Books By C. LItka

Books By C. LItka

Thursday, October 26, 2017


A Belbanian Beach

The Bright Black Sea's story proper begins in Belbania orbit, and Wil Litang often refers back to Belbania -- a world of oceans and islands where cha is grown. As I mentioned, when I first started writing what became The Bright Black Sea I toyed with the idea of having footnotes after each chapter enlarging on the places and elements of the chapter. Partly with the idea that Litang was writing a general account of the life of a tramp space freighter and partly for the fun of it. I didn't keep up with it, but I do have the notes I made for Belbania.

Notes on Belbania

The oceanic world of Belbania is not one of the major worlds of the Azminn system. It does, however, posses just enough interplanetary trade significance to be called on by tramp ships and small near-planet traders. Plus, all of its (current) neighboring planets are considerably colder and less developed planets, so that these days Belbania is a popular box-tourist destination for this ragtag collection of out of the way worlds. Every day several tourist ships arrive from Neavery, Chantria, and Bolsre carrying thousands of tourists in suspended animation boxes for their annual holiday to Belbania's beach resorts. Indeed, if it wasn't for the fact that warm beaches are far from uncommon among the 21 worlds of the Azminn solar system, Belbania might be better known beyond the cold worlds of Neavery, Chantria and Bolsre.
That said, it must also be admitted that Belbania's flying 'vampire' Sea Spiders don't add to its interplanetary holiday destination reputation. The Sea Spiders are common enough to make it rather hard to gloss over in the brochures, since truth in advertising requires mention of them. They have a rather menacing. ugly look about them: a vivid red hard shell, eight long. and rather sharp tipped legs, and stiff, buzzing wings. Plus, they grow to about the size of your fist. They are eatable, and boiled on the beach as they arrive, they are well worth the effort needed to acquired a taste for them. Each evening after Azminn sets they rise in swarms out of the shallow seas and fly inland to suck the nectar of the bankon fruit. Why they mistake humans for bankon fruit (if it is a mistake) has been a mystery for the twenty thousand years humans have lived on Belbania. They're not shy and land on you with a thump after which, if you let them, then take the better part of half an hour to unship their drilling tubes and get down to business of putting a hole in you. (As I mentioned, no one does anything fast on Belbania.) Clearly, everyone has plenty of time lift Sea Spiders off and toss them back to the sea or into a nearby pot of boiling water over the fire on the beach, if you've acquired the taste, so that they actually present little more than a minor annoyance, which can be avoided if you avoid the beach after sunset. From experience I can state that you can sit out on the beach well past bar time and only have a dozen or two land on you. You can eat well if you’ve got the water boiling. The only real risk you run of getting drilled by the sea spiders is if you fall deeply into a deep sleep on the beach. And by a deep sleep, I mean dead drunk. And even if you find yourself still on the beach come morning, you're likely to have only half a dozen or so rather sore swellings where the Sea Spiders drilled into you, only to discover, to their great astonishment and disappointment, that you're not a bankon fruit after all, and flew off in disgust. All in all, even with the vampire Sea Spiders, as the system gradually realigns itself over the centuries to where Belbania finds itself with more populous solar neighborhood, it might well become a nice second class resort destination. Of course the Belbanians count themselves lucky this isn't the case so far and I, for one, don't blame them.

Besides the tourist industry Belbania has two major exports, cha and Shellstone. cha grows on the high slops of volcanic islands of which Belbania has thousands, much like the planet of Chantsom Yea, which sets the Nine Star Nebula standard for cha. And like every other planet, other than Chantsom, which grows cha, (and you can grow it on any planet that is in the warm zone and has high volcanic peaks) the usual quality doesn't come close to the real Chantsom grown cha, which is, justly, fabulously expensive. Belbania cha planters do however produce a decent mass market variety for this quarter of the Azminn system, shipping something like 300 standard containers worth of cha to the worlds in this half of the Azminn system. However, I've found several growers high on the volcanic island peaks who grow and process cha in small quantities that actually rivals fine (but not the finest) quality Chantsom cha. I buy a dozen or so chests each time we call to trade on my own guild account; starting them off on the first leg of a long journey throughout the Nine Star Nebula to dealers in fine cha and connoisseurs (like myself) who value fine and rare cha. On those watches when everything seems to go wrong, I find myself dreaming of giving up space and becoming a cha planter on Belbania.

The other major export is Belbania Shellstone. Under its seas lie kilometers deep layers of fossilized sea creatures which are quarried, shaped, polished, and made into all sorts of objects d'art, furniture, furnishings and even wall panels. Shellstone had a market throughout the Azminn system. However, to maximize revenue and keep Belbanians hard(ish) at work, only finished products can be exported, which fills up shipping containers and keeps tramp ships like the Lost Star calling on Belbania on a regular basis. There's usually half a dozen tramps in orbit taking on containers of Belbania cha and Shellstone on any given time. Plus a dozen or more near-planet traders connected with the box tourist trade and the minor odds and ends that find their way to and from Belbania.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Fashion of Tallith Min

The general look of how Tallith Min dressed -- from a Ralph Lauren 2013 Fall Fashion Show

Despite being an artist, I don't have a visual memory. So, when it comes to writing, I usually have only a rather vague impression of the places I set my stories and scenes in. I'm sure that some, if not most authors can picture in their heads, the scenes they write about, but I can't -- not in their entirety, at any rate. I can sort of focus on some of the necessary details, but for the most part, I try to give just enough details to allow the reader with a better visual memory than me, to fill in the blanks. This goes for my characters as well. I don't have anything more than a vague, visual sense of them physically, and rather than construct them out of words I can't picture, I simply leave them vague for each and every reader to picture as they choose.

That said, I did have a sense of how Tallith Min dressed. The pictures below,  from a Ralph Lauren fashion show, give that sense of how she dressed, though the details differ. I envisioned a bit more Napoleonic military uniform style -- more buttons and jackets rather than big coats. Still, these photos informed my sense of the character.

They come from a cool site called The Sartorialist, mostly devoted to highlighting how people dress to express themselves and their creativity. The photos below come from this entry:

Here are several more from the fall Ralph Lauren Fall 2013 show that has the same look.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Reflections on my Early Works

Looking back over what I’ve written over the years, I was surprised to find how much writing I have done. I knew of the three completed works – though the second version of the Hybrid-worlder came as a surprise. I did have vague recollections of some of the short stories I started, but the number projects and the fact that I have, over the last 40 some years, periodically returned to writing was something of a revelation to me.
Traditionally published authors often say that the process of submitting one’s work to editors (or in these days, agents) and getting rejected until one’s writing meets a certain standard (or fills a certain slot in the publisher’s business plan) is the best path to publishing. You hone your skills with each rejection and new work, until, at last you’re good enough for your work to see the light of day. It seems that I’ve followed a variation of that path. I collected my rejection slips early on, and then never bothered to submit any work again. In truth, it seems that I mostly never finished most of the writing projects, what with a day job, a family, the pre-computer writing process being very laborious, and the publishing prospects so dim. Yet I kept writing. It was only when computer technology became affordable that this spelling-challenged writer could feel confident enough to pursue a project to its end – and with the advent of self-published ebooks, pursue it to its ultimate end; publication. 
But is this way the best way for today's writers?
Ah… that depends on the writer, I suppose. I would not publish these early works today without major revisions. I can easily see now why they were rejected. And yet, as rough as they are, would they have harmed my prospects if I could’ve self published them back then? Speaking for myself, and knowing what I know today, I am certain that I would’ve been wise to at least post them on Wattpad, and perhaps, publish them as well after that, for on the whole, I think early works, as rough as they may be, won’t hurt your prospects in the long run. Why not?
First, because they will be likely read by only a very small sample of your potential market. First time, no-name authors struggle to reach an audience, so that any rough, early works don’t pose much of a long term threat to wider success later on. And you can always un-publish them when you feel that they have become an embarrassment.
Secondly, it seems to me that for most readers story is the king. If they like the story, they’ll put up with a lot so-so writing. And since you have to start somewhere to build a readership, why not start early? You have little to lose and a great deal of experience, and feedback to gain. So there seems to be no real reason to put off releasing even what traditionally published might call “practice” novels. Every journey begins with a single step and, ideally, every book should be better than the one before, so it is natural that early works will not be a polished as the most recent ones. I don’t think readers will hold that against an author. And again, early readership will likely be small – unless you get lucky and the book is really good. So why not?
In my case, self-publishing, if I decided to publish my work at all, was the only option I considered for my four books. First, because I knew I wasn’t writing commercially viably stories – books that traditional publishers would be interested in. Heck, one of the reason I wrote them was because I couldn’t find modern stories like them to read. Secondly, I was too proud, too old, too feeble, too lazy, and lacking the fortitude to go through the grueling, soul-sucking process of begging people to read what I’d wrote – or to make the changes that would no doubt be required to make them into a commercial product. And lastly, I’m too much the artist – I want my work to be my vision, without compromise. While I certainly don’t disdain artist, writers, musicians, and all the other creators who produce works designed to make money, my idea is to create something unique. And since most people know what they like, and like what they know, one’s best chance of commercial success is making something they know and like for the widest possible audience – hence, one sequel, one re-boot after the other. I make no claims to be on the cutting edge of anything, and freely acknowledge that I work within old established forms – impressionism, and the popular fiction of the first half of the 20th century, or a little earlier. But I do try to put my own twist to make my work unique. And as an artist, I want control over what I create. Self publishing allows me to do that. What I publish is my own – from cover to cover. So for me, self publishing is the way to go, I just got there by a more traditional way because I came out of the traditional era of publishing.

So what’s up next for this blog?

First off, I will soon have some “exciting news” to share with you. And I’m only being slightly sarcastic. I think it’s pretty cool.

Then I'm planning several Bright Black Sea bonus features. I recently remembered that I had made some notes early in the writing process – a description of Belbania, a discussion of interplanetary trade, and a description of the Lost Star. At the time I was toying with the idea of adding notes at the end of chapters explaining in more details the planets and background information of what took place in the chapter – the idea that it would be in keeping with Litang’s initial intentions of making his account a simple, factual account of life aboard a tramp space ship.

And after that, I plan to post all the "noses" of the stories that I started as my next book and then abandoned as they exist today. I’ll talk about the stories I had intended to write and why I decided to abandon them.

So, all in all, stay tuned. Perhaps by the time I run out of things to post in this blog I’ll have a new writing project. Perhaps, or perhaps not. We’ll see.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Early Works Part 10 -- The Poisoned Coast

The Cambridge Computer Z88 I wrote The Poisoned Coast on.

I'll make this post about my young adult adventure novel the last entry in this series. This was written sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's on a Z88 computer and printed using a dot matrix printer. The built-in word processor on the Z88 did not have a spell checker, so it was only a half step up from the electric typewriter that had replaced my manual typewriter. I purchased one of those Franklin digital dictionaries to help me spell check, but you have to know you don't know how to spell a word correctly to use it, which made it of limited value to me, who has no eye for spelling. Why, if I look at any word, no matter how short or common, for more than few seconds. it will not look right, and if every word looks wrong, you either don't write, or say the heck with it...  The heck with it.

Anyway, on to the Poisoned Coast. I don't actually remember why I wrote a YA novel. I can only assume that it was for commercial purposes. I know that I used to have one of those thick "Writers' Market" (or some such title) books around that listed all the market you could send off whatever it was you were writing to. No doubt it appeared that there was a market for YA books that I decided to take a crack at. More likely it was a Chuck Litka from a parallel universe, because this one can't imagine writing a YA novel, and yet I ended up with the manuscript... Weird.  Reading the first couple of pages, it appears to be more of a Hardy Boys level of story than a modern YA novel, but maybe things pick up later. Who knows? I'm not about to find out.

The story, as I recall, centered on two brothers going off to Scotland to take a survey of the Golden Eagles of Scotland along with a group of other young people -- a sort of science/camping/educational experience. They discover, and eventually thwart, someone dumping toxic waste into an isolated loch that were killing eagles. A Summer in Amber would appear to be my second book set in Scotland -- a country I spent a month or so kicking around in my youth. 

This is the first draft. I  had started what I thought was a much improved 2nd draft, before the computer froze at some point in the rewrite and after a reset, I found that I'd lost that version, and never started it again.

And so, without further ado, The Poisoned Coast...

The Poisoned Coast

Chapter One – March 23rd

'Read this,' snapped Cory, bursting into my room.
He slapped a sheet of paper down on the solar power panel I was working on.
'I’m a little busy at the moment, in case you hadn’t notice,' I said, glancing up.
‘Just read it. It won’t take long,’ he replied, pacing my room.
It was a letter from Roy Royth, a friend of ours who lives in Scotland. In the middle was a small brown spot with some smoke rising from it where it was resting on the hot tip of my soldering iron.
‘I hope you have this letter memorized, Cory, ‘cause it’s about to go up in flames,’ I said casually.
Cory spun around and stared at the scorch mark and plume of smoke. He lunged and snapped the letter away.
‘Idiot!’ he exclaimed as he smothered the glowing embers.
‘Hey, I couldn’t help it. I was in the middle of a tricky bit of soldering when you shoved the stupid thing at me,’ I replied with a shrug and returned to my work.
Cory was all set to let me have it, but with a mighty effort, stopped and paced my room several times. He gave a pile of my dirty clothes several vicious kicks, sending pants, shirts and underwear skidding across the floor. But when he turned back, he was smiling and said, ‘Never mind, I’ll read it to you while you work.’
I was on my guard. Cory was up to something. Still, watching his letter go up in smoke had put me in a good mood, so, with a wave of my hand, I said, ‘Read on, dear brother. Read on.’
‘Did you see that this is a letter from Roy,’ he began. ‘Well, he begins; “Dear Cory and Sparks, How are you chaps? I’m fine...” Well, you can read all that. I’ll skip down to the important part.
‘”The expedition is on! I talked to the governor (what he calls his dad) again today about having you chaps over to take part in his Eagle Count this year and guess what! He said that he had just written your governor about it, so it’s official! All you have to do is convince your parents to let you come! That should be a snap, as I have a feeling that this has been in the works for year. So pack your knapsacks! We’ll have a grand time! You know, I’m practically in charge of the expedition this year, so we will have a vast scope for adventure!”’ Cory looked up. ‘Sounds great, hey?’ he said excitedly.
‘Ah, ya,’ was my cautious reply.
‘What do you mean, Ah-ing and ya-ing?’ Cory replied. ‘We’re talking about three weeks of camping in the highlands of Scotland, hiking, mountain climbing, and working on a real scientific expedition. What more could you want?’
‘Sounds great, Cory,’ I said, soothingly. ‘I’m sure dad will let you go. I’ll miss you, of course, but I’ll just have to struggle along alone for a month...’
‘But you’re going too!’ he exclaimed, waving the letter at me. ‘Roy included you too. Here, let me read it...’
‘Don’t bother. It’s very nice of him, but well, I do have football practice during the summer...’
‘This is in June. Football doesn’t start until August!’
‘Well, I might have other plans. There are projects I want to do. Maybe line up a summer job...’
‘I can’t believe this! Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to go to Scotland and see Roy, plus go camping and be part of an important scientific study… What gives?”
Well, counting eagles is not the kind of science that really interests me. And though I like camping, we’re talking three straight weeks of it, aren’t we? Right. I’m no greenhorn, Cory. Three wees of life in a tent amongst the Scottish highlands is going to be no picnic. It will be cold, and wet, and well, I’m not so crazy about mountain climbing either.’
‘But that’s just the point. It’s going to be a challenge, a real challenge. We won’t have Dad around to back us up. We’ll be on our own. You’re not afraid, are you, Sparks?’ he demanded.
‘Are you afraid to go alone?’ I countered.
‘No. Of course not. I’d go in a minute without you… But...’
‘But?’ I taunted him a little.
‘Well, you know...’
‘You know how Mom feels...’
‘You mean that she thinks you’re a half-witted goof...’
‘I mean that for some reason she seems to think that I’m still not to be trusted just because I’ve don a few stupid things when I was a kid. At the same time she has it in her head that you’re so sensible or something.’
‘You are a goof, sometimes, and I am more sensible,’ I relied smugly.
‘More boring, I’d say,’ he replied, glaring at me. ‘But whether I am actually less sensible than you is not the point. What is, is that she thinks you are and she things that Roy is a bigger goof than me...’ he added more or less to himself.
‘He just might be,’ I remarked.
‘Well, Sparks. I though I could count on you,’ Cory said bitterly, throwing up his hands. ‘He, I’d like you along. We’ve always gone on Dad’s expeditions together. We make a good team. But if you don’t want to come along this time, well, I guess there isn’t much I can do about it. I’ll have to go alone. And I will, too, whatever Mom thinks of me. I’ve matured a lot this year… Laugh if you like, but...’
I felt sorry for the guy. It was kinda pitiful the way he was trying every trick in the book to get me to go along. Oh well, I though, he is my brother. And I guess I would hate to miss the chance to see Roy and Scotland, even if it meant a little roughing it in the field.
‘Oh, quit your winning. I never said absolutely I wouldn’t go. I just said I wasn’t as crazy about the idea as you are. I have a better memory of the hardships of the trail than you have.’
‘I knew you wouldn’t let me down, Sparks!’ he exclaimed, cheering up in a flash. ‘Think of the great condition you’ll be in at the start of football practice after four weeks of tramping the highlands. You’ll be able to go through double practice without working up a sweat!’
‘Great...” I muttered, thinking of how bad things could be…
‘But I can count on you, right Sparks?’
‘Yah, I guess so, Cor...’ As I said that, I suddenly realized that it also meant four weeks without pizzas, shakes, french fries… ‘But you owe me a pizza on this,’ I added.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Early Works Part 9 -- The Lady in Grey

A Hooke and Marton Confidential Investigation Story
The Lady in Grey

I still have several first-draft chapters of a hard-boiled, Raymond Chandler inspired mystery story that I and my friend, Dennis started in 1973, which actually makes it six or seven years earlier than the Hybrid-worlder or the Brigand Sea-Prince. No doubt I was working in the drill press department of Allen Bradley at the time, though that fall I would take a job with Bureau of Public Debt in Chicago for a while. It was a long time ago. In any event, we both were fans of Raymond Chandler and this story was an attempt to take Chandler’s sunny southern California motif and mutate it into something, well, Milwaukee-ian mostly just for laughs.    

The Lady in Grey

Chapter 1

It was an October morning, 1947 and I needed a five-letter word for ‘tax’. I lay stretched out on the office’s worn couch working the morning daily’s crossword puzzle. My partner, Chester Hook, sat behind the desk with his hat still on and his feet resting on the desktop reading some gaudy covered pulp magazine. Business as usual.
Every once and a while I would hear the chair squeak as Hooke reached from behind his detective magazine and fumble with a box of Smith Brothers cough drops. He claimed he was addicted to them. He might be. The desk was set diagonally to the corner with the bow windows overlooking the Milwaukee River, on which was painted in gold letters; “notraM bna ekooH, etavirP srotagitsevnI,” which read from the outside, if any customers happened to be floating down the river, “Hooke and Marton, Private Investigators.” To the left of the desk was the hissing radiator and a bare stretch of flaking paint to the other corner, where three filing cabinets stood against the wall. They contained mostly half-finished crossword puzzles ripped out of the morning paper, and Hook’s current collection of second-hand detective magazines. Next to the filing cabinets was a brownish washbowl and a small cupboard on which rested the hotplate and coffee pot. A door opened to a small closet in the other wall by the corner. In the center of the tile floor, roughly in front of the desk stood the straight-backed chair for our clients. I lay on the red and green couch along the wall opposite the filing cabinets, with a battered end table supporting a cracked lamp with a Chinese pagoda painted on it in gold and red. I looked at the Allen Bradley’s calendar with three days crossed off, which was tacked up on the wall over the filing cabinets. We were three days behind, as it was the 6th.
We said nothing for twenty minutes when I thought out loud, “Thirteen down, a five letter word for ‘tax’.”
No answer from the man reading the pulp with a skull singing into a microphone on the cover.
I sat up. Setting the paper down next to me, I announced, “I’ve got the flu. I think I’ll take a couple fo aspirins.”
‘You go a hangover,” Hooke mumbled.
“To hell with the aspirins, I’ll have a cigarette instead.” I fished one out from my shirt pocket and laying back, lit it with a match from the table. I returned to the crossword puzzle. Eighteen across…

Some time later I noticed the rare tap-click of high-heels coming down the hallway. They stopped, as if reading the sign on the door down the hall, and then started our way again. They stopped in front of our door. There was a pause, followed by a light tap on the glass of our door. From my position on the couch I could see beyond the open doorway between the waiting room and our office, a slender shadow on the frosted glass of the outer door.
“The door’s open,” call out Hooke.
After some hesitation, the door opened a little and the slim shadow slipped through the narrow opening into our small waiting room. She was a brunette, twenty-five, maybe thirty-ish, wearing a plain grey suit over a white starched blouse. The jacket had wide lapels and a black buttons down the front. On the right lapel was pinned a piece of silver jewelry. She did not wear much makeup – she didn’t need any. Shyly, she looked through the open doorway at Hooke, who had not stirred. And cast a quick glance in my direction. Puzzled and embarrassed, the lady in grey looked down at the small end table and chair next to the door and bent her head enough o look at the old Saturday Evening Post on the table. Then she shifted her attention to the faded print of a guy and his dog hunting pheasants hanging on the wall separating the waiting room from the office. She carefully avoided looking into the office or at me.
‘Come in, Miss,” Hooke called out, again without looking up from the detective pulp. I watched her make up her mind that this was something she had to do and get over with. So, with a determined look on her pale face, she walked into the inner office. I watched her as she swayed, slightly, in – her large soft eyes gave her face a girlish look and her pale complexion suggested that she had not be out of doors too much. She glanced at me, again, and then at Hooke’s feet on the desk.
‘Mr Hook…?” she half said and half asked in a quiet voice looking in Hooke’s direction.
“Please be seated, Miss,” said Hook, still not looking up form the magazine before him.
The ends of her lips moved a little. Yes, she had guessed right. It pleased her a little.
“I’m Hooke,” he said, closing the magazine and laying it carefully on the desk. Just as carefully, he slid his buster-browns off the desk and with a squeak from the swivel chair, sat upright. Shaking his head, he slowly sighed and said, “I never even suspected him...” He looked up at her, “Sorry, Miss. You came in at the last page. What can we do for you?” He didn’t sound particularly interested in doing anything for her. A real go-getter, Hooke is.
She sat down in the customer’s chair, tentatively, and carefully placed the small square purse on her lap. “I was hoping you could help me,” she said, dividing her attention between a speck of lint on the cuff of her jacket and the tip of Hooke’s nose.
“Thirteen down, five letter word for ‘tax’.” I was back at the crossword puzzle and thinking out loud again. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see her turn her head to look at me. Her puzzled look returned. Everyone was silent.
“Ah, Miss, just what sort of help?” asked Hooke after studying our would-be client a bit. He even managed to sound slightly more interested. He helped himself to a cough drop.
“Mr Hook...” she looked at me, shyly.
“Uh, he’s the other name on the door. My partner, Art Marton,” said my partner with a generous sweep of his hand. “Feel free to talk in front of him. He’s harmless when hung over.”
She was liking this whole business even less from the expression on her face. “I’m sorry, but I haven’t had to do this sort of thing before. Hire a detective, I mean. But I need help and I’ve been to three other agencies since yesterday and they all refused to handle this matter.” She was looking at Hooke again.
Hooke muttered a meaningless “Oh,” and taking a deep breath, added “Just what is it you need help with?” he asked, sounding somewhat impatient, but making the effort to lean forward and look more concerned than all of us knew he was.
“I need to find my brother.”

And I’ll just add a little from Chapter 2

“Someone sure wanted him dead,” Detective Barron said.
“Yeah, we got that, else he wouldn’t be dead, right?” broke in Lieutenant Hank Wood. “Okay, what have we got so far?”
“We got one through the door, a spent case in the corridor, and three more after the killer came in through the door. Three more spent cartridges in the room. Guy answered the door with a .45 in his hand, which bounced under the end table after he was shot,” Barron replied mechanically. “No indication of who might have done it. The room was searched, thoroughly, I might add.”
“No indication unless somebody hast told us everything, Said Wood, looking over the three of us; Mary still seated in the chair with Hooke and I standing on either side of her.
“You’ve got all of it, Lieutenant. Everything we had to do with it,” Hooke replied.
“Far be it from us to withhold information from the police. It could be our license,” I said, not trying to sound sarcastic, but it came out that way. Must have been the booze. Or the homey atmosphere.
‘If you did, withhold information, that is, it will be your license, you can count on that,” Wood shot back, pointing a finger at me.
“Why, Lieutenant, I don’t think you care for private detectives,” said Hooke.
‘You got it pal. Okey, Barron, ring up the coroner. It’s about time he got in on the frolics.”
It was clear he didn’t care for private detectives. What’s more, he didn’t trust us. I gathered that he had talked tot he manager. And our popularity rating with the manager wasn’t too good either.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Early Works Part 8 -- The Brigand Sea-Prince

The Brigand Sea-Prince

I can’t say what got into me that I wrote a fantasy novel. I suppose I used to read them back in the day, but I was never a hardcore fan of fantasy, so it is hard for me to understand why I put the effort into a fantasy story rather than a straight science fiction one, since I was writing this at the same time as the Hybrid-worlder. It’s a mystery. But I have the manuscript with my name on it, so when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable must be the truth.

So it would seem that The Brigand Sea-Prince is my 78,000 word fantasy novel from 1979-1980 time period. The story is narrated by an envoy charged with telling some seaborne barbarians that the kingdom he represents will no longer pay tribute to them to avoid having their seaside cities sacked. I don’t remember much more than that – obviously he makes it to the island court of these pirates of Ividish’fa (You really need to remember their name, I only repeat it a dozen times in the first three pages…). The only other thing I remember about the story is that he escapes the dungeons by burying himself in the earth floor of his cell, managing to cover enough of himself to be missed in the dark cell. In the last year or so I had looked over the beginning of this story, wondering if I could recast it as a young adult fantasy – something to work on after I finished The Lost Star’s Sea. But, well, it seemed too bad as it stood, and retyping and revising it into something presentable, if that were possible (iffy) would take the same amount of time of writing something entirely new, so I abandoned that idea. And truth be told, I have no desire to write YA fiction, even though I have.

Once again the story starts very slowly, some things never change. And as I said, I repeat the name of the hero’s captors, a dozen times in the first few pages. That really bugged me on rereading it. Interestingly enough, I also did something I hate doing now – starting the story in the middle of the story, and then having to go back and fill in the first half (or more) of it. It seems that a lot of writers feel that they have to start a story with a Bang!, and then have to retrace their steps to get to the part of the story that actually goes Bang! As I said, I’m not a fan of that, nor of slicing and dicing a story temporally and/or with different narrators or points of view. I view those stories with suspicion. What type of story do you have if you feel that you have to make a jigsaw puzzle of it to make it interesting to the reader? While a bit of backstory may be called for, I prefer a story to be told from the beginning to the end more or less in chronological order, and from one point of view. I always picture the reader, or myself, if I am the reader, traveling alongside the hero(s) of the story, so I don’t want to be too far away from them, lose sight of them, or look down like a god on them. But, that’s just my taste, it’s all good.

Anyway, back to the Brigand Sea-Prince. Well, actually, the less said about it, the better. It is pretty bad, but I guess that not unexpected. You have to start somewhere, and it takes work to get better. I’d like to think my published work is a lot better, in part by the writing I did off and on over so many years that never went anywhere, and perhaps just by getting older and knowing more as well. Enough talk, here is the opening pages of The Brigand Sea-Prince. You’ve been warned.

The Brigand Sea-Prince

Chapter One A Prisoner of the Sea-Barbarians

We stood in silence – waiting – withing the dimly illuminated bowels of what looked to be the lower hold of a vast galleon. It was, however, the Great Hall and Throne Room of the sea-raiders of Ividish’fa.
We – the six pirates of my guard and myself – loitered near the throne of Ividish’fa waiting for arrangements to be made for my stay in Ividish’fa. The had not troubled to do so before my audience with Traven, the Captain-over-all the Men and Ships of Ivisish’fa, because they had confidently expected me to pay with my life for the insults I bore to their proud sea-prince. That I live – now – is at best a fleeting triumph, for certainly I shall die.
As we waited, I gazed about the vast, grim chamber. Its ‘deck’ was of pale, stone-polished wood, its walls were sheathe, ship-like with massive planks, blackened with age and torch-soot. The ceiling, high overhead, was supported on two rows of mast-sized wooden pillars and rounded, spar-like beams. Just beneath the beams of the ceiling ran a single row of portals along both of the curving walls that formed the ‘bow’ and ‘stern’ of the Great Hall. Through them the pale fingers of early morning sunlight stretched, and the sea-breeze whistled gaily to stir the time-faded pennants that hung from the beams. Hard by us, stood the throne of Ividish’fa; the only fixed feature of the otherwise barren hall. The throne was carved out of a single piece of wood in all manner of sea-monsters, with its back carved as a ship’s wheel. Before the throne an ancient looking tiller, worn and battered was set in the deck, no doubt something akin to the scepter or sword of state. And risigh directly behind the throne was the largest tree trunk I have ever seen; fully thirty paces a’round. Rising through the deck, it stood straight up through the ceiling, through the private chambers above and through the roof to carry high the crimson standard of Ividish’fa.
As an emissary of my lord and liege, Mirn, Tysar of the Land and People of Cha Tralae, I had just conveyed his missive to the Captain-over-all. Words that though princely said, could only be considered an isult to the dark, barbaric pride and bloody heritage of the Ividish’fa chieftain. Having done so, my mission was all but over. As I noted; I had only to die.
Yet, I draw some solace for the few glowing embers that still lay scattered in the cold ash of my mission. One such ember is that I stood were no man not born of Ividish’fa or slave of the Ividish’fians for twenty season-cycles has ever stood before. I have traveled far beyond the charts of the Saroun, beyone even the sight of the farthest seeing sorcerer of the Saroun. I have been allowed to reach Ividish’fa’; islands more legend than fact in the Saroun, where it is said that they are either veiled in powerful magic or laying with the shadow land of the Whither-world. I know the truth, but alas, the secret is safe with me.
And I know more about the Ividish’fian pirates and their history than any scholar of the Saroun. This knowledge, too, will never reach the Saroun. I have been shown what lies behind the bloody legends of the sea-barbarianns, and it has tempered my view of them – though it does not blind me to the fact that they will kill me, nor alter the facth that prudent men should strive to keeep a horizon between their galleon and the crimson sails of an Ividish’fian raider, or that the inhabitants of coast-wise town should flee to the hinterland at the approach of an Ividish’fian raiding band.
As an emissary of many season-cycles; I can intrigue until the headsman’s sword divides me; for I have learned just why I was allowed to reach Ividish’fa against all their age-old rules: that I might serve as a cat’s paw to further the subtle intrigues of Ivre, the ex-regent and mentor to young Traven, the pirate’s chieftain. By deftly refusing to play the parts Ivre has cast me – as I was able to do today – I shall them the chill of these days in the shadow of death.
Still, these are at best fleeting triumphs, fleeting warmth, that do not deflect my death even a day. And I had already fallen into brooding upon the cold ashes of my predicament when I heard the peculiar, shuffling walk of old Ivere. The guards stiffened as the grim-faced Master of Ships emerged from behind the great mast and beckoned the captain of the guards to his side.
For me, he spared not a sour glance.
The hissing of their whispered conference sounded loud in the hollow silence of the nearly empty hall. Quickly it was over, and Ivre turn and disappeared into shadows behind the massive bolt. I was once more blindfolded, as I had been when I was brought up to the Great Hall, and led from the hall, out into the windy brightness atop the rock upon which the Great Hall, like a stone ship aground on a reef in the sky, was built.
Once more I was led down the long series of steps that wound up the nearly perpendicular face of the pinnacle of rock. More correctly; I was half-carried down the steps by the guards on either side of me, for they took the steps at a fast march and neither waited for me more told me when to expect a step. May a’time I pitched forward – with the thought that I had actually stepped off the edge of the path – only to be caught, roughly, by my guards.
After what seemed like a descent to the Courts of Death, we reached the small inner courtyard within the gate house and quickly passed through the gatehouse guardroom and into the large piazza beyond. In the early light of this day I had been brought to this piazza from the galleon that had carried me from dear Cha Tralae. It had been cold and empty then, but now I could hear about me the rumble of movement the shouts of greeting, the laughter, and the hum of conversations, all of which ceased as they caught sight of our strange procession. Even through the blackness of the hood that covered my head I could feel their eyes upon me.
After we made the far gates of the piazza, I am unsure of our course, though it seemed that we passed through several other courtyards, a number of gates and doorways, and climbed quite a few steps before reaching my quarters. Here the hood was removed and my conveying guards filed out without a word.
To my wonderment; I found myself standing in a finely furnished sitting room. Why, it was fine enough to be accorded a visiting envoy, and though I was that in name, I had fully expected to wait my execution in the dungeons. Attached to the sitting room I discovered a large sleeping room and lo! My sea chest and all its contents! I could not attribute this unexpected hospitality to anything said or done since my arrival in Ividish’fa. But weary from a long sleepless night and still weak from the ill effects of The Storm, I could only dumbly poke about my quarter a’bit before surrendering to the siren song of the sleeping platform, to which I swiftly retire, abandoning my woes and wonder for sleep.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Early Works Part 7 -- Odds & Ends of the starship stories

This is a picture of Rhyl on Assim overlooking Port Curou from the top of one of the warehouses.

Over the years I wrote – or mostly began to write – a number of other Rhyl Dunbar stories. I have one completed short story entitled “Death on Glou’ay” that I might post here – a slightly revised edition.

Looking through my papers I have found several more stories, started, mostly not finished. In addition a packet of background information of the universe I created. It outlined how the faster than light ships work, mapped the human corner of the galaxy, and had a time line for Rhyl that I could use to fit stories into their proper place.

As I may, or may not have, mentioned before – looking over these old pieces going back the better part of 40 years, I can’t help but notice that my style of writing hasn’t changed all that much over the years. These days I try to be a bit more focused on dialog rather than description, and hopefully write more fluently, but the tone hasn’t changed all that much. For better or worse.

Here are some samples of these long lost stories:

“Last Call”

‘Sorry to intrude, Rhyl, but you’d better have a look at Anjere S2’ whispered a quiet voice from the implanted speaker in my left ear.
Touching a micro-switch in my wrist chronometer, I activated my larynx microphone and ship-con transmitter. I spoke a’loud to the empty shadows of the ship’s saloon. ‘I’ll be right up.’
‘No need to come to the bridge...’
‘On my way,’ I replied, climbing to my feet. I picked up the steaming mug of tzanifa from the table and wrapped my hands around it to warm my fingers. I felt the cold breath of the black ones. The ship about me was thin and insubstantial. And the wolves of the infinite night were closing in on my soul. They wanted to tear it from me. I welcomed Lene A’Vere’s call.
I went forward past the ship’s office, the in-systems station, chartroom and weapons station. A’Vere, the ship’s external systems mate was a dark silhouette against the glow of the ex-systems displays. She glanced back from the 3-dimensional display she was studying as I approached.
‘Lonesome?’ she inquired. The pale light of the displays illuminated the smooth angles of her subtly feline face and highlighted the golden waves of her hair. Her large eyes searched my face and read my eyes. No reply was necessary.
‘What’s so interesting about S2 that can’t wait a quarter watch for me to see?’ I asked, stepping close to peer into the gravicon display floating above the projection table before her.
The omnisenors gather and interpret a wide band of energy, one facet of which is the gravitational continuum within a half a light-year radius of the ship. This data is displayed as a 3-dimensional cross section that normally sweeps around the axis of the ship’s course. Because gravity is the manifestation of the renaming un-shattered unity of the homogeneous proto-universe, a single “particle” encompassing the entire universe, the gravicon is able to display data in real time – what is occurring “now” up to its half a light -year range.

What A’Vere discovered is a star, with an inhabited system, on the verge of going super-nova. The Cir Ay Cey’s cargo consisted of 30,000 sleeper pods that could be used to evacuate a small fraction of the inhabitants… Reluctantly, they feel obliged to help and barely escape the resulting nova. (I assume, since I didn’t read it to the end – I think I do actually get to the end of this one too.) In any event, I am always surprised about how much stuff I included in the Wil Litang stories that must have been rattling around in my head for decades.

Next up:

“The Near Wreck of the Shadow of Dreams on the Reef of the Crystal Comet” or “An Account of a Crystal Comet” (I like the former title better.)

I sit in a pocket of day, though the night sky lay all around me. I imagine the stars of the Noussier Cluster, a’drift in the night sea, have gathered in a silent throng just beyond the transparent muunciim crystal hull plates of the Shadow of Dream’s crystal prow, to pear in on me. While, at the edge of the bridge’s sunlit deck, the full, bulging shape of the World of Barrage rolls languidly in the midnight sea, vibrant hued and covered with a glistening white froth. I know every curve and contour of its lands and seas, and I can call by name every city of note which sparkle by night like jewels in black sand.
I lounge in sunlight that is warm on my skin and my down-side cap shades my eyes from the glare. About the bridge the taerah-wood deck is as bright white sand and the sunlight gives rare fire to all the brass fittings and trim. Tiny sprites of sunbeams dance over the crystal lenses and dials of the binnacle and other control consoles of the bridge who’s deep hued wood panels have a glow deep within them, as if they seek to store up the warmth that was lost in the tri-watches of the long night of our passage here.

I had a dream of exploring a crystal comet, and this story was an attempt to make a story out of the fragments of that dream.

And then we have:

“A Night of Evar”

I was down to Evar for only an evening, as me orbits were plotted and ready to fly, but my ship, the Shadow of Dream, was still embarking, far overhead, the last of her cargoes for Tarver-Constant and inwards. For a time I walked alone the streets of fabled Evar, “Evar, a’lovely and a’lone in black starry sea, ‘tween forbidden Taezing and the Haunted Shadow,” as described in an old sarfeer’s ballad. For she lies far off the myriad trading routes of man’s fay-sailed ships and is but infrequently when a captain and a shp brave the hazards of the passage, that other-world men do call on Evar. I know of no time when two ships lay in Evar orbit together. So alone they circle Evar, calling for her spice, Ev’sarimm, famous throughout man’s realm, from Rehaar to Eiribu, where it is said a handful will buy for you a moon of your own. But few sarfeers can say, in truth, that they have walked the brick streets of Ceysance Town under Evar’s night sky. Though far more could say, in truth, if the dead could but talk; “We sailed for Evar.” but found the course plotted “carried us to Desryries World,” for it a most dangerous passage. And while I walked the streets of Ceysance, having plotted my orbits that carry us to Traver-Constant, I feared that it was to Desryries World that I sailed to come morning.

That, anyways is the opening of the first version of this story. I have at least three versions of it. One concerns Rhyl going down to Evar to find the ship’s first mate who appears to have jumped ship. What I can remember of Evar is that it a very seductive planet, beautiful, peaceful, with a native species that feeds on electricity – and glows, so that the street lights of the city are animate beings. And I think, as the first opening hinted, Evar is far off the beaten trading routes, and that like Rhyl, the first mate and others have a premonition that the return voyage will not end well…

Next up;

“Passage to Assim”

About me, the dreary gray of a winter’s day on Cartay was fast deepening to black as the night fell in sheets of india ink, as I trudge through the Great Portal of the Exotic Otherworlds into the Small Craft Harbor of the Starport of E’Sarths. Behind me, in the distant darkness the lights of the city of E’Sarths rose through the low lying clouds, giving them a faint, cheerless glow. Closer behind, the more ancient, low built building of the sarfeers district rose like the foothills of a ragged mountains of light to cast its sinfully cheer blaze skyward and chase my shadow before me. A broad mall stretches ahead of me. At its distant end, the bright-lit pile of the Custom House sprawled before the vast field of the Small Craft Harbor while on both sides of the mall, large building stood. To starboard it was the Sarfeers Guild Hall, built in some Inward Stars architectural style, and looking ever so much like a great primordial bird struggling, vainly, to free itself from the many-fingered clutch of a tar-pit. It has been said of this structure, that perhaps its most distinctive character is its ability to resist the forgiving touch of years, to remain as painful to the eye today as it was when first raised, a thousand years ago. Across the mall for this monstrosity is the rambling pile of the Sovereign Space Yacht Club of Cartay, whose many additions blend to give it a quaint, respectable air.

Rhyle makes it to Assim since we have:

“Planets and Passages, A Sarfeer’s Life” perhaps a collection of stories. One of which was to be: “The Riddle of Coursou’s Last Voyage”

I approached Port Cursou low and from the sea. Below me flashed the landing quays that dotted the shallow sea, their spidery array of gantries silhouetted against the sunset mirroring sea. A tracery of transport lines on tall stilts zigzagged over the oily waters linking the quays and factory isles of Assim World’s free-zone archipelago with the mainland. Soon Greater Cursou grew on the horizon, the city’s kilometers high glass towers formed a sweeping crescent shaped escarpment against the ruddy sky. Ad I closed, I could see office lights twinkling to life across their glass facade in the deepening twilight. Port Cursou proper first appeared as a forest of black stumps against the pastel towers of Greater Cursou. These were the high-rise warehouses that held the celestial trade of Port Curou until it was re-exported. The hominoid inhabited Port Cursou, its sarfeers quarters and stevedore tenements huddled at the feet of these towering godowns and around the shore of Celestial Bay. The quays are enclosed within a paroled security energy barrier that isolates it from Assim proper. At least in theory. This area within the barrier is known simply as the Enclave.
I slowed as lighter traffic thicken around the warehouses, jockeying my lighter with its continerhold off of a Q’Intre packet liner into the flow pattern, breaking off as my destination, the warehouses of MyKyntre, Tezhm & Co, Traders appeared ahead. I maneuvered to landing bay 37 and set my cargo container down on the carrier that would deposit on its assigned ledge within the vast structure. Then, as it was my last run of my shift, I set the lighter down in her service bay near the top of the tower and took the personnel elevator to the ground.

Cursou, as I pictured it, became Despar’s Sanjoor, on a reduced scale. Another ghost of stories untold, stories unfinished, brought to light.

And finally we have one fairly recent start to a story set in this universe, though I don’ think ol’Rhyl is the narrator. I started writing this on my iPad with the thought of submitting it to a now defunct website called “Raygun Revival.” I thought I’d written down more of it, but if I did, it is now lost. I wish I could remember just what the story was about – beyond that it was set in a spaceship salvage yard and the girl with the Vez1 disrupter, is like the wrecks she lives among, an unsalvageable ghost. The rest is lost.

“Unsalvageable Ghosts”

I can't say what I heard, but I heard it too late. I spun around sweeping the jumbled nightscape with my augmented eyesight. Augmented, stars of the Inlopar Cluster burned so brightly I could almost hear them hiss, illuminating the weird landscape of By'tilieth Salvage and Sales' back lot in a cold blueish light. Deep in a hollow beneath a pile of twisted metal, the last remains of a dead starship, I saw her and her deadly, if antique, Vexiana Mk1 disrupter aimed unwaveringly at my chest.
Damn. By'tilieth's scrapyard sprawls across a hundred square kilometers of a small moon of Arnilitha. It's gravity is artificial and low so that between it and my augmented strength I could flip over to the far side of the derelict gig I'd been examining in three ticks. The only problem is that anyone halfway competent in arms could snap off six shots even with a Vex1. The first, my personal force-field could absorb. The second, maybe. I'd be blowing in the breeze with the third hit. Judging by how unwaveringly she held the heavy Vex1, she was certainly an augmented sarfeer like myself. She would not miss. Nothing left to do but smile.

Next up, my fantasy novel, the Brigand Sea-Prince. You’ve been warned.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Early Works Part 6 -- A Sarfeer's Tale Part 2


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Early Works Part 5 -- A Sarfeer's Tale Part 1

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This is the comic book version of the Hybrid-worlder. I drew it sometime in the later 1980's. I had penciled in the entire story, but only inked and wrote the first seven pages, that I can reproduce above and below.

The story changes in this version. The "glowing beastie" chances from a hybrid-world creature to the pet of a bookie/crime lord, who has sent the creature to collect credits owed from the female lead, Cesrie Mer, the powersmate off the rival celestial clipper Minery Var. The energy field of the Knyme-sooh prevents the beastie from carrying out its mission, after which Rhyl and Cesrie get to yarning --rivals, but in the same trade. However, after they slip out, the beastie is still about and chases them. Cesrie, having none of this, leads Rhyl to an in with a secret passage to a cave through the moonlet to the its hollow inner dockyard core and the beastie's master's headquarters where she intends to have some words with the bookie -- a childhood friend. There, they have a few words, and she suggest to the bookie that they put Rhyl on ice for a while, forcing the Shadow of Dreams to leave without its master navigator, and bettering the odds of the Minery Var's winning the race to Kantea-on, as a way of paying off her debt. In this version he escapes, I have considered variations where it ends with him being woken up (much later) aboard a tramp trader in the Inlowpar Cluster, and take up his story from there.

These panels were hand drawn and the text typed (lettering comics was another skill, and not something I cared to try) and pasted on to the panels with wax. If you're old enough and were in the printing or graphic arts trade, you might remember how things were done back before computers. A couple of the text boxes have lost their text, but I'm posting these more for the art than the story.

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