Announcing The Doppel Man, a serial novel

7 Oct

Finding yourself is not always a good thing…

The Doppel Man coverSo yesterday I was supposed to do this post, but I just barely got the day-late Writing Music Monday post out. But, theoretically at least, yesterday marked the launch of a new project to kick this writer’s ass into gear and get wordage out to the reading public.

I have begun a serial novel. You will be watching me as I write it, week by week, and you can read it free. Even this first draft goes out under a Free Culture license, and Wattpad, while it doesn’t do ePubs or other ebook files, still lets you read for free.

So, what is it?

Imagine if Elmore Leonard did a crime thriller that crossed alternate realities with his usual exploration of character and power hierarchies, and set it in early-’80s Los Angeles. At least, that’s what my starting intention is. We’ll have to wait and see how the story comes out.

My working back-of-the-book copy is:

1981 Los Angeles. A good place for a formerly bad man to work off some of his karmic debt.

At least, Lafayette hoped it was, since he couldn’t afford to go anywhere else just yet. But one day he came home only to be confronted by himself. Himself from a slightly different timeline, a different reality, one where he never turned from his original dark path.

And his other self, naturally, has trouble following about three steps behind.

I’m about halfway through writing the second chapter, and have an idea of where the third chapter starts off, and a very, very vague idea where things are at for various characters at the end. Past that, we’ll see what happens.

Sound a bit half-assed? Maybe it is, but this is how many literary classics were written, including Crime and Punishment and most of Dickens’s novels. So I’m going to try that out, see if I can get feedback from actual readers as I’m writing, and (hopefully) craft something worthwhile along the way.

(I took some inspiration, if anyone is curious, from the essay on serial novels in Literature and the Economics of Liberty, as well as Paul Cantor’s lecture on The Serialized Novel in the Nineteenth Century.)

The Doppel Man is the first in a planned series of ’80s-set noir thrillers called Neon Noir, but it also serves as a continuation of the world I first explored the the novella Spring That Never Came, which you can buy on Amazon or get free and legal from Feedbooks. It’s not a sequel, per se, but there are characters in common, and it takes place after and is influenced by that story.

Of course, I have other goals here as well. My willingness to finish a piece of writing, and then to actually have someone other than me read it, has been… not. This “put it out as you write it” project will, I hope, short-circuit that unhelpful tendency.

Also, next month is NaNoWriMo, a “contest” I have never completed successfully, and this year I intend to change that fact as well. That will be a daily serial posted to Wattpad, for all and sundry to read an critique. (And yes, I already know what the story is, something unrelated to Neon Noir.)

And finally, of course, I need readers. I have been less than prolific, and that needs to change. I need to put novels out, and get paid for doing so. I don’t need to be a megamillion bestseller, but I need more than the couple of dozen (wonderful) folks who have read and liked my work so far. I am hoping, hard, that this will up my number of loyal readers considerably. (And putting out new material on a regular basis should help with that.)

So, a bit rambly, but there you have it. The first chapter is live, another chapter is coming next Tuesday, and so the adventure is begun.

Happy reading, and I hope you enjoy!

#Writing #Music Monday: Limitless by Sirius

6 Oct

coverBoy, my mood swings can be intense.

And I don’t even mean that I’m posting this a day late due to depression. (Though that might be a small part of it, too.)

No, what I’m actually referring to is the fact that I went through about three other albums in my head, each a jarringly different genre, over this past weekend while trying to decide what to post for Writing Music Monday this week. I was tempted by some jazz, then some classical, then a solo piano album.

And yet I landed on techno. Not my favorite genre, not by a long shot, yet here I am. Go figure.

Make no mistake, this is dance club, repetitious, throbbing techno.

And yet, it’s also really good. I hear in it traces of the ’80s-style electronica I adore, and even like the techno clichés as they happen. Instead of being the sort of dance club music that seems to insist on getting up in your face and being a rude boor, it mostly is content to do what it’s doing without all the posturing designed to provoke reactions. It’s putting music together, more so than simply expressing attitude and hoping for reaction, even negative reaction.

I don’t know anything about Sirius, the artist who made this album, but Limitless is his (her?) most recent release on Jamendo, and he has music going all the way back to 2007. So far back that the first one has a Generation One Creative Commons license, one of the old, confusing ones. Apart from the body of work, and the Jamendo profile saying that he’s French, I know nothing.

But the work is good. The work is very good. Good enough to overcome my bias against techno despite making no attempt to disguise its techno-ness.

Somehow, it just hits my mood right this week.

Download Limitless by Sirius free from Jamendo.

Creative Commons License
Limitless by Sirius is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 International License.

#Writing #Music Monday: Back from Reality by Jazoo

28 Sep

Jazoo - Back from Reality CoverThis one is out there. Not the farthest “out there” thing I’ve shared, but definitely out there. It’s five tracks, and an hour and three minutes, of free jazz or fusion, a style I usually don’t have much patience with.

Jazoo is a Slovenian jazz band that has been playing together since 1996, and has five albums out under Free Culture licenses, this being their most recent. And it’s kind of amazing. It’s not just noise, despite the obvious amount of improvisation and messing around that went into it. The first two tracks, “Orange Green” and “Eleven Eight” are nearly twenty-five minutes, but segue into each other almost unnoticeably, and the album as a whole, while it goes all over the sonic map, manages to cohere into a unified emotional experience.

Given that I don’t get into this sound, much, I’m not sure how to explain it. It’s more accessible, I think, than Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, and far more accessible than the weirdest stuff by Sun Ra and his Arkestra, but that’s the territory it explores, to some extent.

There is some vocalization, but none of it drew me out of what I was working on, any of the times I listened to it straight through. The voices are treated as part of the instrumentation — quite literally, as one of the voices turns out to be the flautist on at least one track, and uses her voice as part of the flute’s sound as well.

Overall, this album really impresses me, in no small part because I usually resist this sort of thing. But, for reasons I don’t have words for, it really, really works for me. If your writing mood needs background that’s a bit noisy, uneven, occasionally discordant, and yet holds together on its own terms, it might work for you too. Check it out.

Download Back from Reality by Jazoo free from Jamendo.

Creative Commons License
Back from Reality by Jazoo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

(While Jazoo seem to have been quiet online for a year or so, as of last week their Twitter stream promises they are returning.)

#Writing #Music Monday: Cinematic Volume 9: Horror and Dark Suspense by Grégoire Lourme

21 Sep

CoverGrégoire Lourme continues to produce amazing soundtrack music, and giving it Free Culture licenses. His early Cinematic releases tended to try to cover a broad swath of genres, but the more recent ones have become more focused, as with last month’s WMM album, Epic Choir.

Well, Volume 9: Horror and Dark Suspense is just as advertised. When I was trying to get the horror novel done in time for October publication (yeah, yet again, didn’t make it, that novel will be the death of me), this album worked perfectly to put me in the mental space for writing scenes of dread.

From the broken fairy tale opening of “Little Girl with Dark Hair” through the mounting dread of “Ad Vitam”, to the purposeful beat of “City of Crime”, every track hits those dark tones you need to set the mood for a really solid horror story.

Download Cinematic Volume 9: Horror and Dark Suspense by Grégoire Lourme free from Jamendo.

Creative Commons License
Cinematic Volume 9: Horror and Dark Suspense by Grégoire Lourme is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

#Writing #Music Monday: Metissage by Pasqualino Ubaldini

14 Sep

[cover] Pasqualino Ubaldini - MetissageThis is almost inexcusable. Here is an artist I’ve mentioned by name at least twice before, and an album I’ve listened to for years, one track of which I even featured in a podcast, and yet I’ve never made this album part of Writing Music Monday.

Allow me to rectify the hell out of that oversight.

Pasqualino Ubaldini is a jazz guitarist in Italy who is very talented, and sometimes collaborates with Paolo Pavan, another CC jazz musician everybody should know, and those collaborations are how I first discovered his work.

He also takes his love of jazz with a love of other cultures’ musical traditions and mixes them together to come up with works that are very, very lovely.

Metissage has a lot of Arabian and North African influences, and it is a delight.

The first track, “Pietre”, sounds like the launch of an adventure — upbeat, celebratory, exotic, and fun. And the album is an adventure, as much, I suspect, for the musician as for the listener.

It’s a tradition that goes back well before Dave Brubeck. Jazz can absorb and interact with music from any culture, and has, almost from the beginning of its existence. There was, for example, Chinese jazz from at least 1935 onward.

So it’s not at all odd, to me at least, that this Italian man has made such an excellent album of arabic and north African-flavored jazz.

[Ubaldini has several albums available with CC licenses through Jamendo, but Metissage is the only one with a Free Culture license. I haven’t really called attention to it, but I’ve made 2015 the year of All Free Culture Music on this blog. (That said, all of his work is worth listening to.)]

Download Metissage free from Jamendo, or get it from the Internet Archive.

Creative Commons License
Metissage by Pasqualino Ubaldini is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

#Writing #Music Monday: cyberpunk by Bod

7 Sep

coverI am in a mood, which usually means I don’t post. But I got pissed at my depression for keeping me from having a post ready to roll, and started flailing around on Jamendo to find something, anything that I could find to fit both my prickliness and yet be a good thing to put in the background to write to.

And I stumbled across cyberpunk by German (of course!) composer Bod, who writes of it:

This 9 track album was completely written with the cyberpunk community in mind. It is intended to be played in the background when playing roleplaying games like Shadowrun or Cyberpunk 2020.

All songs are themed to the Neuromancer trilogy by William Gibson. I tried to mix several genres and keep a mixture between technic and handmade sounds. Again: This album is _not_ intended to be heard with full attention. Turn the volume down and let it sit in the background while playing.

Given my eclectic circle of friends and acquaintances, I find it quite surprising that I’ve never run into music written specifically to be played during roleplaying game sessions before.

Confession: I never liked cyberpunk, despite the fact that I knew then and know now that I should like it, at least some instances of it. Furthermore, I bloody hate William Gibson’s cyberpunk works — which is at least partly a function of how insanely overpraised they were at the time, though I have issues with the style he wrote them in as well. Also, I had a university course in SF, and Neuromancer was presented as the logical endpoint for the genre, bringing it down into the gutter among the outcasts, where the professor averred that it belonged (a frankly weird assertion from a prof who openly loved the genre, but that’s a whole other planet of wax).

Even with those two prejudices of mine working against it, given that the tracks are themed from Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy, it’s kind of remarkable that this album won me over before the first track was over.

Yes, most of the pieces are repetitious, but that’s down both to their genres and to the fact that this is intended as background music. And the repetition almost always has layers of variation, rather than just being on a loop repeat.

In a lot of ways, this is what the ideal cyberpunk, the subgenre that I wish cyberpunk would be, instead of what it actually was, should sound like. It’s hard-edged, sometimes spiky, but also lulls you into its world — not just dirt and trash and amorality, but chrome and clean plastic and mirrorshades too. It works. It works very well.

Download cyberpunk free from Jamendo, or from the Internet Archive, or directly from Bod’s website.

Creative Commons License
cyberpunk by Bod is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Book Review: Zero Sum Game by S.L. Huang

1 Sep

coverI started reading S.L. Huang’s Zero Sum Game for two reasons.

First, and most importantly, the premise had not one but two brilliant “high concept” elements, either one of which would have been enough to make me want to read it, but together made it a must-read for me. “High concept” is a now-dated screenwriting term that can be defined a number of ways, one of which is: an exciting premise that can be stated in 25 words or less.

Huang’s double-barrelled high concept is that her protagonist sees the world as math (I’m oversimplifying a bit), and that whoever or whatever her antagonist is, it gets inside the protagonist’s head and can edit, delete, and plant new thoughts. So the protagonist has to figure out how to beat someone who is very literally inside her head.

I mean, damn. Right there, you should want to run out and read this book, knowing nothing else about it. (And if you don’t, the failure is mine in communicating it, I promise.)

The second reason you might say is almost out of guilt. If you follow me at all, you know that I’m an advocate of the Creative Commons. My own work goes out under CC licenses, and I share all kinds of music I find in the commons that I think is worth telling people about.

But I haven’t really done much regarding CC-licensed books. Part of that is that the ones of much quality that I came across were from big(-ish) names that published through major publishing houses. If you read SF and F much, you’ve probably at least heard of Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, e.g. And the few I’ve read that were totally indie were… not “bad”, but each had idiosyncracies and self-indulgences that rubbed me wrong, and as an advocate, I want to share The Good Stuff, not rag on authors with different tastes than mine.

So when I came across the summary of Zero Sum Game at Unglue.It, I instantly downloaded it and put it into my (terrifyingly lengthy) to-read list.

And now I’ve read it.

Holy crap is it good!

S.L. Huang has, in her very first novel, completely mastered the craft of writing a thriller. On a chapter-by-chapter basis, it is a joy to read. The laying of hooks, the timing of twists, the deft handling of exposition that also reveals character. She is, first novel, indie published, absolutely professional.

Cas Russell is the narrator and protagonist, and we meet her in the middle of doing her job — she’s a retrieval specialist, and on the first page of chapter one, she’s retrieving a young lady from a drug cartel’s compound. In fact, we first meet Cas as she’s punching in the face the only person in the world whom she trusts.

She hadn’t realized when taking the job that this man was in fact undercover with the cartel on his own mission, but it makes sense to her, since he was the one who gave her name to her client.

Except, as it turns out a bit later on, he’s never heard of her client and didn’t give her name to anybody recently.

Again, I’m just completely in love with Huang’s skill at putting this all together. The story starts off in the middle of an elaborate action scene, and only gets more tense once the action lets up.

I don’t want to go into the plot much more than that, but there are several observations I must make.

Cas Russell’s gift/curse of seeing everything as math essentially gives her superpowers. She sees, instantly and automatically, tiny little windows of probability, and how to use them, which (believably, within the story) gets her to such astonishing acts as breaking into a barred third-story window without any means of support or leverage, and figuring out a sniper’s precise location and taking him out with a pistol.

The “telepathy” in the story is not anything “psionic” or magical. It’s more like charisma at it’s most extreme degree, something done purely through vocal and physical presence and interaction. I’ve never seen it handled this way before, and it was terribly interesting, had restrictions I hadn’t encountered before because of its unique nature, and was made believable in part by the reader’s buying into Cas’s own gifts.

Huang is a fan of Firefly and the movie that followed it, Serenity. There is a character very much inspired by The Operative from Serenity, and this is acknowledged within the story by a nice reference, only once but enough to let the reader know that the influence was neither unconscious nor accidental.

If I have a quibble, it is incredibly minor and it is this: Zero Sum Game is the first book of a series, and does (excellent) spadework in establishing characters and relationships that are clearly going to play out over many stories. However, the nature of the story it tells feels, to me, like a story that should have occurred in an already-going series. For instance, the way that Cas is made to realize that some of her thoughts are not her own is dependent on a pre-existing relationship. As presented in the story, it’s set up expertly and is effective. But, it would have worked better if the relationship had already been going, in the reader’s head, for a book or several books already. There are a few other little details like this throughout the story. It’s not that they don’t work, because they do. It’s that they would have worked better if the series already had backstory in the reader’s mind. Again, this is an incredibly minor quibble, but I felt I should note it.

Finally, before going off on the political tangent, I’ll note that the resolution is open-ended and some readers might find it less than totally satisfying. As will become clear by implication below, I do not consider this a flaw, but a necessary and intentional consequence of how Huang approached the thematic issues she’s handling in the story. I won’t say I found the way things end up in the story unsatisfying, I enjoyed the whole book right up to the very end. But I do hope, at some future point, that she returns to the situation at the end of this story and explores further the conflict between different, incompatible ideals that she seems to hold.

Political stuff: You may or may not know it, but I am a member of the supposedly-evil, supposedly-racist, supposedly-misogynist Sad Puppies campaign that led to so much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the media in the past few months, and exposed the folks behind the Hugo Awards to be the whiny, glory-grabbing twits that we always said that they were.

I didn’t know it when I began the book, and only learned it inadvertently while reading, but S.L. Huang aligns with the “social justice warriors” of science fiction, the putative heroes saving the world from all the evils there are, especially racistsexistmisogynist Sad Puppies and other troglodytes. As far as I know, Ms. Huang was not involved in this past year’s Hugo kerfuffle at all, but her sympathies are indisputably at odds with mine, and others on her side of things would say that I’m more interested in pushing minorities out of the genre than anything else.

Which is exactly why I wrote this ecstatic, laudatory, five-star review. Obviously.

Snark aside, there is a point in the story where Huang’s social justice ideology comes up. The phrase “social justice” even gets used. And it’s not an aside or a throw-away; it’s inextricably tied into the theme of the book, to the point that the discussion gives the book its title.

If I were what the SJWs portrayed all the Sad Puppies as being (again, not Huang in particular, as I don’t think she got much involved in the controversy this year), then I would denounce this intrusion of the author’s axe-grinding into the story.

And if it did harm to the actual story, I would denounce it.

But it does not.

Huang grapples, in the story, with some of the negative consequences of her beliefs. Cas Russell is faced with a moral dilemma, and both possible outcomes offend her, in different ways. She has a choice (broadly and vaguely speaking) between enacting “social justice”, explicitly stated to be what she considers a good, or defending individual free will, and thus permitting individual people to do evil and commit social injustices.

This is presented honestly and fairly, without the author putting her thumb on the scales or magically making her pet ideas work where they wouldn’t and haven’t in the real world. She explores the conundrum she sets in good faith.

And I can’t help but think that she has problems with the choice her heroine makes. It’s certainly not an easy choice for Cas, and one that sits uncomfortably with her after she makes it.

I applaud this. I can do nothing else.

(As a minor note, of course I think she gets things wrong, because she’s proceeding from a false premise, but that’s beside the point. She’s dealing fairly, doesn’t cheat, and it makes the story a richer and more interesting experience. One can hardly ask for more than that from anybody.)

Buy Zero Sum Game by SL Huang from Amazon.

Download it for free under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License from Unglue.It (where you can also send money the author’s direction as a way of saying “thanks” for releasing it to the Creative Commons).


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