Spawn of Mars
Don't worry. If you like your religion, you can keep your religion.
My Pulp-Action Recipe
Writing Action & Adventure
Saturday, January 18, 2020 3:11 pm
This past week I finished writing An Uncommon Day at the Lake, a Hamlin Becker tale that I hope to sell to StoryHack.

StoryHack is, as it calls itself, a magazine of "Action & Adventure." This means no tales of navel-gazing and nihilism and ponderous puffery. It also means tales generally free of current-year correctness, a thing that hates fun and other natural human ways of being and is hardly interested in action and adventure. 

Obviously, if I want to get into StoryHack, I need to write stories a certain way — the way of the pulps, as it turns out. The editor of StoryHack has himself invoked the Lester Dent Formula, which anyone seeking the Way of the Pulps will eventually discover.

Dent's formula has indeed guided me through my three Becker tales. However, it is truly a formula and, to be frank, it is hard for me to obey. I am not a hack; and I don't say that snobbishly. I sometimes wish I were. I'd love to be able to crank out formulaic tales that make readers happy.

What has happened instead is that I obey a less-rigid recipe. Dent's ideas are at the center, but I have added a few other ideas about successful pulp.

David Skinner's Pulp-Action Recipe

Begin with a mystery (or a menace). Proceed through several twists (ideally three, no less than two). Reach a revelation. End with an epilogue that winds down to a warm, though not necessarily happy, feeling.

The twists should deepen the primary mystery or introduce relevant sub-mysteries.

The action should be continuous (events are not separated by too much time) and physical (actual fights and danger punctuate the twists). Things must worsen as the tale progresses. Obstacles should arise.

Focus throughout on a hero. Whatever his misfortunes, he is not a billiard ball but an agent. Most importantly, though luck and nature can play a role, the hero prevails through his own efforts, leadership, or both.

Remember that men are men and women are women. Don't neglect the romance!

Finally, the tale need not be white hats versus black, but remember that good and evil are real and not merely different points of view. Good may not be spotless but evil cannot win in the end.

And that's it. As I said, very Dentish but not a formula. It has shaped my tales of Hamlin Becker. It's gotten me into StoryHack twice — and soon, I'm hoping, thrice.

P.S. By the way, StoryHack #5 is out. I don't have anything in that issue. Becker #2 will be coming in StoryHack #6, probably in March. Becker #1 is in StoryHack #1.

A Happy Year, Indeed
News of Story Submissions
Sunday, December 1, 2019 5:10 pm
Cirsova Magazine has accepted my outstanding story The Fourth Gift, which will appear in the 2020 Summer Special. I really wanted to get into Cirsova, just as I wanted to get into StoryHack and Stupefying Stories. Hurrah!

With this, I have sold every story I have written since I retired from my day job three years ago. Yes, that is only seven stories; but none of them will die in my drawer, unread. And considering that I sold zero stories in all the years before 2017, those seven will do nicely. (To be sure I had some success with juvenile books in the 1990s; but only now are my grown-up stories succeeding.)

Now to finish An Uncommon Day at the Lake (the 3rd Hamlin Becker tale). And after that? I have some ideas...
Nightmares and Loneliness
The True Nature of Space: 1999
Sunday, December 1, 2019 1:25 pm
The first part of this was posted on September 13th. I decided to combine the two parts into a single post. I also changed the title.

Part I

My father and I didn't do a lot together. In part he was simply seldom around. He was in the restaurant business — as cook, as manager, as owner — and the hours were atrocious. He was also not given to fraternizing with his children.

In fairness to him, I was a difficult and solitary nerd. 

Once, in the late 1970s, he took me to a signing with several SF authors. He had no taste for SF. He did this for me. Anyhow, I didn't know who would be there. As it was, I had read none of them. I think one was Frederik Pohl. Another was Ben Bova. Somehow I (and my father) ended up hanging around Bova — probably because he was the only one I really knew, since he had been Editor of Analog, to which I subscribed.

I remember only one thing that Bova said. An attending nerd (not I) brought up Space: 1999. Bova recounted some conversation he'd had with Isaac Asimov about that very subject. Seems that neither Bova nor Asimov cared much for Space: 1999. Bova's contempt was rather clear.

I loved Space: 1999. I was just a teenage boy, self-conscious beyond measure; and already disappointed by the lack of my favorite authors at this little signing, I was... well, hurt. I didn't get indignant. I didn't get angry. I was stung. And it hurt as well because Bova wasn't wrong. Space: 1999, while not contemptible, is a little bad; and I knew so even then.

I think at that point my father was waiting in the car. I hung out a while longer. Then, having half-heartedly obtained an autograph from Bova, I left. I'm grateful my father took me. But it's a melancholy memory.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the day that the denizens of Moonbase Alpha were cast into the cosmos. On September 13th, 1999, concentrated nuclear explosions on the farside of the Moon propelled the Moon out of orbit. The Alphans, unable to return to Earth, found themselves adrift on an uncontrollable Moon. They left our Solar System far behind, on a path towards — adventure!

Well, of course it's preposterous. I'm not going to go over all the stupid that is required for Space: 1999 to work. It can't work. Science is ashamed of Space: 1999. And of course you know what I'm going to say.

Who cares.

You must recognize how simply magical the premise is. We're not dealing with the plausible. Yes, the creators thought they were writing Real Science Fiction. But they were hacks; a bunch of Ed Woods. They had a cool idea and they ran with it. Because it is a cool idea. An awesome idea. You know it is. The wonder of traveling to the stars on the Moon!

You must also recognize that Space: 1999 is not Star Trek or Star Wars or Stargate. It is not an adventure show.

It is a Nightmare.

This crystallized for me only tonight. I'm embarrassed that I never had this insight. All the pieces were already there; yet only tonight did the epiphany come. I was listening to a livestream hosted by Doomcock (whose nom de YouTube is Overlord DVD). Doomcock, in honor of the date, was chatting a bit about Space: 1999. He asserted that Space: 1999 is not SF but HORROR. He really didn't elaborate a lot. He didn't have to. I knew instantly what he meant; and instantly I understood why I like Space: 1999, why it isn't complete trash, and why, despite everything, it can kind of work.
Part II

In many ways I was a conventional boy. I climbed trees. I raced bikes. I played ball with neighborhood kids. I built models of trucks and airplanes. I walked daringly through spillways and foolishly across the weirs of nearby rivers.

But I was also subtly peculiar. My sense of human relations was misaligned. This only worsened as my family, moving house constantly, refused to stay rooted, and I was always starting over with knowing people. I didn't cease to be social, as such; but I began my lifelong loneliness.

The odd thing about being lonely is that it's not necessarily a feeling you try to flee. Things suffused with loneliness do not repel me. They allure me.

And so here you have a science fiction show set on the Moon — the grey and lifeless Moon, whose settlers are not vivaciously dispersed beneath the sky but are packed away, contained in rooms and corridors and bound by vacuum; fellows in a harsh solitude, made harsher by their catastrophic expulsion from the hearth of Earth.

Loneliness pervades the show.

Do these lonely travelers come upon exotic wonders? Not exactly. Each planet they encounter is a chance to escape, not into diversion but into a home. And they are always frustrated. Sometimes the planet itself is hostile; sometimes the existing inhabitants are. In one episode aliens send terraforming equipment to the Moon precisely to dissuade the Alphans from attempting any contact. It seems the Moon could be home after all! Yet as soon as the Moon has spun beyond the alien world, the equipment is withdrawn and the Moon reverts.

Another time the Moon becomes a forward base for one side in an interplanetary war. Alpha is caught up in the fighting. Then the Moon passes on. Again the Alphans have been simply beset and returned to the void.

A couple of episodes (especially The Testament of Arkadia) hint that the journey of the Moon might be more than a mishap; that the Alphans may have an awful destiny and their trials may be other than pointless.

But no end is ever seen.

When the first child is born on Alpha — what greater hope is there than a child! — he is bodily hijacked by a violent being who seeks to end its own exile. And though the being is defeated and the child is restored, the lesson seems clear: The wandering Moon is no place for hope.

For even a child becomes a terror; a monster. The show does not deal in the merely alien. In its loneliness it proceeds, like a solitary sleeper, from nightmare to nightmare: The Troubled Spirit; Death's Other Dominion; End of Eternity; Guardian of Piri; Force of Life...


The epitome of this is Dragon's Domain, one of my favorite episodes.

Back in 1996, the crew of the Ultra Probe was killed by a monster. The commander, Tony Cellini, survived and returned to Earth. No one believed him, of course. He resumed service on Moonbase Alpha. And now, three years into the Moon's journey, Cellini starts to unravel. He senses the monster. Sure enough, the Moon has crossed paths with the graveyard of spaceships that includes the Ultra Probe.

The monster is not a guy in a rubber suit. True, it's obviously a practical effect; and one can discern the rubber in it. Space: 1999 was not a big-budget affair. And yet it's a proper monster, if not scary then surely creepy. It's a Cthulhu thing with an oven for a mouth. The show played it as horror. It came off as horror.

And that's kind of my point about Space: 1999. Another show would have played it for thrills or awe or heroic adventure. Instead we get moody, gloomy, creepy. They even use Albinoni's Adagio to set the tone.

Is Dragon's Domain a master class in television? Hardly. Like every other episode of Space: 1999, the stupid abounds. The acting embarrasses.

But. That tone. It's real. It's what elevates the show — at least enough. And you can know it is very real because the second season deliberately fled the gloom and sought excitement. And that second season, lacking nightmares and loneliness, is garbage. Even when I was thirteen I hated it.

That first season, though? In a culture that has managed to create Firefly and The Expanse, it is hard to praise, let alone recommend, a thing like Space: 1999. I will, however, defend it. It has an allure. Perhaps that's only the nostalgia talking; but for a lonely boy in 1975, Space: 1999 was amazing — and I can't disagree with that boy.

Christmas Greetings from People I Don't Know
Antique Postcards, a Century On
Saturday, November 30, 2019 5:56 pm
As I mentioned in a post in 2017, for Christmas I decorate my mantle with antique postcards. I bought these from boxes in antique shops. Since it is now properly after Thanksgiving, I have now placed my Christmas decorations; and for fun I present to you a couple of those postcards. 

Postmarked December 27, 1915

Master Charles Schoonover, Argosy, Ind., P.O.B. 82.

Dear Buddie; We arrived here in Chicago alright last night. We are going down town today[.] Am going to buy you your muff[.] Maybe[.] Love Helen

Happy New Year

You must be a good boy Buddie, + Helen will bring you some things + your muff. Best Love + Kisses to Mama + Papa

Postmarked December 23, 1920

Mr. and Mrs. Ernest C. Stiles, Milan, N.H. R.F.D. #1

Well folks how do you do this Winter and how is Dwight? Does he walk alone yet? I would like to see all of you very much[.] Do you have a Xmas tree at the school house this year? Hasn't this been a fine Winter so far? A good many are going with autos yet. Suppose you are just as busy as ever, on the jump all the time. Would like to hear some selections on the piano tonight, it would sound pretty good to me. With love from Ina


It's amusing how Helen is focused on a muff for Buddie. A muff she may or may not purchase! Was Helen Buddie's big sister? An aunt?

Ina has more to say than Helen. I'm not sure what she means by "A good many are going with autos yet." I think I'm missing a meaning of "yet." Is she saying that a lot of people are driving cars? Or not driving, because of the winter weather? I really like the phrase "on the jump all the time." Ina's thoughts are appropriately scattered for a missive on a postcard. I'd like to hear some selections on a piano myself; and I enjoy the image of little Dwight walking alone at last.

Planetary Pluto Is Out
Read My Story in It!
Friday, November 29, 2019 4:33 pm
After an unfortunate delay (which even included a change in publisher), the Pluto anthology is finally out.

Buy it on Amazon (to give me and the publisher money). Review it on Amazon (to increase its rank). Read my story Ambit of Charon and be amazed by my geniusness. Go, now!

P.S. Sadly there's a "typesetting" problem, in that all my italics are shown as underlines. This was caught in proof but not corrected. A proper version should come out someday, but over that I have no control. For now please infer italics.
Magazines
StoryHack #5
Stupefying Stories #22
Cirsova: Fall '19
Categories
50-Word Story
Art
Catholic Faith
Catholic Life
Family
Fantasy
Games
Language
Literature
Men & Women
Metaphysics
Movies
Music
Personal
Publishing
Science
Science Fiction
Society
Television
Trifles
Writing