Hiatus.

The Day Job™ is really kicking my ass this week. On top of that I’m needing some time to decompress more than I’ve allotted myself. To that end, your regularly scheduled free fiction posts are on hiatus until Sunday, 24 July 2016.

In the mean time, if you’re looking for some good free fiction to check out I would recommend either of the following

Aethereal Engines by Jason H. Abbott recently just posted “Tears of the Joyous Mare” which I thought was excellent. He also has several other short pieces of fiction including the piratical Brynesmark piece. You should definitely check it out if you haven’t already.

E. H. Graham’s eponymous website has LOTS of short fiction available to read. “Brain Mush” is a novel take on the zombie apocalypse and enjoyable to read. There are also several serials ongoing on the website that would be worth checking out.

Anyway, new fiction next Sunday. Thanks for your understanding.

-Crouse

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Friday’s Off

So as I’m figuring out the writing schedule that works with my Day Job™ I’ve come to the conclusion that I need a day that I kind of have 100% downtime from writing. That being said, I decided on Fridays. It gives me time to unwind from the Day Job™ and mentally breath.

I know historically I’ve posted new fiction semi-regularly on Fridays. Going forward one of two things will happen, I’ll either shift the third piece of weekly fiction to another day (Most likely a Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday scenario) or there’ll only be two pieces of FREE* weekly fiction. I’ll see how it plays out.

 

So there you have it. Happy Canada Day to our neighbors in the north. Hope everyone from the States has a nice long 4th of July weekend. I hope people from the United Kingdom aren’t suffering too much after the Brexit debacle. To the rest of you whose countries I have not named: I hope you are healthy. I hope you are happy. I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well.  I’m gonna go read a book. For fun. Not research.

 

 

 

 

 

*Free except as prohibited by law. Free is not meant to constitute any transfer of rights.

Fistful of Magic – Chapter 3

So if I were more proactive, I would have set this post to load Thursday night rather than typing it Saturday afternoon. I was busy celebrating my wife’s birthday yesterday, so that’s why it didn’t go up yesterday, so instead, another low effort (relatively speaking) post. I give you Chapter 3 of A Fistful of Magic. This’ll be the last chapter that I post of it.


 

Tarhun didn’t remember passing out in the sand of a beach, so it came as a shock to him to be kicked awoken on one. He had half-forgotten his perilous voyage, and kept his eyes closed, certain he would open them to find he was resting on the black sands of the island that sat in the eye of the Maelstrom. He was half tempted to just keep his eyes shut and going back to sleep even with the hot mid-morning sun beating down on him. His muscles ached and he felt as if he could sleep through a hurricane in a hammock. That was when a girl started screaming ‘no’ as if she knew no other words. With a grunt he began to lift himself up from his erstwhile sandy bed. As he opened his eyes, the golden sand that greeted them jarred his memory. He remembered his escape from his island prison and the ensuing two days he had spent rowing to get to the beach. Tarhun cursed himself for having carelessly gone to sleep on the beach. Continue reading

Book Review: Tales of a Dying Star- Siege of Praetar by David Kristoph

I originally had a draft of this review written that was about 200 words in before I realized that I was an idiot. It was much more negative than this new and improved less idiotic version. However, this will probably end up being a fairly short review in and of itself. My first impression with the book was disappointment, as I had been expecting a contiguous narrative set in the universe built by the author.

Some of you are probably looking at the title of the book and shaking your head at this incorrect assumption of what the book was going to be. Whereas I had expected one story, Siege of Praetar is actually comprised of three interrelated vignettes featuring different characters. Two of them are sentinels enforcing the titular siege on the planet Praetar with diametrically opposed values. Another of the characters a mother, trying to escape from a dying world. The final character is a slumlord scrounging for power.

Each of the characters makes decisions that end up affecting the other characters in the stories, even if they don’t realize it. Throughout each of the three tales, there are hints at an overarching story as well. The end result is three separate character studies with some effective, if subtle, world building that hint at the possibilities in the universe.

For me, personally, I’m more of a fan of continuous narratives, but in the future I may read some more Tales of a Dying Star. The prose itself is snappy and well paced, making for a quick read, and each of the individual tales leave you with just enough questions that leave you hoping they may end up as a point of view character in a future installment. Consider Siege of Praetar as an amuse-bouche or palate cleanser between heftier tomes. You might find that you enjoy it.

It’s Not Poker

Your turn.

“I asked you not to do that, man. It’s not cool. When you’re off the clock can you just talk normal.” I yelled out to my host.

“Sorry,” replied his rich baritone. He walked back into the den where we’d set up the cards. I was nursing a strong chocolate stout. His beer sat on the art deco coffee table where our cards were laid out. He placed a bowl of kettle corn down on the edge of the table and picked up his cards which he’d laid face down on the table while he made our salty-sweet snack.

He didn’t look anything like I’d pictured him before meeting him. He had told me that most people get the description wrong. Something about seeing what they want to see. He was actually delighted that I hadn’t projected any of my expectations on him. I stared at my cards and then back at the mid-fifties man sipping from a beer bottle across from me, weighing my options. I eyed the backs of the three cards he held in his other hand.

“What?” he asked.

“I’m just debating how much of a dick I want to be.”

“You’re always a dick when we play this. One day, I’m going to beat you.”

“Today’s probably not that day,” I said, adopting my best Han Solo smile.

He snorted before he dipped his hand into the bowl of kettle corn and began munching noisily on the treat.

“Do you ever think about retiring? Or changing jobs?” I asked.

“Nah, he said, “I like what I do. I’m a people person. I get to meet a lot of people in my line of work. It’s fun.”

“I always thought it seemed depressing.”

“You get used to it. Seems like something else is on your mind though.”

“Yeah, I guess. I’m just not happy with my current job. It’s just lacking a certain…” I trailed off.

“Je ne sais quoi?” he supplied.

“Yeah. I guess you could say that. I mean. I go into the office, day in and day out. All for what? A retirement? A new sports car?”

“How are you liking the jag?” he asked.

“It’s fine, but that’s kind of the point. I mean, most people would love to have an antique Jaguar. Me, my initial response is that it’s fine. I just don’t get the same kind of fulfillment from my job and all the knick knacks that seem to accompany it.”

“Have you considered working for a charity? I’ve heard a lot of people speak of how rewarding that is,” he said with a completely unreadable face.

“I did that back in the 50’s. I know you remember that. It was nice for a while, but after any amount of time at any job I just seem to, I don’t know, brownout.”

“You could always retire.”

“What? Permanently?” I didn’t like the direction this conversation was heading. “I’m not sure I’m ready for that.”

“All you’d have to do is throw this game. I’d love to finally win.” He sounded exasperated.

“All right,” I said, “I get the hint. Less talking more playing.”

“That’s the spirit,” he said as I separated both my cards and eyed them carefully.

“Any day now,” he said before taking another pull from his beer bottle.

“I just want you to remember that you asked for this.” I said, looking Death square in the face.

I laid down my “Skip” card and quickly called out “UNO!” cutting Death off. Finally I laid down my last card, a “Draw Four.”

Dick.


 

Apropos of: This Prompt

-Crouse

Book Review:Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

I remember the first time I read the The Hobbit. I was young. I didn’t understand much of it. Despite that, it managed to take me into another world that at one point I essentially ripped off in a terrible work of proto-fiction that thankfully has been lost to the annals of time. The younger I was, the easier it was to get lost in worlds in that manner. The older I got, I kept chasing that dragon, as it were, but something got lost along the way. Currently, I find it much easier to lose immersion in something, and I’m happy to say that Throne of the Crescent Moon was the first book in a while that gave me that same feeling that I had back when I first read J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel all those years ago.

The book is the first book of The Crescent Moon Kingdoms series, but it’s one-hundred percent self-contained. The Crescent Moon Kingdoms is an Arabian fantasy, which probably helped with me staying immersed. It didn’t feel like I was treading the same old tired tropes despite one of the main characters, Doctor Abdoulla Makhslood, being what amounted to the wizened old wizard. The story felt fresh. It was lively. I found myself lost in the bustling city of Dhamsawaat.

Abdoulla felt fully fledged from the introduction to him drinking at his favorite tea shop to his turbulent relationship with the Madame of a brothel. Saladin Ahmed excellently caused me to care about each of the point of view characters he introduced- be it Abdoulla’s dervish assistant with superhuman capabilities or his lifelong friends and fellow (retired) ghul hunters. The characters aren’t the only reason to read through Throne of the Crescent Moon.

Ahmed does an excellent job of making the world real as well. For the most part, the narrative is limited to the city of Dhamsawaat. Abdoulla and Raseed, his aforementioned dervish assistant, make a brief foray out of the city, but a majority of the story takes place within. The living conditions of the different parts of the city aren’t overly elaborated on, but there are enough hints and references that you can paint a picture of it in your head. My only major disappointment with the story being so focused on Dhamsawaat was the lack of a map for the city accompanying the book.

If you’ve read my other book reviews, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve complained about pacing fairly often. This was something that I felt the book handled most adeptly. Events unfold throughout the book that manage to ratchet up the threat level in steady doses while keeping the overall story moving. These threat level increases also grow organically and work with the flow of the story.

All of this being taken into account, I’d wholly recommend Throne of the Crescent Moon to anyone who is looking for a break from the tedium of faux medieval European fantasy worlds. It’s fresh. It’s new. It’s a good read. Hell. Pick it up even if you’re not looking for a break from the norm.

Reality Rules

I sat staring out the window for a minute. Occasionally, when you hear or see something incredible, it takes your brain a few extra pumps of the synaptic cylinders to turn over. Mine may as well have backfired. I heard a tinny voice through the heavy black plastic of my desk phone checking to see if I was still there. Bemused, I blinked and began to pinch the bridge of my nose that bordered the corners of my eyes. I closed my eyes and took a minute to recalibrate my thoughts. This had to be a joke.

“What do you mean the Titanic just arrived in New York today,” I said to myself as much as to the tipster on the end of the line. A flurry of excited, if stilted, explanation followed.  I finally interrupted them.

“Look. I just can’t believe this without proof.”

The phone call ended with them promising to send me the proof I had requested. Moments later the speakers from my computer chimed alerting me of a new email. Jiggling the mouse, the screen woke up from screensaver and I navigated through a torrent of spam emails making claims more outlandish than I published on a semi-monthly basis. Shortly after clearing out the junk another chime and another new email, this one from my tipster with a JPEG document attached.

A quick virus scan later and my brain stalled out for the second time that day. I attempted in vain to rescue my slack jaw as I stared at a digital photo of the RMS Titanic docking in the Manhattan Cruise Terminal. I opened the other attachment. A short video clip played of the ship pulling in and docking as people clamored all around. A normal tabloid would be all over this. Maybe they would run a special edition with the photos. Of course, pictures of this would be all over the major news sites already. I on the other hand, would be calling my immediate superior.

“We have a problem.” I said as the line came alive on the other end. “Yeah. The RMS Titanic. I’ve got the program running to make sure the photo and video aren’t altered, it should be done any second.”

My computer chimed. I spared a brief glance to confirm what I already knew.

“Results says the proof is clean.”

I pulled out the side drawer and lifted the hidden panel. I lifted the glass box and pulled the key and its attached chain from around my neck. Dropping it in the key slot I awaited my superior’s countdown before turning it.  Slowly the wall behind my office opened up to reveal a series of machinery that would have been more at home on the set of a Tim Burton movie than behind a securely locked hidden chamber of a tabloid editor’s office.

“Ten cranks only. Affirmative.” I said before hanging up the receiver.

I took hold of the primary wheel and slowly rotated it until I’d followed my superiors instructions.  The only response was a condom shaped bulb slowly pulsing through all the possible colors in the universe. As always, I resisted the temptation to give the wheel an extra crank.

Completing my task I returned to my desk and checked my inbox. Sure as the sun rising, the email containing the damning documents of the RMS Titanic’s miraculous appearance had disappeared. In its place was an email with a blurry picture offering proof of big foot. A quick search of the major news pages revealed no hint of the Titanic either. Once again reality was saved from coming to an abrupt and terrible end. I started putting together a cover page for big foot while waiting for the next real scare.


 

Apropos of: This Prompt

-Crouse