Every Single One Of My Titles

Thirteen Word Story: The Great War of Bob’s Cat

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As Bob’s horror grew, the cat slowly devoured the tiny alien emissary. War!

Familiar Adversary: More Adventures In Cover Design

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This post has happened before, with different examples. It happens often enough that it has its own tag, “cover art”.

This familiar old story is about self-publishing on a shoestring. Self-publishing when the often reasonable prices of people who design covers for a living are out of practical reach. And trust me, paying someone else to make covers would be nice, and I might have found a way to make it work if I was writing novels. But, as of this writing, I have 71 distinct titles out, because I’m silly enough to write a bunch of short stories instead of just a few longer works.

Trust me when I say that paying for 71 professionally designed covers is beyond my means.

So I’ve been making covers for a while now. I keep them simple, believe me. I’ve seen some of the videos and blog posts that professional designers make, showing them making covers with (a slight exaggeration, perhaps) 849 layers and who knows how many cool ‘shop effects.

I’ve kept it simple, and cheap. When in unfamiliar waters, stick to the basics and learn them very well. So around the beginning of 2012, I downloaded GIMP, free image-manipulating software that is a distant cousin to Photoshop, and started figuring this cover design thing out.

Through practice, I’ve gotten better since January 2012. Above, the cover on the right represents my skills in October of that same year. I’d gotten slightly better — some of my earlier covers were even less appealing — but not much better. The left/top/better-looking cover is one I made tonight, because I had done a bit of writing and hit a point where I had to put the story I was working on down and do something else. So I made dinner, and then I decided that poor old Adversary, long burdened by one of my early cover attempts, deserved better.

It does deserve better, it’s a good story. Of course, I always say that, because I wrote the thing. Nevertheless, I think it’s good and it deserved some new ‘clothes’.

I could, maybe, have gotten away with keeping the base art. Or — wait — no. It’s too monotone. Too ‘someone stirred the tomato sauce a bit too hard and got froth in it’. But even worse than that, those white fuzzy drop shadows. Ugh. I can’t believe I thought that looked good.

Perhaps worse is the tagline in front of my byline. “A short story by,” I have come to understand, is shorthand for “I am very new at this.”

There are worse things than being a n00b. But it puts some people off; despite the old saying we really do judge a book by its cover, even those of us who say we don’t. We do, we definitely do. It’s just that some of us have realized that a cover is not always the whole story and make it a point to check out the contents. In a perfect world, nobody would have to bother with learning how to make a prettier book cover. But this isnt’ a perfect world, and for every person who says ‘even though that cover is ugly, I’m going to read the blurb and see if it sounds like a good book’, twenty scroll right past looking for a prettier cover.

So that “A short Story by” tagline had to go. You’ll note that I did the one-word-title-in-giant-stacked-letters thing. I’ve seen that style knocking around on a few recent books, so I thought I’d give it a go, too. Maybe it’ll fall out of fashion and I’ll find myself redoing this cover again in a few years because that style will have become cliche by then. Or maybe not.

In any event, I think the title, and the whole cover, look much better now. It’s still a very simple cover, but I think that it has a bit more impact and just plain looks more appealing. And the top-heavy layout of byline and title left me with a blank at the bottom that was a nice place to put a little one-line teaser tagline, which I like to do once in a while.

That might be a n00b move, but I don’t care. As long as it doesn’t say “A short story by” anymore.

Among Apple Trees — A Thankyou For Patreon Patrons; Others Will Just Have To Wait 90 Days

But everyone can see the cover, at least!

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This story is Patreon-exclusive for 90 days as thanks for helping me reach my $60/month funding milestone!

As I wrote for the folks on Patreon: This is one of my less common pieces — mainstream fiction (magical realism at most) rather than science fiction or fantasy. I wrote this one shortly after the passing of an elder friend of the family. It’s not his story or mine, but it carries truth regardless.

It’s the story of an old man, a young one, and a lot of memories.

A Pledge of one measley dollar grants access to read this while it’s still exclusive to Patreon, rather than 90 days later. I also post a piece of microfiction (or longer, if I feel like it and/or am inspired) before the end of each month as a thankyou for contributing to keeping the S.A. Barton household running, so I can continue to prise precious writing time from the joyously greedy fingers of my 2 year old, 4 year old, 17 year old, wife, and (less joyously) my own worries.

Those of you who read what I write here at Seriously Eclectic — especially those of you who take a moment to comment or hit ‘like’ or say hello on Twitter or elsewhere:

You help, too. Don’t think you don’t. Yes, this particular story is for the Patreon crowd for now — but don’t I give you plenty to read here, too? And pretty cover art to look at? Sure I do.

Looking forward to hearing from you all.

Thirteen Word Story: Small Pleasures

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From the barred basement window, a twisted coathanger emerged to pluck a flower.

Sixty-nine, Seventy, SEVENTY-ONE: Today I Feel Accomplished — I Published Three New Titles

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Look at those beautiful covers!

All three are available right now at Smashwords. They’ll be coming soon to all the other sellers in the right sidebar. In addition to that, Not Gruntled will be available in paperback through Createspace; shortly after it’s up there, it will be distributed to Amazon and Barnes & Noble as well.

Not Gruntled is a collection of 21 previously-released short stories ranging from flash through about 12,000 words. The stories range from the present day to the far future, and I bet you can guess what the unifying theme is.

It Could Be Anyone is a free short story about an elder woman and the strange visions that make her life both difficult and meaningful.

To Labor No More is a fun little yarn about the future of labor in a mechanized future; while the coming robot labor revolution might make work easier, there are few innovations that don’t come with a downside. In this story, I take a look at what that downside might be.

I hope you enjoy them all!

Thirteen Word Story — Television Tropism

(One day, perhaps the descendants of the mechanical beings we are nearly ready to create today will have myths of the creator who rose to power and created, only to be ejected from paradise, leaving Its creation behind in Its place…)

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Eventually, humans grew sessile, feeding on light of television screens.

But robots lived.

Thirteen Word Story: Unidentified Flying Headline

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Headline:

Savage Planet Tours LLC Fined For Allowing Excessive Vehicle Sightings By Natives

April’s Patreon-Exclusive Flash Story For April Is Live — FLOWERS IN THE DARK

Patron exclusive flash fiction for April

Flowers In The Dark runs close to 900 words — considerably longer than March’s story. It’s also moodier and more serious than March’s story, all about cults and choice and the growth of the surveillance state, and a few other things, some of which I’m aware of.

I think you’ll enjoy it.

Sneaking Politics Into Your Science Fiction, Hugo Gernsback Edition

Hugo Ralph

Blah, blah, puppies and science fiction and Hugos and sociopolitical commentary in stories and gee whiz science fiction was ‘pure’ in the olden days and…

Ugh.

If you follow the genre and/or some of the popular artists of the science fiction field, you’ve seen a bellyfull of blog posts and tweets and Facebooking and so forth on the current Sad and/or Rabid Puppies bloc-voting thing in the recent Hugo nominations. A fair bit of the commentary from the Puppy side of things revolves around the idea that political comments on society, specifically those seen as coming from the political left, are being sneakily injected into your good ol’ science fiction and making it not science fictiony—a brand new phenomenon, unique to the modern day, they say. (You might observe at this point that someone is always complaining about how bad ‘the modern day’ is and how much better the ‘good old days’ were—you can find plenty of examples no matter what century’s literature you care to examine.)

A variety of authors have weighed in on the matter, making their cases for whether or not ‘the good ol’ days’ were all about ‘pure’ science fiction without that darn political and social commentary.

Since they’re all talking about the Hugos, I thought I’d check out the fiction from the horse’s mouth—Hugo Gernsback, for whom the award is named. His Ralph 124C 41+ is one of the earliest examples of the American-written science fiction novel, if a clunky one by modern standards. It’s definitely focused on the science speculation, with plot and characters being mainly a diaphanous vehicle serving to move the reader from one technological speculation to the next.

So, is it good ol’ pure science fiction without any of that darn social and political ‘corruption’ that so worries the Puppies?

Here’s a nice representative passage from Ralph, Gernsback himself writing:

Ralph, sitting on the roof of his tower, was oblivious to all about him. He was unable to dismiss from his mind the lovely face of the girl whose life he had just been the means of saving. The soft tones of her voice were in his ears. Heretofore engrossed in his work, his scientific mind had been oblivious to women. They had played no part in his life. Science had been his mistress, and a laboratory his home. And now, in one short half hour, for him the whole world had become a new place. Two dark eyes, a bewitching pair of lips, a voice that had stirred the very core of his being— Ralph shook himself. It was not for him to think of these things, he told himself. He was but a tool, a tool to advance science, to benefit humanity. He belonged, not to himself, but to the Government—the Government, who fed and clothed him, and whose doctors guarded his health with every precaution. He had to pay the penalty of his +. To be sure, he had everything. He had but to ask and his wish was law—if it did not interfere with his work. There were times he grew restive under the restraint, he longed to smoke the tobacco forbidden him by watchful doctors, and to indulge in those little vices which vary the monotony of existence for the ordinary individual. There were times when he most ardently wished that he were an ordinary individual. He was not allowed to make dangerous tests person-ally, thereby endangering a life invaluable to the Government. That institution would supply him with some criminal under sentence of death who would be compelled to undergo the test for him. If the criminal were killed during the experiment, nothing was lost; if he did not perish, he would be imprisoned for life. Being a true scientist, Ralph wanted to make his own dangerous experiments. Not to do this took away the very spice of life for him, and on occasion he rebelled. He would call up the Planet Governor, the ruler of 15 billion human beings, and demand that he be relieved of his work. “I can’t stand it,” he would protest. “This constraint which I am forced to endure maddens me, I feel that I am being hampered.” The Governor, a wise man, and a kindly one, would often call upon him in person, and for a long time they would discuss the question, Ralph protesting, the Governor reasoning with him. “I am nothing but a prisoner,” Ralph stormed once. “You are a great inventor,” smiled the Governor, “and a tremendous factor in the world’s advancement. You are invaluable to humanity, and—you are irreplaceable. You belong to the world—not to yourself.” Many times in the past few years he recalled, had the two been over the same ground, and many times had the diplomatic Governor convinced the scientist that in sacrifice of self and devotion to the world’s future lay his great reward.

Let’s check out what the namesake of the award is saying here. Surely there are no sneaky, dirty political statements in it.

Wait… Ralph is a “tool to advance science, to benefit humanity”? He belongs to the government? That sounds a bit political! But I’m sure it’s an illusion.

Tobacco is forbidden to Ralph because it’s… a threat to his health? This was published in 1925… lawyers and doctors representing the tobacco industry would still be arguing the harmlessness of smoking tobacco 40 years later. Sounds like a controversial anti-business pronouncement to me. Something a dirty social justice warrior might sneak into the pure science fiction.

The government gives Ralph death row inmates to perform dangerous experiments on!? Could this be a socially and politically charged comment on the nature of the duty of a criminal to repay society for wrongs committed? It’s certainly not a comment from the political left, but it is even more certainly a political and social statement.

Wait again, “Planet Governor”? As in, a monolithic planetary government over all the people on Earth? No more nations in Hugo’s future?

It doesn’t get more political than that. Looks like the guy the Hugo Awards are named for was one of those sneaks all the Puppies are so worried about. He was sneaking politics into US science fiction right from the start of this country’s wing of the genre.

If you can’t get it from Hugo Freakin’ Gernsback himself, where is this non-political, non-social-commentary science fiction the Puppies keep remembering?

The answer is simple: it does not exist, and it never has existed. The very notion of it is no more than a piece of socially and politically charged fiction.

Exoskeletons And Cyborging vs. Wheelchair Access: No Arguing Necessary

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Apparently, there’s a bit of a tiff going on between at least one advocate for expanding and maintaining access in public spaces for those who use wheelchairs, and at least one advocate for not maintaining that accessibility, and instead spending funds for accessibility on developing exoskeletons and implants to make wheelchair ramps and the like obsolete.

There’s no need for argument. The ‘tiff’ seems to come from the futurist saying that societies shouldn’t be investing in accessibility and the disability advocate seeing a different solution than the present one as implying that the disabled are ‘broken’.

Again, there’s no need for it to come to an argument. They’re both trying to make their cases in strong terms, because these are visceral issues to them. And as so often happens — we’re on the internet, folks, you know what I mean — people get all hyperbolic and troll-y in those circumstances.

But let’s be real.

Ending spending on accessibility for the disabled abruptly because tomorrow we might have improved means of mobility for those who need it, is ridiculous. We need to provide for today’s needs today, even as we progress toward different future needs. Because when you need to go to the supermarket or a government building or… you know, anywhere people go, you need to go today. And if you need to go today, and you need a wheelchair ramp to be there to accomplish that, you need a wheelchair ramp today, not an exoskeleton ten years from now. You should have to wait? No, you should not.

Nor should talking about walking exoskeletons or cybernetic versions of same be taken to imply that a person who needs a wheelchair for mobility today is ‘broken’ and needs to be ‘fixed’. A wheelchair, or leg braces, or crutches, and so forth, simply represent the technological capabilities of the era they were invented in. They’ve been improved: lighter materials, stronger materials, better bearings for wheels, clever construction for foldability to enhance portability, and so forth. Improving that technology wasn’t a commentary on the user, it was a commentary on the technology. We’re humans — we like to tinker and find improved ways to do things. An exoskeleton that allows a person who uses a wheelchair today to walk tomorrow is a technological advancement, just like a lighter and stronger wheelchair. And like a lighter and stronger wheelchair, it is not a means to insult the user — unless, of course, someone wants to be enough of an ass to make it an insult. And while humans are nearly infinitely clever in making devices to do just about anything, we are equally clever in making anything into an insult. You know this. If you’re highly intelligent, someone has insulted you for it. If you’re not highly intelligent, you’ve been insulted for it. Tall, short: someone has insulted you with that fact. Same for pretty much any trait you care to name.

Improving mobility for those who need those improvements is not innately an insult — though some asshole might make it into one. All we can do about the assholes is attempt to either educate or ignore them. But a wheelchair ramp is no more, in and of itself, of a slur against a person who needs to use one to enter a building than is an exoskeleton that allows one to walk up that ramp or up stairs, or a walker, or a cane, or a hypothetical nano-procedure that reconstructs or constructs nerves, bones, and muscles to allow one to walk into that building, or a frickin’ jetpack.

I suspect the wheelchair and its ramp will coexist with the exoskeleton and the nano-procedure for quite some time; the enthusiastic futurist’s 25 year horizon for technology making the ramp obsolete is probably a product of enthusiasm. The wheelchair will remain less expensive to build and maintain than exoskeletons and exotic procedures, and so we’ll need those ramps for years to come. Maybe we’ll still need them 100 years from now, for when someone’s exoskeleton breaks down.

Or maybe we’ll invent a wheelchair that’s way better for the needs of a person who can’t walk than the exoskeletons are, for reasons we don’t know yet, because those wheelchairs haven’t been invented.

All we can do is move forward as best we can, and try to be as good to each other as possible, and try our best to forgive the trolls who make the non-insulting things into insults.

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