THE CHANGE: Sandbox Play

So, as mentioned here yesterday, Steve “S. M.” Stirling’s anthology The Change: Tales of Downfall and Rebirth is coming out a week from today.


The Master, Frank Frazetta’s, cover for Conan the Usurper.

For me, his Conan paintings are what “pulp” is all about.

And yes, this image does pertain. Kind of. 

Just to recap, among others Steve invited members of Critical Mass, our New Mexico writers group to contribute. It’s a pretty great resource, and a pretty distinguished crew; former members include co-founders George RR “That American Tolkien Guy” Martin, Melinda Snodgrass, Walter Jon Williams (who has a story in the collection), and James S. A. Corey. Yes, both halves.

And yes, we did get to read Leviathan Wakes – soon to be the senses-shattering SyFy Channel Original series, The Expanse – in group. Heh, heh.

So when Steve asked me to submit for the collection, I had a question for him. I knew a fair amount about his Emberverse, since we’ve read the novels in various drafts over the years in the group. But I had no idea, initially, what kind of yarn he had in mind from us. So I asked him at a party at the house of fellow Critical Mass member John Jos. Miller and his wife Gail Gerstner-Miller.

It turned out the answer was, “pretty much any!”

He told me that his Change world was intended to be his Hyborian Age. Robert E. Howard had created it as his own fictional sandbox, where he – and especially his most notorious creation, Conan the Barbarian – could play out any kind of tale Howard’s pulp-god heart desired.  Knights in armor?  Pirates?  Human sacrifice?  Sure!  All that and a whole lot more.

Now, I’m all about the pulp. Seriously. I consider it – as an ideal – to be the genre of entertainment for its own unashamed sake. And entertainment is what I do (and I consider it a high calling indeed.)

Sure, there’s plenty of bad pulp fiction out there. But that’s any field, any genre. I aspire to the higher end – to write the best entertainment fiction I possibly can.

It’s a way to pass the last four decades. And counting.

Anyway, I hadn’t known that about the purpose of the Hyborian Age – and felt a bit thick for not figuring it out, since I’ve devoured a whole lot of Conan yarns in my time. Also, it gave me a whole new insight into the Emberverse books themselves – enhancing my appreciation and enjoyment of them.

More to the point, though – it helped me find an idea.

So Steve invited us to let our imaginations run free – restrained only by the laws of the Change (mostly, gunpowder and internal-combustion engines no longer work. Electricity is right out, too.)  It occurred to me to do a character who was a former scientist – whom science pretty much abandoned with the Change. He’s spent the ensuing decades (over two, as it turns out) trying to figure out what happened - and what the new rules of physics are. He wanders North America seeking answers and insight.

At the same time, I find myself longing to do a story about a character who was, not a noble knight swinging a sword from horseback, but a humble knifeslinger – in the mode of the mythical Western gunslinger.

The I thought: why not combine the two?

So I did. Thus was born “The Seeker: A Poison in the Blood*.” It’s your basic Spaghetti Western/fantasy quest, interpreted after the manner of  filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, who’s kind of an idol of mine.

I like it. I think it kicks ass, and is a hoot.

While I’m sure all the stories are fantastic – I know how most of the contributors can write, after all – the only two I can yet attest to are my own, and John Jos. Miller’s “Bernie, Lord of the Apes.” Which I also read in writers group. It’s fucking great.

And yes, it’s about pretty much what the title says.

Anyway, in a week you can judge for yourself.

And less than two months after that (omigodomigodomigod), you can also judge the quality of a modest little tome I like to call The Dinosaur Lords. Hope you enjoy ‘em both!

And as always – thanks for reading!

*So I kept having a nagging sensation that I was lifting the second part of that title from somebody. I knew I should recognize just who and what, but I didn’t.

So I of course went to Google, because Google is our friend (so long as we never, ever look at the images it throws up for more … suggestively written searches.) And discovered that I had in fact, subconsciously kinda-sorta copied the title of an existing work.

It’s A Taint in the Blood: A Novel of the Shadowspawn. Which, yes, we also read in writers group.

But the author didn’t object. And he had ample opportunity to do so, since he’s only S. M. Stirling, the editor of the damn anthology. And so it doth appear!

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