A Great Time at BALTICON 50

BALTICON50_banner_1The major science fiction and fantasy convention in Baltimore turned fifty this year, and the organizers went all out. With George R. R. Martin as the Guest of Honor, and some seventeen previous GoH being there as well, this was a star-studded event.

I’m told attendance more than doubled the usual number, and from the way folks crowded the Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, I can believe it.

Nobody would describe this convention as a well-oiled machine that ran like clockwork. Still, what impressed me was the good attitude of the attendees. Most people accepted the chaos as a given; they went with the flow.

I shared a book-signing table with author Paul Cooley, an engaging and entertaining guy. One fan, a pregnant woman, asked him to sign a book she intended to give to “Jude.” When Paul asked who Jude was, she patted her bulge. He told me it was the first time he’d signed a book for someone who hadn’t been born yet.

KellyAHarmon at Balticon50
Kelly A. Harmon

I managed to grab a pic of fellow author Kelly A. Harmon during the Broad Universe rapid-fire reading session. She captivated the room while reading from her latest novel, A Blue Collar Proposition, third in her Charm City Darkness series.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At a later reading session, I had the pleasure to join authors Ming Diaz (left), Michelle Sonnier (second from right), and Goldeen Ogawa (far right). Ming is a natural storyteller, with a melodious voice that mesmerizes. Both Michelle and Goldeen read from unpublished manuscripts of theirs—sections from novels in progress. (I’m not brave enough to do that.) I read from “After the Martians.”

Reading at Balticon50 (2)
Ming Diaz, me, Michelle Sonnier, and Goldeen Ogawa
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Goldeen Ogawa’s sketch inspired by “After the Martians”

Goldeen Ogawa served as our moderator and kept things lively and fun. She’s a graphic designer as well as a writer, and creates her own book covers. While Ming, Michelle, and I were reading our selections, Goldeen drew little sketches based on what she saw in her artist’s mind while we spoke. The sketch she drew for me is a great rendering of a Martian tripod fighting machine battling in a desolate landscape. Thanks, Goldeen!

After every convention, I come away charged up and full of story ideas. I get a vivid reminder of the devotion of science fiction and fantasy fans, their hunger for good stories, and their willingness to learn about undiscovered authors. BALTICON 50 will be long remembered by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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BALTICON 50 – My Schedule

I’ll be at BALTICON this weekend and hope to see you there. Here is my schedule:

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Saturday May 28     1:30 PM         Autograph Session

I’ll be available to sign books, along with Paul Cooley and David Lee Summers

Location: Renaissance – PDR Table 1

 

Sunday May 29       7:00 PM         Reading

I’ll be reading from one of my stories, along with Ming Diaz, Goldeen Ogawa, and Michelle Sonnier

Location: Renaissance – St. George

 

Perhaps you’ve read one or more of my stories, or maybe just read my blog posts. You’ve got an intense (and understandable) curiosity about me, and are eager to meet me. Here’s your chance. Go to BALTICON this weekend.

Oh, I understand there will be other writers there as well. Folks like George R.R. Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Michael F. Flynn, Harry Turtledove, Larry Niven, Connie Willis, and Joe Haldeman.  You may have heard of them, too.

More importantly, you’ll be able to chat, and shake hands, with—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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After the Martians – the Cast of Characters

Today I’ll introduce you to the four major characters in my new book, “After the Martians.” The alternate World War I of my story has brought them together in and near the Black Forest of Western Germany in 1917, some 16 years after the Martians’ failed attempt to conquer the Earth.

AftertheMartians72d

In order of their introduction in the story, let’s meet them.

  • Private Johnny Branch is seventeen, an American from Wyoming. The hero of my story, he’s enthusiastic about getting to fight in the war, and thrilled to be driving a Martian fighting machine, a tripod. He grew up listening to, and reading about, the Martian War. Like boys across the nation, he built rudimentary models of the fighting machines and waged little battles with toy tin soldiers, pretending to be Teddy Roosevelt in the Battle for Washington, D.C.
  • Second Lieutenant Henry Wagner is about twenty-three, and commands the fighting machine driven by Johnny. Their machine is part of Crazyhorse Troop, Tiger Squadron, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. He’s from Norristown, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. He’s been in the war since the beginning and is now seasoned by battle, and quite skeptical about the war. He looks forward to the end of the war, when people can develop peaceful uses for Martian technology.
  • Frank Robertson is a photographer for “The American Magazine,” initially assigned to send back pictures to give the public a sense of the life of a doughboy. As the war has gone on and casualties have mounted, his editor tells him to snap some shots of American heroism and gallantry in battle, to keep up the patriotic spirit. However, it’s hard to get close to the action in a modern war, with Martian heat rays and poisonous black smoke.
  • Hilde Gottschall is an old German woman living in a wooden cabin on Feldberg Mountain. She lost her husband in the Martian War and her son in the Great War. After the death of her daughter-in-law, she lives alone with her infant grandson, Andreas Gottschall, whom she calls her Schätzchen (darling). She is cynical and angry about all wars.

In addition, there are a couple of minor characters with bit parts, but those four are the major ones. Each of the latter three influence Johnny in various ways as he matures toward full adulthood.

On a separate note, I’m hoping to speak on a panel or two at BALTICONBALTICON50_banner_1, the science fiction convention in Baltimore, next weekend. At a minimum, I’ll be signing my books on Saturday from 1:30 to 2:30, and I’ll be reading from one of my books on Sunday from 7:00 pm to 7:50.

I’ll post my complete schedule when it’s approved. If you’ll be in the area, you can meet, in person—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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After the Martians—the Story Behind the Story

It’s the question readers ask authors most often: “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve blogged about that before, but today I’ll reveal the birth of the idea behind my just-launched book,AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians.”

It wasn’t my idea at all.

My friend, fellow author, and critique group partner, Andy Gudgel, thought of the idea. Heaven knows where he got it. At one of our critique group meetings, he mentioned he’d like to write a sequel to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, but his story would deal with the aftermath, with dead Martians lying around, but also their technology. After all, the tripod fighting machines would be still standing where they stopped. The assembly machines would be intact and stationary near the landing sites of the Martian projectiles. Even a few flying machines might be available.

Andy’s idea was that humans would then use these weapons in a very different version of World War I.

This notion captivated me, and I urged him to write the story. Each time he sent us manuscripts of other tales, I’d ask him about the Martian story. “This one’s good, Andy,” I’d say, “but when are you going to give us that War of the Worlds sequel?”

Then at one December meeting, (at which we exchange little gifts to each other), I unwrapped his gift to me, and there were all his notes, and his copy of H.G. Wells’ novel. A note stated he was giving his story idea to me. I should write the tale, since he would not likely ever get around to it.

Wow! That could be the greatest gift one writer could give to another.

I say ‘could be’ because of an emotionally painful event that happened to me some twenty years earlier. At that time, I belonged to a different writing critique group. One other group member had written more than half of his novel. As I recall, it involved a modern-day (well, mid-1990s) nuclear attack on the United States.

Sadly, this writer died young. He had not completed writing that novel, let alone sent it to any agents or publishers.

His wife wrote to me to say how much her husband had appreciated my critiques of his work, and said he’d wanted me to finish, and seek publication of, his novel.

With a heavy heart, I had to decline the offer, but found it gut-twisting to tell his widow that. To write a story, I must have passion about it and care deeply about it and about the characters. I just didn’t feel that way in this case. Moreover, even if I’d had that enthusiasm, I would have had to rewrite large portions of the other writer’s novel to make it mine, and would have felt terrible about not honoring the deceased writer’s wishes exactly, or not living up to his hopes.

In the case of Andy’s WotW sequel, he hadn’t started writing yet. He’d compiled some notes and a rough outline, but I decided to take the story in a different direction than he’d planned. I didn’t feel badly about that, since he hadn’t begun the actual writing and my passion drove me toward the story that became “After the Martians.”

That’s the story behind the story written by—

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World War One—After the Martians

One century ago, war raged across Europe. They called it the Great War then. The year 2018 will mark a hundred years since the ending of that massive conflict. Today I thought we’d examine an alternate history scenario. How might WW I have been different if H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds had really occurred in 1901? My recently launched book, “AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians,” explores this scenario.

First, some background. In 1815, the Congress of Vienna created a sustainable peace across Europe. Half a century later, that peace had frayed. Five nations then dominated the mainland continent and vied with each other for supremacy—Austria, Denmark, France, Russia, and Germany (under Prussian leadership).

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Chancellor Otto von Bismarck

Enter Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of Germany, who combined the ‘balance of power’ concept with a pragmatic or ‘realpolitik’ approach to foreign policy. He ensured Germany maintained a changing web of alliances with two of the other powers, while engineering a series of short wars designed to unite and strengthen the German states while weakening enemies. After each war, he’d shift the alliances, always maintaining three on his side against two on the other.

This strategy sustained a workable balance until Bismarck’s resignation in 1890, after which he predicted, “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.”

After that time, the European powers armed themselves against each other and tensions increased—the so-called “powder keg.” Without any minor wars to relieve this tension, the strain increased such that even a small event could trigger a major war. That’s what Bismarck had foreseen.

So far, that’s an interpretation of how things actually happened. Let’s insert a fictional twist. Assume the attack of The War of the Worlds really occurred, in 1901. In H.G. Wells’ novel, the Martians only invaded Great Britain, but it makes no sense for a superior alien race to restrict their assault to just one country, so we’ll suppose the Martians spread their forces more widely across the globe.

In time, the Earth’s bacteria sickened and killed the alien aggressors, but only after they’d wiped out a significant portion of the world’s population. Human weaponry of 1901 had been almost useless against the Martians, so our war machines lay in ruin. However, the aliens had left behind their tripod fighting machines, heat rays, “black smoke” poison gas, and some flying machines.

The nations of Europe, then, would have faced two choices. Stunned by the devastation of the Martian War and fearful of another attack from that planet, they could have joined forces and combined their energies to prepare for another assault by a common enemy. Or they could have examined the advanced Martian military technology and used it to refill the powder keg.

After the Martians assumes, as backstory, that the latter occurred. I postulate that the same triggering event—the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand—lit the fuse and set off the Great War.

Using the weaponry of Mars, WW I would have gone quite differently. Trenches would be useless against one hundred foot tall walking tripods with heat rays. Each side would have gone underground, using the Martian “assembly machines” to construct huge subterranean bunkers with hidden surface entrances.

Moreover, the heat rays and black smoke would have killed off the plant and animal life on every battlefield. There would have been vast areas of bare dirt. The combatants would have spared only the mountainous zones, since it would have been difficult to maneuver the tall three-legged fighting machines on sloped ground.

This is the (alternate) reality faced by my character Johnny Branch in my new book. As you mark the centennial of the real WW I, consider reading “After the Martians,” by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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An Image’s Power

Joe Rosenthal’s famous photograph of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima is now in the news. There’s a bit of a controversy over who, exactly, is in the photograph.

300px-WW2_Iwo_Jima_flag_raisingRegardless how that question is resolved, it’s a reminder of the influence certain images have on us.

I recall reading the story about Associated Press Photographer Joe Rosenthal snapping that photo—the fighting going on all around him, his sense that the flag raising would be good to capture, his swinging the camera up just in time to capture the pic, his sending it in with the rest of his photos, and the inclusion of that photo in newspapers across the country within hours.

That became my inspiration for my character Frank Robertson, in my story AftertheMartians72dAfter the Martians,” published just yesterday. During the Great War, the editors of The American Magazine send Frank to the front to capture scenes of heroic American military prowess. As you follow Frank through the story, you’ll see that he thinks like a photographer, with a sense of color, contrast, texture, shadow, etc.

Like Rosenthal, Robertson goes through hell to reach the perfect spot and swings his Graflex Speed Graphic camera up just in time to snap a Pulitzer-winning shot of a lifetime.

Frank Robertson isn’t the main character of “After the Martians,” and it’s certainly not a book about photography. But the difficult work of wartime photographers such as Rosenthal does not go unappreciated by—

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Book Launch—After the Martians

Your wait is over! My book “After the Martians” is now available. No more gritting your teeth, drumming your fingers, or watching the clock tick the hours away. Even as you read this, you could be surfing over to Amazon or Smashwords and purchasing your own copy.

AftertheMartians72dNot a bad idea. Stop reading this blog right now and buy the book.

Still reading this? Not yet sure you want to buy? Need a sense of what you’ll be getting first? Okay, here’s the short marketing pitch I use for press releases:

It’s an alternate World War I, with Martian weapons. Young Johnny Branch seeks military adventure, but a new and different uprising needs a hero.

This is your chance to be the first among your friends, family, and fellow members of your book club to read the latest book in the What Man Hath Wrought series. Download “After the Martians” to your electronic reader and let me know what you think of it.

Go ahead. I’ll just sit here gritting my teeth, drumming my fingers, and watching the clock tick the hours away until you submit your impressions about the book as a comment to this blog post. Your wait may be over, but it’s just beginning for—

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H.G. Wells’ Fighting Machines — After the Martians

My upcoming story, “After the Martians”—to be released this month—features the fighting machines, or tripods, of H.G. Wells’ book The War of the Worlds. In that book, the Martians assembled the machines after their arrival on Earth, and they caused considerable destruction. At the end of the novel, the Martians all died from our terrestrial bacteria.

AftertheMartians72d“After the Martians” takes place in the world of Wells’ story, but sixteen years have passed since the alien attack. In my tale, humans make use of the Martian technology, especially the fighting machines, to fight World War I.

Wells depicted a fighting machine as being three-legged and about one hundred feet tall. He did not describe the carapace or main body of the machine, except to say that several flexible tentacles protruded from it. Two of these tentacles held a box with a lens from which shot the devastating heat ray. The tripod’s other weapon was a poisonous black gas.

Such a machine would have terrified the readers of 1897. Since then, the tripod from The War of the Worlds has become a science fiction icon, inspiring the walking weapons of Star Wars, the AT-AT and AT-ST.  Combining huge size with the human attribute of walking somehow adds to the horror.

In The War of the Worlds, we see the fighting machines from the inferior vantage point of puny human victims on the ground. In “After the Martians,” I take readers inside the carapace as human pilots control the alien machines to battle other tripods.

I enlisted the aid of a close acquaintance to make a wonderful 3D printed version of the fighting machine. (Frequent readers will recall my 3D printed Ring of Gyges from my story “Ripper’s Ring.”) For the tripod, she used a Printrbot brand printer, the Simple (Maker) Edition, and PLA filament.

3D printed tripod 13D printed tripod 23D printed tripod 3

The .stl files you need to print the fighting machine yourself are on the Thingiverse site, and the design is by FuzzySadist (William Myers). I added the wire tentacles, and painted the machine to be generally consistent with my story’s description.

Very soon, I’ll give you details on how you can get your own copy of “After the Martians,” by—

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