems a better fit for e-books and the current spec-fiction market
See the earlier post on ‘Wool’ as an example. Serialized stories sell, hopefully build audience anticipation, and generally raise story/writer profile with frequent, compact, releases. With little additional expense/effort, I could release Shift Tense part 1 and 2 over the course of the next six months, release part 3 in the Fall, and have the full novel out at Christmas.

Serialization allows readers to sample the story and grants them the option to continue or cease with minimal cost.

4. Serialization kicks “Shift Tense” out of the house
I already feel like a schmuck, failing to keep my initial deadline. When I finished “Running Black” back in late 2010, I was positive my writing career would rocket into the stratosphere. (BRAAAAAAP! Wrong. Guess again, Pat.) Little did I know about the realities of self-pubbing, marketing, the writing process, juggling competing commitments, etc, etc. I still don’t know a whole lot but now I know more.

Serialization allows me to get the story out there to the readers who have been/are gracious enough to continue to buy my books.

Oddly enough, an early version of ‘Running Black’ was serialized in monthly chapters on Matakishi’s Tea House, a gaming hobby site run by an excellent fellow in the U.K. He formatted the text, added images, and generally made it look much better than it was. It wasn’t until a substantial chunk of it had spooled into the aether that I started hammering out the full-length novel. I have plot arcs and characters for several other novels in different genres clamoring from scraps of paper and Word docs, but I’ve been ignoring them, restrained – right or wrong – by the weight of obligation. I understand the brute reality of ‘work’ in art and creativity. This isn’t all bunnies, hugs and muffins, but I’d like to get back to the challenge and adventure of story telling – the joy of it – rather than treating my time at the keyboard as another chore, fencing with guilt because I missed a deadline.

In the end, if a serialization experiment fails, I can chalk it up to experience and move on. At the moment, the option is under serious consideration and I’m trying to figure out the logistics of such a move.

Any thoughts or experience here?

Thanks.