Scifi, Writing Process

Naming a Therapy Robot

Art by Lucy Arnold

I needed a name for a therapy robot, so I turned to the Facebook masses. While I’ve decided on my character’s name without their help (Selor, short for Counselor), here are some of the best suggestions:

    • 6MUND
    • Sigmund Droid, Siggie for short
    • Counselor Troid
    • IKR-4U
    • RU-OK
    • OK2BU
    • ANX-13T (“anxi-i-e-tee”)
    • HAP-E (Humanlike Artificial Psychologist, Model E)
    • DAD (Disease Analytic Droid)
    • FRIEND (Fully Relational Interpersonal Emotional Nurturing Device)
Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Water Bees”

Flame Tree Publishing included my gothic horror story “Water Bees” in their Gothic Fantasy print anthology Detective Thrillers. The anthology of murder mysteries combines classic and contemporary writers, so my work is featured alongside G.K. Chesterton and Arthur Conan Doyle.

“Water Bees” follows an elderly police inspector named Henri Monreau as he hunts through Arles, France, in search of a missing entomologist. In case the city sounds familiar, it’s where Vincent Van Gogh painted some of his most famous works and then went mad. What makes this story unique, and a tad above the typical, is the world concept—Henri lives in an alternate universe where there are only bugs and humans. No squirrels, deer, fish, birds, just ants, beetles, spiders, and people, who are theorized to be an advanced form of worm.

Flame Tree Press is a London-based publishing company that’s generally interested in science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, but also dabbles in artisan notebooks, illustrated calendars, cards, jigsaw puzzles, and other gift-friendly forms. Founded in 1992, the press’s self-described purpose, to quote Pablo Picasso, is to wash “the dust of daily life off our souls.”

Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Published — “Birdu Vanilla”

365 Tomorrow published my scifi microfiction “Birdu Vanilla.” The story is a reflection on senseless gaming but don’t confuse me for a ‘video games make you hurt people’ right-winger ignoring the rightful causes of gun violence. I’m more of a flightless bird who’s too fat to fly. You’ll notice the comments are more forgiving than my last piece on 365.

Justifiably so.

365 Tomorrows is an online journal that publishes speculative fiction every single fething day. The site is an excellent complement to your morning bowl of cereal and glass of Moloko Plus.

Life, Scifi, Writing Process

Failed — Mudball (The Animated Series)

Phil Kiner and I took one last crack at the concepts we created in GLADiators and Mudball. This time, I had a completely new setting and conflict for our ball-kicking, mud-rolling, tomboy protagonist:

Lord of the Flies… in space!

Essentially, the premise was this:

A cargo ship carrying children (refugees from a planetary invasion) crashes on an unknown desert planet. The ship’s automated servants (called meks) activate Emergency Protocols, which includes creating machine-emitting air-bubbles on the surface, but otherwise the ship does very little in terms of leadership or guidance. It’s up to the rally of children to stay alive, create a functional society, and plan for rescue.

Maebee (now Mae Bee) effectively stayed the same:

But she was joined by new allies.

Zettle would be an excitable girl with a ferocious curiosity for new things. She’d constantly hurtle herself into danger (or over cliffs), pursuing impulses and inquiries with physical abandon.

We wanted her to represent the poor working-class, so she wore colorful, discarded clothing with no particular order or schema. She had style—it was just not like anyone else’s.

Zettle was also blind—her family unable to afford, in this age of hyper-tech and planetary exploration, to buy her mechanical replacements. Naturally, this made her cliff-hurtling curiosity more dramatic (or hilarious) depending on the circumstance.

This is my depiction of her:

Maeb’s other companion would be a blond, sensitive, super-genius named Nord, who would function as the anxious, cautious, “I don’t know about this you guys” comic relief.

(You could apply psychoanalyze this. Zettle as the id, Nord as the superego, and Maebs as the pragmatic “can-do” ego in-between.)

I wrote a script and Phil put together an animated storyboard for Nickelodeon, hoping they might pick up the series.

Nickelodeon said no, and we put Mudball away, moving on to other projects. But I have already begun to transform this concept into a far more serious novel, returning to the savage intensity that Golding intended. As this draft comes along, I will put out updates about concepts and characters.

For now, I hope you enjoyed my trilogy of posts about a failed webcomic and cartoon. Feel free to contact me with your failures, and we’ll revel in our misfires together.

Life, Scifi, Writing Process

Failed — A Webcomic called Mudball

As a summer cleanse, I’m detailing some of my failed projects over the years. (Believe me, there are a lot of them.) One of these failures was GLADiatorsa webcomic about goofballs locked in deadly combat. This week, I will focus on a spin-off.

Having dropped Gladiators, Phil and I decided to create a shorter, more focused fairy tale that took cues from sci-fi and Peter Pan. We cut the Cloudiseum, dropped Roland and Coolio and our wacky cast of sword-whackers and whack-jobs, and tossed out the Battle Royale for something simpler but no less sinister.

Instead, the focus would be the conflict between two planets, and really, two ideologies.

We called the series Mudball.

In this cosmos, there was a planet called The City made up of freeways and skyscrapers. Only grown-ups lived in The City, where suits and ties were mandatory, and everyone possessed a white-collar, corporate job. The form of government was Bureaucratic Monarchy. Due to a string of filing mishaps, there was no king, just a council paralyzed by paperwork and parliamentary procedures no one could recall.

The City had a counter-planet (really a moon) called Mudball, a marsh world full of children. This is where the adults of The City grew up (literally from pea pods). On Mudball, the children grew wild and free, playing imaginative games and exploring. All of this was secretly (and actively) monitored by machines disguised as animals and plants.

Every winter, harvesting machines picked the oldest kids to become adults. The children were brought to The City, given suits, given jobs, and spent the rest of their lives in the unhappy humdrum of cubicles and cafeterias.

In-story, Maebee, our protagonist, has just turned 12 (the proper age for collection) but doesn’t want to leave her friends or freedom.

Maebee decides to trek across Mudball in search of some place to hide. This is her ‘Call to Adventure’—to seek an alternative to adulthood.

Her adventures lead to an adult living in the swamp, a stubbled, dirty-suit-wearing man named Patricks, who has never grown up, but lives a slouchy, unhappy life in a stolen reaper. Think Peter B. Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

The story would continue to The City, where Maebs joins a resistance group called The Jobless (blame this on the writer’s anti-establishment attitude), and seeks independence for Mudball.

The webcomic would have explored the conflict between our biological compulsion to grow up versus the unnatural but hegemonic cultural expectations of what that actually means.

However, like GLADiators, the project didn’t make it past a few pages, partially due to the influence of a mutual friend who advocated against our project without really understanding it, calling our scripts amateur and pointless.

Later I would discover that he was trying to convince Phil to work on his project—a Dune-like comic where one’s reputation is both a physical and psychic currency. Phil would go on to assist this friend for a while, but quit when the man turned out to be a frustrating micro-manager.

It didn’t help that I was seriously depressed at the time, living in a small town without nearby friends, working as a tutor and substitute while pursuing my teaching certification. Even my girlfriend (now wife) was three hours away. I put up little resistance when the project ended, taking my friend’s criticisms for truth. It wouldn’t be until 2016, two years later, that I would shake off self-pity, smack my inner demons, and begin writing again.

Today, I keep a wary vigilance of friends with ill intentions, although I’ve forgiven this particular intruder for his self-concern. There is a lust for celebrity that consumes people and hurts their ability to rationalize or promote the dignity of others. I understand that, and try not to fall prey to it myself.

And when it comes to Mudball, I hope to revisit this project someday as a short story or novel.

I guess what I’ve learned is this. Don’t fall with your failure. Just steal from the ruins.

All of this post’s art (except for my crayon drawing of Patricks) was created by Phil Kiner.

Life, Scifi, Writing Process

Failed — GLADiators Webcomic

Long before PUBG, Fortnite, H1Z1, Apex Legends, and the resurgence of standalone survival games, Phil Kiner and I were planning a webcomic called GLADiators.

Inspired by Harvey Birdman, the series would be a cartoon pastiche, using intensely different art styles in juxtaposition. Inspired by Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, the series would depict involuntary warfare between strangers on a coliseum-like island.

Our premise was this:

An extra-dimensional race called the Administrators has picked champions from every dimension in the Multiverse and placed them on a floating island called the Cloudiseum.

Only one champion would be allowed to leave—the final survivor of a long, bloody war of all against all.

Our protagonist would be a rough-and-tumble girl named Maebee (pronounced “Maybe”) from a kids-only dimension (think Neverland).

Maebee would be Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn incarnate—reckless, deceptive, fun, not taking things seriously until forced by circumstance or conscience. She would also be an anomaly—the only child, and therefore (seemingly) easy-pickings.

One of her companions was Roland, a talking frog with a rapier, a courtly mustacheteer with pomp, decorum, and bravado.

We envisioned Roland as a cross between C-3PO (in his anxious concern for Maebs) and Inigo Montoya. Roland, a toad of honor, could not bring himself to kill a child, even in raw combat, and even saw her as his ward to protect.

Her other ally would be Coolio, a refrigerator with ice magic.

Coolio hailed from a dimension of talking appliances, a world where Game of Thrones meets Ikea, what you might call swords-and-smoke-detectors.

Coolio made his peace with fate, choosing to live harmoniously in the Cloudiseum instead of as a brutal pawn. He’d only kill reluctantly and in self-defense. In other words, Coolio was a chill dude.

We also created a ridiculous cast of GLADiators, including a Mormon with Eagle Powers, a sleazy Jiminy Cricket running a criminal empire, a hare who rides a tortoise and wields a carrot spear, a prison wasp with black and white stripes, the Segturion (a Roman Centurion on a segway), an expy of He-Man in a wheelchair, and Mecha Kurt Cobain. There was a guy in a speedo who kept rubbing his nips. A Veigar-sized Boba Fett. And the Butt Punisher, a Frank Castle type who forcibly spanks the Mafia.

The series would have followed Maebee, Roland, and Coolio as they survived harrowing attacks, became minor celebrities in the Multiverse, and led the resistance against the very regime trying to pit them against each other.

As a writer, I had a lot of fun developing the Behind-the-Scenes, a sequence of utility corridors and panopticons where the Admins control the island. And crafting the ending, where Maebee, secretly afraid of becoming a boring adult, grows into a clever, exciting, and wonderful woman (who wears a suit and tie and carries an enormous axe).

But the series was not meant to be.

Phil was pursuing a career in graphic design; he became bogged down in projects. I was pursuing my own profession in education—a turbulent project in itself, and very time-consuming.

We decided to abandon what was appearing to be a long, long enterprise, but we still retain those happy memories of collaboration and creativity.

All of this post’s art was created by Phil Kiner.

Scifi

Fiction — “Elegy of Entrails”

The gray ape scurried across circles, spins, and spirals, the feral geometry of a temple that once gave her the shakes, once reminded her of mournful teeth.

Now the architecture was as familiar as her mate, although there was no time to admire the fractals, to run her hands over the pillars. She was in a hurry.

She was expected.

Before the statue of Ezum, the ape kneeled, said a well-practiced prayer, and unsheathed fifteen arms, revealing parchment and bottles and green-yellow feathers from her sleeves. Every circle priest wore the robe. It was useful for implements and unflattering bodies.

Ezum would arrive. Somehow, someway, through its temple effigy, Ezum spoke, and the priests listened, and replied, and scratched the words into the Elegy of Entrails.

Continue reading

Scifi

Fiction — “A Zelzer Stiff”

The android was making them all uncomfortable with its Zelzer Stiff eyeing them from its hip. It’d only been forty point three seconds since the landmark decision to include artificial humans in the Second Amendment and this son of a manufacturing plant had just walked into the Rig & Rattle with a laspistol holstered, twinkling. Kghoshi—a real bastard on a good day—splashed his drink on silver chestmetal and said, “You packing, tin can?” The bartender—a saint on a bad day—put an arm on the droid: “C’mon, now, let’s not do this.” The move was registered as an offensive action and the android shot the bartender between his eyebrows. Kghoshi’s finger moved a centimeter toward his gun when a second shot put a red dot on his forehead as uniform as urna. The men in the bar leaped to their feet. Offensive actions. The men in the bar toppled over chairs and tables. By the time the android reached the counter, empty now of breathing souls, a feed of reaction times, facial registers, psycho-prints—all pointing to self-defense—had been submitted to local authorities.

Published at Rune Bear Weekly on December 6th, 2018. 

Fantasy, Life, Scifi, Writing (Published)

Nominated — “And We Who Never Died”

The Tishman Review nominated my story “And We Who Never Died” for Best Small Fictions.

BSF is an anthology that honors the “best short hybrid fiction published in a calendar year.” The Harvard Review wrote that the pieces in BSF are like a “splash of ice water in the face,” a wake-up call to “your life… unspooling.”

When I heard I’d been nominated, I was like cool beans and moved on to lesson planning and grading.

Then Coffin Bell posted this:

nomination

And I discovered that MY WIFE HAS BEEN NOMINATED.

As of this day, she and I are no longer friends. No longer best friends. No longer lovers.

But bitter enemies locked in literary combat.

THIS. MEANS. WAR.