Archive for December, 2014

This novelette makes a strength of its simplicity. Two guys. One white. One black. One a sad sack alcoholic. One a convict. Both trying to figure out the circumstances that brought their lives to this. And maybe, just maybe, to break free.

Literally in the case of Walter, the inmate, who makes his escape from prison the night that Ron is out in the woods on a hiking trip. They run into each other. Hang out. Talk. Compare notes. Then each man goes on to meet his respective destiny.

Well-drawn characters, concise storytelling and a good eye for detail keep this one tight and compelling.

Available on Kindle:

KrampusOK, this is one of those things that I originally threw out there on Facebook with no real thought about the logistics. A post reading: “Screw Secret Santa. This year? Secret Krampus. Who’s in?”

The more I think about it, though, the more I believe this may actually have to happen. I’ve written about the Krampus here before. In some German-speaking parts of the world (Where — let’s face it — people have issues.) the Krampus is a kind of a malevolent yin to St. Nicholas’ benevolent yang.

St. Nicholas serves his traditional role as the kindly dispenser of rewards to good little children in the form of treats or presents. The Krampus, on the other hand, is the fearsome, horned devil with the job of punishing naughty children. In his more benign manifestations, he may simply give kids lumps of coal instead of presents, or swat them with sticks. Nastier representations have the Krampus taking a whip to kids. And at his worst, he’ll carry them off to eat them, drown them or take them to Hell.

In response to my Facebook post, my friend Scott (read his book, by the way) posted this response:

If you win the drawing, you get to pick whose child is snatched and carried off in a sack!

While some of the kids I was exposed to in stores this holiday season make me think that may not be a bad idea, that’s not really what I had in mind.

Secret Santa exchanges don’t actually require you to drive a sleigh and deliver toys to good little children. It’s a simple anonymous giving of gifts, in symbolic tribute to a mythical incarnation of Yuletide generosity and cheer.

Similarly, the Secret Krampus exchange would be a simple, anonymous doling out of misfortune as a kind of cosmic retribution for bad behavior. I’m picturing someone getting up in the morning and finding his tires slashed, with a note tucked under the windshield reading: “YOU’VE BEEN A NAUGHTY BOY THIS YEAR. (SEE ATTACHED PHOTOS.) HERE’S YOUR PUNISHMENT. SMOOCHES, YOUR SECRET KRAMPUS.”

Even that might be a bit dramatic. Transgressions that merit a visit from the Secret Krampus could run the gamut from honking a car horn in a residential area at 6 a.m. in lieu of ringing a doorbell, to leaving a tuna sub in the office fridge for a month, to withholding a promised 401(k) plan.

And Secret Krampus manifestations?

Perhaps the mysterious disappearance of a Powerpoint presentation on which the recipient has spent the last week working. Or a visit by a leather-clad sex worker at the annual home Christmas party, loudly demanding that the recipient pay a delinquent bill.

The possibilities are endless. As is the list of deserving recipients.




A weird, reclusive dictator is displeased with the United States, and may or may not have enacted his vengeance via a crack team of computer technicians over a world-wide computer system that dominates every aspect of life in the 21st century.

Yup. As a 48-year-old science fiction geek, I’ve got to admit that sometimes the modern world outstrips even my most outlandish flights of imagination from childhood.

Of course, wonderfully paranoid science fiction stories about computers are nothing new. Check out this piece from the great Neil Morris about an overlooked classic of the subgenre. This recently ran in the December issue of “The Speculator,” the newsletter for the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers. If you’re not a member, consider becoming one. Getting the newsletter is just one of many perks.

Anyway, here’s the piece.


Neil’s Queue Tip of the Quarter:

Colossus: the Forbin Project (1970)


by Neil Morris


There’s a conflict inherent in movies: the battle between images and words.

In the silent era, printed title cards delivered dialogue and description, but this static, written material, usually inserted with a jarring cut, disrupted the photographic flow of film “language” and visual storytelling.

In the thirties and forties, words thrived in the form of spoken dialogue. This was due in part to the novelty of audio recording itself, but the main reason was that movies were still no more than cheaply-made filmed plays, photographically immature and economically influenced by the Depression. Shooting in remote, picturesque locations was costly and inconvenient, so producers mindful of the bottom line relied on inexpensive banter (writers, sadly, were a dime a dozen) to entertain an audience. Screwball comedies and sophisticated detective stories dominated, piling one charming line upon another to the point of verbal overload.

Later technological advances, particularly the rise of television and its influence on the development of theatrical widescreen formats, brought about a change in attitude toward the recorded word. Producers began to disapprove of scripts that were too “talky”; lengthy conversation belonged on the old soundstages that were now hosting televised dramas sponsored by detergent companies. Instead, studios wanted action-packed spectacles in Cinemascope.

Ever since the epic style of William Wyler’s “Ben-Hur” and David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia” made filmmaking less lean, technology continues to push motion pictures toward the purely visual. CGI, with its ability to photo-realistically render any conceivable camera movement, gives kinetic-eyed artists unlimited creative power. That freedom has resulted in the ascendancy of the action movie. Ever-increasing waves of hyperactive eye candy rush across multiplex screens, from “Gravity” to “The Lego Movie” to the latest Marvel adventure. Even films that strive for the cerebral, like “The Matrix” or “Inception,” hide their intellectual aspirations behind crowd-pleasing gunplay sequences and dazzling explosions.

Then there are movies like “Transcendence,” movies that should be thought-provoking, that should give insight into the nature of existence given the subject matter, that could benefit from long, quiet moments of complex philosophical discussion, but devolve into mindless, special effects-filled shoot-em-ups (against pseudo-zombies, of course) because box office pressure and the cinematic zeitgeist demand it.

The tragedy of “Transcendence” reminded me of another film about the perils of artificial intelligence (no, not “A.I.”), one that was made in 1970, years ahead of its time, at a point in history when filmmakers challenged the conventions of the Hollywood system, when imaginative and compelling dialogue could still rivet an audience’s attention, and directors like Woody Allen and John Cassavettes could still have careers.

Unfortunately, it’s saddled with one of the most indecisive and informatively inaccessible titles in motion picture history.

I’m talking about “Colossus: The Forbin Project.”

What’s Colossus? What’s a Forbin? Why invoke that unholy word: Project? Didn’t the producers know that Project in the title of anything is an indication of off-putting pretentiousness and self-indulgence? Think Joe Perry Project, Alan Parsons Project, “Project X” and especially “The Mindy Project.” Perhaps they wanted to make a connection with The Manhattan Project, equating the digital dangers portrayed in the film with the dangers of the atom bomb.

After all, “Colossus” is a Cold War film, and Colossus, the titular computer designed to take missile defense decisions out of the hands of a responsibility-shirking presidential administration, is a product of the nuclear tensions between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. That Colossus becomes self-aware is an afterthought, its sentience unexpected and unexplained, much like the suddenly-emergent consciousness of Skynet in the early “Terminator” films. But at least it’s an intelligence that knows what it wants and knows how to say it, unlike the reticent ghost in the machine Johnny Depp plays in “Transcendence,” his intentions misunderstood because of his secretiveness and inability to communicate clearly.

Colossus’ voice, once it’s synthesized midway through the film, is no soothing HAL 9000, velvet tones disguising treachery. It’s mechanical, terse and gritty, but thoroughly captivating, like what God would sound like if He used Stephen Hawking’s talkbox. It’s not your buddy, it’s not your therapist. It’s the voice of authority, or as Colossus puts it, the voice of control — with a capital C. When broadcast to the world, Colossus spells out its plans for humanity in no uncertain terms.

Adapted from the D.F. Jones novel by screenwriter James Bridges (“The China Syndrome”) and directed by Joseph Sargent (director of the original, somewhat verbose, but no less suspenseful “Taking of Pelham One Two Three”), Colossus is a film centered on language. Apart from an excursion to Rome, the story takes place in a handful of sets where politicians and scientists sing the praises of their creation then must plot against it in secret when the entity turns on them, risking discovery that will incur swift ICBM retribution. Colossus and its simultaneously-developed Soviet counterpart, Guardian, invent and share an indecipherable mathematical language, much like the private speech between identical twins. Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden, before he became Victor Newman on “The Young and the Restless”), a stern perfectionist of immense ego and insensitive directness (just watch what he so matter-of-factly asks of colleague Susan Clark), knows his invention well when he says, “Colossus deals in the exact meaning of words and one must know precisely what to ask for.”

If only Dr. Forbin had considered that when he encoded Colossus’ prime directive.


For if anything, Colossus is the reflection of its creator, a ruthlessly logical being, and rather than perceiving it as a superior intellect bent on enslaving or eradicating an inferior human race, it should be seen as a dutiful soldier carrying out its programming to the literal extreme. Colossus’ given mission is to prevent war, and it took Dr. Forbin at his word, reasoning out the most efficient solution: Restrain Man.

This post comes courtesy of my friend Doug, who’s a big Star Wars fan. And don’t get me wrong. I love Star Wars myself. But if Doug is right about this, then the franchise has a lot to answer for. I mean, even more than the last three movies. And the 1978 holiday special. Take it away, Doug:

Jon Bon Jovi’s first professional recording was “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas”

The album is notable for featuring the first professional recording of Jon Bon Jovi (credited as “John Bongiovi”, his birth name), who sang lead vocals on the song “R2-D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” His cousin Tony Bongiovi co-produced the album and ran the recording studio at which it was recorded, where Jon was working sweeping floors at the time.

So did this launch his career?


CadiganSorry about the long absence. I was backed up putting together the quarterly newsletter for the Garden State Speculative Fiction Writers, and I just went through a bout of the flu. That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s a lot of material from the newsletter that I figure I could run here. Just need to get permission from the editor, and … Oh right. I’m the editor. Well, OK then. Here’s a very good interviewer with Robb Cadigan, author of “Phoenixville Rising.” Since the newsletter is for a writers group, the emphasis is on the practicalities of the writing business. But even if you’re not a writer, I hope you find it interesting.


Interview With Author Robb Cadigan

by Tom Joyce

Editor’s Note: Author Robb Cadigan was recently spotlighted in “Poets & Writers” magazine’s feature, “The Savvy Self-Publisher,” for his efforts publishing and promoting his novel “Phoenixville Rising.” He agreed to an interview with “The Speculator” about self-publishing strategies.

Q: Could you tell us something about your background, and about “Phoenixville Rising?”

A: For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a writer. As a kid, I thought I would grow up to write and illustrate comic books. My love of reading and writing definitely came from DC Comics and an obsession with Batman.
I went to Bucknell University to study English and Creative Writing. But when it came time to get a job, I didn’t know anyone who actually had a career as a novelist. I had no role models for that path. So I headed for the next closest form of fiction: advertising.
For thirteen years or so, I worked in marketing and broadcasting at QVC and helped to build the shopping channel into the world’s most profitable television network. Although I enjoyed my career at QVC, I was still writing fiction during any spare time I could find. In fact, sometime around 2000, I took a sabbatical from QVC to finish a novel. I ended up getting an agent with that novel and, although that manuscript never sold to a publisher, the agent gave me the confidence to get serious about following my dream of being a full-time writer.
“Phoenixville Rising” came about when my wife and I moved to Phoenixville, Pa. After we decided that this small town was the place we would raise our family, I started to investigate the history of the place my kids would call their hometown. It really started just as a hobby to learn more about local history. But writers are always filling the well. And the more I discovered about this little town, the more the story of “Phoenixville Rising” started to take shape in my mind.
I actually wrote the first version of “Phoenixville Rising”  more than ten years ago. My agent loved it and shopped it around, but again there were no takers. It’s a tough book to market, because it’s cross-genre: it’s a coming-of-age tale, with a crime story and historical romance woven through it. The original version even had a ghost story in there. Sales departments at big publishers had a hard time with it. So after it got rejected, I put it in a drawer and went back to working on my craft. My objective is always to become a better writer.
About two years ago, I took the manuscript out of the drawer and rewrote it into the book it is today. And by the time the novel made it through the rewrite, I was happy to see the world of publishing had drastically changed …

Q: Why did you decide to self-publish?

A: I had a top literary agent and navigated the rough waters of traditional publishing for years. We received some of the “nicest” rejections letters around, but sadly no takers for my work. I just put my head down and kept working, trying to get better at the craft, (more…)