Making Leonardo’s Lion

An artistic acquaintance of mine has been making 3D printed models of vehicles and gadgets from my stories. Today I’ll introduce another one she made, the mechanical clockwork lion from my book “Leonardo’s Lion.”LeonardosLion5

It’s a modification of the one available on Thingiverse here, designed by YahooJapan. She added a cutout section showing gears inside. I painted the model myself.Lion 1

According to some accounts, Leonardo da Vinci made a working, mechanical lion. It was toward the end of his life when he was living in France. Records aren’t clear, but the newly crowned King of France, Francois I, met Pope Leo X in Bologna on December 19, 1515. Either the lion was presented at that event, or was commissioned then and given to the king at a party two years later.

Lion 2The lion could walk, move its head from side to side, and open and shut its jaws. It then sat on its haunches; its chest cavity opened, and a bouquet of lilies fell out. The lion was the symbol of Pope Leo X and lilies symbolized France, so this mechanism represented the strong bond between the two.

Lion 3

 

 

 

 

 

In our modern world of automated gadgets, it’s difficult to imagine the effect such a lion would have at a party in the early 16th Century.

Lion 4I got to wondering what might have happened to that lion afterward. My story, “Leonardo’s Lion,” takes place some fifty years later. The lion stands forgotten in a storeroom, hidden among numerous other gifts presented to previous kings.

A ten-year-old boy named Chev comes upon the lion after escaping an orphanage. He’s able to get the automaton working, and is small enough to ride on its back. Inside the lion, he finds a message Leonardo had meant for King Francois I to discover, and a clue to a world-changing secret. Thus begins Chev’s ride on the lion’s back, through a country torn apart by warring religions.

In potential future improvements to this model, I’d love to have movable legs, a swaying head, and a seam for the chest cavity.

I welcome your thoughts about my model. Leave a comment on this post for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

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

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—

Poseidon’s Scribe

New Book Alert – After the Martians

That’s right. I’m announcing the upcoming launch of a new book in the What Man Hath Wrought series. It’s called “After the Martians,” and the cover is sensational.

AftertheMartians72d

Here’s the blurb for the book, an alternate history occurring after the events of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds:

In 1901 the Martians attacked Earth, but tiny bacteria vanquished them. Their advanced weaponry lay everywhere—giant three-legged fighting machines, heat rays, and poison gas. Now, in 1917, The Great War rages across Europe but each side uses Martian technology. Join Corporal Johnny Branch, a young man from Wyoming, as he pursues his dream to fight for America. Follow magazine photographer Frank Robinson while he roams the front lines, hoping to snap a photo conveying true American valor. Perhaps they’ll discover, as the Martians did before them, that little things can change the world.

Gypsy Shadow Publishing and I are planning for a book launch in early May. You’ll find more news about “After the Martians” here at this website, so check back frequently with—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Author Interview—Anatoly Belilovsky

You’ll enjoy reading my interview of Anatoly Belilovsky, another author whose story appears in the anthology Hides the Dark Tower.

Anatoly BelilovskyAnatoly Belilovsky is a Russian-American author and translator of speculative fiction. His work has appeared in the Unidentified Funny Objects anthology, Ideomancer, Nature Futures, Stupefying Stories, Immersion Book of Steampunk, Daily SF, Kasma, Kazka, and has been podcast by Cast of Wonders, Tales of Old, and Toasted Cake. He blogs about writing here, pediatrics here, and his medical practice web site is here. He was born in what is now Ukraine, learned English from Star Trek reruns, worked his way through a US college by teaching Russian while majoring in chemistry, and has, for the past 25 years, been a paediatrician in New York, in a practice where English is the fourth most commonly spoken language.

Here’s the interview:

Poseidon’s Scribe: When and why did you begin writing fiction?

Anatoly Belilovsky: I vaguely remember writing fanfic as a child, at least in my mind: a prequel to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, a sequel to the original Lost World of Arthur Conan Doyle, apocrypha of Strugatsky’s Inhabited Island. Nothing I’d ever want to show anyone.

I did publish a couple of stories in my college’s annual magazine, one of them acquired by Gordon van Gelder [editor of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction] back when he himself was an undergraduate. Nothing I’d want to show anyone these days, either.

P.S.:    What genres have you written in?

A.B.: Alternate history is probably my favorite. When I write SF and fantasy, they tend to skirt very close to mainstream/literary. In humor, I prefer character-driven comedy to situational comedy — a mathematician who can only think of mathematics in terms of Russian swear words seems to have had the greatest impact so far, though an epidemic of otaku based on Russian cartoon characters, and Wagner leading a musical invasion of France in 1870, both got a few chuckles here and there.

P.S.:    In what way is your fiction different from that of other authors in your genre?

A.B.: I doubt I am the only one who acknowledges a debt to Gogol, Chekhov, Nabokov, and Poe as their major influences. It isn’t as common as Delany and Le Guin, but certainly not unique. There are several excellent bilingual writers, several physician writers I am proud to call twice-colleagues, several of anything I can ever be labeled as. I guess this is a question best asked of my fans. Shouldn’t take too long to interview both of them.

P.S.:    What are the easiest, and the most difficult, aspects of writing for you?

A.B.: Characterization is easiest: I seem to have a good handle on subtext which is what characterization is all about.

Plotting is the hardest. If I do my characterization right, the characters will pick proper fights with each other, the Universe, and the absurdity of existence. If not, they go through the motions, listlessly.

P.S.:    You’ve had many short stories published. Have you written any novels or do you intend to?

A.B.: I have not so far been chosen by a novel to be the instrument of its creation. Also, plotting: novels seem to depend on it more than short stories do.

P.S.:    In describing yourself, you cite your Russian childhood, Star Trek, chemistry, and pediatrics. How do you weave each of those threads of your life into your stories?

A.B.: Well, I learned English from Star Trek, so that’s huge. The chemical principles of self-assembly and tertiary structure — if you think about it, that’s how the best stories work, the characters and their worlds interacting organically, friendships and conflicts never feeling forced or synthetic. Pediatrics — after 30 years, subtext is second nature, you get to read whatever is left unsaid, tease out the meaning behind the exact phraseology used. And growing up speaking a highly inflected language I think gave me a heightened understanding of structure and mechanics of English.

Also, seriously, when everything you say can be used by Big Brother against you, subtext becomes a way of life. I was beta reading a story once that had this exchange:

A: “We hunt dragons.”

B: “There are no dragons.”

A: “That’s because we killed them all!”

My suggestion was to change it to:

A: “We hunt dragons.”

B: “Dragons are extinct.”

A: “You are welcome!”

Same idea, but I think communicating it through subtext made the speaker more matter-of-fact and therefore more believable.

P.S.:    Your stories often contain literary references, some perhaps unfamiliar to American readers. Are your tales intended to be enjoyed on several levels by the casual reader, the well-read bibliophile, and the researching puzzle-solver?

A.B.: Yes. In fact, this is exactly what several reviewers and a number of beta readers said. “Because of your story I googled [X] and wow [X] is now my new favorite thing and likely the name of my firstborn and my next band” — this is what writers live for!

Examples: I wrote a story about Night Witches, a women’s night bomber unit in the Soviet Army in WWII. Got an email from a reader who happily discovered the unit actually existed! Another reader now peppers conversations with Russian swear words. Mea maxima culpa! And Chrestomathy, the patchwork alternate literature story, got a whole bunch of conversations going about Pushkin and Gogol and the nature of ethics.

P.S.:    Your Twitter stream abounds in puns. What is it about that form of humor that intrigues you?

A.B.: I immigrated to US with my parents in 1976, and by end of high school and start of college in ’78 my English was fully functional, but no more. It was on a winter day in 1979 that I felt an almost audible *click* as English became *my* language, and the first manifestation of that was that I started making puns. I scribbled in the margins of my notebooks, Q and A jokes, knock knock jokes, shaggy dog stories ending in a terrible pun —

Also, I always liked math. And math teaches us that the shortest distance between two puns is a straight line.

One of my multilingual idols, Vladimir Nabokov, excelled at puns. Pale Fire has to be one of my favorite books of all time.

P.S.:    Your story in Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]Hides the Dark Tower is “Deep Into That Darkness Peering.” Can you tell us what inspired that homage to Poe (with a nod to Chekhov)?

A.B.: Well, Poe is… Poe! I mean, who else can write such purple prose and get away with it? “Deep Into That Darkness Peering” is actually one of three Poe’s purple prose pastiches I perpetrated, the other two published in Stupefying Stories Showcase. Melodrama, bathos, run-on sentences from hell (in my son’s estimation) — and I’m getting paid for it! MWAHAHA! [clears throat] Umm, where was I?

I also admire Poe for what has to be the biggest Deus Ex ending ever. Remember how “The Pit and the Pendulum” ends? The French enter the city and save the protagonist! Agency? Who needs agency when you have the French army! Now I don’t have to feel guilty for how I ended “Deep Into That Darkness Peering.”

Chekhov, by the way, is the author of the best bit of subtext ever written. In “The Lady with the Dog,” a man approaches the lady and the dog. The dog bristles. Quote follows:

“He does not bite,” she said and blushed.

Think about it.

P.S.:    What is your current work in progress? Would you mind telling us a little about it?

A.B.: An alternate history in which Tsar Nicholas II caught the bullet meant for Prime Minister Stolypin in 1911. No WWI, no Revolution. Murder mystery involving several characters born before the point of departure and famous in our timeline for — blimey, I better go and write this, what?

Poseidon’s Scribe: What advice can you offer aspiring writers?

Anatoly Belilovsky: Don’t only take writing advice from writers who wrote stuff you wish you’d written. Even people whose writing you don’t find appealing can help you develop your own voice. And if then you develop taste for their work — well, growth happens.

 

Readers aching to find out more about Anatoly Belilovsky (you know you’re one of them) can visit his website and follow him on Twitter.

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 4, 2015Permalink

Time for a Story to Launch

I just learned my next story, “Time’s Deformèd Hand,” is scheduled to be launched by Gypsy Shadow Publishing in just three days, on November 15th. It’s the 12th book in that What Man Hath Wrought series everyone’s talking about.

Here’s the blurb: It’s 1600 in an alternate Switzerland, a world where Da Vinci’s mechanical automatons and human-powered flight almost work, thanks to magic trees. Long-separated twins, Georg the reluctant groom and Georg the clock thief, roam the clocklike village of Spätbourg, beset by more time and date errors than you can shake an hour hand at. Will Georg get married after all, and repair the town’s central tower clock? Will Georg—the other one—purloin more timepieces, or give up his pilfering ways? Will William Shakespeare lend a hand, and some iambic pentameter poetry, to reset the cogs and gears of this zany comedy? Only time will tell…or maybe not, in this ultimate clockpunk tale of mistaken identity and temporal mix-ups.

I’ll be sure to let you know when “Time’s Deformèd Hand” is launched and where you can buy it. You know if there’s one person who’d never leave you uninformed, it’s—

Poseidon’s Scribe

November 13, 2014Permalink

First to Land on a Comet?

This week the European Space Agency (ESA) announced they will choose from among five sites on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the Rosetta spacecraft’s robot laboratory Philae to land, as reported here, here, and here. Crop_from_the_4_August_processed_image_of_comet_67P_Churyumov_Gerasimenko300px-Rosetta

Philae_over_a_comet_(crop)They claim this will be the first time a human-built spacecraft has landed on a comet.

I beg to differ.

I’m aware of an alternate universe very close to our own, a universe in which an actual manned—not robotic—landing has already occurred.

In 1897.

It’s all documented in my story, “The Cometeers,” a story to be launched tomorrow by Gypsy Shadow Publishing. Yes, that’s tomorrow. The 1st of September.TheCometeers72dpi

That means you don’t have to wait for the ESA to take their sweet time choosing a landing site and preparing to send down the Philae probe. They’re not even attempting their landing until mid-November. That’s not for two and a half whole months!

Who wants to wait that long? You can be witness to a manned landing on a comet as soon as tomorrow.

Also, in my story, the comet isn’t some benign rock way out there at some safe distance.  Not at all.  It’s huge, and it’s hurtling toward Earth.

A planet-buster.

Further, the heroes of “The Cometeers” don’t have fancy computers, or Ariane 5 rockets, or robots, let alone nuclear weapons. All they’ve got is gunpowder. And a big cannon. And their ingenuity.

And a few sticks of gum.

I’ve got nothing against the fine folks at the ESA. Really. The Rosetta mission is exciting, and it has the added benefit that it’s really taking place in our own universe.

Sometimes, though, alternate universes can be fun, too. Read “The Cometeers” and see if you agree. Jules Verne said, “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” It looks like the ESA will soon make something real, something that first blasted like a cannon shot from the imagination of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Interview with a Cometeer

Today I’m interviewing the protagonist, Commander Hanno Knighthead, from my story, “The Cometeers,” scheduled for release by Gypsy Shadow Publishing in early September.

TheCometeers72dpiPoseidon’s Scribe: Greetings, Commander Knighthead, and welcome to our blog—er, newspaper. I’m Poseidon’s—I mean, I’m Steven Southard, the Editor in Chief.

Commander Knighthead: Thank you, Mr. Southard. I’m pleased to be here.

S.S.: Can you tell our readers about your upcoming mission?

CDR K.: Well, I think most people already know we’re travelling into outer space to blast Comet Göker with gunpowder to divert it away from the Earth.

S.S.: Can you remind our readers when the comet is due to collide with Earth, if not diverted in time?

CDR K.: Yes, on September 9th.

S.S.: Of this very year, 1897, is that correct?

CDR K.: Yes.

S.S.: Very interesting. Let’s get to some personal matters. How old are you and where did you grow up?

CDR K.: I’m 35 and I was born and raised at a farm near Emporia, Kansas. Born one year after Kansas became a state, in fact.

S.S.: But you didn’t stay to work the farm when you grew up?

CDR K.: No. After reading Moby-Dick, Two Years Before the Mast, and other such books, I felt the call of the sea. I received an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and graduated from there in ’84.

S.S.: Pardon me for asking, but how did your parents pick your first name—Hanno? It’s most unusual. Is it a family name?

CDR K.: (laughs) No. My name is Hanover. Hanno is just a nickname.

S.S.: What was your most recent command in the Navy before being selected for the comet mission?

CDR K.: I was captain of the torpedo boat, USS Hopkins, home-ported in Newport, Rhode Island.

S.S.: Are you married, Commander?

CDR. K.: No.

S.S.: Come now. A good-looking man like you, in the prime of health, with a successful Navy career going? I’m sure there are scores of young ladies who—

CDR. K.: I preferred not to subject a wife to the difficulties of dealing with my life at sea.

S.S.: I understand, though our young, female readers will likely wish you’d make an exception.  How were you chosen for this mission?

CDR K.: That was the shocking part. I’m told President McKinley selected me personally.

S.S.: Really? Why? Did the President know you?

CDR K.: No. When I had the opportunity to meet with him in the White House, he told me he wanted someone able to lead a small group of men in a confined craft on a long mission. I’m honored he chose me.

S.S.: As you should be. I understand the rest of your crew for the comet mission was hand-picked as well.

CDR K.: Yes, hand-picked for their expertise in various disciplines needed on our mission—explosives, mechanics, orbital mathematics, comet geology, physics, and other specialties. They’re from the nine countries that contributed the most to finance the expedition.

S.S.: A multi-national crew, then. Do you foresee difficulties in communication?

CDR K.: Not in communication. They all speak English.

S.S.: Your answer suggests you see difficulties of another kind. Do you?

CDR K.: We’re sending twenty three projectiles into outer space, three of them manned. We’re trying to guide the ones filled with gunpowder so they hit a comet travelling very fast, and we’re trying to keep that comet from hitting the Earth. Of course, I see difficulties. I see nothing but difficulties.

S.S.: I meant, do you see problems with your crew, other than communication?

CDR K.: (hesitates before answering) I think it’s no secret that leading a crew of well-educated civilians experts presents different challenges that leading a crew of a few officers and dozens of enlisted men. Having said that, I look forward to the mission and have full confidence every crewman will do his job.

Steven Southard: I know you’re a busy man, so I’ll end here by wishing you and the rest of the Cometeers complete success. The rest of us are depending on you.

CDR Knighthead: Thank you. We won’t let you down.

As a reminder, my story, “The Cometeers,” will be launched in early September. I think you’ll find Commander Hanno Knighthead has, if anything, underestimated the challenges he’ll face on this mission. Challenges imposed on him by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Story behind “The Cometeers”

As I mentioned in my News page, Gypsy Shadow Publishing has accepted my story, “The Cometeers” which will be published as part of the What Man Hath Wrought series. The intended launch date is in early September.

TheCometeers72dpiHere’s the marvelous cover, designed by Charlotte Holley.  Yes, that’s a planet-destroying comet headed right toward the Earth.  But if you look closer, you’ll see an silvery man-made projectile on an intercept course.  Just possibly, its occupants might save the entire world.

Inquiries have been streaming in from every corner of the planet (and from some of the comets), asking what this story is about. Far be it from me to deny my fans information about my latest tale.

Here’s the book blurb: A huge comet speeds toward a devastating collision with the Earth, but no one will launch space shuttles filled with nuclear weapons. It’s 1897. Instead they’ll fire projectiles from the Jules Verne cannon and try to deflect the comet with a gunpowder explosion. Commander Hanno Knighthead isn’t sure he can motivate his argumentative, multinational crew of geniuses to work together. It turns out one of them is a saboteur. Then things get worse. Only a truly extraordinary leader could get this group to cooperate, thwart the saboteur, and jury-rig a way to divert the comet. Lucky thing Hanno brought his chewing gum.

Armageddon-poster 1998If you recall the 1998 movie “Armageddon,” then you can think of my story as Steampunk Armageddon.

I don’t recall the exact inspiration for this story. As stated in this post, and this one, I use the “seed and twist” method of coming up with story ideas. In this case the seed is the standard save-Earth-from-destruction idea, and the twist is to set the action in Victorian times.

My problem became one of technology. They just didn’t have sufficient know-how in the Nineteenth Century to divert or destroy a comet. It’s an open question whether we really have the technology today.

640px-From_the_Earth_to_the_Moon_Jules_VerneTherefore, I assumed the world of Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon.  In that world, men had already achieved space travel in 1867. With funds from many nations, the Baltimore Gun Club had built a 900 foot long cannon outside Tampa, Florida, and launched a projectile containing three men.

My story is set thirty years later and no one has used the cannon since, due to the enormous expense. With a giant comet on the way, however, something must be done, so every country contributes what it can.

You can’t simply launch projectiles full of gunpowder at the comet and expect to hit it. The target is too small, the distance too great, and the calculations too imprecise. You must send men up also, in separate projectiles, to travel with your gunpowder bombs to make the necessary course corrections along the way.

That plan should work.

Unless something goes wrong.

“The Cometeers” will launch in September. For further updates, keep visiting this blog and reading the posts by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

The Story Behind “To Be First”

ToBeFirstWheels5As the launch date for “To Be First” and “Wheels of Heaven” nears (this Tuesday, July 1st), and excitement builds, I think it’s time for me to reveal the story behind “To Be First.”

A few years ago, I watched an episode of the TV show Mythbusters where they replicated a feat supposedly performed by Lagâri Hasan Çelebi in the Ottoman Empire in 1633. Çelebi is said to have constructed a rocket chair, launched himself into the air, and flown down safely using a wing-like apparatus. The event was intended to commemorate and honor the birth of the Sultan’s daughter.

The Mythbusters team considered the myth busted, but it got me to thinking. What if such a marvelous flight had taken place? What if the Sultan had understood the geopolitical and military implications?

LagariThink of it. Manned rocket flight in the 17th Century. Defensive city walls and high castle walls would mean nothing to a country with armed rocket-men. Rather than expanding and then beginning its slow decline to finally die with the end of World War I, the Ottoman Empire might have spread much more quickly and farther.

Had the Ottomans also embraced the science behind rocketry, they might have hastened other technical achievements, and been the source of those advancements rather than watching America and the rest of Europe prosper.

It seemed like an interesting basis for an alternate history tale, so I wrote one. In my version, it’s 1933, three centuries after Çelebi’s flight, and two Ottoman astronauts (called lunanauts) are returning from the first manned flight to the Moon. Yes, I said 1933, not 1969.

Nuruosmaniye_MosqueI imagined their space capsule being about the same size as the Apollo capsule, but dome-shaped with a central spike like the roof of an Ottoman mosque.  The capsule would have a couple of windows and there would be some of that beautiful, flowing Ottoman Turkish writing on the outside.

As the story commences, the lunanauts encounter a strange ionic storm in space, and their capsule passes into an alternate universe. The tale takes off from there.

My central characters, Yazid and Kemal, hold differing views on what it means to be an explorer. What are the motivations behind those who roam beyond all prior journeys, who probe far into unknown regions? Do they do it for the money? For fame? For love? Or is it something simpler?

If you read my story, perhaps you’ll be motivated to become an explorer, and you’ll write your own gripping story of heroic and fantastic adventure. You, too, can manage ‘To Be First.’ At least, so says—

Poseidon’s Scribe