A Prayer to Saint Strelok

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There is more fiction in the pipeline but my latest short story is now available at Amazon. For those familiar with the STALKER or METRO 2033 video games, this should feel familiar – like the worn stock on your trusty AK-47, or the snug, sweat-soaked bands on your respirator.

Release date is 16 December. You can pre-order now if you like.

Enjoy and Spasibo.

A Prayer to Saint Strelok

Semper Gumby

More ‘graphs from my latest mil sf WIP, ZOMBIE SIX.

MEDEVAC crew trains for emergency response

 

SEMPER GUMBY

 

 

Rucker and I watched Tien Chang burn.

Not like we hadn’t seen the effects of an orbital strike before. But there’s just something about fire.

We were across the river, five kilometers away, and could still hear it roar. Buildings were torches. Signs, light posts, cars, flared like kindling. Downtown was a shimmering inferno of melting asphalt, glass, and steel. It is hard to believe those things burn like that. But they do. A city of a hundred and forty thousand people turning to cinders.

I could see flames raging higher and higher, gasping, grasping into the night sky for more air. Soon a vortex would form, pulling everything inward to the white-hot heart, and a pillar of fire would rise on scorching winds over the city center, writhing and howling like Hell’s own tornado.

 

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“Damn,” Ricker grunted. “Admiral Sota is not fucking around.”

“No, he isn’t,” I said.

Lights flickered south of the city along the riverbank. I cranked my optical neurochems and zoomed in: a string of trucks was racing down the highway away from the blaze. Compensating for the light-wash, my tacti-comp ID’d them as Isuzu bulk haulers. Might be insurgents. Might be civilians. It didn’t matter – the evac deadline had passed twelve hours ago. The drone cordon would take them out before they got another kilometer. “The Admiral is not a ‘fuck around’ kinda guy,” I finished.

Rucker nodded absently. He had spotted the trucks too and was tracking them. “So I’m thinking the Timmies said ‘No’ to the Council’s offer of a cease-fire?”

“Word is they shot the diplomatic android first,” I explained. “Then told the rest of the negotiating team to chī shǐ back to the 18th generation. That hurt the Admiral’s feelings, so he decided to send a message.”

Rucker gave a harsh laugh. “Yeah, but Rods from God? Who’s left to hear it?”

I jerked my head south where Xuan Chang and Wen Chang, the two remaining colony cities, stood. “The Turkistan Independence leaders. I mean, nothing quite says, “Listen Up!” like hypervelocity tungsten telephone poles fired from Low Planetary Orbit, right?”

Rucker shrugged. “Well, when you care enough to send the very best….”

It was my turn to laugh. I snorted, looked back across the dark, flame-lit water. “I just hope they listen.”

Rucker shrugged, and started to walk back to our camp. “Bah. I give it two days, boss. Fleet has the entire system on lock-down. Absolutely no traffic from the moons, Belt mines, or orbitals unless it is UNE authorized and got a military escort. Meng Tian is cut off. Methinks the Tim’s glorious revolution just got strangled in the cradle.”

“Can’t argue your logic, but…” my voice trailed off. I had a feeling about this one.

Rucker spread his hands in mock surprise. “Seriously?”

He pointed across the river. “Once word of this spreads, they’ll have to come to the table.  Who wants Chang Two and Three lit up like that? The Timmies may be fanatics but they’re not stupid. The Planetary Council won’t go for it. Not the U.N.E. either, not really. Crisped miners, slagged infrastructure, delayed ore shipments… bad for business all around.”

 

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Rucker spit, shifted his Steyr-30 to the crook of his other arm. “Fifty yuan says we’ll be back on the Hephestus in forty-eight hours, cryo-ed, and zip lining our way to the UNE’s next cluster fuck.”

“From the Freezer to Hell in sixty seconds,” I intoned. “Or your money back. Guaranteed.”

“Zombie Six. That’s how we roll.” he said.

I thumped my chest plate despite the itch at the back of my mind. The Kepler solar system was effectively blockaded, Fleet Marines had landed at New Shenzhen, Tien Chang was burning. I so wanted Rucker to be right.  But…

An A.I. generated, strategic, socio-psych profile can be as meticulous as it is wrong. People are spectacularly illogical. Brute truth is sometimes a kick in the head makes people give up – sometimes it just pisses them off.

I could feel the anger coming off Tien Chang in waves.

He raised one eyebrow. “You’re not taking my bet.”

“Hey, I’ll take your money,” I said. “In the meantime though, make sure our ammo and power cells are topped off.  Chandra has first watch.”

Rucker frowned.

“I’m not jinxing us,” I said. “I want Zombie Six to be ready in case the Timmies won’t see reason, is all.”

Rucker saluted. “Semper Gumby,” he drawled, and went back to the rest of the squad.

***

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Beneath The Broken Moon

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Finished edits on part one of The Shattered Worlds and decided to play around in GIMP.  I like the way this turned out. I think people are going to enjoy this story.

Someone asked about ‘Dead Saints’ the other day. Well, it’s on the back burner until the election is over. It’s been a stop and go project from the beginning, with the first scenes and outline sitting on my computer for several years. The current delay is due in part by my malaise and general frustration as well as an eerie resemblance between the current political situation and several key plot points.

For example, the story’s antagonist is a corrupt politician demonically inspired to boost their career trajectory toward the White House by deliberately allowing a terrorist attack and then playing the hero in the aftermath. Evidence of this conspiracy is contained in emails thought deleted by the politician’s staff but uncovered by the protagonist while battling both natural (terrorist) and supernatural  (demonic) forces in an attempt to stop the imminent terrorist threat.

And here I was, making stuff up.

Have a good weekend.

The Stones Remember Release

The-Stones-RememberAnother ‘Near-Future’ short, The Stones Remember is about NATO units caught up in a massive Russian invasion of Poland and the Baltics. Exhausted, out-gunned, and out numbered, they find themselves at the site of an old battlefield and have to decide if some history is worth repeating.

Available in electronic format right now, it’s a quick, cheap read. (less than a cup of coffee lasts longer) Thanks much. I’m hammering away at two full-length novel projects but wanted to get this out in the meantime. Hope you enjoy it.

Casting Stones and Stumbling Blocks

“A prophet gone wrong is almost always more interesting than your grandmother…”

  • Flannery O’Connor

 

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Been on the perimeter of yet another round of Believers Brick-Tag, i.e. the “Spec-fiction is a stumbling block/supernatural and,or worldly elements are a grievous offense” discussion, and I feel the need to stake out what seems incredibly obvious yet damnably elusive.

First off, let’s reiterate the distinction between theology and speculative fiction. One is the systematic study of God and religious belief, the other is – by definition  – made up stories.

Now I know atheists would say this is true of the Bible itself, but that’s a different discussion. To repeat my mantra: a novel is not a sermon. It’s one of those ‘apples and orangutans’ things, people. Similar raw material (words and ideas) but different modes, different purposes, different content.

You don’t get into an elevator for the music. You shouldn’t look for theology in a dystopian YA novel or an urban fantasy series. I know they make truth-claims and worldview statements either overtly or obliquely. EVERYTHING DOES. You must have heard the phrase ‘spit out the bones’. It’s time to exercise discernment – the same level one employs when selecting kitchen utensils to say, scramble eggs. “Put away the corkscrew and tenderizing mallet.”

If you want Christian theology, read the Bible, church history, and apologetics. Don’t get it from a Wachowski movie or a K-pop hit or a Marvel comic book or a “Left Behind” novel. That’s akin to making life-choices based on fortune cookies. Which would be bad. That some people do in fact cobble belief systems from Star Trek and Pink Floyd, then Quick-Pick their Happy Panda Lucky Numbers constitutes a severe failure in their judgment. (I suspect LSD and alcohol is a factor in such cases)

Second, let’s remember the distinctions between the artist, their art, and their audience. Souls are saved, art is not. Art is a product of a remarkable, mysterious synergy, but it is a construct nonetheless. Painting a night sky means you’ll have to break out a tube of black paint. It doesn’t mean you’re a ‘dark’ individual. Just don’t expect to sell it to folks who are partial to sunrises.

While the call to genuine character, sound thinking, and the fundamentals of Christian doctrine apply to every believer, the vocation of an artist – in this case, writer – is not that of the preacher or theologian. One employs drama, metaphor, allegory, and myth, while the other expounds on biblical spiritual truth and (hopefully) delivers an inspired rhema for a particular time, place, and congregation.

Both engage with the transcendent. Each borrows from the others toolbox. I’m not elevating one over the other- I’m simply noting they approach it from vastly different angles. See the C.S Lewis quote on Reason and Imagination. (Incidentally, doctrine is how we engage with the transcendent – not beat it into submission; directions to the doctor are not the doctor. Dreams about the doctor aren’t either.)

I happen to be a Christian who writes spec-fiction for a non-Christian audience. Part of my obligation before God is to recognize the conventions of the genre and the expectations of my readers. I have to be faithful to those dynamics too, then do the work to the best of my ability. And to echo Dorothy Sayers, work must be good work before it can be God’s work because pious trash is still trash.

Last, let’s distinguish between Realistic and Gratuitous, between being Sensitive and Pandering.

Let’s face it: “Christian gritty” is pretty tame. Many Christian fiction writers try to genuinely honor the conventions of their genres as well as strive for credibility, consistency, and realism, but we don’t come close to reality. Not really.

Not that our gold standard is Triple X Snuff Porn with a dash of Corporate Avarice and Ethnic Cleansing, but it’s worth remembering ‘worldly’ content is taken from the real world – a real world that is definitely not PG-13, that God still loves, hasn’t abandoned, and meets precisely at its shameful, broken, ugly point of need. That’s what the Cross was and Salvation is.

When writing fiction, I’m certainly not for inserting cruel, coarse, or lascivious content for shock or titillation. But realistic themes where and when they’re organic to the characters and story line? Absolutely. It’s mandatory, in fact. Anything less cheapens the work, and strikes me as inherently duplicitous and dishonoring to God.

Now that kind of content may well make some readers uncomfortable. Shock them even, to the point where the alarmist ‘stumbling block’ phrase gets volleyed about loudly and frequently.

Look, I’m all for being sensitive to someone’s weakness or struggles. I’ll refrain if I know someone has a problem. That’s basic human compassion and consideration. But I’m all done pandering to the ‘professional weaker brother’, those tedious brethren who make a habit, a career, a ministry of taking offense, then running around telling everyone. It’s deliberate immaturity, demanding everyone bend down because they refuse to grow up. We’re walking on eggshells while they stomp all over personal convictions, choices, and liberty. I’m going to make a lot of mistakes, but I’m not going to second guess myself into paralysis, mediocrity, and anemia.

Over thirty years as a believer, a majority of them in full or part time ministry of some kind, it’s my experience too many in the church prefer tidy affirmations to hard-edged hope. Christians in any walk of life or vocation have to reject the notion  that the call to be ‘in the world but not of it’ translates into a license to be ignorant or insular. The root meaning of “holiness” is not sterile separation but the notion of being set apart for a particular use. We cannot hide from ugly realities or contradictory philosophies (or worse, ridicule, reduce and sanitize them) then think we can be effective in addressing them with any meaningful offer of God’s redemption.

I’ll end with this thought from Harry Dreyfuss, actor Richard Dreyfuss’ son. (Good find, K.C.)

“If you can’t stand to listen to an idea, it does not prove that you oppose it. Refusing to show interest in a different perspective should not serve as a badge of pride in your own ideas. It actually serves the exact opposite function. It proves that you don’t even understand your own opinion. If you can’t understand the argument you disagree with, then you don’t have the right to disagree with it with any authority, nor do you really have a grasp on what your own idea means in its context.” – Harry Dreyfuss

Have a good day, and in the words of Chuck Wendig, “Go forth and art hard.”