New frightening collaboration with the Wicked Library

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As you remember, The Wicked Library has been kind enough to record one of my stories for their podcast. So earlier this year they asked me to participate with a flash fiction tale for their Halloween audio anthology. The story I submitted was “The Scratching”, which you can read here as well.

The Wicked Library released the audio anthology this weekend and well, my story is there (it’s actually the first one) and given that today is Halloween… I hope you enjoy my work and that of my fellow authors.

Here is the link for the podcast entry: https://thewickedlibrary.com/821

Musings on the Tower of Terror

When I was a pre-teen/teenager and my parents took my sister and me to Walt Disney’s World in the decade of the 90’s, there was a ride I died -pun kinda intended- to ride: The Twilight Zone, Tower of Terror.

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Alas, I never got the chance because my family is not into spooky/weird things and despite my dad allowing me to watch the Twilight Zone revival of the 80’s, considered that the ride and the setting were too ‘extreme’ for our malleable minds. In reality, their refusal was mostly, because my sister was afraid of anything spooky and we were there to meet the Disney Princesses and not to be scared. At least I got to spend my time at Star Tours, but that’s another story…

Man, every time I watched this commercial at the hotel I begged to go. I only got as far as the gift shop.

 

So when my wife and I went to WDW a few years ago for our weeklong celebration of our wedding anniversary, she, in her infinite patience and love, went with me one rainy day to Hollywood Studios and the first thing we did was to enter the Tower of Terror.

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Of course, as an adult, the ride wasn’t as shocking as you expected as a kid. And my wife prefers rides that are a bit more extreme -if her back injury allows it-. However, we had a lot of fun. We made a point on going into it, not only due to my past history with the ride as an object of desire, but by that time the California version (to which sadly I have never been to) was going to be replaced by a Guardians of the Galaxy ride -I admit, GoTG is one of my least favorite movies from MCU- and we wanted to experience the whole Tower before that fate befalls upon it.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a true masterpiece of narrative and worldbuilding. You take a complex concept as the Twilight Zone, through the lens of a haunted house -hotel in this case- and milk it for all its worth to get a good scare from a common nightmare: failing elevator. Add ghosts and its own urban legend about the ghost of a cast member haunting the ride and you have a very unique experience for the lovers of the spooky-kooky.

The lobby looks like a true earlier 20th-century hotel and is cold as hell. The smell of coal and humidity from the boilers downstairs transport you into the moldy feeling of a crappy yet ominous tourist trap hotel. The tv screens that fail, with the ever-present image of Rod Serling and the ghosts, plus the cast members playing the roles supernatural bellboys make you feel like you are actually in an episode of the Twilight Zone. And the view. Once you are in the drop, you can get a wonderful, if brief, view of WDW. If I could, I would write a horror/comedy story about a similar haunted hotel.

From a designer/theme park enthusiast/spooky things aficionado, the whole ride has it all. I personally believe is one of the best rides in terms of theme creation through interior design. And one of the best examples of Emotional design around (like most Disney things).

There are plenty of videos that show you the ride inside and out, in case you can’t visit it. But if you can go, and even better if you visit the park during Halloween season, you definitively should experience it before something happens to it. Like disappearing into another dimension.

Worldbuilding feature: Fortunes’ Fool by E.M. Swift-hook

Today, I want to feature my good friend’s E.M. Swift-Hook’s books. I say books because she has done something I admit I’m envious: to write nine books in the same saga. That’s exemplary discipline.

Fortune’s Fool is a saga of science fiction novels that begins with the travails of the people living in the outskirts of galactic civilization, on a planet colonized before FTL and just recently entering the games that fate likes to play. If you want to know more, go and get the books HERE.

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Now, E.M. and I didn’t talk about every aspect of the book, instead, we focused on her world-building process. Because hey, you get to enjoy the ride when you read the books, but you don’t see the backstage building process.

Me: I’m sure you get asked this quite frequently but what are your most important sources of inspiration for your Fortune’s Fool world?

E.M: It would be a bit simplistic to say it had just one inspiration as every book I ever read and enjoyed will be somewhere on the list. But looking at it in the way historians view events, whatever the long-term causes, the ‘trigger’ was undoubtedly a 1970s BBC TV science fiction series called Blake’s 7, which turned so much of the expectations of science fiction at that time inside out and rewrote the rules. If you haven’t ever seen it, I’d recommend checking it out. The SFX might be a bit cardboard and sticky tape, but the characters – even the incredible antagonist, Servalan – and most of the storylines (it had writers such as Tanith Lee for a couple of episodes even) are superb.  I called one of the major characters in Fortune’s Fools ‘Avilon’ in a tribute to two of my favorite characters in the series.

Me: Would you define your setting as hard SF or do you leave room for the unexplainable?

E.M: It is soft sci-fi boarding into science fantasy. For a start, I include the Two Great Lies many writers of science-fiction indulge in – that faster than light travel is possible and that humans could live on other planets. To the best of my understanding the former is still unlikely ever to happen and the latter less so. For us to be able to live on the surface of a planet it would need to be biochemically identical to our own. Even the most Earthlike is unlikely to be so. It would only take a slight difference to our own biospheres balance to be completely toxic to human life.

That said, I do try to keep a very realistic and gritty feel to the series.

Me: I know realism is a big thing for you. How that does has impacted on your world building? It has allowed you freedom or has forced your hand at times?

E.M: Both. I think realism does not mean the setting needs to be completely consistent with physics as we know it, but it does need to be logical and rooted in the reader’s understanding of how things work. This means I do have tremendous freedom to build logical seeming extensions to the real world. The bigger test, for me as a writer of character-driven stories, is to ensure that the people in my books behave like real people. They may have spaceships and body shields but they are still human beings dealing with human issues like corruption, betrayal, greed, fear, and ignorance.

Me: You have mentioned before that Durban Chola is one of your favorite characters from your books. And he is certainly a fan favorite. Having read your stories before, I can say they tend to be complex beings. But how do you build your characters?

E.M: My characters are ‘born’ at the point where story need meets the character concept, but the senior partner is story need. Mostly it’s a simple matter of asking a few searching questions: What kind of person would do this? What skills would they need – and so what kind of background must they have? Then I can look at more interesting things like What sort of quirks would this person have that add story interest? What flaws or strengths of personality might their background have thrown up? And so on. Sometimes this is a very conscious process and sometimes much of it kind of ‘auto-fills’, leaving me the freedom to focus on the more fun aspects of the character.

Me: Fortune’s Fool started as a trilogy that somehow grew into a trilogy of trilogies. How did that happen? Did you have some vague idea of the overall plot or the story grew organically like those alien carnivorous plants that writers tend to have on their orchards and have tame now and then, else they eat the local inspector?

E.M: Again, a bit of both. Transgressor began with a very simple idea – having a high-tech raised individual crash on the most primitive planet in the galaxy. A medieval level of primitive, in a galaxy with FTL travel. But what if it was not just A.N. individual? What if it was a wanted freedom-fighter?

The culture shock on both sides would be immense. But I wanted to show that just because they were ‘primitive’ that did not make the people any less capable, intelligent or potent. The stranded man is not lauded or respected, he is despised and enslaved. And on his part, the difficulty of coming to terms with the situation and the assault on his physical and mental resources. That was what Transgressor was planned to be. But in the end, it became so much more and once I had finished it, I realized there was a bigger story to tell and so Fortune’s Fools as a series was born.

Me: How would you describe the aesthetics of your world? Is it all shiny like Star Trek, all war-torn like Star Wars, all rusty like Firefly, all toyetic like Tomorrowland or…?

E.M: Considering it is a galactic civilization and not a single world, I would have to say that depends where you happened to live. If you lived in Central, the high-tech hub of the Coalition, you would eat, breath and poop ‘shiny’. Your life would be long, fulfilled and prosperous.

If you lived on one of the Middle Worlds you would be noticing the edge knocked off the shine as a bit and on the Periphery, if you were unfortunate enough to live on a planet caught up in a resource conflict between two of the political-corporate conglomerates, it would be living in a war zone. Then again, if you lived on Temsevar, it would be little different from living in a medieval Earth society and about at that tech level.

Of course, even on the same planet, you would have very different ways of life. Thuringen, for example, has a pretty regular society on one continent, but the other is home to Starcity, which has laws that effectively empower organized crime. The ‘City is therefore truly the criminal capital of the galaxy and trades on that fact. There the aesthetic is shiny on the surface as it is pretty high tech, but scratch that surface and you find a layer of dried blood…

Me: Did you world build before writing the story or your world build responds to the specific needs of your story?

E.M: A bit of both. The fundamental ideas were there from the first, my take on what a sci-fi universe should be like. But as specifics were needed to advance the plot or to fill gaps in the background, I put them in.

Me: What are your golden rules for world-building in a saga this long?

E.M: Consistency is paramount. If I invent something or name something, it has to be there ongoing as it impacts the entire story verse.

Me: Finally, what kind of music (a specific song, a musician, a playlist, an album) would fit your story? Care to share a link of a video as a sample of this?

E.M: Very tough as I don’t really link music with writing. Unlike many authors who use music as inspiration or background, I tend to prefer to write in silence or, if there are distracting noises like someone digging up the road outside, I’ll put the headphones on with rain sounds to cover it.

But, if pressed I could maybe give you some music that to me is kind of musical mood I might associate with my characters perhaps and from that, you’ll get a very good idea of my musical tastes too…

Avilon: Heart of Steel – Manowar
Durban: Soon from Gates of Delirium – Yes
Jariq: Time Table – Genesis
Jaela: China in Your Hand – T’pau
Jaz: Crawling – Linkin Park
Charis: Days of Our Lives – Queen
Grim: The Swing of Things – A-Ha
And for my main antagonist, Kahina Sarava: Stargazer – Rainbow

Thanks, E.M. for sharing your world-building process!

If you want to know a bit more about her:

E.M. Swift-Hook takes seriously the words that Robert Heinlein put into the mouth of Lazarus Long: ‘Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.’

Having tried a number of different careers, before settling in the North-East of England with family, three dogs, cats and a small flock of rescued chickens, she now spends a lot of time in private and have very clean hands.

Links:
Author.to/EMSH
Getbook.at/FF
Twitter: @emswifthook

Why I love Ghostbusters as a writer.

Let me preface this entry with the following statement: I love both the original films and the new one (Kate McKinnon as Holtzman is brilliant) as well as the Real Ghostbusters cartoon. Every incarnation brought something different to the table and all are equally good and equally valid so you won’t find any argument to support your ‘complaints’*.

When I was a little kid, one of my older cousins, who worked for a cinema magazine gave me a copy of their latest issue, that was entirely dedicated to promoting the original  Ghostbusters film. He thought that magazine would be a good help for me to practice my reading. Which it did. The magazine was mostly composed by interviews with the main cast, the set and FX designers (which I guess was a sign for me to study design) and how they came about with the concept. Later on, my dad managed to procure a copy of the film in one of those rental places and I think I watched the film like 4 times before returning the tape. Then a local channel kept it in the rotation for years, until the cartoon and the sequel appeared (I got to watch the sequel at the cinema). Since then, I try to watch it at least on Halloween every year -now is a marathon of the three films-. I have played the video games, have a couple of toys, comics, and books. I can say that I know the story like the back of my hand. And probably quote the first film most of the time in random conversations.

“Ray, When Someone Asks If You’re a God, You Say YES.”- Winston

Like now. Yeah, I’m that guy. As for the record, I think that one is the best line of the whole movie.

So as you can surmise, this is one of my favorite films (only topped by the 90’s TMNT film). I wanted to work as Ghostbuster, which explains the eclectic part book collection of physics and the occult. For me the whole explanation of how high energy physics could be used to explain and deal with the paranormal in a very coherent way (within the movie’s universe) made perfect sense. Having an engineer dad that was also a Star Trek fan helped, as he explained to me (or simply gave me the books, like A Brief History of Time) some of the basic concepts of what Ray, Egon -and years later Jillian, Abby, and Erin- were saying.

“Well, let’s say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. According to this morning’s sample it would be a Twinkie…thirty-five feet long weighing approximately six-hundred pounds.” -Egon.

Knowing that the quote was part of a longer explanation of the inflationary universe theory and how it made our reality prone to paranormal incursions, more or less, makes have even more respect for the whole concept of mixing science with magic. This is where my inspiration to make my own mix of science and magic for my stories comes from. The cartoon really expanded onto it, courtesy of the always super work of JMS.

However, the lesson I take from the first Ghostbusters film (a lesson more or less repeated in the 2016 film) is the economy of narrative to present complex worldbuilding and detailed characters, all around a pretty basic simple premise: a pest removal service where the pest is the paranormal.

The original film has a surprisingly short runtime of 1 hour and 45 minutes. Compared to more modern films, it’s at least 15-30 minutes shorter. It might look like too little, but in film 15 minutes is an eternity. So in such a relatively short amount of time, the movie does a lot. Once I read a column by Charlie Jane Anders at io9, about how the way ‘Back to the Future’ was filmed makes it a perfect movie and one of the reasons is how the film efficiently uses its runtime to set up the world, the characters, the conflict, and resolution. I want to believe that the same applies to the first Ghostbuster film.

We’re Ready To Believe You.

The opening, the library scene before the title card -which I consider one of the bonafide great jump scare scenes ever made- sets up nicely half of the premise: ghosts are real and are scary. The following minutes set up the other half: a trio of unconventional scientist that not only believe ghosts are real but are applying the scientific method to prove their existence. Not only they succeed but realize that a) they are ill-equipped for dealing with ghosts and b) there is a business opportunity here (it’s the 80’s, greed was good… for a few).

The following scenes go to introducing Peter, Ray, and Egon as actual characters. Each line they spout is full with meaning: Ray is a dutiful son with the heart of a child (which becomes a key plot point at the end). Egon is, for the most part, the stereotypical aloof genius that comes with the technobabble and equipment… except that he does have a sense of humor, social skills and can explain the most complex topic with ease and /or a twinkie.

Egon Spengler: There’s something very important I forgot to tell you.
Peter Venkman: What?
Egon Spengler: Don’t cross the streams.
Peter Venkman: Why?
Egon Spengler: It would be bad.
Peter Venkman: I’m fuzzy on the whole good/bad thing. What do you mean, “bad”?
Egon Spengler: Try to imagine all life as you know it stopping instantaneously, and every molecule in your body exploding at the speed of light.

And Peter… oh Peter. He is a sleazebag, a rascal, a loveable rogue and beneath the jerkass attitude, the most heroic of the three. Watch the movie, I can’t recall a single challenge he doesn’t want to tackle with dry humor and a can-do attitude.

The movie then introduces Dana and her neighbor Louis Tully, romantic interest and comic relief, apparently. While their roles are not that large, every scene where they appear is full of meaning, both at the character level and as part of the plot, foreshadowing included. They are vital parts of the plot later on.

You then move to the growth of the business, the addition of sassy Janine and the fourth musketeer Winston. I want to stop here for a bit. At the outset, the addition of Winston seems like an afterthought, the kind of stuff you could expect from the 80’s where certain unsavory stereotypes about minorities were still in vogue, especially PoC background as a blue collar worker surrounded by white scientists, just to fill a quota. It doesn’t help that the role was originally meant for Eddie Murphy and when he rejected it, probably was considered to be dropped. It is certainly problematic.

As a side note: this is something I believe the 2016 film improves on just a bit, as making Patty not only part of the team right away, but also a vital part given her encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the city and somewhat of a leader to keep the rest of the team focused on the tasks at hand.

However, with all its warts -and this is not an apology, that part of the film has not aged entirely well- the role Winston goes to play becomes one of big importance in current narratives: the common person point of view. At some point in the story, if you kept only the three founders of the GB around, you would have faced a wall with all the technobabble, after all, they all know what they are talking about, but not the audience, which would be confused or would have lost the suspension of disbelief. But Winston helps to ground the story, not by dumbing it down, but by providing the shady commentary that complements the technobabble and lampshades the ridiculousness of the film’s premise with well-delivered zingers. That makes the story more relatable and the insufferable geniuses more palatable. He is us in the film, the regular person thrown into a wider, incredible and mysterious new world and has to learn to navigate it fast. Those characters help a lot to create world building without using info dumps.

Winston Zeddemore: Hey, wait a minute! Hold it! Now, are we actually gonna go before a federal judge, and tell him that some moldy Babylonian god is gonna drop in on Central Park West and start tearing up the city?!
Egon Spengler: Sumerian, not Babylonian.
Peter Venkman: Yeah. Big difference.
Winston Zeddemore: No offense, but I gotta get my own lawyer.

The movie never wastes a minute waxing lyrical about the world they are or with not-so-necessary setups for jokes -a problem the sequel does have-. No, it moves at a neck-breaking speed introducing a complex world full of ancient cults, crazy architects,  Babylonian… Sumerian deities and spiritist guides that can describe pretty much anything paranormal in the world (which makes you wonder who or better say WHAT wrote the Tobin’s Spirit Guide). All with tight packed dialogue that takes you to the ‘End of the World’ Scenario where the heroes, in order to beat a god, use guile rather than blunt force and explosions. Kinda…

Egon Spengler: I have a radical idea. The door swings both ways. We could reverse the particle flow through the gate.
Ray Stantz: How?
Egon Spengler: We’ll cross the streams.
Peter Venkman: Excuse me, Egon, you said crossing the streams was bad.
Ray Stantz: Cross the streams…
Peter Venkman: You’re gonna endanger us, you’re gonna endanger our client. The nice lady who paid us in advance before she became a dog.
Egon Spengler: Not necessarily. There’s definitely a very slim chance we’ll survive.

What is most interesting of the Ghostbuster film is how the climax and the end pay off every single bit of foreshadowing from the beginning, ties all loose ends -Slimer notwithstanding- and at the same time leaves the door open for potential sequels without leaving anything hanging out. If there were not a film/video game combo sequel or an animated series (both with different canons), the original GB film would have been a perfect stand alone movie.

The animated series and the 2nd film/video game took different directions with the plot. The animation went for the ‘monster of the week’ approach, featuring every corner of the paranormal -including, yes Cthulhu-, strange episodes like the Agatha Christie inspired one or even heartbreaking ones like the ghost dog of the circus that helped them to beat a bigger monster while sacrificing itself (I cried when I watched it as a kid). The 2nd movie and the film tried to create a more coherent narrative where the video game -seriously, play it, especially the PS3 version- ties every plot from the first two films to create a mytharc.

Both are nice, but they don’t surpass the excellent narrative execution of the first film. In a world full of interconnected franchises and multiple sequels, the fact that you can pack so much story in so little space and deliver a satisfying ending that can be as closed or as open as the audience wants is the biggest lesson to take from the 1984 film as a writer.

For me, it’s one of the ways you could approach writing your novel, no matter if it will be a stand-alone or a series or a series of stand-alone movies interconnected -which is what I’m trying to do-. Give the reader a conclusion to that particular arc, with well-defined characters and great dialogue, leaving yourself the door open for a continuation, but without leaving the reader hanging up. I don’t know if I’m making sense or if I might achieve it with my novel. But I think as a writer is an interesting challenge. I undertook it because one of my best friends, who is an avid reader told me once that she yearned for a fantasy book where she didn’t have to wait for the next book to know how the story of the first book ends and yet be part of a series. And also don’t be a doorstopper. In my opinion, it’s a healthy way to do things, self-contained arcs that can work as parts of a bigger arc but can be read independently.

That’s why I’m using the GB films as a guide for writing my novels because I believe -especially the first one- its a good template for an interesting arc based in a simple premise, efficient pacing, world building, a mashup of genres (in this case horror, comedy, science fiction and a bit of fantasy), good character development and sly, quotable dialogue. The materials for a classic story are there. The trick, like in cooking, is in the execution as to achieve balance rather than get one of the elements to overcome the other. I sincerely hope I achieved it in my novel.

Rarely has a movie this expensive provided so many quotable lines.
Roger Ebert, Review of Ghostbusters (1 January 1984)

I agree. And they ain’t afraid of no ghost.

 

*I also liked The Last Jedi. It is the best deconstruction of the fallacy of the ‘happily ever after’ ending in a setting that thrives in conflict and a reality check to many people about managing our expectations as we grow old. So take that.

 

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).

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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’.”

Vancouver

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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).

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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.

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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.

 

Bone Peyote

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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

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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!

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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.

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Buried Sins: of regrets and lost memories

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This week is the official launch of the sixth anthology from Inklings Press (disclaimer: I’m a founding member and I usually do the cover design for their anthologies). This one is entitled ‘Tales from the Underground’, already available on Amazon. Unlike the previous anthologies were the theme was dictated by the genre (fantasy, science fiction, horror and so on), the theme dictated the stories and their genres. This time it was ‘Underground’ as if it wasn’t already obvious by the title. That kind of stories that take place in the worlds beneath ours, be it stories of adventure and exploration, or stories of space sirens, ghosts, and fairies. Or as in the case of my featured story, ‘Buried Sins’, of the titular sins buried both in ruined cities and inside the soul of the main character.

I don’t know if this is my darkest story yet (Bone Peyote might want to debate that), but I think it fits within the ‘dark fantasy’ subgenre. That said, this story has a special meaning for me, so let me tell you why.

For starters, it takes place in the same world of my WIP novel ‘Tempest Blades’, roughly during the time of the first chapter of the said novel, but in a different continent, with different characters. I know I have previous stories set in the same world (‘Silver Fang’, ‘Cosmic Egg’) but they take place in the past or the future. ‘Buried Sins’ is the first one that takes place at the same time of my novel. Second, it gave me the chance to recover and I would say, rediscover a character (or two) that I had liked from my very earlier drafts from ten years ago and who got cut from the latest iteration of the Tempest Blades story. I thought that character had got lost from that universe, but in writing this story, he got a new lease on life and also helped me to bring back another character that had suffered the same fate (such character doesn’t appear in the story per se, rather it is an ancestor). Why? Because of he will appear in the sequel of the novel as one of the main characters (so yeah, that’s a bit of a spoiler I guess).

Third, this story helped me to give him his own personality, backstory (which this story is) and unique abilities, rather than the generic expy of a vampire he was when I started writing in college. Now he has a really interesting take, I believe, on the ‘demon’ inside as weapon and means of protection. And he has as well a personality, several lost memories and a proper backstory, key ingredients for a good character I think. Even if he falls into the ‘broody’ side.

Joshua, the main character of ‘Buried Sins’, is a man with blurred memories. He doesn’t know when he was born or who he was before he was used in experiments that make him the ‘monster’ he thinks he is. But he does know where he was born and the dangers lurking in a buried city full of nasty things. And he has to return there if he wants to save a friend of his, coaxed by unsavory people, even if that means unearthing the sins that are hidden within the thing that makes him a monster.

And finally and fourth: this is the first story where I truly explore, in a subtle way my battles with depression. I’m by no means an expert on depression. I can only talk about my own struggles with it since I was a teenager.

I started writing as a mean to deal with my depression. It was my way to explore and deal with many of those feelings in a healthier way.  Depression, contrary to what many people believe, never truly goes away. It lurks, buried deep down in your psyche, waiting for the proper moment to spring a flood of memories, regrets, and anxieties to hit you back. It is the ‘beast’ that you learn to live with. Pretty much like Joshua.

Nowadays, thanks to my wife, a support network of friends and family, writing and some therapy back in the day I’m feeling a bit better these days. That doesn’t mean I don’t get depressed (and with the current status of the world no one could blame anyone for getting depressed and anxious), but now at least I have options to deal with it. Joshua is on his way to start that path and that experience in this story will color his interactions with one of the main characters of Tempest Blades that is going under his own struggles with depression.

So as you can see, this is a very personal story for me and I’m glad I have the chance to get it out into the wider world. I truly hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed it writing it. And if you think about it, it is a sample of what you can expect from my novel once I get the chance to publish it.

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P.S: If you want the full experience when you read it, I recommend listening ‘Hurt’ by Johny Cash for three-quarters of the story and the Theme of One Punch Man during the finale. Yes, it’s quite the mood whiplash, but I like the combo because it ends on a more hopeful note than intended. Joshua, like any of us that suffer from regrets, is a person in search of redemption. The story is just the first part of that journey.