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Fiction in a Post-Truth World

Recently, Ursula K. Le Guin responded to an opinion letter in her local paper where a reader had compared science fiction to “alternative facts” which a certain administration has offered as an explanation for the disparity between their information and that of the media. Le Guin stated, correctly, that the two can’t be compared. That people who offer “alternative facts” aren’t crafting imaginary science fiction, they’re simply lying. And they aren’t inventing these for entertainment or enjoyment. They’re doing it to fool, scare or manipulate others.

However, why do so many of us -believe- those “alternative facts”?

For a while there, “post-truth” was all the rage. The furor has died down but I still catch a mention from time to time. More importantly, it hasn’t died down because it has gone away. It seems to have died down because people have fully bought into the notion.

I think it’s wrong. If anything, we are in an era of “hyper-truth”.

Truth is religion’s province. You don’t question it, you accept it as fact. It has no rational basis because in order to accept it you don’t need schooling or the IQ of Einstein, all you need is faith. You believe it and it is immutably true. Forever.

Rationality is what drives science. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive though as of late, many have tried to claim they are. However the methods used which you arrive at the foundations of each are entirely exclusive of each other.

It’s what pissed me off so much about the ramp up of creationism a few years ago. Clearly, the practitioners of this belief were trying to start from a place of absolute truth and use science to work their way back to it. They did this because they felt the current scientific theory of evolution did not match their world view.

But science isn’t about truth. It’s about questions. It’s about understanding reality, not creating a singular definition of it.

So whose truth is correct?

Nobody’s.

By definition they can’t be. They’re not proven, they’re based on faith. Neither right or wrong. And that’s the damn problem.

It isn’t a problem that people hold different truths. The problem is we are hyper-truth. We are post-rational. Where everything down to the average global temperature over the past hundred years is a “truth”. Meaning data, rational discourse, and discovery don’t matter. What matters is what you believe. Where you’ve placed your faith.

We’re trapped, living our own fictions. We’ve ensconced ourselves in little cloistered worlds which confirm only what we want to believe. Used to be that only happened in church and then you left that sacred space and had to confront the real world, returning weekly to reaffirm faith. Now, it’s a full time preoccupation.

Blame it on the constant flood of connectivity. Blame it on poor schooling. Or a population confined to desks and cubicles, car seats and couches, most of their waking moments, oblivious to the real world. Whatever the cause, we are living our fictions and need to snap out of it, fast, before things spiral completely out of control.

Leave the fiction to people like me.

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The saga of the Space Piñata.

I finally saw Rogue One. (Maybe some minor spoilers plus a minor rant ahead.)

Look, characters make stories. Plot is fine and good and it needs to have its own logic and make enough sense for your characters to accomplish the Thing they need to accomplish. But it doesn’t need to do much more than that. Even in hard sci-fi where you have strict ground rules to follow and likely loads of explanation, audiences still ultimately want to see how the characters deal with their fantastic worlds and extraordinary circumstances.

The story of a moon-sized space pinata we’ve seen explode at least three times is only compelling if the characters make it so. Han, Luke, Leia, Chewbacca – after those movies I wanted to go off and have adventures with that motley bunch of rebels. I didn’t care about the logistics of Death Star flaws or whether or not a moon sized base can have hyperdrive. I cared whether Han got out of his bounty. Whether Luke ever manned up and figured out the force. Whether Leia could find a place in the rebellion and fight to avenge her lost homeworld. Whether Chewbacca used conditioner or not. That’s compelling storytelling (well, maybe not the last one.)

What isn’t compelling is wooden characters facing dire threats which are over-explained at the expense of their own development and who are stymied by attempts to attach them to an earlier, greater glory. Force Awakens had this same problem, but worse.

To date, I’m not inspired by any of the characters churned out by Disney’s run of Star Wars. There are quite a few “almosts” but no real delivery or connection. Finn, Rey, could have been amazing characters if they weren’t overshadowed by a story that wasn’t theirs and the bulk of the screen time devoted to nostalgia. (People that bitch about Lucas remastering the original trilogy should have similar gripes about Force Awakens…) In Rogue One, K2-SO, a robot, was likely the best of that bunch.

All I’m saying is there is a legacy and they simply can’t live up to it. Knock off the plots tied to and mimicking scene for scene the originals. Lighten up on the cameos (and for fuck’s sake, don’t resurrect people from the dead with CGI .) Star Wars encompasses an entire universe of ideas. There’s no excuse for not exploring it to its fullest.

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Crimson Son Sale and a 15 Book Digital Grav Boot Stuffer!

Crimson SonEarlier this month I got the exciting news that Crimson Son had been selected for a BookBub feature. Most of you have probably heard of them – they have millions of subscribers – but for those not in the know, they are the premier place for book addicts to shop for deals. They only accept the best and are extremely picky about the quality of books they include because they want their subscribers to have absolute trust in their picks. Those picks now include Crimson Son!

Until the end of 2016, you too can experience a powerless kid’s attempt to fill some very big shoes for only .99 cents. Less than a dollar, you say? Nothing costs less than a dollar! Why yes, yes it does my intrepid readers. Until midnight December 31st, BAD ASS FICTION with superhumans, robots, and weaponized snark costs you less than a third of what you just paid for that grande gingerbread mocha with whip.

BUY CRIMSON SON NOW! Already have it? BUY IT AGAIN AND TELL EVERYONE WHAT A GREAT DEAL YOU GOT!

I’m sure all of you (ahem) have read Crimson Son, at least five times (and if so, spread some holiday gift giving love and leave an honest review here). But did I also mention you can get a sneak peek of Crimson Son‘s sequel FREE by signing up for my newsletter and getting the updated version of my short story collection, Empty Quiver?

A Merry Christmas, right?

Oh, I’m not done yet. Not even close.

I’ve also joined forces with fifteen indie sci-fi authors to offer a limited edition of Empty Quiver which comes with an exclusive high-res digital poster. Plus, every single one of those authors has kicked in free books of their own! It’s a sci-fi grav boot stuffer of cosmic proportions and it’s all FREE. Click here to check out the goods.

Who’s your Santa? Who’s your Santa? That’s right. Now go enjoy your grande mocha and a several months worth of fiction, on me.

Join a different kind of Pilgrim this Thanksgiving

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This weekend, Pilgrim of the Storm, book one in my Stormblade Saga, is FREE on Amazon!

Starting Saturday the 26th, you can download Pilgrim straight from Amazon to your Kindle at no cost! (My reader’s list members have already received their copies, *ahem*) Embark on an epic journey of self discovery and enlightenment across mythic landscapes as Acolyte Sidge strives to ascend to the rank of Cloud Born. Will he learn to channel Vasheru’s Fire and master his feelings for a streetwise woman named Kaaliya? Or will dire prophecy and his drug-addled mentor lead him down the wrong path?

This special offer will only run through the 30th, so embark on the pilgrimage with Sidge today!

Win a copy of Pilgrim of the Storm!

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Hello, fantasy lovers!  I wanted to let you know that I’ve got a giveaway running at Goodreads for a free copy of Pilgrim of the Storm.

I know, I know – who needs free books? There are so many clogging your Kindle, your bookshelves, you don’t know what to do with them.

I’m not really offering that. I’m inviting you on a journey. 

Pilgrim is a quiet start to a three book epic saga which spans a known world and the reaches beyond. It explores humanity, religion, antediluvian landscapes, and combines all this in a fantasy world inspired by the ancient cultures of the Indus River Valley.

At its heart, this is an adventure of self discovery for a lone Ek’kiru or, as the humans call him, “bugman”, and his quest for acceptance and enlightenment. This pious orphan must navigate a hollow and uncaring world lost somewhere between what is and what will be. Can Sidge find his place among his adopted people and spur change? Or have the fates already spoken…

So what are you waiting for? Enter for a chance to win and embark on the pilgrimage with Sidge!

Cover Reveal! Wake of Alshasra’a

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Okay, as you may know, I’m impatient. The final image hit my inbox just a few hours ago and I’m still toying with the typesetting. Luckily, Jeff rarely leaves much for me to do to make these covers kick ass.

I’m so happy with the unique identity Jeff has helped bring to this world trapped inside my head. I can only hope the words inside can describe to the reader the same level of magnificence which his art brings.

For the careful reader, you’ll notice this world has no single name. The breadth of it is referred to as “creation”. The humans call whatever they see simply “the Attarah’s Realm.” It’s a place unfinished within that creation. A place between epochs which humanity has carved out of time and set aside to run on their own mortal clock.

And in this final book, a bugman and a courtesan are the only ones standing in the way of that clock being unwound.

I’m still looking at January maybe February 2017 for publication. Hopefully this will tide you over until then (terrible and obscure pun unintended…)

A Skyline Forever Changed

13645320_10205499956253093_1999048360078657235_nAn excerpt from Crimson Son, Chapter 4…

How do you end a program of that magnitude? That was the billion-dollar question. They said the secret project which had spawned these weaponized super humans was over, but it really wasn’t. Some people thought of watching the Augments as a spectator sport, with property damage. Not until that day in September did everyone know the truth.

I was home sick, right after Dad had pulled his typical disappearing act. Convincing Mom I needed to stay home came easy those days. I’d complain about vague aches and pains. Stomach issues were good—not even your mother wants to confirm a raging case of diarrhea.

I remember having the TV remote in pieces. Watching the IR light flash as the buttons clicked had mesmerized me. I had started on a cartoon channel, but eventually settled on a local station in the middle of the “Good Morning” wherever-it-was-we-lived-then show. We might have been outside Dallas, I’m not sure. We weren’t there long. Suddenly, the anchors veered off the petting-zoo script. Monitors behind them showed a skyscraper billowing smoke into a cloudless sky.

Mom came to check on me, and when she entered the room I flipped the remote’s battery upside-down. I was only twelve, but even then I had grown tired of being protected. She never tried to change the channel, though. Not this time.

We stared in horror as the news played a clip of an Augment named the Djinn firing a molten ball of plasma from his palms clean through a smoking skyscraper. Dad beat the Air Force jets, but he didn’t get there right away. By then, the unbelievable heat had melted through the supports on the building. It broke in half, spilling girders, concrete and people into the streets below even as the base collapsed into a cloud of dust.

Mom had never cried in front of me. But her facade of optimism collapsed with the buildings. Tears flowed when the cameras caught Dad flying amid the massive wall of dust that rode the New York streets like a white tsunami. She frantically searched the corners of the screen when the view panned to the towers’ naked wreckage, jutting from the roiling debris cloud.

This was different than any other Augment attack. The Djinn came from a program outside the normal government spheres. Secrets had been sold, or maybe a rogue group had gotten lucky with their own experimentation. He flew—not many of them do. And the destructive force behind his blasts was unheard of. Many of the shots the Djinn fired penetrated building after building and kept going. Missed shots cooked a flock of birds somewhere over the Atlantic, blinded an airline pilot, changed the temperature of the New York skies during the battle.

Talking heads speculated in the aftermath. But even though the Djinn disappeared into the clouds before the day ended, the media persisted, uncovering the use of Augments as proxy soldiers in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, South America. Cuba hadn’t prompted any real change. The connections to governments had simply been erased. In that brave new cloak-and-dagger world, secrets were lost. At some point the invisible wars outside had boiled over and rained down on a quiet New York skyline.

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My Name is Russ, and I Write Strange Things

I said strange things! Not Stranger Things! (Though, I totally could have time-travel channeled that 80’s genre mash-up goodness in my 2014 release, Crimson Son. Check out Charlotte’s character for confirmation…)

Before I get to my confessional, I want to thank everyone who has downloaded Empty Quiver during the Self-Publishing Round Table’s super Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Horror Free eBook Giveaway. Last I checked, Empty Quiver is sitting at number 11 overall for single author collections due to this latest burst of activity. Much appreciated!

This means I’m about to have hundreds of confused readers with a finger hovering over the “1 star” rating and the other hovering above “5”.

Look, vote your conscience. We aren’t deciding the fate of the free world here. We aren’t handing a satchel full of nukes to a circus ringmaster with the complexion and substance of a Cheeto (shameless stole this comparison from Facebook). Drop whatever rating and get on with it.

Fact is, I write strange things.

The opening story to Empty Quiver is especially tough. A story about a speedster superhero (ala the Flash or Quicksilver) told from a shifting, quasi-omniscient point of view that finally reveals itself in the last section only to admit just how DAMN HARD it has been to follow said speedster…

The rest of the stories are more approachable and, arguably, I should’ve put them at the front. But I didn’t. Why?

Because I write strange things. If you’re going to stick around, I need you to get used to it.

Take Pilgrim of the Storm. Here we have a tale about a bug dude monk raised by humans in an isolated monastery. He breaks most of the “rules” of any given protagonist check list. Super alien and hard to relate to. Fairly passive and takes a while to get motivated. Utterly naive and unable to see at first WHY he should be motivated. People don’t READ that.

It’s too strange.

But I wrote it anyway.

I even wrote a short story recently with super-tropey characters. (A glum, downer dude and a manic pixie dream girl meet on a space station populated by mindless hordes of tourists and super-efficient, compelling AI staff.)

Why? Why would you do that? Why ignore all the advice in the sea of “How To Write” books spawned by a cottage industry of under-paid writers?

Well, turns out, I WRITE STRANGE THINGS. And rules? Those were meant to be broken.

If what I write doesn’t make sense to you, doesn’t entertain you, move on. It’s safe to say that in today’s market, there is a never-ending supply of writers to choose from. Nobody has time for books they don’t like.

But before you go, let me assure you, those reasons are there. What I really, really need are adventurous readers willing to explore those ideas with me.

The tropey characters on the space station? They’re taking part in a Taoist milieu which explores the dual nature of THINGS. The bug dude? He’s just weird. But likeable…for now…

Here’s to hoping you’re here to stay despite the strangeness.

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When Moving, eBooks are the BEST Books…

If you’re like me, you always need more books.

In fact, I’m working on two more right now: Crimson Son 2 and Wake of Alshasra’a, the third book in the Stormblade Saga. And if you’re like me (and the rest of the world), life often decides to toss in a surprise or two.

We always had a plan to move once my son finished high school, but a perfect storm of events pushed that plan forward a couple years. So last month, we decided we wanted to sell our house. It sold. In like three days.

Great news! Except for the writing thing. The writing stops when you need to pack up and move 13 years worth of junk (if anyone wants a 150 pound tube TV/boat anchor, call me). I’m still pushing to hand both books to an editor by the end of the year, but things might get dicey.

Very likely, the only writing I’ll get done in the month of August was with these clowns:

(That’s J.S. Morin author of the Black Ocean series and the infamous Jefferson Smith of Immerse or Die plus myself at the first super-secret, unofficial, IoD Unconference.)

17,000 words isn’t bad for a week that only really lasted three days, but I’ve still got 50,000 more to go.

So, to help tide you over until my next books hit the virtual shelves, I’d like to introduce you to some other talented friends of mine. The folks over at the Self Publishing Roundtable have decided to band together and offer up not a handful of books but 50 – for free!

Yours truly was selected to participate (and if you haven’t read Empty Quiveryet, now is a great time to get your copy!) along with 50+ top notch indie authors from across the genre spectrum. Not only that, but they’ll be hosting a giveaway for a FREE Kindle (on which to carry said books) and Amazon gift cards.

You can check out all these amazing books here. The giveaway officially starts tomorrow. Some book prices might not yet be updated and the giveaway links not yet active.

(For those of you who haven’t converted to the eBook revolution, might I suggest moving as a means to spur your transition. A entire library on a 7 ounce device starts to look pretty good by the time you get to the eleventy-millionth 50 pound box of dead tree in your house…)

Happy reading! I’m off to have a hernia…

Forge of the Jadugar Paperback Now Available!

20160816_101109I’ve finally finished touching up the Forge of the Jadugar paperback! You may have to wait a little while for Forge to wind its way through to your distribution channel of choice but it is currently available here.

I’ve said it before – I don’t sell nearly as many of these as my eBooks. Often, I give them away even. However, there are some dead tree collectors out there who can’t abide the whole eReader experience, so I’m happy to oblige!

While I’m an eBook convert, I do still appreciate the traditional medium. Partly because it gives me a chance to dust off my design skills. With eBook formatting you are stuck working in plain ‘ol XML, and for good reason. Everything about an eBook’s “format” is designed to be tweaked to a reader’s satisfaction. Don’t like the font? Change it. Have the visual acuity of Mr. Magoo? Make the letters AS BIG as you need them to be. Reading at night and don’t want to illuminate the entire bedroom or turn on a light? Switch to a white on black text display and your S.O. can get some sleep.

Format – design – color – it’s all fluid in the digital world.

Given that level of customization and the fact you can horde thousands upon thousands of books without investing in a storage unit, I’m positive eBooks will continue to gain ground over their dead tree predecessors. But there is still something to be said for a well designed book which has to capture a reader’s attention and imagination without all the fancy tricks.

Enjoy!

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