Monday, October 31, 2011

Ghosts of Mercury Almost Here

We hoped to release Ghosts of Mercury by Mark Michalowski today but a technical gremlin decided otherwise. That's what comes of trying to release something on Haloween, I suppose. It should be out in a couple days, however. In the meant time, the cover art is shown above and here is a video trailer for your enjoyment.

Also, here is an exclusive exerpt from the book. Enjoy.

He was there. Again. Standing silently in the corner of the room. There but not quite there.

When Corporal Heath looked directly at him, he seemed to jump, as if instantly whisked to some other part of the room that was now at the edge of his vision. Heath couldn’t help but still try to catch it out, hoping that, just once, the ghost might forget to jump.

Heath ached—not only with the pain in his leg and ankle and chest, but with frustration. He had lost count of the number of times the ghost had vanished completely, and he’d found himself staring down at his white hands, balled up into fists, clutching the hospital sheets. He sensed something not altogether right, not happy about the ghost. There was a darkness there that he didn’t like at all. Realising how tense he was, Heath consciously relaxed and let his chin drop to his chest, triggering a jolt of pain from the torn muscles around his collarbone—before looking up suddenly, another bolt of pain shooting down his left arm from his shoulder. There was something going on in the corridor; he recognised Doctor Schell’s voice. The door to the ward was flung open and in swept the doctor, in his wake a slim, striking woman with black hair and the most hypnotic eyes Heath had seen for a long time. She had a healthy tan which immediately marked her out as a newcomer to Mercury. In her arms, she carried a large, buff folder, holding it close like it was the most important thing in the world. Behind them, hands flapping and a look of intense annoyance on her face was Nurse Lopez. She shot a glance at Heath as if to apologise for letting Schell and this new woman in.

“Heath!” beamed Schell coming to a sudden stop at the side of the bed and folding his arms. “How the devil are you, man?”

“Can’t complain sir,” Heath replied, knowing that an angel must surely have been looking out for him all those weeks ago.

“Good man,” Schell said. “Good man. Been through the wars, haven’t you? Good to see you on the mend, though. Bearing up, hmm?”

Schell turned to Nurse Lopez who stood there, glowering at him. By all accounts, Nurse Lopez’ parents—and in particular her mother—were possessed of fiery Latin temperaments that their daughter had clearly inherited.

“This man is sick, Doctor Schell. I do not think you really need me to tell you that, do you? You are a doctor after all. He needs rest and time to recover, not being interrupted during dinner.” Her English was impeccable with barely a hint of a Spanish accent. Doctor Schell looked up and down the bed and at the side-table. There was no sign of any meal, either fresh or half-eaten.

“Not hungry, Heath?”

“Not really, sir, no. Sorry.”

“You don’t have to apologise for not being hungry, you know,” interjected the dark-haired young woman who sounded, from her accent, like an American. She smiled at him and gave him a wink.

“Well that just won’t do,” said Schell with a firm shake of his head. “You need to get something inside your belly. No man ever got better from not eating, now did he? And many have gotten much, much worse.”

“Maybe later, sir.”

Schell raised an eyebrow and glanced back at Nurse Lopez. “Well make sure you do—and if he doesn’t, Lopez, I’ll be wanting to know why.”

“Corporal Heath is doing very well, doctor. He’ll eat when he wants to.”

The doctor nodded as if he’d just won that round and turned to the woman he’d arrived with. “Corporal Heath, this is Miss Annabelle Somerset. She arrived on Mercury today. She’s a close family friend of the colonel, so make sure you show her some respect. She’s here…” He paused and looked at Nurse Lopez. “That’ll be all, thank you, Lopez. I’ll shout for you if I need you.”

Nurse Lopez pulled a sour face, looked Miss Somerset up and down as if appraising her as a potential rival—as women, in Heath’s opinion, were wont to do—and then turned on her heel and left, letting the door bang behind her as a final gesture.

“Sorry about that,” Schell apologised to Miss Somerset. “She gets very protective about poor Heath here. Good thing, I suppose, considering she’s a nurse. But still… Anyway, the colonel says that Miss Somerset here would like to talk to you, if you feel up to it.”

“What about, sir?”

“About your accident,” said Miss Somerset. “And…and what’s been happening to you since then.”

Copyright 2011 by Mark Michalowski

Space: 1889 © & ™ Frank Chadwick 1988, 2011

All Rights Reserved.

The Ghosts of Mercury by Mark Michalowski, soon to be available from Untreed Reads Publishing.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mars Needs Steam Pictures

Last weekend I ran a Mars Needs Steam! game up in the Chicago area and my pal Tom Harris shot some pictures. The game featured the British and German allies against the Russians (with Fenian allies) and Oenotrian Imperial Canal Martians, with a mixed Franco-Turkish force remaining scrupulously neutral throughout. This game also featured the debut of my kit-bashed small British flyer, which I've dubbed an "aerothopter."

Here's a pretty good view of the aerothopter, showing its open cockpit and crew of two as well as its armanent of a 3-pounder Hotchkiss revolving cannon. It is held aloft by two ducted fans rather than liftwood.

Here's a longer view of the aerothopter as flies over some British mounted infantry and scattered woods. The forward part is from a 1950s-era science fiction playset, and includes the cockpit section, ducted fans and grasping arms. The rear superstruction was my own addition, the power plant being part of a terrain piece (half of the power transformer) from Itar's Workshop, which has some very nice steampunky bits. Here's a link to their webpage. The Hotchkiss revolver is scratchbuilt, but there are commercial versions available as well. (I was just in a hurry to get it done.)

The Oenotrian Imperial legions advance, their artillery drawn by massive ruumet breehrs. The figures are all RAFM, Canal Martians for the foot and gashaant-mounted cavalry and elves for the gun crews. The ruumet breehrs are conversion from toy rhinos.

This picture is a little blurry, but it shows a squad of German Venusian lizardman Schutztruppen, with bearded German NCO in the lead. Some German colonial troops are just visible in the foreground. I know, Venusian Schutztruppen were not actually employed on Mars, so this was not strickly speaking an historical game. The lizard Schutztruppen are conversions from RAFM's old line of fantasy lizard  men.

A squad of Fenian infantry advancing in support of the Russian steam tank. They have a shifty look about them and are clearly plotting some outrage against The Crown.

The Russian personalities and leaders, from left to right, the colonel commanding the military forces, his aide de camp, the highly esteemed (and decorated) geologist, and the lady naturalist -- quite unusual in a Russian party but not unheard of.

Another view of the German lizardman Schutztruppen as they secure a Martian village and are attacked by a clockwork infernal device (lower left) unleashed by a renegade human inventor in league with the Oenotrians. The German archaeologist (center) has paused to examine the decorative lawn statue which graces the entryway of the native hut.

Turkish infantry and artillery prepare to advance, supported by a squad of the elite French Garde Rouge (upper left).

Great fun and another successful playtest of the rules.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Steampunk Web Comic, and Some Thoughts on Story Telling

I just ran across a Sseampunk web comic called Lady Sabre & The Pirates of the Ineffable Aether. So far Chapter 1 is up.

I have mixed feelings about it. The art is really excellent. The story and background -- I'm not sure.

 I know, it's only Chapter 1 and I'm not supposed to know what's going on, since all of Chapter 1 is a swordfight between Lady Sabre and the evil Captain Hans, over something she's stolen. She fights Hans and about five of his henchmen, dispatches all of the henchmen (probably because they're wearing gasmasks -- that's got to be a terrible handicap in a sword fight) and then jumps into space to land on her waiting ship. Why she didn't do that to start with, instead of hanging around to fight, is one question which occured to me. Why none of the henchmen thought to bring a gun is another. (She did -- a derringer -- and shot two of them.) But the big question I have is why I should care.

Donald Maass, one of the smartest guys out there on the art of the novel, once said that the two types of scenes which bore him most are fight scenes and sex scenes. Both are exciting to do, but a lot less exciting to read about. He doesn 't say fight scenes are a waste of time, but he makes the point that until you know the characters and are invested in them, action scenes are just a bunch of people you don't care about running around and shouting -- and he's right! Starting a story with a big unexplained action scene has become a cliche, and in my opinion a very bad one.

Until you know the characters and what they want, there's nothing at stake in the action, so it's just . . . well, kind of pointless and boring. In this case it is doubly so, as Lady Saber spends the entire fight making wisecracks and grinning from ear to ear. She seems to know there is no danger of anything bad happening to her (or if there is, she apparently doesn't care), so that pretty much sucks any tension out of the scene. It's like watching George Cluney in some of his less successful action films. I don't care how bad the briefer says the situation is, as long as George has that sort of half-smirk on his face, it's clear he knows nothing bad's really going to happen and hell, he's read the script.

That was my real problem with the first chapter of Lady Saber and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether -- it's just a long, pointless sword fight with no tension, suspense, or sense of danger. The art, as I said, is great, so we'll see if this actuallys grows a story, a plausible world, and most importantly some characters worth caring about.

Here's the link. By all means make up your own minds.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Early Reviews on Space:1889 And Beyond

We are starting to get reviews on the initial Space: 1889 and Beyond stories -- and very nice reviews they are at that. Here are three reviews in ezines and steampunk blogs. I also noticed a review for each book up at Amazon: four out of five stars in one review and five for five in the other. Not too shabby.

The on-line reviews are at:

Sci-Fi Bulletin

The Traveler's Steampunk Blog

Pulp Den

In related news, the contracts are going out to some of the authors of Season Two of the series, which is a bit expanded from season one. Instead of six stories total -- one novel and five novellas -- it looks as if there will be seven stories and three of them will be full-length novels with four novellas. As I mentioned before, Andy Frankham-Allen, the series editor, and I will be co-authoring the kick-off novel, which we have re-titled "Conspiracy of Silence."

 I'm in the middle of reading the final draft of the third book in Season One, "Ghosts of Mercury," by Mark Michalowski, and I really like it. (I know I say that a lot, but it's true!) So I'm very glad to see that he is on board for Season Two as well, although I don't know which story Andy has him writing. Mark, by the way, also did the video trailer for the series, a convergence of talents which borders on the creepy, as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Space 1889 and Beyond Video Trailer

Mark Michalowski has done a really great Space 1889 and Beyond video trailer for the first season of eBook releases. I am impressed. Love the music, too. Check it out. Here's the link.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hill Martians from Highlander Studios!

Rod at Highlaander Studios sent this pictures of the new sculpts of Hill Martians. The photos are a little burry, but they still look good to me.

Energetic Hill Martians with halberds (known there as "coddling-choppers"). Notice the coin for scale. It's always hard for me to remeber that these are 15mm figures.

Hill Martian women with coddling-choppers. When a nomad encampment is attacked, everyone picks up a weapon and lends a hand.

A close-up of another Hill Martian pose.

Judging by his gear and his weaponry, I'd say we have a Hill martian war chief here.

Here is a painted grouping of the British Wilderness Adventurers.

And, of course, the American Wilderness Adventurers.

As always, very nice stuff, Rod.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lots of EBook News!

A lot has happened in the last week in the EPublishing field for us, so in no particular order of importance, here goes:

Vandals on Venus by K. G. McAbee, Book 2 in the Space: 1889 and Beyond EBook series from Untreed Reads, is live as of Tuesday, 5 October. Huzzah! Huzzah! Those of you with a series pass should already have it. If not, go immediately to the Untreed Reads store and buy it. Here's the link.

When Nathanial Stone gets an emergency message from an old friend on Venus begging for his help, his duty is clear: he must go at once.

His ward, Miss Annabelle Somerset, instead of agreeing to stay safely on Earth as he begs, insists on accompanying him to the dangerous tropical planet, home of huge reptiles.

Soon, Nathanial and Annabelle find themselves in the middle of a plot concerning a nefarious German officer, a brilliant English inventor, an Irish guide no better than he should be, a heavily-armed lizard-man and a clever American newspaperman.

Can even they prevail against such odds?

Here is an exerpt from the book to whet your appetites:

“Might you be Mister Stone, sir?” he called when Nathanial was still some yards away. “A message came in for you, sir, from Venus.”

“Venus, did you say?” Nathanial took the flimsy paper, gummed in half for privacy. Who on Earth—he shook his head and smiled—who on Venus, rather, could the message be from?

He tossed the messenger a shilling. The boy touched one finger to his round blue cap, turned and dashed away towards a three-wheeled steam velocipede. The boy settled himself in the harness between the two huge front wheels and, assisted by the bubbling engine, sped away at quite seven miles an hour, Stone calculated.

Nathanial walked slowly back towards his host, the bit of paper still unfolded in his hand. The address on the front told him little. Fort Collingwood, Her Majesty’s Royal Colony, Venus.

“Something urgent, my dear Stone?” asked White when Nathanial had settled back in his chair.

“I am not quite sure. If you will forgive me, I suppose I should read it.”

White waved his hand. “Naturally. Duty waits for no man.”

Mrs White rose. “I think I’ll just walk down and see if Miss Annabelle and her admirers have worked up a thirst. Do touch the bell for more hot water, William.” She drifted politely away, her long white skirts trailing behind her.

“Well, go on, Professor!” White sat up straight in his chair, all signs of sleepiness gone. “Let us see what is important enough to send a message all the way across the void from Venus!” He sighed. “I have always wanted to visit the colonies there. Imagine the place. Steamy jungles full of huge carnivorous reptiles, while the colonists huddle inside their palisades as the beasts roar for their blood.”

“You have been reading penny dreadfuls, my dear William!” Nathanial laughed.

“I confess it, Professor.” White had the grace to look abashed. “Do not tell my wife, I pray. I already have to hide them in my desk drawers. Oh, not that she disapproves! I have to hide them to keep her from spiriting them away before I have done with them.”

Nathanial threw his head back and laughed at his friend and, at last, ripped open the bit of flimsy and began to read:

21 April 1889, Fort Collingwood, Her Majesty’s colony on Venus

My Dear Stone,

I am sure you have not forgotten our glorious school days together. I excelling in cricket and squash, whilst you swotted away at your books. What is it, ten years since we met? No, longer than that, surely. I shall forego the usual adage re flying time and simply say how immensely proud I am of your great accomplishments in the years since I’ve seen you. Co-inventor of the aether propeller governor! Even on Venus, we have heard of its wonders! Yes, Venus, my dear chap. I passed—we shall not discuss precise rankings, if you please!—my civil service examinations and have been assigned to this damply dangerous—dangerously damp?—planet. At first, one must admit, I simply pushed a pen, but now I’ve managed to get my hands on a rather plush position, a sort of attaché without portfolio, if you will.

I am first assistant—well, let me be quite honest, my dear chap; I am the only assistant—to Geoffrey Forbes-Hamilton, esquire, if you please. I know you recognise the name; all you brilliant engineering johnnies belong to the same clubs and speak the same lingo. I confess, my talents, such as they are, are not the reason I received this particular assignment. It is more along the lines of no one else can stand the bounder. Not one of nature’s gentlemen, shall we say? In fact, I have heard it rumoured that his grandpapa was in trade! But be that as it may: the man is brilliant and H.M.’s government wants him coddled, which is, for my sins, my current job.

You are no doubt wondering, in that perspicacious way which is yours alone, precisely why I am rambling on this way—not to mention, why I’ve dared get in touch with you after all these years. I realise we did not part as the best of chums. Water under London Bridge and all that is how I feel about our little contretemps, and I can only pray you feel the same.

For I need your kind assistance, and in the worst possible way. Allow me to explain in more detail. Forbes-Hamilton has a passion for airships, don’t you see, which is the reason he’s on Venus in the first place. He says he’s untrammeled by inquisitive interlopers here. He is determined to build a new kind of airship which will surpass in every way those the dear old Kaiser’s people have designed. Naturally, our own chaps wish to see that happen as fiercely as does F-H Esquire.

And therein lies the rub, and the reason for this endless scrawl of mine—one of the benefits of working for H.M.’s service, don’t you know: I have no need to be stingy with my words when I can drop a missive into the governor-general’s official pouch!

Forbes-Hamilton has built—and lost—one prototype airship already; he called it the Aeronaut I. “Lost” as in “went down in flames,” don’t you know. Really, it was a most impressive sight, I do assure you! Aeronaut II ended up floating in a local lake and, though we both escaped from the wreckage with no more than scratches, by the time we managed to drag the remnants of the airship onto shore, the local aquatic fauna had chewed it about rather badly. It ended up resembling nothing so much as a badly mangled dog’s toy.

Now Aeronaut III is under construction upon the very bones of II. Dear old F-H refuses to discuss the “inadequacies” of I and II; he simply keeps repeating “she’ll be much better this time.” So much eye wash, in my opinion.

Well, to my point. (“At last!” I hear you exclaim across the aether.) If you could possibly see your way clear to barge off to Fort Collingwood here on Venus and offer your vast expertise to dear old F-H, you would not only be helping out a fellow brilliant engineer, but you would also be offering inestimable services to the government of that regal lady we are both so proud to serve—not to mention, saving the bacon of an old school chum. For, and I tell you this strictly sub rosa, my position as aide-cum-nanny for surly old F-H may will be my best—and last—shot at a decentish career.

Do say you’ll come, old chap. Quite honestly, I suspect some serious problems re III. Life or death, in fact. Do come!

Best regards, Giles Percival Jericho

Nathanial looked up to find White’s eyes locked onto him.

“Well, Professor? You look a bit surprised. Something wrong?”

“Are you familiar, William, with,” Nathanial glanced back at the flimsy bit of paper, “a fellow called Geoffrey Forbes-Hamilton?”

White tented his fingers together; Nathanial could almost see the wheels turning in his friend’s brilliant mind.

“Ah, yes, now I remember the fellow.” White sat forward in his chair, his eyes bright, looking like an eager boy—though Nathanial was sadly aware of the lines of care and the many new white hairs visible in his beard. “Some rather striking new ideas in airship design. Went off to Venus to experiment ‘without a lot of official botherment,’ I believe he told someone. Thinks he can beat Herr Zeppelin at his own game, and bypass the use of liftwood at the same time. More power to him, I must say. Is that the chap you mean?”

Nathanial nodded and tossed him the letter. As White read it, Nathanial watched Mrs White coming towards them across the lawn, Annabelle beside her and the young men following respectfully behind, looking in their uniforms like a cadre of blue jays protecting two swans.

(Aeronaut III, as rendered by artist David Burson.)

White rose and handed the message back to Nathanial. “I see. This is an opportunity not to be missed, Professor. If you can indeed assist Forbes-Hamilton, and his ideas are bearing fruit, it would be a definite coup for Her Majesty’s Navy. We shall have to see what we can do to get you passage to Fort Collingwood at once.

Untreed Reads just announced that Andy Frankham-Allan's Journey to the Heart of Luna was the number two bestselling title for Untreed Reads in September. Congratulations, Andy! That's nothing to sneeze at. Untreed Reads has broader distribution than any other pure EBook publisher in the business, and it's about to get bigger. Of course Untreed Read products have been available for the iPhone and iPad through Apple's US iBookstore. Now they will be available through 32 additional foreign countries through the dedicated iBookstores in those lands. The title Untreed Reads picked to launch the new venture?

K.G. McAbee's Vandals on Venus. So we must be doing something right.

We must indeed be doing something right. Untreed Reads just gave the formal green light for a second series of Space: 1889 and Beyond EBooks to be released in 2012. Andy Frankham-Allen and I will be co-authoring the lead-off novel in the new series. Andy remains series editor as well and while several of the books have already been assigned, he is accepting proposals/treatments for the rest. Any writers out there interested in taking the plunge, contact Andy through the Space 1889 and Beyond Facebook page. (It is in the links for this blog.)

Not to get too far ahead of myself, I am just finishing up the re-writes on A Prince of Mars and will have that off to Andy by week's end. Then it's to serious work on Earth Fall, the first book in next year's series. Nathanial and Annabelle remain the focus of the story, and this second season of books will answer some questions about the Space: 1889 universe people have speculated about since the original book was released back in 1988. Big questions.

Oh? Like what?

Well, let me tell you a story. In 1756, shortly before the outbreak of the Seven Years War, Frederick the Great, king of Prussia, was travelling across Germany to Berlin. He was about to mobilize the Prussian Army and throw it against the Austrian Empire, but while speculation along those lines ran hot, no one yet knew for certain what his intentions were.

He stopped for dinner at the manor house of a minor German noble and over dinner the noble asked if he actually intended to attack the Austrians. Frederick leaned over and in a soft voice asked, "Can you keep a secret?"

"Oh, yes sire!" the noble assured him.

"Good," Frederick said. "So can I."