Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Silhouette Prequel Online!

Macmillan has published a prequel to Silhouette online at their web site! It's called "Unmasked" and tells the story of a Michael Ares adventure that takes place a couple years before the events depicted in the novel. It contains the same kinds of exciting action, future tech, interesting characters, and moral conundrums that you'll find in Silhouette. To read the story, click here. For a sample of the novel itself, visit its Amazon.com page here and click on the book cover "To Look Inside."

Here's an excerpt from the middle of the prequel story:

After making a few turns, including a wrong one that ended in a blank wall, and some winding steps downward, I found the camera that was watching the squatters’ hidden tunnel entrance. While Aaron had it temporarily looped, I located it on the wall near another dead end. It was a clear strip stuck to the concrete, about the size of a Band-Aid or a stick of gum, and the tech informed me that it was equipped with night vision as well, and a proximity alert. While its owner couldn’t see me, I explored the floor near the dead end and discovered the tunnel entrance, its outlines hidden by tiny holo projectors near the corners that looked similar to the camera on the wall, but were even smaller. It would be interesting to find out how they opened it from this side (probably by remote), but that wasn’t the reason I was here right now.

I crouched on top of the tunnel entrance, turned my head slightly away from the camera, and told Aaron to release the loop. Then I stood and moved slowly past it, like a squatter emerging from the tunnel. I could almost hear the proximity alert beeping in the killer’s ear—assuming Reyes was correct in her theory, and this wasn’t just a wild goose chase.

Then I crouched near the end of my little hallway, so I was able to make use of either corner, depending on which way the perp came. I moused the arm of my glasses to arrange the camera feeds, so I could tell which entrance he used. Then I told Aaron to watch the perp, and waited.

The masked man didn’t move from his seat in the Plaza, which I expected, because if he was the killer, he would be waiting until someone emerged from the fountain. He would be watching the same camera feeds I had in my glasses, to see which doorway I exited. But he continued to not move for such a long time that I started to think this was a wild goose chase.

Then he stood up and moved toward the fountain.

“Bingo,” I said to Aaron, and without explanation told him to unplug and give me some privacy. He did, after telling me which entrance the perp was using, and from which direction he would approach my position. I maximized that camera view at that entrance and watched as the man pulled a handgun while entering the fountain. It looked similar to the two boas I wore on my belt, which were the weapon of choice for many peacers, but I couldn’t tell for sure.

Still crouching, I leaned on the corner to the side he would be approaching and placed one of my boas on the floor so that the sight pointed in that direction. Then I accessed the sight wirelessly in my glasses so I could stay behind the corner, but see around it. I switched the other boa from killer rounds to stoppers, and held it ready to fire around the corner.

The gunsight’s view was looking down a long corridor that eventually reached another dead end (this was the “basement” of the fountain), but there was an opening in the right side, with steps leading up. I could see the far end of the bottom two steps, and knew this was an ideal setup because the perp would have to step off them when he entered my line of fire, the laws of physics guaranteeing that he would be at least slightly off balance when I fired on him. My idea was to knock him down and perhaps disarm him with a few stopper rounds (they were very good at that), then question him, and if he was a peacer, try to untangle the ethical knots that would present. If he was some other kind of criminal, it would be very simple—arrest him and lock him up in the cathedral that was also on top of Nob Hill, which Saul Rabin had turned into a high-tech jail after the quake. And if the masked man resisted arrest, I would shoot him with the killer rounds in the other boa. (That was the legal kind of murder in our new world order.)

Any notion of simple went out the window when I saw a proximity alert flashing in one of the tiny windows from the other perimeter cameras, and soon realized that a couple of lovers had been strolling by and decided to walk into the fountain. They were heading in our direction and could easily overtake the perp, which would complicate things considerably, so now I knew for sure that I needed to take him down as soon as he arrived, and before the couple could be caught in the fray...

To read the whole story, click here.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Stars My Destination

The Stars My Destination has long been one of my favorite all-time novels. It's the basic plot of Counte of Monte Cristo set in a future world, but other than that it's oh-so-unique--especially the clipped, frenetic writing style...I'm not sure anyone has ever even approximated it. Bester wrote this, The Demolished Man (also great), and a bunch of short stories in the 50s, and then he found himself adrift in the drug-addled sixties and wrote some weird stuff that wasn't nearly as good. But this novel is as golden as golden-age gets!

The graphic version of the novel (pictured) is out of print and very hard to find. Howard Chaykin's art is a great complement to the classic text. This is one of my prize possessions...I re-read it every year or so, and am producing my own homage to Bester and Chaykin's "kaleidoscopic" style in the novel I'm writing right now, which is called Kaleidocide and is a sequel to Silhouette.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review of Clean, by Alex Hughes

Clean (Mindspace Investigations, #1)Clean by Alex Hughes
I found this book because it was listed on Amazon as something similar to my own debut novel Silhouette, and I can't resist anything with a Philip Marlowesque trench coat on the cover, because I'm a big Raymond Chandler fan. Then I saw it contained a psychic investigating crime, like in The Demolished Man by Alfred Bester, one of my other favorite authors. So I had to try it out, and I actually made it through the whole novel to the end, which rarely happens, for a number of reasons I won't go into here (I think I actually find it easier to finish writing a novel than to finish reading one!)

I liked it! Alex is a good writer, and she looped a number of interesting plot lines together to keep the reader interested. (I especially was strung along, no pun intended, by the addiction element, wanting to see if the protagonist managed to stay in the state described by the title.) The only gripe I have is that the Atlanta area is not a very exotic location...it would have been a nice addition to the story if there were some more interesting places for the characters to visit. But visiting their minds was definitely interesting, so it's not a huge complaint and the novel was still an overall success. Nice work, Alex!

View all my reviews

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Arkham Asylum and the One Outside It

Truth is no stranger to fiction, even in Batman comics...

I recently revisited the classic graphic novel Arkham Asylum, by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean. When I first read it many years ago, I think I was nonplussed by the unconventional art and the fact that Batman wasn't kicking someone's butt every few pages. But now my tastes have matured, and I was able to appreciate the artful abilities behind the writing and visuals.

That's not to say I enjoyed the book...it's gruesome enough to make me think that Morrison's goal was not for people to enjoy it, in fact, and it's definitely not for children. (I always have to point that out, because I have a bunch of my own who might see this, and many others that may look to me for recommendations.) But for adults who want something to think about, and a closing "punchline" from the Joker that captures well a profound truth in this fiction, it's an interesting read.

The profound truth I mentioned is what I wanted to discuss here briefly. In the plot the inmates have taken over the asylum...that's what I say when I leave my kids alone at home, but in this case we're talking real inmates and a real asylum, which is a scary thing to be sure. They demand that Batman come in to join them, or they will kill more of the staff. And then they put him through a gauntlet of challenges and suffering, some of it caused by his own insecurities, neuroses, burdens, and sins (to use an old term not mentioned in the book). As the story progresses, it also becomes apparent that not only Batman, but the staff of Arkham, who are supposed to be helping their "patients" to become more sane, are struggling with their own versions of insanity.

I will resist the temptation here to expound on the idea (intentionally communicated by Morrison?) that much of the cure for mental illness is worse than the disease, and often makes it worse. But I wanted to focus on the simple truth that the Joker points out in his final line in the book, when he says goodbye to Batman when the caped crusader is leaving the building. The clown prince of crime says, "Enjoy yourself out there...in the asylum! Just don't forget, if it ever gets too tough, there's always a place for you here."

The first line is so brilliant. I've always said that we are all mentally ill, in one way or another, because "mental illness" simply means you're not thinking right, and we all suffer from that malady--in spades (No Joker card pun intended). In this sense, for example, the "respectable good citizen" outside the asylum is just as "insane" as many of the people inside, because he or she is inappropriately prideful, self-sufficient, judgmental of others, or just plain ungrateful for the good things he or she has been given by God. In fact, any failure to recognize and worship the One who created us, whether accepted by society or not, is the epitome of mental illness (bad thinking) because we're living in a "matrix" world that has blinded us to the true source of good, hope, and help. We are living a lie, thinking like we are immortal, or able to sustain our own life, health, etc. or any number of other foolish notions. We are simply not the master of our fate or the captain of our soul, no matter how much we might tell ourselves that we are.

The second part of the Joker's line is interesting too. It implies that living in the "real world" is often harder than hiding in an institution, because in the latter you can admit your "mental illnesses" and relax while someone else takes care of you. I don't know if you've ever thought of doing that, but I have. And it makes me think of the words of Jesus, who said that we can find forgiveness, change, and refuge while remaining in the real world, but only through him. He said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest for your souls. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).