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A. C. Spahn

Swordfights. Spaceships. Stories.

Free chapter of Wet Ducks!

“We’re all cracked, but sometimes those cracks are just what we need to get results.”
– Captain Thomas Withers

The Endurance adventures end on June 24, 2016 with the fifth installment, Wet Ducks. The book is available for pre-order now! Read below for a blurb and a free sample chapter!

Back Cover Copy:

No one hides from the Haxozin Sovereignty forever.

The alien conquerors have finally located Earth, home of the explorers who have undermined their empire at every turn. They launch an all-out attack to rid themselves of rivals once and for all.

Only a handful of people escape: the disgraced crew of the UELE Endurance.

With humanity’s future hanging in the balance, Captain Thomas Withers and his ragtag crew of misfits must scour the galaxy for the one weakness that can topple a thousand-year-old empire. Enemies lurk on every side. Few expect the crew to succeed.

But Thomas and his team work on the Endurance. They’re used to bad odds. One way or another, one thing is clear: Earth’s worst space police are now its only hope for survival.

Sample Chapter:

In this scene from early in the novella, the crew of the Endurance must rush to Earth to warn their superiors of an impending attack by the tyrannical Haxozin. The strategy they enact is a bit … unorthodox.

It was more than “kind of” dumb. Thomas sat in his chair, surrounded by Ivanokoff and two other officers manning the bridge’s front consoles. A screen hanging from the ceiling over the viewports showed one of the interior security camera feeds. On it, they watched the security chief’s progress. Areva Praphasat was dwarfed by her spacesuit, yet somehow she still moved with serpentine grace.

She stood in the center of the Endurance’s main loading ramp, anchored by tethers affixed to hooks in the bulkheads. The airlock between her and the rest of the ship was sealed, her progress only visible through the visual feeds from the ship’s security system.

The bulkhead to space was open. Far beneath the edge of the ramp, Neptune’s gas oceans glowed with ethereal light, the planet’s reflection of the sun unblocked by the satellite rings and space lanes seen in settled regions of the solar system.

Thomas tried to ignore the enormous projectile gun in Areva’s hands and instead focused on the bridge’s other hanging monitor, which currently showed a feed from the reactor room. He tapped his ear-mounted intercom interface. “Habassa, time?”

The engineer spun and waved at the camera before tapping his own interface. “Thirty seconds, Cap. We’ve got the main reactor feeds offline. The D Drive will start up all on her own.”

“You’re sure this won’t blow up the ship?”

“Mostly.”

“Habassa …”

“Yes, Cap. I can’t scientifically guarantee everything will be fine, but the statistical chance of implosion or explosion is very small.”

“Good. Praphasat, you catch that?”

The spacesuited figure in the airlock flinched at her name before answering over her own open intercom line. “Yes, sir. Am I still on the monitor?”

Thomas managed not to sigh. “Yes, Lieutenant. It’s a necessary precaution.”

Areva Praphasat didn’t like being watched. Or seen at all, if possible.

Thirty seconds ticked by. Thomas watched the stars through the viewports and tried not to think about how distorted they were about to become.

His earpiece buzzed. “Ready, Cap,” said Matthias.

Thomas leaned forward, hands folded to stop them from shaking. “All right. Fire it up.”

Energy thrummed through the deck plates, vibrating up Thomas’s legs. Bulkheads rattled, and unsecured equipment crashed to the floor. One unoccupied stool at the front of the bridge began stuttering its way toward the rear hatch.

This was such a bad idea.

At the same time, the stars warped and twisted, dissolving into spirals that rotated both directions at once, and simultaneously rushed forward to swallow the ship and charged away to leave it alone in darkness. Black space itself rippled, bunching up like carpet in impossible contortions, shapes that only existed in theoretical math and nightmares.

Thomas tore his eyes from the chaos happening outside the ship and swallowed the nausea that crawled up his throat.

Matthias spoke again. “We’re four-dimensional, Cap.”

“I see it.”

“We can start moving any time.”

Thomas focused on the non-distorted floorplates. “Praphasat, one shot. Now.”

He didn’t watch the monitor, but he heard Areva’s grunt as she discharged the rifle.

Ivanokoff gave a grudging humph. “I should have done it.”

“This is her job,” said Thomas.

“It is my gun.”

“And it’s my ship. My orders.”

Ivanokoff gave up, though he muttered, “I wanted to test the vacuum firing feature.”

Thomas chanced a glance at the viewports. Space was still misbehaving outside, refusing to abide by any patterns his brain could follow. Instead he looked up at the monitors.

Neptune was gone. More writhing stars filled the view outside the open airlock.

“Habassa,” Thomas said, “it’s working.”

“I see it on scanners, Cap,” said Matthias. “The shot gave us a push, but we’re still drifting too slow.” Someone in the background screamed, and Matthias hushed them. “Sorry, Cap. Officer Lee got scared.”

“Why?”

“We just passed through some space debris. Boy, imagine if we returned to 3D space with that inside our hull!”

Thomas ignored his own surge of panic at the thought. “Praphasat, fire again.”

The spacesuited body on the screen hefted the gun and pulled the trigger. Another small grunt from Areva’s comm line.

“That’s it!” shouted Matthias. “We’re going a fraction of a kilometer per hour. At this rate, we’ll reach Earth in … three minutes.”

“Don’t bring us out inside a satellite,” Thomas said.

“We’ll stop outside the ring, Cap. It’ll be fine.”

Thomas focused on his breathing, in and out. It would be fine.

“Praphasat,” he said, “close the hatch and get back inside.”

The spacesuit waved an acknowledgement, and then Areva began pulling herself along one of the tethers toward the airlock controls.

At two minutes to go, she triggered the outside door closed.

At one minute, she repressurized the airlock and clomped back through the hatch into the ship proper.

At thirty seconds, the sickening view through the bridge viewports flashed from black space to earthen brown for the blink of an eye.

That was an asteroid, Thomas thought. We just flew through solid rock.

This was such a bad idea.

At ten seconds, he gripped the arms of his chair and forced himself to focus out the viewports.

At five seconds, one of the other officers covered her mouth and gagged. Thomas pushed down his own wave of nausea triggered by the sound.

At one second, he crept forward to the end of his seat. The chair creaked under his weight.

Zero.

The rattling in the bulkheads ceased.

The view through the ports resolved, the stars spinning back into points of light, space flattening to its proper texture. Yet something was still off. The sky was too full.

At minus one second, Thomas stared through a haze of laser fire crowding the space between a ragged handful of UELE vessels and a hundred five-pointed star ships encroaching on his homeworld.

Like what you read? Pre-order Wet Ducks on Amazon today!

Featured post

Fight Scene Structure Part 1: Inciting Incident

Fight scenes are miniature novels contained within a larger story. A good fight, like a good story, requires a steady buildup to a peak of dramatic tension, followed by an inevitable tumble to a satisfying conclusion.

In my next five blog posts, I’ll cover the basic structure of what should happen in a fight scene through the five-act story structure used famously by Shakespeare.

Stage 1: Inciting Incident

A fight must have a beginning, something that kick-starts the action by prompting two characters to look at each other and decide, “Yeah. Let’s do battle.” A fight’s inciting incident can be simple as a shoulder shove between strangers in a bar, or complex as rival clan leaders drawing dueling pistols at midnight beneath a darkened moon.

More precisely, the fight’s inciting incident occurs when the first blow of the fight is thrown (or fired, or struck, or cast, etc.). See if you can spot the inciting incident in the fight setup below:

Cold wind whipped Megan’s hair into her face as she hurried down the alley. She shouldn’t have stayed so late at the clinic, but with Jensen finally out of his stupor, she couldn’t leave. If she didn’t get his testimony about the murder tonight, he would be drunk again in a few hours and she’d have lost his evidence forever.

A lanky figure leaned against a dumpster up ahead, a roll of something illegal glowing in his mouth. He removed the smoke and eyed Megan. “Hey, loner.”

Megan pulled her jacket zipper closer to her throat. She kept walking, past the man.

He followed. “What’s the hurry?”

She didn’t turn. She also didn’t increase her pace. Slow and deliberate, she told herself. Confidence deterred predators.

Not this one. Wiry fingers closed around Megan’s wrist, jerking her to a halt. “I said, what’s the–“

His words ended in a yelp as she drove a fist into his nose.

Did you catch it? The inciting incident happened when the man grabbed Megan’s wrist. Before that, he was harassing her, but only using words, meaning there was still a chance the incident would resolve without a fight. Her punch was a reaction to his laying hands on her, and therefore wasn’t the first incident of the fight. The moment he grabbed her wrist was the moment the fight became inevitable. Even if she had reacted differently, by pulling away or demanding he let her go, a fight scene had begun.

There are a few tests to identify the inciting incident of a fight:

1. When does the fight become inevitable? (We just covered this one.)

2. When does each person’s action become a direct reaction (or counterattack) to their opponent’s previous action? (Megan’s punch was a direct reaction to the man grabbing her wrist. His next action will be a direct reaction to her punching him in the face.)

3. When is someone’s physical body threatened? (The moment one person touches another against their will, or attempts to do so, you have a fight scene. This includes “touches” from afar, such as arrows, bullets, or magic spells.)

4. If the other tests are unclear, you can try this fourth one, though it’s sometimes harder to apply: What is the first action that would result in legal prosecution? (The man grabbing Megan could be prosecuted for assault.)

Whichever metric you use to evaluate the inciting incident of your fight, make sure you identify that incident clearly, because after it, your fight needs to ramp up and ramp up quick.

Ideally, your inciting incident should be given a full sentence or two on the page, to draw the reader’s attention to it. Other than that, there aren’t too many guidelines to follow when writing this part of the fight. Any action that meets the above criteria can work as an inciting incident. Your real work begins as the fight intensifies. We’ll cover writing strategies and structure for rising action in the next post.

Coming Friday: Rising Action (Keep Your Fight Scenes From Dragging!)

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My Favorite Typo

I consider myself a connoisseur of typos. They jump out from an otherwise streamlined reading experience to make readers frown in confusion, squint at the page, and finally laugh in recognition of a print error, formatting mistake, or other literary hiccup.

But some typos go above and beyond. They transcend the boundaries of misplaced letters or slightly misaligned text and achieve a state of typo enlightenment through their sheer audacity. You see these typos and wonder, “How did no one catch this?” When you find one of these typos, it feels like a gift sent to you directly from the printer, and you bookmark it so you can show it to all of your friends and refer to it whenever you need a smile.

My favorite of such typos comes from the hardback printing of the Complete Jewish Bible translation by David H. Stern – a pretty neat translation, by the way (Jewish New Testament Publications, 1998). It appears in 2 Samuel 5:25:

“David did exactly as Adonai had orde6tyyy77red him to do and pursued his attack on the P’lishtim from Geva all the way to Gezer.”

I don’t know if the printer’s cat walked across the typesetting, or if a bit of formatting code somehow made its way into the text, but this typo is my favorite one I’ve ever seen. I hope it made you smile today.

Do you have a favorite typo or print error?

Herman Melville’s Encyclopedia of Whaling (With Bonus Short Story About Revenge, Kinda)

I blogged earlier about my difficulty in getting through Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick. I have since finished the book. This is my final review, exploring why none of it, including the actual revenge story, holds up:

THANK GOODNESS IT FINALLY ENDED.

This is not a novel.

This is a nonfiction series of informational and philosophical essays, with a few scenes of drama thrown in to convince the reader to slog through the author’s exhaustive thoughts about the whaling industry. It includes, among others, a chapter on the types of oil harvested from whales, several chapters on the types of whales, a chapter on the harpoons used to hunt whales, a chapter on the rope attached to the harpoons, a chapter on the backup harpoons, and five chapters in a row on the anatomy of a whale’s head.

In short, it’s about as tedious as reading, well, an encyclopedia of whaling.

Maybe you’re still interested in reading the book for its literary value. To be fair, there are some clever turns of phrase and beautifully crafted sentences.

There are also many sentences that ramble on for so long, with up to half a dozen unrelated subordinate clauses, that they are nearly indecipherable.

Let’s talk about the story of the novel, such as it is. Most of the story happens in the final fifteen percent of the book, with a few scenes scattered throughout the whaling encyclopedia (to remind the reader that there is, in fact, a plot, I suppose). There’s also a good chunk of text at the beginning of the novel describing the narrator’s meeting with a harpooner and how they joined the crew of the whaling ship. This part is tolerable, if not especially interesting.

The narrative has some problems. First, Ishmael, the narrator, is apparently psychic, for he frequently describes scenes and conversations at which he was not present. Second, he doesn’t actually do anything noteworthy throughout the entire book; he is a passive observer of the other characters. This isn’t unusual in classic literature, but it does make the reader wonder why we’re following his point of view at all.

The other characters, with one or two exceptions, could be written collectively as “the guys.” Few have any distinguishing features, and fewer take any action to affect the course of the story. Starbuck may be the only truly dynamic character in the novel, as his frustration and worry about Ahab’s revenge quest begin to take a toll on him. His conversation with Ahab toward the end, in which he attempts to convince Ahab to abandon the mad adventure and return home, is a touching and evocative scene. (Of course Ishmael shouldn’t have known it even happened, but I already made that point.)

Regarding the quest itself, there is one major problem:

This is Ahab’s first attempt to get revenge on Moby Dick. He lost his leg in his immediately preceding voyage. Since the man is 58 years old, this means his revenge quest has only occupied a small percentage of his adult life.

Suddenly this epic tale of revenge feels a lot less epic. Rather than a lifelong grudge, the stakes have suddenly dropped to encompass more of an immediate anger toward a very recent event. This is not deep, premeditated revenge; it is hot-blooded retaliation, the sort of thing that makes a man shout, “I’m gonna kill him!” when his neighbor drives over his lawn.

Second, if he’s only been harboring this grudge for a year or so, why did it take over his whole life like this? We don’t know. The book never tells us. The brief glimpses into Ahab’s character and personality focus on informing us that yes, he is obsessed with Moby Dick, without every bothering to delve into why. “Well, he lost his leg.” Okay. He still captains a ship. He still stands watch on deck. He still commands a whaling boat. The loss of a limb doesn’t seem to have changed his life at all, so why does it bother him so? The book doesn’t know, so neither does the reader.

This, in my opinion, is the biggest shortcoming of the novel. We are told repeatedly that Ahab has a “monomania” for hunting Moby Dick. (Melville really, really likes that word.) We are shown bits of that fixation from time to time. But the root of a good revenge story — why the revenge matters; what is at stake — is never developed. Thus, when the final confrontation comes, it’s difficult to care whether Ahab makes it or not, as we have no reason to be invested in his success.

In short, Melville seems far more interested in telling the reader things, rather than showing why those things happen. Except when it comes to the work of whaling – then he will explain in painstaking detail exactly why everything happens.

If you’re looking for a long, classic novel to read for self-enrichment, pick up Les Miserables or War and Peace instead.

If you’re an avid reader of classics and want to check this one off your list … good luck.

If you’re one of the people who genuinely enjoyed this novel, congrats. I have a dictionary you might like to read next.

Can You Solve This Riddle?

I love riddles.

I’m hoping one of you loves riddles, too.

Ask yes/no questions in the comments to get hints. No searching online for the answer; that’s cheating. First one to post the correct answer gets digital pie!

Mmmm.

The Riddle:

A man is found dead in a warehouse.

The warehouse also contains a table, two chairs, and fifty-three bicycles.

What happened?

Why Classics Are Boring

I like to read classic literature.

My current project though … oh dear.

I’m 38 percent of the way through Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Let me tell you what’s happened so far.

1. Protagonist met sidekick.

2. They joined the crew of a whaling ship.

3. Mysterious stranger said, “Don’t join the crew of that whaling ship.” Protagonist and sidekick said, “You’re nuts.”

4. Ship sailed. Protagonist and sidekick are aboard.

5. They saw a whale, and did not hunt it.

6. Captain Ahab said he wants to hunt a particular whale. Everybody’s cool with it.

7. They saw another whale, and did hunt it.

That’s it. No, I’m serious. Nothing else – no other event – has occurred.

In 200 pages, seven things have happened.

What’s taken up the rest of those pages, you ask?

Essays about whaling. Lists of types of oil. Long, irrelevant backstories for every single character, none of whom I can tell apart because they haven’t done anything yet. (Except Starbuck, because his name is Starbuck.) More essays about whaling. Dinner. Racism. Several different sea shanties, written in the form of a play. Lists of types of whales. More essays about whaling.

I’ll be honest: I’m struggling with this one, you guys.

While not as annoying as the multi-page lists of fish in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (no, really), all this info dumping is a slog to read. This is supposed to be the great revenge tale of literature. So far, it’s not.

While some sentences are absolutely transcendent in their artistry, others drag on for so long that I have to scroll back and say, “What, what were we talking about?”

At this point, I’m reading the book so that I will have read it. It’s more of a homework assignment than a leisure activity.

Here’s the thing, though: This is how books used to be. Read enough of the “big old books” and you’ll find they’re full of random tangents about other topics. Literature then served as a means of education, not just entertainment. War and Peace contains dozens of historical essays. Les Miserables discusses social class and the architecture of the Parisian sewers. Don Quixote catalogs the reshaping of a society from one of legend to one of practicality. These books aren’t just stories set in their times; they’re historical records of those times.

Some have compelling stories that propel you through the tedious portions. Others don’t. But they all became classics for a reason – they illuminated some area of life in a way that forced readers to think and/or feel differently.

At the moment, I suspect Moby Dick‘s illuminations may not be relevant to modern readers. (Maybe I’m wrong, and the second half of the book will blow my mind.) Sometimes that happens; a classic turns out to have dramatically influenced its own time, or some period after its time, but the themes and topics are no longer part of the modern reader’s life experience. Does that make the book bad? No.

Books are products of their times. The themes we find fascinating today will likely bore readers two hundred years from now. They’ll have their own problems to worry about, and the issues that grip us won’t grip them. Yet some works will still be read, because they’ll provide a window into the past, a look at the sorts of themes we found intriguing, the sorts of stories that shaped our lives.

Which classics have transcended their times and changed your life? Which ones did you find less relevant? Have you read Moby Dick, and if so, what did you think?

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