Nightmare Scenarios

As a horror and science fiction writer, one of my jobs is to concoct nightmare scenarios and present them as realistically as possible for your entertainment. In my new novel The Astronomer’s Crypt, I had great fun imagining anything and everything that could go wrong on a night at a remote observatory. I imagine everything from a dangerous storm, to people being hurt by the large machinery we have, to strangers who might appear on the mountain. I even imagine ghosts and an even more terrifying monster. As it turns out, I actually do work at an observatory, and one of my jobs is to make sure visiting astronomers stay safe. One of my duties is to give a safety presentation where I warn people about dangers they might face in an observatory environment. This includes staying away from areas where they could be hurt by machinery, watching for areas that are known to be slippery, and taking care if they go outside in strong winds. The safety presentation doesn’t include ghosts and terrifying monsters, because although I can imagine those things—have even had moments where I wondered if ghosts might exist—they have never done me, or anyone else at the observatory, any harm.

I’ve been thinking about this recently in light of some of the recent politics in the United States. In many ways, it’s the job of legislators and the executive branch to imagine every nightmare scenario possible. However, their job is more like mine as a telescope operator than my job as a horror writer. They should look at the reasonable and creditable threats to people’s health and security, act on them where necessary and give people appropriate cautions. The scary part to me is that the current administration is acting like the worst kind of horror writer in that they have been presenting absolutely every scary thing they can imagine, whether or not it’s reasonable. For example, the recent travel ban on several predominantly Muslim countries feels like it would be as responsible as me telling visiting astronomers to avoid every Latino they might meet on the mountain because a suspected illegal immigrant once pulled a knife on a couple of staff members, then ran away. Yes, there are scary people and there are desperate people, but they are rarely scary and desperate because of their skin color or nation of origin.

SummersLightningWolves

This line of thought takes an interesting turn, because in my Clockwork Legion novels Owl Dance and Lightning Wolves, I imagine Russians coming to America and influencing people to support them with the help of an alien swarm called Legion. Of course, there have been allegations that the Russians attempted to influence the most recent American election and there might have been improper contact between Executive Branch officials and members of the Russian government. In the worst case, this could be a serious nightmare for America and is plausible enough to deserve serious inquiry, yet this nightmare scenario is regularly replaced with worries that a transgender person might be in the stall next to your daughter at school.

Of course, perhaps the greatest nightmare scenario of all would be living in a United States where people are not allowed to question the President and the press are barred from open inquiry. I would rather face the worst nightmares of The Astronomer’s Crypt than live in that world.

World Building

This March, I’ll be moderating a panel called “Building Alternate Worlds” at the Tucson Festival of Books. To prepare, I’m reading the books by the authors on the panel and learning about the worlds they’ve built. This topic is particularly near and dear to my heart because I’m going over my notes and getting ready to start work on book four of my Clockwork Legion series.

Clockwork-Legion

In a very real way, books one through three of my Clockwork Legion series were all about building an alternate world. I started my story in a version of 1876 New Mexico that was mostly the world of history. I say “mostly” because the wild west of fiction is an almost mythical place built up through many years of literature and cinema. People come to western stories with certain expectations of the west and it’s hard to ignore those expectations even when they don’t entirely match the world of history.

I then dropped in a catalyst, which was an advanced alien called Legion who had traveled the universe and came to Earth. This alien is the embodiment of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal, which in a nutshell says you can’t observe a phenomenon without affecting it. Legion’s first interactions with humanity are accidental, but then he grows curious and decides to make the world a better place by attempting to unify humanity. The problem is that in the 1800s, much of humanity’s idea of unification is conquest through imperialism.

Over the course of the books, the world changes and we see the development of airships, mining machines, lightning guns, clockwork automata, and ornithopters. Legion influenced the creation of some of these things. Others were created to combat the imperialists who sought to use these inventions. Of course, the interesting story is less that these machines were created, and more how people used these machines. That’s where the world building comes in.

The idea of book four is to drop into this world-that-wasn’t eight years after the events of The Brazen Shark and see what people have done with it. I plan to open the story in New Orleans, where Ramon Morales is working in a law firm and his wife Fatemeh is trying to gain acceptance as an apothecary in a man’s world. Cotton farmers have sponsored the World’s Fair to show off new technologies they’re using in agriculture. This World’s Fair actually existed, but the technologies will be much different. They’ll be showing off the automata used to plant and harvest crops and the airships used in distribution. At the World’s Fair, Ramon will meet none other than Doc Holiday, who will drag him back to a wild west that neither he nor the reader will immediately recognize. I look forward to playing in this alternate world.

For those who wish to see the creation of this world, check out the first three novels of the Clockwork Legion series:

For those who would like a smaller dose of my Clockwork Legion world, short stories featuring these characters can be found in the anthologies Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tails of the Weird West, Den of Antiquity, and the forthcoming Straight Outta Tombstone.

Straight Outta Tombstone Cover Reveal and Pre-Order

In recent posts, I’ve been talking about my Clockwork Legion story “Fountains of Blood” which will appear in the anthology Straight Outta Tombstone coming from Baen Books. At last, I can reveal the book cover and the table of contents. I am honored and thrilled to share the table of contents with so many people whose work I admire and feel privileged that many of them are friends.

straight-outta-tombstone Tales of the Weird Wild West. Top authors take on the classic western, with a weird twist. Includes new stories by Larry Correia and Jim Butcher!

Come visit the Old West, the land where gang initiations, ride-by shootings and territory disputes got their start. But these tales aren’t the ones your grandpappy spun around a campfire, unless he spoke of soul-sucking ghosts, steam-powered demons and wayward aliens.

Here then are seventeen stories that breathe new life in the Old West. Among them: Larry Correia explores the roots of his best-selling Monster Hunter International series in “Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers.” Jim Butcher reveals the origin of one of the Dresden Files’ most popular characters in “Fistful of Warlock.” And Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I., finds himself in a showdown in “High Midnight.” Plus stories from Alan Dean Foster, Sarah A. Hoyt, Jody Lynn Nye, Michael A. Stackpole, and many more.


Here’s the full table of contents for the book:

  • Foreword by David Boop
  • Bubba Shackleford’s Professional Monster Killers by Larry Correia
  • Trouble in an Hourglass by Jody Lynn Nye
  • The Buffalo Hunters by Sam Knight
  • The Sixth World by Robert E. Vardeman
  • Easy Money by Phil Foglio
  • The Wicked Wild by Nicole Kurtz
  • Chance Corrigan and the Lord of the Underworld by Michael A. Stackpole
  • The Greatest Guns in the Galaxy by Bryan Thomas Schmidt & Ken Scholes
  • Dance of Bones by Maurice Broaddus
  • Dry Gulch Dragon by Sarah A. Hoyt
  • The Treefold Problem by Alan Dean Foster
  • Fountains of Blood by David Lee Summers
  • High Midnight by Kevin J. Anderson
  • Coyote by Naomi Brett Rourke
  • The Key by Peter J. Wacks
  • Fistful of Warlocks by Jim Butcher

I hope you’ll ride into the weird wild west with us this summer. You can pre-order the book right now from Amazon.com and it will ship to you as soon as it’s available in July.

The Magnificent Seven

About a month ago, after a meeting in Tucson, I saw the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven starring Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke. magnificent_seven_2016 Because I was in Tucson for work, I was on my own, but I was pleasantly surprised when David B. Riley, an editor I’ve had the pleasure of working with on several projects walked in behind me. So, we got to enjoy watching the new version together.

In this version of the movie, a mine has opened near the town of Rose Creek. The mine owner, played by Peter Sarsgaard, wants to drive away the townspeople so he can have the entire valley for his mine. A woman played by Haley Bennett seeks out gunmen who will drive out the mine owner. It’s an interesting variation on the premise of a village terrorized by bandits.

The movie is, of course, the latest remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. The premise of the 2016 version is a bit different from the others I’ve seen. Overall, the revised premise works. I only had one quibble and that was the mine owner’s implicit statement about America being founded on capitalism. In the 1870s where the film is set, venture capitalism was still a relatively newfangled approach to business. Most businessmen of the day would have been entrepreneurs relying on their own money and not the investments of others.

As for the other remakes, I’ve spoken a bit about the steampunk-flavored, futuristic anime remake, Samurai 7 in an earlier blog post. I was recently reminded of Roger Corman’s low budget science fiction remake called Battle Beyond the Stars, which is interesting because it stars Robert Vaughn, who played in the 1960 Magnificent Seven and featured one of the first soundtracks by James Horner. Sadly the new Magnificent Seven was Horner’s last soundtrack composition before he died in a plane accident.

One of the things that makes Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven compelling is the idea of seven very different people coming together to battle insurmountable odds for little or no reward. I especially liked the very diverse group in the latest movie which included an African-American, a Latino, a Native American, and an Asian. As pointed out by director Antoine Fuqua, this not only represents a cross section of America today, but America as it was in the 1800s.

Clockwork-Legion

In thinking about The Magnificent Seven, I’ve come to realize how much it and versions of Seven Samurai have influenced my Clockwork Legion series. In retrospect, it’s especially cool that I watched the movie with David Riley, who published the first of my stories featuring Ramon and Fatemeh in his anthology Trails: Intriguing Stories of the Weird West. In the Clockwork Legion series, I bring together seven heroes, more or less: Sheriff Ramon Morales, Healer Fatemeh Karimi, Captain Onofre Cisneros, Professor M.K. Maravilla, Bounty Hunter Larissa Crimson, Rancher Billy McCarty, and Samurai-turned-farmer Masuda Hoshi. They fight against the insurmountable odds of the Russian Empire aided by an intelligence from the stars. In The Brazen Shark, I even include a few direct homages to the original Seven Samurai. It opens when a village is attacked by samurai bandits and several minor characters in the novel are named after the original seven samurai.

Despite a few similarities, I see Seven Samurai and its successors as just one of many inspirations for my series. I hope you’ll saddle up and come along for the ride. You might just discover a few inspirations I didn’t even see!

The “Monsters” of Star Trek

I remember the first episode of the original Star Trek I watched. I must have been around five or six years old and Captain Kirk was being chased around the desert by the largest, most ferocious green lizard man I had ever seen. Monsters-Star-Trek When the creature first appeared hissing and growling with its strange, segmented eyes, it would have sent me to hide and watch from behind the couch if our couch hadn’t been backed against a wall. Scared as I was, the episode hooked me and even made me feel a little sorry for the green lizard man when Captain Kirk finally beat him. That likely was not only the beginning of my love of Star Trek but my love of monsters as well.

In 1980, soon after the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, a book appeared at my local bookstore called The Monsters of Star Trek. It was a thin book clearly designed to capitalize on the new movie. On the cover was the Gorn—the lizard man from my childhood—so I had to pick it up. The book discussed mind-bending aliens such as the Talosians from the series pilot and Sylvia and Korob from Star Trek’s twisted Halloween episode “Catspaw.” It talked about dangerous animals such as the giant space amoeba and the ape-like Mugato. Browsing through the pages today, it strikes me that the original Star Trek dealt with vampires not just once but twice. In the first season, they met a salt vampire, then in the second, they met a vampire cloud that Kirk obsessively hunted. No doubt this contributed to my own vampire novels.

Of course many of Star Trek’s monsters prove to be misunderstood aliens or aliens who don’t understand humans. The most recent Star Trek movie, Beyond had an alien that definitely fell into this latter category—a swarm-like race led astray by an outside force. (I won’t say more, lest I give spoilers). I’ve always found swarms a bit scary, since they’re a large force with a single purpose, operating like one organism. For me, the best zombie stories work from this basis. One zombie is a little scary. A bunch of zombies working in concert is really scary! You can find my zombie stories in the anthologies Zombiefied: An Anthology of All Things Zombie and Zombiefied: Hazardous Materials from Sky Warrior Publishing.

As it turns out, zombies aren’t my only look at the scary swarm. In Owl Dance, I introduce Legion, a swarm of microscopic computers who decide to help humans evolve in the second half of the nineteenth century causing near disaster. Legion clearly took some inspiration from Star Trek. In fact, one of the chapters in The Monsters of Star Trek is called “Androids, Computers, and Mad Machines.”

I never really thought of myself as a horror writer or even a horror fan until I started reading Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft as an adult and writing my first vampire stories. That said, it’s interesting to look back and see how scary stories were influencing me even from an early age. Still, it should really be no surprise. I’ve often said my interest in science fiction novels began from paying attention to the writer credits on the original Star Trek. One of those writers was none other than Robert Bloch, a writer mentored by H.P. Lovecraft who would go on to write the novel Psycho. Bloch wrote the Star Trek episodes “Wolf in the Fold” about an evil entity who possessed Scotty and made him a murderer, “What Are Little Girls Made Of?” which featured Ted Cassidy from The Addams Family as a decidedly creepy android, and the aforementioned Halloween episode “Catspaw.” If you’re looking for some good creepy TV, you could do worse than hunt up copies of these episodes on video!

Forgotten Tales of the Weird West

Next weekend, I’ll be at Balticon 50 in Baltimore for the release of Gaslight and Grimm! I’m looking forward to that. As of this writing, I haven’t yet seen my full schedule, but for those in Baltimore, the release party will be Sunday, May 29 from 7pm to 9pm.

This week marks the release of another book featuring a steampunk story. The book is Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Tales of the Weird West and includes a story where members of the Clockwork Legion encounter a Lovecraftian horror from another world. Here’s the blurb for the book:

Lost Trails V2-cover

    If you’ve gained your knowledge of the Wild West from Hollywood and history textbooks, your mage of the Western frontier is simple and clear: White men winning the West and saving helpless white future wives from outlaws or hostile Indians or Mexican bandidos.

    You won’t find that here.

    Here you’ll find: U.S. Marshal Frederick Douglass fighting invaders from outer space. A Navajo girl who must thwart the god who threatens all she holds dear. A Hasidic high planes drifter who faces New World bandits and Old Testament demons. A Catholic priest who contends with a magic-wielding half-breed—or is she an indigenous spirit?—as the fate of the Canadian Métis province of Assiniboia hangs in the balance. Outcast women who enter the Southwestern desert to die…or win their lady loves and great mecha steeds. A lost gunman who may find himself in a Chinese gold miner’s maze of mist and magic. Roving spirits and Civil War survivors and runaway factory slaves losing or finding family or love in uncanny new guises. Hoboes robbing a train of myth and dream. An Eastern city slicker who may outsmart only himself in a contest with Old West magic. A black homesteader who fights fae in defense of land and family. A werewolf-hunting frontier shapeshifter shattering every expectation. Steampunk airships that may unite West and East—or leave them forever apart. The ascendant Aztec facing endless destruction if the god of war triumphs. The South rising again at the Alamo—if it can gain eerie otherworldly assistance.

    This anthology, like its predecessor, Lost Trails: Volume One, exists to recognize and celebrate the diverse realities of the historical West with excellent and entertaining Weird West stories.

    Welcome to the Weird West more realistic than many a mundane Western!

The anthology features stories by: Rie Sheridan Rose, Tobias S. Buckell, Ken Liu, Don Webb, Nicole Givens Kurtz, Rebecca McFarland Kyle, Gemma Files, Ernest Hogan, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, Aliette de Bodard and many more.

In my story, Marshal Larissa Seaton, Professor Maravilla, and Billy McCarty travel to San Antonio to track down the inventor of the lightning gun who has teamed up with a Confederate Major who wants the South to rise again and will seek the help of frightening forces from other worlds to make it happen! I actually wrote the first version of this story several years ago. When I went to the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio in 2013, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Alamo. I was pleased to see I got the details of the location right for my story, but I did do a rewrite and of course editor Cynthia Ward did an amazing job helping me to polish the story to a true shine.

Lost Trails 2: Forgotten Trails of the Weird West is available at:

Note: Although this is volume 2, the stories stand on their own and volume 1 is not required reading, however it is recommended just because it also has good stories. Volume 1 is also available at Amazon and Smashwords.

Join the Clockwork Legion!

I need your help. I’ve written nine novels and I have a tenth on the way later this year. I Want You The objective is to get those novels into the hands of the people who will enjoy them. There are lots of ways to help. People on Twitter can tweet and retweet about books. People on Facebook can share my posts. Readers can share their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. Several of you reading this post have done so already and for that I am extremely grateful. As long as I’m writing books you like, please continue.

That said, I’m hoping I can encourage a few of you to step up for an additional challenge and commit to helping me spread the word about releases and events as they happen. Perhaps you could help recruit people to sign up for my newsletter. Maybe we could create a group on Facebook where I can share news and ask for you to share it among your friends. If you attend conventions, perhaps I could send bookmarks or postcards to you. Perhaps you have an idea you’d be willing to share in the comments. There would be rewards for those committing to the promotional effort, such as the hand-crocheted airship I’m holding, courtesy of my wife. If you think joining the Clockwork Legion and helping me get the word out would be fun, send me a message or leave me a comment and we’ll discuss it further.

Apocalypse 13

For those who might have missed it, I was featured this week in Padwolf Publishing’s March of Authors event on Facebook. My story “A Garden Resurrected” appears in the anthology Apocalypse 13, which is available at Amazon. During the event, they asked me if my story were to be made into a movie, who would direct it and who would star in it. Here’s what I answered: “My Padwolf story ‘A Garden Resurrected’ is being made into a movie with Joss Whedon directing. It stars Bill Murray as the vampire Graf Schaefer with Karl Urban as the Burgermeister and Emma Watson as his daughter Heidi. By turns, funny, thoughtful, and frightening, ‘A Garden Resurrected’ tells the story of a Burgermeister who fights to save his idyllic mountain village as an asteroid plummets toward the Earth. He dares to wake an ancient vampire who once saved the town from plagues and invasion, but what is the cost of such a savior?” Hope you’ll take some time and check out this great little anthology.