Book Review – The Secret Six: The Red Shadow by Robert J Hogan

Okay, so here’s the thing: The Secret Six: The Red Shadow was published in 1934, so this isn’t going to be a traditional book review. After all, it’s not like an 84-year-old pulp novel really needs more Amazon reviews. The original pulp magazine that published The Red Shadow is long out of business and the author – Robert J. Hogan – died in 1963.

So, why bother reviewing this book at all?

The Secret Six was a short-run series of pulp stories about a group of people who get together and decide to fight crime. Think of them as the original Avengers without the tights and super powers. In a lot of ways, the pulp heroes of the 30s were the prototypes for the superheroes of today. Characters like King, the Key, Bishop, the Doctor, and Shakespeare laid the foundations for what would come later.

The 1930s was when the superhero was created, even if the term wasn’t commonplace at the time. Remember, Superman wouldn’t debut until 1938 (even though Siegel and Shuster had created him in 1933) and Batman wouldn’t don the gray tights and bust skulls until 1939. This was the era of Doc Savage and The Phantom and a panoply of other heroes both remembered and forgotten.

Obviously, not all of these pulp fiction heroes would be remembered down the road. The Secret Six falls squarely into that category. Of course, here it is 84 years later and I’m writing a review of their first adventure, so maybe they weren’t quite so forgettable.

Action stories are, in a lot of ways, all the same. Bad guys do bad things and good guys stop them. Like all pulp fiction stories, the bad guys in the Secret Six were completely over the top and the good guys were a bit less than angels. Even Doc Savage, who typically refused to kill anyone, had little compunction about letting the bad guys get eaten by giant ants or plunge to their grisly deaths off Aztec pyramids. So, next time you think of Batman’s anti-hero aesthetic as being unique, remember he was the natural evolution of people who were only slightly less anti-hero than him.

That’s why, at least from my point of view, it’s important to look back on the pulp fiction of the ’30s every now and then and remember where modern action stories came from.

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And now, for no reason whatsoever, bear knife-fighting

If you’ve never ready any of the pulp fiction from that era, it’s worth taking a look at. Don’t expect miraculous works of art, though. The people that wrote these stories knocked them out like machinery. As such, the quality is sometimes not exactly up to par with something crafted and honed over the space of months of years. Remember, a lot of these books were written in a couple weeks and it wasn’t unheard of for some of the pulp authors to write 10,000+ words per day in order to handle their twice a month book deadlines. That’s 60-70 thousand words each and every day and usually on mechanical typewriters. For those unfamiliar with word counts, a page is usually assumed to contain 250 words. At that level, people like Walter Gibson were writing 40 pages a day. It sounds easy until you try it.

The Red Shadow is fairly standard for most pulp fiction of its era. It’s just clever enough to keep the reader flipping pages, but while it has a lot to offer, it lacks multi-dimensional characters. In fact, some of the supporting characters could have been excised and no one would have noticed they were gone. The story itself was clever enough: A mysterious red force is killing people and it’s up to a rag-tag coalition of people to stop it.

By today’s standards, a red force that kills people doesn’t seem too outlandish, but in the 1930s the story must have bordered on science fiction. In fact, the term “death ray” is thrown around a couple times, even though it doesn’t turn turn out to be a death ray.

Take one part regular badassery, a teaspoon of action and gallantry, and a villain that’s still somewhat mysterious even after we find out who he is and you’ve got the recipe for a quality batch of cookies. Like a lot of the pulp stories of its time, The Red Shadow doesn’t offer a lot of depth, but that was never the point. Pulp stories like The Red Shadow were meant to be the Fast & Furious stories of that generation: they’re pure nitro-burning funny cars for a time when America really needed the escapism that can only come from mindless heroism.

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Say it with me: WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

The actual magazine that printed The Red Shadow is, as noted above, long gone. Even the publishing house that purchased the rights to the Secret Six stories is gone. Fortunately, we live in the future, so finding a copy of The Red Shadow (and the rest of the Secret Six stories) is as easy as clicking a link.

Go get a copy, put your brain on screensaver, and have a little fun tonight. If you want to read a classic, you spend time with Ethan Frome or Ishmael (good books in their own right), or you can hang out with King, Bishop, and the Key, break out of jail, and bust up a budding criminal empire.

Get the complete Secret Six stories here.

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Final Covers & Blurb

There’s an old image of an iceberg that’s been floating around for a while that likens writing to ‘bergs. Of course, as everyone knows, most of the iceberg is underwater; hence the saying “tip of the iceberg”. The gist of the image is what people finally read is only a small portion of the whole process of writing the book, editing it, rewriting, more editing, beta reads, more editing, formatting, cover design, the hated blurb work, blah, blah, blah, blah. Blah.

My take on it is, sure, the final product is only the tip of the iceberg, but each part can be fun in its own way. Except writing blurbs; that just sucks.

Writing can be a slog sometimes, but I generally enjoy creating and telling stories. Editing can really be a slog, but it’s nice to go back and read what you’ve written and make it shinier. Formatting and cover design have always thrilled me, too. But, maybe I’m just weird that way.

Greetings From Sunny Aluna – the book I’ve been Tweeting snippets from for the better part of a year now – is almost done. It’s been written, re-written, edited, read, re-written, designed, and blurbed. All that’s left is to add my thank yous to all the people that helped out and do the formatting. Then it’s out the door and onto the marketing phase while I restart work on dysRupt.

It’s never easy to say goodbye to a book. I’ve heard people talk about how hard it can be when a book is over and they really got into it. Lord knows I’ve been there many a time, myself. Now, imagine being neck deep in that book for months and being done with it. It’s both terrifying and a relief. But it’s also sad to see it end because it’s almost like losing friends to moves or dropping your kid off at college – you know it has to happen and it’s for the best, but it still hurts.

That said, Greetings will likely be available sometime this week, depending on when I get off my ass and hit publish. For those of who’ve been wondering what the heck the book is about (other than badassery; that’s a given), here are the final print and digital covers, as well as the blurb.

Keep your eyes peeled for the buy link, which should be along soon.

Blurb:

Alunans say The Beast is a myth, a tale told by criminals to their kids about what can happen if they get too far out of line. Almost no one knows who The Beast is and the few who do refuse to talk for fear of repercussions.
Now The Beast has upped the ante and is seeking out a young boy from Earth with magic unlike anything else on Aluna.
In The Beast’s way is an alcoholic ex-cop, a famed Wushu master, and a young woman sent by a dragon. Together, they’ll navigate a city run by crime to find out who The Beast is and put a stop to him.
Unfortunately, they’re about to find out the war never ended.

Print Cover:

Digital Cover:

New Release Sunday

I’ll apologize ahead of time to R.L. for not getting this post up last week. I’d like to make up some story involving monkeys, time travel, and a fried egg, but the truth is, I just didn’t see it come through Facebook.

Thanks Facebook.

Anyway, allow me to present the new work by writer and all around good person, R.L. Andrew, A Lunatic’s Guide to Interplanetary Relationships. She was kind enough to provide a sample of her work, so read on and make sure to follow the buy link at the bottom of the post.

“When perpetual screw-up Shayne James is transported from Earth to another planet, she has no idea she’s the key to saving the universe. When Annu discovers this puny human on his planet, little does he know that she’s the key to the two of them defeating the enemy. He finds her irritating, annoying, and somewhat attractive! If they don’t kill each other, or get killed by an unknown force attempting to take over the universe, they might live happily ever after.”

_______SAMPLE (Enjoy!)________

Chapter 1: Crazy Like a Falling Coconut

Ardrossan, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, Earth

How did I, Shayne James, a Demi-Goddess and daughter of the Great God Ki, end up in a nut house? It’s God damned ridiculous. Literally. Ive got to get out of here. I cant do another night in this stupid place.

Shayne shook the gate; her fingers ached and rust embedded beneath her nails. “What kind of screwed up torture is this? Haven’t I suffered enough?”

She surveyed the yard for Geoffrey from Ward 3, her one true fan, believer and stalker. Where he went, hospital staff followed. Yard all clear, Shayne counted on her fingers. “How many weeks have I spent in this shit hole?”

2 or 3? Fuck. I don’t know.

The medication they’d thrust into her made time a slippery worm difficult to grasp. The morning’s pills jiggled next to her phone in Shayne’s pocket. She’d hide them with the others. The few missed days cleared her brain and the memories returned. The instant their effects wore off, Shayne realised the governmental nightmare with its hard beds, terrible food, and bad TV, interfered with her true destiny on another planet.

Shayne kicked the metal lock. Pain shot through her foot. “Shit. Crap.”

She hopped in a circle and cursed dodgy hips connected to short legs. The bastards prevented her climb up the Wistingera hedge beside the gate without assistance, and she couldn’t find anyone to hold her steady without grabbing her arse.

Cant get out the gate, cant break the fence, cant climb the hedge. I’ve tried all the doors. Which leaves what exactly?

Shayne breathed in crazy free air and ran through other options. “Oh fuck it. I can’t think of any. What to do, what to do?”

Her shoulders drooped; Shayne’s freedom remained as distant as Orion.

Even if I did escape, what then? How do I get home and back to Orion? Why can’t a wormhole just appear right here? Huh?

Frustrated with her lack of control, Shayne grabbed the top fence rail and shook. Each rattle represented wasted minutes spent there and the time taken from her future with Annu. The strive for freedom pulsed through her, it interrupted her thoughts and shoved her out of bed each morning. All to face a day filled with half baked escape concepts and pleas to release her Godly self.

Shayne moved her anger down a rung. “That nobody fucking listens to.”

Her arms ached; she relent her hold on the fence. Shayne shifted from the gate across to the hedge filling the fence and smushed into the middle of it. The faint scent of rosemary comforted her, a fresh wave of memories flooded Shayne’s mind.

Shayne wriggled her middle finger, not a scar or mark indicated its former separation.

I can’t believe I got a finger chopped off and it grew back, let alone all the other stuff.

Before being found on the pantry floor by her son and taken to the hospital, Annu held Shayne in his arms inside a stone room. Both Demi-Gods fresh from ascension, and filled with universal power. All they’d been through to get there seemed like a dream, and she’d fucked it up.

Shayne in the ultimate moment of stupidity mentioned Earth one too many times, and in a flash a wormhole ripped Shayne back to her home planet and away from love.

True fucking love and shit too.

Annu’s shocked expression tormented her. “Damn you medication for making me forget it even for one second.”

A branch stuck into her back, Shayne wriggled further onto the hospital’s back lawn, a large pile of dried bird poop on her right fared better than her. “We did everything right and in return we weren’t given time to soak in our success; the greatest moment of existence. Let alone kiss and enjoy things. No, not me. I got cosmically shafted. As usual.”

Shayne yanked out a wad of grass and tossed it to the side. “I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind, there’s something pleasant about that place, even your emotions had a gecko, and so much pace. Mmm. Does that make me crazyyyy? Does that make me–oh wait apparently it does.”

Neighbourhood dogs howled, a flock of magpies a few metres ahead shot into the air.

Bastards don’t appreciate a good voice. Oh what does it matter? My new life waits on the other side of the Galaxy, through the stupid wormhole–an hour and a half, several security guards, and several door alarms from here.

Shayne resigned herself to no Knight in shining armour arriving to rescue her from the current dilemma.

Rather, a retard in tin foil waited on this one planet, on the hospital lawn, deep in thought and determined. “It’s not the first time I’ve saved myself. It’s probably like the third. Surely I can do it again?”

I miss my chocolate hulk.

Shayne shook her head, Annu lingered in her mind. Her belly gurgled, doubt poked into her thoughts.

Is he still waiting for me? No, he probably gave up, and I cant blame him. He’s probably relishing in glory–alone.

Shayne tried to twirl her jade ring, its absence on her naked finger shot another wave of panic through Shayne. She’d grown accustomed to the odd piece of jewellery despite its catalytic nature.

Where did it go? I must have lost it when I burst through the wall. Its got to be under the pantry shelf.

Shayne massaged a lump in her shoulder and sighed. “Another thing that doesn’t matter because I’m not getting out right now, so fuck it and fuck them.”

She scanned again for any sign of staff; all clear. Eyes squinted; she pulled out a smoke and lit it. Shayne inhaled to her lung’s capacity, held the breath and fought coughing.

Hold it in, don’t waste it. Any second now it will be worth it. You’ve got to cough to get off don’t you?

The scratch in her lungs eased, a warm rush numbed her senses and removed life’s edges. While it didn’t remove the body pain, it made not caring about it easier.

Another toke and the sweet smoke filled her chest. The reason Shayne sat next to the gate drifted away with the breeze.

Three quarters of her mind mushed, the remaining quarter niggled at her.

Focus. Don’t waste more time. Don’t fall back into old habits. Oh yeah – escape plan, future leader, blah blah blah. Wait, focus on what? What else can I do? Ive got no powers, no ring, no wormhole. A big fat nothing. Protesting gets me nowhere and all my other attempts are well–unrealistic.

Shayne blew smoke rings into the sky. “Where are you when I need you Ghost Dad? Huh?”

He hasn’t answered to that name yet. Maybe I should call him Ki unless he tells me otherwise?

Eyes closed, mid puff–she attempted telepathy again.

‘Ah Ki, can you help me, please? Or am I too far away for you to hear?

A bird on the lawn squawked, no one else answered her. “Okay so that’s a no then. Fine. Whatever.”

Shayne pushed off the grass and levered up her legs to stand. She pulled the phone from her pocket and re-read Erin’s last text message.

‘I don’t know if I’m coming for a visit tomorrow. It’s hard for me to visit you in there, Mum.

The words buried Shayne in guilt and mocked her efforts at becoming a better parent, let alone have kids proud of her. “Hah. Another epic fail dickhead.”

Once they know the truth everything will change. I’ve got to make them believe me, show them somehow. Any ideas rolling around in my brain feel free to pop up.

Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and her mind remained empty.  

None–really? Oh why is everything so fucking hard? All this thinking is stressing me the fuck out.

Shayne raised the smoke to her lips and killed all negative thoughts. Mid drag, the joint flew in one direction, the lighter in another. Her mouth dropped, Shayne’s last piece of sanity disappeared. A flick on the arm drew her attention to reality and away from herbal oblivion.

Hand to her chest, Shayne faced the buzz-killer culprit.

Nurse Rye. Fuck, crap. Of all the people to catch me. Shit, shit, shit.

A thick plume of smoke exploded in the nurse’s face, she coughed in response.

Shayne swished the smoke away. “Oh fu–u–er, flip. Nurse Rye–what a surprise. Damn woman, are you a ninja in your off time?”

Her bowel clenched, the nurse’s presence scared the crap back up into her intestines. A number of excuses ran through Shayne’s mind, all with better things to do than come out her mouth.

Geoffrey’s head poked around Nurse Rye’s middle and pointed at Shayne. “Found you, your highness. See, you can’t escape me. Ha. I win.”

Since arriving at the hospital Shayne followed a Forrest Gump’s reasoning; if crazy is what crazy does, Geoffrey fell into the bat-shit category. “Geoffrey for the twentieth time it’s goddess not highness. And I know–I can’t escape a damned thing.”

A deep growl erupted against Shayne’s ear; she flinched. Geoffrey bolted from the nurse’s side and out of sight.

The nurse’s shadow blocked Shayne’s sun. “Right this is the last time I deal with you. All you do is spout nonsense, smoke drugs and try to escape. If that wasn’t bad enough, and worse still, you refuse to accept the help you desperately need. You make my job impossible. One way or another you will follow the rules.”

The nurse’s grip tightened; she glared at the lighter on the ground. Her crinkled face resembled a prune. “And, you have contraband. Where did you get it from?”

Quick, dick-head make something up.

“Off a visitor. I hid it in my sock.”

I reiterate, dick head.

Nurse prune grunted, a vein pulsed in her forehead. “You’re forbidden from the common room and confined to your bed aside from meal times. Now, I’m taking you straight to the doctor where I’ll give her a full report. Move it.”

Shayne shuffled at the nurse’s side, the nurse’s death grip prevented playing dead. Breasts considered unnatural wonders smushed against her cheeks, with the consistency of tennis balls in wet socks, they swung in hypnotic rhythm. Shayne stifled the urge to poke them to see if they acted like memory foam.

Headed toward the main building, the unlikely duo caught the immediate attention of both patients and medical staff. Crazy and sane eyes followed their path through the main doors and down the hall.

Great, an audience. Like I need another one of those.

Shayne mumbled into inflated flesh. “Couldn’t you have taken me around the side way and maybe made less of a scene?” Her arm throbbed under the nurses grasp. “Ouch, when I’ve got my powers back you bitch, you’re done for. This is totally unfair.”

Heat burned the top of Shayne’s head, the nurse’s voice bored through her soul. “Oh, yes, that’s right, your amazing magic powers. They haven’t done you much good so far have they? And I bet they didn’t remind you about your doctor’s appointment this morning either?”

The small buzz from the half joint went stone-cold dead. Bam, a wet fish smacked Shayne in the face. “No and no. Crap.”

Escape plan escalated to top priority, finding real chocolate can wait.

******

On a mission, Nurse Rye barged into the doctor’s office. Doctor Unders poked her head above a sea of paperwork. Eyebrows thick enough to hide in covered the middle of her face.

Geez I wish you’d pluck those. Maybe she’ll let me do it one day.

A pen fell from Doctor Unders mouth and landed with a plop on the table. “Nurse Rye, what the hell are you thinking? Remove your hands from this patient immediately.”

The ground rumbled, Shayne suspected steam might erupt out the nurse’s ears.

“If I let her go, she’ll run off again. I caught her out the back alone and smoking drugs–again. She somehow manages to evade the staff and sneak off. How I do not know. And there’s no doubt she’s probably plotting another futile escape as we speak. I have a great deal of work already to do, and not enough people to spend time chasing around after her. She should be medicated adequately so she can’t get out of bed and cause trouble.”

Shayne imagined kicking the nurse’s shin.

If it didn’t get me put in solitary I’d relocate your nose for you.

To her credit, the Doctor didn’t appear intimidated. “You’ll leave the patient’s diagnosis to me, thanks. Perhaps if you supervised your staff better, this wouldn’t happen. How about you go investigate how Mr. Berris is able to swap his lithium for viagra any time he likes and leave me to my job.”

Saggy old balls dangled for a moment in Shayne’s mind, a cold chill followed.

Nurse Rye released her grip on Shayne’s arm and slapped her own thigh. “Fine. I expect you’ll put her on report.”

Shayne remained wedged between the nurse and the door frame without care. Even if she could move, she’d stay put and witness this show down. “Ding dong, the wicked witch is dead.”

“Stop telling me what to do. If you don’t leave my office now, you’ll have staples to remove from your forehead in thirty seconds.” The doctor grabbed the stapler. “Twenty.”

The tension in the room intensified, Nurse Angry prune transformed into the Furious Tomato.

Despite the nurse’s fury, Doctor Unders didn’t waver her glare. “Ten.”

With a huff, Nurse Rye wedged backwards out of the room.

Once she’d reached a safe distance away, Shayne pushed off the doorframe, past shelves filled with physiology text books, towards the one un-cracked plastic chair. She sat adjacent to a deconstructed torso, and hung pictures drawn by patients.

The childlike art broke up nausea inducing yellow, but nothing hid the aged furniture and pea green stained carpet. Shayne recited by memory the names of each text book on each shelf and artist on the wall.

Dr. Overs used her motherly voice. “Shayne, you forgot your appointment and got caught smoking, again. What are we going to do about this?”

Several of Geoffrey’s pieces took up the middle section. None of hers, she hated art. It ate into her TV watching time.

Maybe I could try being invisible. Eyes closed and focus.

“Shayne? Are you with me?”

Shit. She can still see me. Suck it up. “No, I’m not with you at all. I want to go home.”

Doctor Unders’ sigh ricocheted off the desk. “I get it, we all do. But the fact remains, you are still heavily influenced by your delusions. They haven’t altered in strength one iota since your arrival.”

“Well duh. Because it happened, it’s all true and I’m not nuts. Simple.”

“Do you understand we need actual evidence other than your say so about you being royalty and all? And there’s your physical issues which further complicate things. However, I’m sure we’re close to discovering why you have such high levels of DMT in your blood. That’s one thing at least.”

Why don’t people listen to me?

“For the hundredth time, I’m a goddess not royalty. Different kettle of fish.”

Get it right, you morons.

Shayne picked at a strand on her pants. “Huh? DM what?”

“Aha. DMT is a chemical found in people immediately prior to the moment of death. You have a consistent high level in your blood, which I believe may be linked to this delusional behaviour.”

Shayne tapped her head. It echoed. “You won’t find anything wrong with my brain. What about the –”

Doctor Unders cut Shayne off with a raised hand. “Before you say it, we can’t find any biological evidence of you being immortal or having magic powers, nor of your finger being chopped off and, ah, grown back.”

Stupid narrow-minded people surrounded her. “For the tenth time, you aren’t using the right equipment.”

“Shayne, it’s time you faced facts. This other planet–Orion–with all these people and fantastical events are a creation of your mind. None of it happened. It’s illogical. Do yourself a favour and let it go. Concede you need help. In time, if you respond to treatment, you will be able to go home.”

The strand came loose, Shayne selected another. “No, I won’t change my mind. I can’t, every part of it is real. The good, the bad, the ugly. Somehow, someway, I’ll prove it to you.”

A curl broke free from back of the doctor’s head, it sprung into her face. “Are you still taking your medication?”

“Yes.”

Im still taking vitamins.

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “If you don’t take the meds, they don’t work. Shayne, I’ve always had a lot of time for you. Yet, it’s a struggle to balance this duality within you. I know there is a healthy person in there. They’re just buried under a mountain of tragic events and bad judgment. When you’re not talking about Orion, and the kitchen hasn’t run out of anything chocolate flavoured, you appear mentally sound. With all this in mind, at this point in time in good medical consciousness, I can’t release you.”

Shayne’s stomach climbed her abdomen, up her throat, and dropped onto the floor. She refused to cry, instead stabbing a pencil at the desk.

Cant someone cut me some slack?

“First of all, the chocolate flavoured shit’s the only thing substituting for lack of actual chocolate because you consider the wrappers a choking hazard. Second, for fuck’s sake. I AM NOT nuts. Yes, long ago I spent some time in a psych ward for a few weeks. This is different.”

Doctor Unders’ tone softened. “I didn’t say nuts but you had nightmares, migraines, and hallucinations then too. Except for a much more elaborate delusion, how is this time unlike the other? This man Annu you’ve created, coincidentally, turned into the love of your life and a perfect match. And, his mother, Irica, is the mother you’ve longed for.”

Shayne shoved Irica out of her mind, and shuddered. “Don’t talk about Irica again.”

“Alright, I’m sorry. I forgot.”

She’d not let defeat claim her; Shayne grabbed inner strength. “Look it’s not the same at all okay. Well, actually it’s kind of a bit the same, but not. Back then, I saw and heard some strange things which didn’t make sense. Myself, boosted by a few others, thought I’d lost it. Until I travelled to Orion recently, I realised those so called hallucinations were visions of my future, and I wasn’t crazy at all. I did get pulled into a wormhole in my pantry and onto Orion. Me and Annu defeated an ancient God, Sham-man, I mean Shamesh, and a few others along the way. It wasn’t easy. Plus I got kidnapped, froze people, got hurt and all sorts of shit–yet ended up back home, where again, no one believes me. And trust me, if I made up a dream world, do you really think there would be so much death and destruction in it? I’d design it so I walked in, got my powers, and life turned into butterflies and fucking rainbows. Not ended with me here powerless in a mental hospital with a chronic illness.”

Shayne stuck her finger in the hole she’d created in her pants. “Which is caused from me being from Orion not Earth. My DNA isn’t meant for here.”

Doctor Unders glasses dropped on the desk beside the pen. “I thought you accepted you’re sick from the autoimmune disease Psoriatic Arthritis. Shayne, your fantastical evidence can’t be validated. Like the magical ring, which you don’t have, wormholes no one else sees, and life on another planet. Which you claim to be a Demi-God of, and none of it can be proven. And yet it won’t sink in that head of yours. Shayne, what about the effect this has on your kids? If it were true, wouldn’t they believe you? Wouldn’t someone have seen something?”

Bam, smacked on the other side of the face with another wet fish. “Leave Erin and Ryan out of it. They don’t understand yet, but they will. As soon as I get out of here. I just need to get back home.”

“Well I’ve got to tell you, it’s going to be a while and you aren’t getting out of this session. I’ve got 20 minutes left Shayne. Can we talk about your ex husband?”

Where were all these fish coming from?

“No. At least that son of a bitch is dead.”

The doctor probed her face. “Each of these wrinkles is your fault.” Another curl on the opposite side broke free; together the curls formed white horns around the doctor’s face. “Fine. Let’s start from when you moved into the other house.”

Do I spend twenty minutes fighting the session, or play nice and use to the time to figure a way out of this crap hole?

“Shayne?”

Shayne spotted the Doc’s handbag next to the desk, no easily accessible keys stuck out the top.

Damn, I better think of another idea.

About R.L.

“R.L Andrew is a former Legal Executive, chronically ill Australian writer and Movie Reviewer. Along with many short stories published in International Anthologies R.L. is also a regular, long term contributor to the CrypticRock.com Website based in New York.

Her first book ‘A Lunatic’s Guide to Interplanetary Relationships’ will soon be published by JaCol Publishing, an American based publisher. The sequel ‘A Demigoddess’s Guide to Intergalactic Parenting’ is currently in revision stage.”

Get your copy of A Lunatic’s Guide To Interplanetary Relationships on Amazon.

You can also find her on Facebook, the Interwebs, and Twitter.

WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

It’s the last Friday of the month and y’all know what that means: another installment of News That Doesn’t Suck. And I gotta tell ya, these are getting harder and harder to dredge up in a month that gave us the violence in Charlottesville, White Nationalists running amok, and our President tip-toeing around the issue until it became so big that it just had to be dealt with in way that required many, many, very, very, very mediocre words.

Of course, this is the same guy that Tweeted that Transgendered people wouldn’t be allowed in the military anymore.

Which leads us to this month’s installment of News That Doesn’t suck. THe Indian Supreme, it would seem, has passed a ruling that everyone has an intrinsic right to privacy. The ruling was originally intended to hit Aadhaar cards right in the jimmies, but it has far-reaching implication even beyond India’s biometric ID system.

Since privacy in India is now considered a fundamental right, that means the government will have a much harder time finding out information that it really shouldn’t have a right to get hold of anyway. Information like sexual orientation, for instance, should be something that is protected at the individual level not something that should be part of the government’s bailiwick.

Now, I’m not Indian, I’ve never been to India, so my understanding of the intricacies and ramifications of Aadhaar cards leaves a lot to be desired. But, I can always appreciate when a government admits its citizenry has rights that cannot be taken away or taken advantage of.

And that is always a very good thing.

Check it out here

And check out Buzzfeed’s take on it, too.

As always, comments are much appreciated, especially from my Indian friends who will have a much better understanding of the situation than I do.

If you’d like to get hold of more news that doesn’t suck, go check out this month’s hosts:

Simon Falk, Inderpreet Uppal, Lynn Hallbrooks, ME!, and Mary J Giese.

If you’d like to join up with We Are The World Blogfest, I have good news for you: it’s free. Go check it out here.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~

1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible.

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And now, your moment of Zen…

Nonplussed

American English is, of course, descended from original British English (English English?). That language, in turn, was descended from a whole host of other languages and pinned together in a patchwork quilt of defeated and absorbed peoples. For such a mish-mash language it really shouldn’t surprise me that the English spoken in the U.K. is different in some ways from the English spoken here in the colonies.

Even various regions of the United States have dialectical differences between them. For instance, in some places you might get a hero, in others a hoagie. In other places, like here for instance, you might just hungry thinking about sandwiches. Whether you order a soda, a pop, or a coke (not necessarily Coke, Pepsi will work, too), you’re still getting some bubbly stuff with far too much sweet, sweet sugar in it.

Food words I get. It makes sense that different parts of the country – and the world – have different types of food and different names for those foods. I live in New Mexico, so we’ve got a huge catalog of cultural food to draw from, but even some of those foods are different depending on where in the state you are. For instance, Gorditas are a completely different experience in Las Cruces from what you get in the northern parts of the state. The Gorditas you get from Taco Bell are even further from what everyone else makes.

But other words have also drifted from the mother tongue over the years. The one that really took me by surprise was “nonplussed.” I wrote a short story last month and had some friends from the other side of the pond beta read it and give me notes and one of the notes I got highlighted “nonplussed.” In the notes, she’d written, “Is that the right word. He’s perplexed?” My first thought was she must have misread it, but upon looking up the definition I found she was right.

Mostly.

In U.K. English, nonplussed means “surprised and confused so much that they are unsure how to react.” In informal U.S. English (the only kind I speak, see also: Bad English), nonplussed means “not disconcerted or unperturbed.”

Most of the time, when you’re dealing with regionalisms the meaning can be sussed out pretty easily. A book written in the U.K. will refer to boots and bonnets instead of hood and trunks. Someone from northern New Mexico reading about Gorditas might have a different vision in their head than someone from southern New Mexico, but it’s all food. Except the Gorditas from Taco Bell; I’m not sure those qualify as food. But when you come across a word that has a drastic enough difference in meaning even though it’s the same word in both languages, it can rock your world and completely change the intent of the sentence.

What gorditas might look like

By the way, this is the sentence I’m referring to.

“The good doctor looked completely nonplussed, like he knew he’d already gotten away with whatever crazy plan he’d concocted.”

So, if we accept the casual North American meaning of nonplussed, the sentence makes a lot more sense than using the U.K. English definition. Otherwise, the good doctor looked confused, even though he’d already won.

That was one of those notes you want to frame and hang on your wall just to remind you that words can, and often do, have drastically different meanings depending on where the reader is. It saved me some potential embarrassment if the story ever winds up in the U.K. In the end, I changed nonplussed to unconcerned and kept my fingers crossed.

They say good writing is supposed to excise regionalisms and, for the most part, I agree with that. Like all rules in writing, that one can be broken to add flavor and texture to a story. But sometimes regionalisms sneak up on you and you won’t even know they’re there until someone from the outside points and asks, “What’s up with this word, dog?” That’s why it pays to have friends from other countries.

Got any good regionalisms that snuck up on you?

Preview

I don’t do this very often, largely because I don’t release books very often, but I’m getting close to finishing the second round of edits on Greetings From Sunny Aluna and wanted to share a bit of it. It’s a follow-on to the events of The Clock Man and represents a few firsts for me. For starters, it’s a true fantasy novel, which is something I’ve never done before. I’ve read fantasy works before, but never tried my hand at writing one. In case you’re wondering exactly what constitutes a fantasy novel (I was), it can usually be summed up by including magic, fantastic settings, mythical beings, and supernatural forms.

Most fantasy works I’ve written are set in a European Medieval setting with knights, sorcerers, and extremely bad villains. That’s all fine and good, but European Medieval history never did much for me, nor did the tales of heroism and knights in shining armor. So I dropped my story onto another planet, shifted a lot of narrative to Chinese martial history, and made my main characters basically normal people instead of knights. There is magic, it’s got a dragon, it’s even got a small dinosaur, combat magicians, and lots of morally flexible characters. Call it gutter fantasy if it helps. Greetings is fantasy from the street level and all kinds of crazies inhabit these streets.

The other thing that’s new to me was a shift from writing the narrative in first person present tense, I shifted this to third person past tense. The change allowed me to explore the four main characters with greater ease than I’d have with first person present.

Anyway, this is chapter 1 (of 36). Comments and critiques are greatly appreciated. Other than that, I just hope you enjoy it.

Chapter 1: Information Extraction Techniques

Felix Crow was a badass.

He wasn’t a good man, or even a stable man, but his heart was in the right place and there was no doubt he was a badass.

Seen from behind he cut a mysterious figure as he stalked down an unnamed alley in the Fànzuì Hútòng district of Croatoa. He always felt it was loony to call an entire district crime alley, but he didn’t make the rules. Felix Crow exploited rules, or ignored them entirely.

His keen eyes scanned the alley, seeking out a hidden sign that he was assured wasn’t a joke. In a place like this, calling something Xīwàng had to be a sick joke. Hope, in a crumbling alley filled with the lowest echelons of murderers and drug dealers was, at best, a fresh box to sleep in. But supposedly there was a place called Hope that held a secret he would very much like to know.

Felix walked right down the middle of the alley. The brim of his hat hid his eyes and his long coat flapped out behind him. The hat was lifted from a body he left in an alley a few months ago and the coat was a gift from his sometimes friend, sometimes enemy Chan. The coat supposedly offered magical protection, but Crow had yet to try it out. The hat just made the ensemble look good.

Ahead of him, a shadow stepped into the alley and laughed. It sounded like the giggle of a schoolgirl who just realized she’d traded her life for an endless supply of Johns and synthetic heroin. Madness and anger echoed down the narrow lane. The pale light from Xiǎo Mǔqīn reflected off a long and wicked looking knife that had to have been made of discarded bits of metal fused together in one of the cheap magic shops nearby.

Little Mother’s light was pale compared to Dà Māmā’s light, but it was one of those rare days where Little Mother was up and Big Mother was down. The pale light did little to illuminate the alley, but at least it was daylight; travelling the alleys at night was risky even for people like Felix Crow.

Crow kept walking. He had more important things to deal with than petty thugs with cheap knives. He reached out with his mind and found the knife. His fingers snapped and the blade exploded. The would-be thug, a gaunt thing with more bones than skin stared at the handle in his fingers. Some remaining neuron knocked another neuron around and eventually the message got to the man’s voice.

“Crow,” he gasped.

Felix Crow paused. He knew his antics had spread his name around the city. It was impossible to kill the Clock Man and go unnoticed; even if he had gone out of his way to keep the dirty deed quiet, brother baiju loosened his tongue. The thing in front of him was hardly worth the time, but it was important to keep up his reputation. “Xīwàng,” he said quietly. “Where is it?”

“There’s no hope here, man,” the thug replied. His wide eyes darted around the alley. Shadows moved quietly, hiding in corners and behind trash cans. Maybe, just maybe, enough of them could take down the legendary Felix Crow.

“Not for you, anyway,” Crow said. “But that’s not the kind of hope I’m looking for. A place called Hope. There will be a door. Where is it?”

A trash can tipped over, spilling ramen and rotting vegetables. Crow spared a glance at a kid holding a stick before looking back at the thug with the broken knife. “Not the brightest idea you’ve ever had.”

The thug chuckled. His knife may be broken, but Felix Crow was supposed to have an arsenal on him. If he could get hold of the arsenal, he’d be a king. With that jacket and that hat, he could move out of the alley. Anyone who killed Felix Crow could write his own ticket in the underworld. Hell, it was rumored that the Beast himself offered up a fortune for Crow’s head.

All around Crow the alley came to life. The people, things really, had been here so long they’d started to look like the alley itself. Dark eyes, tattered clothes, and grimy skin rose out of invisible hiding places. Some had sticks, others had knives taken from the dead hands of souls who had lost their way and wound up in the alley.

Crow sighed. It would figure a simple in and out job would turn to lā shǐ on him. The whole alley reeked of lā shǐ, why shouldn’t the job follow suit? Maybe job was too strong a word. Job implied an exchange of services for money. Quest would be a better term. Mad quest, probably. Still, it would figure a simple in and out quest would turn to lā shǐ on him.

He spun in the alley and took in the motley rabble. None of them had eaten in days. Their eyes were full of the madness of Tiāntáng De Fěn. Heaven’s Powder was a new drug on the scene, something for people who couldn’t afford anything more. It was gaining a toehold in the city, and even on Croatoa’s streets it wasn’t uncommon to see burnouts trying to visit heaven. They described it as a religious experience, but like all religion it was an addictive lie.

“Fuck off,” Crow said. “I’m busy.”

“Nice jacket,” a voice said behind him. “Nice hat.”

Crow didn’t bother to turn around. He could see the shadow of the of the speaker waving something around. “I know,” he said. “Now fuck off.”

“I want the hat,” another voice said.

That was the problem with Tiāntáng De Fěn; it convinced people they were already in Heaven. First time users experienced a euphoric high and usually slept it off. But, like all drugs, the effects waned and soon people were constantly chasing the religious high they got from the drug until the heaven became real all the time. A person who thinks he’s already in Heaven will fight over anything. These guys had spent a lot of time believing they were already in Heaven and Nüwa‘s tits were in their faces.

“It wouldn’t fit you,” Crow said. “Now fuck off before I turn it loose on your skinny ass.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Crow saw the shadow move closer. Whatever the weapon was, it had pulled back into position. Crow shook his head. He hated dealing with amateurs. Turns of hard training with legendary Chan had made him cynical when it came to fighting. Crow would readily admit he was no Chan, but he was hardly something to be trifled with.

The shadow shifted slightly and Crow knew the attack was coming. Some young punk, looking to make a name for himself was trying to brain him with a stick. Crow spun and dodged the incoming attack. The punk hit nothing but air.

Crow didn’t hesitate. He was busy and these idiots were wasting his time. He twisted his body, flexing his legs and twisting his hips. Force worked its way up from the ground, through his legs, up his torso, and through his shoulder. A fist flew, fast as an arrow and strong as stone. Knuckles hit the punk’s face, twisting his head to the side. Teeth flew out of his broken jaw.

The junkies watched as their temporary friend staggered. His face went ashen and the punk toppled to the side. Crow didn’t care if the punk was dead or out of it. He kept moving. The punks became targets in his mind. It was one of Chan’s little tricks – it’s easier to punch the life out of a target than a person.

Crow moved with random precision, drawing on the harsh tutelage of the man who became one of Croatoa’s most feared and respected fighters. Never become predictable and hit exactly what you wanted to hit. Chan taught Crow to move and keep moving; a static target was easy to hit. While he moved, he watched for openings and struck at the places most likely to hurt. Another junkie stepped up to swing a piece of pipe at Crow’s head and almost immediately found himself kneeling on a broken knee. He started to scream out in pain, but a vicious chop to the throat silenced him permanently.

Like all drugged up hop-heads, the punks didn’t realize the danger they were in. They thought they were strong, but starvation and drugs had made them weak and Crow was a predator in their midst. For the time being, they worked together, but the alley was a place of constantly shifting alliances as each denizen tried to jockey for a better position. When a threat was great enough, like the time the police showed up looking for a rapist, the alley temporarily banded together. Felix Crow qualified as a threat and the added bonus of killing the guy who killed the Clock Man made Crow a delicious target. The hat and coat were nice, but the street cred from killing Crow would be overwhelming.

They attacked en masse, an uncoordinated mess of junkies wielding weapons culled together from trash or stolen from other junkies. Even with the mass attacking, Crow still had the advantage. He might not be able to work the same kind of magic that shattered the knife – that required focus and small amount of time – but he had the ability to sense when an opponent was about to strike.

It wasn’t much of a sense, maybe a half second, but a half second in a fight can be a lifetime.

The next junkie slashed at Crow with a piece of rusty metal that probably used to belong to a bed frame. Crow deflected the knife and snaked around the man’s arms. He drew the punk closer and head butted him. The punk’s nose exploded; his eyes started to water and he suddenly found he was having trouble breathing. He staggered back as Crow pressed his attack.

What the junkie didn’t realize was Crow could move forward far faster than the junkie could backpedal. Before he could take two steps, Crow had smashed the man’s ribs.

Crow assessed the fallen guy briefly before turning to find the next target. He found a burly man that had gone to seed when the drugs took hold. The big guy held long piece of rebar over his head. A fist hit the side of the man’s jaw and unhinged it with a sickening crack. A large boot slammed into the side of the guy’s knee, cracking bone and tearing tendon.

A lifetime of training, a hint of magic passed to him from a dragon, and a propensity for violence turned the junkies into a simpering mess in short order. Crow took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He looked around for the first guy and almost missed the terrified eyes looking out from behind a trash can overflowing with rancid meat and old noodles.

“Get your ass over here,” Crow snapped.

The eyes shook from side to side and disappeared behind the trash can. Crow muttered a string of Chinese curses and kicked a nearby crying mass in the ribs. “Now!” he yelled.

The junkie’s eyes were wide and his body shook as he slunk from his hiding place. Gone were all the thoughts of getting the jacket or the hat. He’d be lucky if he left with his life. “Please don’t kill me,” he mumbled. His remaining sandal slapped the pavement and squished through gelatinous puddles as he slowly made his way to Crow.

Crow’s arm lashed out and his fingers wrapped around the guy’s throat. With a slight grunt, he lifted the junkie into the air. “I promise I won’t kill you if you tell me where I can find Hope. I have a meeting there, and I don’t like to be late.”

Skeletal fingers grabbed at Crow’s hands. Fingernails that were trimmed like claws dug gouges in his arms, but Crow didn’t flinch. “I don’t have much time and if I have to kill you I’ll waste even more time looking for someone to beat on. So, do yourself and someone else a favor and tell me where I can find Xīwàng.”

The junkie croaked something that could have been anything from “it’s over there” to “go fuck yourself.” Crow squeezed. The man’s face turned blue and the light faded from his eyes. Crow pushed his face closer to the junkie, close enough to smell rotting teeth and a shallow diet of trash and whatever insects or lizards got too close.

“What was that?” Crow asked. “I couldn’t quite make that out.”

A feeble arm, more bone than anything else and shaking from lack of oxygen and food, pointed across the alley. Crow turned his head and peered, but all he could make out was decaying brick and the faintest hint of where a paifang used to stand. The outline of the archway was etched in shadow on the wall.

“Through that paifang?” Crow asked. “Is that there I’ll find Hope?”

The man nodded weakly. His skin was ashen and clammy. Crow knew the junkie didn’t have much time left, but also knew the man was barely alive as it was. When he’d been on the local constabulary, Crow had seen the same man in different skin time after time. It was only a matter of time before the Tiāntáng De Fěn caught up with him and sent him spiraling into a pain-wracked death.

“You’re not joking around, are you?” Crow asked.

The man barely managed to shake his head. Crow knew exactly how long it took to the kill the average person by shutting off the blood to the brain. He’d been counting to himself ever since he lifted the man off the ground. At one hundred and fifteen seconds, Crow dropped the man.

The junkie hit the ground like a bag of meat and collapsed in on himself. With a bit of luck there wouldn’t be any brain damage that couldn’t be made worse by living in this place and using Heaven’s Powder night and day. The drug was odious. Even Crow, hardly the paragon of virtue, eschewed the stuff. Had he still been a cop, he probably would have been stuck tracking down whoever was making and distributing the stuff. But, he was no longer a cop and would never get assigned to the Heaven’s Powder case.

No matter. People could do whatever they wanted with their bodies. Crow had higher aspirations.

Felix Crow wanted the city. He wanted it in the same way that a man wants a woman he doesn’t respect. He wanted to slap it around and control it, keep it on his arm during the day and scream at it at night. The key to the city was controlling the underworld. No matter what people believed, the root of all power in any capitol was germinated by graft and tended by people with knives.

In the dim light Crow could barely make out the faded, dingy remains of letters: Xīwàng. The legends were true, then. Croatoa was an old city, not ancient, but old. Like all cities, it was alive. It breathed and bled and heaved in orgasmic revelation. Croatoa changed and grew after the Dragon Wars. This part of town was old and decayed, quite possibly the first part built.

Crow ran his fingers along the old stone and closed his eyes. The cold mind of the rock told him stories of dreaming gods and magic and dragons bigger than houses. He thought back to his little dragons and made a mental note to pick up some meat for them on the way home. Through his fingers, he felt the weight of centuries, through wars and strife and junkies puking and killing each other for hats or jackets. The stone lived on, quietly watching the world go by, unperturbed by the goings on of Croatoa’s transplanted children.

Xīwàng,” Crow whispered.

His fingers felt along the smooth stone. There had to be a switch or a lever somewhere. The legends of Hope had largely been forgotten, but a musty tome in ramshackle pawn shop spoke eloquently of the place. Hope, it is said, remembers everything, but cares about nothing. Things slide off Xīwàng’s back like baiju tossed in a drunk’s face. The only way to keep hope alive was to let the world move without letting it interfere. The monks that founded Hope dedicated their lives to providing hope while the world itself descended further and further into the madness of the Dragon Wars and the unpleasantness that followed them.

Crow’s fingers traced the whole of the stone wall and found nothing but whispered memories. He stepped back and scowled. There had to be a way in. If anyone in the city would know where to find the Beast, it would be the monks of Hope. He hadn’t come this far to be stopped by mere stone.

He reached out with his senses and felt the cold stone. His mind pushed aside the stories and visions and dug deeper. The stoneness of the wall gave way to increasing emptiness. Crow pushed deeper until he saw the first pinprick. Soon the world was filled with pinpricks of light, each vibrating in mad intensity. He didn’t completely understand exactly what he was looking at, but he knew how to make it do his bidding.

His mind gently pushed one of the vibrating things. Crow was no aetherist, but he knew enough to know what he was looking at was intensely tiny. In addition to being able to see very slightly into the future, the dragon in the North gave him a kind of magical power. The stone wall, immense though it was, was essentially the same thing as the knife that exploded earlier. It was matter and all matter was made up of the tiny pieces.

Crow nudged one of the buzzing things and watched as it collided with another buzzing thing. Soon they were all buzzing and knocking against each other. A final push set the pieces atwitter. The air in the alley buzzed and hummed. He’d never tried anything this big before, but like the dragon said, “Magic can create a gold statue or remove a mountain.”

The humming in the air turned in a deep basso thrum, the kind of thing the kids in clubs like to listen to. That music always gave Crow a headache; he was more of the traditional music kind of guy. He slowly backed away from the thumping door. Once the reaction started, it was almost impossible to stop it.

Thunder and smoke rippled down the alley. When the dust cleared, Crow found himself staring through the black and white paifang into an exquisite garden. He pinched himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming. The paifang was an archway to another country, one that shouldn’t be in the middle of an alley in one of the many worst parts of Croatoa.

He stood and stared at the garden and wondered where the golden light was coming from. The garden reeked of calmness and peace – promises too vague to be disappointing when they don’t show up. Felix Crow calmly stepped over the rubble of the old stone wall and into the garden. He didn’t need calmness and peace. He needed information and this was as good a place to start as any.