Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Europa and Callisto - Cold to the Core

Sci-Fi Deak Style
by John Deakins

Simon Marius discovered the four Jovian moons the same year as Galileo. His names, centuries out of favor, are used today. Jupiter’s moon, Europa, though the smallest, gets the spotlight because of its water content. One model gives it 1-10 km of surface ice; the other argues for 60 – 100 km of ice. Both models predict a salty ocean beneath, perhaps another 100 km deep, stirred and heated by tidal flexing from Jupiter and the other moons.

On Earth, where there’s water, there’s life. The hope is to find deep, water-based life under the ice. Its energy source would be sulfur compounds or iron, as it is for some Earth bacteria, instead of light. Theoretically, we could seed Europa with Earth bacteria, and some of them would prosper. The purists bellow like gutted behemoths at the thought of contaminating a pristine potential life-bearer. Complex Earth-life might wipe out primitive Europan life-forms before they could be studied.

Callisto’s ice isn’t as thick, but the potential for liquid water remains. Callisto, with lower radiation and more rock surface, might be a better landing site, but any ocean would be smaller and colder, from insufficient tidal flexing. Water-ice is all over the outer Solar System. Major asteroids have sub-surface ice. Gas-giant rings contain mountainous chunks of water-ice. For the SF writer, that makes little difference, because you have to play the Ignore It card before you can deal with anything else.

The distances are simply too far. A one-way trip would require years. NASA recently admitted that the only way we’ll get to (closer) Mars is to perfect human hibernation. Sustaining a perfectly recycling ecosystem aboard an interplanetary craft is beyond us. Only cold-sleep could make such a trip possible. No human crew could remain active for a decades-long voyage to the outer system; they’d asphyxiate or starve.

So postulate human hibernation, already! Unexplained Science rescues you. Interplanetary crew-chambers could be thoroughly shielded, unless they have to pack along a greenhouse and supplies for an extended journey. Nevertheless, using Ignore It and Unexplained Science, when you arrive at Europa, you aren’t home free. The surface radiation will kill you within days. Your lander has to fly down into one of the kilometer-wide crevices and find a deep, lateral cave for ice shielding: not impossible.

Colonizing Europa or Callisto would be like creating a permanent exile colony under the Antarctic ice. Getting home would be just as difficult and time-eating as getting there. I would predict that the biggest problem would be sustaining political support on Earth for astronauts that might not return for fifty years. Dealing with Mars (which we haven’t done) looms like the face of a mile-high glacier. The push for Europa continues only because of an atheistic hope of finding spontaneously formed life somewhere off Earth. Mars is dead, despite ancient life-potential.

At present, Live With It won’t work in the Solar System. Some truly major discoveries have to be made first. Then, we shoot for the stars.

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 fantasy novels in print from the Barrow series. 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, October 16, 2014

Mark of Distinction

What Distinguishes Great Authors from Good Ones?
by Laura E. Price

Back when I was a self-conscious college student, I would answer the inevitable English-major question of "Greatest modern author?" with "Toni Morrison." She was a safe choice, because people wouldn’t look at me sideways for naming her, and doing so never made me feel like I was entirely lying.

Here's the secret: I always named Morrison because of Beloved. Which is a great piece of literature, one of the great works of American literature. But you know what else it is? One hell of a ghost story. And I have always, always loved ghost stories. Also aliens. Dragons and monsters and magic, too.

Nowadays, I am a lot less concerned with people looking at me sideways. I am utterly comfortable with my nerdiness and geekdom. When faced with a question about great authors and what makes them great rather than good, my problem isn't figuring out who's acceptable, it's trying to narrow down the field (well, and deciding not to use Neil Gaiman because I'm sure everyone would use Neil Gaiman).

I'd still name Toni Morrison, but I'd now add Octavia E. Butler and Sarah Monette. Butler is, of course, one of the greats of science fiction; Monette (who also writes as Katherine Addison) is one of the greats in fantasy and in horror.

All three of these authors have a strong sense of voice, the ability to ground a story in a very specific place, a mastery of language, and the latter two have left me with phrases that have been woven into my daily life: "God is Change," from Butler's Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower is my mantra when my life turns into total chaos. The phrase I picked up from Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths series is more vulgar, but comes in handy in many of the same situations.

But, really, lots of writers can do those things (I quote Ancient Aliens all the time; that doesn't mean it's great television). The quality these three authors share that sets them apart is the sense I get, when reading, that they want to do something different. All of them have surprised me: Morrison's ghost; Butler's near-future dystopia and her very alien aliens; Monette's fully-realized fantasy worlds that reference literature and history and folklore that aren't ours. There's ambition there, and also an ability to add more, to create something unique, to think sideways.

I do want to stress that there's nothing wrong with being a good writer. As a reader, finishing a nice, solid urban fantasy is not going to leave me feeling cheated. Not every author is a great author; even great authors write mediocre books (I love John Irving, but I still haven't managed to finish Setting Free the Bears); and frankly, to misquote Welcome to Night Vale, the line between what's great and what's good is blurry and covered in jellyfish. But when you find those books and stories that are great, that wrap around you while you're reading and stay with you when you're done, there is a difference. And it's usually because their authors were looking at things just a little bit sideways.

Laura E. Price lives in Florida with her husband, son, and an enormous number of books. Her short stories have appeared in Cicada, On Spec, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and GigaNotoSaurus, and another of her stories, "Hauntings," is in the October issue of Penumbra.

Learn more about Laura E. Price on her blog.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Crackling Spit

by Floris M. Kleijne

It was a beautiful, sun-drenched day in Ötztal Valley, Austria. My objective was a Hütte well above the tree line, where the proprietor served sensible Austrian lunches, and the view of the valley was supposed to be breathtaking. I had seen the Hütte high above me from the campsite, its red-white-red banner dancing in the wind.

At the murmuring brook where the path up the mountain side commenced, I set out into the trees, abandoning the road to hazard the attractively steep, narrow rock path. I walked with easy confidence, because the markers at the foot of the path had indicated the Hütte, and every new marker I encountered told me that the remaining time was decreasing at a satisfyingly rapid rate.

Until the markers disappeared.

At first, I didn't notice, caught up as I was in the steady rhythm of my own footsteps, and the slower beat of the switchback trail. I stopped every now and then to breathe in the vistas, but otherwise concentrated on my walking, achieving that state of concentration bordering on trance that is one of the attractions of mountain hiking. But suddenly, I realized there was an even slower rhythm that had been silent for a while: the rhythm of the regular appearance of way markers telling me I was on the right path.

Doubt crept in.

Had there been a fork in the trail at some point? I thought not, but with the trance, it was impossible to be sure. And very nearness of the mountain made it impossible to get my bearings.

I drew out my map. Only now did I notice that two trails started at the murmuring brook. South of the brook was the trail that switchbacked all the way up to the Hütte. The northern trail just kept going up, and up, until it lost itself among the bare mountain tops and the Gletschers.

I concentrated on the sounds. The rushing of a waterfall had been with me for a while now, but was it left or right? Really listening to it for the first time now, it was immediately obvious that the white noise of the water was to my right.

Bad news.

I rounded the next zig to reach a stretch of path pointing towards the sound. This would take me even higher, but it looked like a long stretch, curving around the mountain's shoulder, and perhaps granting me a view of this waterfall, and a chance to get my bearings. Increasing my pace, I reached the next zag, and looked around me.

The mountain side swept down towards the valley floor in a steep, forested slope. The side of the mountain was cut deep by a narrow gorge, formed by the brook that crashed down from the heights here. Leaning out as far as I dared, I could make out no path that might take me to the other side. Looking up, the gorge turned into an impossible to scale precipice. Across the gorge, another mass of trees covered the next shoulder of the mountain.

I could just make out a red-white-red banner beckoning me from beyond the ridge.

My tension peaked, and suddenly I thought of crackling spit.

In stories, tension is often described as an arc, peaking and then released, dissipating. And it suddenly occurred to me that the most effective of such arcs have a keystone. My tension had been rising from the moment it seemed I had taken a wrong turn, and the view of that banner waving at me capped the arc of my tension. Now I could accept the truth, and deal with the reality of my mistake.

In Jack London's "To Build a Fire", the protagonist's awareness grows of the extremity of cold, and the tension climbs with it, until he spits, and his spit freezes, with a crackling sound, while still airborne. In Jurassic Park, the tension created by the characters' fear peaks in the circular shockwaves in a cup of coffee. I remember an old Dracula movie, where the tension built by the threatening, invisible presence of the Count is capped horrifically by the simple question, "But did anyone check the basement?"

Story tension can be described as an arc, that's nothing new. But do all such arcs have a keystone? Are they all capped with such small, but horribly effective devices?

If you have more examples, or counter-examples, leave them in the comments!

Floris M. Kleijne is the award-winning author of the novelettes Meeting the Sculptor and Conversation with a Mechanical Horse. He was the first Dutchman ever to win the Writers of the Future contest, as well as the first Dutch active member of SFWA. His short fiction has appeared in the Writers of the Future anthologies, Andromeda Spaceways, Leading Edge Magazine, Daily Science Fiction, and other publications. His flash fiction ghost story A Cold Welcome appears in the October issue of Penumbra, Paranormal Adventures.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


with a contest and excellent prizes

Grand Prize
$15.00 Musa Gift Certificate
6 Paperback Books
Baiting the Hook by Mary Palmer & David Wilton
Brothers in Crime by KM Rockwood
Legends of the Timekeepers by Sharon Ledwith
Indian Shirt Story by Heather Lockman
Pantheon by Josh Strnad
Windy City Heat by Remi Hunter

1st Place Winner
$10.00 Musa Gift Certificate
6 Paperback Books
Baiting the Hook by Mary Palmer & David Wilton
Brothers in Crime by KM Rockwood
Legends of the Timekeepers by Sharon Ledwith
Indian Shirt Story by Heather Lockman
Pantheon by Josh Strnad
Windy City Heat by Remi Hunter

2nd Place Winner
$5.00 Musa Gift Certificate
5 Paperback Books
Cairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
Chasing Athens by Marissa Tejada
First Frost by Liz DeJesus
Who Wacked Roger Rabbit by Gary K. Wolf
Windy City Heat by Remi Hunter

3rd Place Winner
5 Paperback Books
Cairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
Chasing Athens by Marissa Tejada
First Frost by Liz DeJesus
Who Wacked Roger Rabbit by Gary K. Wolf
Windy City Heat by Remi Hunter

Beginning October 1, 2014 we draw 2 winners a day and they will each receive 3 books

All participants receive a download of Cooking with Musa.
All entrants are eligible for Grand Prize and Other Drawings October 15, 2014

Winners announced October 16, 2014

Enter daily to win!

No particular order to the daily drawings for the books below

Random Survival by Ray Wenck
TRUE blue by Susan Rae
Chasra: The Homecoming by Joanne Hirase

Drowning Cactus by Carrie Russell
To Catch A Fish by Mary Pamer & David Wilton
Lies in Wait by Donna Del Oro

Question of Time by Mary S. Palmer
Glass Frost by Liz DeJesus
The Andersen Ancestry by Addie J. King

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest begins October 1, 2014 and ends midnight CST October 14, 2014. All winners announced October 16, 2014.

Winners who reside outside the Continental United States will receive their prize in e-book format.

All prizes must be claimed by October 20, 2014 or they are forfeited. Prizes will be shipped October 22, 2014.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


by Liz Colter

Only a few years ago, I was somewhat unreceptive to stories written in present tense. I also resisted using it in my own writing, worried about rumors of speculative fiction editors preferring past tense to present tense. Over the past few years, however, things have changed. Acceptance of present tense stories has become widespread among both editors and authors, myself included. In 2011 "Tu Sufrimiento Shall Protect Us" by Mercurio D. Rivera was a World Fantasy short story nominee, and I can't think of a speculative fiction magazine in the past few years that hasn't published stories in present tense. I've now read the entire gamut in present tense, from flash fiction to a novel series, and have written some of my own stories using present tense. "I Promise," my story appearing in the October issue of Penumbra eMag, is a case in point.

I think the reasons for my early reluctance were twofold. First, the language of stories—from mythology to fairy tales to telling your co-workers how you spent the weekend—has traditionally been past tense. I thought present tense fiction was a new fad. Imagine my surprise when I came across a reprint of a present tense flash story by Anton Chekhov. Secondly, I spent a couple of years slush reading for a speculative fiction magazine, during which time I read a lot of present tense stories. I have to say that it might be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands. Narrative and 'telling' can be far clunkier in present tense, and also tend to be used more by new writers. For me, at least, "He walks to the store and buys apples," pulls me out of a story more easily than "He walked to the store and bought apples." (Better still, of course, is showing instead of telling, but that's another topic.)

In recent years I've read many stories written so beautifully in present tense that I didn't even notice the tense until well into the story. I have to say that my personal preference for novels is still usually past tense, as a fair bit of exposition is unavoidable at that length, but "The Windup Girl" by Paolo Bacigalupi, and the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins are just a few of the very successful novels written in present tense.

Tense, like point of view, tone, and all the other elements an author uses to create atmosphere, should be chosen with intent. Past, present, and even future, have their pros and cons. Present tense may be more unwieldy in narrative, and writers need to be careful not to wander in and out of past tense by habit. On the other hand, it can lend a sense of immediacy that past tense lacks. For my story "I Promise" I chose to use present tense as it was essential for the reader to take the moment-by-moment journey with the narrator. As always though, it's up to the author to decide what fits their story the best.

Liz Colter spends her free time with her husband, dogs, horses and writing (according to her husband, not usually in that order of priority). She has been writing speculative fiction for more than a decade and reading it for a lifetime. News of her writing can be found on her website.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

To Musa with Love

by Chris Pavesic

Recently Dianna Gunn asked me to write a blog post for Musa’s Anniversary celebration. I am delighted to be part of the celebration for this wonderful company. Anniversaries are important; they let a person not only look to the past, but also provide an opportunity to consider the future.

Dianna and I both started with Musa at Penumbra. She was an intern who acquired posts for the Penumbra blog and marketed the e-magazine. I had two short stories published in Penumbra, (“Going Home” in Volume II, Issue 9 and “The World in Front of Me” in Volume II, Issue 11.) I worked with Dianna on a few blog posts for the Penumbra blog.

Through writing for Penumbra, I also had the opportunity to work with Celina Summers. She had created a shared world with Richard C. White—The Darkside Codex—and invited Penumbra authors and readers to take a look at the new series. It is set in a world with a steampunk foundation. They created the basics but let the authors submit works that explored the fictional word. Open to many different genres—including science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, romance, and noir—the shared world is a playground for a writer’s imagination. Celina sent me The Darkside Codex bible (which is a text that sets up the basics of the shared world) and I felt my creativity stirring.

Steampunk is my favorite speculative fiction genre. As dedicated readers of my blog will know, I have loved Victorian era literature since I read Great Expectations as a child. The combination of idyllic pastoral life and overcrowded cities, of horse-drawn carriages next to steam-powered trains, of personally crafted goods next to mass-produced work, created a dramatic tension in the literature of the day that is mirrored in modern steampunk stories. The nostalgia and idealization of the past mixes with the ideas that industry and innovation are the only ways to improve the human condition and creates a powder keg in the society that figuratively can explode at any moment.

To me—this dichotomy is fascinating. To have two world views so diametrically opposite share the same “stage” openly in the world of Southwatch creates a wonderful opportunity for fiction to thrive. My own novel in the series, The Caelimane Operation, (set for publication by Musa in January, 2015) includes a clash between the industrial and the pastoral life along with a healthy mix of fantasy and horror.

Here is a short introduction to The Caelimane Operation. I hope that you enjoy it:

When the Temples to the Goddess north of Southwatch are burned and followers of Dione are murdered, Hierocrat Catherine, a bard of the Caelimane Temple, sets out to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. With only the help of a traveling group of minstrels and a retired fae investigator, Catherine must solve the mystery before more people are killed, but will she succeed when she finds herself pitted against members of her own Temple, rogue members of the Seelie Court, and a seemingly unstoppable army of undead?

Once again I find myself working with Celina and Dianna, who is now a promotions specialist with Musa. The journey that, for me, started with writing short, speculative fiction in Penumbra continues with writing somewhat longer (but still speculative) fiction for Musa in the world of The Darkside Codex. This is a relationship I hope will continue far into the future, both with Musa and Penumbra. There are so many more stories to tell!

Chris Pavesic lives in the Midwestern United States and loves Kona coffee, fairy tales, and all types of speculative fiction. Her stories, “Going Home” and “The World In Front of Me,” have been published in Penumbra EMag. Her first novel with Musa, The Caelimane Operation, will be published in January, 2015. Between writing projects, Chris can most often be found reading, gaming, gardening, working on an endless list of DIY household projects, or hanging out with friends.

Learn more about Chris Pavesic on her blog. Stay connected on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How a Person Becomes a Writer

by Anna Yeatts

I wanted to be a writer when I was young in the same way I wanted to be an astronaut, a pirate, or a showgirl. But I didn’t truly become inspired to write until four years ago — after the birth of my son and a near-crippling bout of postpartum depression.

I had an emptiness inside that had nothing to do with external fulfillment. I had two beautiful children, a loving and supportive husband, a comfortable lifestyle. Who was I to whine about being intellectually unfulfilled? The self-induced guilt surrounding my depression ate at me, day in and out. It was like burrowing into a hollow place that kept closing in on top of me.

I remember being on the phone with my sister. I was exhausted, sleep deprived, and probably hadn’t showered in days. She was trying to be patient and supportive, but my reasoning ran in obvious circles. I’m so tired of feeling this way. Yes, it’s awful. No, I can’t do anything about it.

Finally, my brother-in-law chipped in from the background. “Ask her when she’s going to shut up and write her book.”

Up to that moment, there had been no mention of my writing. His overly blunt statement was the proverbial thunderbolt from the blue. I stood in the living room, frowning at the sofa, and wondering why the hell I hadn’t written anything yet.

Let’s just say I got a little mixed up in my career choices, tried medical school due to a case of identity foreclosure, decided I was more fascinated by cadavers than living people, and had zero interest in actually getting that MD.

I’d always wanted to write, but it was a dream I never thought would happen. The possibility of becoming a writer was like holding a soap bubble in my hands. I was too frightened to breath because it might burst. I walked around for days, turning the idea over in my head, feeling the first stirrings of “maybe” I’d felt in a long time.

I cornered my husband in the bathroom a week or so later. It was all I could do to say the words “I want to write” before I burst into tears. But he didn’t laugh. He nodded and asked what we needed to do to make it happen. And he’s never faltered along my bumpy little journey since then.

I’m lucky to have a spouse who takes the children to the park or cooks dinner so I can write. I have two beautiful children who think it’s awesome that Mommy is dark and twisty and writes about ghosts and ghoulies.

Through it all, I found the part of myself that lives in the darkness and I managed to pull it into the light. It’s still a battle. But it has been pouring that struggle onto a page, wrestling those rough moments into submission and making something beautiful out of them that has made me a writer.

All my best,

Anna Yeatts is a fantasy and horror writer hiding out in Pinehurst, NC. Her short fiction has appeared in Suddenly Lost in Words, Mslexia, and Spark: A Creative Anthology among others and publishes Flash Fiction Online.

Learn more about Anna on her website and follow her on Twitter.