Friday, July 14, 2017

Elphonium

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Elphonium by INDRIKoff from Deviantart
used with permission

This painting was the inspiration for this story. I saw it on Tumblr and followed the link path to Deviantart. Thanks to INDRIKoff for painting this remarkable image.

Elphonium
by Larry Heyl

The King was bored. The King was restless. Peaceful times were great for his Kingdom. His subjects were happy and hearty. Trade flourished. But the King … was bored.

He thought of calling his musicians with their lyres and flutes but lately all their tunes sounded the same. Even his fool’s raunchy jokes failed to amuse. He would rather saddle his horse and ride.

That’s it. He would ride. A real ride. Just the King, his fool, and his groom. Not a ride to somewhere. Just a ride. He had purpose. A purposeless ride.

The King moved. “Come Fool.”, he bawled, “We ride.”

Somehow the groom already knew. Gossip in the castle travels faster than thought. When the King and his fool arrived at the stables the groom was ready. Three good horses saddled and prancing. They were a sight for sore eyes. The King, his fool, and his groom mounted and rode.

They stepped lightly across the drawbridge and quickly broke into a canter, the King in the lead. He hadn’t gone a quarter mile before he veered off onto a lightly used path into the woods. They slowed and the King let his horse pick the trail. Sometimes the path disappeared but his horse had a sense of direction beyond human abilities. When the trail forked his horse knew which way to go. The fool and the groom followed behind without effort. Their horses followed the King’s horse. The King gave his horse his head.

The forest changed. It was now more open. Lighter. Brighter. The leaves on the trees shimmered. The grass waved in the breeze as if begging to be trod on. The horses slowed to a walk, a slow walk, somehow barely moving. And then they heard the music.

It was like nothing they had ever heard before. A sweet plaintive sound, sometimes like an oboe and sometimes like a flute but always changing. Music without thought, apparently without direction. But somehow it always seemed to get there. The phrases morphing into each other, one after the other, drawing them in.

They came to a clearing and under a pear tree standing alone they saw an elfin princess blowing a horn beyond description. Not a horn with one bell. Not a horn with one sound. Many bells. Each with it’s own sound. And the horn was not separate from the elfin princess. Somehow it grew right out of her. And the music flowed right out of her too. Tumbling through their minds like a river tumbles through the valley.

They dismounted and the groom tended the horses. He didn’t have to tie them. They weren’t going anywhere.

The groom brought a sack of wine from his saddlebags and they all three drank and listened to the music. But they didn’t get drunk. They drank so slowly, sip by sip, the wine enhancing their senses, carrying them deeper and deeper into the music.

Other elves appeared, charming fellows but none as beautiful as the elphin princess. The King noticed other mouthpieces on the horn. Soon the other elves were playing too, each on their own mouthpiece. Each creating countermelodies out of one of the bells.

The music became denser with bass patterns underlying harmonies underlying the ever changing melodies played by the elphin princess. The King, his fool, and his groom stood their entranced. Slowly sipping wine. Captured by the music.

And then the faeries came. A dozen, then a hundred, dancing out of the woods. Soon the King, his fool, and his groom were surrounded by hundreds of faeries dancing naked in the meadow. The fool wanted to make a raunchy joke but his mouth wouldn’t make the sounds. His lips wouldn’t speak.

The sun set. The moon rose. The King joined the dance. The moon, high in the sky, looked down on the three of them dancing with the faeries, thoroughly ensorceled.

And what a night it was dancing naked in the clearing with the faeries. It was better than the hunt. Better than battle. Better than life itself. Just the music, the dancing, the faeries, the elves, the elphin princess, and the horn.

As the moon set the faeries danced off. The wine was finally gone. The music wound down. Softer, slower. And they slept.

They awoke after dawn, under the pear tree, still naked, not another soul in sight. Their horses nickered standing at the edge of the clearing. They dressed. They mounted. They rode.

It seemed like only minutes and they were back at the castle. The King’s subjects shouted “Hurrah! the King is back! Hurrah!”

They were lucky.

Only a year had passed.

The story “Elphonium” by Larry Heyl is CC-BY-SA.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Pirates Of Ersatz by Murray Leinster

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Astounding Cover Art

Pirates Of Ersatz
by Murray Leinster

Sometimes it seems nobody loves a benefactor … particularly nobody on a well-heeled, self-satisfied planet. Grandpa always said Pirates were really benefactors, though….

Illustrated by Freas
I

It was not mere impulsive action when Bron Hoddan started for the planet Walden by stowing away on a ship that had come to his native planet to hang all his relatives. He’d planned it long before. It was a long-cherished and carefully worked out scheme. He didn’t expect the hanging of his relatives, of course. He knew that they’d act grieved and innocent, and give proof that they were simple people leading blameless lives. They’d make their would-be executioners feel ashamed and apologetic for having thought evil of them, and as soon as the strangers left they’d return to their normal way of life, which was piracy. But while this was going on, Bron Hoddan stowed away on the menacing vessel. Presently he arrived at its home world. But his ambition was to reach Walden, so he set about getting there. It took a long time because he had to earn ship-passage from one solar system to another, but he held to his idea. Walden was the most civilized planet in that part of the galaxy. On Walden, Hoddan intended, in order (a) to achieve splendid things as an electronic engineer, (b) to grow satisfactorily rich, (c) to marry a delightful girl, and (d) end his life a great man. But he had to spend two years trying to arrange even the first.

On the night before the police broke in the door of his room, though, accomplishment seemed imminent. He went to bed and slept soundly. He was calmly sure that his ambitions were about to be realized. At practically any instant his brilliance would be discovered and he’d be well-to-do, his friend Derec would admire him, and even Nedda would probably decide to marry him right away. She was the delightful girl. Such prospects made for good sleeping.

And Walden was a fine world to be sleeping on. Outside the capital city its spaceport received shipments of luxuries and raw materials from halfway across the galaxy. Its landing grid reared skyward and tapped the planet’s ionosphere for power with which to hoist ships to clear space and pluck down others from emptiness. There was commerce and manufacture and wealth and culture, and Walden modestly admitted that its standard of living was the highest in the Nurmi Cluster. Its citizens had no reason to worry about anything but a supply of tranquilizers to enable them to stand the boredom of their lives.

Even Hoddan was satisfied, as of the moment. On his native planet there wasn’t even a landing grid. The few, battered, cobbled ships the inhabitants owned had to take off precariously on rockets. They came back blackened and sometimes more battered still, and sometimes they were accompanied by great hulls whose crews and passengers were mysteriously missing. These extra ships had to be landed on their emergency rockets, and, of course, couldn’t take off again, but they always vanished quickly just the same. And the people of Zan, on which Hoddan had been born, always affected innocent indignation when embattled other spacecraft came and furiously demanded that they be produced.

There were some people who said that all the inhabitants of Zan were space pirates and ought to be hung and compared with such a planet, Walden seemed a very fine place indeed. So on a certain night Bron Hoddan went confidently to bed and slept soundly until three hours after sunrise. Then the police broke in his door.

Read entire story at Project Gutenberg.

A little taste from near the beginning of Chapter III

Normality extended through all the galaxy so far inhabited by men. There were worlds on which there was peace, and worlds on which there was tumult. There were busy, zestful young worlds, and languid, weary old ones. From the Near Rim to the farthest of occupied systems, planets circled their suns, and men lived on them, and every man took himself seriously and did not quite believe that the universe had existed before he was born or would long survive his loss.

Time passed. Comets let out vast streamers like bridal veils and swept toward and around their suns. Some of them—one in ten thousand, or twenty—were possibly seen by human eyes. The liner bearing Hoddan sped through the void.

In time it made a landfall on the Planet Krim. He went aground and observed the spaceport city. It was new and bustling with tall buildings and traffic jams and a feverish conviction that the purpose of living was to earn more money this year than last.

Transcriber’s Notes:

This etext was produced from Astounding Science Fiction February, March and April 1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.

Spelling and typography have been normalized.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Zero Sum Game by Sl Huang

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Zero Sum Game by SL Huang

This book is CC By-NC-SA.

Hat tip to deejf for turning me on to it at unglue.it

Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter.

Chapter 1

I trusted one person in the entire world.

He was currently punching me in the face.

Overlapping numbers scuttled across Rio’s fist as it rocketed toward me, their values scrambling madly, the calculations doing themselves before my eyes. He wasn’t pulling his punch at all, the bastard. I saw exactly how it would hit and that the force would fracture my jaw.

Well. If I allowed it to.

Angles and forces. Vector sums. Easy. I pressed myself back against the chair I was tied to, bracing my wrists against the ropes, and tilted my head a hair less than the distance I needed to turn the punch into a love tap. Instead of letting Rio break my jaw, I let him split my lip open.

The impact snapped my head back, and blood poured into my mouth, choking me. I coughed and spat on the cement floor. Goddammit.

“Sixteen men,” said a contemptuous voice in accented English from a few paces in front of me, “against one ugly little girl. How? Who are you?”

“Nineteen,” I corrected, the word hitching as I choked on my own blood. I was already regretting going for the split lip. “Check your perimeter again. I killed nineteen of your men.” And it would have been a lot more if Rio hadn’t appeared out of nowhere and clotheslined me while I was distracted by the Colombians. Fucking son of a bitch. He was the one who’d gotten me this job; why hadn’t he told me he was undercover with the drug cartel?

The Colombian interrogating me inhaled sharply and jerked his head at one of his subordinates, who turned and loped out of the room. The remaining three drug runners stayed where they were, fingering Micro-Uzis with what they plainly thought were intimidating expressions.

Dumbasses. I worked my wrists against the rough cord behind my back—Rio had been the one to tie me up, and he had left me just enough play to squeeze out, if I had half a second. Numbers and vectors shot in all directions—from me, to the Colombian in front of me, to his three lackwit subordinates, to Rio—a sixth sense of mathematical interplay that existed somewhere between sight and feeling, masking the world with constant calculations and threatening to drown me in a sensory overload of data.

And telling me how to kill.

[Read More…]

Monday, January 30, 2017

Mr. Spaceship by Philip K. Dick

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This is the original image with the story - public domain

A human brain-controlled spacecraft would mean mechanical
perfection. This was accomplished, and something unforeseen: a
strange entity called–

Mr. Spaceship by Philip K. Dick

Kramer leaned back. “You can see the situation. How can we deal with a
factor like this? The perfect variable.”

“Perfect? Prediction should still be possible. A living thing still
acts from necessity, the same as inanimate material. But the
cause-effect chain is more subtle; there are more factors to be
considered. The difference is quantitative, I think. The reaction of
the living organism parallels natural causation, but with greater
complexity.”

Gross and Kramer looked up at the board plates, suspended on the wall,
still dripping, the images hardening into place. Kramer traced a line
with his pencil.

“See that? It’s a pseudopodium. They’re alive, and so far, a weapon we
can’t beat. No mechanical system can compete with that, simple or
intricate. We’ll have to scrap the Johnson Control and find something
else.”

“Meanwhile the war continues as it is. Stalemate. Checkmate. They
can’t get to us, and we can’t get through their living minefield.”

Kramer nodded. “It’s a perfect defense, for them. But there still
might be one answer.”

“What’s that?”

“Wait a minute.” Kramer turned to his rocket expert, sitting with the
charts and files. “The heavy cruiser that returned this week. It
didn’t actually touch, did it? It came close but there was no
contact.”

“Correct.” The expert nodded. “The mine was twenty miles off. The
cruiser was in space-drive, moving directly toward Proxima,
line-straight, using the Johnson Control, of course. It had deflected
a quarter of an hour earlier for reasons unknown. Later it resumed its
course. That was when they got it.”

“It shifted,” Kramer said. “But not enough. The mine was coming along
after it, trailing it. It’s the same old story, but I wonder about the
contact.”

“Here’s our theory,” the expert said. “We keep looking for contact, a
trigger in the pseudopodium. But more likely we’re witnessing a
psychological phenomena, a decision without any physical correlative.
We’re watching for something that isn’t there. The mine decides to
blow up. It sees our ship, approaches, and then decides.”

“Thanks.” Kramer turned to Gross. “Well, that confirms what I’m
saying. How can a ship guided by automatic relays escape a mine that
decides to explode? The whole theory of mine penetration is that you
must avoid tripping the trigger. But here the trigger is a state of
mind in a complicated, developed life-form.”

“The belt is fifty thousand miles deep,” Gross added. “It solves
another problem for them, repair and maintenance. The damn things
reproduce, fill up the spaces by spawning into them. I wonder what
they feed on?”

“Probably the remains of our first-line. The big cruisers must be a
delicacy. It’s a game of wits, between a living creature and a ship
piloted by automatic relays. The ship always loses.” Kramer opened a
folder. “I’ll tell you what I suggest.”

“Go on,” Gross said. “I’ve already heard ten solutions today. What’s
yours?”

“Mine is very simple. These creatures are superior to any mechanical
system, but only because they’re alive. Almost any other life-form
could compete with them, any higher life-form. If the yuks can put out
living mines to protect their planets, we ought to be able to harness
some of our own life-forms in a similar way. Let’s make use of the
same weapon ourselves.”

“Which life-form do you propose to use?”

“I think the human brain is the most agile of known living forms. Do
you know of any better?”

“But no human being can withstand outspace travel. A human pilot would
be dead of heart failure long before the ship got anywhere near
Proxima.”

“But we don’t need the whole body,” Kramer said. “We need only the
brain.”

“What?”

“The problem is to find a person of high intelligence who would
contribute, in the same manner that eyes and arms are volunteered.”

“But a brain….”

“Technically, it could be done. Brains have been transferred several
times, when body destruction made it necessary. Of course, to a
spaceship, to a heavy outspace cruiser, instead of an artificial body,
that’s new.”

The room was silent.

“It’s quite an idea,” Gross said slowly. His heavy square face
twisted. “But even supposing it might work, the big question is
whose brain?”

[Read More…]

Friday, January 20, 2017

10 Brilliant Hard Science Fiction Novels

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From NASA’s Unsplash Collection - public domain

10 Brilliant Hard Science Fiction Novels
For those who take their science fiction with a side of accuracy…

From The Portalist here’s 10 mini reviews of Science Fiction novels. Stephen Lovely is the reviewer. Here’s a bit from his intro.

If you’ve ever rolled your eyes at a science fiction novel’s description of light-speed travel or told a friend that the Death Star wouldn’t really have made a sound when it blew up in space, then you’ll appreciate these hard science fiction novels. The term “hard science fiction” doesn’t mean sci-fi that’s tough to read, of course; it means sci-fi that really values scientific accuracy.

Now I wouldn’t call all of these novels hard science fiction and John W. Campbell probably wouldn’t either. But it’s a different world than it was in the golden age and if you are looking for some real science fiction that’s real good here you go. I haven’t read all of them but the ones I have read I would recommend. I would guess that you can’t go wrong with any of these picks.

Also the feature image above the reviews is from Nasa’s Unsplash collection. 34 images you definitely can’t go wrong with and they are all public domain.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Thorns

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Photo by Alexey Yakovlev CC BY-SA

Thorns
by Martha Wells
CC BY-NC-ND

Coming down the stairs to dinner, I found the governess engaged in battle with my great great grandnephew. The disgusting little boy was wrestling with the poor woman, apparently trying to thrust her over the bannister.

“An application of the birch rod would settle that, Miss,” I said.

“I would dearly love to, Madame,” the governess answered, breathless and more sharply than her wont. Perhaps the struggle to preserve her life — we were on the third landing, and the stone-flagged floor of the Hall was far below — had overcome her usual reticence. “But I’ve been instructed to use only modern methods of disciplining the children… ”

The unruly creature’s mother, my great grand-niece Electra, was hurrying up the stairs toward them, her satin skirts rustling like storm wind. She dithered near the struggle, waving her plump soft hands. “Oh, Malcolm, you mustn’t treat Miss Grey so!”

I smiled grimly. Modern ideas. Such notions had succeeded in making the already over-indulged children a terror to the servants and the rest of the household. But Electra has always had a soft heart.

The boy obligingly released his governess, and with a triumphant grin stooped to seize her workbag which had fallen to the carpet. I had no doubt he meant to thrust it over the bannister in her place. I lost patience, and seized the creature by the ear. He desisted with an alarmed shriek — I’m old, but my fingers are strong. It was an effort not to squeeze too hard. We have cousins who are maddened by the scent of a child’s blood in the air, or the sight of the dew of perspiration on a downy cheek. It makes them inconvenient guests at family gatherings. Of course, one can’t eat one’s own great grandnephews, however deliberate the provocation.

Electra simpered and said, “Oh, dear, Malcolm, you must learn not to be naughty. Naughty boys die and are sent to Hell.”

“Some more precipitously than others,” I added, thinking of the deep well at the bottom of the garden.

Taking my action as tacit permission to apply mild force, the governess seized the creature’s other ear as I released my grip, and herded her charge up the stairs.

We continued down, Electra fluttering at my side. “Auntie, you know Malcolm is really a little dear… ”

“I know nothing of the kind.” Electra is a small woman, for our family, her wispy blond head reaching only to my shoulder. Her figure is plump, and requires a corset to keep its shape, and her eyes are mild and her face cherubic. An odd pair we would seem to outsiders’ eyes, for I am grown thin and cadaverous with the long passage of years, and my features were always rather sharp.

“Now, Auntie… ”

We reached the landing above the Hall. Below, Electra’s husband, Mr. John Dearing, was personally receiving a guest, a young man in the act of handing his greatcoat to the butler.

There were no guests expected, and just before the dinner hour is not considered an appropriate time for casual calls, yet Dearing was greeting this presumptuous fellow as a prodigal son.

He was a striking figure. (The guest, I mean. Dearing is a stout bewhiskered muskrat of a man, a fit mate for Electra.) Blond curls, broad shoulders, a chiseled profile. I felt a feather of unease travel down my spine; old instincts rousing, perhaps. His garments, though somewhat the worse for travel at this rainy time of year, were of fashionable cut and fine cloth.

Frowning, Electra caught the attention of one of the footmen stationed at the bottom of the stairs, and called him up to her to ask, “Why, William, whoever is that?”

“Madame, they say it’s a foreign Duke, the son of the King of Armantia.”

“I see,” Electra dismissed the man and looked to me, her mild dove eyes vaguely troubled. “Oh, dear. A prince.”

“It has been a long time,” I said. But I’ve dealt with such before.

[Read More…]

Friday, January 6, 2017

So You Want to Read Epic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

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Stories of Beowulf fighting the dragon Public Domain

So You Want to Read Epic Fantasy: Here’s Where to Start

I love reading and writing super shorts. Of course I spend more time reading epic fantasy. It’s got where trilogies aren’t enough. The stories are huge. Vast in scale and imagination. I will never write epic fantasy. But I do read it.

Link on over for these recommendations by Shawn Speakman. The ones he mentions that I have read or am reading are definitely good. I’ll bet they all are.

In his intro Speakman says:

Epic fantasy once meant large books with an everyman-type of lead character against a dark lord. But to me, the epic fantasy that has been written in the last three decades are not only large in size and scale of story but also feature numerous point of view characters and several storylines that are separate but are also intertwined.

To talk about and recommend epic fantasy, it requires an epic list. These are the books I recommend people start with if they want a truly epic reading experience.

I can’t really add to that. So get epic. And enjoy!