Thursday, December 4, 2014


by SS Hampton Sr.

The week before Thanksgiving I stumbled across the news that Penumbra was closing its doors and could not believe it. I have pleasant memories of Penumbra, both of which required stretching my wings so to speak. There were also a couple of failures, meaning I came close but did not meet the standard for a couple of other submissions to be selected for publication. That is normal in this profession—nothing is guaranteed, not even from your own publisher.

Anyway, for example, regarding The Globe Theatre in Moonlight , set in the recreated Globe Theatre in London and the central character of a Marine on leave from Iraq, I did quite a bit of research about William Shakespeare and the theatre. The research was fun and taught me things about both. For A Luscious Kurdistan Strawberry, set in the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain, I did a fair amount of research about the palace and the Greek myth of the Golden Apple. Due to the theme of the issue, I considered and discarded reimagining several myths before settling on the Golden Apple. Reimagining it was fun.

In each case there was a waiting time before I learned whether or not my story had been accepted—awaiting a decision is normal in this profession. Though I prefer short stories to novellas or novels, the Penumbra 3,000 word limit forced me to focus on “less is more.” Shortly before being published in Penumbra my stories were getting longer; as a result the Penumbra word limit felt somewhat restricting. However, the experience gave me renewed appreciation for the art of short story telling.

Of course, there was the joy of working with the talented Celina Summers who always knew what was best for Penumbra.

The last time I was published in Penumbra was A Luscious Kurdistan Strawberry in the spring of 2012.

From June-December 2012 I experienced a serious writer’s block. I did a lot of guest blogging, but was unable to write stories. The problem finally worked itself out so that beginning 2013 I was able to write again. For the next year, 2013-2014, I completed my first novel and a sequel, both being accepted for publication. I also completed a horror short story that takes place during World War II on the Russian Front (it was rejected), and my first “boomer” story (I am 60 years old, and therefore a boomer myself) that takes place in the 1960s Congo (currently in limbo). I retired from the Army National Guard in July 2013 and in May 2014 I graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography.

My time in a 2-year Homeless Veteran program, 2012-2014, came to an end and I moved on my own, albeit courtesy of another program. Initially, due to a slow bureaucracy, times were tough and I launched a couple of personal Indiegogo campaigns to survive, but things are much better now. I took a six-month academic break after May, but in January I am attending a university—I still have to choose the painting and sculpting classes I want to attend. After that little detour I will go back to studying for a Bachelors in Anthropology or Archaeology.

In the meantime, my “new” apartment is almost set up so that I can really call it home, but damn this has been expensive. And I will start writing again.

But, sadly, one market I will never be able to submit to again is Penumbra.

T’anks for the memories Penumbra and Celina!

P.S.: For the memory of it, here is the amazing cover of the Penumbra issue that The Globe Theatre in Moonlight appeared in, as well as an excerpt.

A chill mist rolled through the night, and from scattered grayish-white clouds that played hide-and-seek with the bright full moon drifted a fine drizzle that tenderly splashed the thin, upraised face.

Jeremy Rubens unceremoniously burped, blinked, and took a deep gulp of the Winter Warmer ale from his pewter tankard. He turned in an unsteady circle and grinned at the wood stage with a pair of large timber pillars that supported a roof and a trio of balcony fronts facing the stage—the roof and balconies being part of the “penthouse” that towered over the stage—and the shadowed three-story galleries of the circular open air theatre. Though he was very late, for the theatre was closed, he finally stood within his personal shrine—the 1999 reconstruction of William Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre.

He fell in love with the theater during high school—he was a lousy actor, as most students were, but he was attracted most to the power of the spoken line, and the talent and dedication required writing powerful plays. He admired the great playwrights who impacted others through their plays.

Encouraged by his high school English teacher who directed a couple of off-Broadway plays in her younger years, he left his small town in southeast Kansas and moved to the big city of Topeka. He worked as a retail clerk during the day and studied for a degree in the theater, and English at night. It wasn’t an easy life, but he was driven by the vision of someday seeing his plays on the stage, maybe even, hopefully, someday performed at the resurrected Globe Theatre.

That was Jeremy’s vision until the World Trade Center towers collapsed in smoky agony, the victims of a merciless, unreasoning hate that claimed thousands of innocent lives.

The theater could wait—the traditional military service of his family demanded that he go off to war to avenge and defend his country. He traded the quilled feather pen and parchment of his chosen profession for the M4 Carbine and the stealth of an Army Cavalry Scout. He took part in the invasion of Iraq and after he returned home, volunteered to go back. He soon found himself fighting alongside Marines, the British and Iraqis in the Second Battle of Fallujah…

Stan Hampton, Sr. is a full-blood Choctaw of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, a divorced grandfather to 13 wonderful grandchildren, and a published photographer and photojournalist. He retired on 1 July 2013 from the Army National Guard with the rank of Sergeant First Class; he previously served in the active duty Army (1974-1985), the Army Individual Ready Reserve (1985-1995) (mobilized for the Persian Gulf War), and enlisted in the Nevada Army National Guard in October 2004, after which he was mobilized for Federal active duty for almost three years. Hampton is a veteran of Operations Noble Eagle (2004-2006) and Iraqi Freedom (2006-2007) with deployment to northern Kuwait and several convoy security missions into Iraq.

His writings have appeared as stand-alone stories and in anthologies from Dark Opus Press, Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy, Melange Books, Musa Publishing, MuseItUp Publishing, Ravenous Romance, and as stand-alone stories in Horror Bound Magazine, The Harrow, and River Walk Journal, among others.

In May 2014 he graduated from the College of Southern Nevada with an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Photography – Commercial Photography Emphasis. A future goal is to study for a degree in archaeology—hopefully to someday work in and photograph underwater archaeology (and also learning to paint).

Hampton can be found at:
Dark Opus Press - Edge Science Fiction & Fantasy Publishing - Melange Books -
Musa Publishing - MuseItUp Publishing - Goodreads Author Page
Amazon Author Page - Amazon UK

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

INTERSTELLAR - Thrilling and Thought-provoking

My review of “Interstellar”, written by Jonathon and Christopher Nolan, directed by Christopher Nolan.

by Tom Olbert

Theatrical release poster
The first science fiction film in quite a while to revolve around an optimistic imagining of humanity’s first interstellar voyage was a refreshing change from the purely violent sci-fi of the past few years. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. In some ways, I found it disappointing, in others pleasantly surprising. Less an imagined journey than a dark dream. Less a speculation than an abstract thought. It dealt more with inner space than outer, presenting age-old questions of human nature and philosophy, hand-in-hand with new theories of the space-time continuum.

“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” – Dylan Thomas

Those immortal lines praising the human spirit in its rebellion against the inevitability of death in fighting to remain vital to the very end were read in the film by an aging scientist played by Michael Caine. The film is set in a dark future time in which the Earth itself is dying and humanity has the choice of meekly accepting extinction or fighting to escape it by reaching for the stars. The grim future landscape forming the backdrop for this most unusual film isn’t like a sci-fi setting or typical Hollywood post-apocalyptic landscape of broken urban skylines and shambling zombies.

Rather, it’s an all-too-familiar small town setting in the American heartland. A small farming town of cornfields and dusty roads, patterned after the great Dust Bowl of the 1930’s. The Earth has fallen under a blight that’s killing the crops and burying the land under a shroud of dust. The world is ending with a whimper, not a bang. The nations have fallen from power and greatness. There are no more armies or wars. Only farmers struggling to subsist on the last few crops that will grow in the increasingly sterile soil. Dreams and ambitions of advancement are now forbidden. The school textbooks have been re-written to teach the kids that the Apollo moon landings never happened, that they were just propaganda inventions to trick the Soviet Union into bankrupting itself in the space race. The last generation of humanity is being taught that they are now a race of caretakers (or, undertakers?), no longer pioneers or explorers.

Matthew Mcconaughey plays an all-American kind of guy; last of a dying breed. A NASA pilot turned farmer, he refuses to let go of the old dreams and encourages his young daughter to dream of a brighter tomorrow and to reach for the horizon. His relationship with her is damaged when he chooses to leave her and strike out for space. His mission to the stars is not envisioned as some grandiose international project as you might expect. It looks more like some secret school project assembled in some kid’s garage. It begins with a child’s fantasy; a knocking in the closet that she attributes to a ghost, and mysterious writing in the dust. In binary code, no less. Supernatural, or a message from some alien intelligence? When the binary transmission reveals a transdimensional wormhole in deep space, a hearty band of explorers is off to the stars in search of a new home for humankind.

The special effects are muted; not grandiose, but effective. The sight of a spacecraft looking as tiny as a mote of dust as it passes over the rings of Saturn or skims across the event horizon of a black hole does what science fiction does best: It makes us feel small, insignificant and awe-struck by the grandeur of the universe. The space scenes are reminiscent of the film “Gravity,” and of Stanley Kubrick’s immortal “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Silent explosions in the black vacuum of space. A lone astronaut tumbling like a spec in the cosmic wind into the heart of a singularity.

Nietzche once said: “And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

What “Interstellar” seems to say is that the abyss of the cosmic void is really a mirror; gaze into it long enough and all you’ll see is yourself looking back. The real you, and all you might become.

The themes in this movie are timeless. The pettiness and selfishness of human nature is acknowledged. People don’t commit selfless, noble acts any further than the field of their own vision. Governments often base their governance on lies big enough for all to believe. And, whatever evil we encounter in the darkness is just what we brought out there with us. But, hope is presented in the form of the idea that love is real, and transcendent; perhaps the only aspect of humanity that can cross the dimensions.

The philosophical questions are timeless, too: Is free will real, or are our destinies predetermined? Are we alone, or is there a greater presence external to us, watching over us? The answer to both questions transcends both options, as the two turn out to be interchangeable.

The plot, like the universe, is circular, everything coming full circle in the end, the looping storyline artfully interwoven with theories of Einsteinian physics and quantum mechanics. Like Columbus, the first explorers into interstellar space seem to discover that the universe, like the Earth, is curved; travel far enough in any direction, and you arrive back where you started, though perhaps wiser for the journey. Our choices determine our course, but we can’t control our destiny. We may look back and curse our past choices, frustrated in our inability to change the past, but enlightened by our seemingly limitless potential to change the future. In the end, it’s about letting go of the past, and embracing the future. The journey is both humbling and empowering.

The criticism that comes most readily to science fiction … real science fiction, that is; the kind that’s actually intended to provoke thought … is that it’s too much tell, not enough show. The writer is exploring unfamiliar territory, so only so much can be illustrated by action without explanation. This film makes a good attempt, though. The genre’s evolving through changing times. And, I’d say this was a step in the right direction.


Here is a brief introduction to Tom Olbert's book LONG HAUL.

This trucker's haul takes him to the end of time and space, and beyond...

In the near future, physicists have stumbled on a way to open rifts into other universes, making it possible to transport goods and people anywhere in the world in nothing flat. The unscrupulous corporation that owns the new technology uses it to monopolize shipping worldwide

Thrill-seeking, death-defying truckers like veteran army driver Garth Jenkins and his gun-toting trucking partner Sally Drake earn hazardous duty pay by hauling rigs through perilous alien universes often infested with deadly alien monsters and many other dangers besides.

Garth and Sally accept a shady corporate contract to deliver some unknown cargo to an alien universe, no questions asked. It looks like an easy way to score big money. But, things go south fast when their truck is hijacked by the beautiful and mysterious Keira Takahashi, and they find themselves pursued by hideous alien parasites in undead human bodies.

On the run and in danger, Garth and Sally find themselves on a crooked cosmic road leading to bizarre other worlds and exotic time periods. They have one chance to unravel the company's twisted plot and save themselves. Whether they succeed or fail may decide the fate of a universe...

To read more on Long Haul please click a vendor's name.
Musa Publishing - Amazon

Tom Olbert lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts; cradle of the American Revolution, and home of University egg heads and kooky liberals. He loves it there. His work has most recently appeared in Musa Publishing. Previously in Mocha Memoirs Press, Eternal Press, and such anthologies as Ruthless, Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous, Something Wicked Vol II, In the Bloodstream, and Torched.

When he’s not working or writing sci-fi or horror, Tom volunteers for causes he cares about. He comes from a most interesting family; his mother, Norma Olbert is currently self-publishing a biography of the life of Tom’s dad Stan Olbert, a retired MIT physicist and veteran of the Polish underground during WWII. Tom’s sister Elizabeth Olbert is an artist, art teacher, and avid lover of horses.

Learn more about Tom Olbert on his blog Other Dimensions.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

From all of us at Penumbra eMag

We Wish You and Yours

A Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Italics or Quotes?

Titles in a Manuscript
Take a Tip from Helen #14

by Helen Hardt

Use the following rules when a title of a work appears in a manuscript:

Titles of books, newspapers, and magazines should be italicized.
I heard that the book A History of Princess Crowns is fascinating.

The astronaut had a subscription to the newspaper Mars Daily.

Marsha likes the magazine Cats Monthly because it has cute photos.

Titles of movies, television shows, radio programs, and plays should be italicized.
The gardener’s favorite movie is the documentary Plants are Awesome.

The scientist watches the television show World’s Weirdest Germs every Tuesday night.

Sally’s mom loved listening to the radio show Stuff Old People Like.

The little girl’s favorite play was Cute, Fuzzy Animals in the Forest.

Titles of articles in newspapers or magazines and chapter titles in books should be in quotation marks.

Did you read the article “Fun with Flesh-Eating Bacteria” in the magazine?

My favorite chapter in the book was “Germs are Gross.”

Titles of poems and songs should be in quotation marks.
In high school, Sally wrote a poem called “Johnny Is Cute.”

She also wrote a song called “I Think I’m in Love with Johnny.”


To read excerpts from Helen Hardt's books please click a vendor's name.
Musa Publishing - Amazon

Helen Hardt is the Head Line Editor for Musa Publishing and a freelance editor. She is also an award-winning author. Helen writes contemporary, historical, paranormal, and erotic romance for several publishers. Her non-writing interests include Harley rides with her husband, attending her sons’ sports and music performances, traveling, and Taekwondo (she’s a blackbelt.)

Learn more about Helen Hardt and her editing service on her website.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


With Penumbra eMag's entire first year,
all twelve issues,
chock full of the best speculative fiction short stories 
and authors

No strings. No gimmicks. 
Just great science fiction, fantasy, horror, 
and paranormal short stories, 
columns, editorials, and feature articles
for FREE!

Click here to claim your FREE issues of Penumbra eMag.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Alien Invasions

Sci-Fi Deak Style
by John Deakins

They’re here! Titanic alien transports are overhead. Their saucers and our jets are duking it out in air and space. All human life is threatened, except . . . Stop! Why are they up there in the first place?

They must want something we have. Ice pirates? Give me a break! There’s a lot more ice in space than there is water on Earth. Europa has an ice-crust kilometers thick; Saturn’s rings (which dwarf the planet Earth many times over) are mostly ice chunks.

Maybe they want our women. Carl Sagan commented that a human could more likely mate with a petunia than with an alien. GMAB! This isn’t 1930’s pulp fiction.

Maybe they just want us gone. We might be future competitors in this region of space. That seems unlikely, considering the space-travel problems that we aren’t even close to overcoming.

Fred Saberhagen’s berserkers offer one of the most reasonable explanations: They want us dead because we’re alive. The robot attackers remove all life from the universe as you would mold from your bathroom.

Maybe they want our planet. There just aren’t that many liquid-water planets available. Now, it’s the aliens with the problem. If their DNA is too much like ours, our billions of combinations of DNA-bearing viruses will include the killer plague that wipes them out. It’s a poor idea for too-similar alien life-forms ever to share the same habitat. That kind of alien would die from eating a single human.

They’d need to sterilize the entire planet: to the bottom of every ocean and deep into the crust. Our gem of a planet would be a lifeless husk, almost defeating the alien’s original desire for it.

Only aliens with marked different cellular chemistry might make it here. Killing off a great number of inconvenient humans would make sense in their takeover. We would become the weeds: vermin to be eradicated from their new habitat.

Also, humans might be enslaved by aliens, as long as the alien chemistry and human chemistry are entirely incompatible. (Real aliens can’t eat us.) There could be no cellular hybridization, but there might be enough compatibility for aliens to tap onto humans as a resource. We’re creative and technical, and we tend to breed our own replacements.

Where does that leave the writer? You’ll have to begin with Ignore It. The possibility of any species crossing interstellar space is vanishingly small. It’s hard to project humans as the winner of a conflict against a culture with that kind of technology. We will lose.

From that point, switch to Live With It. Your alien-chemistry or berserker aliens may simply want to exterminate our remnants or enslave us for their purposes. Hundreds of stories spring from that set-up.

If you ever want humans to win, you’ll have to go with Unexplained Science: a death-ray, a vibrational frequency, a disease, a poison that humans can use against aliens, without hurting ourselves. Careful! Aliens who think that they’re about to lose may sterilize the planet.

John Deakins, B.A., M.S.T. is a four-decade veteran of the science classroom and lives in Arkansas. As an author, John has four religious commentaries and his "Barrow" fantasy novels in print. His first novel was a B. Dalton SF bestseller when it was first released.

To read an excerpt from Barrow book one, please click HERE.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Problem With Short Stories

by Dianna L. Gunn

I have a problem.

I can't write short stories.

Every time I sit down to write a short story, I write a scene and end up outlining a novel. The last time I deliberately tried to write a short story, I ended up plotting a trilogy.

It hasn't always been this way... Or maybe it has. I started out writing short stories, but they almost always turned into a series of connected stories that could work quite well put together as a book.

The stand alone short stories I did write never seemed to satisfy. I always wanted more, and so did the readers. Many stood at seven, eight thousand words long—pretty close to the upper limit of what most people consider a "short story"—and still didn't feel complete.

It isn't an issue with fiction. I'm a quite capable writer, I just happen to always write novels.

Why is that? To be honest, I wish I knew. Perhaps it's because I incessantly keep asking questions, unable to be satisfied with a single scene, and I ask so many that they can't easily be resolved. Or maybe it's because my characters—who often come to me fully formed and insisting that somebody tells their story—have only long tales to tell.

It might be that my worlds are so complex that it takes an entire short story just to introduce them. Or that my ideas are too big to fit within a shorter framework.

While I hope someday to have the answer, what I do know is this: I'll always love reading short stories, but I'm not sure I'll ever be able to write them.

Dianna L. Gunn is a recent graduate and full time freelance writer who dreams of someday becoming a famous fantasy author. To learn more about her journey as a writer and discover a wealth of advice for every kind of writer, check out her blog, The Dabbler. Stay connected on Twitter.