The Strange Ship (free flash story)

(From time to time I participate in an activity at the  Sci-Fi Roundtable Facebook group, where we write flash fiction. This a sample of what I’ve been doing there. As an exercise, it is helpful to keep the imagination strong).

spaceship-1188391_960_720

The Strange Ship

By Ricardo Victoria

When the Strange Ship appeared in their solar system, the untested early warning systems blared off. It threw the population of the blue planet into chaos, except for the Guard, as they had been ready for decades. The invaders transmitted a message, asking for surrender. But if the invaders expected an easy ride with this seemingly primitive planet, they were in for a nasty surprise. For its inhabitants had created a warrior culture and the idea of a planetary invasion was a theme explored by their media to the point it became part of their collective psyche. They were prepared for this and the Guard was their hope. Their smaller ships launched into space and intercepted the Black Ship.

The battle raged for hours, the damages to the outer planet’s colonies were many, the death toll too high. But they prevailed. The smaller ships damaged so bad the humongous invader that it barely escaped into hyperspace, leaving behind debris and dead corpses floating on the outer planets’ orbits.

When two pilots maneuvered their ships closer to the debris for better examination of the bodies of the dead, one couldn’t but wonder about the nature of their enemies with his fellow pilot.

“What the hell are these monsters?”

“If the translations of their message are right, I think they call themselves ‘humans’.”

Advertisements

Farewell to Rebels

Rebels Final Painting

To be honest, I’ve had some shitty days (mostly at work, some part as a writer), so I really needed something to cheer me up. Somehow, the Force listened and provided and I managed to watch the ending of Rebels. I could wax lyrical about it, but a) that would be too spoilerish for those that haven’t watched it and b) I don’t think my words can make it justice.

Suffice to say that the final episode was a masterclass in closing up. Every beat was earned, it fitted continuity (for those inclined to nitpick about that) and it leaves you with a sense of closure mixed with hopes for the new adventure hinted at the end of it. Plus hearing the classic soundtrack from the OT at the end made me tear up a bit.

While Rebels, in general, had a slow start and a few clunkers among its episodes, the whole show is proof of tight plotting, endearing characters, intelligent villains and serious work behind scenes. This is how Star Wars should be done, this is how the magic of the Force, what the Jedi originally stood up for and the true power of the Rebels are about. This is Star Wars well done, pure and simple. With this ending, Rebels has cemented its place in SW canon and in my personal Top 5 tv shows (I might write about this later on). If you are an aspiring writing (like me) or an SW fan (like me), then you MUST have to watch the show. It’s a tour de force (pun intended) on how to plot a series (given that it is the most common objective for an SFF author) and make it a rewarding experience. I know once it is in a box set or complete at Mexico’s Netflix I will binge-watch again and will be taking notes.

And while I liked TFA and TLJ, I wish Filoni had been the one writing the New Trilogy story instead of each individual director. Because he gets it. He really understands the core essence of Star Wars. I can’t wait for his next SW related project (which I really hope involves that ending teaser).

A quick note on magic users in Tempest Blades

shamanI saw a post on a writer’s FB group asking how members call magic users in their stories. Well here it is how it works in my setting. It’s a really brief explanation:

Magus (plural Magi) is the title I use for learned magic users. Freefolk is the name of the near-human species in my setting that can use magic as a second nature as it is their innate ability. Freefolk can or can’t become magus, depending of whether they actually have the ability to do more than a few simple tricks or have gone to an actual magic college. Given than raw magic energies are dangerous by themselves, learning how to use it is a necessity, even for those with innate talent. Otherwise they just blow up. It makes a mess with the walls… Roughly 2 in 10 freefolk can use magic.

Humans can become magus, but it takes twice as long, need more preparations and they rarely reach the same level of power. It’s not impossible, but requieres quite a cultural and paradigm shift that most humans rarely get. That’s why the created arcanotech. Most humans just call magic users wizards because it is easier for them. Roughly 1 in 10, 000 can use magic.

Shaman/Shujenga are the really rare humans with innate magic abilities on par of a freefolk, although they usually get it after learning how to commute with the spiritual world. Roughly 1 in 100,000 humans can become a shaman. Roughly 1 in 100 freefolk can become shaman.

Priests are the samoharo magic users/religious leaders as for them magic has faith based connotations. Of particular mention are the Pathfinders and Dreamwalkers that can go into the spiritual world or navigate the stars. Their magic is not exactly magic but it is neither science. It’s something… weirder for lack of a better word.

It all comes to the cultural paradigms of each species. Freefolk live in communion with the land for most of the part and draw power from it. Humans tend to be a bit more… materialistic and rational when it comes to these things, they are more systematic, thus Shamans are the ones that have broken that paradigm. Samoharo believe in symbiosis with the Universe itself and that everything is connected with higher dimensions.

So there you have. I might expand onto this later on.

Random Chat #2

Here is the latest in the mayhem of thoughts that’s my head:

-I had planned to write a lengthy entry on why I liked The Last Jedi, why is a good way to break with the fan pandering and a possible reason of why the detractors hated it -which reminds me of the vitriol spewed online after the prequels. But so much has been written that I would hardly add anything meaningful to the conversation. I will just say that this is not a movie for my generation but a Star Wars for the new one and that the thing that weighs heavily in fans minds is that is a movie that, for us that grew up with Luke Skywalker, confronts is with our mortality and with what legacy we are leaving behind. I suspect that some detractors are having troubles to come to terms with that.

-I got a new rejection, this time for a short story that mixes alternate history and fantasy. I did get a personalised letter explaining what they liked and what not. I resubmitted it to another market.

-I just finished two fantasy stories and I’m working on finishing a science fiction one, this later for an indie publisher planning to release its second anthology. My story has dogs, so you know it will be awesome.

-I’m also working on a horror story aimed to be submitted to a SFWA market before the end of the year.

-There is no current movie me and my wife wanna see this month. We will wait till Black Panther.

-Talking about movies, ‘The Greatest Showman’ is a pretty good musical with a strong cast and good songs. But to enjoy it you have to forget for 105 min what a piece of shit was the real P.T. Barnum and how he mistreated animals (which by the way in the movie are all CGI.

-If I have to recommend a series to binge watch on Netflix is Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood. It’s highly addictive and has it all: action, mystery, intrigue, great world building, main characters that fight with their smarts as much as with the fists, secondary and tertiary characters with defined history and a plot where everyone collaborated to save the day. Everyone. And what’s more important and an oddity these days: an ending that feels entirely earned and justified.

-I really need to start writing my novel’s sequel or it will take another decade. G.R.R. Martin I’m not. Sadly something called da job tends to mess with said plan. Bills have to be paid and I’m not a famous author to live from it. J.K. Rowling I’m not.

-My wife got me several action figures I was looking for as Christmas presents. She knows me so well and I love her so much. And this Turtle additional expression is perfect to portray my usual mood with life:

Life is a tower of jenga. It tends to collapse on you. And you have to start anew. You are allowed to yell.

Vancouver

IMG_8612

Gastown by night.

Coming back to the blog, after the holidays, I thought in talking about my most recent travel. A few weeks ago, just before Christmas, my wife and I spent a whole week at Vancouver. It was our second wedding anniversary (we celebrated the first going to Disneyworld, I might talk about it in a later post). When we got married one of our personal vows was trying to travel as much as possible since my wife had never traveled abroad before that, while I have been lucky to visit my decent share of countries. In this case, we chose Vancouver with the hopes of seeing snow but not freeze to death like in Toronto. Originally we planned to go and watch the Northern Lights, but it was way out of our budget (the Mexican peso being what it is, means that we have to save a lot for these trips).

Vancouver didn’t disappoint. It has to be one of the best trips I’ve had (alongside Disneyworld). Even with the cold and rainy days. Good thing that our hometown has similar weather at certain times of the year.

The city is beautiful, peaceful and very friendly. Especially for photography aficionados such as my wife that took pictures of anything and everything. If you want to see better pics of the trip, visit my wife’s Instagram, she will be uploading them in the forthcoming days. The ones you see here are the ones I took (and I’m still learning to use a DSLR camera).

img_2722

My wife, photographer extraordinaire.

 

Aside the sushi, we had the opportunity to taste a wide range of food: poutine, Greek pitas, taco bowls -one of them at a great restaurant at Granville Market, ‘La Tortilleria’, founded and supervised by a Mexican lady from Michoacán- massive bowls of ramen near Chinatown, fresh salmon with cheese… But the best one by far was the Korean Barbecue. I don’t think I have eaten that much besides Christmas’ dinner. If you find yourself in Downtown Vancouver be sure to go to Shabusen Yakiniku House, there might be a bit of w wait to sit and enjoy the food, but the wait is worthwhile when there is the ‘All you can eat’ menu.

korean food

Delicious Food!!!

One of the best things about traveling with my wife -opposed to alone as I used to do- is that she has this friendly aura around her that makes not only the trip an enjoyable experience but also allows us to meet interesting people. There were several occasions when, while we were eating in a crowded market or waiting for transport, people approached us to talk: a retired man was waiting for his wife telling us his life history, a fellow Mexican traveling back to Mexico for the first time in years or a fellow photographer who shared tips with my wife -the photographer of the family-. With my wife around there is never a dull moment during a trip.

We visited several -one would say obligated- spots that kept our days -and nights- busy. While we didn’t see much in terms of a nightlife, given that it was Christmas time and night fell around 4:00 pm, Vancouver still offers plenty of places to see:

Granville Market: diverse food, diverse shops and a two-story toy market, where my wife and I bought a couple of board games. Be sure to visit ‘La Tortillería’ for real Mexican flavor.

Vancouver Christmas Market: near Canada Place, this is a traditional European-style market with food, wooden Christmas decoration, and warm vine. They offer the option of a return pass that allows you to come back several times for a single payment.

Museum of Anthropology: deep inside the University of British Columbia, lies one of the most eye-catching collections of totems and First Nations art. The tour guide that gave us the explanation of the place opened my eyes to the rich culture of the First Nations. I will be sure to research more about them in the next days. Just a caution note, be sure to be on time to catch the bus back to Downtown. During holidays the campus is empty and there are no other means of transportation back (the walk back is too long to do it after dusk).

Gastown/Chinatown/Downtown Vancouver: the main place to visit for the historical side of Vancouver, with a wide range of restaurants, souvenir shops -try the maple cookies, they are addictive- all in a relatively small area to walk around.

Golden Age Comics: if you are a comic book/manga/toy collector like me and my wife, this is the place to go. Wide selection of books, board games, t-shirts, Japanese figures and everything the geek needs.

Flyover Canada: it’s a nice 4XD ride, similar to the Soaring at Epcot Center, but focused only on Canada and it’s natural beauties. During Christmas time they add a bit, visiting Santa’s workshop. It is a cool ride, but really short for the size of the queue and kinda expensive the overall cost.

Capilano Suspension Bridge: if you are more nature persuasion but don’t want to travel far from the city, you should go to the north and visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge. It’s cozy, you can breathe clean air and during Christmas time it is decorated with lights. It is one of the most romantic places we visited.

Vancouver Aquarium: inside Stanley Park and not far from the Totem Poles, the Aquarium is a beautiful collection of fauna from British Columbia. Otters, seals, sea lions, penguins, dolphins and the occasional wandering raven among others make for a wonderful family time.

If you are of a photographer inclination, I would recommend you to take this Night Photography tour. Suzanne, the instructor was amicable, patient and fun, teaching us a few tricks of night photography. It will be worth your time and money.

The visit to the city -and the MoA in particular- inspired me to revisit some parts of the Tempest Blades world building, particularly the map, a few cities and the inner works of the freefolk people. The First Nations cultures and the meaning of the totems part were really inspiring.

In the last day, Vancouver didn’t disappoint. It bid us farewell with snowfall all the way back to the airport. This was one of the items on the bucket list of my wife, so in that regard we can say: mission accomplished. This is a trip my wife and I found so wonderful that we wish to return to Vancouver.

 

granville con amorcito

Happy travellers.

 

Random chat #1

I’m testing a new ‘section’ on the blog. I realized that not every entry has to be a deep discussion on a given topic. Sometimes it’s just as good to let random thoughts out of your head. Or in this case, my head. So it will be a semi-regular feature here for what’s good to have a blog if you can’t talk about whatever you want.

-I was talking with Brent about who would play our novel characters in a hypothetical film if money and time weren’t an objection (he wants Richard Armitage for Washington, I say that Jason Issacs would be a good Benedict Arnold and Lin-Manuel Miranda should do the soundtrack). Now considering the setting of my story, I think more than live action it would be an animated film so these picks could be the Voice Actors. Nonetheless here is my hypothetical cast:

  • Fionn: Chris Evans (Brent and my wife say that it should be Chris Hemsworth)
  • Gaby: Natalie Dormer or perhaps Daisy Ridley
  • Alex: Diego Luna (the accent is key)
  • Sam: Auli’i Cravalho or perhaps Caity Lotz
  • Harland: Peter Dinklage
  • Sid: Ryan Reynolds (I need someone that can portray sarcastic and hysteric with a hight pitch at the same time).

Wild dreams man!

-I will be traveling with my wife next week to the city of Vancouver for well-earned rest. As a side effect, I won’t be on the web as much as usual and I won’t be watching Star Wars: The Last of Us the Jedi until later this month, so please try to spare me the spoilers (I know, an impossible task, but had to ask).

-My wife asked me to watch Cherry Pop with her the other night, as it features alumni from RuPaul’s Dragrace. It has to be the second most weird, random movie I’ve ever seen, because nothing has surpassed so far the weirdness that was watching Jackie Chan singing about the friendship between Roman and Chinese soldiers alongside John Cusack -in eyeliner- in his action/musical/comedy/drama movie.

-I’m dashing to get a few pitches for the last PitMad tweet contest of the year. A good take could mean getting noticed by literary agents. Fingers crossed.

-On the topic of querying agents, I sent four queries, three haven’t replied, the one that did ask for a partial sample of 50 pages. Good sign I hope.

-On the final querying news: I sent my alt-history/steampunk/fantasy story about Romans, Greeks and trains ‘Steel Serpents’ to an SFWA magazine: ‘Beneath Ceaseless Skies’. Let’s hope it gets in.

-And finally, with the news of Disney buying 20th Century Fox film division (and all its properties), most people are talking about a potential return of the Fantastic Four to the MCU. But am I the only one that would actually prefer a Deadpool v. Spidey crossover? Just picture it:

eFDztBV.gif

Santa Mickey, please make it so.

See ya in a couple of weeks and happy holidays.

The soundtrack of the day:

Nerve wracking

I haven’t posted much here this month for three reasons: I’ve been nursing a throat infection, my sister-in-law got married (and what happened on that day could have came straight out of a comedy film) and more important to the blog at least, I’ve been working on getting queries ready to submit ‘Tempest Blades’ to agents.

And I have to say, this is nerve wracking.

I know the odds are not in my favour. If I were in the Hunger Games I might have been one of those tributes that die on the first day. And I’m not saying this to get sympathy. Truth is that the publishing business is a very competitive one where getting noticed is hard. Agents and editors have to go through hundreds if not thousands of queries of varying quality, wondering if this particular author/book is a good fit, for them, for their markets.

I go through similar process every six months or every year at work when I’m tasked to review applications for the Masters degree at my school. Specifically those relating my fields of study and those of my research group. It is not just matter of what’s written on paper. There are several factors to consider given that I would have to be working with this prospective student for two years till they graduate and pass their viva. It’s as much as a working relationship as any other.

It comes to the same with the author-agent relationship. It has to be right. And it comes to research, a lot of editing of the query letters and a good amount of luck. The query letter is your presentation card and has to be right. It’s like maximizing your chances and minimizing the odds of the

Now that I think about it, I already went through a similar process when I was applying to universities in UK for my Ph.D studies. I had to research universities, programs, potential supervisors and even the cost of life in the zone. Then write the introductory email to several of them (I submitted to at least a dozen) of which I only got three replies. And of those three I was accepted in only one.

After that I had to go through a lengthy process of interviews and research proposal writing. For not saying getting a sponsorship and my student visa while trying to finish my design degree… all in six months!

How I survived that given my anxiety and depression issues I don’t know. I just know I kept ploughing till I got it. The odds weren’t on my favor back then either. Not many design students from Mexico got accepted on Ph.D programs in UK back on the day, not many sponsors gave you grants for design degrees, my English wasn’t as good as it is now (or so I hope) and in the university that finally accepted me there were few available places for my degree.

And yet I got in. The second best thing to happen to me (the first one was getting married).

It was nerve wracking.

This time, like back then I have been researching agents that deal with similar books to mine. I have been following their blog post and interviews about how to write a query, created a spreadsheet with their submission requirements and in general tried to maximize my chances and minimize the odds.

And yet I feel like I’m standing on the edge of a cliff. I’m still feeling insecure about the readiness of my novel. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in it and the world I have crafted. I believe that the work I have put on it for the past two years should be enough to get a foot in. However at the same time I have to be realistic about my chances. I’m not a wünderkid. The odds against me are bigger this time than the last time and my novel might not cut the mustard this time. Maybe I already maximized my good luck credit.

And yet I have to try once more. Otherwise I will never do it. I have to believe in my novel because if I don’t no one else will. It may not be perfect. But hey I got nominated for an award for an idea I had so…

One of the agents I’m planning to query closes her querying next week so I have to take the chance now it never. I guess this entry is more an exercise into talking myself into doing it.

I will let you know how it goes. Maybe the old Victoria Luck still has some fuel in the tank.

And if by any chance you who are reading this are an agent, please consider my query. I know you might have tons of them to sort through but I promise, this novel has future.

Bone Peyote

mistbanner1

Two years ago I got my first rejection letter. I sent my horror story ‘Bone Peyote’ for a submission call for an anthology of Lovecraftian horror. Me being me, I decided to mix eldritch horrors with the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebration of my Mexico. It was easier than I thought, because:

a) I contend that Mexico is one of the most haunted countries in the world and…

b) If you have read anything about Aztec or Mayan mythology or some of the witchcraft rites around here in Mexico, you can see a lot of cosmic horror elements embedded in them.

Alas, the story got rejected.

But that rejection started good things. With some rework and editing, ‘Bone Peyote’ eventually saw the light published through Inklings Press. Technically that rejection letter was the motivation for the creation of Inklings Press. That rejection was as well the kick in the ass I needed to take writing more seriously and finish my novel (currently being edited in order to query agents and publishers). See, when I get rejections on my stories or design projects, I just become more stubborn. It’s a family trait.

But I digress… again.

‘Bone Peyote’, is not only based on the ‘Day of the Dead’ and cosmic horrors, but also in a few experiences I had during college with a good friend, when we talked about the occult and the mystical. As much as two naïve, aspiring comic book writers could get into it safely anyways. The story just takes those late coffee afternoon chats and amps it into a warning tale about messing with the veil that divides the dead from the living and works within the frame of Mexico’s lore and history.

For us in Mexico, the Day of the Dead takes place during the 1st and the 2nd of November. It is even a national holiday (yeah, wrap your head around that for a second). And so my story takes place exactly during those days.

I have to say, writing it was really fun (the first draft took me a day) and I had the wicked fun of ‘killing’ the character based on said friend (the perks of being a writer) while testing my skills at keeping tense atmospheres.

Talking about wicked things… now, this year, a few months ago (when I was still setting up this blog), the good folks at the Wicked Library recorded it as an audiobook a few months ago and put it available on their podcast. It includes an interview, for which I apologize in advance for my awful pronunciation. I’m out of practice. The results of their work on my story, for lack of a better cliche are bewitching.

You can listen to it here:

Wicked Library Website episode 720

I do recommend you to subscribe this podcast. It has countless hours of fun.

 Apple Podcasts | Android | Google Play | Stitcher | TuneIn

bonepeyotewicked

So if you want to a cool story for these spooky days, please consider giving both the anthology and the podcast a chance.

P.S: Don’t carry out any obscure rite these days. It could be awfully dangerous. You never know what’s waiting outside the realms of the living. Bwahahahaha.

 

 

Writing about bioethics in SPACE!

dna-1903318

I recall a time when I was a kid, during the height of the ‘Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles’ craze (of which I’m still part of), that I wanted to study genetics so when I grew up, I could create my own group of mutant turtles. I was a lonely kid back then so I wanted friends. Never came through because I suck at organic chemistry (much to the chagrin of my parents, both chemists). So I became the second best option, a writer (well, technically the third option, as you might know, I’m an industrial designer transformed into lecturer/researcher by trade and writer by passion, but I digress).

Beware, this might end being a rant.

Now that my science fiction story about bioethics in space “What Measure is a Homunculus?” is being published and available on Amazon on the 19th of October, in the Quantum Soul anthology, I can discuss about the topic of the story. No, I won’t tell what’s about beyond the rights of artificial humanoids used as weapons/foot soldiers, you need to buy the anthology.

But I can talk about what inspired me to do so. First, there was this article that talked about how scientists were trying to create a living being from stem cells without a father and mother (in terms of DNA donors whose reproductive cells create an embryo, not actual parents). From there to the creation of synthetic living beings we could a few generations removed, but it is still a possibility. And that made me think about the lack of legislation to protect the rights of such beings (even if it is just an amoeba).

There are few times when I can mix my day job, my Ph.D. and my real job as a writer in the same thing, which is the case of this particular short story.

Most of my sustainable design students know that I loathe Monsanto, as the epitomize most of what’s wrong with our current economic system. And that loathing is supported by the fact that companies like that think is right to patent the DNA of a living being. But it is not. It might be legal, but that doesn’t make it right, even if is the DNA of a mouse or a fly. DNA is what makes a living being it. It shouldn’t be beholden a property of a faceless company. For me, personally is tantamount to creating the precedent for a new form of slavery. Look, I’m not against researchers patenting stuff (I work as one after all), but while I see the case for patenting the technology to create such advances, I still think that is wrong to patent the DNA of a living being just for coins.

This makes me think that there is a need right now in literature and other media, one asking for more stories that put in the collective consciousness, on the debate table the discussion about bioethics. We need to sit down and discuss what we are doing, if we should be doing it, who should be doing it and for what reasons, instead of just using economic excuses. I think it is the time we redefine what we consider life and its intrinsical rights.

This whole rant, if you want to call it that, makes me recall what Michael Crichton wrote in the first pages of Jurassic Park, how the technological development moved from governmental labs into private sector labs and moving at such pace that there is virtually no oversight about what we are doing with this technological might. We don’t stop to consider that the question is not ‘can we do it?’ but ‘should we be doing it?’.

It’s not a discussion on technological progress. I think that progress is needed if we aim for a better world. But progress for the sake of it or the sake of the purses of people that don’t give a damn about the state of the world is madness. Science Fiction has always been a window to our potential futures, good or bad. Just like there is a recent wave of climate fiction, there is a need for a resurgence in bioethics fiction. Let’s as writers raise awareness of the topic because it relies upon society to do the changes needed. Let’s bring bioethics to the debate table before it is too late.

Upsss. I think I went into lecture mode. Sorry for that. My point was to explain from where it came to the inspiration for this story, so when you read it you know where I’m coming from. In any case, I invite you to acquire this new anthology by the fine folks of the SciFi Roundtable: Eric Michael Craig and Ducky Smith. I had the opportunity of reading several of these stories and I can assure you they are a good option for the science fiction fans looking for new voices in the genre. So go, give it a chance and read it.

cover quatumsoul