New Publication: A Clash at Grozny Airfield

Remember almost exactly two years ago when I wrote a post about Chechnya, based on my research for a story? Well, that story is now available on Smashwords and Amazon!

cover-5In Grozny, the first ever all-robot military unit fights an integrated army of humans and robots. The clash is viewed by five American travelers in an airport café—a veteran, a journalist, two young sisters, and a barista—as the events unfold on TV. Each traveler has a different connection to the distant battle, and they all watch with more and more rapt attention as the integrated forces close in.

Also included is a brief afterword about how I came to choose the setting of the story and write that Chechnya post, and the meaning of the acronym ITF.

Free Fiction: The Forgotten Coast

This was originally a writing exercise for my Foundations of Creative Writing class. I revised it a few times for that class, and I’ve toyed around with posting it here. Now, with the publication of “Calamcity,” I can leverage it into a promotional tool for that novelette, so it’s like I’ve got to publish it now, right? So, here it is:

The Forgotten Coast

I finally went on one of those kitschy submarine tours around the sunken wreckage of Pensacola and PCB and the Forgotten Coast. Hurricane Erica wrecked the shop, so I’d been sitting around waiting for the insurance company to get back to me, to see whether I was finally down the drain after circling it so long—and I saw an an ad with a coupon code for the Forgotten Coast tour. A few years ago, Jesse had really wanted to go on it, just before her, Ed, and their kids moved inland, but I’d been sick. Not sick enough to not go, but I’d played it up like I was. I always knew that I could go to the coast whenever I wanted, so I never felt any urgent pressure to do so. It was all flooded already, a few years’ more sea-level rise wouldn’t change that. And the ruin-porn aspect of it chafed at me. I didn’t want to sit in a sub with a bunch of inlanders gazing in awe at my ravaged childhood like it was a disaster movie.

But I saw this ad with a coupon code, and I was doing nothing, and I had this strange feeling like maybe, with the shop in shambles, I would finally be moving inland like my family and friends had done years and years ago, and maybe this one stupid coupon was meant to be my last chance to see the coast—so I bought the discounted ticket. I took a bus down from Tallahassee to Milton, now a coastal town. It was mostly tourists getting onto the sub (I could tell by their clean, uncorrupted northern English and pale skin) and a handful of local kids with red-brown tans. At least, they looked like kids to me. Teens, early twenties, late twenties—kids.Read More »

New Publications: “Calamcity,” and “De.mocra.cy” Audiobook

We’re well into summer now, so I’ve just published a summery novelette about a topic that I just can’t leave alone: climate change in Florida. A couple years ago, I posted two pieces of research on beach nourishment—that research was done for this story.

Minolta DSC“Calamcity” is set in a not too distant future, when beach erosion has accelerated dramatically due to rising sea levels and increased hurricane activity—but a new breed of bioengineered living shorelines appears to be a perfect solution to hold sand in place. To oversee a test-run of this technique, Joseph Lopez joins his brother Steve on Cape Dodd, a Floridian beach that has been battling erosion for years under Steve’s management. Joseph just wants to bring back the large, stable, sunny beaches of his youth, and provide a nice vacation house for his aging parents. But as Joseph and Steve find, Cape Dodd is in for a rough summer of constant hurricanes and mysterious mass die-offs of the living shoreline.

You can get “Calamcity” on Smashwords or Amazon.

Also, I’ve just released the audiobook for “De.mocra.cy,” a short story about symbolic protest, gangs, and regulation in a democratically run MMO. The audiobook is written and performed by me, so if you enjoyed my production of The Absolute at Large, you should enjoy the performance of this story. The audiobook is available for digital download on CDBaby, on Audible and iTunes. You can listen to a sample of the audiobook in the video below. And you can listen to some outtakes and moments of silliness from the recording session in the video below the video below.

New Publication: The War on Hormones

twoh-c-5It’s summer now—I just finished my sophomore year of college, and high school students around the country are wrapping up their spring semesters—so here’s a novelette about high school, half of which I wrote during my senior year of high school, and half of which I finished after graduating. You can buy it on Smashwords or Amazon. Here’s the synopsis:

In the near future, bioengineering companies create neutralizers—unicellular organisms that can destroy sex hormones in the brain, hopefully improving the academic dedication of students. Silver Path, a new performing arts school, is a pioneer in requiring that its students be neutralized. This kind of environment is perfect for Edward Warwick, a 12th-grader intensely dedicated to acting, and intensely wary of romantic distractions. But over the course of his senior year at Silver Path, it becomes clear that there are many hormones other than testosterone and estrogen, and making it out of high school without any drama may not be as easy as a monthly neutralizer check-up.

The publication also contains an afterword in which I describe how my own final year of secondary education directly lead to, and provided fodder for, this story.

New Publication: Boom Town

I’ve just published “Boom Town,” a short story available on Smashwords and Amazon.

boomtown-4The story takes place in a small town on the living planet of Eltru, when a vast reserve of fuel is discovered beneath the town. Katherine, a young girl whose family lives on a spice farm over the fuel reserve, quietly observes her parents as they struggle over whether or not to sell their land to a mining corporation, and move away from their home. She relies on her close relationship with her brother to help her understand the secret conflicts and tensions between the adults, and ends up keeping some dangerous secrets of Julian’s herself.

The publication includes an afterward where I describe how subscribing to Asimov’s influenced the story, and my writing sensibilities as a whole.

New Publication: Just Dig

justdig-4I’ve just published “Just Dig,” a short story, available on Amazon and Smashwords. Here’s the synopsis:

Two brothers, asteroid prospectors, are awoken when an asteroid lands somewhere along the boundary between their little plot, and the enormous plot owned by their neighbors. They drive out to see on whose plot the rock has fallen, and who can claim it as theirs to sell. As they do, they argue about whether they can depend on luck to end a long dry spell, or if they’ll have to make their own luck to turn a profit.

Also included in the publication is a brief afterword, in which I explain the origins of the story, the edits it went through, and who won the 2014 FSU vs. Notre Dame football game.

Free Fiction: On the Walk Home

Here’s a somewhat spooky piece of writing for Halloween, inspired by a thought I had while  …

On the Walk Home
Francis Bass

My legs pound into the ground, leaden, burning.

I stumble. I stop.

I’ve never seen this place before. I don’t remember getting here. I don’t remember anything from this walk, I don’t know how long I’ve been walking, but I started for home at noon, and now it’s dusk. I’m on the side of a deserted highway, surrounded by unfamiliar, old, low buildings with peeling paint, and tall dark pine trees.

“…He has had a long day in court. I left him there with Vholes. You don’t like Vholes, I hope?”

That’s the audiobook of Bleak House. It drones in my ears.

I don’t know what part of the book this is. When I headed home from school, I was just listening to the first chapter, trying to get a head start on my reading for Tuesday.

A cold wind leaps up behind me and swoops over my shoulders and through my sweat-soaked shirt.

The sun is low, pumpkin-orange, gray clouds puffed in front of it. I look at the buildings, search them for some scrap of familiarity that might orient me. “Canaan Groceries” is beside me. It looks long closed, but there’s a faded blue pickup parked in front of it. A daycare squats across the street from me with a bleached sign bearing a rainbow and some illegible lettering. Not far ahead is an impoundment lot, filled with the rounded bodies of cars hunkering down.

Lights flare up and a car zooms past me on the road.

“… in her most genteel accents, ‘my executor, administrator, and assign. (Our Chancery phrases …’”

I tear my phone out of my pocket, and just as I do the audiobook stops playing, and a battery icon, empty, blinks on the screen. Then the screen goes black.

I stick my phone back in my pocket and twist around. The seat of my shorts is wet, my underarms are wet, the back of my shirt is wet, and its all cold in the wind. I hold my thumb out to the road stupidly, but there are no cars coming from either direction, just the fast disappearing red winks of taillights on the car that just passed. The only other motion is the pine trees, big dark furry sprouts walling in the highway, swaying. My arm aches after only a few seconds of holding it up.

I turn around and yank off my earbuds. I walk to the pickup in front of the grocer’s, but as I approach I see that the tires are gone, the thing is beached, stranded, ownerless, covered in dead leaves and pine straw.

I hear a car coming, and I run back to the street and hold my thumb out, but the approaching headlights just blast past me. I realize how dark it is now. The sun is just a few jagged scraps seen through fractal black foliage. Long shadows blend into one big shadow which spills across all the road and all the parking lots and all the trees. I start walking up the street, in the opposite direction from where I had been heading before.

My footsteps sound strange, out-of-sync. I stop for a moment, and quiet, crunching footsteps continue. I am riveted in place. My throat is dry. My eyes burn in the wind. I start walking again, looking straight ahead, into the darkness of the road. The footsteps are near me. I hear rubber soles squeaking. I fumble at my side, not looking down, grab my dangling earbuds, and put them into my ears. The footsteps start running, whapping the ground faster faster faster right toward my back with deafening crunching thunking sound blasting into my skull through the earbuds and I keep walking, don’t think, into the wind, into the dark of the set sun.

My legs pound the ground.

I’m in front of the door to my apartment complex. I reach for my keys.

“… has come up from her place in Lincolnshire (hotly pursued by the fashionable intelligence) …”

That’s the audiobook of Bleak House droning in my ear. I realize that I haven’t actually been listening to it. A warm wind blows past me, and I enter my apartment building, stepping out of the mid-day sun. As the door shuts behind me, I realize I don’t recall anything from my walk home. I left my classroom, started listening to the audiobook … it doesn’t matter. I’ll have to re-listen to those chapters, or just actually read them, tonight, since we have a reading quiz for them tomorrow. It’s a shame. I was hoping to get the reading done on my walk home so I could have the night free.

It sure sucks having Halloween on a Monday.

Copyright © by Francis Bass 2016. All Rights Reserved.

How a World Makes a Story

Whenever I’m writing a secondary world, I always draw a map. Even when I don’t need to—even when the characters aren’t going to be traveling all over that beautiful map I drew. I imagine for some writers they aren’t important. It’s enough to know the distance between certain locations, and the names of the different countries, and that’s it. But I feel like I can’t start without knowing the shape of the world. I often don’t begin to do any world-building before drawing the map.

Part of it is this idea that I don’t know what I’ll need until I get there—I don’t know if I’ll need to know the topography of a certain part of the world until I’m in the middle of the first draft, and a character needs to have an anecdote about it. If I come across that situation, I’d rather be able to pull from an independent document rather than make something up on the spot (though I certainly have done that.)

Last week I talked about my personal process for drawing maps. This week, I’m writing about how all the information that I put into my maps helps me with world-building, characters, and plotting. While everything I’m going to talk about can be accomplished through written world-building, I find that maps do a lot of the same stuff much better and more efficiently than written descriptions. So, here are the four aspects of world-building and plotting for which I rely greatly on maps.Read More »

How I Make a World

I write a lot of secondary worlds, so I draw a lot of maps. Some are fairly simple, some are more detailed. The more detailed ones are for worlds that I’ll have to write in for awhile—novel- or novella-length pieces. In this post, I’ll go through my process for making one of these most detailed maps, because the process for less detailed maps is essentially the same, but with only the specific aspects I need.

This post isn’t meant to be a how-to—it’s just my own system that I’ve developed and modified as I’ve been drawing maps for invented worlds since I was ten. There are a thousand ways to go about map making (one of those thousand being to not make a map at all), and this is just one of them. I’m sharing it because I think it’s interesting, and I haven’t read much from other writers about this part of the creative process. Hopefully it is at least entertaining, and at most it provides some useful tools for fellow writers to improve their world-building.

So, let’s begin.Read More »

No One Thinks of Salt

No one thinks of salt.

Of course, people who live in cities close enough to either pole of the Earth do—they see it on sidewalks and roads and doormats for some period of time every year. They couldn’t not think of it, like they couldn’t not think of shoes. But they don’t really think of it in the way I mean. By “think of,” I mean “think up.” And while this could be applied more broadly, I’m mostly focusing on writers when I say “no one.”

More accurately I should say “no one would think of salt,” but that’s not as snappy. Besides, the idea came to me as “no one thinks of salt!” with an implied “if they have no exposure to it.”

So now that everyone’s confused, I’ll try to start making sense. I’ve lived in Tallahassee, Florida almost my whole life. The city, and the entire county it’s in, has just one snow truck, which practically never gets used. In my whole life living there, it only snowed once—and then it was more sleet than snow. So I definitely didn’t think of salt.

I knew that people salted roads in cities where it snowed, but what I didn’t consider is that sidewalks would be salted too. Now that I live in Iowa City, and I’m experiencing my first northern winter, I’ve realized that this is the case. I’ve also realized that salt gets stuck in the treads of your boots, and ends up all over the floor if you don’t kick them off thoroughly. Had I written a story before I lived here, about a city experiencing a typical, snowy winter, I never would have thought to add the detail of a character having salt caked around their boots. But that kind of inventive, extrapolated detail is what makes good writing, especially in science-fiction and fantasy.

Granted, world-building isn’t everything, and a well-told story with the typical fantasy props (castles, dragons, swords, etc.) can still be fun. But there’s no reason a writer can’t tell a good story and develop a well-realized world. Reading science fiction from the fifties, it always nags at me when nuclear power shows up. Many sci-fi writers used it as some catch-all that could power everything from household appliances to helicopters, rather than fully considering other potential energy sources. As a result, the worlds feel simplistic and flat.

Kim Stanley Robinson on the other hand is an excellent world-builder (though not from the fifties.) In his Mars trilogy, he has the typical tented colonies you might find in any martian story, but he also considers the possibility of cities built into mesas, or under the ice caps, or within lava tubes. His rendition of a colonized Mars feels explorable and deep.

Now back to the salt that no one thinks of. Let’s suppose an Earth that is covered by an enormous ocean, with every human being confined to an equatorial island where it never snows. On this tropical island, fantasy writers might spin tales of an incredible world where ice falls in little droplets from the sky. Science fiction writers might speculate about colonizing the polar ice caps. Would these writers consider the problem of snow obstructing paths, and the need to remove it? Probably. But what would their solutions for this problem be? They’d probably be pretty straightforward, and be more impractical than they’d appear on paper. These writers might imagine snow plows, or heated roads, or awnings that could extend to cover pathways when the snow fell. Maybe these writers would lazily speculate that snow could be channeled through gutters just like rain. Salt, although highly practical, would not be the common representation of a solution in these snow stories. But if some writer were inventive and thoughtful enough to envision salt as a solution, their story would be so much richer than the same-old same-old plows and heated roads.

This is what makes some speculative fiction feel not so speculative. What’s fantastic about another retread of Tolkien’s orcs elves and dwarves? What’s innovative about a domed colony on Mars?

It’s the writers that take the time and consideration to extrapolate, and solve problems from the viewpoint of a character in that world rather than an outsider, that create three-dimensional setting. Beyond speculative fiction, it’s the writers that research, or actually visit the setting of their story and fully observe its complexities, that portray a landscape which feels genuine.

It’s the writers who think of salt that craft worlds a reader can live in even after they’ve stopped reading.