If You’re Following This Blog…

…first, thank you! I truly do appreciate it! Your support means a lot to me.

But second, you should probably head over to Shoemaker.Space and follow me there.

I’m trying to consolidate my “writer brand” to a single brand; and in my opinion, Shoemaker.Space is a heck of a brand! Especially with all those great photos from NASA and art from great artists.

But it’s more than just great visuals: Shoemaker.Space is easy to say in a crowded room, and easy for people to remember. (Well, except for those people who insist on adding a .com onto the end. No, it’s just .Space. That’s a valid domain extension now. It has been for three years. Maybe four.)

And it’s great for my “message”. My preferred fiction to read and to write is what I call Neo-Apollo: stories that capture the spirit of the Apollo era and project it out into our near future and near space. Shoemaker.Space says that loud and clear!

So someday soon, this site will redirect to Shoemaker.Space. But this content won’t be lost! Thanks to the magic of WordPress, all of my blog posts (except this one) have already been imported over there, including your comments. And if you had a commenting account here, you already have one there — though you’ve been assigned a new, random password. No, I can’t tell you what it is: WordPress protects that even from me. You’ll have to use the Reset Password link to enter a new one.

I have a lot of exciting plans for Shoemaker.Space to help me grow my reputation and my audience. It’s all secret right now (unless you ask — you know how easily flattered I am), and I hope you’ll follow along!



Writers of the Future: Playing the Odds

A friend recently asked me about ways to improve your chances in the Writers of the Future contest. I thought it was a good question, and I thought my answers were a nice summary of lessons learned. So I decided to share them here as a simple set of “rules” – in quotes, because they can be broken, and they’re no guarantee, but they’re good guidelines.

But before I get to the rules, I must remind you of the most reliable way to win the contest: write an excellent science fiction or fantasy story, 17,000 words or less, and send it in. Honestly, that’s the best thing you can do. Keep working on that!

Now for the rules…

  1. You should know that for pretty much every fiction market out there – and remember, Writers of the Future isn’t just a contest, it’s a pro-paying market – any rule that you hear, even from the editor directly, can usually be circumvented by a really brilliant story. That’s what every editor wants: a really brilliant story that’s close enough to their genre to give them an excuse to buy it. If you can pass Rule 1, you can ignore the rest of these rules. You’re covered. But you still might want to read them, just in case they give you ideas.
  2. David Farland is the coordinating judge for the contest. Out of the thousands of entries they receive every quarter, Dave selects 8 as Finalists. Then a panel of quarterly judges, all pro writers themselves, select 3 winners for the quarter. But Dave is more than the coordinating judge, more than a bestselling author: he is also a writing mentor through his site My Story Doctor. He also writes a series of writing tips on his blog. Every so often, he blogs specifically about what he’s looking for in the contest, or why some stories don’t make the cut. So Rule 2 is: Read Dave’s Tips.
  3. Rule 3 is: Don’t argue with Dave’s Tips! I can’t believe it, but some people do! They say he’s wrong. Now it might be argued that…

    “There are nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, and every single one of them is right!” – Rudyard Kipling

    And Dave would not disagree! There are many ways to write a story. If you can tell a great story that ignores Dave’s Tips, more power to you! But that doesn’t make Dave wrong about what he looks for in the contest! He might be wrong about what readers want. He’s not wrong about what he looks for.

  4. Except… In at least one case, Dave was wrong. He’s on record as saying he hates werewolf stories. He never even finishes them. But… Last year Julie Frost won with a werewolf story. How did she do it? Simple: she wrote a story so good that Dave could not ignore it. Rule 4 is: See Rule 1.
  5. They get thousands of entries every quarter. Many are by people who just enter contests without looking into the details. A good number aren’t even science fiction or fantasy. So if Dave doesn’t see an SF/F element by the end of page 2 — or at least a hint — he’ll probably stop reading. If it looks promising otherwise, he might skip to the end to see if it’s there.
  6. Dave does a lot of skipping to the end. He has seen a lot of plots. If he figures out your plot on page 2, he skips to the end to see if he’s right. If he is, you’re probably out. But if he’s surprised, he may go back to see how you got there.
  7. They get a lot of stories inspired by the latest big movie. They all blur together, and most likely none of them get through. As excited as you may be by the latest blockbuster, put that idea aside. Let it simmer. Come back to it later, and give it a fresh twist.
  8. Dave likes to see three things as early as possible: A character, in a setting, with a problem. It might not be THE problem, but A problem. Struggling with that reveals character and setting.
  9. Dave really likes good description. That held me back for a long time. I’m weak on description.
  10. As for story structure, unless you’ve got a brilliant alternative (Scott Parkin did in Volume 31 – see Rule 1), Dave prefers a traditional Freytag triangle with three Try/Fail Cycles. Two is too easy, four is dragging it out. Three is best. You might have some of the structure happen before the story, or off screen, but try to have it all there somewhere.
  11. Dave likes a story to mean something on an emotional level. Cool plots are great. Cool plots that mean something are memorable.
  12. If your story is set in a modern or historical setting, Dave is a stickler for research and for voice. And he has been a lot of places, he knows a lot of things, and he has met a lot of people. If you’re faking your research, he’ll probably know.
  13. If, on the other hand, you make up your own universe to avoid that whole research trap, Dave likes it logical and consistent.
  14. The contest never gets enough good humor, but they get way too much bad.
  15. Talk to winners. Ask what worked for them. Ask what they learned. My “rules” are just from my one experience. Get multiple perspectives.

That’s a good start. Nothing guarantees a win, of course, but these “rules” will move the odds in your favor.

Science Fiction Authors Visit the Cosmosphere


Page 1

HUTCHINSON—08/12/2016—A group of Science Fiction authors will take a break from the World Science Fiction Convention meeting in Kansas City next week to travel to the Cosmosphere for a book signing and tour on Tuesday, August 16th.

Trip organizer and author Martin L. Shoemaker said he has been eager to get the group to the Cosmosphere.

“I have visited the Cosmosphere three times before,” Shoemaker said, “That’s why I’ve been so eager to organize this trip: it is my favorite space museum, period. The collection is good, and the thematic presentation is absolutely superb! I always feel like I’m taking a walking tour of the Space Race.”

Several of the authors will hold a book signing at 1 p.m.  The authors and their works are as follows:

Rosemary Claire Smith. Smith’s latest story is in the April 2016 issue of Analog Science Fiction and Fact: “Diamond Jim and the Dinosaurs”. Coming up will be a guest editorial in the November Analog: On the Money.

C Stuart Hardwick. Hardwick is a past winner of Writers of the Future. His latest story is “Dreams of the Rocket Men”, a tribute to the pioneers of rocketry in the current issue of Analog.

Daniel J. Davis, Steve Pantazis, and Martin L. Shoemaker were all 2014 winners of Writers of the Future. Daniel’s latest story is “The God Emperor of Lassie Point”, appearing in the anthology Alien Artifacts from Zombies Need Brains Publishing. Steve’s latest story, “The Devil Walks into a Bar”, appears in the current issue of Galaxy’s Edge magazine. Martin’s story “Today I Am Paul” (from Clarkesworld magazine) was nominated for a Nebula award and has appeared in Year’s Best Science Fiction: Thirty-third Annual Edition, The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume One, The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, and eight international translations.

For more information about the book signing, contact Janet Fisher, group sales manager, at 620.665.9340.

The Cosmosphere International SciEd Center & Space Museum is located at 1100 North Plum in Hutchinson, KS. Its collection includes U.S. space artifacts second only to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the largest collection of Russian space artifacts outside of Moscow. This unique collection allows the Cosmosphere to tell the story of the Space Race better than any museum in the world while offering fully immersive education experiences that meet the Next Generation Science Standards and introduce students to the power of wondering—asking the critical questions that lead to discovery.   The Cosmosphere also features the Carey Digital Dome Theater offering documentary showings daily and recently-released feature films on weekends and a newly renovated Planetarium.



A Review of Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt



A Review of Thunderbird by Jack McDevitt

Note: This book is a sequel to Ancient Shores, a book I thoroughly enjoyed. You don’t have to read that book to understand this one, but I highly recommend that you do. This review will necessarily include spoilers for that book.

I have sometimes said of Jack McDevitt that he likes to write archaeological science fiction: stories where an artifact from the distant past reveals a mystery in the story’s “present” (which might be our distant future). The Alex Benedict books are about a famous treasure hunter in this mold. Many of the Priscilla Hutchins books involve an ancient force that systematically wipes out civilizations, leaving us little to study but ruins.

But while reading Thunderbird, I realized that I wasn’t giving McDevitt broad enough credit: he likes cultural science fiction, exploring the impact of discoveries on a culture. That was true from his very first novel, The Hercules Text, the story of how a message from a distant civilization affects our own.

McDevitt also delights in not answering all the questions. He has said that not answering makes a story more realistic. In real life, we have to live with unanswered questions. Some mysteries must wait for another day.

And both of those ideas were found in Ancient Shores, a book that starts with a North Dakota farmer making a strange discovery: a yacht buried in his fields, fields which were beneath a vast inland sea… ten-thousand years ago. The sailboat has mysterious properties: it isn’t quite the right size and its fittings aren’t quite the right shape for humans; and it is impervious to wear and tear, almost impossible to damage, and hence impossible for anyone to estimate its age. The yacht leads eventually to the discovery of the Roundhouse, a dock on the Sioux-owned cliffs that once overlooked the sea; and in the Roundhouse they find a working gateway to other stars.

That book is classic McDevitt. We see how these discoveries affect both individuals and the culture at large. Some want to explore. Some want to run and hide. Some see danger in how these alien technologies can disrupt the economy and render the world more dangerous. Some see their own fears and must decide to stand up to them or cower in shame. And the Mni Wakan Oyate tribe of the Sioux see the return of an ancient conflict as the U.S. government decides to “solve” the problem by destroying the Roundhouse. Only through the timely intercession of scientists and celebrities is the destruction halted. For now.

It’s a victory, and the book ends on a high note; but… In real life, we have to live with unanswered questions. Where did the Roundhouse come from? How does it work? Can the Sioux keep control, or will the government take over? And what is that strange sentient whirlwind that aids travelers in distress? Some mysteries must wait for another day.

Thunderbird is another day. (Literally. Ancient Shores took place in 1996 or so, the time that book was published. Thunderbird takes place today; but at the same time, Thunderbird takes place immediately after Ancient Shores. There was a brief bit in chapter 1 or 2 where McDevitt sneakily brought the prior book into the present. You would have to really look to notice, but I was watching for it. This book is in the present, with ubiquitous cell phones and Internet and cable news and modern politics.) And answers are forthcoming – as are surprises.

Many of the same characters are involved: U.S. President Matthew Taylor, Sioux Chairman James Walker, scientist April Cannon, and security guard Andrea Hawk. Others have been reduced to cameos, such as Matt Collingwood, the pilot who helped to find the Roundhouse. Tom Lasker, the farmer who found the yacht, is mentioned but never appears.

And there are plenty of new characters, chief among them being Brad Hollister, a radio host and reporter who gets slowly drawn into the missions. The Sioux unexpectedly find themselves with a space program, one more advanced than anyone else on Earth can imagine; and Brad is there to observe it. While other characters are caught up in the diplomacy and politics, Brad is there as a witness, the reader’s eyes and ears to the excitement. He understandably struggles with fear (Would you trust your life to 10,000-year-old technology?) and then shame over that fear. This struggle made it very easy to identify with him. We all want to believe we’ll be brave in the face of danger, but what happens when we’re really tested?

And there are aliens. Yes, in this book, the Sioux and their allies meet aliens: the ape-like Arkons, the not-quite-human Riverwalkers, and the aforementioned sentient windstorm. McDevitt explores each culture (though some deeper than others), and each adds to the mystery of the Roundhouse.

In the end, McDevitt answers many questions, but subtly. The reader, like the characters, has to decide what to believe from the evidence they find. I think that Brad learned who the gate builders were and part of why the gates were built; but there’s enough room to argue about it, and not everyone accepts their answers.

If Brad is right about the gate builders, then the Sioux people have a fascinating future ahead if they can use what they have learned; and yet the ending puts that future out of reach. For now. It’s a more definitive ending than the end of Ancient Shores, but did it answer all the questions? Maybe you missed the part where I said this is a Jack McDevitt book. We have to live with unanswered questions. Some mysteries must wait for another day – and (I hope) another sequel.

My verdict? I was intrigued in many places. I was surprised in all the right parts. I laughed out loud at several scenes. I was frustrated by some of the stupid decisions while still understanding why the characters made them. I enjoyed the characters (particularly Brad and April). The ending satisfied me while still leaving me wanting more. And the epilogue made me smile. I recommend this book to anyone who likes thoughtful science fiction.

Full disclosure: I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Before that, I preordered the Kindle version on the first day it was available, and I have preordered the hardcover so that I can get it autographed.

Ranks in Blue Collar Space

In the earliest stories of Blue Collar Space, I had only a vague and often inconsistent rank structure. Eventually I wrote down one consistent structure so that I could refer to it; and since readers have asked how to compare the ranks, I’m documenting it here.

The Services

But before I can discuss ranks, I should first explain the different multinational space services. These have different jurisdictions and responsibilities in space, but currently they all use the same rank structure.

  • Security Service (a.k.a. “The Admiralty”). This service is staffed by military personnel from the different member nations of the System Initiative. They are not technically a military in that they cannot (in theory) be used in war. There are too many national interests involved, and the decision-making process is too carefully balanced, for military operations. Instead, they are intended to enforce security and international regulations. They are technically within Space Corps (see below), but they see themselves as a separate elite service.
  • Space Corps. This service is the home of multinational exploration missions, as well as space stations and other common facilities.
  • Transport Corps. This is an umbrella service for passenger and cargo transport operations, and is largely made up of private vessels and crews. The Transport Corps certifies and evaluates these efforts so as to ensure the highest standards of operation; and most nations and corporations prefer to contractTransport Corps personnel as the easiest way to staff their missions. It is not illegal to operate a vessel without Transport Corps certification, but it’s difficult to get insurance or passengers if you do.

Trainee Rank

This category has only a single rank, the lowest possible. It’s technically not a service rank, because Trainees have not yet been enlisted (or commissioned) into a service. The purpose of Trainee rank is to determine whether personnel are qualified for the space services,

  • T-1         T            Trainee

Recruit Ranks

This category also has only a single rank: Recruit, the lowest possible enlisted rank. Recruits are not yet certified for space duty, and hence can only be assigned to ground stations (except in extraordinary circumstances).

  • E-0         R            Recruit

Spacer Ranks

Enlisted personnel in this category are certified for space duty, but only in stations and other facilities that do not travel (i.e., nothing with a drive).

  • E-1         SR          Spacer Recruit
  • E-2         SA          Spacer Apprentice
  • E-3         SP          Spacer

Astronaut Ranks

Enlisted personnel in this category are certified for space duty in both stations and vessels.

  • E-4         AS3        Astronaut 3rd Class – Certified for Earth orbit operations
  • E-5         AS2        Astronaut 2nd Class – Certified for Earth-Luna operations
  • E-6         AS1        Astronaut 1st Class – Certified for all Solar System travel
  • E-7         CAS       Chief Astronaut – A specialist in some vital area such as engineering, environment, etc.
  • E-8         SCAS     Senior Chief Astronaut – An advanced specialist
  • E-9         MCAS    Master Chief Astronaut – The highest enlisted rank, with multiple specialty certifications

Non-Commissioned Officer Ranks

As in modern militaries, non-comms run day-to-day operations under the command of officers.

  • B-1        BN1       Bosun 1
  • B-2        CBN2     Chief Bosun 2
  • B-3        CBN3     Chief Bosun 3
  • B-4        CBN4     Chief Bosun 4
  • B-5        CBN5     Chief Bosun 5

Commissioned Officer Ranks

The personnel who plan and direct vessels and missions.

  • O-0        MID       Midshipman (Officer trainee)
  • O-1        ENS       Ensign
  • O-2        LTJG      Lieutenant Junior Grade
  • O-3        LT          Lieutenant
  • O-4        LCDR     Lieutenant Commander
  • O-5        CDR       Commander
  • O-6        CHF       Chief
  • O-7        CAPT     Captain (Commandant for ground posts)
  • O-8        RDML    Rear Admiral
  • O-9        VADM   Vice Admiral
  • O-10      ADM     Admiral
  • O-11      FADM   Fleet Admiral

The story behind “Unrefined”

“Unrefined” is my Third Place story for Quarter 1 in L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Volume 31. Here’s an audio sampler:

Thank you to Tung Chi “Jessica” Lee for the amazing illustration for my story, and to Scott R. Parkin for his powerful narration in this sampler.


Where did this story come from? That’s a complicated question for most stories, but I remember the sources of this story pretty clearly.

It started as a story about an asteroid mining team that must deliver a payload under stressful circumstances. I had a vision of a miner having to ride the payload to its destination (that never made it into the story, but I’ll use it some day). I also had a vision of the mining team, a family (more or less) headed by a matriarch trying to hold her team together after her husband died in pursuit of this load.

But characters don’t exist in an economic and social background. Who is this payload for? Where are they shipping it? Where did they travel from, and where will they return to? I had an idea of a mining society based somewhere in the asteroid belt; but immediately I said, “I can’t write that. Jerry Pournelle would never forgive me.” Back in the 1970s, Dr. Pournelle wrote an essay “Those Pesky Belters and Their Torch Ships” (collected in A Step Farther Out). The essay explained that fundamentals of rocketry tell us that the SF classic “Belter” civilization (miners that live in some asteroid capitol and then travel through the belt, mining loads to ship to Earth) makes no economic sense. Even a large asteroid has almost no gravity, so it can’t help you to catch it. You have to burn fuel all the way there, and then burn more fuel to get back to your capitol. It turns out to take less fuel to set your base on Earth or Mars. A society that can live in the asteroid belt can live anywhere in the Solar System. So my belt society just wouldn’t work.

But! Dr. Pournelle’s essay ended with a workable alternative. Jupiter has gravity. Lots and lots of gravity. Enough to make it easy to catch with garden-variety rockets. And enough to catch millions, maybe billions of asteroids as little moonlets. Jupiter did the hard work of collecting them, all you have to do is harvest them.

So my asteroid mining ship became a small collection of mining ships and stations in Jupiter orbit (named the Pournelle Settlements in Dr. Pournelle’s honor). But if the rock is traveling all the way from Jupiter to Earth, the idea of riding the load in is untenable. The trip would take too long, and the miner would run out of food and air. I needed another method, and I settled on an old SF trope: the mass driver, a large linear accelerator that uses magnets to grab a load and launch it on a desired trajectory. But a big mass driver implied a big station, not a small family operation. Thus was born entrepreneur Wilson Gray and his Refinery Station.

Except for one problem: the original premise of the story was a problem with the delivery. After all that time designing my Refinery Station, I needed to disable it, maybe even destroy it.

And so begins “Unrefined”. Like many of my stories, it begins with a character hanging in an airlock, preparing to leap into space…

EDIT: Auston Habershaw shares the story behind “A Revolutionary’s Guide to Practical Conjuration”.

Red Tide by Larry Niven, Brad R. Torgersen, and Matthew J. Harrington

Red Tide

Available as the August 2014 Phoenix Pick Book of the Month (until the end of the month) for $4.99 for the eBook.

Preorder the paper version here. Ships on October 15.

Full disclosure: one of the authors of this book, Brad R. Torgersen, is one of my very best writing friends, and also one of my writing inspirations and mentors. I am not exactly neutral when it comes to his work. He’s a rising star, and I’m eagerly following his examples as I try to keep up with his success.

More full disclosure: someday, when he least expects it, I shall kick Brad in the shins for being the luckiest author on the planet.

When Mike Resnick (yet more full disclosure: also a friend, mentor, and all-around great guy — with an occasionally biting sense of humor) and the good folks at Arc Manor (and one final bit of full disclosure: they also publish Galaxy’s Edge magazine, which has published two of my stories) announced the Stellar Guild series, I loved the idea. They approach an established pro SF/fantasy author about writing half of a book, and then having an aspiring new pro (chosen by the established pro) write the other half of the book. The veteran and the new writer might write two stories in the same universe, or they might write two halves of a single story. It’s a great way to get some new fiction from the veteran and to discover a new writer. Win-win! And I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Brad had been selected for the program. He’s that good. (Don’t believe me? Check out Lights in the Deep, his first short story collection. If these stories don’t move you, you are stone.) And I even wasn’t surprised when I learned Brad would be paired with Larry Niven, one of his idols.

But when I figured out that they would be working in the Jerryberry Jansen universe, I assumed my best angry Kirk face, and I shouted “BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDD!!!!!” (Later I added “MATTHEWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!” when I learned that Niven is so awesome, they had to pair him with two new authors just to maintain the balance.)

The Jansen series — maybe better referred to as the teleportation series, since Jansen is only one of many protagonists — is to my mind the quintessential Larry Niven series. Niven’s signature technique is to take one speculative idea and then ruthlessly, logically follow wherever that idea leads, finding stories as he follows. This to me is science fiction perfection, an ideal that I aspire to in my own stories; and Larry Niven is a perfect master, and this series is where I first saw him in action. Where some stories just assume teleportation exists, Niven asks, “What would it do to society if teleportation existed? What would change? What social stresses might disappear? What new stresses might appear? What new crimes might arise?”

Niven started answering those questions in “Flash Crowd”, wherein a young “newstaper” (journalist), Barry Jerome “Jerryberry” Jansen, unintentionally incites a riot — simply by reporting a riot. (The rest is simply a logical consequence of teleportation.) He followed up with a number of other short stories in the same universe. It’s not as well-known as his Known Space universe, but I think it’s more accessible because it’s smaller and more focused.

This book begins with “Red Tide”, a longer, updated version of “Flash Crowd”. It is still very much the same story (I’ve read the original enough times to tell), but it’s… fresher. The technology and world have been updated in subtle ways to reflect how the world has changed in the 41 years since the story first appeared. Cell phones are now familiar to the modern reader, so of course the characters all have them. The internet and blogs are all old hat, so the story reflects these as part of its background. (I thought the discussion of what distinguished a newstaper from any random blogger with a cell phone camera was brilliant.) In so many subtle ways, this is now a story for the 2010’s, not the 1970’s.

But even more than that: the story is now better as an introduction to Jerryberry. There is now more depth to his background. Some casual references to teleportation’s impact on his father have been expanded into a complex relationship between Barry and his father. That helps explain what drives Barry as a newstaper, and it also explains Barry’s relationship with Robin Whyte, the inventor of teleportation and the other chief protagonist in the book. Over the course of these stories, Whyte becomes something of a surrogate father to Barry, and it makes sense given Barry’s background. (Still, if I have one complaint about this book, it’s that I wanted to see a resolution to Barry’s relation with his dad. Larry Niven, if you’re listening, maybe another story…)

Following “Red Tide” is another Niven short story: “Dial at Random”. This story steps back in time, where Robin Whyte and his team prepare to test their new, experimental long-distance teleport systems. Something goes wrong, and a teenage girl goes on a very unexpected tour. There’s humor and danger and a lot of logical extrapolation on how a teleport system works, and what that means. The only problem is it’s short, so I wanted more!

And Brad provided more! The third story in the book is Brad’s “Sparky the Dog”. (Forgive me, Brad, I keep wanting to say “Sparky the Wonder Dog”.) The story starts with a frame where Jansen visits near the end of Whyte’s life, and we get a nice picture of their surrogate father-son relationship. Then Whyte tells a story from the very earliest teleportation experiments, where Whyte and the aforementioned Sparky go on the ride of their life, facing dangerous gunmen and the perils of the desert. The story answers several questions on how the technology works, and it also shows us a younger, more vital and yet less confident Whyte. And it gives us Sparky the Wonder Dog! (OK, OK, I’ll stop now, but I’m a sucker for dog stories.) But most of all, it lets Jansen (and us) say goodbye to Robin Whyte.

The final story in the book is Matthew Harrington’s “Displacement Activity”. This story has a brief connection to Jansen at the start; but then the chief protagonist, Sam Watt, gets unexpectedly teleported into the distant future and far across the galaxy. There he must learn to survive in a strange society where humans are not quite slaves, but they’re not their own masters. Harrington’s style is notably different from Niven’s, and his humor is different as well. Not bad (of all the pieces, I laughed at his the most), just different. But despite those differences, Sam Watt is a perfect Niven protagonist, right up there with Jerryberry Jansen, Beowulf Schaffer, Gil Hamilton, and the rest. I knew I was reading a different author, but I also immediately felt at home in the universe he described.

If you’re a Niven fan, I can’t recommend this book highly enough: a fresh new spin on “Flash Crowd”, a brand new Niven short story, and two new authors invited to play with Larry’s toys. If you’ve never read Niven, I still recommend this to anyone who likes ruthlessly consistent science fiction.

5 stars (out of 5 — I would give 6 if I could read a story of Jerryberry and his dad)

Make them struggle!

It’s common writing advice: make your characters struggle. When things are going well for them, throw a disaster at them.

I don’t disagree with this advice. First, it’s part and parcel of the rising-tension structure that’s at the core of traditional western storytelling. And second, it’s a psychological one-two punch: readers empathize and identify with a character who struggles (because we all do); and then readers feel a cathartic rush when the character succeeds in a struggle. Some say this is one of the main draws of fiction: to let the reader vicariously struggle and experience triumph. And by escalating the struggles, you escalate the vicarious triumphs.

But though I understand the advice, I’ve never consciously followed it. In my stories, I just see what should logically happen next, and I write that. Easier, harder, I don’t think about those, I just write the logical next thing. If there’s escalating struggle and rising tension in my stories, it’s entirely subconscious.

But THIS story… Every time I think, “What should happen next?” the answer is “More bad news. It just got worse.” Every time I think, “OK, they have a plan that will succeed, now I just have to write what’s left,” I start writing, and I discover, “Wait a minute. They never thought of this.” There is hazard here everywhere they look. There’s no “triumph,” there’s just survival to reach the next struggle.

Oh, there will be an eventual triumph. I know what it is (I’ve known from the start). And there’s maybe only six to eight challenges left before they get there.

Of course, two weeks ago, I thought there were only five or six challenges remaining, and I’ve hit them with half a dozen challengers since then. So there may still be surprises hiding out there for them. And for me!

Martin Takes a Hike for the American Cancer Society Relay for Life

From my Relay for Life page:

Sweating in the Summer Heat for My Sister

As some of you might know, my sister Anita was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. For some people, this is a very private matter they keep to themselves. But Anita was really helped by stories from other survivors, so she’s telling the world her experience at http://anita.buckowing.me. She’s not sugar-coating anything, but she also refuses to get down. “It is what it is,” she says, and the family is doing whatever they have to do to fight this disease. Four years later, she is cancer free at every doctor visit, and she’s fighting strong!

Anita has also become very active in American Cancer Society fund raising. If you know Anita, you’re not surprised by this. Community participation and event organization is something she always excels at. And as part of that, she and daughter Kira and “sister” Amy have put together the BAAAD KROWS Relay for Life team. Don’t ask me to explain the name, and don’t ask me to explain how they roped me in, because neither one makes sense to me.

Well, OK, they didn’t have to rope me in. I’m not a doctor. I couldn’t help Anita with her disease, other than driving her to appointments now and then. But I can help her with this fund raiser, which is important to her. I am participating in the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life because I want to make a meaningful difference in the fight against cancer.

Almost everyone has been touched by cancer, either through their own personal battle or through someone they love. Anita’s not my first relative to face this, and I’ve had friends go through it as well.

So if you would like to help for Anita, or for your friends and relatives who have faced cancer, please make a donation to help the American Cancer Society create a world with less cancer and more birthdays. Together, we can help make sure that cancer never steals another year of anyone’s life!

Every day, the American Cancer Society is helping us stay well by preventing cancer or finding it at its earliest, most treatable stages. They assist families in finding the best resources to help their friend or loved one deal with a diagnosis and their journey to get well. The American Cancer Society is also rallying communities (like ours!) through events like Relay For Life, to fight back and find cures for this disease.

OK, a couple of those paragraphs are boilerplate. After all, the American Cancer Society can explain their mission better than I can. But I want to add my personal request.

The relay will be 7/25/2014, so there’s only a little time to raise funds between now and then. Any bit you can contribute would help toward that. $10, $5, even $1 would help.

Also, the Relay is more than just a fund raiser. It’s also a memorial for those we’ve lost, and a celebration for those who are fighting back against this disease. if you’d like to attend the Relay and help memorialize and celebrate, we’ll be in Wayland Friday July 25 to Saturday July 26, 3 p.m to 3 p.m. We’ll have somebody from BAAAD KROWS walking the track the whole time. We and other teams will have lots of games and other on-site fundraisers, including catering.

I’ll be there as soon as I get out of work on Friday. I don’t know which hours I’ll be walking, but I’ll be there.

Thank you for your time.

Even small donations help. If you would like to contribute, please visit my Relay page.

“Unrefined” wins Third Place in Writers of the Future!

From PRWeb:

The 1st Quarter winners of the 31st year of the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest were announced today.


1st place – Tim Napper of Australia
2nd place – Auston Habershaw of Massachusetts
3rd place – Martin Shoemaker of Michigan

They were chosen from a group of 8 finalists and are now awarded cash prizes, a week long intensive workshop, an awards ceremony and are also published in the annual L. Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future. Tim, Auston and Martin will receive a cash prize for their win this quarter.

Tim, as first place for the quarter, will compete with the 1st place winners of the remaining three quarters of the year for the Grand Prize of $5,000.00.

Contest judges include, Tim Powers, author of On Stranger Tides, Kevin J. Anderson and Brian Herbert, Dune, Robert J. Sawyer Flash Forward, Robert Silverberg, Sailing to Byzantium, Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, A Mote in God’s Eye, Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, and Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death, to name a few.

I am so proud, so pleased, and so relieved. Why relieved? Because this was the last quarter I was eligible for Writers of the Future. It’s a contest for non-pro writers trying to break in, and I am now officially a pro. So for me, this quarter was win-or-go-home. That added a degree of pressure I haven’t experienced in past quarters.

I am also grateful for a couple of rejections. Why is that? Because my Third Place story, “Unrefined”, was originally written for the Jim Baen Memorial Writing Contest. I thought it was perfect for that contest: an inspiring story of humanity exploring space and finding ways to survive challenges. But the judges thought otherwise. If they hadn’t, they would’ve published it, and that would’ve meant I was no longer eligible for Writers of the Future.

After the Baen Memorial passed on “Unrefined”, I sent it to what I thought was surely its natural home, Analog. But Trevor thought otherwise, and he passed. If he had accepted it, it would’ve been published last year, and that would’ve meant I was no longer eligible for Writers of the Future.

So the lesson to me is: don’t give up on a story! There are other markets. Keep trying until you exhaust them all! If I had given up on this one, I wouldn’t be going to Los Angeles next year to hang out with Tim and Auston (plus Illustrator winners Michelle Lockamy, Tung Chi Lee, and Emily Siu) and the winners of the remaining quarters and the pro instructors and judges, learning how to improve my writing as a craft and as a business.

I would like to finish with the “theme song” for this story: “The Tide is High” by Blondie. No, I didn’t listen to it while I was writing the story; but after I finished the story, I was in my local Harding’s, and this song was on the PA system. Listening to it, I realized that the lyrics applied perfectly to my story (you’ll have to wait for the anthology next year to see why):

The tide is high, but I’m holding on.
I’m gonna be your number one.
Number one…
Nummmmmber onnnnnne…
Nuuuuuummmmber onnnnnnnnnnnne…

Then I went home, looked up the song, and found this amazing Apollo/space-themed video; and I knew I’d found my theme song. Enjoy!

Blondie – The tide is high