Category Archives for Science Fiction

Authorial Gladiatorial Challenge: Round 2 Judging

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The round one entries are up (Brian’s, Declan’s), and they are both fantastic! Both authors lived up to the primary task of the challenge: making it awesome.

Mr. Niemeier gets points for zen. Astlin handled the Gelatinous Cube with poise and grace, and almost without noticing it.

Mr. Finn, as before, scores for lots of guns and explosions, as well as tying the scenario in to Amanda’s backstory.

As with round 1, round 2 was difficult to judge. In the end, however, this round must go to Mr. Finn – as Amanda was the only character to actually defeat the Gelatinous Cube, rather than ignore it.

Sadly, Mr. Niemeier has had to bow out of future rounds due to scheduling issues. Therefore, we leave this challenge the way we began: in a draw. Except that this draw is really a win for us, the readers, because both authors have provided us with excellent reading material.


HonorAtStake

Author Gladiatorial Challenge: Round 2, Declan Finn

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HonorAtStakeDeclan Finn is the author of the Pius Man Trilogy as well as the Dragon Award nominated Honor at Stake. He graciously agreed to enter this Author Gladiatorial Challenge to earn your vote for the Dragon Awards. The awards are over, but the fun continues! You can find his entry for round one here. Below is his entry for round two. I hope you find it as entertaining as I did. Brian’s entry ran earlier this evening. Judging comes tomorrow.


Amanda looked up at the giant blob, and decided that she seriously hated whoever put her hip deep in this insanity.

She looked behind her to the room she woke up in, then back to the blob. And she smiled. The door was made of metal, and the blob apparently didn’t digest metal, especially if that stop sign was anything to go by.

This will at least slow it down. She reached over, grabbed the door, and ripped it off of its hinges, and flung it at the blob like a hatchet. The impact sent ripples throughout the creature, and … that was it.

Oh darn.

Amanda turned and ran back into the other room. She thrust her fingers into the wall, grabbing and pulling out a chunk of rock from the wall. She hurled it at the blob, and kept digging through the wall, creating a tunnel that was about a lady’s size six, going straight into it, expecting the blob to follow her.

Had Amanda had the time, she would have sighed. She had survived most of the idiotic decisions of the Vietnam war fighting creatures in the vast network of tunnels, and she swore she would stay out of them for the rest of her life. Now, here she was, digging another tunnel.

Amanda growled, annoyed at the thought of the war. She had been a veteran of five wars – six if you counted the Cold War – and she almost preferred World War II to Vietnam.

Amanda thought that over as she shoved more dirt and rock behind her. Okay, she shouldn’t really think that. Sixty thousand dead in all of Vietnam, while that was the cost of a single engagement in World War II. But God was that war run by idiots. Miles of tunnels throughout the country, crawling with VC and monsters like her, and they could have just been wiped out by bombing some dams and flooding the tunnels. What was the matter with those people? Heck, why didn’t she eat MacNamara again? Oh, right, eating someone for stupidity wouldn’t do anything for the state of her soul.

She stopped digging a moment, and listened. She just made out the sounds of the blob pushing into the tunnel.

Amanda smiled, and made a left turn. This part was going to be easy. She had done it several times during the tunnel wars in Nam. Granted, when they expected her to be a tunnel rat, they didn’t realize that she could turn into a rat, though she rarely used it. It was tempting to use it now, but it would take too long to dig this tunnel at speed as a rat.

Amanda pushed on, circling the blob’s original catacomb. She could have circumvented it entirely, but that would only put the creature on her tail. At current rate of speed, it would have put her between a rock and a squishy place.

Amanda punched through the final bit of wall, then pulled herself out. She saw the back end of the blob pulling itself through the initial hole. She grimaced, reached for one of the vials in her pocket, and tossed it for the blob. Unlike the ones with holy water, this one was topped with a blasting cap. It was a simple solution of Styrofoam mixed with gasoline. It worked very well against vampires. But then again, it was basically napalm.

The back end of the blob burned away, and what was left withdrew into the tunnel as the hole filled with fire. The blob only had one other way to go, and that was right out of the hole she came from.

Amanda went for the cell door she had thrown at the blob earlier. It was relatively intact, having been left behind when the blob came after her. She grabbed the metal door, ripped it in half, and quickly beat one edge flat.

Amanda got back to the hole just before the blob started to push its way through. She waited until a foot of blob came through, then quickly flipped the piece of blob into the fire she started in the other room – a fire that had spread to the bed she woke up on.

Thankfully, what the blob had in size, it made up for by being seriously stupid. It kept coming, and each time she would slash off part of it with her piece of door. She had considered going after it with her sword, but she didn’t want to know what long term exposure to this thing would have done to it.

I suspect I will need it if I have to kill something after this.

After a while, it stopped coming, and Amanda waited, listening. She heard it moving in the little tunnel, and her gut clenched. It was slow and it was stupid, but it had an animal instinct. With the fire at one end, and Amanda at the other, it would have to be smart enough to stop moving, or …

Dig its own path out.

Amanda tossed her half of the door to the other side of the room, and dashed for the initial hole. Along the way, she swept up the other half of the door. She kicked the bed to one side of the room, bent the four corners of the door half to 90-degree angles, and used them as nails to pound it over the opening, sealing it in that way. She wouldn’t need the fiery bed elsewhere.

She grabbed the bed by the legs, and pulled it into the catacomb just in time for the blob to burst through the wall. And that’s when Amanda tipped the burning mattress right on top of it, setting the whole thing on fire. The blob thrashed, and roared, and couldn’t decide where to go to get away. Every time it tried, Amanda was there, the sharpened door edge hacking away.

Five minutes later, Amanda took a slow, deep breath, watching as it evaporated into nothing.

Author Gladiatorial Challenge: Round 2, Brian Niemeier

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Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is the Campbell Award nominated author of the Soul Cycle series, including the Dragon Award nominated Souldancer. He graciously agreed to enter this Author Gladiatorial Challenge to earn your vote for the Dragon Awards. The awards have passed and Brian has won, but the challenge continues! You can find his entry for round one here. Below is his entry for round two. I hope you find it as entertaining as I did. Declan’s entry will run later this evening, with judging to come tomorrow.


Astlin isn’t entirely clear as to whether the approaching cube is real or another violent hallucination.

One thing is clear, though: the cube. There are all sorts of odds and ends floating inside it. One item in particular catches Astlin’s attention. It’s a stop sign.

Is a stop sign still legally binding when it’s inside a gelatinous cube? Probably not. Then again, what if the cube isn’t really a cube at all? What if it’s a school bus? You can get in big trouble if a school bus puts its stop sign out and you don’t stop.

Astlin has been staring at the stop sign for a good five minutes, weighing the pros and cons of ignoring it or not, when she is enveloped by the cube.

Five more minutes pass before she stops staring at the sign and realizes that she’s inside a ten by ten by ten foot cube of warm gel that’s oozing its way down the corridor. The jelly is in her ears, crackling like a wet plastic bag.

It’s pretty nice in here. She’d forgotten how much of a chore it is lugging her brass body around. Floating inside the cube makes her feel practically weightless. It’s like drifting on a cloud–a warm, sucking, cube-shaped cloud.

Astlin can understand how being inside a gelatinous cube might not be everybody’s thing. Most other people have to breathe, for one. But that’s no problem for her.

The gel itself also seems like it’s pretty corrosive, if the rapidly dissolving rats in here with her are any clue. That’s okay. Her armor can shrug off black dragon breath, so the cube’s acid gel won’t eat through the salamander leather, and it just makes the exposed skin of her face tingle.

Snug as a cherry in the center of a Jello mold, Astlin lies back, relaxes, and goes where the cube goes.

Three hours later, the cube finally gets tired of carrying Astlin’s weight and disgorges her from its bulk. She sits on the tunnel floor for a while, unhurt but soaking wet.

She decides to take her armor off and dry it with her body heat. Upon removing her shoulder-length right glove, Astlin is shocked and delighted to find that her brass flesh has been polished to a mirror shine. The gel must have eaten away the dull buildup that accumulated over the years. Seriously, below the neck she looks like a brand new award trophy or a luxury car hood ornament!

Score!

Reader Praise for TREASURES OF DODRAZEB: THE ORIGIN KEY

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Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key

Readers love S.D. McPhail‘s debut novel, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key. Since I didn’t have the foresight to film the wonderful gentleman who read the first chapter aloud at the Southern Authors Expo, you’ll have to simply take the written word of these other readers.

  • “Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key by Susan McPhail is a smart, intriguing tale that seamlessly melds historical fiction, fantasy, and suspense… Highly recommended for fans of history, fantasy, and mystery stories.”
  • “My ONLY criticism is that I was left wanting more. Luckily McPhail left the tale so it can be taken up again. Soon, I hope.”
  • “McPhail paints vivid pictures of the world she’s created and engages all of the readers senses in the story.”
  • Very descriptive. I could easily imagined being in some of the battles! I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a great story teller!
  • More books, please.
  • WOW! Add Susan McPhail to your must watch writer list!

This book is definitively the best third century Persian sword-and-science novel I’ve ever read – and it’s now available FREE to Kindle Unlmited subscribers!

Lyonesse Update – Submissions are Still Open!

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Logo-01We’re closing in on a launch date for Silver Empire’s upcoming project, Lyonesse. We’ve combed through our first batch of submissions and found some really great stories. As of this morning, we have contacted every author we’ve received submissions from. If you haven’t heard back from us, check your spam folder. If there’s not a response there, we didn’t get your submission.

We’re working hard behind the scenes to get everything ready for a solid launch. Here are a few of the exciting things you can expect from this industry-changing project:

What’s In It For Readers?

  • Low price point. You’re going to love how affordable it is.
  • Support your favorite authors – not a big corporation. The vast majority of your money goes straight to the authors you love and read, not to one of the world’s largest corporations.
  • Lots of new short fiction. And we do mean lots. You’ll be amazed how much we’re delivering for our low prices.

What’s In It For Authors?

  • High royalty rates. At least 50% (our target is 75%!) of all Lyonesse revenue will go straight to authors.
  • Connecting with your audience. Our model pulls your story out of the crowd so that readers can find it, read it, and love it.
  • Promotion of your other works. And it won’t get lost in the noise – Lyonesse is not supported by advertising revenue.

There’s still time to contribute! We’ve gotten some really fantastic stories over the summer, but we need more – lots more! In case you missed it, here are our Lyonesse submission guidelines:

  • Science fiction or fantasy short stories of roughly 3,000 to 20,000 words.
  • Previously unpublished works.
  • There is no theme – topics are wide open.
  • This project is not specifically superversive. However, superversive stories are preferred.
  • The payment model for this project is royalty based. However, the model is somewhat unique. Details will be provided upon acceptance of stories. We expect this project to be able to at least provide payment comparable to old school short-fiction magazines (ie, within the range of $0.03 to $0.05 per word). In fact, we think it will eventually do considerably better than that. However, this is an experimental project and this is not guaranteed.
  • Stories that are part of a larger world or series that you’re developing are perfectly fine – even if previous or later stories are not published through us.
  • Authors whose stories are accepted will also have opportunities to advertise previous, current, or up and coming works as part of this project.
  • Submissions should be in Word format (doc or docx is fine).
  • At this time we’re ONLY looking for submissions for this particular project – but we will be opening up for more in the very near future.
  • E-mail submissions to submissions@silverempire.org.

And one extra requirement that didn’t make the first list: please specify that your submission is for Lyonesse!

Lyonesse is coming and it’s going to be awesome. Tell your friends about it!

Ordinary Superheroes – BOOK REVIEW

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"Ordinary Superheroes" by Christopher Lansdown

“Ordinary Superheroes” by Christopher Lansdown

DragonCon 2016 was great. I got to spend the weekend with my good friend Dan Baker of Oxide Games. I met a few folks who were well worth meeting, including meeting Declan Finn in person. We enjoyed a few fantastic panels. I photographed some lovely cosplayers. And I finally had some time to catch up on a bit of reading.

In particular, I finally finished Christopher Lansdown‘s Ordinary Superheroes. I must apologize to Mr. Lansdown. He sent me a free review copy of this book quite some time ago. The delay in this review is through no fault of the book. It is merely because August was one of the busier months of my entire life. Merging two already-functioning businesses together is a lot of work.

Quite to the contrary, this is a pretty fun book. As the title and the cover might suggest, it’s a young adult book and should be approached as such. With that said, however, there’s a lot here for adults and parents to like. For one thing, this is a pretty clean book, which is not at all guaranteed in YA these days! As a parent, I’d have no objection to even pretty young children reading this. For another, there’s genuine humor in the superhero banter, much of which will actually leave young readers thinking. The characters are fun, and Mr. Lansdown fleshes them out well.

But the best part of this book is its villain: The Bureaucrat. Seriously, how can you not love that concept? The name alone makes me want to punch him in the face – and it’s rewarding when Mr. Macho, one of the book’s trio of protagonists, finally gets the chance to do so. What’s his beef? He hates living. Not his own life, but all living. Basically, he’s like any other small-b bureaucrat. He just has a lot of superpowers to go with that. I’ll refrain from spoilers here, but the ending isn’t quite what I expected. That’s a good thing. And I liked how the characters found their way into it smartly, thinking their way through.

My biggest complaint about the book is that it bogs down a bit in the middle. If you find this happening, like I did, then note that it’s worth pushing through to the finish. You won’t stay stuck in that bit for long. The short, quick nature of the book helps alleviate this quite a bit.

I give this book four out of five stars. Most adults will enjoy it. But if you’ve got a young teen who likes superheroes, this one is for them.

Author Gladiatorial Challenge: The Second Challenge!

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Round one of the author gladiatorial challenge went to Brian, as he turned a battle with a barbed devil into an existential discussion of shoes. But Declan turned in a fantastic entry as well, so both contestants move along to stage two!


Gelatinous_CubeThe crowd erupts as our hero stands over the fallen corpse of the barbed devil. Weary and wary, she pauses to catch her breath. The Gamelord oozes dark mirth as he joins in with lazy applause of his own. Clearly he has more planned for her. Suddenly the torches go out. A moment later, the stars themselves go dark. As the applause fades to silence, so does our hero’s vision.

She awakens some time later. She isn’t sure how long it’s been, but she’s feeling strangely refreshed. Her small cell features no windows and no obvious light fixtures. There is but a single, simple door, but it closes tight with no cracks. Even so, the room is strangely well lit. She rises from the hard bed and gathers her belongings. Testing at the door, she finds that it opens easily.

She steps out of the room into a sewer of sorts. At least, that’s what it smells like. The same strange, pale ambient light fills the corridors. Water and muck line the floors. Still, it beats staying in a cage. The first obligation of a prisoner is to escape. She steps out into the catacombs.

She hears the dark laughter of the Gamelord, but she can’t place the source. Then, across the hallway, she sees it. The gelatinous cube approaches. Ten feet to a side, green in tint, it moves toward her, slowly and silently. Bones and remains are visible through the translucent gel, as well as strange objects: a tennis racket; a pair of running shoes; a stop sign. The creature closes in, blocking our hero’s only escape.


Our second challenge is a Gelatinous Cube.

One of the dungeon’s most unusual and specialized predators, gelatinous cubes spend their existence mindlessly roaming dungeon halls and dark caverns, swallowing up organic material such as plants, refuse, carrion, and even living creatures. Materials the cube cannot digest, such as metal and stone, can eventually fill up the creature’s mass with such detritus, and at times the creature may excrete some of this material out of its body. Often the treasure and possessions of past victims remain inside the gelatinous cube, leaving a ghostly impression of their material remains.

As before, both champions face the same challenge, one at a time. The fights will be posted in the order in which they are received. Authors are encouraged to be creative, over-the-top, and above all awesome. The Gamemaster reserves the right to require edits to combat under the standard Gamemaster “no, it really happened this way” clause. The more entertaining, exciting, and awesome the feat is, the more likely it is to be approved. Stats of the creature are available at the link in standard D20ish format, but there is absolutely no requirement for the combat to stick to D20 rules. Descriptions of D20 rules are discouraged; they make for great gaming but boring reading.

Go!


If you enjoy these characters, please remember to stop by and patronize the authors by buying their books. Brian Niemeier’s Souldancer and Declan Finn’s Honor at Stake are both well worth the purchase.

Authorial Gladiatorial Challenge: Round 1 Judging

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The round one entries are up (Declan’s, Brian’s), and they are both fantastic! Both authors lived up to the primary task of the challenge: making it awesome.

Mr. Finn gets points for lots of guns and explosions, as well as having a heroine who leaps around more than Yoda on crack. He gets bonus points for having a vampire use holy water as a weapon. Very creative. And the throwaway line about dating Gary Gygax was priceless.

Mr. Niemeier scores for the battle of the telepathic minds, as well as liquid fire. You can’t go wrong with liquid fire. Plus, bonus points for a character who has River Tam level grasps on sanity.

The winner of round 1? This one was hard to judge. Both entries literally made me laugh out loud from the awesome. It’s going to have to go to Brian for transforming a gladiatorial cage match into an existentialist discussion of shoes.


Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Souldancer by Brian Niemeier


Tomorrow we announce the challenge for round two!

Project Lyonesse – Making Short Fiction Great Again

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Logo-01A while back I posted about open submissions for Silver Empire‘s next major project, Lyonesse. Now that I’ve finished up a few other projects (including publishing Silver Empire’s first novel and merging two dojos together), we’re ramping up Lyonesse to full production.

If you sent us a submission for Lyonesse, we probably got it. I will be sending out responses over the next two weeks. If we accepted your submission, you will be getting an NDA agreement. Sign it and we’ll be letting you in on what we’re actually up to. If we didn’t accept your submission, I will let you know. If you haven’t heard back from me by Monday, September 12, then I probably didn’t get your submission and you should try sending it again.

We are still looking for submissions! We’ve had some great ones, but we need more. This is a pretty large project, and it will also be ongoing. So if you have them, send them over. You can find the official submission guidelines here.

What is Lyonesse?

We’re still not quite ready to lay it all out. But here are a few things I can tell you. Lyonesse is not a magazine, and bears only the thinnest resemblance to that model. Neither is it a retread of the magazine concept, shoehorned onto the web. Lyonesse is conceived with the digital age in mind, and is built for the internet era. Lyonesse will be very price competitive – you’ll be getting a lot out of your entertainment dollars. Yet even so, Lyonesse is very author friendly. We’re here to support your favorite authors, not exploit them. There will be no print edition of Lyonesse itself. Dead trees are so twentieth century. There will, however, be semi-annual roundups into traditional anthologies that will be available on Amazon, and may be available in print.

Look for more information throughout the month of September. And if we stay on track, look for our Kickstarter project to launch in early October. Stay tuned – this is about to get exciting!

Author Gladiatorial Challenge: Round 1, Brian Niemeier

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Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Souldancer by Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is the Campbell Award nominated author of the Soul Cycle series, including the Dragon Award nominated Souldancer. He graciously agreed to enter this Author Gladiatorial Challenge to earn your vote for the Dragon Awards (hurry! tonight’s the last night to get your ballot). Below is his entry for round one. I hope you find it as entertaining as I did. Declan’s entry ran earlier this evening, with judging to come tomorrow.


The Barbed Devil charges with a mighty Infernal oath to bring this chaotic aberration to heel.

In the cool of the night, the devil’s heat shines as bright as day to Astlin’s fiery eyes. She’s not sure what to make of the onrushing foe until the image of a man’s face painted on a broken shield lying half-buried in the sand speaks to her with the voice of a derelict whose mind she consumed years ago.

“He doesn’t believe in your shoes.”

Hearing that the devil doubts her shoes’ existence deeply perturbs Astlin. It’s not as if they aren’t right there on her feet for everyone to see.

Wait. Are they?

She looks down at the toes of her black, sturdy boots. Yes. This guy must be crazy.

The Barbed Devil’s charge has carried him halfway across the arena. Sand sprays and bones crunch under his spiny feet.

He’s not wearing any shoes. Is that why he doesn’t believe in hers? Because he’s never worn them?

Astlin decides that the best way to prove her shoes’ existence is for the devil to try them on. She bends down to undo the complex series of buckles and fasteners that connect her boots to her armor.

No sooner are Astlin’s boots detached from her leggings than the Barbed Devil knocks her right out of them. The force of the impact surprises her, and she topples onto the sand under her shoe-doubting foe.

The devil furiously rakes Astlin with his razor-sharp claws. Most of the attacks fail to pierce her strong leather armor and stronger brass skin, but some of the barbs scratch her still human face, drawing molten brass blood.

Being infused with positive energy, the Worked liquid metal irritates the devil, making him rear back. Astlin uses the distraction to roll out from under him. In her hurry to stand, she slips and falls prone on the soft arena floor. She sees her boots lying nearby and crawls toward them.

The fingers of Astlin’s outstretched hand are about to brush against her boots when a glowing cage of pure energy surrounds her. The devil’s deep, mocking laughter cuts her as no blade can.

Anger stokes the Fire in Astlin’s soul. She lunges forward, and her transessed body’s resistance to Workings shatters the glowing cage. She seizes the boots, and the diabolical laughter stops.

The devil is on her back in an instant, pressing her face into the sand with inhuman strength. Enraged beyond words, its telepathic curses flood her mind.

This guy’s a telepath, too? Wow! This whole time Astlin thought she was the only one. Eager to show off her skill with the power they share, Astlin projects all of her thoughts and memories into the devil’s mind. He tries to resist for some reason, but it turns out that he’s not nearly as good at this as she is.

The devil doesn’t seem to like Astlin sharing her mind with him as much as she thought he would. He screams, throws himself off her, and keeps screaming while rolling around in the sand.

Astlin gleans from their telepathic bond that this guy comes from hell. She’s surprised and a little disappointed to learn that nothing he’s seen there is as bad as what happened to her.

Oh well. Serves him right for interrupting her.

What was she doing again?

Oh yeah. Shoes.

Astlin sits down on the devil’s back. He struggles but can’t do much more than writhe under the weight of what’s basically a living brass statue. She takes her boots in one hand.

You’re supposed to start with the dominant foot. Is this guy right-handed? Probably a safe bet. She grabs his right ankle. Sharp spines cover that, too, but her gloves are up to the job.

Her first attempt to put the shoe on the devil’s foot reveals a problem. Astlin’s feet are way smaller than this guy’s. She snaps off spines, and the devil howls. Still won’t fit. This is gonna take something more drastic.

Having his foot crushed down to half size drives all reason from the devil’s mind. His spear-like tail stabs out and impales Astlin through her right eye.

Astlin’s scream joins the devil’s in a nightmarish chorus. In a spasm of pain, she accidentally rips his foot from his ankle. Positively charged molten brass eats through the tip of his tail, leaving a cauterized stump behind.

In her agonized fury, Astlin jumps up. All of her weight comes crashing down on the devil’s head, squashing it like a melon. Black blood sizzles on her brass feet as she squishes grey matter between her toes. The stench of a burned corpse rises on the night air.

The devil’s barbs rattle like dry, bare brush in the wind; then go still.

Molten metal drips from Astlin’s eye socket onto the sand, where it cools into shiny amber drops. She steps off the devil’s dead body and lets its blood and brains burn off her feet before donning her boots again.

A single question haunts the souldancer: do her shoes really exist? Now she may never know.